The Thin Green Line and the Commander in Chief

Manchester Park Monument
Originally uploaded by sponng.

Zwichenzug's recent post on the moral dimensions of the use of force reminded me of an interview I read last week.

The French philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy has written a book titled War, Evil and the End of History.

Lévy was interviewed in the January 21st Wall Street Journal's Weekend Edition. Unlike many French intellectuals, Lévy recognizes the pivotal role (for good or ill) of the United States in world politics.

Mr. [Bernard-Henri Lévy] describes Mr. Huntington's last book, [Who Are We : The Challenges to America's National Identity] as "racist," and rejects the notion that there is in the world, or has been, a clash of civilizations:

"We are engaged in a war against terrorism, but the war is a political one, not a religious one, not a civilizational one. It is, I stress, a political war."

...I make the distinction because I believe that you have some Muslims who do not hate the West. Being an enemy of the West is not a necessary condition of being Muslim, of adoring the God of Islam."..."It is suicide to say that this is a civilizational war, because if it is such, it is an endless war, bloc against bloc. If you say 'political' you make a bet on the outcome."....

"I think [the Iraq war] was morally justified and politically a disaster." ...he added, referring to the Iraqis, "you cannot liberate un peuple somnambule" -- a people sleepwalking.
|WSJ|[Sub'n Req'd](emphasis and links added)

The War on Terror (WOT) has been sold to the American people as a never-ending war and the Bush administration in formulating the War on Terror has essentially criminalized all groups who threaten the existing political order, even if the group is fighting a vicious and corrupt dictatorship. Just look at the autocrats the U.S. is propping up in the oil-rich Black Sea region despite human rights abuses in Kazakhstan and suspected genocide in Tajikistan.

By invading Iraq, the Bushies were picking an easy target. The U.S. Air Force already patrolled the skies of Iraq and the embargoes had starved the country (literally and figuratively) for years.

The Bush administration thought the U.S. Army should be able to easily overrun the country and make Iraq a vassal state. They were half right.

Maybe if any of the chickenhawks in the Bush administration had ever seen combat, they might have realized some of the limitations of our Armed Forces.

A recent report commissioned by the Pentagon concludes "that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency." |MSNBC|

Pony made a good observation in a comment to a recent post. Pony wrote:
Just out of curiosity, what does it take to mount an effective counter-insurgency? And is it something that our government is politically willing to do? Are there collateral issues that we're afraid of? Given that they were more than willing to go to war against an enemy who had yet to actually threaten us I don't see what would hold us back other than really awful leadership. Something tells me that with all the money and expertise available to our military that an effective counter-insurgency is entirely within our capability. Wasn't insurgency our game in the 80's?|Bellman Comment|
I think the first lesson of fighting a guerrilla war is to avoid them whenever possible. As Commander in Chief, if you can avoid a long, protracted, costly war against an irregular foe... avoid it.

One of the most tragic things about the Iraq war is that it was an elective war. Our current leadership chose to go to war for a variety of reasons (including overweaning pride), but an imminent threat was not one of them.

The second lesson of fighting a guerrilla is to use proxies whenever possible. The U.S. used this approach throughout the Cold War because we were leery of another Vietnam and we wanted to avoid open warfare with the Soviets. Now that the Soviets are gone the Bushies want to flex our military muscle and show how powerful we are. Unfortunately, a few rag-tag warriors with a cell phone and some high explosive are showing that the U.S. Army has severe limitations in counter-insurgency.

Before the invasion of Iraq commenced I kept saying that we should get the Turks to take over Iraq for us and use them as our puppets. Instead, the adminstration bungled its relationship with the Turks so badly that they wouldn't even let us stage our troops out of Turkey.

The third lesson of fighting a guerrilla war is that if you must fight, and you cannot obtain proxies, then you should seek out strategic alliances. The lack of speakers of Arabic in the U.S. Army is a great hindrance to counter-insurgency operations. The US should have secured advisors and other Arabic-speaking support personnel from Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt before invading Iraq.

The first Gulf War had a huge Arab component...while the second one had very little international representation of any stripe.

The current Iraq war is an glaring example of failed leadership and incompetence.

Where do we go from here? First, I'd suggest using technology to our advantage. The British who developed an incredible distributed sensor network in Northern Ireland to detect and surveil terrorists. We should have cameras and microphones all over Baghdad. According to some reports, the Special Air Service would send troopers to live in the attics of occupied homes without ever letting the people in the house know of their presence...while this may be apocryphal, it at least suggests a strategy of surveillance rather than SWAT style raids for gathering intelligence that this administration seems to favor.

Of course, surveillance doesn't do much good if you don't have the translators to sort through the information.

One might object that this strategy would also be incredibly expensive and difficult. Dublin is a city of half a million while Baghdad is moving up on 6 million people. Well, refer back to lessons one and two for dealing with a guerrilla war.

At the very least, electronic surveillance would help control key intersections and snoop for intelligence.

I don't think the U.S. Army or Marine Corps are well-suited to counter-insurgency by their nature. To that end, if I were President, I would seek to develop a new branch of the service specialize in counter-insurgency and espionage.

And I would use them as liaisons and commanders of the proxies that I would use instead of the Army and Marines whenever possible.

It's a huge mistake for the U.S. to commit itself to a never-ending war against terrorism and for our leadership to demand that we, as a nation, sacrifice our fundamental freedoms to fight a shadowy enemy.

While Al Qaeda is real...this threat is exaggerated by our country's fears and distrust of other nationalities, especially our distrust of Arabs and the century-old tensions between Chrisitans and Muslims.

Invading Iraq was a political choice and a damned poor one. We picked a fight we weren't ready to finish because while our Army is the best in the world at kicking ass and taking names, they aren't set up for low intensity warfare.

We need a new strategy and a new Commander in Chief who understands international diplomacy, respects the rule of law, and knows what our armed forces can and cannot do well.

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