Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Can Nice Guys Win Wars?

Tigerhawk discusses many of the alternative strategies to traditional warmaking, including "making life so good for the enemy" that he stops fighting us. It all sounds very funny, until you realize it's true..


Blogger PeterBoston said...

The "we" Tigerhawk uses as a moderating reference is a gaggle of newspaper and TV editors. The real we would not hesitate to encourage our military to use all of its considerable firepower to eradicate half the ME - civilian casualties be damned. We have not arrived at that tipping point yet and I am not sure what it would take to get there, but American history tells me that it exists.

We all rail at the leftist ideological bent of the MSM but sheepishly accept its portrayal of Americans? Bullshit.

5/16/2007 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/16/2007 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

The whole issue of being nice to your enemies is easy to ridicule, and I won't get too carried away with it. However, some would argue that war is about forcing your will upon the enemy. If you're able to impose your will on some other (or at least keep him from imposing his will upon you) I would suppose that resorting to conventional warfare would be unnecessary.

But this whole notion that the US isn't winning because of our refusal to embrace "unrestrained brutality" seems a bit silly. Americans have no problem with brutality, they have a big problem with senseless brutality or fights that don't have a huge moral element. Maybe we could have "won" in Iraq if we'd immediately installed a regime more vicious than Saddam's. But that would have negated every moral point made by the Bush administration as to why we were going to war.

Consider the very name "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Other than the WMD selling points this war was heavily sold on the basis of spreading freedom and removing a terrible, torturing, inhuman regime. This was supposed to be a war of liberation, one which would send positive changes rippling through the muslim world, eventually democratizing the Arabic world. At least I used to hear such talk from many OIF supporters.

Nowadays such talk is clearly out of fashion. Now, the problem is that we're not sufficiently vicious. Now, apparently we don't want to kill the enemy... of course the enemy seems to have shifted from elements of a regime to the civilians of numerous nations. And some suggest that if we just become a little less squeamish we will "win."

Win what?

5/16/2007 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

There is an article today in the Wall Street Journal by Bernard Lewis that has bearing on this issue.

Bernard Lewis points out that in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s the U.S. response to Islamic terrorism was tepid at best and apologetic at worst. This led to Osama Bin Laden concluding that the U.S. was both a safe and soft target. In contrast, the USSR, which committed far greater transgressions against Muslims, looked to be far more difficult to hit – they would hit back.

Of course, not mentioned in the Lewis article is that much of the U.S. response to terrorism was because U.S. leaders kept their eye on the ball – the threat the USSR presented. Becoming embroiled with Soviet proxies and nutcases would only interfere with winning the Cold War. And that strategy worked.

In the 90’s most of the U.S. non-response to Islamic attacks was based on the Clinton Administration’s “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” approach to international relations. The bears in the woods had all been killed off by the adults of the previous generation, so we could all just don our colorful national costumes, join hands on that hilltop, sing the Coke song - and all just get along. The Millennium came a decade or so early, there was peace in our time. Military budgets could be slashed and the remaining forces used for humanitarian missions that philosophically, at least, would include airdropping Cokes to all those people on the hilltops (and that is literally what we did in Bosnia). Clinton did not have his eye on the ball. There wasn’t even a ball any more: The End of History

But all of these different reasons for inaction sure looked the same to the Bin Ladens of the world. No Guts – No Glory - And we eschewed glory and that meant we had no guts.

Now, today, do we really have our eye on the ball the same way we did when it came to the USSR? And what does that mean? Is Operation Iraqi Freedom is an example of a leader keeping the eye on the ball?

And by the way, there are still people insisting that there is no ball.

5/16/2007 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Funny you should mention the name, james... Back in 2003, I had a brief but instructive email conversation with a very Left prof at (I believe it was) U. of Ariz. He was going on and on about "This war was sold!" and thought that my contention that the very name of the operation telegraphed our intent was childishly naive.

I chalked up his dismissal as projection, since it's all too common for folk of his bent to pick Orwellian names. What's never ceased to astound me is how they then expect that - when it's revealed that the thing itself is pretty much the opposite of the name chosen for it - they still think we should all believe the name rather than the reality. Whereas in Iraq, yup, lots of disarray there - but also a free people who were not free before, a constitution that is a model of liberalism for that part of the world, and a coalition government that continues to slog away at some very intractable problems in spite of what must be a constant temptation to chuck it all and factionalize beyond all hope of recovery.

5/16/2007 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger 3Case said...

ObL had $250-330M as the result of the "niceness" of the West. Someone please explain the manner we may be "nice" to him so that he relents on his quest.

5/16/2007 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I think the logical consequence of rejecting a policy of "unrestrained brutality" is a commitment to patience with the methods of restraint. But public opinion is whipsawed between a desire to achieve "quick and decisive" results and a reluctance to use harsh methods.

Max Boot, at a talk I attended today, believed the Surge was succeeding, but only slowly. Yet he also believed that the US political system was so impatient that unless quick results were demonstrated soon, the last political supports for the "long war" would vanish. The balance of probability was that the US would give up too soon, and the consequence he predicted, would be unimaginable brutality.

But in the calculus of public relations, by some trick of perception, that sort of consequent brutality would not count if it happened after a US withdrawal, just as it did not count in Cambodia. Millions might die as a consequence of a precipitate withdrawal, but provided it took place after the politicians had dusted their hands of the whole affair it would be irrelevant except to the victims.

Public expectations require quick and humane victories. But if the only available options are "quick and brutal" versus "long and humane", count on the politicians to choose "short and humane" with the brutality to follow offstage.

5/17/2007 12:17:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Yet the Killing Fields and boat people are in memory now Wretchard. Do you think that we have the temerity to allow it again?

5/17/2007 03:35:00 AM  
Blogger buck smith said...

But if we do pull out and mass killings ensue, we will be blamed for it later. The anti-Vietnam War crowd now blames the US for the killing fields in Cambodia.

5/17/2007 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

Iraq is the most strategically important piece of real estate the world today. The United States needs to hold Iraq by any means necessary. However, if the United States withdraws from Iraq and in the wake inevitable catastrophe follows, it will NOT be the fault of the American public. Look at a calendar. Look at the cost. Abraham Lincoln would have considered himself blessed with the patience of this American public.

No, if the Iraq intervention proves a failure, it will be the fault of an administration that has repeatedly demonstrated incapacity to pick civilian and military leadership for key roles. In short, incompetence, not public impatience, will be the fault.

5/17/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Rich Rostrom said...

The US has not been insuficiently "brutal" in Iraq, but it has been insufficiently firm. "The way to grasp a nettle is firmly." We have flinched at several key confrontations with hostile actors (notably al-Sadr). For fear of seeming harsh and provoking hostility, we backed off from conclusive action, leaving problems to fester and grow.

IMO: deal sharply, quickly, and decisively with such problems.

The momentary spike of negative reaction will be less damaging than the long-term drip of negative reaction to the on-going problem and measures against it.

The chief Bushite failure in this war is failure to recognize and cxampaign in the information space. The U.S. needed to flood Iraq and the Arab world with truth about what's happening, monitor the foreign and local press in Iraq and respond hard to disinformation, push in the U.S. media to keep jihadist crimes in the spotlight, make sure the friendly press has everything it needs to get favorable stories out...

5/17/2007 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger The Red State Ranger said...

Is it just me, or has Victor Davis Hanson been saying this very thing for years? The reason the West wins at warfare is because we unapologetically kick the living bejeebers out of the other guys.

Or, at least, we used to.

5/18/2007 12:10:00 PM  

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