Thursday, August 04, 2005

"Kill" vs. "Shock and Awe"

Drawing on lessons from the United States' WWII defeat of the Japanese, Mark Steyn plays Monday morning quarterback and concludes that the reason for the ongoing insurgency in Iraq is that the United States hasn't played rough enough. In particular, Steyn argues, the United States' efforts to minimize civilian casualties in the early stages of the war rendered it impossible for the United States to achieve the sine qua non of total military success: persuade the enemy that it is finished.

The main victims of western squeamishness in those few weeks in the spring of 2003 turned out to be not American or coalition troops but the Iraqi civilians who today provide the principal target for insurgents. It would have better for them had more Baathists been killed in the initial invasion. It would have been preferable, too, if the swarm of foreign jihadi from neighboring countries had occasionally been met with the accidental bombing of certain targets on the Syrian side of the border. Wars fought under absurd degrees of self-imposed etiquette are the most difficult to win see Korea and Vietnam and one lesson of Germany and Japan is that it's easier to rebuild societies if they've first been completely smashed. Michael Ledeen, a shrewd analyst of the present conflict, likes to sign-off his essays by urging the Administration, "Faster, please." That's good advice. So too is: Tougher, please.
Steyn suggests that stomaching a few more Iraqi civilian deaths at the beginning of the war would have ultimately saved lives by limiting the extent of the insurgency. Maybe so. (In the absence of any calculus, the reader must take this on faith.) But, Steyn's narrow focus on military strategy ignores the battle for "hearts and minds", both in the Middle East and in America. Steyn's approach would no doubt have led to more stories like this one. Perhaps Steyn would respond that the benefits of swift military victory would have outweighed any costs in the effort to win "hearts and minds." But, Steyn doesn't make this case. Such, I suppose, are the limitations of the newspaper column.

UPDATE: Wretchard, of Belmont Club, e-mails the following comment:

The enemy is the first to sense US limits, whether these are explicit or not. One of these limits is the type of war that can be politically justified, because warmaking is ultimately authorized by elected representatives. But since some of these limits are self-imposed and not physical in nature, they are dynamic. This can make for surprising outcomes.

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