Daisy Cutter, Daisy Cutter, give me your answer true
A guestpost by Viktor Silo.
All endeavors are composed of two parts: means and ends. In discussing Iraq, if one were to ask: "By what means and to what ends are we fighting there?", you couldn't get a definitive answer from either our military or political leaders. However, the mission as currently practiced, stripped of rationalising verbiage, is to supplant evil with goodness. We wanted to start a revolution in the middle east by replacing the region's growing theocratic fascism with democracy. And the seeds of this democratic revolution were to be planted in Iraq. To everyone's chagrin, though, the cultural soil has proven to be not only hard pan but contaminated with the poisons of centuries of old hatreds and prejudices. So toxic is the culture that new ideas do not grow there; new ideas cannot grow there. Islamist values couple with and exacerbate murderous internecine feuds that render the middle east into an intellectually barren mindscape and a society that could be fairly described as "a little people, a silly people - greedy, barbarous, and cruel..." *
One accepts that theocratic fascism is evil, but its opposite is not democracy. Democracy is not goodness; it is, at best, a means to an end. Democracy, even in our own society, is subordinate to morality. That's why we have a Bill of Rights which limits the powers of our democratically elected government. Islam tolerates no dissent. Under Sharia law there cannot ever be and will not ever be a bill of rights. Under Sharia law, both individuals and democratically elected governments will always be subordinate to an Islamic theocracy, in all matters. In Turkey we can see that a democratice style of government is not the bulwark against a theocratic despotism that we hoped it would be. The people of the middle east are not going to stop being Muslims. The installation of democracy to counter an Islamic theocracy is nothing more than a masturbatory fantasy of those Kantian inspired "peace through democracy" theorists: the liberal internationalists.
As a wartime rationale, replacing evil with goodness is a naive idealism. But if this is not a defensible rationale for war then what is? It should only be, to use the lingo, when our society faces "a clear and present danger." Under this rubric, the purpose of a war becomes clear. We wage war to remove an existential threat to our society. Forcing "democratic principles" on another nation is, ultimately, an exercise in futility unless the forcing power has the intention of a permanent occupation which, in practical terms, is really a colonisation. Regardless of what one thinks of the legitimacy of colonisation, it is an expensive endeavor and will never succeed unless the cost of colonisation can be recouped from the assets of the colonised country. In the present international political climate such a recouping is a non-starter.
The first phase of the Iraq war, the military invasion, was based on legitimate fears. Saddam not only had and but used a WMD (biological weapon), was intent on starting a nuclear program, hated the U.S.,had started two major conflicts with Iran and Kuwait, and was a ruthless and politically ambitious megalomaniac. The major worry was that if Saddam got his hands on nuclear weapons he might hook up with Al Qaeda as a delivery mechanism. A regime change in Iraq was a logical and justifiable military intervention. The fact that it was implemented incompetently does not negate the fact that the rationale for the invasion was based on sound reasoning.
The second phase did not. Besides being illegitimate it was gross, stupid and careless. That said, we are there and unless we want to court more attacks on our country or our country's international assets or our fellow citizens when they travel abroad, we must win in Iraq. Furthermore, if we go broke and leave Iraq in its present state there will be, by most accounts, a bloodbath of epic proportions and the blame for this, rightly or wrongly, will fall on our shoulders. If we cut and run we will be viewed with contempt and we will have little or no influence on the world stage. And we will be viewed as a paper tiger. If that happens, we may as well paint a target on our back. It is vital to our security that the U.S. is viewed as a credible military and moral force.
So, what are the means to victory? In my opinion we need to replace the "Muslim theocratic fascism is evil and must be eliminated" type of wartime narrative and substitute for it: "Muslim theocratic fascism is dangerous and that danger must be eliminated." The substituting of one narrative for the other is important. There will always be Muslim extremists as long as there are Muslims. One cannot eliminate all Muslims. This is not even theoretically possible. Our actions will never and can never conform to this narrative. "Eliminating the danger from Muslim extremists" is a narrative that our actions can conform to.
We are fighting a boots-on-the-ground, bang-bang you're dead war. Fifty-five thousand** enemy dead at a cost of $450 billion. The cost to make an enemy fighter bite the dust: 8 million dollars! While the $8 million dollars per enemy K.I.A. is bad news, and probably represents the most expensive cost of killing each enemy fighter in history, it is not the worst news. The worst news is that 55,000 enemy dead is not nearly enough. Four years in, we probably needed to have killed several times this number to make their attrition rates higher than their replacement rates. The enemy has a billion people to draw from. At the present rates of attrition the enemy has an endless supply of recruits. Unless we change our ROEs to include "take no prisoners" we are not going to increase the enemy's attrition rates and this change isn't going to happen. Therefore, our war strategy has to change dramatically in order to defeat them. No matter how valiantly our soldiers fight, this war, as presently fought, cannot be brought to a successful conclusion. None-the-less, it will conclude but not in our favour. What will end the war is that, if for no other reason, the U.S. will simply run out of money and the enemy knows it.
So, what is the answer? I say that we need to change targets. The enemy needs to be supplied. Supplies are the life-blood of the enemy. Somebody supplies the enemy with their munitions, somebody supplies the enemy with their food, somebody supplies the enemy with their shelter. Their suppliers are countries or they are NGOs that operate within a country with its tacit consent. Countries have infrastructure upon which their economy depends. Any country supplying the enemy, directly or indirectly, needs to have its infrastructure severely damaged or, if they won't comply, destroyed. I would start with Syria.
The Syrians know very well that the U.S. has very large, very powerful conventional weapons that could cripple their country. Yet, they are unafraid. They know that, at present, we lack the will. This has to change. We need a president who, domestically, will stare down the State Department, reluctant generals and the American left. Countries need to know that we have the means and the will to cripple their economies if they collaborate with the enemy. We should economically cripple Syria. Then let other countries observe. Will Syria retaliate? Syria has very little to gain by continuing to supply Al Qaeda and much to lose.
This kind of military option requires almost no boots-on-the-ground. Remember, the attack on Syria or other countries would be purely punitive. We would not be trying to kill or capture anything. It is, also, relatively inexpensive.
Additionally, minimum loss of blood and treasure takes away a significant propaganda advantage from our adversaries, both domestic and foreign. They will no longer be able to exploit our casualties and expenditures by presenting them in a sentimental context. It is the basic goodness in the American culture that makes it vulnerable to such sentimental overtures.
Internationally, we also need a president who will stare down world opinion. It is important to change the dynamic of world opinion. America has to quit being so defensive about its natural right to self-preservation. In these matters, it is simply not important what the world thinks of America. Maybe foreign powers ought to consider what America thinks of them.
Will this strategy work? I don't know, that's for sure. But cutting and running has no upside. It is a guaranteed losing proposition. Going after our enemy's collaborators is a bold move but there is no possibility of us losing if we don't flinch.
*T.E. Lawrence in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia"
** Source: http://usliberals.about.com/od/homelandsecurit1/a/IraqNumbers.htm