Skip to comments.We must teach the insurgents to respect U.S. power
Posted on 04/09/2004 9:28:58 AM PDT by Lando Lincoln
With the surge of anti-American and anti-coalition violence in Iraq, there are renewed calls to increase the number of U.S. troops there. The advocates of "more American troops in Iraq" from both ends of the political spectrum believe that more troops and firepower are what we need to stabilize Iraq. But we do not need more troops. What we need instead is a change of perception that will be brought about by a change in our methodology.
When watching the unfolding insurgence of militiamen led by the radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and remnants of the Ba'athist regime in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, one is struck by the paradox of superior American military power.
On a clearly defined conventional battlefield, the American military has no peer in the world. It easily brushed aside the million-men Iraqi army, twice once to eject them from Kuwait and later to topple their leader in their homeland.
Yet, while this obviously inferior Iraqi army had little trouble maintaining "stability" in Iraq after all, even in a defeated state it was able to quell with ease a general uprising by almost the entire Shia population after the first Gulf War the vastly superior American military is clearly struggling to pacify the country.
To some, the answer to that paradox is obvious: Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime, including its armed forces, simply terrorized the population into submission. But the next inference is, if perhaps equally obvious, less sanguine: The might of the American military power is simply less feared off the battlefield.
In other words, while insurgent Iraqis were afraid to confront the American military while wearing uniforms of legitimate combatants, now clad in civilian outfits they are unafraid to ambush even its high-ranking commanders. To battle the American military in accordance with the rules of warfare is to invite an imminent destruction; to take potshots and to set up cowardly improvised bombs is to bring school books and candy for their children.
Certainly this is not a suggestion to bring back the Mukhabharat or its methods of mass murder, torture and rape rooms in order to pacify Iraq. Rather, the point is that, despite much hand-wringing about "evil, bloodthirsty American imperialists" in the world, these insurgents clearly understand something that many anti-American ideologues do not: Americans are not to be feared precisely because we are not evil, bloodthirsty imperialists. This lack of fear is a tremendous hindrance to our efforts, because in the cold reality of that region, to elicit no fear is to be powerless, and the powerless do not command respect.
To be successful in Iraq, we do not need more troops. Instead, we need to instill a healthy dose of fear that is, respect for our power. This certainly does not mean murder and torture, but it does mean overwhelming military responses to insurgents even in the face of serious collateral damages, as well as collective communal punishments such as reduced electricity and water rations for harboring insurgents.
Conversely, it means rewards for cooperation such as communal security self-management, economic aid and reconstruction. Most importantly, we need to adhere strictly to the promise of sovereignty transfer, the ultimate reward for "good behavior."
The unbending promise of sovereignty and vigorous military responses were the main reasons, for example, why the British were able to defeat the Malayan insurgency in the '50s, by taking away the main justification for taking up arms for "liberation" while punishing "misbehavior" severely.
To many Americans, this kind of methodology is seemingly abhorrent. But the "American exceptionalism" has never been about a nobility of means, but that of purpose. After all, we firebombed cities from the air and even pulverized two cities with nuclear weapons to achieve victory over Axis totalitarianism.
In order to achieve the clearly noble purpose of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq in a region full of totalitarian regimes, it will be more effective, and certainly more humane in the end, to exercise seemingly harsh methods in the short-term than to risk a long drawn-out guerrilla war.
Martin van Creveld, a prescient Israeli military historian and the prophet of military "transformation," once wrote that opponents in long wars begin to resemble each other because war is a mutually learning and imitating activity. It means that the longer the war lasts, the more likely it is to degenerate into a tragedy of gradually escalating violence, barbarity and misery for all sides, and that even the current American armed forces, perhaps the most human-rights conscious military in history, will not be immune to its deleterious effects.
So the question is: Do we now have the courage to be harsh in order to be humane in the end? Only an affirmative answer will be the indication that, finally, we have overcome the so-called Vietnam syndrome once and for all.
James J. Na writes about international security affairs from Seattle. His articles have appeared in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Defense News and the Naval Institute's Proceedings Magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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