Sunday, March 9, 2008

Fighting to Win: Advocating Total War in the Age of Sacred Terror

In an entry yesterday, I cited Daniel Doron, at the Wall Street Journal, where he argued against Israel's current military strategies:

The massacre of rabbinical students Thursday at a Jerusalem seminary highlights the failure of the powerful Israeli military to stop the assaults of Palestinian terrorists. It also reveals serious deficiencies in Israel's strategy and tactics....

Israeli governments have done little to stop the massive rearmament of Hamas in Gaza with Iranian weapons, bought with Saudi money and transported into Gaza with the connivance of Egypt. Israel did not even press its great ally, the U.S., to lean on Egypt and put an end to this flagrant violation of its peace agreement with Israel -- a peace agreement for which Egypt is rewarded by billions in U.S. aid.

But the worst failures stem from adoption of a no-win strategy....

Israel could achieve military victory by eliminating or incarcerating Hamas's leadership, not two or three a month (so that they are replaceable) but a few hundred at once. By breaking its command structure and its logistical apparatus, Hamas can be rendered inoperative.

But for this to happen, Israel and Western democracies must treat the terrorists' mortal challenge as a war for survival, not as a series of skirmishes. And in war, you must fight to win, by all traditional means.
Now, Doron suggests in his conclusion that Israel should use "all traditional means,'' but that's rather ambiguous. How far should Israel go in defeating the demonic alliance Middle Eastern terrorist organizations intent on the Jewish state's complete and utter annihilation?

Will locking up "a few hundred at once" really stem the unending onslaught of terrorist mayhem facing the nation?

Dana Pico over at
Common Sense Political Thought has his doubts, and he's made a powerful argument against Israel's cat-and-mouse limited war doctrine:

The last paragraph is correct, but the preceding one demonstrates Mr. Doron’s intellectual problem; his problem is that he is an educated Western classical liberal....

The current Western classical liberal paradigm for war is fighting to take out the political and military leadership of the enemy, and that’s just what Mr. Doron suggested, “eliminating or incarcerating Hamas’s leadership, not two or three a month . . . but a few hundred at once.” The obvious question to ask is: when was the last time that such a strategy won a war?

The Allies won World War II by killing millions of Germans and Italians and Japanese, to near the point of exterminating their population of fighting-aged men, and by so thoroughly destroying their countries’ infrastructures that no resumption of hostilities was possible. The Germans started it, but it was really the Allies who turned Europe into a charnal house, via concentrated aerial bombardment and massive physical invasion. The Japanese started it, but it was the United States which killed and bombed Japan into submission, so thoroughly beaten that Emperor Hirohito forced a surrender before invasion was necessary. In short, we didn’t just defeat the fascists’ leadership, we didn’t take out several thousand political and military leaders, but we battered their countries into submission.

That concept of war is simply no longer within the boundaries of current Western thinking; we no longer accept the notion of actually destroying a nation in the process of beating it militarily. That kind of thought went out the window beginning in Vietnam, and was gone completely by the time of the two Persian Gulf Wars.
Pico's absolutely correct, and he hits upon an extremely important question: What's the limit of war fighting doctrine in today's long-war against fundamentalist terrorism?

Well, it turns out that Michael Scheuer addresses this question precisely at today's Los Angeles Times, "
Break Out the Shock and Awe":

In this age of mindless phrases, such as "out-of-the-box thinking" and "a time for change," another silly phrase -- favored by presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush -- is causing America's defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The phrase is "small, light and fast," and it refers to the kind of military that they think we need to have.

"Small, light and fast" means not your grandfather's Army -- far fewer heavy weapons and far less of the ground infantry that made up the conventional forces the United States has always relied on in major wars. Instead, its proponents believe, the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.

To varying degrees, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama want this as well. Obama, for example, recently called for "more special operations resources along the Afghan-Pakistan border."

But this approach cannot work. One lesson of the last decade is that our leaders' efforts to win wars with the CIA-led clandestine service and U.S. Special Forces in the lead only delivers defeat. We cannot fight a worldwide uprising of radical Islamists with the type of forces once thought most appropriate to suppress rebels on tiny Caribbean islands....

The sad truth is that Washington's increasing over-reliance on clandestine and special forces to fight our enemies is the result of our political class' terror of condemnation by the media, academia, the just-war theorists and the European elite if it uses America's full military power. Notwithstanding the murderous war in the Balkans and the Rwandan genocide, U.S. leaders have bought into the ahistorical assertion that human nature and war today are radically different from and far less bloody than they were in the eras of Alexander and Caesar.

Unwilling to apply full conventional military power against our enemies, American officials instead hope that light forces, counterinsurgency tactics and precision weapons will beat our foes with few casualties, little or no collateral damage -- and no bad publicity.

Well, bunk. Victory is not possible if only covert forces are employed, and presidents from both parties have lied about their effectiveness because they will not tell Americans the politically incorrect truth. The fact is that in this global war against non-uniformed, religiously motivated foes who live with and are supported by their civilian brethren, and who are perfectly willing to use a nuclear device against the U.S., victory is only possible through the use of massive, largely indiscriminate military force.
So if that's what it's going to take - absolutely "battering countries into submission" through the application of "massive, largely indiscriminate force" (to borrow from both passages) - then why haven't we done so?

Well, what's not mentioned here - at least not as explicitly as it should be - is the problem of the killing of civilians. Are we ready to employ America's unprecedented military preponderance in wars of total, scorched earth annihilation (and is Israel)?

Obviously not.

Staying with the U.S. case, this is not to say that recent American military victories weren't decisive, for example in
Afghanistan and Iraq. They were, but they were incomplete: They were not wars of total annihilation on the scale of the Second World War.

If we're really going to fight our enemies indiscriminately, we need to be ready to kill men, women, and children. We need to be willing to deploy bombing campaigns on the scale of Dresden and Tokyo, and in killing we need to make no distinction between enemy soldiers and enemy civilians.

Are we ready to do this? I don't think so.

But note something here: James McPherson recently reviewed Mark Neely's, The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction at the New York Review of Books (
click here).

Neely's making the case that the Civil War was not a total war on the scale of World War II. McPherson takes Neely's argument apart, showing that on most measures rarely has war been as total as the conflict between the states.

But what's useful about McPherson's piece is the elaboration of the total war doctrine itself:

The concept of 'total war' had arisen as a way of describing the horrifying destruction of lives and resources in World War II. The generation of historians who experienced that cataclysm used this phrase to describe the American Civil War as well. That conflict cost more American lives than World War II, even though the United States in 1861 had less than one quarter the population of 1941, and it left large portions of the South looking like bombed-out cities of Europe and Japan.

The Civil War mobilized human and economic resources in the Confederacy and the Union on a scale unmatched by any other event in American history except perhaps World War II. For actual combat duty, the war of 1861-1865 mustered a larger proportion of American manpower than that of 1941-1945. And in another comparison with the global conflagration, the victorious power in the Civil War did all it could to devastate the enemy's economy as well as the morale of its homefront population. Union armies were remarkably successful in this effort. The Civil War wiped out two thirds of the assessed value of the South's livestock, and more than half of its farm machinery - not to mention one quarter of the Confederacy's white men of military age. While Northern wealth increased by 50 percent from 1860 to 1870, Southern wealth decreased by 60 percent.
McPherson uses this discussion to cast initial aspersion on Neely's case that the Civil War was historically limited.

But our purpose here is to consider whether the West stands ready to fight modern wars on this scale of destruction. The United States is more powerful in the absolute sense today than in any time in American history, and our present level of defense spending - at 3.9 percent of GDP - is at comparable historical lows for the post-WWII era.

Obviously, we could rain down exponentially more destruction on our enemies today than in any war Americans have fought in history, and we could afford to as well.

Is that what we want to do?

Personally, I'm all for fighting futher along the continuum toward total war than we are today. But I doubt society is.

We're not likely to achieve the "lasting victory" both Pico and Scheuer recommend unless we engage in the total scale of destruction that McPherson describes.

Until we do, we should not be surprised to see future attacks on the United States of at least the scale of September 11, 2001.


Anonymous said...

I can't remember why I bookmarked this Reich-wing blog.