Since the beginning of “Iraq,” this writer had been expressing his muted critique regarding that project. Just in case that you think that this is a retroactive analysis followed by a verbal flight from a difficult situation: it is not. Entering Iraq under the then prevailing assumptions, overthrowing Saddam Hussein and then giving the locals a chance to control their lives, is not questioned. Doubts concerning US policy arose after Baghdad fell. Not wanting to chime in with the quire condemning the US for liquidating a dictatorship that intended to harm it, the appraisal had to be restrained. Basically it asserted that the aid to, and the presence in Iraq, should not be more extensive than what the locals’ behavior warranted.
Hussein’s deposition was defensible by the need to protect the national interest. Beyond that America acted on altruistic grounds. Regarding this “national interest” an observation must be made. It is for the USA – but also for her friends abroad – a self-inflicted handicap that the national interest appears to be under-rated in policy making. This is the case in public diplomacy – what America tells the world – but also on the government level. It is folly to assume that acting unselfishly brings rewards. By acting regardless of her interests the US is difficult to predict. Rather bad for a country with an interest in a stable, therefore predictable world. Ignoring the bare-bones national interest, self-imposed obligations emerge that are, originating from shaky premises, hard to fulfill. Take the Iraq case: the Iraqi were alleged to crave liberty. Actually a divided country’s hostile fractions only wanted a dictator acting in their behalf by harming others.
The US’ doctrinal objectives became fictional in the light of evidence that emerged early on. Indications of what the indigenous really wanted were not sufficient to bring about a revision of the engagement’s purpose. The mutual hatred of the local communities soon made it clear that Iraq is just another artificial construct of the disastrous post-WWI “Paris peace treaties.” Since the “nations” making up the country thrown at them did not seek a framework for co-operation but for domination, a democratic and united Iraq is not makeable. If the rule of a flexible ad hoc majority is presupposed by democracy then only a Shiite, Sunny and Kurdish state replacing Iraq can be democratic. In today’s Iraq the Shiite majority will, regardless of the merits of the issue, vote as a block to nullify the desires of other groups. Thereby these ethnic/religious minorities are condemned to be a permanent minority. Functioning democracy presupposes a constant shifting of voters resulting in new – case-related – majorities. Therefore, conflicts inherent in the terms of “unity” and “majority rule” were a bad omen to realize the American goal of a stable democracy in an independent state.
Now, to the major point to be made by someone, who indulged in silence demanded by a loyalty ending in self-censure. In terms of the writer’s experience as an armed rebel there was something wrong with the US’ military policy toward the “insurgency.” It goes against the writer’s grain, but: as an occupying power the US might not have been resolute enough. Given Haditha this is the wrong time to raise the wrong issue. Even so, a point’s merits are independent of the moment’s sensation.
Allow me to backtrack. Fresh in the US – and new in ROTC – it shocked me to be told to aim not to kill but to wound. I wanted to know “why?”. It saps the enemy’s means as he will attend to the wounded. So transport is disrupted, logistics are hindered and manpower will be diverted. Burying the dead is, by this calculation, less harmful to the foe. Based on my contacts with the Red Army (when I was inducted in the Hungarian army we were told that we are there to “paint the While House red”) this sounded awfully naïve. Nevertheless, my instincts told me not to press the point. So, once I knew more I chalked down the lesson as evidence that the US expects its adversaries to behave like it would and not the way they are. Accordingly, America fights by rules and under assumptions that get shipwrecked on the boulders of the cultural barrier.
Scenes of crowds dancing on smoldering American APC’s come to mind. Letting it happen instead of opening fire on those engaged in an hostile act is not going to convince anyone of US generosity toward unarmed(?) civilian bystanders(?). Such inaction suggests the kind of weakness that calls for a repeat performance. From the pictures it is obvious that bombs aimed at Americans were often planted with those housed close bye witnessing it. Warning the victims was more dangerous than aiding the assassins by “neutrality.” Assume now that in Haditha there was a conscious attempt to kill civilians who tacitly contributed to a marine’s death. In this case the corpsmen only did what most armies would have, namely to annihilate the source of an assault. Earlier signals telling that civilians who let themselves be used as a camouflage for irregulars are in danger, would have had consequences. One is less connivance with sneak attacks. The other is respect for a force that retaliates decisively by pounding the source from which it takes blows. The Geneva Convention protects soldiers as POWs and civilian non combatants – but not civilians that act as military auxiliaries. Regardless of the treaty’s paragraphs, rules that ask soldiers to serve as targets for whoever does not care to play by them, will cause the abused to snap and trash the origin of their peril.
A foreign policy deprived of the appropriate means for the eventuality that it fails is hazardous. Some countries in Europe live well without heeding this: it is because there is an external power to be summoned in case the project of bicycling with one pedal fails when needing to go up hill. (The case validates the not-too-original thesis.) In several instances – Somalia, the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, … – America has given evidence that her fielded power is trimmed by her internal system and the scruples that are its derivate. Not to fight a real war unless there is a will to win seems to be a properly applied conclusion drawn from Viet Nam. Now, given the asymmetric war against terror, one has to cope with two new types of discernible military-political challenges.
These add up to issues to be answered by the public, the political class and the government. During the remaining tenure of the Bush administration and its successor, a response must be found. Not doing anything and continuing to stumble along (regardless of perhaps lucking out in Iraq) according to the current pattern, amount to inadequate responses. Someone – here you are being spared a hard-to-spell-name – before his execution has said that his nation must learn a crucial lesson. It is that the “safe” course dictated by cowardice ultimately turns out to be the most dangerous one of them all. This can be amended that there are times when doing nothing means indulging in the most hazardous of all possible scenarios.
What are the new challenges demanding a response? Whether or not future asymmetric conflicts will be entered must be determined. Unless the national interest is sacrificed by giving a negative answer, an adjustment of military tactics and its political strategy (especially in the PR realm) to the demands of such confrontations must be made. Limiting oneself to methods in the service of principles calculatingly abused by the foe is wrong. Such restraint will not only fail to bring results commensurate to the hightened price of the involvement but is also likely to inflict damage. The free world, chiefly represented by America, needs to ask itself who the foe is, what he wants and how he will go about asserting himself. Any response that ignores the answers is inadequate. Alas, reacting in terms of the challenge implies that long revered traditions of comportment will have to be regarded as shadows to be jumped over or crawled under. Managing, if only temporarily, to make us suspend some of our principles for the defense of the core-interest of prevailing, is a success for the adversary. He will be able to say before his annihilation that he had made us stoop to the standards he set. Even so, we shall not forget that rising from lows is the real test of fortitude and that adaptation is a pre-condition of survival. Making moral judgments and asserting them is a privilege of those who prevail. Losers might be right: effective they will not be. Therefore, reacting at the right time, employing the right strategy and striking the real enemy is the task facing the free world “after Iraq” that will not be “the last struggle.”