Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Good analysis, now we need solutions.

Before I begin, let me say that Victor Davis Hanson's "Postmodern War" is well worth reading in its entirety.

I'll start out with his conclusion, which seems to contain qualified optimism:

Victory always sways the heart even of the most ardent pacifist, just as defeat and humiliation erode the will of the most zealous hawk . . . bin Ladin’s October infomercial mentioned truces and respites, not out of tender concern for the West, but because bin Ladin is beginning to feel, like al-Sadr, that he is going to lose.

Modern Western man is faced with this awful dilemma, from which he recoils: real peace and successful reconstruction are in direct proportion to the degree that an enemy is humiliatingly defeated and so acknowledges it—the aim being that he will come to feel that he cannot go on being what he has been.

War and politics are complicated and difficult games, always much clearer in retrospect. I agree with VDH that stronger US responses to the first looting, the April situation in Fallujah, and al-Sadr's militia uprising may have brought a faster peace, but such response could have also had other results. Outrage at an authoritative US response from the UN and many Europeans combined with an anti-Bush media could have easily gotten John Kerry elected. It's impossible to say.

In the context of Iraq, the United States has been adept at killing terrorists, moderately successful in promoting freedom and material improvement, tardy in its efforts to create an Iraqi national army to spearhead security and earn the respect of fellow Iraqis, and mostly unsuccessful in preventing Saudis, Iranians, Jordanians, and Syrians from flowing into Iraq.

I'll agree that we're unsuccessful in sealing the borders - that's one of our biggest challenges. However, the question remains: How do you do it? As a pilot I've had some experience doing border patrol flights along the US-Mexico border, and I know it's a tough job. Sealing Iraq's 3,650km of borders - Syria 605km; Iran 1,458km; Saudi Arabia 814km, plus Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey - is a logistical impossibility, especially considering our enemy. A dozen al Qaeda operatives can make a real difference here, not to mention that it's quite likely that they would have the necessary documentation to enter the country legally, right under our noses.

As for being tardy in creating an army here, I'd like to see an objective comparison of any other country creating an army more quickly or effectively - these things simply take a lot of time.

He understands the challenges our Soldiers face here:

Unlike Americans conducting counterinsurgency in Vietnam, today’s soldiers in Iraq must not only win hearts and minds, be extremely discriminating in separating civilians from terrorist killers, keep out foreign reinforcements and aid, but also do all that in a way that convinces the voter back home that they are more peacekeepers than warriors, and kill only in self-defense.

He also understands short-attention-span-America:

In our present context, all our concern about American combat casualties would vanish should there be another mass murder similar to 9/11. Like ancient man, postmodern man is hardwired to survive, and thus really will use his full arsenal when faced with the alternative of extinction. Should we lose the stock exchange or the White House, there would be almost no calls for restraint against states that harbored or aided the perpetrators, on the logic that every terrorist must sleep, eat, and use an ATM card somewhere.

VDH has a great grasp of the importance of our actions and the overall effects of the current world situation, but I'd like to see him come up with better real-world solutions, and do so in real time, not in retrospect.

Update: Here's Bookworm's take on the same article.