Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Futility of Modern Warfare

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq war have raised questions about the efficacy of using conventional methods of warfare to occupy territory and counter insurgencies. Dedicated enemies that are willing to die for a cause apparently don’t fear shock and awe as much as the deliverers envision. And, the cost of conventional wars is becoming astronomical. It seems possible that a dedicated group, using stealth and the cover of local populations can bleed the resources of major powers using conventional forces until they either are seriously impacted by the disparity in economics of the two types of warfare, or their will to continue is defeated.

In Iraq, we have fielded a half million troops over a period of four year to sustain a force of 120,000, spent a half trillion dollars, lost 2,500 lives, 15,000 injured, 8,000 seriously and 20,000 suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. And with the help of over 200,000 Iraq troops we have not been able to achieve a decisive victory over a few thousand insurgents. I think we have demonstrated that force alone will not achieve our ends.

In Israel, a country we have subsidizing to the tune of two to four billion dollars a year for several decades, and which has devoted a large portion of its resources to defense, has not been able to control an insurgency of ill equipped, impoverished Palestinians with no end in sight. If there is a cause which is supported by donors from without, it is quite clear that an insurgency can be sustained perpetually.

Modern western nations have attempted to stigmatize the means used by insurgents to wage insurgencies by giving them the label, terror, because the blood and gore is visibly apparent, and civilians are casualties. Modern warfare has become more like a video arcade game, where missiles are fired from aircraft or bunkers far away to completely destroy targets or people with no evidence of the blood and gore attendant to it, and where the loss of civilian life is sanitized by calling it collateral damage. Such propaganda has been somewhat successful in convincing the populations of modern countries that their actions are just, while those of the insurgents are not. But, it has not been successful in convincing the insurgents and their sympathizers of this. In reality, war is war, the violent and cruel destruction of human and material resources as a substitute for communication and common understanding that should be limited to the defense of homelands from dictators with diabolical intentions and megalomaniac visions. Its use as a tool to spread democracy or to successfully occupy territory over a long period appears to be counterproductive and a net drain on the resources of those who employ it.

The conclusion to be reached is that the tools of war and the reasons to go to war need to be reevaluated to suit our times. Strong countries can be more successful in defending what they have developed by assisting weak countries in their development. Rogue nations are more likely to decay and fail when left alone to fend for themselves, rather than when they are threatened, blockaded or sanctioned. Any external threat tends to bring a nation together to defend its sovereignty. When left alone to decay, an insurrection of a disaffected population is more likely, and as we have illustrated here military might is only a temporary solution to controlling a population that becomes more and more dedicated to a cause it perceives as just.

The Politics of Fear

After decades of ignoring terrorist acts against our foreign installations and ignoring border and internal security we are attacked by Islamists using our own planes. What does this tell us? Does it say we have been caught with our pants down and need to pay attention to our internal and external security, or does it tell us we are faced with a formidable new enemy that is going develop sophisticated weapons, invade our country, and subjugate our people? Do we beef up our intelligence services, improve our cooperation with foreign allies, and rationally consider what caused the act and how to fight this new enemy, or do we embark on a quasi-religious campaign to demonize countries we think irresponsible and mount a conventional war of gigantic proportions to demonstrate our strength and ability to inflict massive damage on our enemies?

Unfortunately, in both cases, we did the latter, defining an axis of evil in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, mounting a shock and awe campaign of standoff warfare and then invading the first country in the axis of evil, Iraq. What signal does this send to the other two countries? Are they more likely to think we are just settling old scores with an old enemy or is this the first in a series of invasions of the three countries in the axis of evil? It would seem a rational response of the other two countries would be to fear an invasion by the world’s greatest superpower, particularly if the superpower continues to avoid direct diplomacy where real attitudes can be discerned, and continues to make threats of dire consequences if their instructions are not followed to the letter.

How can these countries keep from feeling boxed in and threatened if the world’s greatest superpower goes around the world rounding up support for sanctions or other aggressive actions against them? Are they most likely to give up their sovereignty and submit, or are they more likely to want to develop a nuclear retaliatory capacity to defend themselves, when they see that other nuclear armed countries are not as threatened by nuclear armed superpowers?

We continue on the path of force and fear, squeezing and squeezing the cornered rats, because we can, because we want to show them who is boss, and more realistically because of our own paranoid fear that they are a dire threat to us. Isn’t this a time to step back and ask ourselves what the real threats are? Certainly they have more to fear from us than we have to fear from them. Wouldn’t some serious diplomacy, one on one, go a long way toward diffusing the situation? Are we so prideful that we can’t explain to them the axis of evil thing was a mistake and that we are really not interested in invading them? Or is this just the politics of fear used by this administration to rally the Rambos to the polls in the next election?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Phony War

The so-called War on Terror is a phony war. Are we to believe that we are threatened by a disorganized band of disaffected radicals led by an exiled Arab hiding out in the hinterlands of Afghanistan or Pakistan?

After decades of ignoring border security and the status of foreigners entering the country legally but overstaying their visas, and meddling in the affairs of Islamic countries around the world, we are surprised that we are attacked using our own aircraft as weapons? Correcting this lapse of security is obviously is not a job for highly trained pilots, cruise missiles, tanks and a marine landing. It’s a job for the intelligence services, law enforcement, and maybe a few Special Forces, along with cooperation with other nations in confronting the threat. It’s also a signal to get off our duff and do something about border and internal security. We have our own domestic wackos, what’s a few more? We live in a dangerous world and we need to be vigilant.

But, the administration needed a war to accomplish its real goals, the plans for which were already on the drawing board. Old scores with Saddam Hussein must be settled, a beachhead in the Middle East must be established, and the waning powers of the executive branch must be shored up. There is nothing like a war to put the fear of God into the populace, legitimize the expansion of executive powers, and expose the weakness and sheep-like tendencies of Congress, who worry more about the next election than the welfare of the country.

We need look no further than Washington DC to find the axis of evil. The combo of chicken hawk neocons and frustrated cold warriors eager to kick ass and take names to control the world is all that is needed. These plotters claimed for themselves the sole authority to define what is good and what is evil, what tools of war are legitimate, what aggressive actions need to be taken preemptively, without threat to the country, and the means to carry them out. They abandoned the principles of humanity the country has held for generations by eschewing limitations on torture, using renditions and secret hideouts for interrogation, and sidestepping international conventions and cautions to accomplish their goals.

What do weak countries and their people do when confronted with the threats and actions of a superpower that controls a major portion of the worlds economic infrastructure and has the military might to crush any confrontation on the field of battle? How do people without sophisticated weapons confront a superpower or a country like Israel that is backed up by a superpower? Do they meet them on the field of battle with their rocks and rifles to be crushed by exploding missiles fired from planes or bunkers miles away? What recourse do they have besides secret forms of insurgency like sniping, exploding devices, or kidnapping? When these are the only weapons available and are effective why are they considered illegitimate?

In such conflicts between the weak and the strong, the strong not only exercise military superiority. They demand to right to define the terms and language of engagement. The tactics used by the opposition are stigmatized as terror, while the destruction of civilians along with military targets by antiseptic standoff warfare is deemed collateral damage. The use of disproportionate force is justified as the right of self defense.

History has shown that the only defense against incursions into weak countries by strong military powers is insurgency. Just as the colonialists were denounced by the British for using guerilla tactics instead of meeting in ranks on the field of battle in the Revolutionary War the insurgents of today are condemned for using guerilla tactics to defend their territory. If weak powers are to preserve their way of life against the demands and incursions of strong military powers they must use all effective means at their disposal to defend themselves. Striking at the homeland of strong military powers is a legitimate means of defense. Particularly, in the case of democratic countries, where the civilian population must sanction the actions of their government, attacks against the civilian population have a measure of legitimacy.

We must come to realize that most of our problems with Islamic groups stem from two sources: the dangers of religion in creating extremist tendencies in downtrodden people who see no hope in the future, and our meddling in their affairs and supporting other countries that do. They have a right to decide how they want to be governed. And they must have the courage to overthrow dictators in the same way they are willing to repel an occupying power. We must restrict our actions to defense of our own country from external and internal threats, and diplomatic initiatives to influence the affairs of other countries, unless more drastic action is sanctioned by a legitimate majority of the world’s nations. We must uphold the values that made our country great and that are embodied in the declaration of independence and the constitution. We must maintain our system of checks and balances. We must keep our press free of governmental pressure. We must provide for the least among us who can’t provide for themselves. We must sustain a strong and vibrant middle class. We must treat people humanely and compassionately. We must lead be example, not by force. If we do otherwise we are on the road to the trash heap of history.