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When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

June 15, 2005

The Hansell-Lemay Turning Point

Demosophist

It's compelling to compare the analyses of two popular bloggers who are frequently at odds, and both of whom think the current effort in Iraq may be falling short of expectations: Wretchard, at The Belmont Club and Larry Johnson, at the Counterterrorism Blog. These represent, at least superficially, somewhat differing perspectives on strategic policy. On the one hand Johnson depicts US policy in the Middle East as a "looming debacle." These are words that we tolerate only if their justification is obvious and irrefutable, for good reason: because they can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. We might be better disposed to such language if the ideas they expressed contained clear alternatives that led to some conclusion other than "debacle," but we still tend to distrust them because they belie what appears to be a short-sighted insensitivity to the public good, whether that perception is actually true or not.

Larry starts and finishes his critique of US policy in his post by observing that Lebanon is set to break our hearts, and then suggests supplemental material that recounts the history of failed British and French attempts to bring self-government to Arab populations. This may not seem like a critique of US policy in Iraq, but it is... and not just because Larry has described Iraq as a civil war elsewhere. The reason is that both Wretchard and Larry are concerned about the "strategic rear," of the enemy.

Wretchard's assessment of the situation in Iraq, somewhat different than Larry's, is directly informed by an analogy with a famous turning point in WWII. He feels that we're approaching a "Haywood Hansell-Curtis Lemay moment." His assessment may be more palatable because he doesn't tout the altenative as a "debacle," but just as a rather costly and drawn-out campaign of attrition that sells short our service men and women. And he begins by observing that the level of combat intensity in Iraq is increasing overall, rather than diminishing. That is, the level of intensity confronted by US forces is about the same as it was a year ago, but the intensity faced by Iraqi forces is much greater. This is less significant in itself than in its implications about the success of our overarching strategy: democratization of the Middle East. From Wretchard:

But the constant rate of casualties in Iraq is an objective reminder that however successful US attempts have been within the theater [and we've had some significant successes that he recounts], the enemy strategic rear -- especially in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia -- has been merely damaged -- not destroyed.

What he doesn't say, and what might be equally relevant, is that the intensity level in Iraq might very well be part of the enemy's efforts to impact our strategic rear, a design with which it has recently had some success in the holy-book-flushing and "American gulag" departments. Keep your engines running.

And, as Johnson points out it's not just the effect of our policies in Syria, Iran and S.A., but also in Lebanon, that are disappointing. Both writers are concerned about the "strategic rear" of the enemy, though Wretchard is a bit more clear about expressing that in detail. The consequence would be a "debacle" only if we've read the trend correctly and either do nothing or do the wrong thing about it. But even Johnson sees some change:

Wishful thinking is no substitute for empirical analysis and a policy grounded in reality. The Bush Administration is coming slowly and uncertainly to this realization, particularly in Lebanon. Now that the premature euphoria about the birth of democracy has collapsed under the weight of the political realities of that godforsaken country we will now see whether the Administration can keep its counter terrorism policy intact.

In a war that has no strategic front it's not surprising that the policies dealing with the strategic rear take on special importance. So, I want to be clear about something. Unless we have a policy that promotes democratic and "liberal" reforms (the rule of law, free press, markets, etc.) in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East we have no effective policy to engage the strategic rear of the enemy. We're stuck in some version of attrition, with a strategy directly analogous to the high altitude bombing employed by Curtis Lemay's predecessor, General Haywood Hansell, during WWII. Moreover, it appears that the "realism" promoted by some in the "foreign policy establishment" is more directly analogous to a "hands off" policy that accepts the inevitability of authoritarian rule. In terms of the analogy with the WWII bombing campaign, we'd be increasing the altitude of the bombing runs, and attacking with less discrimination and effectiveness, rather than more. Can there be any doubt that if we pursued such a "realistic" course we'd be mired even deeper in attrition? By reestablishing the old status quo that gave birth to the modern totalitarian movement during the post-colonial period one could hardly say that we'd be placing much stress on the enemy's strategic rear. Effectively, we'd be admitting that such a strategy is impossible.

I'm not saying that this is what Larry thinks appropriate. Indeed, he gives some evidence of understanding that we need "boots on the ground" whose sole purpose is to secure the civil society necessary to nurture a turn toward self government. If I have a difference with him it involves that knee jerk distrust of the Ellsberg-like use of the term "debacle," because I think we could probably reap a costly and less certain success by simply pursuing our present course. This is no longer the Arab world of T.E. Lawrence or of the Algerian revolution, nor are we the British or the French empire. But it seems to me that both Johnson and Wretchard are right in their observation that there's another course of action that involves more than the superficial mobilization of the US power and ingenuity we've seen so far. That course of action, to "get down an all fours" with the detailed and sometimes messy business of nation-building, creating both military and civilian career archs, and cadres of professionals with expertise in such a project, seems the better approach if we really want to ensure that this alternative to "total war" succeeds.

My uncle served under the command of Curtis Lemay during WWII, and on his General Staff at Scott AFB during the Cold War. He passed away a month after we invaded Iraq in 2003. I know what the Lemay strategy would really entail, and it's not Wilsonian. For if our Sharansky-inspired benevolent advance on the enemy's strategic rear fails then I'm afraid we'd be left only with the Lemay paradigm as a last resort: no longer a mere analogy, but the strategic reality of a carefully constructed, targeted and implemented annihilation. That's the reality that lies behind the talk of realism and freedom. That's the real cost of failure, the real "debacle." And my imagination falls far short of doing it justice.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at June 15, 2005 06:55 PM
The Glittering Eye Retaliates with: Catching my eye: morning A through Z

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