Friday, April 09, 2004

Why the US military should be more like Saddam's 

This week's insurgency -- the deadliest spate of fighting in Iraq since the first weeks of the war -- was bound to unleash a flurry of prescriptions for what US forces are doing wrong in Iraq and what they should do differently. In one of the most perverse such prescriptions, James J. Na writes in the Seattle Times that the US military should try to be more like Saddam's. After all, Saddam was able to control the country; why can't we? According to Mr. Na, American troops are not respected in Iraq the way Saddam's troops were. He believes that "a healthy dose of fear" should fix the problem. I'm not kidding! Here's what Mr. Na has to say:
To be successful in Iraq, we do not need more troops. Instead, we need to instill a healthy dose of fear -- that is, respect -- for our power. This certainly does not mean murder and torture, but it does mean overwhelming military responses to insurgents even in the face of serious collateral damages, as well as collective communal punishments such as reduced electricity and water rations for harboring insurgents....

In order to achieve the clearly noble purpose of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq in a region full of totalitarian regimes, it will be more effective, and certainly more humane in the end, to exercise seemingly harsh methods in the short-term than to risk a long drawn-out guerrilla war.
I find it interesting that Mr. Na seems to think that his "harsh methods," including accepting "serious collateral damages," are the best way to prevent a guerrilla war. Let's look at the Department of Defense's definition of "guerrilla warfare:"
guerrilla warfare. Military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile territory by irregular, predominantly indigenous  forces. (Joint Pub 1-02).
(Italics mine) Moreover, it's generally accepted that a guerrilla war cannot succeed without substantial popular support. Indigenous forces and popular support are the two major factors lacking in Iraq right now. Although some of the insurgents are Iraqis, many are foreign fighters. It is also unclear to what extent the attacks are the work of extremists only, and to what extent average Iraqis support the insurgency. The quickest way to turn the situation in Iraq into a full-fledged guerrilla war, however, would be Mr. Na's proposed "harsh methods." Nothing would give the insurgency more Iraqi recruits and more popular support than "serious collateral damages" and "communal punishments."

It's not easy to fight a prolonged low-intensity conflict without alienating the population, but that's what we need to try to do. To fall for Mr. Na's "harsh methods" argument would be inviting disaster.
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