Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Middle East Roundup

James Atticus Bowden, a specialist in inter-disciplinary long-range 'futures' studies for over a decade, a retired United States Army Infantry Officer, and both a 1972 graduate of the United States Military Academy and holder of graduate degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University, sagely points out something that I've been iterating and reiterating for the past two-plus years, that Iraq is not a war in and of itself but merely a campaign in the larger GWOT:

The Iraq War isn't one. It looks like a war. It has all the pain and suffering of wartime captured in human stories with individual names that scream in anguish, pain, and unspeakable love and pride. Measured by the long, dispassionate yardstick of history, however, the Iraq War is one battle in a much greater, grave World War IV....

The exercise of imperial American power to destroy the clear and present danger of Saddam Hussein's Iraq is part of World War IV, not a diversion. Saddam was a rogue threat. Sooner or later the Islamists would have used Iraq to get at us.

Bowden draws some other intriguing historical parallels:

Four years after 9/11 galvanized the nation with a murderous attack, only a few historical seconds later, half of America wants to close the detention camp at Guantanamo, pull out of Iraq and pretend there is no war, but a criminal problem – provoked by our own misdeeds and collective historical guilt. The other half of America sends family and friends to fight for as long as their nation asks, like the Roman legions and the U.S. Army on our frontier.

Roman Legions lived and died in places they hated for over 400 years (1,200 years for Roman Byzantium). America and Allies enter but the third year of war in Iraq. The Romans won battles and lost whole legions, but as long as Rome was willing to send reinforcements, Rome crushed any contender – like the siege of Masada – to send a message. Afghanistan (OEF) and Iraq (OIF) told enemies how far and how much the U.S. would do to defeat a threat....

Rome's decline from republic to dictatorship to ruin began when Roman law became what men said it meant. When Rome wouldn't man its own Legions, the long decline tipped. Rome had the means, but lacked the will to survive. [emphases added]

That last paragraph, seen in the context of the decadent partisan malevolence of today's domestic political opposition, is particularly ominious.

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Bill Roggio makes a convincing case that the latest escalation in "insurgent" violence in Iraq may be the enemy's gotterdamerung:

It does appear that, in certain ways, enemy capability to cause mayhem is improving.

This is, however, normal in any sort of warfare, insurgency or otherwise. It is to be expected that enemies will become more deadly as time passes. This is so much a baseline feature of warfighting that Carl von Clausewitz, perhaps the greatest military scientist of them all, stated that escalation was one of the two universal features of war.

...For our purposes, it is enough to say that time permits the enemy to develop specialized techniques for fighting your particular kind of training; and that, as the enemy loses more men and material, he becomes more committed to winning rather than wasting what he has lost. Also, as you and he become more committed to winning, the stakes rise such that committing more, or even all, becomes a rational proposition. At the start, a battle may be something you can win or lose at little cost; but if you fight it long enough, it becomes a battle you must win in order to remain in the war. The battle becomes a decisive one.

As a result, the enemy tends to commit even more of what he has left to victory. It is almost always the case, in any conflict, that destructiveness tends to increase with time.

It is a mistake, however, to read from that the lesson that the trend will continue forever. Eventually escalation will have tapped all reasonably available resources on one side, and at that point, that side will begin to collapse. Escalation, in other words, is a natural feature of warfare: but, although it continues until it breaks, it does eventually break.

The United States has not chosen to continue with escalation. Our own resources are vaster by far than those available to our enemy, but we have chosen to manage the conflict rather than undergo the social stresses necessary for serious escalation. The enemy, however, continues to escalate its attacks against us. There is every reason to believe they will continue to do so until they have tapped out their resources, and begin to fall apart.
This choice of "conflict management" - in practical terms, allowing the enemy an untouched sanctuary in Syria - has lengthened the conflict needlessly, and allowed them to shift their focus away from trying to frighten off the Coalition, which hasn't worked and won't for at least another three and a half years (longer than they can realistically expect to hold out), to the destabilization of the emerging democratic Iraqi society - what Mr. Roggio refers to as "Fourth Generation warfare":

Each generational change has been marked by greater dispersion on the battlefield. The fourth generation battlefield is likely to include the whole of the enemy's society.... [F]ourth generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between "civilian" and "military" may disappear.

To a very great degree that is what is happening not just in Iraq, but in the global war on terror. The entire society is the battlefield - we are fighting in a battlespace that includes the whole of the Iraqi society. The enemy is engaging us there. On a macro scale, we are fighting in a battlespace that includes all of Muslim society, which we are trying to transform. Our enemy is engaging us there. There are promising signs throughout that society that freedom and democracy may be taking root. It is still in its birth pains, but there has been sign of success from Lebanon, from Malaysia, from Afghanistan, and yes - from Iraq. [emphasis added]

Hence the President's preponderant emphasis upon democratizing the Middle East.

Here is Mr. Roggio's basis for believing that we are winning this war, and "winning it big":

We are not fighting in a battlespace that includes our own society. The enemy has failed to engage us there effectively, since 9/11....we are fighting it entirely in the enemy's society. Our own society is not changed by the war; if anything, society is reverting to pre-9/11 mores. [emphasis added]

That graf is both blessing and curse. We started the conflict fighting on our own territory precisely because of those "pre-9/11 mores," and because of our success since we see those same mores coming back with a vengeance [COUGHDickDurbinCOUGH]. My fear is that if the "battlespace" returns to our "society," by whatever means, those mores will be more difficult to beat back a second time.

Roggio goes on to echo Mr. Bowden that Iraq is one front in a global conflict.

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NRO's Michael Ledeen goes on at some length about the degree to which the mullahs botched their fake election last Friday and the strength it indicates for Iran's pro-democracy/pro-U.S. underground:

One of the reasons I have been so concerned about Iran for such a long time is that I fear the mullahs’ cleverness, ruthlessness, and ability to mount brilliant deceptions. Moreover, while there have long been basic fault lines within the mullahcracy, I have long believed they would find ways to pull together at moments of crisis.

The electoral fiasco of June 17 has shaken both of these convictions. They couldn’t even stage a phony election without appearing inept and thuggish, which is certainly not the image they wanted to send to the world. And the spectacle of intense internal conflict among leading figures in the Islamic republic makes me wonder if the revolution is beginning to devour its own fathers and sons.

Meanwhile, Akbar Atri, a member of the Committee on the Present Danger International and of the executive committee of Takhim Vahdat, the largest student democratic movement organization in Iran, asserts that the strategic purpose of this "election" is to put in their presidency a figurehead that can be passed off as a "moderate" to the West who will still be under the thumb of the mullahgarchy. Small wonder our old friend Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani emerged as a "finalist" for the "runoff."

The tactical purpose to which (most likely) Rafsanjani will be put suggests itself:

The new Iranian president will lead the country's delegation in upcoming negotiations with the European nations and the U.S. over the nuclear issue. The mullahs do not want to risk having a "reformer" or moderate in that position. With, say, Rafsanjani as president, and Ahmadinejad a close second, and thus influential, they can be sure Iran's government will stick to the script they prepare. They may, for example, appear to have it give ground on nuclear development (actually just a postponement) in exchange for tacit U.S. agreement to stop supporting the democracy movement in Iran. The purpose would be to wait out the Bush presidency. This is a pattern they have used before, and it has worked for them.

And given the Bushies' perplexing reluctance to take any sensible action against the "Islamic Republic" - which the Bush Doctrine itself would seem to demand, especially in light of Tehran's all-out drive for nuclear weapons - it is a pattern that gives no indication of not repeating itself, this time with grave implications for both the Iraqi front and the entire GWOT.

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But perhaps the whole conflict, and our chances of ultimately prevailing, are symbolized by this microcosm (via Powerline):

Several hours after the deadly West Bank shooting attack [referred to earlier in the Haaretz story], IDF soldiers caught a female would-be suicide bomber at the entrance to the Erez border crossing on the edge of the Gaza Strip.

The woman, who was carrying 10 kilograms of explosives in her pants, had a permit to enter Israel to receive medical treatment. Following the incident, the IDF closed the crossing for traffic, reopening it a few hours later.

The would-be bomber, 21-year-old Wafa Samir Ibrahim, resident of the Jabalya refugee camp was dispatched by the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, a military offshoot of the Fatah movement, to carry out a suicide attack.

Ibrahim had been in the past to the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva to receive medical treatment for severe burns she sustained from a gas balloon that exploded
next to her six months ago. She needed to reach the hospital for medical tests.

The woman said she did not plan on carrying out the attack at the Soroka hospital but in another hospital, not specifying its name.

Security personnel became suspicious of her at the entrance to the border crossing, and found the explosives in her pants during a body search. When Ibrahim realized she had been caught, she tried to detonate the explosives she was carrying, but was unsuccessful.

Brigadier General Avi Levy, commander of the Gaza northern brigade told Israel Radio "terror organizations took advantage of her bad health and manipulated the woman into carrying out the attack."

Lecy said that she carried the explosives on her person believing that the respectful manner in which soldiers treat women during security checks would enable her to smuggle the belt successfully.

"Palestinians are trying to slip through every possible crack in the security belt, including humanitarian ... in order to smuggle explosives into Israel," Levy said.

I wrote back when this war began (or, rather, when we finally started treating it as a war) that it was, and was going to be, a war of annihilation. Which, from our side, meant not just killing the enemy, but doing so before they could take a bunch of us with them.

I speculated whether a society as soft and decadent as ours would have the long-term fortitude within it to prosecute such a war to a finish. These days, those doubts are becoming steeper and steeper.

It reminds me of the carnage on both sides that we averted by nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before the A-bombs were deployed, an invasion of Japan itself was considered inevitable. And based upon the fight-to-the-death resistance that the Japanese had put up on one Pacific island after another, and with the Japanese civilian population figuring to also be fully in play defending their homeland, it was estimated that the Allies would suffer at least a million casualties. As to the Japanese, it can be assumed that the death toll would have been many times as staggering. Indeed, Allied planners were fully committed to using biological and chemical weapons in order to lessen the anticipated toll on Allied soldiers.

I've always wondered whether our side, both the population at large and its leaders, would have had the will to fully follow through on such an invasion. Such a campaign would have been unlike anything ever faced by our military in its history. An enemy that couldn't win but was culturally forbidden from conceding defeat would have forced its Western foes to almost become the very thing they'd been fighting against: mass murderers. Not in a deliberate sense, but by erasing the distinction between civilian and military targets.

It's true that we did essentially the same thing in our strategic bombing campaigns against both Japan and Germany, but it's one thing to do so from several miles in the air and quite another to do it on the ground, where you can see the faces of your victims.

Would we have had the stomach to do what it took to win unconditionally? To kill ten million Japanese one at a time instead of a hundred thousand in a combined handful of minutes? Or would the public have worn down and ultimately rebelled against the human and moral cost?

My guess is the Greatest Generation would have persevered, but wouldn't have been proud of what they had had to do. And our generation? Ho boy, don't ask.

So-called "civil libertarians" shrilly lamented what kind of society we'd become if we engaged the Terror Masters who had been fighting against us for the previous twenty-two years. My retort was to wonder what kind of society we'd become if we didn't.

I hope and pray we never have to find out.