Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Myth of Immaculate Warfare

Wise man Adam brought this op-ed by Ralph Peters in USA Today to my attention a couple of days ago. The thrust of it is that when seeking ever more advanced military technologies to use as solutions to military problems tempts us to think that every problem can be answered by military technology. It's well worth reading and I heartily agree. As he says, "It's a lethal myth. The siren song oftechno-wars fought at standoff range makes military solutions more attractive to political leaders than would be the case were they warned about war's costs at the outset. Inevitably, the "easy" wars don't work out as planned. Requiring boots on the ground after all, they prove exorbitant in blood, treasure, time and moral capital."

I've been saying that myself (after, of course, others said it first) for quite a while now. Technology cannot win wars. The real issue is, why does our leadership, military and civlian, continue to believe that it can? Technology absolutely turned the tide in WWI, but that was a very different situation than in Vietnam, where our technology enabled us to begin a process we've continued up until this day: increasing enemy casualties while decreasing our own. And yet as in Vietnam and Iraq, the simple fact of the matter is that while we are capable of winning by committing genocide, we cannot or will not do it.

This is the problem with approaching any problems as if they are not simply part of a larger political context. To paraphrase Clausewitz' famous maxim: War is just politics by other means. As he explains in depth, there is no such thing as a strictly military problem: "The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes." War is the fruit of a tree with roots in the politics of and between nations. It only comes around because of friction between political entities. Fighting an enemy army, and even destroying it, does not address the root of the problem.

In other words, violence is not its own cause. Moqtada Al-Sadr is not the final cause of violence in Iraq, but only the direct cause. And if we kill him and all his men, we will simply find that there are others who will take his place. I don't claim to know a simple or easy way to quell the violence that exists in the world, or to deflect the hatred that some have for our country, but I bet that if everyone had enough to eat, lived in free and open societies, and had a chance to live the lives many of us Americans get to, there wouldn't be nearly as many people willing to carry out suicide missions against our soldiers. Perhaps that should be our priority, not this misguided "war on terror" that President Bush insists on prosecuting.

Vegetius had a saying: "Sic vis pacem para bellum." It means, "If you want peace, prepare for war". It's true to a certain extent, but you have to be careful that you're preparing the right way for the right war against the right enemy.


adam said...

" have to be careful that you're preparing the right way for the right war against the right enemy."

I think that pretty much sums up how the Republicans got it so wrong in Iraq.

Nat-Wu said...

True. But I wouldn't want my warning to be taken solely as a criticism of the Bush administration. Many politicians have fallen prey to the seductive ease of more firepower. JFK and LBJ both thought airpower would have great effect in Vietnam, after all.