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How Much Violence is Too Much?

This is not intended as a rhetorical question, it is a major issue in the ongoing war we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and quite possibly soon in Iran and other places in the world. This has been named the War on Terror by our present confused Administration. Their confusion lies in both what they are fighting and how terrorism works. I am concerned that much of our nation is also becoming confused in a way that will hurt us far more than it will help to rid the world of terrorism.

Terrorism has two faces, the face seen by the victims of terrorist acts, and the face seen by the people who believe the story told by the terrorists. Not only are the terrorists already heroes to more than a few of the people in the Middle East. They are also objects of great sympathy there and elsewhere by people who feel oppressed by their lives and the governments in their nations. Without the sympathy and support of those who cannot or will not fight, Terrorists could be easily killed or defeated. It is the growth in that support base of the general population that is needed for Terrorism to work that now concerns me most in regard to Iraq.

It is possible to so weaken an enemy as to defeat their very spirit but it is not usually easy to do so. It most often requires a level of violence far greater than that which is possible to exert; or at least greater violence than we can exert without losing the support of civilians at home in these times of Televised warfare. Vietnam is an excellent example of that relationship of intolerance for violence by civilians and the failure to achieve an achievable military objective. We could have won in Vietnam. All we had to do was kill everyone who opposed us. It would have cost many more American lives and those of far more Vietnamese than the over two million killed in that conflict. Our nation’s tolerance for violence was passed before we even got close to achieving the subordination of the people of Vietnam to our anti-communist goal. The level of tolerance for violence by our military against other civilian populations has quite possibly shrunk since that war. There was no great outcry in the first Gulf War when we killed and destroyed large numbers of Iraqi soldiers without serious numbers of casualties on our side. But there has already been a serious level of outcry against the violence in Iraq by both the press and the civilian population of this nation.

This is not because we are weak in our support for an effective effort to destroy terrorism. It is because we are not so confused yet as to ignore one fact that is lost on this Administration. Escalating our level of violence is likely to increase the support base for terrorism in the world. We risk losing more of the nearly one billion people of Islam to the terrorist cause if our acts of violence are viewed as excessive by the people who might otherwise abhor terrorism. If, in fact, the lies told by someone that led us into the war in Iraq are generally known to be lies in the world outside our borders, as they are, we have already lost the high moral ground. Those lies about WMD and al Queda’ presence in Iraq are recognized as lies by followers of Islam in the whole world. They have seriously hurt our cause in winning the minds and hearts of those the terrorists look to for support. No matter if they were merely rotten intelligence hyped for the purpose of winning support for the war in Iraq, or if they were simply constructed out of the delusions of Chabali and his supporters in the Pentagon they have hurt us badly. Now the escalating violence in Iraq with Shiites joining Sunnis in attacking our civilians and soldiers threatens to further inflame civilians who would otherwise never support terrorism.

War is by its very nature more nuanced than most human endeavors. If you read the great strategic thinkers such as Sun Tzu and many others since he set down his basic rules of war you will begin to understand that fact. Nuanced thinking about violence is only one of the small parts of warfare. Nuanced thinking about the nature of your enemy and their capabilities is at the heart of any successful war. Nothing trumps the age old adage “know thy enemy” unless it is the equally old “know thyself”. We are failing at both of them. Our failure thus far is a failure to recognize that the most certain way to injure our own cause is to take any action that gains support for the terrorists among their possible compatriots. Some actions are necessary and attacking Afghanistan was possibly one of them, but we have left that nation to its own devices and made Iraq our most visible target. This was a strategic error which is now being compounded by the tactical failure to fully support the many Iraqi’s who envision democracy as a solution to their problem of governance. We are continually distracted by the attacks on our men and women there and now are likely to give the terrorists what they most certainly want from us. They would love to have us escalate our level of violence against civilians and particularly Shiites.

The Sunni’s in Iraq are already most likely to support the terrorists as they have lost the most in our invasion thus far. If the Shiites join them we are left with only poor choices, escalating violence, which is in the end going to fail for the reasons stated above is one. The other is ignominious withdrawal from Iraq which has its own set of gains for the terrorists. There is still a little ground left between those choices but it is diminishing daily. The most recent events in this war are an example of what happens when a rich and militarily powerful nation miscalculates badly. The attacks by Shiites and the destruction and mutilation of our civilian workers are only symptoms of the main facts of this war.

The main facts of this war are: It was begun under false pretenses and against the will of the people in many neutral nations, it was carried out against the will of most of the people in the nations comprising our coalition of the willing; it was pursued for personal and political reasons that are invalid as causes for war in the minds of neutral observers much less the people of Iraq. The only valid excuse for it was to remove Saddam but the plan to replace him was and is incomplete and naive. It is out of our control and becoming more so every day. These are not facts that can be denied except in a welter of self serving comments by this Administration and its supporters. The facts about this war are all becoming more believable and indeed apparent with every passing day. Those of us who warned against proceeding when this war began still are trying to find a means to turn this disaster into a victory for the USA but it is quite possibly impossible to accomplish that task.

I do understand that leaving our war powers to a man as deficient in understanding the nuances of warfare against an enemy as competent at understanding us as the terrorists have proven them selves to be is a recipe for disaster. It is not with Bush’s inability to understand our enemy before 9/11 that we should find fault, but his egregious and foolish failure to understand the trap that he was entering when he choose to attack Iraq. His folly is growing more apparent with every day and it is clear that he is trying to brazen it out through the next election. Do any of those of you who are determined to vote for him have a clear view yet of the train wreck we are engaged in there? It has been the one single greatest contribution to support for terrorism since Israel decided that taking some of Palestine’s territory for their own settlements was a good idea. No matter how effectively it is spun by Rove and Hughes into something it is not it remains a disaster in the real world. God bless and keep you all safe in this time of our failure to wage a nuanced war. ©Henri Reynard/GoldenBrush Interactive

Posted by Henri Reynard at April 5, 2004 6:46 PM