the paradox of force and the utility of restraintCompare and contrast.
Donald Sensing argues for the utility of force, force, and more force in Iraq: "Quashing the insurgency requires killing as many of the insurgents as possible." Sensing further argues that a continuation of the war in Iraq is critical to the defeat of Islamic terrorism, and expresses the hope that al Qaeda won't conclude that Iraq is a lost cause and pull out. He concludes that "'building up a strong and stable' and democratic Iraq is the key part of the flypaper strategy; it is what makes Iraq an imperative battleground for al Qaeda." So the war in Iraq is simply a war against al Qaeda; the application of violence serves the cause of nation building; and every insurgent killed in Iraq reduces the supply of available terrorists by one.
William Lind, on the other hand, argues that the "key to success" for American forces in Iraq is "not wanting to fight":
Fighting ramps up disorder, and Fourth Generation entities thrive on disorder. Disorder undermines the local government's legitimacy, because disorder proves that government cannot provide security. Fighting usually means that locals get killed, and when that happens, the relatives and friends of the casualties are then obliged to join the fight to get revenge. Violence escalates, when success requires de-escalation.Elsewhere, Christopher Hitchens argues that the U.S. military is endangering its mission in Iraq with the application of excessive and unguided violence:
Hannah Allam's moving obituary for Yasser Salihee, one of Knight Ridder's Iraqi correspondents in Baghdad, would be upsetting enough on its own if it were not for two additional considerations. The first is that Yasser Salihee joins a list of three intrepid Iraqi reporters and broadcasters killed in Baghdad last week. The second is that all three were slain by American fire. Ahmed Wael Bakri, the program director at al-Sharqiya TV, and Maha Ibrahim, a reporter for the same network, were both shot seemingly either for coming too close to American soldiers, or for misinterpreting signals or gestures from them.So which is it? The significance of the question is pretty clear; if we believe that the ever-more-aggressive application of force will make us ever-safer, do we risk entering the trap of a paradox in which the reaction to our escalting use of force leads to a greater prevalence of terrorism, a larger insurgency in Iraq, and a bigger available pool of recruits for al Qaeda?
These brave people were not murdered or targeted, or else slaughtered indiscriminately, as would be the case if they had been victims of the al-Qaida-Baath alliance. But it would not be entirely correct to say that their deaths were quite accidental, either. They were victims of a policy of "force protection" that mandates Americans to treat any questionable action or movement with "zero tolerance." It's a moral certainty that many more Iraqi citizens die this way than are ever reported.
I have been very reliably assured that the British commander, Gen. Michael Jackson, has privately told his American counterparts that if they go on in this manner they will risk losing Iraq.
Whatever the answer, my perspective as an enlisted infantry soldier is that we are training for escalation, or at least for the continued application of little-restrained force. I was with a group of Ready Reserve soldiers yesterday who piggybacked on a range for weapons training with a group of basic trainees. Standing off to the side, we watched a sergeant tell these future infantrymen a story about a little girl who carried a bomb to a group of American soldiers, killing one and injuring several others. The sergeant concluded with a warning to the trainees, telling them that the American soldier killed in that bombing would be home with his family if he had been alert enough to shoot the girl "between the eyes." You'd better be ready to do whatever it takes to get home, he concluded, even if it means killing children.
Now, sure: There's nothing new here. This story is unsurprising, an old and recurring theme of war and of military training. But there's a debate underway about the appropriate limits of American force in Iraq, and the debate doesn't seem to be reaching down into the ranks in any way that I can see -- from, certainly, a very limited perspective.
And so it looks to me like we face the paradox William Lind discusses: Killing more and more people in Iraq to ensure the safety of American troops, while each person we kill has friends, neighbors, colleagues, and a family -- all watching and drawing lessons about the nature of the American occupation, and all deciding what they're willing to do in response.
If we want to secure the safety of our nation against the threat of terrorist violence, we need to enter into a larger discussion about the degree to which our political and military choices may be serving the cause of our stated enemy. We have not yet found a way to do that, as the last presidential election so richly demonstrated. We seem to be comforting ourselves with the simple thought that our military is killing our enemies, but that may turn out to be a dangerously false comfort.