Peace through victory - the American way.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We Are The Battlefield

Daniel Pipes has an insightful column today about war in the modern world. (Here.) His basic point is that wars today are not won or lost on the battlefield but are won or lost in the area of public opinion.
"First, battling all-out for victory against conventional enemy forces has nearly disappeared, replaced by the more indirect challenge of guerrilla operations, insurgencies, intifadas, and terrorism. This new pattern applied to the French in Algeria, Americans in Vietnam, and Soviets in Afghanistan. It currently holds for Israelis versus Palestinians, coalition forces in Iraq, and in the war on terror. ...

"Second, the solidarity and consensus of old have unraveled. This process has been underway for just over a century now (starting with the British side of the Boer War in 1899-1902). As I wrote in 2005: 'The notion of loyalty has fundamentally changed. Traditionally, a person was assumed faithful to his natal community. A Spaniard or Swede was loyal to his monarch, a Frenchman to his republic, an American to his constitution. That assumption is now obsolete, replaced by a loyalty to one's political community – socialism, liberalism, conservatism, or Islamism, to name some options. Geographical and social ties matter much less than of old.'

"With loyalties now in play, wars are decided more on the Op Ed pages and less on the battlefield. Good arguments, eloquent rhetoric, subtle spin-doctoring, and strong poll numbers count more than taking a hill or crossing a river. Solidarity, morale, loyalty, and understanding are the new steel, rubber, oil, and ammunition. Opinion leaders are the new flag and general officers. Therefore, as I wrote in August, Western governments 'need to see public relations as part of their strategy.'"
Democracies are at a disadvantage in this kind of war. Democratic governments must respond to the popular will. The longer a war continues without resolution the more likely it is that opposition to the war will increase. This leaves a democratic government that hopes to win a modern war with limited options.

The first option is to fight an all out and brutal war to destroy the enemy in the shortest time possible and then get out. In the early stage of a war popular support tends to be at its highest. In addition, when a war is in its "major combat" phase the military is given greater leeway to kill the enemy and destroy its infrastructure.

If a short war is not possible, a democratic government fighting a long war absolutely must reach out to its political opponents and get a consensus on the goals and strategies in the war. Consensus across political lines first helps to insulate the war's goals and strategies from political attack. Consensus also helps to ensure that the prosecution of the war will not change much when voters decide to change governments.

The Bush Administration understands that the war we fight against Islamist terrorism is a long war that will require a generation to win. Judged by its action, what the Administration does not seem to understand is that winning the war requires reaching out to political opponents and forging a consensus. In the Administration's defense, its political opponents have never been in much of a mood for achieving consensus with this President. This country deserves better on both sides of the aisle.




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