WHY we haven't achieved world peace.
HOW we achieve it.
WHAT we should expect once we get there.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

Some years ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of Foreign Policy, discussing the difference between raiding and occupation strategies and their results.  In those days, that insufferable boob, Bush the Lesser, had mired America in a war in Afghanistan and another in Iraq, screwing up both campaigns because the military assets required to win the one were being squandered on the other, until both became intractable tar babies.  Foreign Policy was at the time a little more relaxed publication; all its articles were freely available online and it accepted letters from non-subscribers, as it refuses to do now.  Cut off your nose to spite your face.

I advocated a policy of hit and run raids against pinpoint terrorist targets across the globe, taking advantage of America’s obvious advantages of strategic mobility and distributed intelligence; instead of presenting the enemy with the fat, clumsy and static targets offered by masses of occupation troops, their militarized collaborators and their huge logistical supports on the ground.  Quoting Mohammad Ali: “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” instead of sitting there and taking everything the enemy could throw at you from up close.

Whether on their own initiative or on mine, Obama’s military took this advice to heart.  Unfortunately, they also pushed it to its of logical extreme.  They entwined the world with an all-seeing and all-hearing of electronic and human surveillance network of monstrous proportion, enormous expense and unconstitutional sway.  Every year for nearly a decade, their far-reaching robot drones launched Hellfire missiles by the thousand through the kitchen window of every opposition squad leader they could find, along with harmless neighbors whose survivors formed next assault wave against the United States.  No doubt the mushrooming Special Forces elements of the American military have kicked in thousands more doors than Ben Ladden’s and dropped many more of his kind across the planet.
If you identity everyone on Earth who disagrees with you as a terrorist, and declare war against anywhere and everywhere, what can you expect but an endless multiplication of enemies who only grow better coordinated, armed and lethal over time ?  The other day, I heard the Secretary of State, Jim Kerry, boast that the United States had killed nearly half the ISIL leadership.  He failed to mention the fact that those same policies had multiplied the manpower, wealth and armament of terrorism by hundreds of times over the same period.

Hold on, there.  I had in mind a much more judicious application of violence, carefully crafted both in space and in time.  Much more circumspect.  There is a basic problem fighting terror: do you view the challenge as a military matter or a police one?  Currently, the USA is pushing the military model:  maximum firepower and enemy casualties everywhere and at all times – the random killing of innocents be damned. 
A more useful solution would be the police model: an absolute minimum of violence, just enough to repress the opposition and no more.  Otherwise, violence would be carefully suppressed and forbidden under most circumstances, to the limit of our tolerance.  Let the violence of our enemies contain them through global and local rejection; not our excessive displays of violence, multiply their numbers.

We also need greater judiciousness in selecting targets and timing strikes.  Locally within a certain region and temporally along its political timeline, there is a golden window of opportunity for armed interference.  The opposition will have cohered sufficiently to identify its highest leadership yet not enough to crystallize second and third tiers.  Lower order leaders will not have had enough time to develop their own reputation and consolidate their power base sufficiently to replace the first tier with ease and fluidity.  It is at that point and at that point alone that a carefully staged decapitating strike against the first tier of tyrant leadership may be allowed, provided it can pledge zero innocent casualties.  Strikes before that point in time cannot pinpoint key leaders with sufficient certainty; strikes after cannot decapitate an enemy organization, merely rearrange its leadership and perhaps intensify its lethality.  We have been landed in this intractable mess by too many strikes carried out opportunistically and more or less randomly for years.

A good illustration can be found in Syria.  At a certain point, President Bashar al-Assad identified himself in no uncertain terms as the enemy of his own people and of humanity.  His friends only stuck together because of his leadership, and his opponents, both those friendly towards the West and hostile to it, were fragmented and powerless for the time being.  It was at that nexus of time and place that the West might have struck effectively.  True, there was the likelihood of a bloodbath as a result of this strike (brayed by moral cowards throughout the West); but look at the unrelenting bloodbath our inaction produced.

At that time, Assad’s enormous park of main battle tanks should have been carpet bombed, canceling his opportunity and that of his replacements to sustain the massacre.  The same went for the enormous arsenals in Libya, immediately after the downfall of the Gaddafi regime.  They should have been destroyed that week, instead of passing into the hands of regional Jihad. 

The military measures criticized and advocated above will almost never work alone.  The point is not to practice massive and continuous violence, but a very few key pinpricks minutely planned; executed at precisely the right moment; preceded and followed up with the best, most forceful soft power measures practicable.  In the end, it is only those “soft” measures, extending from top-down diplomacy to shameless bribery of foreign middle management to non-governmental and democratic action from the grass roots up, likely to resolve these problems dependably. 


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