The Paradox of Modern War

THE PARADOX OF MODERN WAR….I’ve been meaning to comment on this Matt Yglesias post for the past couple of days, but it looks like I’m not going to get around to it. It’s still worth reading, though.

I’ve come to pretty much the same conclusion as Matt: the only way to win a war is for the other side to give up, and in a war of any size the only way to make that happen is by raining down utter destruction. Exceptions to this rule are pretty rare.

What this means is that the only way we can “win” in Iraq is via a war of annihilation, and this is something that ? thankfully ? Americans are no longer willing to engage in unless we ourselves are threatened with annihilation. As Matt says:

Here we face the central paradox of humanitarian warfare. Our new, more humane techniques are perfectly adequate to meeting purely military objectives. Destroy a tank. Destroy an airbase. Destroy a missile silo. A weapons lab. A communications center. They are not, however, nearly so good at achieving what one might call the humanitarian fringe benefits that accrued following the Allied victory [in World War II]. But to use mass slaughter of civilians as a technique of humanitarian warfare is absurd, repulsive, and unacceptable.

Which is not to say that modern, moral methods of warfare can never be used to humanitarian ends. High-tech airpower sufficed to secure Kurdistan a large measure of liberty from Baghdad for many years. Other analagous circumstances may well arise. But as a means of remaking a nation ? as opposed to securing the independence or security of an already separate one ? the methods we may use don’t seem up to the job. So much the worse for the methods, says [Max] Boot, but that’s insane. That it is incumbent upon us to find other, better ways of helping those who could use help than dropping bombs is the only reasonable conclusion.

This is indeed the central paradox of the war in Iraq. It does not seem to be one that is easily solved.