Use of Force

USE OF FORCE….You won’t usually find me on the same page as the fine folks at INDCJournal (the “Confirm John Bolton” ad currently running on their sidebar should be your first clue), but occasionally cats and dogs can sleep together. Here is Bill Ardolino yesterday:

There’s a common idea, almost exclusively promoted among right-wing pundits, that more force is necessarily more effective force.

….But the global war on terror is a wildly asymmetrical conflict that’s only going to grow more frustrating and complex….As a result, much of the bluster about ditching Queensbury rules and going “Dubya Dubya Too” on our “enemies” as an evident solution to the conflict is simply that: bluster….”Nuking Mecca” won’t do a whit of good, and in fact [will] accomplish the opposite of any cowing intent.

….I think that it’s time for some right-wing pundits to either move beyond the lazy general concept of “more force” is necessarily “better force,” or at least present a practical, detailed plan for an aggressive subjugation of “the enemy” that goes beyond “we need to get serious! If only those ******s in Washington would take the gloves off!

Hear hear. I think there are several points we agree on (some of this was clarified via email, by the way):

  • It is, of course, absurd to suggest that greater force doesn’t generally win wars. Not for nothing did Cato the Elder end every speech with a ringing cry of “Carthago delenda est,” and Carthage has had a notably minor impact on world affairs ever since.

  • Even in local insurgencies, brutal application of force can be effective. Saddam and the marsh Arabs are a pointed case.

  • However, thanks to modern media and modern weaponry, the track record of major powers ending large-scale insurgencies with massive military power is approximately zero in the past half century ? including cases where the war was fought with ruthless brutality. And like it or not, a modern insurgency is what we’re fighting. We’d be well advised to stop complaining about how unfair this is and get on with business.

  • Nuclear holocaust aside, then, conventional war simply won’t succeed in stopping global jihadism, and we need to stop thinking that maybe it will if we just kick it up another notch. It won’t kill off our enemies; it will just make their recruiting easier. And if they feel the same way about us in 30 years as they do now, we’re in serious trouble.

Now, as Bill notes, we likely still have a “fundamental difference in opinion” about when to apply force and when not to. But I’m willing to take small steps first. If we can manage to agree on the idea that the fight against militant jihadism is, essentially, the biggest counterinsurgency effort ever, it’s a good start. It means that when we think about using force, we think about it not in terms of whether it’s “justified,” or whether it will kill enough people (it won’t), but in terms of whether it advances our long-term goal of ratcheting down the number of people who support large-scale terrorism.

We’ll still probably disagree more than we agree. But even having an analytic framework in common would be progress.