The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Monday, July 24, 2006

Keeping Moral Legitimacy

Fred Kaplan on the new Army Field Manual: a handbook for U. S. soldiers written by Lt. General David Petraeus and retired Col. Conrad Crane:

Counterinsurgency involves rebuilding a society, keeping the population safe, boosting the local government's legitimacy, training a national army, and fighting off insurgents who are trying to topple the government—all at the same time.

As the manual puts it, "The insurgent succeeds by sowing chaos and disorder anywhere; the government fails unless it maintains order everywhere."

From first page to last, the authors stress that these kinds of wars are "protracted by nature." They require "firm political will and extreme patience," "considerable expenditure of time and resources," and a very large deployment of troops ready to greet "hand shakes or hand grenades" without mistaking one for the other.

"Successful … operations require Soldiers and Marines at every echelon to possess the following," the authors write. (Emphasis added.) They then list a daunting set of traits: "A clear, nuanced, and empathetic appreciation of the essential nature of the conflict. … An understanding of the motivation, strengths, and weaknesses of the insurgent," as well as rudimentary knowledge of the local culture, behavioral norms, and leadership structures. In addition, there must be "adaptive, self-aware, and intelligent leaders."

Meanwhile, a single high-profile infraction can undo 100 successes. "Lose moral legitimacy, lose the war," the authors warn, pointedly noting that the French lost Algeria in part because their commanders condoned torture.

This piece, incidentally, appeared on July 8, just days before the war in Southern Lebanon broke out. Since then, events have moved at such a speed that they almost cause numbness. But a few points worth making (and these are taken from media , such as CNN or The New York Times, who can't be accused of anti-Israel bias):

- Support for Hezbollah has increased throughout the Arab world.

- Most humanitarian assistance to Lebanese people has been provided by Syria (as refugees arrive there; as far as I know Cyprus mainly provides a stop-over).

- The Bush adminstration has refused to call for a cease-fire while speeding up the delivery of laser-guided bombs to the IDF.

- The IDF has been accused by the UN of attacking "excessively and indiscriminately".

The point is not that Hezbollah is better or somehow more virtuous than the IDF. Its leadership has lied about its own use of targetting civilians. The point instead is that in the period of a few weeks, Israel has done extraordinary damage to its own reputation, while the reputation of previously pariah groups such as Hezbollah has increased.

In a situation like this, emotions run so high that on certain topics rational discussion becomes almost impossible. The moral worth of the IDF vs. Hezbollah is one of these. Instead, though, I wonder how military professionals, especially in the United States, are viewing this conflict. It will almost certainly have an impact on the occupation of Iraq -- an impact that will be made vastly more complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is Shiite, and the U. S. has tended to succeed in its relations with the Shiites in Iraq. How will this change, though, when Shiites in Iraq look at the support the Bush adminstration is lending against Shiite militias in Lebabon? Again, the issue here is not the moral question of whether Hezbollah is terrorist. The issue is what the real-world consequences will be of taking sides in a conflict that is inflaming emotions across the Middle East.

In other words, how are American military professionals thinking about the possibility Israeli actions in Lebanon might doom the U. S. plan for Iraq to failure?

I'm not asking these questions rhetorically. I'm genuinely curious to find out what sort of reaction those in the military (or those who deal with diplomacy as it has an impact on the military) are having. What is their thinking? What are their views of the actual consequences the war in Lebanon will have on their own plans? Are they neutral? Supportive of Israel? Beside themselves with frustration and disbelief? They, too, are a group whose opinions need to be made known.


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