Friday, February 17, 2006

Waging War

Speaking on The Charlie Rose Show today, US defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a curious observation about Iraq which got us thinking about the philosophy of waging war.

Mr. Rumsfeld spoke about the tension between America's need for sufficient forces in theater to create an environment where Iraqis can reconstruct their nation and the risk of excessive force commitment that alienates them.

We think this tension -- and Mr. Rumsfeld's consequent impulse to carefully calibrate force levels in Iraq -- is a dangerous manifestation of bourgeois sentimentalism that, alas, marks democratic societies. We fear the very idea of unleashing our maximum dogs of war.

In truth, it's impossible to calibrate with precision the consequences of the blunt instrument that war is. It's precisely this reason why war should be a last resort. Responsible governments must do all things possible to avert war but, when war becomes inevitable, they must do all things necessary to achieve overwhelming triumph.

Such triumph is not about raising one's flag over the enemy's capital, or toppling his baroque statues, but about destroying his will to power, his expectation of a come-back, and his appetite for continuing the fight. Japan's psychological state after Nagasaki is a perfect example. Such triumph comes not through effete calibration of force, rather through its deliberate over-application.

Then, on the still-warm ashes of the enemy's crushed aspirations, the victor can build his palaces of peace for history to applaud.

This is the lesson of every war won, and lost. It is tragic and amusing that democracies forget this lesson again and again -- because we are brought up with innate aversion to using violence as a device for settling issues. There is a naive sentimentalism at play here -- which while endearing and even acceptable in times of peace, must be set aside when war becomes necessary. Ironically, such peace-driven sentimentality stretches out war and ends up hurting a lot more people than would be the case if war is waged with overwhelming force in the first place.

America ignored this lesson in Iraq -- it failed to crush the will of Iraq's Sunni heartland, and now is struggling to manage a nuisance insurgency. Iraq is not evidence that neo-conservative ideas are utopian and impractical -- rather, it is evidence of the fact the poorly waged wars are seldom easy to win.

Come to think of it, this is not new wisdom at all. Isn't this what Lord Krishna said to Arjun when the latter was struggling with his pathetic sentimentalism rather than doing what a soldier should do -- crush the enemy without remorse?

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