Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TAKE A DEEP BREATH....Via James Joyner, I see that Ralph Peters has a serious entry in the Worst Idea of the Year Sweepstakes for 2003. Talking about the continuing guerrilla attacks in Iraq, he says this:

We need to have the guts to give at least one terrorist haven a stern lesson as an example to the others. Fallujah is the obvious choice.

If the populace continues to harbor our enemies and the enemies of a healthy Iraqi state, we need to impose strict martial law. Instead of lavishing more development funds on the city - bribes that aren't working - we need to cut back on electricity, ration water, restrict access to the city and organize food distribution through a ration card system. And we need to occupy the city so thickly that the inhabitants can't step out of their front doors without bumping into an American soldier. [And where are those soldiers going to come from? --ed. Er, um....]

Don't worry about alienating the already alienated. Make an example of them. Then see how the other cities respond. Such an experiment would be expensive. But strategic victories don't come cheap.

In my career there have been a number of occasions when I have gotten completely fed up with something and gone into a rant about how we need to kick some serious butt over some issue or another. Luckily, on all these occasions there has been someone around to slap some sense into me and tell me to calm down. Peters needs someone to slap some sense into him.

I surely have no problem with finding and roughly punishing guerrillas, but it's hard to overstate just how disastrous Peters' proposal is. Short of installing a police state and wouldn't that be ironic? this kind of escalation by an occupying power never works. Never. You don't have to look any further from Iraq than Israel and the West Bank to see the abject failure that results when both sides decide on a policy of never-ending escalation. It's a recipe for disaster.

In any case, Peters seems to be completely misguided about the whole point of this war anyway although I admit I'm going out on a limb pretending to know anymore what the point of the war was. Here's his second entry in the sweepstakes:

We're overdue to take a lesson from the Romans and the British before us and recognize the value of punitive expeditions....One key lesson we should draw about expeditionary warfare in the Age of Terror is that we need not feel obliged to rebuild every government we are forced to destroy....Exemplary punishment may be out of fashion, but it's one of the most enduringly effective tools of statecraft. Where you cannot be loved, be feared. Indeed, a classic punitive expedition may prove to be the perfect model for Syria.

Is Peters nuts? The whole point of invading Iraq here comes the limb is to build a stable state that promotes tolerance and democracy, kicks the props out from under terrorism, and provides an example for others. The whole point is to reduce terrorism and the spawning grounds for terrorism, and if you give up on that then there's no point at all.

Quite aside from moral considerations, the idea that a series of punitive expeditions will reduce terrorism is little short of insane. That really would turn this "war" into a purely police action and the entire Middle East into the West Bank writ large. Is that really what he wants?

Kevin Drum 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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