The early reports suggest that the “surge” in Baghdad is working. “Insurgents” (read “gutless thugs”) are fleeing in all directions like cockroaches.
The only surprise is why anyone considers this a surprise. The American military’s capacity for violence is so overwhelming that no one with the slightest instinct for self-preservation will stand in its way when it is unleashed against them. When we take the initiative and utilize a fraction of our national power, nobody can stand up to it, least of all a rag bag bunch of soldier posers and backshooters. (Not to mention that as John Keegan noted in his masterful book A History of Warfare, Arabs have historically eschewed face-to-face battle by organized formations in favor of the hit-and-run raid.)
There is a lesson to be drawn from this. As Macauley said, “The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.” We have been in a war in Iraq for 4 years, the last 3 plus years or so of which we have attempted to wage it nicely, nicelyâ€”that is, moderately. We have been imbeciles.
This is not to say that we should have been going all Roman on anyone downrange. Not only is the American military’s capacity for violence unprecedented, the precision with which it delivers that violence is also without historical parallel. Not to say that innocents would not have died had we acted more violently in the past three yearsâ€”they would have. But how many innocents died because we deliberately conceded the initiative to a brutal enemy? They number in the thousands, blown apart by car bombs or fanatics with suicide belts. If their blood is on our hands, it is because of what we failed to do, not because of what we did. Out of a fear of being labeled killers of innocents, we have acted in a way that has condemned many innocents to horrid deaths.
And initiative is the key word. Initiative is the cardinal military virtue. “The Offensive” is one of the rules of warâ€”this is just a synonym for initiative. Stay on the offensive. “L’audace, toujours l’audace.” Act as in the Halsey quote (memorized from my Naval Academy days) that is the title of this post. Do everything you can to maintain the initiative. The aggressor has incalculable advantagesâ€”advantages that we ceded to Al Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, unreformed Baathist killers, and just plain criminals whose only ideologies are power and money. We are staring defeat in the face as a result. Why should we surrender the initiative to such a collection of military nullities, thereby permitting them to wreak havoc on the innocent whom we are supposedly there to help? Because we were afraid of not being the nice guy? Listen to Leo. Nice guys finish last, in war, at least.
It’s even worse than that. We didn’t win any points for our forbearance, but we may lose the war because of it.
Perhaps desperation is finally leading us to act as prudence and wisdom should have from the start. Perhaps we are finally channeling Macauley. Better late than never. But hopefully not too late.