August 7, 2006
July 25, 2006 — WHAT if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?
What if the universalist idea of liberal democracy – the idea that all people are created equal – has sunk in so deeply that we no longer assign special value to the lives and interests of our own people as opposed to those in other countries?
What if this triumph of universalism is demonstrated by the Left’s insistence that American and Israeli military actions marked by an extraordinary concern for preventing civilian casualties are in fact unacceptably brutal? And is also apparent in the Right’s claim that a war against a country has nothing to do with the people but only with that country’s leaders?
Can any war be won when this is the nature of the discussion in the countries fighting the war? Can any war be won when one of the combatants voluntarily limits itself in this manner?
Could World War II have been won by Britain and the United States if the two countries did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Didn’t the willingness of their leaders to inflict mass casualties on civilians indicate a cold-eyed singleness of purpose that helped break the will and the back of their enemies? Didn’t that singleness of purpose extend down to the populations in those countries in those days, who would have and did support almost any action at any time that would lead to the deaths of Germans and Japanese?
What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn’t kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn’t the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?
If you can’t imagine George W. Bush issuing such an order, is there any American leader you could imagine doing so?
And if America can’t do it, can Israel? Could Israel – even hardy, strong, universally conscripted Israel – possibly stomach the bloodshed that would accompany the total destruction of Hezbollah?
If Lebanon’s 300-plus civilian casualties are already rocking the world, what if it would take 10,000 civilian casualties to finish off Hezbollah? Could Israel inflict that kind of damage on Lebanon – not because of world opinion, but because of its own modern sensibilities and its understanding of the value of every human life?
Where do these questions lead us?
What if Israel’s caution about casualties among its own soldiers and Lebanese civilians has demonstrated to Hezbollah and Hamas that as long as they can duck and cover when the missiles fly and the bombs fall, they can survive and possibly even thrive?
What if Israel has every capability of achieving its aim, but cannot unleash itself against a foe more dangerous, more unscrupulous, more unprincipled and more barbaric than even the monstrous leaders of the Intifada it managed to quell after years of suicide attacks?
And as for the United States, what if we have every tool at our disposal to win a war – every weapons system we could want manned by the most superbly trained military in history – except the ability to match or exceed our antagonists in ruthlessness?
Is this the horrifying paradox of 21st century warfare? If Israel and the United States cannot be defeated militarily in any conventional sense, have our foes discovered a new way to win? Are they seeking victory through demoralization alone – by daring us to match them in barbarity and knowing we will fail?
Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization – its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all – is endangering the future of our civilization as well?
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