Wednesday, July 07, 2004

A Keeper

"Parameters" is the quarterly journal of the U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle. The summer 2004 edition has this insigthful piece by Ralph Peters, titled "In Praise of Attrition."

What's remarkable is that it's insightful: It is mostly a collection of statements of the obvious about the art of war on a large scale. Historical illustrations are provided, but they seem superfluous because so much of this is simple sense. Not pretty, though.

Which probably is why something so basic has to be rediscovered, reinforced, and we have to be reminded of it.

But we do have superior killing power, once our enemies have been located. Ultimately, the key advantage of a superpower is super power. Faced with implacable enemies who would kill every man, woman, and child in our country and call the killing good (the ultimate war of attrition), we must be willing to use that power wisely, but remorselessly.

We are, militarily and nationally, in a transition phase. Even after 9/11, we do not fully appreciate the cruelty and determination of our enemies. We will learn our lesson, painfully, because the terrorists will not quit. The only solution is to kill them and keep on killing them: a war of attrition. But a war of attrition fought on our terms, not theirs.

Of course, we shall hear no end of fatuous arguments to the effect that we can’t kill our way out of the problem. Well, until a better methodology is discovered, killing every terrorist we can find is a good interim solution. The truth is that even if you can’t kill yourself out of the problem, you can make the problem a great deal smaller by effective targeting.

And we shall hear that killing terrorists only creates more terrorists. This is sophomoric nonsense. The surest way to swell the ranks of terror is to follow the approach we did in the decade before 9/11 and do nothing of substance. Success breeds success. Everybody loves a winner. The clichés exist because they’re true. Al Qaeda and related terrorist groups metastasized because they were viewed in the Muslim world as standing up to the West successfully and handing the Great Satan America embarrassing defeats with impunity. Some fanatics will flock to the standard of terror, no matter what we do. But it’s far easier for Islamic societies to purge themselves of terrorists if the terrorists are on the losing end of the global struggle than if they’re allowed to become triumphant heroes to every jobless, unstable teenager in the Middle East and beyond.

Far worse than fighting such a war of attrition aggressively is to pretend you’re not in one while your enemy keeps on killing you.