Monday, April 05, 2004

Bad guys, good news?

Things are heating up in Iraq, but I think this is not such bad news. Polipundit points out that "the US military is far more capable than [journalists] realize. Just remember that the media has vastly exaggerated the difficulty of every US military operation since Vietnam. Think back to their egregious coverage about a year ago. And Afghanistan before that."

Self-described coalition "mercenary" Grimbeorn reads the uprising by the Shiites in Baghdad's slums as a desperate attempt by Muqtader al-Sadr to distract his constituency from his own crimes. (And by crimes, he means the kind of things that Iraqi Shiites would be upset about, like the assassination of other Shiite clerics carried out inside the Tomb of Ali, a sacred site.)

And Instapundit passes along a thoughtful reader email:

We invaded and occupied Iraq with a loss of American life roughly equivalent to the city of Chicago's annual murder count. That is far too low considering the accomplishment. It has been so low precisely because we deferred some of the major combat. We are now having to engage in that combat, and that is unfortunate, but it is far better that we do so now than allow it to happen later.

So it's good, because it allows the US military to kill bad guys, which is what the US military is best at and happiest doing. And the bad guys have to get killed in order for Iraq to prosper.

Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out many times the surprising downside of swift American victories in Afghanistan and Iraq: too few bad guys were killed:

MOST OF the Baathists among our current enemies in Iraq chose to flee rather than stand and fight. The homes of Saddam's henchmen were not all bombed. Their friends were not killed. Their pride was only temporarily lost?to be regained, evidently, upon their discovery that it is easier and safer to murder an American who is building a school and operating under strict rules of engagement than to take on Abrams tanks barreling into Baghdad under a sky of F-16's.

Such are a few of the ironies entailed in our stunning military success, even if overlooked in analyses of the recent turmoil. And there are still more. Hard as it may be to accept, a rocky peace may well be the result of a spectacularly rapid victory. Imagine our war instead as a year-and-a-half continuum of active combat, stretching from the late-March 2003 invasion until the scheduled assumption of power of the Iraqi provisional government this coming July. Now suppose that over the course of this time frame, about 5,000 of Saddam's hardcore killers had either to be killed, captured, or routed from the country if there were ever to be any chance for real peace to emerge. Somehow, under conditions of full-scale combat, one suspects the job would have been much easier.

Of course, we must not wish the war would have lasted that long in order to allow us freely to destroy Saddam's remnants, but we must at least appreciate that short wars by their very nature often require messy clean-ups. After the shooting stops, the aid workers arrive; the hard-core, hypercritical journalists remain; and soldiers must build rather than shoot.

. . .

Many Americans have come to believe that war is the worst thing that can happen to humans. It would probably not have been easy in 1991 to convince them of the need to prolong our "highway of death" in southern Iraq, even if doing so would have prevented Baathist troops from escaping to Basra and killing innocents; or of the need to bomb Serbians in Sbrenica in order to prevent them from killing women and children; or of the need to annihilate fleeing Taliban fighters to prevent them from drifting back into Kabul months later to shoot young Frenchwomen trying to feed the poor and hungry.

So bad guys are doing bad things right now, but in doing so they have become targets. And, hopefully, they will be destroyed, so that they cannot destroy the new Iraq.


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