Saturday, April 05, 2003

Steven Den Beste of USS Clueless just wrote an essay on why the situation our troops around Bagdad are now in is different from what 'seige' usually means. Some around the blogosphere, including a few who write interesting and original material on good days, have taken to writing extremely short summaries of his long posts. By that logic, you could sum this one up as saying that usually in a seige the attackers can't get in because of the walls, but this time they can when they choose because those kinds of defenses are destroyed, so they just have to pick and choose entry times and places where they will do the most damage to the defenders with the least American and civilian casualties.

Representing such a summary as the whole post would be cheap. Without his introductory discussion of military history, it's unclear how the current situation is different, and any attempt to deduce the consequences of the current situation would come from thin air. It might be more than is needed for those purposes, but warfare is evolving now, and how it has changed in response to past technological and social changes gives us a clue as to what is happening. Of course you can skip a few paragraphs if you are learning more than you want about prehistoric or fifteenth century warfare, but some of it is interesting stuff. And all of it helps equip you to think about how a seige is different when the attackers can get into a city to raid when they choose, but defenders cannot sally fourth into the open to attack without being massacred.

In his last two paragraphs you get a hint of something that doesn't seem to have been fully addressed.

Most of what such people are expecting won't happen, because they have entirely the wrong idea of the goal. We don't care about taking territory. What we're going to be doing is to kill defenders. Once the defenders are gone, we can take as much territory as we want to.

We're not going to be fighting house-to-house because we don't have any interest in capturing houses.

Who are the defenders? If every Sunni in the city is a defender because they remember Shia killing Sunni wholesale during the previous revolt, we cannot capture the city without killing many civilians. Of course you can say that anyone who resists us is not a civilian, yet we have striven hard to avoid killing people not part of the official military, and to be forced to kill huge numbers of people would be a major setback to our plans to win the peace. If every Shia who respects Ayatollah Muhammed Bakr Al-Hakim decides to listen to his fatwa's against the American occupation, the same problem occurs.

There is are other differences between this war and most other wars of history. We are determined to occupy a nation WITHOUT killing large numbers of them either before or during the occupation. Previously occupied cities have known the cost of revolt. The threat of collective punishment has been at least implicit, so that even a potential suicide attacker knew he put his family and hometown in danger. Other occupied nations have not had support for rebels coming in from outside. Oddly enough, the government collapsing and losing control of the military is not all good. If there is no central government to surrender, the fighting continues until every individual hothead realizes the war is over on his or her own. Perhaps there is some precedent in Afghanistan, but the original base of the Taliban's power was in the rural regions, and we only occupy the capital.

Posts about why this war might not be a good idea are no longer relevant. We're in it. If I could solve these problems I might have been in favor of it in the first place. I've been thinking about them anyway, and I hope those who favored the war are doing the same.

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