Thursday, May 08, 2008

No Sense Of History

Jackson Diehl compares the problems of the U.S. in Sadr City to the problems of Israel in Gaza:
For months now, Israel has been mired in an unwinnable war against Hamas and allied militias in Gaza, who fire missiles at civilians in Israel and then hide among their own women and children, ensuring that retaliatory fire will produce innocent victims for the Middle East's innumerable satellite television networks. A growing number of the militiamen have been to Iran for training, and some of the missiles they launch are Iranian-made. Their objective is obvious: to exhaust Israelis with an endless war of attrition while making it impossible for Israel's government to reach a political settlement with the more moderate Palestinian administration in the West Bank.

Now U.S. forces have been drawn into a similar morass in Sadr City, the Shiite neighborhood of 2 million ruled by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. As Iranian-made rockets rain down on the Green Zone and nearby neighborhoods, U.S. forces attempt, so far in vain, to stop the fire by attacking Shiite militants from the ground and the air. Hundreds of people have been killed, filling the satellite airwaves and handing a new argument to the "this war is lost" lobby in Washington.
The comparison is at one level reasonable (how do you deal with an enemy that melts into a civilian population) at at another level it's entirely specious. It also suggests that Diehl believes this is a new phenomenon, yet it echoes Israel's experiences with Hezbollah during its war with Lebanon.

So what part of Diehl's point is specious? His completely glossing over the goals of the militaries involved. Israel has given up any claim to Gaza. It has pulled out its settlers. It isn't trying to win hearts and minds, or create democracy. And it's in an ugly position - it knows that by the time its missiles strike the civilian neighborhoods where Hamas "militants" were launching rockets, the "militants" will almost certainly be gone. So they're striking civilian infrastructure (and perhaps civilians) because the alternatives are to either do nothing or send in ground forces, either of which probably worsens things for Israel and the latter of which generally kills and injures even greater numbers of civilians.

If the U.S. is following that model in an area where it is trying to win hearts and minds, and create democracy, it's foolish. Incompetent. But Diehl's piece seems largely designed to beat the war drums against Iran, so perhaps he's into foolish, incompetent military strategies.

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