Violence, we are often told, is not the answer. It never works, and only leads to endless cycles of destruction. OK, that’s the argument from the hyper-pacifists, and [grit teeth] not really representative the mainstream Left. Lest I be accused of setting up straw men, here’s Kevin Drum making the case that conventional war is futile:
I believe that our fight against Islamic jihadism is analogous on a global scale to a counterinsurgency. To use the hoary phrase, we'll succeed by "winning hearts and minds," and conventional warfare just can't do that. In fact, it's mostly counterproductive: it won't succeed in killing the guerrillas and it will lose us the support of the local citizenry, which in turn will make the insurgency even more formidable. Lebanon is serving as a pretty good case study of this right now.
So conventional war is a bit of a drag, assuming you accept the part about it not killing guerrillas. What’s the alternative?
I believe it's fundamentally nonmilitary and revolves around engagement: trade agreements, security pacts, genuine support for grassroots democracy, a willingness to practice the same international rules we preach, etc. The idea is to slowly but steadily promote democratic rule, liberal institutions, education of women, and international commerce...
Well now, that sounds promising. Let’s see if we can put it into practice with a few test cases. Here’s Hussein Massawi, a former Hizbollah leader:
We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.
Not exactly the most inviting opening remarks, but I have every confidence that a Howard Dean would have worked day after day to find some common ground there. Perhaps they could trade notes on battle cry technique. Yeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!
Let’s move on to Iran. Here’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on nuclear proliferation:
Our answer to those who are angry about Iran achieving the full nuclear fuel cycle is just one phrase. We say: Be angry at us and die of this anger," because "We won't hold talks with anyone about the right of the Iranian nation to enrich uranium.
No doubt John Kerry would have built a coalition (Iraq) to determine that multi-lateral talks (North Korea) don’t work, and then gone on to convey that the he was now for being against the vote in which he might have been against being for Iran’s right to a nuclear program. You know, nuance.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that something gets lost in translation and Hizbollah continues to attack Israel. What then?
When military responses are necessary, they should be short, highly targeted, and designed to piss off the surrounding citizenry as little as possible. This will, needless to say, take a very long time and a lot of self restraint, but it won't succeed at all if every few years we set things back a decade with a conventional war.
Highly targeted sounds good, make ‘em pay a price for their transgressions, right? But what exactly do you target? You’re dealing with people who live for nothing other than the furtherance of their ideology. They literally have nothing to lose. Meanwhile, whose citizenry are you not “pissing off” with this approach anyway? Are Israeli civilians supposed to accept a never-ending stream of rocket attacks, bombs and kidnappings?
As much as we might like to tell ourselves otherwise, there is nothing to entice or compel Hizbollah to halt their attacks other than a shut off from their sponsors or the utter annihilation of their forces. They have calculated that the West is not willing (or maybe even able) to impose either option. Say what you will about these religious fanatics, but they understand the conventional wisdom.