|Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.|
by Vin Suprynowicz
October 23, 2001
It is perhaps to America's credit that we are such a reluctant warrior, always hoping to be less vicious than our opponents, always hoping something less than the creed of Genghis Khan (driving your enemies before you, hearing the lamentations of their women, etc.) will suffice to get the job done.
Unfortunately, in the harsh real world out there, half-measures are often seen as signs of weakness and thus as provocations. One defecting Iraqi general famously told his American interrogators that the very precision of our "surgical air strikes" to take out Iraq's command and control structure at the start of the Gulf War were used by the other side to ridicule the "Great Satan" — see how little damage their bombs have done to our homes and factories? What are we afraid of?
Overruling Norman Schwarzkopf and many who advised that — a great deal of trouble having been spent in assembling the forces in the first place — we should go ahead and level and conquer Iraq a decade ago, George Bush the elder opted to grant a cease-fire in exchange for Saddam Hussein's promises to refrain from developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
Saddam promptly broke those promises and made a mockery of U.N. inspection efforts. His champions in the West and at the U.N. took to whining that it was America that remains the aggressor by enforcing a blockade and a "no-fly zone" designed to hamper Saddam's demonstrated tendency to commit genocide against the Kurds.
Now we hear a mantra of charges that the American embargo — adopted in lieu of simply leveling, conquering, and occupying the country, we must recall, in an earlier attempt to "respect Muslim sensibilities" — has resulted in the starvation deaths of "500,000 Iraqi children."
The NATO embargo specifically allows Iraq to sell as much oil as necessary to buy all the food and medicine its civilian population needs. If 500,000 Iraqi children have starved as a result of this curiously humane blockade, how many of Saddam's armed forces have starved? If none, this is a curious famine, indeed. Couldn't the soldiers just have shared some of their ample rations with the children?
Could it be that starvation is occurring only among ethnic or religious minority populations not loyal to Saddam — engineered by the well-fed Mr. Hussein and his generals in a cynical "two-birds-with-one-stone" propaganda ploy, and not by America at all?
Or could it be that this statistic — offered up by the same United Nations which recently certified Syria as an upstanding and freedom-loving nation by overwhelming election of that nation to the Security Council; the same United Nations that now insists America must abandon the industrial revolution because we consume too large a share of "the world's" resources (could we see "the world's" deed, please?) and our automobiles contribute to global warming while the eruption of Mount Pinatubo does not; the same United Nations which condemns the United States and Israel for "racism" while finding no reason to condemn the Sudan its ongoing slave trade, nor Zimbabwe for turning a blind eye to the seizure of white farms there — is simply a pile of manufactured bunk?
And how many will still insist such absurdly loophole-ridden provisions were "too harsh," if it turns out the anthrax now being used to murder more innocent Americans came from Iraqi labs? Mind you, even one child dying due to purposeful American actions would be too many. But are we morally responsible to feed the world? Do we share Joe Stalin's guilt because he starved millions of Ukrainian children in the 1930s ... on purpose? The solution is a free-market economy. We will gladly send instruction manuals.
In a lengthy analysis of America's shaky alliance with the corrupt and decadent Saudi royal family in the Oct. 22 edition of The New Yorker, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reveals that since 1996 Saudi royal money has been supporting Osama bin laden's Al Qaeda and other extremist groups throughout the Persian Gulf region and Central Asia, apparently in efforts to pay off and forestall fundamentalists who the Saudi princes know would like to overthrow their "moderate," pro-Western regime.
In passing, Mr. Hersh describes an incident on the first night of the current war which may prove prophetically "emblematic ... of the constraints placed by the government on the military's ability to wage war" under our current Regime of Reluctance.
That night, Mr. Hersh reports, an unmanned Predator reconnaissance aircraft under the control of the CIA was surveilling the roads leading out of Kabul. The drone spotted a convoy of cars and trucks which was determined to be carrying Taliban leader Mullah Omar out of the city, and followed the party until Omar and about 100 guards and soldiers took shelter in a building.
But the CIA did not have authority to "push the button" and kill the Taliban elite with one of the Predator's two potent Hellfire missiles. Nor could that decision be made by the commander of the Fifth Fleet, in Bahrain. Instead, the request for authorization to kill the leader of the Taliban — whose forces and facilities we were at the time bombing — had to go to the United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
At that point, Mr. Hersh reports, General Tommy R. Franks, the CENTCOM commander, replied, "My JAG" — Judge Advocate General, a military lawyer — "doesn't like this, so we're not going to fire. ..."
Instead, the Predator was ordered to blow up the empty cars outside the building, whereupon it was to "see who comes out, and take a picture." The cars were blown up, but no one came out. Later, the building was targeted and destroyed by F-18s, but by then Mullah Omar had managed to escape and survive.
The failure left Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "kicking a lot of glass and breaking doors," a senior military official told Hersh. Days afterward, top administration officials were still seething about the incident, Hersh reports, though his thoughtful source attributes the SNAFU to "a slow degradation of the system due to political correctness: 'We want you to kill the guy, but not the guy next to him. No collateral damage.' "
Is this ever likely to change so long as the American military is asked to "wage war" with food packets and baby carriages, so long as our leaders apologize when a bomb hits a house and suggest month-long bombing halts out of respect for the enemy's religion, so long as we can't even call our campaign a "crusade" for fear of offending those who dance and cheer at news that the World Trade Center has collapsed in smoke and flames?
Columnist and decorated Vietnam veteran David Hackworth reports 241 American servicemen died in Lebanon in 1983 because of the extra two to four second it took their Marine guard to chamber a round and flip off his safety when he saw the suicide truck coming — "The Rules of Engagement forbade this expert rifleman from being locked and loaded even though his unit was on high alert for just such an attack. ...
"Recently, the Navy dedicated a memorial to the sailors who were aboard the USS Cole when it was savaged last year by a terrorist attack in the port of Aden," Col. Hackworth reminds us. "But even though the members of the security detail on the Cole were at their posts on high alert ... again, the Rules of Engagement stated no weapons would have a round in the chamber," reports Col. Hackworth, who remembers carrying a loaded weapon on Army guard duty in 1945, at the age of 15.
"Today, at virtually every U.S. military installation around the globe — and now at most of our airports, which are secured by the Army National Guard — the guys and gals manning the security details ... are as impotent as the Marines were in Lebanon or the sailors in Yemen. They don't have a round in the chamber, and in most cases, they don't even have a magazine in their weapons."
U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., who is now running for governor of Illinois, worries that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network may have purchased two dozen .50-caliber long-range rifles in the late 1980s. His solution? Now that every American finds himself potentially on the front lines of this war against terror, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Rep. Blagojevich called Sunday for a ban on possession of the weapons ... by law-abiding Americans!
America: at war and disarmed.
"Will it take another USS Cole disaster before we allow the troops to lock and load?" Col. Hackworth asks.
Would any U.S. serviceman have radioed headquarters and asked permission to fire if he'd found Adolf Hitler or Hideki Tojo in his sights in 1944 — and would any U.S. general have handed off the decision to some lawyer?
Just as doctors warn us to take our full course of antibiotics — never to stop when our symptoms disappear lest a heartier, drug-resistant strain of the pathogen surge back to attack us again — so does a war of half-measures only allow the enemy to take heart, progressively adopt to our tactics, and increase his recruiting by bragging that if he has survived an encounter with the world's "sole remaining superpower," imagine what he could do with a few thousand more volunteers.
Is that what we want?
Or are we finally ready to go to war — a nasty enterprise which is, regrettably, sometimes necessary; at which the fruits of failure are death and the use of one's widows and orphaned daughters to produce offspring for the conqueror; and in which success has historically proven most likely to flow to he who, for the duration of hostilities, adopts the motto:
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the
Las Vegas Review-Journal.
5 nov 2001