(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)
Frequent commenter and general rabble rouser (we appreciate that he keeps us honest) Harrison posted this quote--“If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow”--on the last “War is War” post “Fighting, Killing, Death, Destruction!”. I replied the same way I have the half a dozen or so times I heard it before. I wrote, "How specifically do we grab the Taliban by the balls?" What specific techniques, tactics and procedures grabbing the enemy’s private areas entails.
I need specifics. When I was platoon leader, I didn’t need Clausewitz or false John Wayne quotes, I needed details. “War is war” is Clausewitz, but also vagueness, incredible vagueness and ridiculous lack of details.
I understand why. It is much easier to argue against something than it is to argue for something. In elections, we constantly see politicians running against an issue, but rarely presenting in concrete terms, their alternatives. Rules of Engagement critics and "war-is-war"-iors do this all the time. They criticize restrictive rules of engagement and lambaste counter-insurgency policies, but hardly ever offer alternatives, preferring utter vagueness.
Take these examples. In each case the “war-is-war”-ior bemoans the policy, but doesn’t offer an alternative. First, in this article, General Zinni goes to great lengths to decry our Rules of Engagement, but he never says what he would do differently. Bill Osborn in the LA Times said, "our soldiers are forced to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. They're not allowed to take care of business — and they know it," without describing what “taking care of business” really means. The closest he comes is saying that ROE should “empower” our soldiers, again without defining empower. Finally, in this article the author puts in a quick aside about Rules of Engagement, but again does not explain what he means. He says, “Rules of Engagement (ROE) must change. Using the Tribal Engagement Teams will become a very intense, personal fight. If they need to drop bombs or pursue an enemy, they must be able to do so.” Troops in Afghanistan can drop bombs and pursue the enemy, so what exactly does he want our troops to do differently?
It gets particularly bad with the critics of current counter-insurgency doctrine. This is my typical conversation about changing our counter-insurgency theory:
"War-is-war"-ior: What we need to do is avoid winning hearts and minds and focus on killing the enemy.”
MC: “Well, don’t we kill the enemy?
"War-is-war"-ior: “Yes, but we need to kill more of them.
MC: How do you do that?
"War-is-war"-ior: “By getting better intelligence.
MC: Well, how do we get that?
"War-is-war"-ior: “By convincing the population to support us.
MC: You mean win their hearts and minds?
"War-is-war"-ior: Well no, not winning their hearts and minds, but having them support us.
Advocates for looser rules of engagement are actually advocating using violence with less evidence. Deep down, intelligence is really just evidence; the rules of engagement define how much intelligence--or evidence--you need before you can fire your weapon, though we never use those terms. The critics who argue for different rules of engagement want us to be able to fire indiscriminately--literally, without discriminating if targets are innocent or guilty, armed or unarmed, civilian or insurgent. This is the fundamental difference between strict and loose Rules of Engagement.
Indiscriminate killings don’t work. The Russians carpet bombed Afghanistan and still lost. France tortured the sin out of the Algerians, which became an independent nation a few years later. We dropped more ordinance on Vietnam then we did in Europe circa the 1940s, and we were run out of there. Adolf Hitler indiscriminately arrested and killed millions to pacify nations. In the process, he became the symbol for pure evil in the Western world.
The point is don’t mince your words. If you don’t like the rules of engagement, fine. But give me an alternative.