After Iraq – Six Points for a New Approach to International Military Interventions
-If President Bush had followed his “Mission Accomplished” message! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman
The situation in Zimbabwe appears so dire, even Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, is calling for an outside intervention to free the locals from the overpowering elite that has ruined the Nation.
Unfortunately, no outside intervention appears forthcoming.
For each Sierra Leone where foreign troops got rid of murderous rebels, there are innumerable counter-examples of places abandoned to the rule of unsavory characters: Afghanistan until 2001, the Kurdish villages in northern Iraq until 1991, Rwands in 1994 of course, and nowadays Darfur.
Despite the experience of the appeasers in the 1930’s, the temptation is always very high towards opting against direct intervention. Especially so now, with no end in sight for the military adventure in Iraq.
But think for a minute: if only President Bush had followed through the message bourne out of the “Mission Accomplished” May 1, 2003 banner on USS Abraham Lincon to its obvious consequence! He may have been celebrated to this day as an accomplished Statesman: having successfully completed the mission of toppling Saddam Hussein.
In other words: in case of a dire humanitarian crisis caused by egregiously unlawful behavior, there is a way to intervene: by setting ourselves to fight the criminals against humanity, and to accomplish the goal of defeating them: and then, to subsequently go back where we came from.
To understand how can this be done in practice, let’s imagine that there is a need to rapidly convince a State to change its tactics.
Sadly, that is not difficult: candidates abound, where humanitarian aid is not allowed to a wayward province, or wholesale killing is still considered an option, or otherwise part of the local population is criminally treated.
1-Start by establishing a clear measurable objective (eg “remove tyrant”…and that’s it!)
This is a basic principle of management so obvious, and yet betrayed at least as often as proven correct. How many targets can one hit with one shot? Hence the objective should be “Free the Zimbabweans from the rampant inflation”. Or “Remove the Iraqi individuals that will build a nuclear arms capability at the first occasion”. Vaporous stuff such as “exporting democracy”, etc should be forgotten altogether.
2- To avoid war, use a credible threat of war
If the counterpart is hell-bent in their devilish actions, scare them by showing seriously-ready-to-use violent means. Seriousness and readiness are imperative.
In truth, the actual start of the war is a sign of failure, because evidently the actions put in place were not scary or credible enough: just as good crowd control involves showing off truncheons to frighten, rather than actually beating people up.
On the other hand, if a war looms anyway, it has to be started. Otherwise, any threatening posturing will be even less effective next time around: and therefore the risk of future misbehaviors (and wars) much higher.
3-Get in quick, get out fast
Conduct the war by getting in, shocking, aweing and then leaving.
George HW Bush understood it in 1991. George W Bush declared just as much in that banner in 2003, but then carried on with the occupation regardless. And a never-ending occupation can only erode political support at home, while keeping the troops in danger of being attacked by ever-more-empowered insurgents.
4-Stand-by, ready to invade again very quickly
Once the enemy country has been left to its own devices, the usual cliques could simply regain power (see Iraq 1991). This can be prevented by keeping alive a credible, ready-to-strike threat.
Admittedly, that can evolve into a tragically ironic, revolving-door situation, with several rounds of invasions and retreats. But then, one hopes even the most recalcitrant political elite may opt for a different take, after suffering the umpteenth invasion.
5-Prevent civilian casualties
The death of any innocent “enemy” civilian is a fiasco akin to bombing one’s own cities.
Civilian deaths have boosted rather than weakened their Government since time immemorable (think the USA’s reaction on 9/12). This is contrary to the stated objective of changing a State’s criminal ways.
The absolute reduction of “collateral damage” to the utmost minimum is therefore not just an ethical goal, it makes good political and military strategy. And it will definitely help in preventing an organized insurgency to form.
6-Invade by land, avoid aerial bombings, and stay away from big equipment as much as possible
The threat and practice of repeated invasions is only feasible if the conflict can be carried out without the use of large, hard-to-position, hard-to-move, maintenance-hungry equipment, bombers included.
Apart from logistical considerations, in fact, if we want a quick conclusion with no “collateral damage”, i.e. precision and speed, bombing cannot be an option. In fact, whatever Air Force generals have been saying for the past hundred years, the effectiveness of bombing in preparation of a later invasion has been tragically debunked in the Flanders, in Normandy, and even in the first Iraq war.
After all, the objective is change the ways of a State, not to destroy it wantonly, the latter is the only thing bombing is good at in a modern war (if anybody believes in “precision targeting”, I’ve got a bridge to sell)
Will the above ever become reality? It is well known that we are always ready to fight the last war. And so there is some hope indeed, that will have to wait for the time when it will be possible to analyze the Iraq conflict with pragmatic-historical rather than political eyes.