Thursday, May 3, 2007

The more I see this kind of thing, the more disturbing it gets

"It" in this case being the notion that our invincible generals can only lose a war if the wimpy civilian politicians at home lose their Will and Resolve and Determination and other manly characteristics. This example comes from the May-June 2007 issue of the Army's Military Review, Discouraging Hearts and Minds: Democracies and Insurgencies by Major Erik Claessen of the Belgian Armed Forces.

To start with, can anyone explain to me how this perspective is compatable with democracy? Claessen writes:

Coercing the counterinsurgent’s democratic government to embrace an exit strategy requires the ability to influence the mainstream opinion of the counterinsurgent’s electorate. ...

A discouraged electorate can be devastating for the democratic counterinsurgent, akin to destruction of his armed forces.
(my emphasis)
No, a "discouraged" electorate who demands changes in war policies through their elected representatives are doing what citizens in democracies are supposed to do, determining their government's politicies. To put it in the most basic Democracy 101 terms, the bottom line is the people and their representatives decides the foreign policy: the military's job is to implement it.

I've seen this kind of argument so much now I'm picking up on some trends. There's a rhetorical trick involved with most examples of it, including Claessen's: treat public relations factors as though they were pseudo-neutral technical considerations. This obscures the fundamentally Cheneyesque nature of this idea, which is that the people should do what the Leader says and shut the hell up about it, except when they're cheering.

In the end, Claessen's magic solution is also Cheneyesque. He says you should just keep the war secret and encourage the media to focus on other things. I think the Soviet Union followed that policy in their Afghanistan War, and that worked out brilliantly, didn't it? And, besides, if you can keep journalists out of the war zone, so much the better. Claessen actually writes, and Military Review actually published, "Given that heroes are in short supply in every profession, it is logical that journalists prefer to report on missing American girls in Aaruba rather than on a counterinsurgency in a country where they risk injury or death [by covering a war]."

Postmodern warfare: it's all PR. The word "Iraq" does not appear in Claessen's article. But he would have us believe that if the government had just promoted more missing-white-girl stories, that most of us just wouldn't have noticed there was a war going on in Iraq. And we're giving half the military budgets of the entire world to people who take stuff like this seriously?


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