26 August 2007

The Burdens of General Patraeous

Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online

Gen. Petraeus must cope with the reality that should a half-dozen, or perhaps even one, of his some 160,000 soldiers, in the heat of combat, shoot a wounded terrorist, the damage done could rival losing an entire battle — a fact well known to a religiously zealous enemy that feels no such humanitarian constraints. Radical Islamists may be the enemy, but American forces in the field must downplay, not accentuate religious differences, if they are to keep on their side Muslim forces loyal to an elected government.

II. Fighting For Democracy?
In the Cold War, America justified supporting authoritarian regimes in Asia, South America, and the Middle East on the basis of their expressed and shared opposition to Soviet-sponsored global communism. We had some nasty SOBs on our side in the Shah, Pinochet, Somoza, and Papadopoulos. The U.S. apology was that elected socialist governments would inevitably devolve into Communist ones, either by intent or subversion. With 7,000 nukes pointed our way, we supposedly had no margin for utopianism. So America erred on the side of short-term assumed loyalty, stability, and security.

But well before the Cold War, the United States put realist concerns above principled idealism. That’s why we generously supplied a mass-murdering Soviet Union in its war against a mass-murdering Nazi Germany or didn’t restrict too much the methodology that Chiang Kai-shek employed against Japanese invaders.

The present war, however, is again qualitatively different: We are not seeking to quell the violence in Iraq or Afghanistan by the imposition or use of a brute. Instead we expend blood and treasure in the hopes that a consensual government can fight as well as a dictatorship — while at the same time ensuring freedom for its people.

So in Iraq, not only are we waging a war according to American rules of engagement, but for the idea of constitutional government run by a poor, deeply traditional, tribal, and often religiously fundamentalist population.

General Petraeus knows that Iraq Security Forces can get information out of detained terrorists much easier than we can. But he also accepts that winking at systematic torture would be at odds with his directive to protect and promote constitutional government.

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