...the administration’s critics are already cynically leveraging the Haditha killings as a means of undercutting the president, heedless of the effect this may have on American national interests.The sad thing is, many have; and do.
However, the advent of the modern media coverage – coupled with a growing and valid concern among democracies about humanitarian norms during warfare – has provided a new tactical innovation, increasingly known as “lawfare.” Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents thus routinely claim that American forces systematically violate the laws of war by targeting civilians and abusing prisoners. These claims are not targeted at the Iraqi people (although similar claims regarding insults to Islamic believers are so directed) buy a public and, especially, elite opinion in the U.S. and other democracies. With Vietnam as its model, the Iraqi insurgency well understands that it can win only by undermining America’s political will to win, and the center of gravity in this conflict lied in Washington, not Baghdad or the Sunni Triangle.
The Pentagon’s emphasis on exhaustively training American troops in the laws of war is a good first step. U.S. forces already are the best equipped and trained in history, and it is only through a constant emphasis on duty, discipline and American values that out armed forces will prevail in Iraq and similar conflicts.
At the same time, should the Haditha incident mature into a full-fledged war crimes drama prompting a premature U.S. withdrawal, the damage would not be limited to Iraq. If the U.S. cannot fight and win against a brutal urban insurgency in Iraq today, its ability to defeat any determined foe willing to sacrifice the civilian population in irregular warfare will be in question. This can only benefit the most vicious regimes and movements. The Bush administration’s critics should pause a moment, and reflect, on whether this would really be
Thursday, June 08, 2006
A knockout piece in the WSJ. “Lawfare.” What a title. The 100# heads are starting to bring their guns around.