George Will has had sensibly critical things to say about the Iraq War for a few years now, and in his column today he extends his critique to nation building in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the half-measures he recommends for accomplishing whatever mission it is in Afghanistan that he thinks is necessary are bound to be counterproductive. He writes:
America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.
Will is engaging in wishful thinking here. These offshore measures will generate plenty of resentment against the United States — those drones and cruise missiles have a habit of taking out civilians as well as their intended targets — and aren’t going to destroy al-Qaeda, which can afford to lose a few leaders so long as bungling U.S. policy keeps eliciting more terror recruits. Will’s strategy is reminiscent of nothing so much as the “decapitation strike” against Saddam Hussein that was meant to be George W. Bush’s quick and painless way of eliminating the Iraqi dictator. If you only hazily recall that effort, here’s Human Rights Watch’s account:
On April 7, a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer aircraft dropped four 2,000-pound satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) on a house in al-Mansur district of Baghdad.79 The attack killed an estimated eighteen civilians.
U.S. intelligence indicated that Saddam Hussein and perhaps one or both of his sons were meeting in al-Mansur.80 The information was reportedly based on a communications intercept of a Thuraya satellite phone. Forty-five minutes later the area was rubble.
This was the most publicized of the leadership strikes. The U.S. military lauded the short turn-around time “from sensor to shooter,” the time it takes from development of information to when the strike is executed. “From start to finish, it took 45 minutes from the word that Saddam Hussein and other leaders may have entered the building until the bombs hit the structure,” said Major General McChrystal.
The military value of this operation was zero — it failed to take out the target or any other Iraqi commander. But it did create a big crater in Baghdad and take the lives of 18 innocent people. Who in his right mind would think of this as a winning strategy? Maybe it’s a winning strategy for al-Qaeda, but that’s about it. The U.S. has a lousy record of strategic assassination, whether it’s the CIA giving Castro exploding cigars or the Monica missiles that failed to kill bin Laden in 1998.
George Will has come a long way in rethinking U.S. policy. But he still has a long way to go.