Attempting to maintain military hegemony in the Middle East is not in U.S. interests and runs contrary to American values and that would be the case even if the majority of Iraqis would have welcomed U.S. troops with flowers. And Israel’s long-term interest lies in making peace with its Arab neighbors and ending its occupation of the Palestinians even if Israel would have been able to maintain its military supremacy for ever and its control of the West Bank and Gaza with minimum costs. ~Leon Hadar

Mr. Hadar delivers a succinct and correct rebuttal to Prof. Bacevich’s recent TAC article.  While I think Mr. Hadar and I are both in complete agreement that Iraq and Lebanon were blunders of the first order and should have been avoided, and while I certainly think we should depart from Iraq post-haste, there is sometimes a tendency among war critics to imagine some kind of indomitable insurgent force that is as invincible as the hegemonists believe the superpower to be.  Indeed, the hegemonists are continually chafing at the restraints that common decency imposes on the current war efforts, depriving them of the sight of fire-bombed cities and civilian casualties in the hundreds of thousands.  The unfortunate thing is that the jingoes might be right to the extent that worst of the insurgency in Iraq might end if we were willing to inflict a level of destruction and terror on the entire population comparable to what was unjustly done to the civilian populations of Germany and Japan.  There are no guarantees that even this would work, of course, since massive death and devastation did not break the Vietnamese will to fight, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that this is unusually counterproductive in counterinsurgency.  The native insurgent or guerrilla’s advantage lies in the hegemon’s inability to reshape the political loyalties of the people through the massive use of force necessary to severely weaken the insurgents and guerrillas.  That is why hegemony in the Near East is doomed to failure–not because their military resistance is so effective, but because their political opposition to our hegemony is unyielding.  

However, even if the massive use of force would “work,” I would like to think that no decent person in this country wishes to lay waste to an entire country to break an insurgency against an occupation that shouldn’t even be taking place.  Besides not being in our national interest, neither the indefinite perpetuation of the occupation nor some neocon fantasy of raining thousands of bombs (or just a few nukes) on women and children can be morally justified. 

The Boer War, or the South African War as it is less colloquially called, was won through some of the most appalling methods of its time.  Long after the Transvaal and Orange republics had capitulated to the overwhelming military superiority of the British aggressors, Afrikaner kommandos (it was the Afrikaners who gave us this word) carried on the war to the proverbial bitter end while their farms and homes were put to the torch and their displaced families rounded up in horrible, disease-ridden concentration camps.  The virtual take-no-prisoners approach to the kommandos, as represented so strikingly and movingly in my favourite film, Breaker Morant, was brutal and ugly but finally ‘effective’ (and in Morant we see again how the lowest imperial grunts are made to take the blame for the Empire’s sake).  More and more of the countryside was fenced in until the bittereinders were finally compelled to surrender.  The insurgency lasted approximately three times as long as the formal war of 1899. 

Of course, the British had a relatively larger military presence and overwhelming advantages in controlling the supply lines into South Africa that make their success harder to duplicate in a larger territory with less secure borders and a much more broadly based resistance as we have in Iraq, which is now complicated by the activities of Shi’ite militias.  But the point is that the British were able to crush the Afrikaner insurgency, but only by methods that the rest of the world, including the strongly pro-Boer American public (still not fully recovered from their fit of anti-British jingoism of 1895-96), regarded as unjust and barbarous. 

If we were willing to break out the B-52s and start carpet bombing Anbar, the Sunni insurgency might eventually break due to a lack of Sunnis willing to fight–but such attacks would today be widely and correctly regarded as war crimes.  As we saw in Lebanon, indiscriminate bombing and collective punishment often have no effect on the popularity of the insurgents and instead drive the people into their arms, if only for a little while.  Once you go down that path, you can make no pretense to being a liberator or friend, but have become very simply a conqueror of the most brutal kind.  That would undoubtedly suit the more bloody-minded of our neo-imperialists, but it would betray everything our people claim to aspire to and betray every claim the government has made about “helping” Iraq.

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