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Mowing the Grass in Iraq

Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir explain Israel’s “strategy” in Gaza earlier this year:

Israel’s current strategy against hostile non-state actors such as Hamas reflects the assumption that Israel finds itself in a protracted intractable conflict. The use of force in such a conflict is not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather is a long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities. Only after showing much restraint in its military responses does Israel act forcefully to destroy the capabilities of its foes as much as possible, hoping that occasional large-scale operations also have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along Israel’s borders. . . .

Those who forlornly ask “when is this going to end?” and use the cliché term “cycle of violence” have psychological difficulties digesting the facts that there is no solution in sight and that the violent struggle against Hamas is not going to end anytime soon (not as long as the enemy’s basic ideological motivations remain intact). But still, important periods of quiet are attainable via military action, and this is what explains Israel’s current offensive.

The Israeli approach described here is substantively different from current Western strategic thinking on dealing with non-state military challenges.

Western thinking is solution-oriented.

This explains part of the lack of understanding in the West for what Israel is doing.

Against an implacable, well-entrenched, non-state enemy like the Hamas, Israel simply needs to “mow the grass” once in a while to degrade the enemy’s capabilities. A war of attrition against Hamas is probably Israel’s fate for the long term. Keeping the enemy off balance and reducing its capabilities requires Israeli military readiness and a willingness to use force intermittently, while maintaining a healthy and resilient Israeli home front despite the protracted conflict.

The President of the United States explains American “strategy” in Iraq and Syria last night:

Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of Al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.

Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. And that’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the Islamic State. . . .

I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partners’ forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years, and it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.

The only question in my mind is whether the President is “solution-oriented” in the “Western” manner, or whether he merely feels the need to pretend (however unconvincingly) to be so because he assumes his audience requires it. Because it’s pretty clear to me that these respective “strategies” are well-nigh identical.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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