Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Maverick and his 100 Years War

Via Josh Marshall at TPM, here's a January account from Hendrik Herzberg on the Maverick and A Hundred Years' War? New Yorker blog 01/04/08.

Herzberg gives his own extended transcript of the townhall that is so often quoted on the Straight Talker's 100 Years War position. TPM has been posting about this several times over the last few days, making the argument that it's not a distortion for war opponents to point to McCain's hundred years crack as reprsenting an open-ended commitment.

This is what struck me again about the Maverick's position in reading Herzberg's quotes from the Great American:

The fact is, it’s American casualties that the American people care about. Those casualties are on the way down, rather dramatically. ...

And what we care about is not American presence. We care about American casualties. And those casualties will be dramatically and continue to be reduced. ...

I can look you in the eye and tell you that those casualties tragically continue… But they are much less, and they are dramatically reduced and we will eventually eliminate them. And again, the option of setting a date for withdrawal is a date for surrender. And we will then have many more casualties and many more American sacrifices if we withdraw with setting a date for surrender. ...

Make it a hundred. How long—We’ve been in Japan for 60 years, we've been in South Korea for fifty years or so. That’d be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That’s fine with me. ...

But I can tell you, I understand American public opinion, sir. I understand American public opinion will not sustain a conflict where Americans continue to be sacrificed without showing them that we can succeed.
As I've mentioned in this connection before, the Maverick is here endorsing one of the favorite themes of the air power zealots.

The argument goes that the only thing that affects the American public's opinion of a war is American casualties. Nothing else. A war can go on indefinitely, they claim, without losing public support as long as American casualties are minimized.

This then becomes an argument for relying overwhelmingly on air power rather than ground troops, because this will avoid ground troops being killed in clashes with the enemy and America's technologically advanced whiz-bang air power from the various services will incur minimum American casualties.

What that translates into in what the bold Maverick identified in that exchange as "a classic counterinsurgency", in a country like Iraq where most of the guerrillas are urban combatants, is that you have American planes fire rockets and drop 500- and 2000-lb. bombs on suspected "terrorist hideouts" in heavily populated urban areas. This has been going on more heavily than usual in the Shi'a area of Baghdad called Sadr City over the last two weeks, as well as in Basra and other areas where the Iraqi government's setarian militia fought Muqtada al-Sadr's sectarian militia.

The result is massive destruction to residential areas and large numbers of noncombatant deaths and injuries. This tends to make people really hate the enemy who's inflicting these casualties, expecially a foreign occupier of a different religion.

The notion that the US can win counterinsurgency wars primarily through air power is loony. But I'm guessing that is exactly what McCain is talking about when he's emphasizing, "And what we care about is not American presence. We care about American casualties."

Aside from the destructive consequences of using that argument to justify counterinsurgency warfare by air power, the whole idea is based on a very shaky empirical basis. Not that today's Christianist Republicans care very much about that atheistic emphasis on perceiving reality.

But the reality-based may also be interested in my earlier posts:

Air power, the magic key to victory? 04/13/07

John Mueller's War, Presidents and Public Opinion 04/17/07

Counterinsurgency 04/18/07

The (Air) Force strikes back 06/08/07

Yes, Virginia, there were polls back then 07/22/07

Another general has some advice 09/18/07

More tempations to headbanging 10/29/07.

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