In 1940, the British had a debate about sowing mines in the Rhine River. Opponents of the plan said, No, because mines could harm innocent civilians.’ Three years later, the British and Americans were firebombing German cities; we decided we had to destroy the Germans’ ability to fight in order to destroy their armies.
Last month, the commander of the Marines in Anbar province in Iraq announced he did not have enough troops to defeat the terrorists. He said he could hold his ground. But he couldn’t win.
It now appears, the powers that be have given the Marines a new strategy: To persuade the enemy to quit. A crucial element in that strategy is to avoid hurting innocent civilians to win their good will and loyalty. Here is an example of how this works in practice: Last week a Marine on patrol stepped out of his Humvee in Anbar province and was wounded by a sniper. His commander, Lt. Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, rushed him to a field hospital, he was treated, stabilized and flown to a larger hospital. (News and Observer; 10-19-06).
But what happened to the sniper? The Marines didn’t fire a shot at him. Lt. Col. Desgrosseilliers’ battalion have been ordered not to return fire unless they were certain of their target, so, they would not harm civilians – so following orders, they didn’t fire.
Of course the problem is obvious: The new strategy is good news for the sniper and it means greater risk for our Marines fighting in Anbar province. The powers that be have decided that risk is justified. And they may have found a brilliant new way to win the war on terrorism. But, I’m afraid, it sounds like a strategy born of desperation. We don’t attack. We don’t pull out. We hold our ground and try to ‘persuade’ the enemy to quit. We can only hope we are not compounding our mistakes in Iraq by adding one more.
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