Over at Commentary magazine's blog, Max Boot writes:
Various pundits on the Right—Byron York, Ralph Peters, and Diana West—are having conniptions over the Rules of Engagement that Gen. McChrystal has promulgated in Afghanistan, which stress the need for restraint in calling in fire support.
"Conniptions"? Not a word I'd choose to describe the gravely serious debate now, finally, beginning over Gen. McChrystal's Afghanistan policy, something I've have been tracking for a while now, and which is expanded upon by the general himself in his Afghanistan assessment.
Of course, my disagreement isn't at all limited to "the Rules of Engagement," as egregious as they are. Indeed, as I have written before, these rules should not be seen in a vaccuum. They are in fact the symptoms of the "hearts and minds" disease that is debilitating our military and civilian establishment. They are also the tactics of choice in what Gen. McChrystal styles as "the struggle to gain the support of the [Afghan] people" (fireable offense No. 4 in last week's syndicated column). It isn't our rules alone that are killing our men; it is the bankrupt premise behind them: winning hearts and minds as military strategy.
Bottom line: We should fight wars to destroy enemies. We shouldn't fight wars to win friends -- a goal of "COIN," or counterinsurgency, warfare. Max continues:
They are incensed by a recent report that American casualties have increased while Afghan civilian casualties have decreased. They blame McChrystal and his counterinsurgency strategy for this trend.
Speaking for myself, I smelled a rat in the McChrystal policy long before the casualties spiked. (And so did John Bernard, a Marine veteran, whose dismay over Gen. McChrystal's doctrine was such that he began trying to alert his representatives over the summer. A few weeks later, his son, Joshua, a Marine lance corporal was killed, his death directly linked to these same rules.) Max goes on:
This is a bit of a leap, since most of our casualties are being caused by improvised explosive devices. No one has explained how firing more weapons will prevent those mines from being planted.
No one is calling for firing more weapons at IEDS. I am questioning the competence and morality of a commander who openly values the Afghan population, the same population the same commander acknowledges, frequently aids enemy fighters, more than his American troops.
In fact, dropping more bombs and firing more missiles and artillery shells is likely to alienate civilians and make them less likely to alert American troops to the emplacement of IEDs.
Gee, I wonder why? Funny how some civilians, having suffered the killings of scores of schoolchildren and their teachers due to an errant bombing, don't get "alienated." Moral of this story: They're already with you, or they're already against you. Max goes on:
It is also the case that there are more American troops fighting the Taliban and that the Taliban has responded to our surge with a surge of their own, so more casualties would be expected regardless of the rules of engagement. That hasn’t stopped the critics from castigating our military leaders in harsh terms.
Again, Max is focusing on casulaties to the exclusion of the strategy behind them.
Ralph writes: “In Afghanistan, our leaders are complicit in the death of each soldier, Marine or Navy corpsman who falls because politically correct rules of engagement shield our enemies.” Diana calls for Gen. McChrystal to be fired.
And let me count the reasons why.
This no doubt goes down well in certain right-wing precincts --
I woudn't know where they would be. Until I found Byron and Ralph out there, it was kinda lonely --
but those who advocate a blood-and-guts approach to the war in Afghanistan—kill them all and let God sort them out—should pause a minute to ask whether that’s a strategy likely to succeed.
Straw man. I advocate "lily pads," among other things, which, contrary to an earlier argument of Max's, had not been tried prior to 9/11.
The Russians tried a scorched-earth approach in Afghanistan; they were far more heedless of civilian casualties than the American armed forces could ever be. Remember how well that worked out? The U.S. has also tried firepower-intensive conventional strategies to fight insurgents in Iraq and Vietnam. How well did that work out? The situation in Iraq only turned around in 2007, when General Petraeus applied a population-centric counterinsurgency approach that focused on getting troops among the population and protecting them from the insurgents rather than simply trying to kill bad guys—precisely the plan that McChrystal is now implementing, with some modifications, in Afghanistan.
That's the problem, Max. Iraq, from which we never got a lousy free tank of gas and from where we are prohibited from launching even an anti-jihad attack on Iran (or on any other country as Gen. Kimmitt is weirdly pleased to report) doesn't count as an American success story.
The Carthaginian strategy—destroy the enemy and salt the earth afterward—can work but only if you are prepared to commit genocide or close to it. It worked, for example, for the Nazis in putting down the Warsaw Uprising, although even the Nazis failed to put down the Yugoslav partisans. Does anyone think that American public opinion would support the use of Nazi-like tactics in Afghanistan?
This is beside my point but I just can't help wondering: Has Max Boot ever heard of Dresden or Hiroshima? Nagasaki?
Luckily we don’t have to use utter brutality to prevail. In fact, history suggests that a “hearts and minds” approach is more likely to be successful. Two political scientists have just released a study  of 66 insurgencies in the 20th century where foreign powers committed considerable resources to put down the rebels. Their conclusion? That a hearts-and-minds strategy has worked 75 percent of the time. That’s a higher rate of success than that of more brutal approaches, such as the Russians in Afghanistan or the French in Algeria.
Two political scientists? Well, I'm hanging up my keyboard right now.
Those who advocate population-centric counterinsurgency—most prominently, General McChrystal and General Petraeus—are not soft-headed, politically correct humanitarians.
"Hearts and minds" strategy is by definition soft-headed, politically correct but decidedly not humanitarian -- at least not toward US troops.
They are smart generals who have learned the lessons of history and have chosen the strategy that has the best chance of success.Conservatives would be well-advised to unite in support of their efforts rather than joining the liberal sniper squad working to make victory impossible.
Conservatives would be well to open their eyes to the need for a whole new strategy, one that has nothing whatsoever to do with counterinsurgency.