Patrick O’Hannigan, my friend the Paragraph Farmer, used as the jumping off point for a wonderful article in The American Spectator a post of mine that had, in turn, commented favorably on a Dennis Prager article. Dennis Prager’s point, which was one I applauded, was that no one could have foreseen that the war in Iraq, which started as a military victory, would be derailed by a new tactic — Iraqis slaughtering their own citizens as part of their resistance. Prager pointed out that no Western war has ever seen that type of thing before. Patrick’s point is that Prager and I are both looking at this issue through that same Western perspective and that, if he, I, President Bush or the War’s architects had taken into account the nature of our enemy — fanatic Islamists — we wouldn’t have been so surprised.
As is always the case when Patrick is the one writing, I think he has a very good point — I’m just not sure that I agree with it. I agree that fanatic Islamists have no problems with fratricide. The Sudan is a good example, where the northern light-skinned Muslims practicing genocide against the Southern dark-skinned Muslims. Patrick is also correct that the war between Iran and Iraq — a Muslim on Muslim conflict, although not an Arab on Arab conflict — was exceptionally ferocious. Muslims don’t have a problem killing Muslims. Of course, as the wars that waged through the West have shown, whites don’t have a problem killing whites (an example is the Germans versus everyone else in two world wars) and Christians haven’t historically had a problem killing Christians (the Thirty Years War is a good example of that fact). Indeed, Americans haven’t even baulked at killing Americans, as we can see from both our Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
What’s different here, and where I’m willing to stick to my guns despite Patrick’s lucid and intelligent argument, is that this is a war where the losing side has determined that the slaughter of its own citizens is a legitimate and potentially successful tactic in the war against the enemy (the enemy being America). Thus, the “insurgents” (I prefer to think of them as “murderous terrorists”) have decided that they can best win the War as its being played out in the Western media, by slaughter their own citizens en masse. In other words, unlike ordinary wars where the slaughter of ones own kind (Christian v. Christian, American v. American, Iranian Muslim v. Iraqi Muslim) occurred because the two sides, while sharing common denominators, had significant geographic, religious or economic differences, the slaughter here is for headlines.
The Islamists have figured out that, if America is to lose this war, it will be lost, not on the battlefields, but in the headlines. They’ve also figured out that Americans have no stomach for a war with high fatalities, whether those fatalities occur amongst coalition troops or the enemy. This concept goes far beyond using ones own soldiers as cannon fodder (something Stalin did to good effect in World War II when he had to fight off the better equipped and trained Germany Army). What we’re seeing here is an enemy that, unable to kill Americans troops in significant numbers, has ratcheted up the War’s mortality figures by turning on their own — and that, I think is an unprecedented tactical maneuver that no war has ever seen before.
UPDATE: Comments here haved educated me to the fact that the Vietnamese did try the tactic of internal slaughter, although although not on the heroic scale we’re seeing in Vietnam. I also thought that the Tet offensive really was a last ditch effort to win, with Walter Cronkite being the unexpected bonus when there was no battlelfield victory. I freely admit my ignorance here. The military, however, should not have been ignorant. Knowing that these tactics were out there, I’d tend now to sidle back over to Patrick’s viewpoint, which is that the military should have been anticipated this outcome and should have (maybe it did?) advised the President accordingly.
I still question, though, whether this tactic should have been anticipated simply because the combatants are Muslims. Regular readers of this blog know that I believe jihadists, who have been sucked dry of the milk of human kindness and infused with a black bile of hatred, are our most dangerous enemies, and that the media and “progressive” thinking aid and abet them by trying to blind us to the threat and tie our hands when it comes to defending ourselves. Nevertheless, I think it’s distinctly possible that the tactic’s appearance in this War has little to do with Islam, and everything to do with asymmetrical war in a media age.