Friday, March 22, 2002

HALF RIGHT, HALF WRONG: David Ignatius says the Israelis' military action against the Palestinian terrorism has failed because (a) it relies on the incremental force a la Vietnam and (b) "attempts to intimidate civilian populations into surrender rarely succeed ... because ... these campaigns tend to ... encourage people to rally around their existing leadership ...." Can't disagree with point (a) -- tit-for-tat strikes teach the enemy that you'll hurt him, but won't kill him. But point (b) doesn't make much sense. First, the Israelis' don't seem to be pursuing a policy of intimidating Palestinian civilians; the intimidation, and civilian casualties, are by-products of pursuing a policy of killing Palestinian terrorists. Second, if the Israelis are trying to intimidate the civilian population, that policy is failing for the same reason their policy of attacking terrorists is failing: it relies on incremental, limited force. As Victor Hanson convincingly argues in The Soul of Battle, from Epaminondus' campaign against Sparta to Sherman's march to the sea, democratic armies have succeeded by breaking the will of enemy civilians populations. The key is the use of overwhelming force not to kill civilians but to show them that their government and military are powerless to protect them. The Israelis' limited forays into the terroritories have failed precisely because they're limited.

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