This article in the Atlantic today posits issues in a naval war with Iran. While an interesting article in which Kaplan discusses asymmetrical naval warfare in a rather mundane way (certainly no new insights are provided), the premise is absurd.
The absurdity, however, is not that of the columnist alone. It seems to be of the strategic “thinkers” in our government and military as well.
The absurdity is the idea of sacrificing American soldiers in combat when the goal of the military action – changing the behavior of the enemy (which is the purpose of war) can be achieved without sacrificing a single American.
American force planners seem stuck in a cold-war mindset of “limited” war. Time to change. Past time.
In the event you are wondering, no, America has never won a “limited” war. See Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.
On the other hand, we have never lost a general war. (See American Civil War, WW1, WW2)
If we are going to sacrifice American lives, ought we not do so to win? And only to win?
Offensive warfare against a foe with an asymmetrical advantage can be done on various terms. And make no mistake, the terrorists willing to kill themselves as they attack civilians all over the world due to religious differences (how silly is that?), with no thought to their own survival, are the ones with the advantage in current asymmetrical warfare, not the advanced, computerized, mechanized Western forces afraid to use their weapons.
To this point we simply have not chosen the right terms.
What are these terms?
A) We can meet them with larger force, but on their grounds with their weapons – bullets, grenades, mechanized infantry, avoiding at nearly all cost civilian casualties
B) We can meet them on their grounds with an overwhelmingly larger force (which we don’t have) – and bullets, grenades, mechanized infantry, avoiding at nearly all cost civilian casualties.
In each of these scenarios we lack the ability to stop civilian-clad terrorists hiding in civilian homes, markets, buildings, etc., from killing civilians and soldiers nearly indiscriminately.
In each of these scenarios Americans die trying to find and kill terrorists.
And, in a naval battle in the Persian Gulf, tens of thousands (millions?) of poorer people around the world will be affected negatively (i.e. starve) in the event the Gulf is closed and no oil moves through it.
The absurdity is that C) is the right answer:
C) Locate the terrorists in their mountains and caves and inlets and bays and nuke them.
But our planners worry about civilian casualties.
Newsflash: There are no “innocent civilians.” Why do you think China whacked the Tianenmen Square civilians? Because a very small number of civilians can cause huge strategic changes. Ask King George III.
Terrorists live, hide, fight and kill among those giving them shelter. Those civilians properly are called “collaborators.”
Civilians who allow the rise to power of those who kill Americans, support the killers of Americans, support a regime that is starving millions around the world (see food riots, ethanol, high oil prices), support a regime building nukes to use against other nations (e.g. Israel) are not “innocent” by any stretch of the imagination.
The Allies killed more German civilians in strategic bombing than German soldiers in combat with the enemy.
America killed more Japanese civilians when firebombing Tokyo than we killed in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
In each case the goal was reached – the enemy’s behavior was changed, people were freed, the Holocaust was stopped, Chinese civilians no longer were being used as live bayonet practice targets by the army of Imperial Japan. The behavior of the enemy was changed. That – and that alone – is the purpose of war.
Had we hit Tora Bora with a couple of tactical nukes, bin Laden and a laarge number of his lieutenants would have been killed. End of story.
Because of the near-total lack of civilian population in the entire Anaconda battlespace, fewer Afghan civilians would have been killed by nuking Tora Bora than were killed in America on 9/11… fewer than the numbers of Americans killed thus far in both Middle East theaters to-date. And A LOT of terrorists would have been killed – which is the whole point.
And far, far fewer Afghan civilians would have been killed than the numbers of Iraqi civilians killed by both Americans and Terrorists.
Nuking Tora Bora and the small nearly-deserted nearby valleys (such as the one that caused the fight at Robert’s Ridge), would have resulted in fewer deaths on both sides, and an end to Al Qaeda.
How many lives would THAT have saved?
Probably thousands of Iraqi civilian lives would have been saved had Al Qaeda been killed in 2002 during Anaconda.
Perhaps (probably?), had we nuked Tora Bora, the entire Iraq war / fiasco could have been averted. Saving, what? nearly a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of lives?
Let’s see… nuke a few hundred bad guys and save tens of thousands of Iraqis and a trillion dollars, or… hmm – let me think about that.
This should not be a difficult choice for a mature leadership to make. (But our leaders are Baby Boomers, immature by definition.)
And the constant yammering about how our military is creating terrorist enemies faster than we can kill them? Showing one is willing to nuke the enemy – kill THEIR guys en masse – likely would result in far fewer terrorists being willing to go up against us – and far fewer countries willing to allow them to roam around.
You think Pakistan would be a bit less lenient with Waziristan had we nuked Tora Bora? Duh.
“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”
“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”
Back to an Iranian naval battlespace.
We have small tactical nukes. Iran has lots of small bays on the Persian Gulf in which their terrorist navy hides. Once naval hostilities commence no reason exists not to send a cruise missile with a tactical nuclear warhead into several of those bays which our satellites show have small boats – in the water or on a truck being made ready for launch.
Since the goal is to ensure the passage of oil for the world – not just America, BTW – and the freedom to live for Israel and anyone else within range of Iran’s missiles (e.g. nearly all of Europe), the loss of these few terrorists will be a small price to pay to change the behavior of Iran.
And if it doesn’t work, we can nuke Arak, Esfahan, Teheran and Qom.
The purpose of war is to change the enemy’s behavior.
That means – once diplomatic options have run out (and they are finite), killing the enemy until you change their behavior or they change yours.
It is immoral to sacrifice our soldiers to change the behavior of the enemy when we don’t have to do so.
Whether or not you like it, that’s the way the world works. Some once thought diplomacy would end war. Chamberlain and the Brits supporting him found out differently.
So – let’s all grow up, use the weapons at our disposal, stop needlessly sacrificing American (and coalition) soldiers and Marines, kill the enemy, destroy their power structures – you know, the way our parents and grandparents fought – and won – important wars.
This is an important war.
Let’s win it.