Friday, June 25, 2010

Moral Self-Confidence and the Western Way of War: Part I

NOTE: This entry will be presented in two parts. Part I will discuss the problem--that the West is no longer engaging in the Western Way of War, and perhaps no longer believes in the purpose of it, as well as the way that the United States has gained victory through its exceptional use of the Western Way of War as dictated by the Constitution. Part II will discuss the philosophical reasons why the West and the United States choose not engage in war to win, namely a loss of moral confidence in the goodness of our way of life.

Today, as Hamas and Hezbollah--Iran's proxies--sit poised to begin a war with Israel, Caroline Glick posted her latest Jerusalem Post column on her blog. The column, called The Western Way of War, was actually more of a discussion of how the West has left behind the way of war that, as Victor Davis Hanson described in his book by the same name as Glick's column, is "a ferocious, brief, head-on clash" that serves the same purpose as the Western invention of consensual government: namely to achieve a quick and decisive end to a dispute.

Glick's column, on the topic of General Stanley McChrystal's resignation, focused on what Americans and Israelis might learn, not from McChrytal's military faux pas of being publically critical of the President of the United States, but by confronting "the unpleasant truth about the problematic nature of the the Western way of war in the 21st century."

In her discussion concerning the morale problem for Americans in Afganistan, Glick says:

Due to the administration's aversion to civilian casualties, preventing civilian casualties has become a chief fighting aim for the US military. Yet since the Taliban war effort relies on civilian infrastructures and human shields, the strategic significance of preventing civilian casualties is that US forces' ability to fight the Taliban is dramatically circumscribed.

Far from being the time-honored "Western way" in war which is total war fought for victory and the unconditional surrender of the enemy, and which leads to peace, trade with the former enemy, and eventually even alliances with the same, the warefare of the 21st century leads to stalemate, endless war and/or withdrawal without change in the conditions that led to the war. As Glick says:

The important story this week was not about a US general with abysmal judgment about the media. Rather the story is that in Afghanistan, the US is repeating a sorry pattern of Western nations of not understanding - or perhaps not caring -- that if you are not willing to fight a war to victory, you will lose it.

This is exactly the problem in Afganistan. To win the war and free the region from the Taliban, the United States must utterly defeat the Taliban. But for the Taliban to win, they must only wait out the increasingly leadership challenged United States and her allies. One reason for this problem is that the United States went to war without clear objectives, and the war has therefore suffered from "mission creep" which in Afganistan consisted of the goal changing from killing Osama bin Laden and destroying terrorist bases, to the goal of "nation building". This, in a part of the world ruled by ancient tribal alliances and hatreds, and where the concept of a nation-state is as foreign as the concept of individual destiny, is bound to be disastrous.

But the problem of choosing wisely with respect to how to go to war and why, is not the core of the issue. The core is why on earth the United States or any other Western country or alliance thereof, would deviate from the successful Western way of war as it has evolved to modernity. Before considering this question, though, a discursion on how the United States has developed the Western way of war is instructive.

In the United States that way can be defined by the following steps, all of which rest on the idea that the only moral reason for a war is defensive. (This does not mean that offensive strategy and tactics cannot be used in order to defeat the enemy; it only means that the causus belli must be due to attack or invasion). A Constitutional war must rest on the values enshrined therein. A war for empire can never be justified by these values. The steps are:

1. Use of Constitutional means to declare war thus acquiring the consent and support of the people as required for success on the part of a Constitutional Republic.

This means that the people at home are interested in how the war is being fought, and its outcome; and they generally constrain politicians from interfering in the strategy and tactics of the battles. In a proper Constitutional war, it is the duty of the civilian leadership to determine the goals that measure victory, and it is up to military leadership to determine the objectives, strategy and tactics to meet those goals.

2. Fight a total war to a decisive victory; that is, fight to win.

This can only happen when the people have consented to the losses required, and when they have a stake in the outcome. This is why a Constitutional declaration of war is necessary in the first place--it requires that a war be fought only when it is in the interest of the United States to do so as determined by the people themselves.

3. Define victory as the absolute defeat and unconditional surrender of the enemy.

The absolute defeat of the enemy is the only way to convince him that the ideas that brought him to make offensive war are bankrupt and false, and that there is nothing to gain by making such a war ever again.

4) Once a peace treaty is established, offer mercy and compassion to the people of the defeated country or region.

This is part of American exceptionalism--unlike wars for empire which result in enslaving the defeated enemy--usually by killing the men, making the women whores and the children, slaves--once a free people has defeated the enemy, thus obviating the ideas that led to war, they then lift up the enemy and make the people into trading partners, allies and friends.

In our new and unique way of dealing with war, forged from the Western tradition of consensual government and the Western Way of War, the United States has been successful in totally defeating traditional Honor/Shame societies, and in then rebuilding them to become successful modern societies that respect the rights of their own people as well as those of others. As the psychologist David Gutman, (University of Chicago) put it:

. . .the United States has successfully fought and tamed Shame/Honor societies in the past. The Confederacy, the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians, all paradigm Shame/Honor societies, were all overcome in total wars, and all became either part of our nation, or our trusted Democratic allies. And it now begins to appear that Iraq and perhaps Afghanistan will join their company.
There appears to be a uniquely American approach to war – one combining ruthlessness and mercy - that can lead to such unexpectedly good outcomes.
("Symposium: Islamic Terror and Sexual Mutilation", FrontPage Magazine, Friday, February 13, 2009).

The agenda of Islamo-fascism comes from such an honor/shame system, which is not compatible with individual rights and the Rule of Law. In such a culture, the fight can never end until honor has been restored and the enemy that has shamed one is destroyed.

As Caroline Glick continued in her article:

For years, citizens of free nations have willfully ignored or dismissed the significance their enemies' gruesome goals and ideology. They have claimed that what these people stand for is insignificant. At the end of the day, they say, the only reason there are wars is because the nations of the West provoke them by being strong. And so, when they have fought wars, they have fought them with strategies that can bring them nothing but defeat.

The question now becomes what has caused the West and the United States to decide not to engage the Western Way of War in order not only to utterly defeat the enemy, but also to remake him into a partner and a friend? The answer to this question is philosophical and involves the issue of moral confidence. Part II will engage this question.


Brianna said...

Hi, I followed you here from Caroline's blog. I asked you the question there, but having the discussion here is much easier, so I'm glad you decided to post about this.

I completely agree with what you describe as the Western way of war, which I see as very similar to the Objectivist theory of a just war if not exactly the same (you read as though you have read Ayn Rand, btw). However, I think one of the problems (not the only one!) with why the West cannot or will not wage this war the way they have conducted past wars is the nature of the enemy.

Part of the reason is psychological and philosophical; for various reasons which I am willing to bet you will go into in your next post, many in the West no longer believe in or have the stomach for the ruthlessness necessary to the Western way of war. However, I think another reason has to do with tactics and strategy: we are used to fighting nations, and Islam is a religion.

The Civil War was a battle over the fundamental idea of slavery, but it was also a battle between two geographic areas, the North and the South. WWII was against specific countries: Germany, Italy and Japan. Yes it was a war of ideas, but in order to win we fought the countries in which those ideas were found. The Communism of the Soviet Union was harder because it was supposed to be an international doctrine, because of MAD and because it involved various arenas in 3rd world countries, but eventually Reagan was able to end it by concentrating on the Kremlin.

Islam however, is international in scope in a way that Marxism could only have dreamed of. While there are specific countries which are Islamic, Muslims wherever they live tend to see themselves as Muslim first and members of their nation-states second... if indeed, they recognize themselves as members of nations at all. It is a pure ideology unconstrained by the Western idea of the nation-state, which I believe hinders our ability to engage in the Western way of war. While this is only part of the problem, I do believe it is a serious part. I have pondered this question for a long time with no answers, and would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Brianna, I will be writing more about the ideas you bring up in Part II of this post. (Probably on Sunday). But I think there are several levels to our problem in the war with Islamo-fascism. One is indeed the nature of the enemy--on two levels. That we are dealing with much of Dar Islam, rather than isolated nation-states, but also that they are supremely confident of their rightness and we are not. But more about that later!

Yes, I was brought up on Ayn Rand, my dad being somewhat of an Objectivist and my mom, a libertarian. I had an interesting childhood! ;)