Sunday, January 09, 2005


Newsweek: U.S. Considering The "Salvador Option" For Iraq.


Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success, despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)
Read the rest here.

Before I dive into the subject itself, permit me to question why that paragraph above mentions Iran-Contra? El Salvador wasn't Nicaragua. The policy in El Salvador was different than in Nicaragua. So, why bring it up? What, is Newsweek looking for some extra rope to hang people with? Ditto the Negroponte bit about being ambassador to Honduras. Again, that's not El Salvador-- or Nicaragua. I don't know the relevance of those remarks, except perhaps a clumsy attempt at discrediting the possible strategy ("And now, from the people who brought you Eugene Hasenfus. . . " Moving on.

My first reaction to this story is: if you loved how well Abu Ghraib and Gitmo went over, wait'll you get a load of this. Play a game of El Salvador word association with any member of the Left and you immediately get "Death Squads," followed shortly by "Murdered Nuns," with perhaps a handy "School of the Americas" thrown in for salt.

So, I'm resigned to the fact that before any metaphorical shots are fired-- let alone real ones-- this option is politically D.O.A. You won't be able to convince neither the Democratic Party nor the news media (but I repeat myself) that this is a good option.

That said, I'm less concerned with how the option would be received than with the issue of whether it would work.

Basically, what they want to do is enable the Iraqi military to use extralegal means to deal with terrorists. And, as everyone in America knows, without the protection of the rule of law, it is inevitable that innocents would be hurt.

Yet, that doesn't mean that *only* innocents would be hurt. It simply means that the bar set to protect them has been lowered to the point that their welfare is a secondary concern to that of eliminating the enemy.

This sounds repugnant, but that's only because the tools in effect-- para-military and police forces used to enforce the law-- are typically understood to be highly discriminatory in their ideal, unlike conventional military forces deploying heavy firepower.

Imagine a city block with fifty bad guys and five hundred innocents. Those fifty bad guys are sniping at friendly forces, and something must be done to protect our troops. Our troops could go house-to-house, killing each bad guy one by one, and paying extra care to protecting the innocent. However, friendly casualties could be expected to be high.

The alternative is to shell the block with high explosive artillery. You'd do the job without suffering casualties, but you'd trade your life for innocent casualties.

Soldiers make these sorts of moral judgments all the time. It's the old Spock rule: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.

In this case, given that the terrorists are using a passive, or even cooperative Sunni populace as shield and enablers, what is the reasoning behind treating that populace with the same kid gloves we treat those on our side? Yes, there's human morality, but warfare is not pacifism: it demands violence, ergo it demands choices, Us or Them.

But what about winning the "heart's and minds" of the Iraqis?

People forget their Machiavelli at inconvenient times. It is fine to be loved, but it is better to be feared. And whose hearts and minds are we trying to win? Those of the Sunnis sheltering our enemies, or the Shia and Kurds standing on the sidelines? Right now it seems that the United States is neither feared nor loved by any faction in Iraq. As much as I wish that we were loved, if winning the war means being feared, than that may be our only viable option.

Free Iraqis live in fear of terrorists and their enablers. It may be time for the terrorists and their enablers to beging living in fear of free Iraqis.

Again, it may not be an option we're willing to consider. However, I would like any critic of the option to stop and consider whether it's any different if a terrorist is killed by a bullet to the back of the neck or by a 2000-lb guided bomb? Likewise, is "collateral damage" any less tolerable when the innocent is killed in a drive-by shooting, or by a Hellfire missile?

War is difficult business, both physically and morally. I don't envy those having this debate, but I don't see how such a debate can possibly be avoided.

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