Finish It Or Forget It

This is a war–not terrorism, insurgency, or uprising

by Victor Davis Hanson

Private Papers

For about a year now, a baby-faced grotesque thug, Sadr, dressed up in a cleric’s robes and backed by two or three thousand gangsters has held world-wide televised press conferences as he pompously boasted about his promised imposition of Iranian-style theocracy upon 26 million other Iraqis.

Forget that in most municipal elections in the first year of the reconstruction Iraqis had shown not much interest in his crackpot Shiite paradise on earth. Forget that this criminal was not a holy-man at all, but a murderer who shortly after the liberation of Iraq, had systematically put out hits on various rivals. Forget that he was a coward who was a mouse under Saddam’s fascist police, and roared as a lion only after the Americans, whom he daily slurred, at the cost of their lives and treasure had freed him and his Chicago-style Costa Nostra. And forget that he was hardly a nationalist, but an Iranian toady who did the bidding of Teheran and wished to ruin southern Iraq in the same manner that his kindred self-appointed mullahs had wrecked Iran.

But do not forget that for some strange reason the most powerful military in the history of civilization was not allowed to move on this latter-day Jugurtha before his venom infected thousands beyond his immediate Mafia. The moment there was good proof in the days following the toppling of Saddam that Sadr had ordered and killed various rival Shiites, he should have been arrested, tried, and, if found guilty, hanged—at a time when the United States military was fresh from victory and still in a combat mode.

There is a lesson in the saga of Sadr here that we really must relearn about this entire war. The United States, because it is militarily powerful and humane in the way that it exercises that force, usually can pretty much do what it wishes in this war against terrorists. In every single engagement since October 2001 it has not merely defeated but obliterated jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq. The only check on its power has been self induced: out of a misplaced sense of clemency it has often ceased prematurely the punishment it has inflicted on enemies—at Tora Bora, in the Sunni Triangle, during the looting of Baghdad, and now perhaps at Fallujah—and relented to enter into peace parleys, reconciliation, and reconstruction too early.

This understandable restraint allowed defeated terrorists to believe that either out of fear of world opinion or too sensitive to domestic discord we were hesitant to dispatch them to their promised paradise. But there is a law and a way to war over the ages that are unfortunately immutable, given that human nature is constant across time and space: namely that peace follows only from the defeat and humiliation of the culpable, not from magnanimity granted to impotent but still proud enemies. I suppose in 1864, William Tecumseh Sherman should have let it be known that he wished to speak and dialogue with “that devil Forrest.” Instead, he promised to have the greatest cavalry commander in American history hounded incessantly—an opponent far more formidable than this present bearded Satyr in robes. Tired, his once proud riders dead, wounded, or exhausted, the supposedly unbreakable Nathan Bedford Forrest who had promised never to quit, sheepishly told his men after Appomattox, “I’m a going home.”

Here are a few good places to start thinking like an uncouth Sherman rather than a gentlemanly McClellan that might remind us that we are still in a war.

Why worry about the constraints of religion? We should simply ignore most supposed Islamic restrictions on war-making since they are entirely one-sided, asymmetrical, and self-serving. All during the Afghanistan campaign we worried about Ramadan, and were warned by the impotent Arab Street about the repercussions to follow if we shot back at Taliban thugs who hid in mosques and sniped at us during their holy days. Did we remember that when Egypt invaded Israel during its sacred Yom Kippur holidays it bragged of the sneak attack as the “Ramadan War”—and in pride, not shame? Did we hold back from attacking Nazi Germany on Hitler’s Birthday? And was it really wise to impose what turned out to be a one-sided truce at the Tet holiday in Vietnam?

Putting non-explosives in GPS bombs at the end of the war to avoid collateral damage beyond targeted artillery pieces and tanks parked in Iraqi mosques, or not wishing to hurt religious militias as they carted off the material future of Iraq and cached them in mosques after the liberation, may have been humane and logical, but that and other efforts at restraint have consistently sent the wrong message to jihadists and thereby emboldened killers—namely, that we would respect their own holy sites far more than those who had desecrated them with munitions. As way of illustration, the world should ask in April 2004, right now how many Churches, Temples—or Mosques—concurrently serve as weapons depots?

As I recall the radical Muslim world canonized armed Islamic criminals who desecrated the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem without apology to its Christian clergy. A general rule then: once armed combatants enter mosques for sanctuary, the United States military must declare that such shrines are immediately no longer holy sites, and then allow 48 hours for Islamic clergy to remove such killers before it does it for them. A mass-murderer in a wheel chair, or a street tough wearing a turban really is not a holy man—and the Islamic world needs to realize that when the fatwas of mullahs and imams invoke the name of “God” to murder, then they have sacrificed the sanctuary of religion.

Why do we worry about finding all the exact ties between the so-called terrorists? Terrorists and jihadists do not have to leave a paper trail or scents over email and cell phones to grasp that they really do work in general concert: Bombing and killing before critical elections, ratcheting it up in Iraq as the transition to Iraqi rule nears, and using the same barbaric methods worldwide—whether cutting off Danny Pearl’s head on tape, putting decapitated Israeli soldiers’ heads on billboards in Lebanon, placing ball-bearings and rat poison in suicide bombs, burning and cutting apart bodies in Fallujah, or threatening to burn and eat Japanese captives. There is a pattern here of barbarism and we should accept it as the common tracer of the work of fundamentalists and Middle East terrorists.

If we are going to win this war, we should begin right now to notify Syria and Iran that their incessant support to terrorists in Iraq will soon be met with a systematic air campaign whose intensity will be predicated on their own behavior. We need not necessarily invade either country, but simply ever so incrementally begin to attrite their conventional military assets, the pulse of the bombing carefully calibrated to the flow of jihadists and material into Iraq from their soil. We need to publicly show the world the tangible proof—captured soldiers, supplies, IDs from slain warriors, communications intercepts—of Syrian and Iranian activity, and then begin to take out their instillations. Again, each time we struck back resolutely and unexpectedly in Afghanistan and Iraq we were successful; and each time we wavered, promised to be sober and restrained, our enemies simply harvested more Americans.

Yes, our enemies are right: the West Bank seems to be a part of the war as well. We are blamed in the Arab world for whatever we do in seeking reconciliation over the so-called Palestinian problem. The latest jubilation in the street that broke out on news of Americans dying and corpses being desecrated in Iraq follows a continuous litany of macabre anti-American outbursts, Saddam’s bounties to suicide killers, the murder of American diplomats seeking to offer fellowships to Palestinians, Hamas’ warnings to extend their bombing campaign against Americans, and, of course, the wild celebration on reports of thousands of dead Americans on September 11. All this is the DNA of a true belligerent of the United States at a time of war. Americans are sick and tired of this poll and that survey warning us that we are not liked on the West Bank. Instead of yet another opinion sampling indicating Palestinian anger at the United States, what Palestinians need to peruse are several polls that reveal Americans’ growing disgust with their methods and barbarism.

As a start of our new determination, we should insist on a complete travel ban to the West Bank. We must declare all representatives of the Palestinian Authority personae non gratae in the United States—folk at the present time not welcome in the United States, including and especially diplomats, journalists, students, and academics. Only when such elites and grandees see that there are consequences to their cheap slurs and venom on campuses and American television will they ponder their present relationship with the United States. If we are at war, surely we do not wish normal relations with a people and their quasi leaders who cheer our deaths and threaten more.

We should inform the Palestinians that they are now analogous to Albanians circa 1970 or, better yet, contemporary North Koreans, who now stay out of the United States and vice versa. No aid whatsoever, no travel, no direct ties until barbarism ceases on the West Bank. Americans can accept war, but what tires them are enemies who lob a bomb, scream on television, assassinate an occasional American, and then seethe, claiming that they collectively hate the United States—and yet want its attention, money, and aid. It is time to accept their animus and assume that in this war against fascism in the Middle East, Arafat and Hamas too are quite logically our enemies and should be put on notice concerning the dangerous wages of that new reality.

Apparently someone in the present administration thinks by waging war-Lite that it can split the difference with Mr. Kerry and win the election. That is fallacious in terms of military strategy, politics, and morality. We can defeat our enemies only by articulating what we stand for and why we are going to win the war. We have the force and imagination to succeed on the battlefield and the American people will accept sacrifices for victory. But they will—and should—turn on any leader who doesn’t fight to win and thereby ensures that we will all pay a far higher price for defeat than we would have for victory.

So let us marshal the troops and will to take Fallujah, clean up the Sunni Triangle, eliminate the militias of Mr. Sadr, demonstrate to the Iranians and Syrians that a number of their sites they don’t want touched may soon go up in smoke, and begin to fight this war as if we wished to win—or simply quit and unleash instead Mssrs Kerry, Kennedy, Clinton, Dean, Gore, and Carter to bring us home and apologize to the Middle East.

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