In conjunction with the international security conference I attended this past weekend at the Army War College, an old grad school buddy (and retired Special Forces major) outlined his plan for counter-terrrorism in Iraq. Apparently, Ralph Peters was listening in:

We need to have the guts to give at least one terrorist haven a stern lesson as an example to the others. Fallujah is the obvious choice.

If the populace continues to harbor our enemies and the enemies of a healthy Iraqi state, we need to impose strict martial law. Instead of lavishing more development funds on the city – bribes that aren’t working – we need to cut back on electricity, ration water, restrict access to the city and organize food distribution through a ration card system. And we need to occupy the city so thickly that the inhabitants can’t step out of their front doors without bumping into an American soldier.

Don’t worry about alienating the already alienated. Make an example of them. Then see how the other cities respond. Such an experiment would be expensive. But strategic victories don’t come cheap.

Iraq’s Sunni Arabs need to master a simple equation: If you support those who kill Americans, there are penalties. If you cooperate to build a better Iraq, there are rewards. We need contrasts in Iraq between how we treat the deserving and the murderous.

Unfair to the innocent? The current situation is unfair to our soldiers and to the tens of millions of Iraqis who want to build a secure, better future. As long as the Sunni Arabs refuse to be part of the solution, we need to recognize that they’re the problem – and treat them appropriately.

I’m a little skeptical of this, not only because of the P.R. issues but because it seems counterproductive to the whole “winning their hearts and minds” mission. But these guys may be right: If these tough measures bring peace and stability much more quickly, the short-time price may well be worth it.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. brad says:

    This is, of course, absurd on its face when one considers it in the context of the war. Obviously, if Americans were being attacked in our own country or on foreign soil where we had the legitimate right to be present, then we would have the right to retaliate in such a manner in hopes of thwarting future attacks.

    However, in this case, the attackers are people literally fighting an occupying force that has invaded their country for no legitimate reason. To “make an example” of them would merely further the moral outrage that the current U.S. administration has perpetrated.

    Furthermore, it is clear from history that no amount of “lessons” of the type described by the major idiot will quell the violence directed at us by arab people squirming under Uncle Sam’s boot. Just ask the Israelis.

  2. Paul says:

    Blah Blah Blah Bush is the Devil Blah Blah Blah

  3. brad says:

    Typically coherent response. Why waste pixels displaying your inability, or unwillingness, to actually address the issue of whether Major Idiot is correct in his assessment that we ought to impose martial law on a population that feels, rightly or wrongly, that it is defending itself from an invasion force?

    Dismissing an opinion is not the same as having one of your own.

  4. Stephen says:

    Hmmm, seems like perhaps Ralph Peters was on the right track here considering current events. Where does the “ill advised” take come from? The hearts and mind angle is interesting, but doesn’t really work for me. I think Fallujah won’t be getting in line unless it’s with the barrell of a gun pointing right at them, as unfortunate as that may sound.


Stephen Green has an interesting post in reaction to today’s Thomas Friedman column. Friedman notes that the Arab reaction to our toppling of Saddam has been mixed:

What has been the Arab reaction to Iraq?

The short answer is: Shock, denial, fear and some stirrings of change. The shock comes from how easily the U.S.-British force smashed Saddam’s regime. The denial is manifest in the absence of virtually any public discussion among Arab elites as to why Baghdad fell so easily and why such a terrible regime was indulged by the Arab world for so long.

“The most striking thing,” one Arab diplomat remarked to me, “is that there are no debates going on [in the Arab world.] There is no W.M.D. debate. There is no debate about the atrocities and the mass graves. Even inside Iraq there doesn’t seem to be much soul-searching, like there was in Germany after World War II. That is worrisome to me. People have to learn from the mistakes that were made, and there is no attempt at doing that.”

Stephen notes that, in contrast to the utter havoc we wreaked on Germany and Japan, the Iraqis have not had to feel what Sherman termed “the hard hand of war:”

The problem we have in Iraq is, we smashed their army, but not the country.

Don’t get me wrong here, though. Let’s not level cities just because we think it sets a good example. Nuking Baghdad would be a bad idea, no matter what lessons it might teach the survivors. There’s no need to send in 30 divisions when five will get the job done.

But let’s not kid ourselves, either.

Sparing civilians is morally noble, politically necessary, and just plain the right thing to do. However, doing so takes a lot of the pain out of being on the losing side. And without pain, the lesson becomes harder to learn.

While there is merit in this argument, there is a flip side. There was an amazing amount of resentment, especially in Japan, that came from our tactics. Firebombing cities tends to motivate them to fight on, not demoralize them. Part of the rationale behind “shock and awe” was that they would be amazed that we were able to decapitate the country and still leave most of the city standing. This is virtually magic and had to be mighty impressive.

I think what we’re seeing in the guerilla movement is not so much the arrogance of people who don’t think they are defeated but desperation on the part of the few who benefitted from Saddam’s rule and who are scared of the reprisals that will follow once the former “outs” are in control of the government and the society.

While we’re clearly learning as we go in the rebuilding stage, making some mistakes along the way, we’re fast learners. Our military is amazingly adaptable. I’m not exactly sure what the outcome is going to be, but I’m reasonably confident that the guerillas will be defeated in a few months and that an Iraqi government will be in place within a year.

Will it be as friendly as the postwar German and Japanese governments? Doubtful. Not only is there not the forced alliance of the Cold War but there are enormous cultural divides that go beyond those we faced after WWII. Germany was a Western country that went through the Renaissance, Reformantion, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution. Japan, while neither Western nor Christian, had the Meiji Restoration and their own version of industrialization. Iraq is still in many ways a pre-Enlightenment society that has developed on a radically different path. We’re not going to convert them to US-style democracy overnight. I do believe enlightened self-interest will go a long way to making them trading partners and getting them slowly integrated into the modern world.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.