Some bloggers of talent have gone after me for a column on Tuesday in which I raised questions about the nature of our advanced liberal civilization and whether it can win the war against Islamic terrorism. They basically accuse me of advocating genocide because I posed the question of whether, had we determined to kill tens of thousands of young Sunni males at the outbreak of the Iraq war, we would have had an easier time of it. I don’t usually defend myself in this blog, but this assault is so mindbogglingly wrongheaded that I feel obliged to do so.
The point of the column was that there are measures entirely closed off to us because of the nature of our civilization and that this puts us at a unique disadvantage when fighting a stateless foe of unique ruthlessness. I am not upset — far from it — that they are closed off to us. That’s why I described our humanitarian focus as the highest achievement of civilization. But it is preposterous not to understand, when you fight by Marquis of Queensbury rules and your opponent feels free to kick you in the groin and shoot your dog, that your more civilized approach might represent a form of self-shackling when your aim is victory at all costs. The most pointed criticism comes from Belgravia Dispatch, which dismisses my posed question as follows:
The tactics J-Pod would have us consider would, not only lead us towards a savage race to the moral gutter, and thus immense catastrophe in terms of the decent society America has been able to, almost miraculously, preserve these past two odd centuries plus—but also not even achieve the intended result—as fighting an insurgency movement in such fashion, as any serious West Pointer would tell you, is absolutely, drop-dead, out of the gates, doomed to failure.
Interesting. Seems to me that in 1982, in Hama, Hafez al-Assad wiped out an uprising against his regime by slaughtering 25,000 over a weekend. And in 1991, Saddam Hussein took down the Shiite uprising with similar viciousness. The idea that such monstrous tactics don’t work is ludicrous. They do work. But I think it’s fair to say that we would rather our civilization die than that we commit such acts. Right now, Israel has decided to halt its war because of an airstrike that caused 60-plus civilian casualties. The fundamental question I was posing is this: What if only a civilization willing to commit them can successfully extirpate a conscienceless menace like Islamic extremist terror?
This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t know the answer. I don’t even know if this is the right question. But we are back, it seems, at the point at which Herman Kahn wrote Thinking About the Unthinkable. Even the act of trying to think through the nature of the struggle we’re facing is itself deemed criminal.