The Corner

Ruthless Realism

Several readers have pinpointed on this line from my earlier post:

If I may intrude, I guess I’m on a slightly different page than you guys. As a matter of analysis and prescription, I’m all in favor of the war in Iraq becoming less “liberal” — as you folks are using the term around here — and more realistic, i.e. ruthless. 

How, they ask, could we be any more ruthless than we’ve already been? How would less ruthlessness (more ruth?) help. I understand the objection, and to a point it’s well-taken. I don’t think ruthlessness as it’s commonly understood — dogged, merciless,  belligerence — is necessarily what we need most. Though I can think of examples where we could still use more. For example, Rich posted this excerpt from David Ignatius’ column last month: 

 The insurgents who kill our young soldiers are ruthless, but we have sometimes been cautious in our response. Take the question of targeting bomb makers: There may be an unlimited supply of explosives in Iraq, but there is not an unlimited supply of people who know how to wire the detonators. In 2004, CIA operatives in Iraq believed that they had identified the signatures of 11 bomb makers. They proposed a diabolical — but potentially effective — sabotage program that would have flooded Iraq with booby-trapped detonators designed to explode in the bomb makers’ hands. But the CIA general counsel’s office said no. The lawyers claimed that the agency lacked authority for such an operation, one source recalled. 

Me: That seems a good example where we had less ruthlessness than we needed.

But, what I mean by ruthlessness (the word is starting to sound funny, I’ve said it so many times), is a single-minded determination to win. And, I think, that effort would prove my earlier point. I don’t think we can win the counter-insurgency in Iraq unless we offer the Iraqis more hope for the future than the enemy offers. Derb’s or McCarthy’s vision would not be all that useful at the retail level: 

American officer: You need to side with us.

Wavering Sunni tribal leader: Why?

American officer: Because it’s in America’s national security interest.

WSTL: I don’t give a rat’s ass about American national security.

American Officer: Oh.  

Even a ruthlessly realistic and realistically ruthless counter-insurgency needs to give the Iraqi people a reason to  choose our side.

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