Let’s face it, America and the West are failing now on the world stage. Particularly in the Middle East, fanatical Islamists are riding a huge wave of success. The convert-or-die crowd seems close to establishing the long-desired caliphate of regional Islamic hegemony.
The trillions of dollars and thousands of bright young lives we have poured into “stabilizing” the region have bought us next to nothing. Those stable democracies we meant to create don’t exist.
Maybe it’s time for some out-of-the-box thinking, a real game changer that could put us back on track. So here’s an idea: call it crazy, but why don’t we fight wars with the intention of actually winning them? That’s right, pummel the enemy until they give up and then make sure they’re not able to threaten again.
It was a general plan that worked well at one time. After General “Unconditional Surrender” Grant was through with the rebels in our Civil War, for better or worse, the Confederacy was never again a military threat. Slavery was gone and the union permanently intact.
At the time President Truman dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, it was evident that the Japanese sense of honor was going to prolong the war and cause many more deaths before it was over. Truman determined that the side that started the war and refused to give up should do the dying. Japan has never threatened us since, nor has Germany for that matter.
In the Vietnam War, our approach changed. American soldiers won on the battlefield, but Americans wearied and doubted the justness of our cause. Rather than go ahead and win, we conceded the truce to regional Communists. As a result, millions perished in Southeast Asia, while 50,000 young Americans died in what proved to be a futile war not supported by their countrymen.
Never since have we entered wars with the intention of winning. Our goal, such as it is, is to get our enemies to hate us as little as possible. In the Middle East, we pick sides in ancient intra-Muslim conflicts and try to help the team we approve of with as little intervention as possible.
It doesn’t work, of course. For all our noble intentions, nothing much has changed. Animus toward the Great Satan (that’s us) is running higher than ever. Recruits from around the world are pouring in, eager to suicide-bomb for Allah. Our timid wars of containment leave the Islamic terrorists stronger than ever.
What would it look like if we actually adopted a fight-to-win ethos? First of all, we would fight fewer wars, far fewer. For the combatants, war is horrible whether it’s World War II or a holding action in some Third-World backwater. They should be entered into only when absolutely necessary.
It’s a principle of Just War theory that war should be an option only when all others are exhausted. War should never be a strategic maneuver to achieve some quasi-political gains.
So if ISIS, for example, reaches the level of an existential threat to America, we should go to work to wipe it out. If it’s just another regional conflict that doesn’t materially affect us, we should keep our people and planes at home. It sounds harsh, but the alternative is what we’ve got: endless costly actions that accomplish nothing.
Our enemies would catch on soon enough. “Red lines” would come to mean something to them and to us. We wouldn’t draw one unless we meant business, but cross one and the world’s military superpower comes down your throat.
Meanwhile, it would be important for us to stay strong militarily even with fewer troops deployed. Negotiations go better when you have the “big stick” behind your words. A first-class missile-defense system would be important, too, as Israel’s Iron Dome has shown.
Look, everybody knows war isn’t like the good old days, when soldiers wore uniforms and stood in rows. Today’s Islamic terrorists often represent no sovereign and don’t hesitate to employ civilian shields. That makes it all the more critical that we remain goal oriented, strategic and aggressive.
The only lasting peace is through victory.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at email@example.com.