“Kind hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.” -Carl Von Clausewitz, On War
Micah Zenko, a distinguished scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations wrote and tweeted, about the demise of Qaddafi as being an apt conclusion to a false narrative. Considering the nature of today’s conflicts and more importantly the way they have to be marketed to the public it’s hardly a surprise that this double-dealing is becoming the norm. While it’s easy to take the liberal/egalitarian approach to slam the powers that be for this deception (not that I’m accusing Zenko of doing such); is it really that simple? Can society honestly deny that a level of willful ignorance is at play here?
The first Gulf War was, by all accounts a historical anomaly, the sort of event that could only have occurred in those exact circumstances and with those exact objectives. Yet it seems that this highly improbable confluence of events has defined the public’s perception of warfare in the post-Cold War era. In this age of liberal, humanitarian idealism, warfare must be conducted within the context of what educated, morally virtuous societies are prepared to accept. They must be swift, decisive, and the first priority must be to render the opposing armed force incapable of waging war; while actually ending as few lives as possible. Essentially society expects the opposing military be castrated, rather than annihilated. Because after all, to the educated lay person, of sound moral mind but lacking any understanding of the depth of depravity that has throughout history been fundamental to the conduct of warfare; death and destruction should be limited as much as possible. The first Gulf War was a master stroke, society was fed a steady diet of video and photographic evidence that America’s technologically superior military forces hadn’t really killed people so much as they’d destroyed hundreds of cars, trucks, tanks, aircraft, guns, and buildings. Focusing almost entirely on inanimate objects, the tools that made evil acts possible, society believed that by removing the means we could remove the will to kill and destroy. News media showed thousands of clips and photos of destroyed equipment but comparatively little in the way of charred, mutilated corpses, the human element required to make use of such tools for evil purposes. Instead what was shown was droves of surrendering soldiers, surrendering en masse, as though contrite and seeking to repent; a narrative that fit perfectly with the Jewdeo-Christian values of liberal democratic societies in the west.
Politically speaking it was a near perfect war. In all the hubbub about why it was right or wrong, from a strategic/political/social perspective the reason why this conflict was effective and politically expedient lies primarily with the limited aims. By adhering to the Powell Doctrine, America kept her aims limited, she didn’t get lured into all out invasion of Iraq, which would have escalated the conflict from one of limited aims towards one of more total aims. Wars fought for more total objectives have throughout history been far more arduous, costly, bloody, and unseemly. Because the ultimate aim is not just to force a minor concession from ones opponent, but to remove the opponent and his sovereign political regime, said power must be prepared for a potentially long, ugly fight in which tough decisions are made, many lives are lost and the full gruesome nature of war is exposed to the world.