Where do they get their advice from?
Our editor looks like a fairly fierce old guy but he said I could write that, so I guess he’s pretty open-minded. Anyway here goes.
A big item in the news yesterday was the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, or at least in Waziristan. Whether Waziristan was ever officially and constitutionally incorporated into the parts alleged to be ruled by Britain and later taken over by Pakistan is not completely clear (and for what it’s worth if it happened it certainly didn’t happen democratically). But that is not the point here.
Whether you are basically favourable or unfavourable to America, what is amazing is that a country with such huge resources and such legions of highly trained officials for dealing with other countries can arrive at policy decisions that seem so blatantly against her own interests. Apparently the official view is that Hakimullah’s demise was a great victory in the (undeclared) drone war, because under Hakimullah’s leadership over the past few years – nine, was it? – the Taliban had upped their numbers from 8,000 to 20,000. This may not be a case of putting the telescope to your blind eye; if anything it’s more like using no telescope and looking in the wrong direction. What else has been happening over the time the numbers are said to have gone from 8,000 to 20,000? The answer is a campaign of using drones to bomb what (with uncertain reliability) are said to have been enemy targets (and with extensive civilian casualties). Where else has something like that happened? You don’t have to look far. In the Yemen a very similar campaign of bombing by drones has been proceeding. What has happened there? Numbers of active supporters of the armed groups hostile to America are said to have soared from around 300 to over 1,000. Even if we leave out the moral and legal issues, history is strewn with examples where what were intended to be campaigns of merciless suppression were not just unsuccessful but actually produced massive counterproductive results. One highly visible instance is France in the Second World War. When the Nazi armies marched in the resistance consisted of scattered groups, and even adding them all together its numbers were tiny. The Nazis who had the advantage of overwhelming power and continuous control of the population on the ground launched a programme of brutality intended to eradicate resistance by intimidation and outright elimination. The result? Four years later the active members of the resistance numbered around 200,000 with a further 300,000 providing support; and large numbers of German soldiers had been killed.
I wonder if anywhere in his writings Sun-Tzü makes the point that the most reliable way to win a war, and with the least cost to your own army, is to make the enemy not want to fight you.