Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Waging Peace (Really)

The American public has been told several things repeatedly since the 2004 presidential campaign season began more than two years ago. We have been told that (a) we must stay in Iraq, (b) there is no alternative plan for Iraq other than a military victory and (c) there is no acceptable alternative to winning the war. Unfortunately, all of these have been proven false.

Before the US invaded Iraq, a few US and UK senior officials suggested a non-military option to destroy Al Queda in Afghanistan. Their plans had one thing in common: They suggested waging peace. Build roads, these liberals said. Build schools. Give people jobs. Oh, wait. They weren't liberals. Chris Patten is an old school UK conservative. Michael Scheuer is a Republication career CIA officer. These people were ignored. Their ideas were too radical, and the potential results too far fetched. No more far fetched than forcibly imposing a Jeffersonian democracy, that's true, but never mind.

At a time when our policy in Iraq is eerily reminiscent of Richard Nixon's Vietnamization ("We'll stand down as they stand up"), and failing in exactly the same way, the time has come to trumpet the success of one man trying hard to do the right thing. Enter Colonel Jim Linder, US Army.

COL Linder is a career Special Forces officer and currently head of the US Army's task force fighting Al Queda-backed Abu Sayyaf on the Philippine island of Jolo. His strategy? To wage peace. No kidding. And it is working. COL Linder and his men partnered with NGOs, the Philippine government and US military assets to bring government services like roads, schools and medical care to the remote region. Linder's quote, hopefully to made famous soon, is "It's not about how many people we shoot in the face, it is about how many people we get off the battlefield."

This small corner of the US Army has successfully ended Abu Sayyaf dominance on the neighboring island of Basilan by the same methods. The techniques are now known as "the Philippines model" among military strategists. Why is the US military not emulating this model on a large scale? Because we are bogged down so badly in Iraq that the military can't implement that strategy anymore. Reliance on traditional strong-arm tactics while ignoring any strategic goals other than nebulous victory has cost us a real chance at success.

Once we lose the war in Iraq (and I am going publicly out on a limb here to say that we will), I hope that we learn the important lesson that COL Linder and his troops can teach us. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Or was that my mother? Either way, it works. It also has the nice side effects of completely failing to disrupt the fabric of society, failing to pollute the land and water and doesn't even kill people.

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