The Virtue of the Gentle Touch

 A number of American commentators-such as the American Enterprise Institute's Tom Donnelly-have seemed oddly disappointed with the progress of the military campaign against Iraq.

 A number of American commentators-such as the American Enterprise Institute's Tom Donnelly-have seemed oddly disappointed with the progress of the military campaign against Iraq.  Before "Operation Shock and Awe" had materialized, some seemed to feel that the air campaign, with its emphasis on targeted pinprick cruise missile strikes, had a Clintonesque air about it.

It is disturbing that there are calls for unleashing massive devastating strikes against Iraq as a type of "demonstration effect", that if the war ends "too quickly" with the death or toppling of Saddam Hussein, then the war effort will have been for naught.  (Perhaps some secretly desire to have spectacular special effects demonstrating the awesome capacity of American conventional weapons to cause massive amounts of destruction.)

This, in my opinion, is a foolhardy approach, for several reasons.

First and foremost, the more we destroy in the campaign to unseat Saddam Hussein, the more we will have to reconstruct.  Kurdish Prime Minister Salih, in his remarks to In the National Interest, recognized very clearly that the United States does not wish, and should not have to rebuild and reconstruct Iraq.  If we can minimize the damage to Iraq's infrastructure, the more quickly we can set up a transitional administration and pave the way for departure of American forces.  After all, if there is a great deal of destruction, and American specialists remain on the ground for a long period of time in Iraq as a result, they themselves could become targets from a frustrated populace, a danger Yevgeny Verlin is correct to call attention to. Second, it is counterproductive.  One reason I believe that the campaign has been moving ahead with such success is that ordinary Iraqis, including the soldiers, are taking seriously President Bush's assertion that his fight is with the leadership of Iraq, not its people.  Seeing Saddam's palaces and bunkers, Republican Guard bases, and government buildings turned into rubble WITHOUT causing massive destruction to the country's civilian infrastructure is a major blow to the prestige of the regime.  In an earlier In the National Interest column, I noted that Saddam's regime is a pharaonic despotism, designed to exalt the leader at the expense of the citizenry.  Now, the people of Baghdad witness that Saddam's homes are being leveled while theirs still stand-and this further contributes to the delegitimization of Hussein's rule.

There is a lesson to be learned from the Kosovo air campaign.  Once NATO forces began to target the civilian infrastructure of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic's popularity actually increased (it is a myth to suggest that the NATO action led to Milosevic's downfall; he remained in power for one and a half years AFTER the Kosovo campaign).  Milosevic used the destruction caused in cities like Belgrade and Nis to bolster his own legitimacy (and to try and cripple the democratic opposition).

In the end, I believe, the disappointment expressed by some reflects the fact that some Americans have accepted the necessity of military action in order to disarm Iraq-but others want to use it to reshape the region.  Let's concentrate on realistic tasks, not on vast crusading projects.