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Give war a chance

James P. Pinkerton

Clausewitz is the name and war is my game. You’ll forgive a little levity from a dead Prussian, won’t you?I, Carl von Clausewitz, wrote the book on war. It’s called “Vom Kriege” (“On War”), and I’m proud to say it’s been required reading at military academies for two centuries.So when Herr Pinkerton told me he was writing a column about American military strategy in the Middle East, I told him to take the day off.Ironically, my biggest single point about war was actually a point about peace: winning the peace. As I wrote, “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” That is, if Country A can’t get Country B to do what it wants through diplomacy, well, then, Country A might have to attack. War may or may not be just or glorious; that’s not my concern. I am practical-minded, albeit maybe a little cold-blooded.So let’s think practically about your various wars, the ones America is fighting, or might be fighting – even the one it’s winning, even if most Americans don’t know about it.Let’s start with Iraq. The front-page headline of Friday’s Washington Post – I keep up! – was revealing for its substandard Clausewitzian thinking: “Iraqis Wasting an Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say.” The gist of the story, reflecting the Pentagon’s “spin,” was that the American military had prevailed on the Iraq battlefield, but that squabbling Iraqi politicians, along with incompetent State Department diplomats, were squandering the victory.Such a newspaper story is good for blame-shifting, but it’s not good for actual war-winning. Smart strategists know – because they read it in my book – that politics and war are a continuum. They are not separate. If you win a war and then lose the politics, well, you have lost the war.If you don’t believe me, ask the Israelis. They’ve won all their fights against the Arabs, but they haven’t won the politics of the Middle East. And that’s why Israel is still at great risk. Just next week, the Americans are summoning the Israelis to “peace talks” in your town of Annapolis, Md., with foes that don’t really want peace. Why is the Bush administration doing this? Because the Arabs that America is relying on for help in Iraq – and against Iran – have insisted that the United States “do something” about Israel. All of which is a reminder that your country hasn’t won much in Iraq, to say nothing of Iran.From your point of view, it’s great that the Americans and Israelis can defeat the Arabs. But until you have altered Arab/Muslim political thinking – by breaking or otherwise changing their political will – then peace conferences are mere mirage-castles in the air.As for Afghanistan and Pakistan, let’s just say this: America sends lots of lawyers, guns and money, but you don’t seem to have true influence on the destiny of 200 million Muslims – including Osama bin Laden, lurking there somewhere.But it’s not all bleak for America in the region. A bright spot is Sudan, which has long been a haven for Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Yes, I’ll admit, in the western province of Darfur, Muslims are massacring Muslims.But in the southern part, the Christians have achieved many of their political objectives. How? By fighting! Give war a chance: It works sometimes.In fact, the Christians – under the charismatic leadership of Salva Kiir, in Washington just last week meeting with President Bush at the White House – are inching toward independence from the Khartoum regime.Breaking up a hostile Muslim country? Carving out a new nation? Liberating millions of African Christians, along with substantial oil deposits, to seek new alignment with the West?That’s a full politico-military victory, in the Clausewitzian sense, if you can keep it. You Americans should savor that success and, more to the point, study it.James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday.


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