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Jewish World Review April 14, 2004 / 24 Nissan, 5764

George Will

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Winning the 'Three-Block War' | At the battle of Shiloh in April 1862, a wounded soldier who had been told to leave his weapon and go to the rear soon returned, saying, "Gimme another gun. This blame fight ain't got any rear." Neither does the fighting in Iraq, which one Marine officer compares to "scaling a live volcano." Another officer says Iraq is for today's Marines their Guadalcanal, Chosin Reservoir and Hue City. That may overstate matters, but characterizations of the insurgents as merely "thugs" who "hate democracy" trivializes what is not trivial — coordinated military activities by forces are menacing U.S. supply lines and that have agendas more complicated than dislike of democracy.

Fortunately, the Marines trained for this. Seven years ago, Gen. Charles Krulak, then commandant of the Corps, considered Chechnya, that cauldron of religious and ethnic strife, as the template of coming conflicts. Now, as then, Krulak talks about "the three-block war."

In today's conflicts, he says, you can have a Marine wrapping a child in swaddling clothes. And a Marine keeping two warring factions apart at gunpoint. And a Marine in medium- or high-intensity combat. It can be the same Marine, in a 24-hour time frame, in just three city blocks.

"You can't," he says, "defeat an idea with just bullets — you need a better idea." But first you need bullets. You need, Krulak says, the enemy "to be petrified," as were the Germans who gave U.S. Marines a name that stuck — "devil dogs" — as a term of respect when, at Belleau Wood, Marines blunted the Germans' 1918 drive on Paris.

There is a heart-rending ingenuousness to U.S. efforts at amicability, even to the point of encouraging Marines, before they entered Fallujah last month, to grow mustaches, as many Iraqi men do. Shiloh, where almost 24,000 Americans were casualties, was where both sides in the Civil War lost their illusions about its being a short and not-too-bloody war. After Fallujah, it is clear that the first order of business for Marines and other U.S. forces is their basic business: inflicting deadly force.

Revising Robert Frost's axiom that the best way out is always through, Henry Kissinger says of Iraq, "Success is the only exit strategy." In the short run, success means making the militias, and especially the cleric Moqtada Sadr's, pay a terrible price, partly for taking payments from Iran. Unless Sadr's militia is smashed, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani will be marginalized.

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Unfortunately, how to define success in the long, or even middling, run remains unclear. Yes, of course, democracy — a glittering example that transforms the region — would be nice. But the first task of government is order, which is necessary to prevent Iraq from becoming a vacuum into which violent Islamic radicalism flows. Order requires more Americans carrying guns, and more nations carrying costs and responsibilities that America is now bearing.

Sen. Joseph Biden says that French President Jacques Chirac has told him that France would participate in a NATO involvement in Iraq. With perhaps 8 million Muslims in France legally or illegally, France has a stake in preventing the transformation of Iraq into another incubator of Muslim radicalism.

No sensible person wants the United Nations involved because of any competency. Before the war, the United Nations presided over spectacular corruption in the oil-for-food program. After the war, it took just one bomb to blow the United Nations out of Iraq. And the democratic forces in Iraq despise the United Nations as a collaborator with Saddam Hussein. However, some involvement by the United Nations would usefully blur the clarity of U.S. primacy.

It is unclear why the United States, its armed forces stretched thin and its budget spilling red ink, should hoard its responsibilities for reconciling Iraq's irreconcilables. In less than 11 weeks "sovereignty" of sorts will, the administration insists, be transferred from the Coalition Provisional Authority to. . . .

When Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator, was asked who would receive it, he said, "Well, that's a good question." Iraqi security forces are much more than 11 weeks away from being able to cope with the ethnic, sectarian and political violence.

Last week the New York Times carried this headline: "A Decade After Massacres, Rwanda Outlaws Ethnicity." Because extremist Hutus killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, a government decree, backed by reeducation camps, has declared ethnic distinctions nonexistent. It is a shame that the Rwanda solution won't work in Iraq. Or in Rwanda, for that matter.

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