The Islamic way of war? no way

Jim Henley has a very interesting discussion of Andrew Bacevich's piece in the American Conservative,
The Islamic Way of War. I usually agree with Bacevich but I have a feeling that this time he did exactly what I accuse the "other side" of doing, that is, inventing a b-s driven grand theory as part of an effort to advance a certain policy agenda. I've been opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to the Israeli bombimg of Lebanon and support U.S. engagement with Iran but not because something called "the Islamic way of war" is winning, or as Bacevich puts it:
the East has solved the riddle of the Western Way of War. In Baghdad and in Anbar Province as at various points on Israel’s troubled perimeter, the message is clear: methods that once could be counted on to deliver swift decision no longer work.

Yes, some Moslem militaries are actually quite good -- the Turkish, the Pakistani, the Jordanian -- mostly thanks to training by Western (British) advisors and the adoption of Western military "way of war." Is Bacevich seriously arguing that the militaries of Egypt or Morocco or Algeria or Iran would defeat the U.S. military on the battlefield IF the U.S. decided to use the same level of military force that it used in WWII to defeat Germany or Japan? My guess is that Israel could probably re-occupy Sinai and parts of Syria in another war and could hold to these unpopulated territories. I'm also not sure that launching missiles into Israel is an "Islamic way of war." In fact, while we can debate whether a Western power can defeat a national (or religious or ethnic or tribal) insurgency, I have strong doubts that there is anything "Islamic" about guerrilla wars or even about suicide bombing: the Tamils in Sri Lanka are not Moslem and in Turkey Moslem Kurdish insurgents are fighting Moslem Turkish military. What the Palestinian intifadah and the Iraq insurgeny demonstrates is that occuppying powers make cost-effective analysis and come to the conclusion that the costs of maintaining the occupation are higher that any benefits (and in democracies public debate helps us to arrive at that conclusion sooner than later). But if anything, Algeria and the Boer war and Malaya (and I won't mention what happened to the native Americans) demonstrate that a powerful military can defeat an insurgency if the government involved has the power and the will to do that. I can go on and on but my main point is the following: Attempting to maintain military hegemony in the Middle East is not in U.S. interests and runs contrary to American values and that would be the case even if the majority of Iraqis would have welcomed U.S. troops with flowers. And Israel's long-term interest lies in making peace with its Arab neighbors and ending its occupation of the Palestinians even if Israel would have been able to maintain its military supremacy for ever and its control of the West Bank and Gaza with minimum costs.


Steve Sailer said…
I'm coming to believe that all kinds of war are becoming increasingly pointless and that the current distribution of territory around the world will be more or less permanent. Countries may split apart or voluntarily unify, but the age of conquest is just about over. The countries that are advanced enough to achieve air supremacy to conquer another country are also advanced enough culturally that they won't have the stomach for long term occupations against insurgents with their every counter-insurgent atrocity broadcast on global television.
Anonymous said…
I agree with you that there is no Islamic way of war as such, though one has to wonder about Islamic willingness to perform suicide attacks - it took the Palestinians some 25 years of occupation to start with the suicide attacks, the Iraqis took to it immediately.

About the examples you give, they pretty much reinforce Bacevich's points:
Algeria - Wasn't the result of that war the ethnic cleansing of a million frenchmen?
Malaya - Insurgency limited to the Chinese minority. Never enjoyed widespread support in the first place.
Boer War - Required putting the entire civilian population in concentration camps. This may be the way to go if one really, really wants to win these sort of things.

-Danny (
Anonymous said…
Sailor's comments will sound antique within a few years. He is wrong on every level - terms like "air supremacy" and "global television" will sound distant and historical.

The Israel-Lebanon battle was small beer compared to what happend in the Congo.
Leon Hadar said…
I agree that none of the great powers are going to launch military campaign aimed at gaining control of territories a la "living space." But I do believe that we are still going to see a lot of instability in areas where borders of states were drawn by imperial powers (in the Mideast and Africa) that could ignite wars over territories along the lines of what happened in the former Yugsolavia and Iraq. Also I won't excluse the possibility of future wars over control of resources like oil. One of the points that I've been raising is that we -- by which I mean "mature" and advanced nations should accept a reality in which we would have to treat with "benign neglect" major parts of the third world -- the "inner-cities" of our international system, that is, leave them alone as long as they don't try to harm us.
Anonymous said…
In less twenty years there will be running battles with Muslim groups throughout the Continent - esp in the low countries.

The area between Baku and Nagorno will be hot before that - All of Central Asia will touched by war in ten years or so.

Does Sailor really think Africa has seen its last conquest? There will be huge wars in Africa - huge.

Turkey and the Balkans could be set against Greece/Serbs and Russian. Israel may have peace with Lebanon, but lose peace elsewhere.

It is unlikely that Spain will go to war over Gibralter though.

But Japan will be getting it's game face back on in few years.

The 21st cent will probably be bloodier than the last one.

Sailer will sound like Kellogg or Briand

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