That which doesn’t kill the enemy makes him stronger.
by Tom Evslin
This post is about Ukraine, Israel. and Gaza.
Americans, like most people, don’t like war. Since this is a democracy, our political leaders avoid war as long as they can. Sometimes our wars have been longer than they had to be because we started too late and escalated too slowly.
Except for abolitionists, Northerners did not want a civil war with the South. Even after South Carolina’s attack on Fort Sumter, Lincoln struggled to get support for an all-out effort against the South. Towards the end of the war, now being pursued aggressively by Grant and Sherman, many in the North called for a truce which would leave slavery intact. Lincoln felt he had to be less than forthcoming about emissaries from the South who’d approached him lest Congress force him to negotiate. The war and slavery ended with the surrender of Lee at Appomattox.
The US stayed out of World War I for two years after Germany sank the passenger liner Lusitania in 1915 with many Americans (and some ammunition) aboard. In 1917 Germany resumed unrestricted submarine attacks on US shipping and the Zimmerman telegram from Germany was revealed promising the return of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Mexico in return for joining an alliance against the US. The US declared war on Germany. That war ended in an armistice; twenty years later Europe was at war again.
President Roosevelt faced enormous resistance to joining the war against the Nazis. He was well ahead of the American public in his willingness to supply the British with food and ships so they could continue to fight. There’s no telling when or if we would have entered the war had the Japanese not attacked Pearl Harbor. Conspiracy theorists still claim that Roosevelt deliberately ignored warnings of the attack in order to get public support for joining the war. That war ended in the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan. They are now both prosperous and close allies.
Whether we ever should have been at war in Vietnam is questionable. However, the fact that we escalated slowly gave the North Vietnamese forces time to grow stronger. Opposition to the war grew in America. In the end we fled and South Vietnam fell. Although the people in South Vietnam are not particularly fond of their current rulers in Hanoi, Vietnam is now an increasingly prosperous country and a friend if not ally of the United States.
We were slow to take ISIS seriously, President Obama called them the “junior varsity”. It took terrible urban warfare in Fallujah and other cities with massive civilian casualties to dislodge them from territory they occupied in Iraq and Syria. The battle against them is not over yet.
Winston Churchill, who made many military mistakes but learned from them, said the path to victory is sudden, overwhelming force.
Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza.
President Biden has led the free world’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is possible that he led our war-adverse nation and under-prepared allies as fast as he could; but, with hindsight, we gave Russia too much slack to pull its woeful army together and learn from their mistakes. Last summer’s Ukrainian offensive, when expectations were low, was a huge success. This summer seems to have ended in stalemate. If we and the rest of NATO had given Ukraine the artillery, rockets, and tanks we’re giving them now in the beginning of the war when Russian troops were in disarray, it’s possible Russia would have been driven from much of Ukraine. Instead, in the interest of signaling to the Russians that we didn’t want a wider war, we said out loud what we were not going to give Ukraine. If the Russians had been in doubt over whether new weapons would suddenly appear on the battlefield, they would have had to divert some of their over-stretched resources to worrying about whether Abrams tanks would overrun their positions. They should be worried now that they will lose their airforce to F-16s without warning instead of getting day-by-day reports on the slow training of Ukrainian pilots.
But Biden has been much better at countering Russian aggression than Obama and has been a much more effective leader of NATO than Trump. We have time to step up the game to help Ukraine regain the offensive with sudden, overwhelming force.
Some people have called for “proportionate response” from Israel to Hamas atrocities. I don’t think they really mean that Israeli soldiers should rape their way across Gaza beheading babies as they go. Perhaps they mean that Israel should have stopped once an equal number of Palestinians were killed. That doesn’t work when your enemy values the lives of its own citizens much less than you value them. Hamas says it intends to conduct more attacks like Oct. 7 and destroy Israel; there is no reason not to believe their intent. Israel’s objective – what Biden has called “its responsibility” – is to eliminate Hamas as a military and political power. This disproportionate response, like the destruction of ISIS strongholds or Allied bombing during WWII, is absolutely necessary. The war should end with the unconditional surrender of Hamas, release of all hostages, and trials for the leaders and the actual perpetrators of war crimes on Oct. 7. Hamas (and their enablers and abettors in Iran) would prefer to fight until the last Gazan is dead. Allowing Hamas any illusion that it will once more be saved by world condemnation of Israel only prolongs the suffering of Gazam civilians. The world – and certainly the US – should demand that Hamas surrender so that the killing on both sides can stop.
Meanwhile Iranian proxies are shooting not just at Israel but at US troops in Syria and Iraq. We are responding “proportionately” to show Iran that we don’t want a wider war. We will only prevent a wider war by retaliating massively and disproportionately. Any attack on US soldiers by Iranian proxies must be met not only with overwhelming force against the assets of the attacker but against the head of the snake in Iran. That’s the way to avoid a wider war than we will have otherwise. We may be expanding the war in the short-term by taking the attack to the enemy, but anything which doesn’t kill him makes him stronger.
Peace is served by disproportionate response to aggression.