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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Incidentism

Once upon a time it was the objective of the military to win wars. Now the objective of the military is to avoid incidents.

An incident happens when civilians are killed, prisoners mistreated or some other event that is photographed, videotaped and then flashed around the world. This results in an Incident, capital I, that triggers much artificial soul-searching by the media which spends the next two years beating the incident to death and flogging its corpse across television programs, newspaper articles, books, documentaries and finally, if it's a big enough incident, a real life movie version that is based on the book, which was based on the article, where the idealistic reporter/lawyer/activist who uncovered the truth about the incident will be played by Matt Damon or George Clooney.

The main objective of the military in most civilized countries is to prevent this chain of articles, programs, books, documentaries, dramatized plays and Matt Damon movies from coming about by making sure that no Incident can ever happen. And the best way to do that is by not fighting. And if the enemy insists on fighting, then he must be fought with razor sharp precision so that no collateral damage takes place. And if someone must die, it had better be our own soldiers, rather than anyone on the other side whose death might be used as an Incident.

Incidentism isn't derived from a fear of Matt Damon movies, but from the perception that wars are not won on the battlefield, but in the minds of men. And that perception has a good deal to do with the kind of wars we choose to fight.

The military, whether in the United States or Israel, does not exist to win wars. It exists to win over the people who don't want it to win a war.

The guiding principle in such conflicts is to use the military to push back the insurgency long enough to win over the local population with a nation building exercise. This program has never worked out for the United States, but that doesn't mean that generations of military leaders don't insist on going through the motions of applying it anyway.

In Israel, the last time the military was sent to win a war, was 1973. Since then the military has been used as a police force and to battle militias in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. In the Territories, the ideal Israeli soldier was supposed to be able to dodge rocks thrown by teenagers hired by Time correspondents looking to score a great photo. Today the ideal Israeli soldier is capable of visiting an American college campus to dodge the overpriced textbooks hurled at him by the local branch of Students for Justice in Palestine or the International Socialist Organization, while explaining why the IDF is the most moral army in the world except for the Salvation Army.

The ideal Israeli soldier, like his American, British and Canadian, but not Russian or Chinese, counterparts, is supposed to avoid Incidents. That means operating under Rules of Engagement which make firing at an assailant almost as dangerous as not firing at an assailant.

The ideal American soldier is supposed to avoid the Taliban, or as one set of orders urged, patrol in places where the Taliban won't be found. And that's sensible advice, because if the goal is to avoid creating an Incident, then avoiding the enemy is the best way to avoid an Incident. Unfortunately the enemy has a bad habit of appearing where he isn't supposed to be and creating his own Incidents, because Taliban and Hamas commanders are not concerned about being yelled at in a fictional courtroom by Matt Damon. They actually welcome Incidents. The bigger and bloodier the Incident, the more hashish and young boys get passed around the campfire that night.

American soldiers operate under the burden of winning over the hearts and minds of Afghans and New York Times readers. Israeli soldiers are tasked with winning over New York Times readers and European politicians. But some hearts and minds are just unwinnable. And most wars become unwinnable when the goal is to fight an insurgency that has no fear of the dreaded Incident, while your soldiers are taught to be more afraid of an Incident than of an enemy bullet.

Israeli leaders live in perpetual fear of "losing the sympathy of the world", little aware that they never really had it. The "Sympathy of the World" is the strategic metric for conflicts. And so Israel does its best to minimize any collateral damage by using pinpoint strikes and developing technologies that can pluck a bee off a flower without harming a single petal. But invariably the technocratic genius of such schemes has its limits, an Incident happens, the Israeli leftist press denounces the Prime Minister for clumsily losing the sympathy of the world, and international politicians order Israel to retreat back behind whatever line it retreated to during the last appeasement gesture before the last peace negotiations. And its experts ponder how to fight the next one without losing the sympathy of the world.

American and Israeli generals live in fear of losing political support and so they never put any plans on the table that would finish a conflict. Instead they choose low intensity warfare with prolonged bleeding instead of short and brutal engagements that would finish the job. They talk tough, but their enemies know that they don't mean it. Worse still, that they aren't allowed to mean it because meaning it would be too mean.

Incidentism leads to armies tiptoeing around conflicts and losing them by default. Avoiding them becomes the objective and that also makes Incidents inevitable because the enemy understands that all it will take to win is a few dead children planted in the ruins of a building; in a region where parents kill their own children for petty infractions and frequently go unpunished for it. The more an army commits to Incidentism, the sooner its war is lost. Prolonged low intensity conflicts are ripe with opportunities for Incidents, far more so that hot and rapid wars. And so the hearts and minds, those of the locals and those of New York Times readers, always end up being lost anyway.

War is no longer just politics by other means, it actually is politics with the goal of winning over hearts and minds, rather than achieving objectives. The objectives of a war, before, during and after, have become those of convincing your friends and your enemies, and various neutral parties, of your innate goodness and the justice of your cause. Propaganda then has become the whole of war and those who excel at propaganda, but aren't any good at war, now win the wars. The actual fighting is just the awkward part that the people who make the propaganda wish we could dispense with so they can focus on what's really important; distributing photos of our soldiers protecting the local children and playing with their puppies.

Take all that into account and the miserable track records of great armies are no longer surprising. Armies need to prove their morality to win a war, but are never allowed to win a war because it would interfere with proving their morality. Conflicts begin on the triumphant moral high ground and end with the victors slinking back defeated after an Incident or two has been splashed all over the evening news and the book based on the article on it has already been optioned by Matt Damon's production company for a movie to be funded by the same people who fund the terrorists.

The war of words, the conflict of images and videos, the clash of arguments, has become the sum of war. And that war is unwinnable because it must be fought on two fronts, against the cultural enemies within and the insurgents outside.

An army cannot win a war and win over the New York Times at the same time. And so long as it fears Incidents more than operating in an aimless counterinsurgency twilight that eventually shades into defeat, then it is bound to lose both to both the terrorists and the New York Times.

29 comments:

LadyMoonlight said...

A well written article. I have long argued that America will never win another war because it no longer knows how to fight one. American, and other Allied forces knew their enemy during World War II. They did not try to win the hearts and minds of the Nazis or the Japanese...they knew their enemy and knew how to fight a war. War is death and destruction, it is going in with enough soldiers/sailors/airmen and enough firepower and fighting until there is no one left to fight or the enemy surrenders completely.Civilian die in war, they have for millenia, tis sad but a fact of life and History. Why did a nation as large and well armed as America lose the Vietnam war? Because of this stupid hearts and minds mentality....if the United States had been serious about winning the Vietnam War, and any other war, the government should have just said go for it, no holds barred, seek, destroy, win.
The United States will never win another war, anywhere, until it remembers how to fight one.

Leo said...

Correction, missing word: "Propaganda then has become the whole *purpose* of war and those who excel at propaganda, but aren't any good at war, now win the wars."

Leo said...

Same old story, world's bleeding hearts cannot be expected to critically differentiate between "feels good" and "is good", between "feels bad" and "is bad". Maybe because the whole purpose of their existence is to scream about their feelings, to generate thick intellectual and moral fog, to extract easy profits from "peace industry". Just a wild guess.

Dennis Latham said...

I remember that day in 1968 when Johnson stopped bombing North Vietnam. I was a Marine in a fighting hole north of Danang. I remember throwing my helmet hard against the ground and shouting how screwed we were and how everyone hated us in Nam and back at home. Talk about a morale killer. We knew we were only there to survive and make it back, not to win. They wouldn't let us win. We never lost the war on the ground, but politics got almost 60000 of us killed along with 3,000,000 enemy. We lost two KIA that day. So, we did win the ground war but lost the popular vote war.

Anonymous said...

The ONLY way to win a war is to CRUSH the enemy. Everything else is romantic feminist bullshit. If you want a lasting peace YOU MUST extermenate the enemy. This is WHY no army in the last 200 years has "won" a war. We try to be "humain". We impose the silly idea that war has rules.We pretend that "mercy" is "moral",and allow the enemy to rise,over and over to kill our children.We then scream for blood,give our silver to those that forge arms and start the "war" over.-This is stupid. If you want to end the "war" then KILL the enemy. ALL of them.

ebtruitt said...

Genius!

Empress Trudy said...

You can't worry about the NYT because if you managed to fight a war with ZERO casualties the Time would heap abuse on you for interfering with some religious holiday or the tourist season or using the army AS police or simply forcing them to pay attention to you. The Times and their ilk are the enemy as much as Hamas is. They don't want a functioning Jewish state they don't want Israel's existence, they never have they never will no matter what Israel does or does not do. So you can't appeal to their better nature because they have none. They are no different than the Arab press, the Iranian press or Hamas TV.

And make no mistake, if someday there's a Gaza nation and it's alongside Israel and through some form of magic they're not trying to murder all the Jews - Tom Friedman of the NYT will slash out a column excoriating the Jews in Israel for having anything resembling a standard of living or anything that's in any measurable way better or different than what the Gazans live with. His objection and the objection of all the others at the Times etc have almost nothing to do with what Israel DOES but what it IS. Its existence is odious to them and they will fight to the last tapping of the last return key on their blogs the existence of a Jewish state which is in any way politically or culturally distinct from what the Times hopes would be their inevitable Arab overlords. 70 years of the NYT chuckling to itself over its own wit while pushing stories of the Holocaust to page 17, in November 1942 and not making any progress since, is clear evidence of that.

Adam Greenfield said...

That pretty much sums it all up. With out this doctrine forced on us by our politicians, both Iraq and Afghanastanwould have been 2-4 year conflicts.

agraves said...

Why aren't China and Russia being weakened like the U.S, Canada and the rest of the West? Because they have not been dominated by leftist liberal Jews in the media and universities, that's why. Jews in the west, with their pushing multiculturalism, feminism, gay rights, etc. have just about ruined the west and its ability to defend itself. Americans are bombarded with images on TV nightly showing how foolish white Americans are and that women, blacks, browns are the future. The liberal media seeks one thing: the destruction of white christian America.

Anonymous said...

Have you read Sharon's article in the Post ?


http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?ID=292466&R=R1

Leo said...

Gilad Sharon • A decisive conclusion is necessary • 18-Nov-2012

The desire to prevent harm to innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately lead to harming the truly innocent: the residents of southern Israel. The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences. The Gaza Strip functions as a state – it has a government and conducts foreign relations, there are schools, medical facilities, there are armed forces and all the other trappings of statehood. We have no territorial conflict with “Gaza State,” and it is not under Israeli siege – it shares a border with Egypt. Despite this, it fires on our citizens without restraint. Why do our citizens have to live with rocket fire from Gaza while we fight with our hands tied? Why are the citizens of Gaza immune? If the Syrians were to open fire on our towns, would we not attack Damascus? If the Cubans were to fire at Miami, wouldn’t Havana suffer the consequences? That’s what’s called “deterrence” – if you shoot at me, I’ll shoot at you. There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

moshe said...

You're wrong about the Russians. Incidentism infected the Russian army with the fall of communism and ever since the nation has been hard at work fighting the poisonous tide of Western "culture" that destroys everything it touches. Nonetheless, incidentism is alive and well. This is why Stalin solved the Chechen Problem in a year, but today's Russia hasn't managed to do anything but keep it down to a dull roar for two decades.

The lesson for Israel is simple: Western culture is poison. It must be entirely rejected. By all means, import the science and mathematics. But not a single bit of Western music, literature, philosophy or art must be allowed to touch the eyes, ears and minds of our children. It is ALL treif. We must eradicate it all from the body of the nation, and erect an impermeable wall against it at the borders. If I could, I would even ensure that my children never learn any language except Hebrew.

Leo said...

@moshe: You are either some kind of provocateur, or an idiot. And the argument pretty much stops there.

Zilla said...

It's hard to win a fight when you volunteer to have your hands tied behind your back lest someone become offended!
I have you linked here:
http://marezilla.com/2012/11/israel-defends-against-annihilation-world-tells-them-to-use-restraint/

VA_Rancher said...

Dennis Latham, - Thank you for your service sir!

Be Well.

Dan,
Excellent article. Can you please delete my last comment here with the typos.

Jeopardy Buff said...

It is demographics, stupid. Most of the Muslims live in poverty, but they have a much higher birth rate than the Christians or Jews. In terms of population, Egypt has by far surpassed both France and England. Pakistan has surpassed Russia. In the meantime, we have convinced our women that the most important issue for them is abortion and free contraceptives. Perhaps Darwin was on to something.

Keliata said...

Incidentism...that's exactly right Daniel. Sadly, even honest and unbiased reporters must speak of crimes and atrocities in diluted language. Dismissively and in shorthand:)

Such a reporter will have a "situation" with the police/military/community/politicians etc. for being explicict.

No need to explaint the situation in detail or the incident in detail.

Keliata said...

Icidentism is basically gunnysacking in the case of the liberal media.It has so many grievances stored up against Israel for example that any incident is met with an overreaction and more grievances lodged at Israel.

Anonymous said...

Hiroshima and Nagasaki two "incidents" that ended WWII in the Pacific. Sixty years after the Korean War, fifty years post Viet Nam, eleven years after September 11, 2001 ... no incidents and no means to an end. The politicians and generals just keep rearranging the soldiers on the war board.



Anonymous said...

to "aAgraves"

Yes...of course. The world's 12 million Jews somehow manage to control the ROTW's 6 billion inhabitants. The Jews run the entire US eduction, media and entertainment industries. Everything is the fault of the Jews including the pending destruction of Israel. If the Jews are so omnipotent, how is it they let 6 million of their brethen get murdered by the more "enlightened" Europeans?

You, Sir, are an imbecile of heroic proportions. It must be quite something simmering in that brew of hatred.

To Mr. Greenfield - another sublime piece. Having spent 30+ years in the military and having a few friends in the CENTCOM AOR, I can attest to the dismal point you make. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Moshe...beginning to agree with you...we have corrupted ourselves...too much freedom of expression...and a decline in values spells trouble for the Jews...for it is their G-d and His book that brings respect for and fear of His people...Daniel as usual you bring light to any subject you write about...ans since the media is gay run (haters of religion) the pressure on Israel to be perfect has been ratcheted up...when are people, especially the Jews, going to wake up? its the gays stupid!

Anonymous said...

look at Monday's provocative and biased front page article and picture in the New York Times...that formerly dignified but now gay run newspaper that Bebe has called an enemy of Israel...Daniel, a modern day prophet, has hit the nail on the head...

Anonymous said...

the Jews need to take a closer look at the sodomite and his opinions...let them not be deceived by whom the rabbi's call the arch deceivers and the arch villains...

Anonymous said...

And once you've investigated the sodomite and find his true venom toward Israel and Jews then investigate Weimar Germany before the rise of Hitler and its gay culture, women's lib, abortion and decline of cultural values and you will find the real secret of the holocaust...that it was the gays who took over their media (as they have done ours) and it was the Jews who got the blame for the decline in morals...and it was the sodomite who began attacking the Jews in their media as they are doing now...go on research it...Hitler was elected to clean things up and with the environment turned against the Jews by their secret enemies the gays the blame for the decline was placed on the back of the Jews (a quiet people as a whole)...it is a great folly for any Jew to support these rats...and it will be their hands that will be digging up evil against Israel's army and make Daniel's words to ring true...

SoCal Observer said...

Daniel, well written and unfortunately all too true. For aAgraves, the Russians and Chinese have written the scripts for the leftist newsrags and bobble head reporters for years. These so-called journalists probably actually believe this trash.

We are where we are due to our leadership, or lack thereof. I am not an FDR fan, but at least he knew to ID the enemy and how to fight a war, at least until he got to ill to stand up to stalin. Current events paraphrase: FDR, 1941: "Were you planning on taking a trip? Don't, our soldiers will need that gas. Planning on taking a long drive? Don't, our boys will need those tires. We have declared war on Japan." GWB 2001: "We have just been attacked by terrorists. Take that trip, go to the mall, take that vacation. If you don't, it means the terrorists have won. We have declared war on terror." Note that even a new deal liberal like FDR did not declare war on sneak attacks, but the guys that attacked us. The nazis and Japanese bombed civilian targets, so we carpet bombed and fire bombed them. I have not read about anyone (except maybe Curtis Lemay) being happy to do this, but we did what we needed to do. Times have changed, haven't they?

VA_Rancher said...

SoCal Observer,

"The nazis and Japanese bombed civilian targets, so we carpet bombed and fire bombed them. I have not read about anyone (except maybe Curtis Lemay) being happy to do this, but we did what we needed to do. Times have changed, haven't they?"

Prograssivism and it's child "Political Correctnes" have removed our collective spines. We no longer have the will to do what we must.

In the looming conflict of Islam vs. the world (WW3 I believe) I see no western nation who can stand and fight... Maybe China will save us all...

Times have changed indeed...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, we're pandering to these wacky countries and their "Polpots, the Liberals, the Liberal media. I don't see the point anymore, our government has already been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mme Scherzo said...

Punic wars ye have with ye alway. Carthago would have delenda been, but for the strategery of Death to Jews through Peace.

Anonymous said...

Derfflinger says:

Many thanks! It is a long time that I read an article so spot on. May I add from Germany that looking back at our military operations since Somalia 1993/1994 there were only two goals: 1) Be there (show solidarity with the emphasis on show) 2) don't do anything except drilling wells, but then only in an environmental friendly way. What people here in Germany shocked most about the Kunduz bombardment in 2009 e.g. wasn't even that civilians (regrettably and sadly) were killed. Col Klein actually wanted to engage and ruthlessly slay Taliban that night. Shocking! The targeted killing of enemy combatants is pretty much considered a war crime itself in the German public. So, there is even less space left to avoid Incidents.

But what I really find fascintating about your comment are its more general implications for western (european-atlantic or whatever you call it) culture (which I generally love and would like to preserve): It has developed from a can do culture to a culture where we mostly pretend to do things and this counts fully for action. Wonder if this is a recipe for success in the long run.

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