The only thing worse than the amoral use of force is the failure to act when it is the only right and moral thing to do. In short, I think our sole serious mistake in this war is that we have forgotten the lessons of history, the essence of human nature, and what constitutes real morality. Small armies, whether those of Caesar, Alexander, or Hernan Cortés can defeat enormous enemies and hold vast amounts of territory — but only if they are used audaciously and establish the immediate reputation that they are lethal and dangerous to confront. Deterrence, not numbers, creates tranquility and the two are not always synonymous.
A thousand Marines shooting the first 500 gunmen they saw, broadcast on al Jazeera, would be worth the deterrence of another armored division. Taking Fallujah and killing Baathist killers while putting victorious Iraqi coalitionists on television would have been the equivalent of calling up another 40,000 reservists.
The U.N., the EU, the Arab League, and the host of domestic critics, triangulating pundits, and democratic politicos will never properly appreciate our necessary audit and censure of prison abuses. Nor will they praise the restraint shown in Fallujah. Nor will they try to place the combat losses of Americans in historical perspective — of the near impossibility of subduing a country of 26 million people at such a cost. Nor will they do the hard moral calculus of appreciating $87 billion and hundreds of American lives — at a moment of all-time high petroleum prices and during an acrimonious election year — spent to end fascism and inaugurate democracy, at least not when they can scream “No blood for oil” for psychic satisfaction on the cheap. But they most certainly will go silent when al Sadr relents or is in chains, calm returns to Baghdad, and al Qaedists flee from or are killed in Iraq.
For now, forget the potential paradoxes of the transition (in Korea, after all, U.S. troops remain autonomous). Ignore cries for more troops (as if 40,000 — or 100,000 — Americans could stop a North Korean invasion). Pay no attention to what the New York Times predicts will befall us (as if it were right about Afghanistan or the three-week war).
Instead, stay true to our values — but also realize that we are judged by those who think reptilian and will thus join us for the pragmatically wrong, rather than the morally right, reasons. Or as the sometimes vulgar and crass Al Davis put it far better, “Just win baby.”