Victor Davis Hanson: The Burdens of General Petraeus

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Victor Davis Hanson is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University , a professor emeritus at California University , Fresno , and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.]

Several governments have defeated Islamic insurgencies, but usually only after about ten years, and adopting policies of summary executions and carpet bombing or shelling.

The Algerians in the 1990s finally stopped the so-called Islamic Salvation Army. The Russians decimated Chechnyan separatists. Syria’s Hafez al-Assad brutally exterminated several groups loosely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, most infamously by the thousands at the town of Hama.

But so far, no recent military has succeeded in defeating a radical Muslim terrorist insurgency, while subject to a constitutional government and an absolutely free media. In this regard, the United States — given its position as the world’s only superpower and recognized as the most sensitive of all countries to easy criticism — is especially at a military disadvantage.

Witness Guantanamo Bay that is demonized worldwide as the new Stalag or Gulag, when, in fact, it is the most humane detention center of jailed Muslim terrorists in the world.

Abu Ghraib was reprehensible for its sexual roguery and gratuitous humiliation, but the real military problem of that prison has been the serial release, not American mistreatment, of Islamic murderers. In Iraq, then, the question arises — can a liberal Western government defeat a barbarous Islamist terrorist insurgency while under constant audit — and remaining true to its own democratic principles?

Gen. Petraeus must cope with the reality that should a half-dozen, or perhaps even one, of his some 160,000 soldiers, in the heat of combat, shoot a wounded terrorist, the damage done could rival losing an entire battle — a fact well known to a religiously zealous enemy that feels no such humanitarian constraints. Radical Islamists may be the enemy, but American forces in the field must downplay, not accentuate religious differences, if they are to keep on their side Muslim forces loyal to an elected government....
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Marie E Hooper - 8/24/2007

I am a Vietnam era vet, and I am appalled at the war, the attack on our civil liberties, the use of torture, the treatment of our own soldiers... I don't think my veteran status gives me special status. Rather, it gives me different experiences and perspective that can color my reception and perception of what passes for news.

As historians, we are all aware of the kinds of powers that presidents claim in times of war. The differences are those of degree, intent and perhaps the reception of those claims by the population. Mr Bush's assertions that wartime powers give him good reasons to restrict our freedoms find some kind of unthinking (one can only hope it's unthinking) support in the current US population. His use of national security as a cover for his own agenda(s) is nothing new; our relative passivity to those claims is more troubling.

Stephen Kislock - 8/22/2007

Mr. Hagedorn, this War and Occupation of Iraq is being run by the Cheney/Bush administration and Loyal Bushies "Generals". Telling the Truth about the situtation in Iraq is a to loose your Career!

With all the Vote Fraud, done in Florida with the 2000 election and in 2004 in Ohio. I sincerely doubt the 4-1 ratio. The Political Officers in Iraq, probably handed the Ballots and this will cause a 4-1, Imbalance.

I am a vet (peacetime), the Korean Vets and the Vietnam Vets I know are Against this war..

Louis Nelson Proyect - 8/21/2007

Hanson didn't join the army for the same reason that most rich people don't join it. There is no economic pressure on them. At least the average citizen who declines to join the military doesn't make a virtual career out of writing pro-war propaganda. The hypocrisy of Hanson and all these other chicken hawks is mind-boggling.

Thomas W Hagedorn - 8/21/2007

Military service - This seems like an odd prerequisite to have standing to comment on a vital national issue such as Iraq. Can only women assert a position on abortion? Can only African-Americans comment on issues of race? Should Roman Catholic priests be precluded from public discussions of family or sexual issues? Should we only listen to industrialists on business issues?

But if that is your criteria, perhaps you should listen to the troops who are fighting in Iraq (and Afganistan). They fully support the mission and voted something like 4:1 for Bush in 2004. (You may remember that Gore/Lieberman tried to suppress the overseas military vote in the 2000 election dispute.) I suppose using your logic, those currently "in harms' way" have the best standing to critique this war.

Or perhaps you were not serious, you were just making a gratuitous attack on Mr. Hanson.

Louis N Proyect - 8/20/2007

I remain amused by Victor Davis Hanson's bellicosity, when he himself has never served in the American military.

Stephen Kislock - 8/19/2007

General Petraeus, isn't he the one who lost a 100,000 AK47s and 50,000 hand guns?

Randll Reese Besch - 8/18/2007

Listening to the theocons free speech is only for the psychophants in the corporate media and rabid nationalists with their worship of flag,state and church.
The downslide away from the remnants of civil liberties gained speed after September 11,2001. All those fascist infrastructure goodies needed to complete the police state in waiting were laid in place. The gov't has sent out trial balloons for mass epidemic,bombing of Iran,mass protests,one or more attacks by "terrorists" to go to condition red,martial law.
We were warned by Ben Franklin about getting neither security or liberty. Even that blovating demigog Huey Long warned that fascism will come wrapped in the flag of anti-fascism. Madison knew that loss of liberties would come not from without but from within. Not since 1934 have we come so close to dictatorship staring us in our collective faces.

Tim Matthewson - 8/18/2007

During the Vietnam conflict, there was constant pressure to reduce or eliminate Civil Liberties in the US. President Nixon sought to conduct a secret war in Cambodia and elsewhere, seeking to subvert the constitution. Much the same is happening in the US again today. Now it is the Bush administration seeking to rewrite the constitution reducing our liberties. Dick Cheney is the first VP, to my knowledge, to advocated the use of torture as a means of extracting information from enemy combatants.
National Security can be used to justify anything. Don't be surprised.If the US can disappear citizens without trial, it won't be long before torture is use to extract confessions from American citizens. The Bush administration was a reduction of America's entitlement programs. If this happens don't be surprised if the Neocon's dream of conquering the world might become a reality, as facism achieves dominance in the halls of Congress.