I just saw a report that 11 [latest count: 24] of the people who were with Bin Laden at his compound were left behind by Navy Seals and taken into custody by the Pakistani security forces. Let’s pause and notice something here: that in this strike by world’s leading army, the castle was stormed and the enemy king was killed…and most of his people walked away unharmed. This highlights a larger trend that has been developing in the practice of war: surgical strikes designed to minimize collateral damage. When I imagine the future of warfare (and there is one, I’m sorry to say), I think we are seeing in the Bin Laden caper an example of what is to come.
We liberals should be happy about this, because once we get over the illusion that there is always a nonviolent option, we can get comfortable with choosing options which are less violent.
Even the Libya adventure, though already vastly scaled back in comparison with Afghanistan and Iraq, may prove to be more costly and destructive than we will ever want to repeat. I can’t help but wonder if targeted strikes against Gadhafi and his inner circle might not have been a better option. We have laws against political assassination for good reason, but as the Bin Laden assassination illustrates it can be a much more humane option. We’ll see how things develop, but one thing is for sure…
…growing postmodern sensibilities will require that developed countries use ever more humane methods of violence to contain the less humane methods of violence that arise in pre-modern cultures.
This has been a moral project of postmodernity since the dropping of the atomic bomb (which would have instantly “won” any war we’ve been involved with since). In fact postmodernity was in large part birthed by humanity’s recoil at the horrors of WWII.
Obama is staking his Commander in Chief credentials on the continued evolution of smarter, lower impact warfare, as evidenced by his choosing the least destructive (yet highest risk) option for taking out Bin Laden, and with his shifting of Leon Panetta to be Secretary of Defense and David Petraeus to be Head of the CIA. A few weeks ago the outgoing Defense Secretary, Bob Gates, who has enormous credibility with policy-makers worldwide, made a speech at West Point in which he said, roughly, “in the future any secretary of defense who would advise the President of the United States to take a land army onto foreign soil for whatever reason, ought to have his head examined.” I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing much “shock and awe” anytime soon. It’s perhaps a little less safe to say, but we may also have witnessed the end of modernist warfare as we have known it.
My fantasy is that we get to the point where a little dragonfly robot buzzes up beside the bad guy’s ear, and ZAP, light’s out! Or, better yet, it blasts him with happy juice and he instantly becomes a nicer person. Perfect!