ETHICS OF WAR: A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE
By:Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf
Though ordinary citizens may look at war as an end to politics and diplomacy, statesmen of realism paradigm know that it is ‘a continuation of the policy in concert with other means’ (Clausewitz). According to Julian Lider, the transition point to state sanctioned violence however, remains a challenge.
US President Truman faced a very difficult choice after having received the lengthy Kennan Telegram from Moscow. In the midst of electioneering, both Truman and his opponent Thomas Dewey did not want to appear spineless against Stalin. What followed was a Cold War built on containment. Ironically the issue then was not military expansionism, but resistance by Stalin to Breton Woods (IMF & World Bank).
Similarly, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in on Aug. 4, 1964 misled President Lyndon B. Johnson to persuade Congress to authorize broad military action in Vietnam (New York Times, July 15, 2010). Readers must
recall that this decision was taken at the heels of resistance by President John F Kennedy regarding Bay of Pigs in Cuba, his plans to thin out from Vietnam and assassination. It is now proven that the Tonkin incident never happened and was sexed up by CIA and Pentagon. US senators chose to seal their conscience.
“If this country has been misled, if this committee, this Congress, has been misled by pretext into a war in which thousands of young men have died, and many more thousands have been crippled for life, and out of which their country has lost prestige, moral position in the world, the consequences are very great,”
Senator Albert Gore Sr. Member Foreign Relations committee March 1968
Pathetically, there were no consequences and no lessons learnt.
New York Times reports that the current chairman of the committee, Senator John Kerry, said that the transcripts were especially revealing to him. In February 1968, during some of the most intense debates, Mr. Kerry was on a ship headed for Vietnam along with thousand of servicemen who never made it back.
Very recently, the Invasion of Iraq was based on deliberately falsified information on the WMD threat from Iraq that never was.
So who is responsible for this huge suffering and massacre? Not only the Americans but also the people of Vietnam, Saigon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan need an explanation.
Having started a conflict, it is also important that the statesman makes a correct assessment of Friction and Culminating Point (Clausewitz), so as to seek peace at the right time. Clausewitz shunned the notion of the Totality of a Conflict and theorised that all wars must be limited to the attainment of political objectives.
However, Statesmen have repeatedly ignored both theories and fallen into a trap where an exit with pride becomes difficult. Statecraft for times immemorial is premised on the paradigm of Political Realism. Armies have fought themselves to physical and psychological exhaustion in face of pacifist values of morals, legality and conscience. In prolonged conflicts, this emotive factor driven by mixed feelings of hate, love, patriotism, ideologies and beliefs even manages to over power the best of armies and technology (Michel Howard in Forgotten Dimensions of Strategy). Wars are planned around a strategic logic and rationality. To the contrary, wars especially long ones cannot be premised around sexed up dossiers, hate and metaphysics.
It is also difficult for statesmen in possession of superior munitions of violence against an inferior foe, overshadowed by a praetorian mindset to bridle a bully within. During the entire Cold War, USA and USSR bullied inferior peripheral states without getting into a direct conflict; the true face of deterrence between equally destructive and ambitious foes.
The logic is also applicable to conflicts between bigger armies and rag tag people. It happened both to Napoleon and Hitler in the harsh winters of Russia. Great Britain retreated from Afghanistan and FATA with its entire expeditionary force mauled. USA had to make an unceremonious exit from Vietnam. USSR disintegrated after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. India tried it with the Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka but being the progeny of the world’s greatest strategist Kautilya, made a timely exit.
The Afghan conflict from 1974 till today is a classic case of shadow intelligence wars, policy mismanagement, corporate pressures within the ruling establishments, vested and competing interest. Iranian Revolution provided an additional twist; a threat both to Arab Kingdoms and US designs. Beyond Islam versus the godless communism, proliferation of anti-Shia militant groups became the hidden agenda of the West and Arab States. Military regimes in Pakistan seeking international legitimacy were quick to board this band wagon with no thought to possible havocs this policy could wreak.
Having witnessed the stagnant coalition operations in Afghanistan for the past eight years and their inability to neither control the Afghan resistance nor eliminate erstwhile ally turned enemy Al Qaeeda, I am forced to comment that expecting Mullah Omar to control Al Qaeeda was insanity of the highest order. Abundant intelligence chatter on the internet indicates frequent contacts of the principal actors like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Omar Saeed and the hijackers themselves with CIA training centres and safe houses in USA and world over. Surprisingly, none of the culprits identified by US intelligence were born Pakistani or Afghan citizens. More than anyone’s complicity, it was the biggest intelligence failure of CIA and FBI itself.
Even worse than Pearl Harbour, a homeland attack like 9/11 was too much for US Republican administration to absorb patiently; after all the only super power with the capability to bomb hostile countries to Stone Age. With abundant faulty intelligence and a historical precedence of trigger happiness, Bush Junior took the decision to employ full military might against a people who had once won USA’s war against USSR. It also gave a window to the doomsday prophets and theological detectives searching for the anti Christ to put their full weight behind the killing of the innocent.
The invasion was deliberately planned from the North to push the conflict deep into a nuclear Pakistan. Eight years on, none of the declared objectives have been achieved. Hate of US Policies has grown from thousands to hundreds of millions.
Back in 2002, I had commented that this was a war of hate and USA would ultimately loose it. If pursued further, the world will become a very dangerous place for all humanity. Millions of lambs will turn to werewolves with killing fields spreading world over.
George Bush committed the cardinal sin of transiting to conflict at the wrong time against the wrong people, with wrong reasons. It is up to another Democrat Barak Obama to go down in history like Kennedy or choose the elastic conscience of Johnson. The lesson of history must not repeat itself.
It is a Shakespearian irony that Senator John Kerry chairs the same Foreign Relations committee in 2010, that put its conscience to sleep in 1964 when Kerry, US servicemen and people suffered on the false premise of TONKIN.
(Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist).