Revolution in War?
by Jim Davies, 4/26/2011
Always, one of the most distressing aspects of warfare has been the blood and gore one sees after killing one's enemy (or rather, one's government's enemy.) It can haunt even the hardest, best-trained soldier; that dreadful expression on his face at the instant the enemy knows he's about to die. Train troops as they will, governments know that human feelings of compassion or at least disgust can sometimes interfere with battle plans. So when the killer can be kept separate from his victim, sanitized as if the anguish and deaths are less than real, morale can be better maintained. Ideally, warfare would be just like a video game; press a button and Zap! the bad guy disappears. Now it's time for lunch, after a job well done.
With the invention of the predator drone (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) the FedGov has come very close to that ideal. A fairly simple, slow aircraft, it has some very clever electronics and precise optics on board that can take out targets with great accuracy from the comfort of a console thousands of miles away. If the target is "rightly" identified, it's very effective. Of course, sometimes mistakes are made.
So when Qaddafi seemed a couple of weeks ago to be gaining an advantage in Libya by cleverly sending his troops out not in tanks that the French and British air forces could easily identify and destroy, but in Toyota pickups just like the rebels', I said to myself: Self, if Obama wants to win this war quickly, why doesn't he put a few agents on the ground to identify the right targets via secure cell phones, and drones in the air to blow them up? I didn't say it to him, of course, for I much prefer he leave Libya to Libyans.
Right on cue, last week the French and British landed a few dozen agents in the country, presumably with communication devices, and after giving them time to find out how to tell the bad guys from the good guys, last weekend Obama let loose some predators. Hardly was that done, than Misrata was recaptured by the rebels. I doubt if it was coincidence.
So far, so predictable. Perhaps drones, so used, will break the stalemate. But on Friday's News Hour I caught something unexpected; when asked about the deployment of US drones, Mark Shields' immediate reaction was "you know, now we're sending in armed unmanned drones. And if that isn't to take [Qaddafi] out, I don't know what it is -- what they're intended for." Host Jim Lehrer replied simply "Yes."
That caught me quite by surprise. If true, it's revolutionary. These two seasoned observers were saying that quite obviously, to them, the main purpose of the drone deployment was to target Qaddafi and kill him. I had not even considered that. And yesterday's news was that indeed, Qaddafi's compound was bombed; as if to say "See, we can kill you any time we want to. Give up now, while you still can."
If they are right, several centuries of warfare tactics are about to be changed. For that long, leaders have led from the rear; they have not ridden out in front of their armies with shining armor on white horses, but have directed their wars from bunkers, or from HQ mansions well behind the lines; and have as a matter of policy, never targeted the enemy's leaders. Even as Hitler was demonized during WW-II, no serious attempt was made to assassinate him; such attempts as were made, were made by Germans eager to stop him devastating Germany. When Shrub invaded Iraq, he specifically said that Saddam Hussein was not being specifically targeted; and he wasn't. Warrior leaders don't set out to kill their opposite numbers, unless by "accident"; it's okay if one dies in a general bombing raid on a city, but not if a sniper shoots him on purpose. The reason is fairly clear: what's good for the goose, is good also for the gander. Top pols will kill anyone, except someone whose agents might kill them. They have a gentlemens' understanding that such tactics are unsporting.
So if Mark Shields is right, this could mark a radical change in human warfare - and a change for the better. If two governments quarrel, I'd much rather see their leaders fight a duel to the death, than to have tens or hundreds of thousands of their subjects slaughtered instead. For one thing, there's be far fewer wars.