Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Asymetric warfare

Late last month, a young female bomber was shot as she approached some shops in central Baghdad. The Iraqi soldier who drew his gun hesitated as the bomber, hands raised, insisted that she wasn't armed. The soldier and a shop owner finally opened fire as she dashed for the stores; she was knocked to the ground but still managed to detonate the bomb, killing three and wounding eight. Had the soldier and other bystanders not called out a warning to others -- and had they not shot her before she could enter the shops -- the death toll certainly would have been higher. Had he not hesitated, it might have been lower.

As more women and children are recruited by their mothers and their religious leaders to become suicide bombers, more women and children will be shot at -- some mistakenly. That too is part of the grand plan of our enemies. They want us to kill their civilians, who they also consider martyrs, because when we accidentally kill a civilian, they win in the court of public opinion. One Western diplomat called this the "harsh arithmetic of pain," whereby civilian casualties on both sides "play in their favor." Democracies lose, both politically and emotionally, when they kill civilians, even inadvertently. As Golda Meir once put it: "We can perhaps someday forgive you for killing our children, but we cannot forgive you for making us kill your children."

The traditional sharp distinction between soldiers in uniform and civilians in nonmilitary garb has given way to a continuum. At the more civilian end are babies and true noncombatants; at the more military end are the religious leaders who incite mass murder; in the middle are ordinary citizens who facilitate, finance or encourage terrorism. There are no hard and fast lines of demarcation, and mistakes are inevitable -- as the terrorists well understand.


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