Best Defense

Of political violence and violent politics: U.S. always seems to be on the back foot

Of political violence and violent politics: U.S. always seems to be on the back foot

It was striking in Iraq, back in the day, to watch how Moqtada al-Sadr’s party moved back and forth on a continuous scale from purely political acts (such as speeches and marches) up to violent acts (such as mortaring the Green Zone and attacking Sunni neighborhoods) and then back down to political acts.

I was thinking about that the other day as I was listening to members of New America’s Future of War team discuss war, peace, and governance in the world of tomorrow. Rosa Brooks was discussing how the lines are blurring between war and peace, foreign and domestic, private and public. Yet our government is built to observe such distinctions.

The result is that the Sadrist Trend, as his outfit is known, seems to be much more agile than the U.S. military, the CIA, the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government. The ability to slide up and down the scale constantly leaves us in the dust. It reminds me a bit of a comment General Sherman made to General Grant about his Confederate enemy: I’d rather have him chasing me than me chasing him.

What is the answer to this problem? I don’t know. But the beginning of dealing with any problem is recognizing that it exists.