Friday, April 27, 2007

“Signals” and Iraq War policy

There’s a saying, “if you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Well, O.K., the saying may be a little dated but the point is if you have a message to communicate you should use a communications medium and not try to communicate by other means.

In the debate about the war in Iraq there have been several references to signals one action or another might communicate to our allies, our enemies or our troops. However, it is important to remember we do not go to war and determine policy to send messages – there are less expensive and more efficient ways to communicate if that is our objective. Rather, war is fought and policy is set to achieve specific objectives – anything less is a prescription for defeat.

David Shorr puts it this way at Democracy Arsenal:
A lot of talk about "signals" lately. Signals to the enemy. Signals to the troops. Anyone who has read Sy Hersh's 1982 book on Kissinger, Nixon, and Vietnam, The Price of Power (out of print, unfortunately), should be extremely wary of military action as a communication medium. We should always ask whether the signal we're sending is the same one being received by the other side.

Force is sometimes necessary to achieve military, political, and strategic objectives. It can also be an effective complement to diplomacy. But in all these contexts, the connection to the desired aims must be specific and explicit, rather than general and vague. Once you adopt the demonstration of resolve as your aim, you have put yourself in a box and will have a hard time getting out.

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