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January 08, 2009


Eric Chen

The lesson we've learned in Iraq is that both hard and soft approaches must be integrated.

The way forward for us in the 21st century is to retire the obsolete, artificial, and counter-productive division between war-fighting and peace-building. The goals of cooperative strategies and actively building peace to prevent war, winning wars, and building peace in the post-war are in the same continuum.


Eric: Your posts are always though-provoking. To be sure, when it comes to hard and soft power it is not either--or. That's precisely why I started out with Mr. Gates' quote and emphasized that no government can preclude hard power measures, whether military or economic.
But both the recent past in Iraq and the current situation in Gaza and similar conflicts in the region have demonstrated that even the superior military force cannot succeed all the time--see also the Israel-Hamas confrontation in 2006.
Yes, it is remarkable that Secretary of Defense is pressing for more soft power. Sometimes, soft power can prevent or solve armed conflicts, at other times both approaches may be needed.

Eric Chen

It's not either/or.

At present, our military is the chief agent of both soft and hard power due to the simple fact that a requirement for applying soft power is security, which requires hard power. Most traditional soft power agents flee 'non-permissive' environments such as they did in Iraq once the enemy realizes they're a threat (eg, so beheading) or profitable (eg, so kidnapping/ransom), and vulnerable.

What is a military of a liberal nation to do when everyone else abandons the same people they had pledged to help? Our soldiers have adapted by becoming both hard and soft power agents. Functionally, they have been warfighters, police, diplomats, humanitarian aid workers, liaisons, and nation-builders. Each would be a full-time and complex responsibilty in a peaceful english-speaking Western society, let alone a damaged and dangerous foreign society.

I'm sure the military, like any of us, would much rather do one job rather than the full-spectrum it's doing now, but until traditional soft power agents develop more robust capabilities and staying power in 'non-permissive' environments, then either our military will continue to be (forced to be) a combined hard/soft power force or soft power agents will need to rely more extensively on private military contractors.

Does the Israel military have the capability to achieve what our military has been achieving in terms of hard and soft power in Iraq? Of course, from the start, many more Iraqis welcomed and were willing to work with Americans against a regime they hated. I'm not sure the Israel military would have the same organic advantages in Gaza that our military had from the start, and nearly squandered before the 'surge', in Iraq.

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

When an implacable enemy such as Hamas declares its intended goal to be total destruction of the other side, "humanitarian" considerations and "world public opinion" are beside the point -- especially if there is a reasonable chance to utterly destroy the Hamas leadership. The parallel with Hizbollah is specious. Israel cannot conquer all of Lebanon where Hizbollah can hide. Hamas has nowhere to go. My analogy with Hitler is germane here -- only total destruction of the other side militarily, despite the civilian casualties (how many "innocent" Germans dies in the Allied invasion of Germany? A huge number!) can ensure Israel's long term survival. This time, Israel is thinking strategically, not tactically. One final point, as you note -- the civilians in Gaza voted for Hamas, i.e. they too support total destruction of Israel. So how "innocent" can they be? Were the German civilians who "merely" voted for the Nazi party and tacitly supported Hitler, "innocent"? Of course not! So why are the Gazans different?


Professor, sure, Hamas is both terrorist a organization and a party that won in the elections that, unfortunately, the U.S. and others pushed for. But for all practical purposes, Hamas and Hezbollah (also a party represented in the Lebanese parliament and cabinet)use political violence to advance their political objectives within their own polities and against Israel--and those of their sponsor, Iran.
But just as Hezbollah was not defeated in 2006, Hamas will not be defeated now. If the IDF were to engage in urban warfare (exactly what Hamas wants in gross disregard for the Palestinian civilian population), many, many more Palestinian civilians would be killed.This would further diminish support for Israel around the world. At the same time, sympathies for Hamas among Palestinians and others in the neighborhood would increase significantly as would the number of new recruits.Last but not least,urban warfare would result in a large number of casualties and fatalities among Israeli Defense Forces.
This is not a question of what is just and right. When missiles are targeting citizens, governments have the right and the duty to go after the perpetrators. Israel has done that and is still fighting to destroy the remaining launching sites and rockets.
As I wrote, a cease fire must guarantee via an international peace keeping entity or whatever means that Hamas can no longer attack Israel with missiles and does no longer receive Iranian arms and other supplies.
Charles Krauthammer argued on Fox News and today in the Washington Post, namely that Israel can win the end-game now--militarily--and drive Hamas from power.
I don't think so.

Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig

In theory, correct. However, the Hamas case is different than almost all others for the following reasons:
1) Hamas is a terrorist organization that also runs a government, and has full control over a territorial area. Thus, it has resources well beyond what terrorist organizations normally have.
2) Hamas's goal is not "limited" but rather the total annihilation of another country. For Hamas, this goal is non-negotiable because it is based on theological belief and not on "practical" or "utilitarian" considerations.
3) Hamas is a terrorist organization with strong support (resources and in its goals) from a strong country -- Iran -- so that its political support, resources, and goals are not merely "indigenous" but are reinforced from the outside.
Thus, overall "soft power" is not relevant in such circumstances. Would the same suggestion have been used vis-a-vis Hitler? Hamas and Hitler are different only in the (current) resources at their disposal, not in their goals or tactics.

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