Hand-tied or Tongue-tied?

With one hand tied behind our back: 1. A phrase used by a boastful boxer or street fighter overly confident in his skills and stamina, breaking the anyone-can-get-knocked-out iron law of pugilism.

Example: I can beat 'em with one hand tied behind my back.

2. Another analogy, in a long line of poor sports analogies, popularly used in analyzing war and peace, sometimes used in association with its linguistic cousin -- "the gloves need to come off."

Example: I googled my way to the following "analysis" posted on one of the many bumbling war blogs floating around cyberspace like the space junk orbiting earth.

"When you're in a fight, just make sure you win. Let the other guy worry about playing by the rules. Let him handicap himself by fighting with one hand tied behind his back..."

Wait, it gets better.

"Dropping the atomic bomb on Japan might not have been the sporting thing to do, but it certainly saved a whole lot of American lives. Using pre-emptive force might not be as romantic as letting the other guy draw first, but it's far better to make sure the other guy never gets the chance to get his gun out of his holster. Sending in gun ships to take out a mosque in Iraq might be a tad insensitive to local mores, but it's likely to result in fewer Americans dying than using ground troops..."

It really does sound tough guy-ish but, we've got a problem here Houston. It flies in the face of history -- guerrilla war history, including recent Iraq war history (not World War II history, which is the apples-and-fruit salad comparison Churchill wannabees keep making).

In CI (counter insurgency) operations, the goal isn't conquest, the defeat of conventional forces or to acquire territory and resources. The goal in CI warfare is to capture hearts and minds, which is why minimal force and political/humanitarian efforts are key.

Take the example of Ar Rutbah under the command of Army Special Forces Maj. Jim Gavrilis. "One hallmark of his approach was a humility about his role and his limited ability to alter a culture whose roots reached back to the days of Abraham and Ezekiel. 'The laws and values of their society and culture were just fine,' he wrote. 'All we needed to do was enforce them,'" Thomas Ricks recounts in his must-read book Fiasco.

"Emphasizing this attitude of restraint, he lives simply, not moving into any palaces, as conventional U.S. forces were doing elsewhere in Iraq. He also took a gentle approach to de-Baathification. First he offered to turn the Baath Party headquarters ... into a hospital."

Maj. Gavrilis later wrote "simply put, de-Baathification meant political change, not political purge" -- or military "surge," I would add.

Contrast that to the 4th Infantry Division's take-the-gloves-off approach. "In the late summer of 2003, senior U.S. commanders tried to counter the insurgency with indiscriminate cordon-and-sweep operations that involved detaining thousands of Iraqis. This involved 'grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers were unable to figure out who was of value and who was not,' according to a subsequent investigation of the 4th Infantry Division's operations by the Army inspector general's office," Ricks reports.

Remember that Red Cross report about how 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were innocent civilians, which was corroborated by internal Army records, as detailed in Fiasco?

That "tad insensitive (approach) to local mores...likely to result in fewer Americans dying" mentality is what brought us Abu Ghraib and fueled the insurgency. There's no telling how many anti-Saddam Iraqis were turned into anti-American guerrillas as a result of these sorts of tactics-without-strategy.

Iraq hawks love to ridicule multi-laterlism and multi-culturalism. But, if the troops' bosses took that "liberal" approach we wouldn't be talking about an insurgency on top of a civil war in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

And maybe if the English-only attitude wasn't so widespread we might actually have an Army full of Maj. Gavrilis' and not attempted "to counter the insurgency with indiscriminate cordon-and-sweep operations."

Dumping the one-hand-tied-behind-our-back/gloves-come-off fallacy isn't "weak." In CI warfare, it's how you avoid adding fuel to the fire.

Now, when it comes to Dr. King's question: where do we go from here? --it can't be rightly answered without first asking: Since when is it weak to withdraw from a war you provoked under false-pretenses? Besides, we've already accomplished what bin Laden has failed to do: remove a secular West-leaning Arab regime and put it in the hands of theocrats.

But, if folks insist on this hand-tying obsfucation, you gotta flip the analogy on its head like Gen. Wesley Clark.

"Early successes seem to have reinforced the conviction of some within the U.S. government that the continuing war against terrorism is best waged outside the structures of international institutions -- that American leadership must be 'unfettered.' This is a fundamental misjudgment," Clark wrote in 2002.

"The longer this war goes on ... the more our success will depend on the willing cooperation and active participation of our allies to root out terrorist cells ... and other threats. We are far more likely to gain the support we need by working through international institutions than outside of them. We've got a problem here: Because the Bush administration has thus far refused to engage our allies ...We are fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind our back."

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