by Eliot Cohen
July 31, 2014
……By 1864, Lincoln, Grant and Grant’s no-less-grim lieutenants William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan had concluded that their conflict had shifted to what historians call “the hard war.” They knew not only that they would have to destroy the armies of the Confederacy but also that they would have to break the will of the people of the South to wage war. That is precisely what they did — in the siege of Petersburg, the devastation of the Shenandoah Valley, the march through Georgia and North Carolina, a close blockade and cavalry raids deep into the South. And the gentle, humane and often grief-stricken president pushed them hard to do it. When, earlier in August, Grant ordered Sheridan to drive the Confederates from the Shenandoah — which he burned out thoroughly as he went — Lincoln commented, “I repeat to you it will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day, and hour, and force it.”
The Israelis, having left Gaza only to be showered by rockets and harried by border raiders, have concluded that they are waging that kind of war. In a rare spirit of unity, they seem determined to break Hamas in Gaza. A more sensible U.S. administration would understand that and stand with our tough little ally, rather than attempt to stop its destruction of this Islamist partner of Iran and enemy not only of Israel but of Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well.
The problem is not the reported antipathy between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is that the Obama administration simply cannot accept that war is war. This explains, among other things, the debacle of our Libya policy, in which the administration studiously insisted that its bombing to help overthrow Moammar Gaddafi was not a war and left in its wake chaos that roils to the present day. It explains the administration’s declarations that drone strikes in Pakistan and the assassination of Osama bin Laden had brought al-Qaeda to the edge of strategic defeat — even as the ideology of the group and similar ones has metastasized and Islamist movements have extended their sway in the Middle East and Africa. It explains our hand-wringing over the slaughter of some 200,000 people in Syria as if it were a massive Ebola outbreak, when what is going on is, in fact, a war pitting Iran and its allies in Syria and Lebanon against an increasingly Islamized foe. It explains the long, disgraceful appeasement of Vladimir Putin and the administration’s continuing reluctance to say, simply, that Russia is waging war against a sovereign neighbor.
The president famously said in 2011 that “the tide of war is receding” in Iraq and Afghanistan, when in fact all that was happening was that we were (temporarily, perhaps) withdrawing from our wars, which entered new and more violent phases among the people we were leaving behind….