Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Political Science 

When you make fun of Wall Street Journal readers on a site that actually gets traffic, they will email you, it turns out. They're a thick-skinned bunch, for the most part, and smarter than, say, Washington Times readers. And some have a sense of humor. I got this email yesterday, which I believe I published on gawker but which I'll excerpt again here:

amidst the peach mojito recipes and the garden club primers diminutive turkish opinion writer melik kaylan snuck a gem of a piece in... the article espoused the merits of placing (albeit carefully) land mines along the border of iraq and syria ... the crux of the argument being that a few maimed limbs and innocent casualties should set those border encroachers straight... how un-P.C... certainly not the light and fluffy reading i expected over my cranberry scone and skim cappuccino, brilliant and good fun nonetheless.

This reader was kind enough to include a copy of the piece itself. And it is brilliant -- a Swiftian defense of land mines, fer chrissakes. If there is an indefensible to be defended, the WSJ editors will be on the case faster than anyone shy of the Village Voice music writers.

Here's most of the piece, which really needs no commentary. I will merely italicize my favorite lines:

Why Haven't We Mined Iraq's Borders?
September 17, 2005; Page A14

As the war in Iraq settles into its medium-term attritional slog, most Americans know -- if they know anything -- that the insurrection is daily replenished from outside in manpower and matériel, chiefly from across the Syrian border. The border problem, by now, seems as predictable as the seasons, self-evident and insurmountable. There are not enough troops to seal clandestine access routes, we are told. So everyone suffers, including the citizens of Tal Afar, who have now endured a second joint assault by Iraqi and American troops to purge their town of cross-border terrorists who go to ground there. The conflict waxes and wanes, the borders remain porous, fanatical volunteers sneak in, car bombs destroy innocent lives, the sun also rises.

It doesn't have to be so, yet no one points to the obvious. An effective method of interdiction exists: the laying of minefields on the border.

* * *

Why has nobody publicly debated this idea? Perhaps the shock-horror-gasp factor is to blame. Minefields?! Has one forgotten the sainted Lady Diana's endeavors to ban these infernal devices? Or forgotten the outcry when the U.S. mined Haiphong Harbor during the Vietnam War? At first glance, minefields would seem to furnish a wildly hackhanded propaganda victory to the enemy, another juicy chance for Al-Jazeera to trumpet American barbarism. Yet once tempers have cooled, it should become clear that of all the unpleasant products of war in Iraq, mining the border offers the least unpleasant.

Minefields can be clearly marked and laid according to a network-blueprint which remains highly classified until after the conflict ends. That blueprint would allow the mines to be cleared quickly, and systematically. The decades-long Afghan- or African-style tragedy of maimed limbs happens when mines are laid irresponsibly, erratically and without a plan. Europe, on the other hand, endured two World Wars without a lasting threat from forgotten minefields. [Note: "In the West, World War II landmines in the Netherlands continue to maim an average of 12 people per year." Also, the Saharan Overland would like a word with you. -AP]

The U.S. can repeat the feat in Iraq. In the meantime, the porous borders can be choked and narrowed down to well-regulated crossing points. Inadvertent casualties there may be, but considerably less than is caused by car bombs -- or "smart bombs," for that matter. The point here is that a precisely ordered minefield is a weapon of peace, rather than war, a deterrent and a stabilizer. When done right, its aim is not to kill or maim but to take a swatch of territory out of the conflict -- and to give relief to innocent border-area residents forced, at the point of a gun, to collaborate with infiltrators.

Take the plight of Tal Afar's citizens, living as they do close to the northern border near Syria. Their town underwent a fierce purge by U.S. and Iraqi troops last August. The enemy melted away and came back. The operation was repeated again last week, and the allies found few fighters and numerous underground escape tunnels leading out of town.

Tal Afar's population is heavily Turkmen, who already suffered greviously under Saddam. The Turkmen are Iraq's next biggest minority after the Kurds, with whom they are in a struggle for ancestral territory. The attacking Iraqi forces consisted heavily of Kurds. Here is being laid the groundwork for ethnic rivalry and hatred from which only the terrorists will gain. Who can say that Tal Afar's Turkmen would not wish for a securer border by whatever means? Who can say the Iraqis themselves would not opt, in a referendum, to lay mines along their troubled borders, with clear demarcations and a clear time limit? Who will have the courage to offer them the option?

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

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