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March 24, 2006

The Long War: Whither Now?

These are strange times. We seem to have reached a tipping point in the GWOT, though there is no consensus on just which way things are headed. With that bizarre myopia induced by the constant stream of live feeds from CNN, our eyes remain riveted on Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. Signs and omens abound: an IED attack here, a cartoon riot there, the imprisonment of a Christian convert. All take on outsized importance as they scroll across the bottom of our TV sets. Earnest commentators warn us these are just more symbols of our national hubris: our miserable failure to spread democracy to a backward people who clearly aren't ready for prime time.

Somewhere along the line, in our uniquely American brand of dummitude, we lost track of where the real war was taking place:

One of the most fascinating things to fall out of the global war on terrorism has been the impulse of Western Civilization to go picnicking on itself: the endless carping, the analysis of a never-ending parade of “experts”, each of whom has a better idea for how things should have been done, the us-vs-them comparisons, the self-indulgent navel gazing of pundits with far too much time on their hands. Like our European brethren across the pond, America seems to be acquiring an endless appetite for the kind of pointless angst that can only end in moral paralysis.

What seems in increasingly short supply is resolve.

We have forgotten what this long war is all about. What our aims were. What we are fighting. Ironically, after three years in which we have achieved most of what we set out to do, through our own fecklessness and lack of discipline we are in great danger of winning the battle and losing the war.

That this should have happened is not surprising. Though the administration has consistently framed the GWOT as a long-term struggle against Islamic terrorism that must be combatted on many fronts, the press and the antiwar movement recharacterize the issue persuasively and IED attacks and casualty counts pack more punch than abstract ideas. Jed Babbin makes a point too often overlooked in the heat of the pro-war/anti-war debate:

The nascent Iraqi democracy is neither the center of gravity in this war nor a factor determinative of victory or defeat. Iraq is but one key campaign in a larger war and if it becomes a democracy that is a collateral accomplishment, nothing more. To say that doesn't make the sayer an isolationist or someone who wants to abandon Iraq. We didn't invade Afghanistan and Iraq because they weren't democracies. If the lack of democracy were a casus belli we'd be at war with about two-thirds of the world. We counterattacked the Taliban because with malice aforethought they provided the base from which Osama bin Laden organized an attack that killed three thousand Americans and then refused to turn him over to us when we gave them the choice between doing so and war. In Iraq we sincerely believed that the Saddam Hussein regime posed a threat to Americans and attacked only after the UN failed, as it always does, to deal with such a threat. The only goal of this war, which Lowry and the others lost track of, is to end the threat of radical Islam and the terrorism that is its chosen weapon against us.

We mean to win this war by destroying the regimes that provide terrorists with weapons, funds, people, and sanctuary. We mean to defeat the radical Islamist ideology (for that is what it is, not a religion) as we defeated the Soviet communist ideology.

I happen to depart from Babbin's view in that I think the best way to supplant an ideology you don't like is with a competing and superior ideology. The impetus of history is moving towards democracy, and in my view the intelligent actor bets on a winning horse. Because in a nuclear world we'd prefer to have peaceful, non-aggressive neighbors, the horse I want to support in Iraq is democracy, not radical Islam. If this takes many years and much national treasure, then so be it. Even a cursory examination of European demographics or current events shows that the problem of co-existence with radical Islam isn't going to go away because we don't want to face up to it. If we don't deal with it, our children and grandchildren will. That, in a nutshell, is why we are at war.

But we have allowed ourselves to become distracted from the end game. In an excellent piece for the Wall Street Journal, James Q. Wilson asks if a polarized society is capable of winning a protracted war?

It's an interesting question. To listen to the loyal opposition in Congress, one would never know that in 1998 Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act with broad bipartisan support, largely due to the widely-held belief that Saddam Hussein posed an ongoing threat to the security of this nation. Bill Clinton had this comment when he signed the bill into law:

The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else.

One would never know that the authorization to use military force passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, or that it cited instance after instance of Saddam's violations of UN resolutions and his use of WMDs. Oddly, the main criticisms of the war these days seem to be that the intelligence was manipulated or we were 'fooled' into going to war (an contra-factual assertion undermined by the Butler Report, the SSCI report, and the Robb-Silverman Commission Report), or, more bizarrely, that the failure to run a "perfect war" means the whole thing was a miserable failure.

Where in history do we find this "perfect war", one wonders? If the test of moral validity for any war lies in the execution of the ensuing warfighting, we should never have freed the slaves. Yet over and over we hear the silly argument that since this war is taking longer than expected, it is by definition a failure. I call this the "egg timer" theory of warfare: ding! time's up! Doesn't matter whether your cause is just or not! John Murtha says it's time to pull up stakes and go home. It doesn't sound very sensible, put like that, does it?

Another hand-wringing mea culpa-generator is the "Powell-doctrine" Theory. Under this stunner, Colin Powell has inexplicably been raised to the level of Carl von Clausewitz, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Powell was ensconced at the Dept. of State and not Defense at the start of the war. Greg Djerejian leads the charge here in a real head-exploder:

In good time, I will write my personal mea culpa in this tragic affair. I had greater faith in this Administration, and they have let us down time and again. But it's too easy to say it would all have been OK but for the dumbies who effed up the show. People who supported the war, and there were many of us (on both sides of the aisle, lest we forget), had to keep in mind the abilities of those charged with prosecuting it, and the resources that would be brought to bear. We knew the Powell Doctrine had been shunted aside in favor of utopic transformationalist nostrums, and we knew that some who were listened to in the leading counsels of power had memorably declared the effort would be a cakewalk. We should have smelled the danger signals better, and we deserve the scorn of those who were against this effort from the get-go, at least those who honestly believed we were doing the wrong thing rather than just opposing anything the horrible Bushies would bring to the plate. Also, it should be said, war is a tremendously complex endeavor, and while it's a cliche to state, it's very true that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. We can beat up on the war-planners, and their arrogance and reluctance to admit mistakes makes it feel good, but their jobs are never easy ones, and those of us brandishing laptops to castigate all and sundry do well to recall this now and again.

In his ignorance of what "military planners" are really doing and thinking, Mr. Djerejian blithely ignores the fact that the Army has learned a few things since both Vietnam and Colin Powell's time:

In the past, it was commonly held in military circles that the Army failed in Vietnam because civilian leaders forced it to fight a limited war instead of the all-out assault it longed to wage. That belief helped shape the doctrine espoused in the 1980s by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin Powell. They argued that the military should fight only wars in which it could apply quick, overwhelming force to destroy the enemy.

The newer analyses of Vietnam are now supplanting that theory -- and changing the way the Army fights. The argument that the military must exercise restraint is a central point of the Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine. The doctrine, which runs about 120 pages and is still in draft form, is a handbook on how to wage guerrilla wars.

The doctrine's biggest emphasis is on the need to curb the military's use of firepower, which created thousands of refugees and horrific collateral damage in Vietnam. "The more force you use when battling insurgents, the less effective you are," the draft states.

The Army is also using its Vietnam experience to highlight the importance and difficulty of building local security forces that can carry on independently after U.S. forces go home. For most of the Vietnam War, the U.S. gave spotty attention to South Vietnamese forces. Without U.S. air support and artillery they quickly crumbled.

Drawing on its frustrating struggle to prop up a corrupt government in Saigon, the Army in its new blueprint counsels soldiers that anti-guerrilla operations must be focused on building a government that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the locals. "Military actions conducted without analysis of their political effectiveness will be at best ineffective and at worst help the enemy," the draft doctrine states.

Within the Bush administration, there's broad support for the Army's new direction. It matches President Bush's own shift away from a pre-9/11 aversion to nation-building and guerrilla wars. The current national-security strategy seeks to spread freedom and democracy -- even if it means committing troops to guerrilla fights in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is quite possible that had we gone in with overwhelming force right after the invasion of Iraq, we would have created resentment and more support for the insurgency, not less. What rewriters of history love to forget is that many Iraqis were initially somewhat suspicious of the US presence in their country, and this is not surprising. With time and the ongoing attacks from insurgents, they saw the difference between them and us, and realized the benefits of a continued US presence. But had the insurgency never become strong, it's quite possible that shift in opinion would never have taken place.

The endless debates over why we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan: who's to blame, and whether we are winning or losing, are a needless distraction from the task at hand, which is to put an end the threat radical Islamism poses to our civilization. In the American Thinker, J.R. Dunn has embarked on a three-part series on the wider war. Part I begins:

We are still amid early days, roughly the days of Midway and Guadalcanal and El Alamein in a previous great struggle. “Not the beginning of the end,” as Churchill put it, “but the end of the beginning.”

The Jihadis have lost Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s true that fighting continues in both countries, but at this point it’s effectively theater. It can’t be repeated often enough that the type of war we are involved in is as much political as it is military. By any political measure, the Jihadis have been routed. Their only chance of prevailing was to appeal to the Iraqis and Afghans as a viable alternative to elected democratic governments. No such attempt was ever made. Instead, the Jihadis have relentlessly made the Iraqis and Afghans suffer. Their final chance in Iraq lay in derailing the political process last year. They failed at this, and now it is over. Not the violence – there will be car bombs going off in Iraq for years to come, unfortunately. But any opportunity of a Jihadi victory is gone.

Part II focuses on Europe:

Many observers believe it’s already too late, that Europe is one with Sumeria and Byzantium, that all that remains is the funeral procession. They point to the numbers of native births – below replacement level of 2.1 children per couple in almost every country—compared to those of Muslim immigrants, which are two to three times higher, and echo Bernard Lewis’s now-famous prediction, “Europe will be Muslim by the end of the century.”

Europe in also unfortunate in that its overall government, the European Union, has established itself, in defiance of the experience of the past century, as the kind of managerial superstate proven unfeasible just about everywhere else on earth. EU bureaucrats have set out to demonstrate the obvious once again with considerable eagerness, meddling in international affairs while attempting to micromanage those of its own citizens, wasting immense amounts of resources on trivial aims, and generating completely avoidable crises to no rational purpose. The EU is about the last form of government capable of leading a fight for survival, but it’s what the Europeans have.

It's a long series, but well worth reading.

I believe we are in danger of losing the wider war because we have forgotten two things: why (and what) we are fighting, and where the true battle is taking place. Because as much as I honor our brave men and women in uniform, the true battle for the heart and soul of Western Civilization is taking place back here, at home. War is just politics by other means, and it cannot go on without money and political support.

If we fail, if we falter, we lose all. I very much fear that while we are all busy shopping at Costco or watching American Idol, the battle for the future of our civilization will be lost and we will never even notice.

Posted by Cassandra at March 24, 2006 07:07 AM


"to Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; and always successful, right or wrong."
Remembered by all formerly of the USS (Stephen) Decatur.

Posted by: sonar [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 07:06 PM

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