It’s a human conceit to talk about things beyond our scope. Sometimes it is necessary; parents need to give clear instruction to their children, even where they themselves might be unsure. At other times, however, it’s the desire to be in control, matched with the arrogance that we do not need to trust experts and the experienced. This is why so many idiots make a home repair problem worse, why so many people bungle financial decisions, and explains 90% of Congress’ votes in its history. This is not so bad when the stakes are commonplace and the mistake can be repaired, but in warfare the cost can be very high. Especially since decisions about war tend to have a high emotional content and petty politics cannot help but enter into things. Lincoln’s 1864 re-election campaign was littered with absurd second-guessing of the Civil War, and made the whole matter far more bitter and complicated than it ought to have been. If so serious a threat as the Civil War could fall prey to Macchiavellian ploys, it must be understood that all wars will be targeted by blackguards for their personal gain. And especially so, when the conduct and scope of the present war is misunderstood.
For better or worse, President George W. Bush has engaged the United States in a war to address the strategic threat from Islamist Middle-East-based terrorism. The consensus from all the studies and publicly available intelligence of the past thirty years, is that Islamist Terrorism is essentially a loose network of groups with a common general goal or driving the United States out of the Middle East, after which a union of Islamic Republics will be established. Some of these groups are backed by governmental organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Others are nominally independent, such as Al Qaeda. The essential point to understand here, is that these groups cooperate to varying degrees for the common purpose of asymmetrical warfare, especially designed to pursue propaganda and financial goals, to weaken alliances between the West and where possible break them, and to destabilize any and all Western-style governments in the Middle East. Therefore, the United States must address the threat by creating effective counters to these goals.
The Middle East has not enjoyed a stable environment since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. There is little disagreement to the statement that a number of European nations have treated rulers and nations of the Middle East like game tokens, and to a lesser degree the United States prior to 1968. As a result, the region has not enjoyed either political stability nor an atmosphere of trust with the West, except for the happy exceptions of Israel and Turkey, and to some degree Jordan after 1973. It may be said with some fairness, that the West was distracted from establishing a proper relationship with the Middle East, by interference from the Soviet Union; many Cold War-era terrorist groups received aid, training, and support from Moscow, especially in Soviet Client states such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Some of these groups turned their skills in destabilizing governments against the Soviets, as evidenced by the war against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. For all the hype that America is somehow to blame for the rise of Jihad, the actual skills and immediate motive for the movement began in the effort to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan.
Using terrorists to gain a political win, however, is historically a very poor strategy. A good example can be seen in Algeria, which employed terrorism to drive out the French. While successful in that objective, the terrorists then began to operate against the native Algerian government, and the result – even a generation later – is a weak central government rampant with corruption, with various factions running the country in a patchwork and fragile network of feudalistic feuds and personality cults. The same condition exists in other Middle East and North African nations, like the Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. Terrorist groups keep no allegiance to a government or nation, but only to their own advantage.
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Some people compare the Global War on Terror to World War 2. This is not a very good fit, although Islamofascism does bear similarities to that Fascism embraced in Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan. Other people compare the war in Iraq to Vietnam, though that also fails to stand under close inspection. I would repeat an earlier contention of mine, that the present effort strives against international terrorist groups in ways similar to the fight against open-sea Piracy. Far too many Americans do not realize that the first major use of the Marine Corps, was to put down Libyan pirates, very like modern terrorists in that they found it amusing to attack innocents in order to get what they wanted from governments. It also occurs to me that the decision to grant Navy Captains the power to try pirates aboard their vessels and carry out sentences was one reason the British Navy was feared and respected worldwide at one time, though sadly recent events have shown just how far the Union Jack has fallen.
All that sets the stage for our present position. The United States, for a number of reasons, has a habit of getting into global conflicts. Our first war was multi-continental, and helped to set off the French Revolution, and several significant reforms in England. The U.S. also went across an ocean to take on a two-bit tyrant in Tripoli who thought he could extort the United States with threats and violence. In the past century, the United States has repeatedly been called upon to establish and enforce treaties and agreements for the protection of allies and their territory, and more than once has gone to war at great cost to help an ungrateful ally. Anyone familiar with American history would have expected the United States to eventually address the threat from Islamist Terrorism. Indeed, Osama bin Laden counted on that, believing that the United States would be ejected from the Middle East and collapse, just as the Soviet Union did. The crucial differences between the USA and USSR were lost on bin Laden, but then again we are talking about a psychotic nutcase under the influence of malignant narcissism, who could not even manage to properly understand the Quran. For here, it is important to understand that the conflict was inevitable; the only choices were the time, terms, and conditions. This was understood by military experts and many members of Congress as early as 1980. To pretend that the threat does not exist is both dishonest and harms the nation’s interest.
Here then, are the positions as I see them, with a certain amount of speculation necessary for each side, and the qualification that any large group will have a number of rogue agents:
I believe that the Democrats see Global terrorism as a local threat, to be addressed as a crime by the governments directly attacked. This is the standard “9/10” condition which has been discussed in many places. I also believe, however, that the Democrats want to see more and better participation by our allies in the effort, specifically to the point that each nation should be largely responsible for its own defense and protection, with allies acting only in international airspace and waters and only to the degree that a broader threat exists. That is to say, it seems that a large number of Democrats have come to believe that the United States will not be attacked if it leaves the terrorists alone. History, quite harshly at times, proves otherwise, but for here it is enough to understand the Democrats’ posture. They believe that Terrorism is not a Defense threat, and that we would do better to spend less money fighting Terrorism, and to pull back from foreign conflicts. The Republicans, while some have shown they lack the fortitude to stand in the face of cheap political tricks and a hostile media, generally seem to comprehend the strategic nature of the threat and advocate the continuing U.S. presence in force at critical locations.
The Republicans are generally determined to remove the threat, even if it is necessary for the United States to act alone in that mission. The primacy of American power is also a major consideration and ideal in Republican thought, as opposed to the Democrats’ belief in a devaluation of American power in order to create what might be called ‘a community of equals’. The Republican mistakes begin with failing to explain the mission, to stay focused on the plan, and to maintain party discipline in votes and public statements, and in prioritizing the fight. Both parties make the mistake of addressing short-term costs and objectives ahead of long-term goals and needs.
What are those long-term goals and needs? I would consider this as a Best-Case/Worst-Case/Middle-Case scenario set. At one time in 2003, the “Best Case” was impressive; the Hussein regime had fallen, Al Qaeda was in disarray and many cells had been negated, killed, or captured. Surrounding nations scrambled to make peace with the United States, including Syria and Iran, who hastily promised their support for a peaceful Middle East with self-determination rights for everyone. That lasted about as long, however, as the Democrats’ support for the war, which is to say until they found a way to undermine the United States and return to their normal practices. This is not to compare the Democrats to terrorist regimes, but to explain that just as Teheran was never serious about letting Iraq’s citizens run their own nation, the Democrats were determined to never allow the Republicans the chance to claim a clear victory in Iraq. The Republicans allowed Iraq to become a political football, first by not keeping the focus on the long-term effort and second by becoming distracted from always supporting the party on the most vital points. As a result, the Best-Case scenario is one where Iraq is weaker than desired but self-sustaining, and the United States maintains the promise of financial and military help if and when it is needed. Such a condition will in large part depend on electing a Republican President in 2008, and one committed to the long mission.
The Worst-Case scenario may at first appear to be relatively mild; despite claims of failure, the campaign in Iraq has been significant in eliminating Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and many of its key leadership. The present Al Qaeda is dangerous, but not in the same way it was seven years ago, or at all to the same degree. If the United States deserts Iraq, the government there is likely to fall, but would be replaced with something not unlike what goes on in Syria or Lebanon; a pretense of democracy with several ‘strong men’ who rule on a promise of order, at the sacrifice of justice and civil rights. Terrorist operations would be scaled back for a time, largely to take advantage of propaganda opportunities, but also to plan for strategic objectives. The largest casualty in this scenario would be control of the initiative. Where for the past four years the terrorists have been largely reacting to American initiatives and the U.S. has made significant gains in the region, the sudden collapse of the effort through the withdrawal of troops would allow the terrorists the opportunity to consider their options and go on the offensive. As in the early 1990s, those goals would – early on – be designed to bring down vulnerable allies to the United States, and to harass the United States by striking targets of opportunity. Intelligence operations, already difficult for American agencies because of blunders from 1979 to 2000, would become effectively impossible in hostile nations, allowing sophisticated training and planning to resume. Several major strikes against the United States could therefore be expected no sooner than 2010, but no later than 2013. From statements made in the past, the objective would clearly be to stagger the American psyche with large casualty counts and multiple strikes. Given the sentiment among Democrats to scale down vigilance and reduce spending on Homeland Security, a wide range of possible targets and threats must be considered.
The Middle-Case scenario is difficult to set in scale, but can be guessed from actions by the leadership in both parties, the logistical limits of Al Qaeda and similar groups, and the national mood. Unfortunately, the American public has little stomach for long fights, when one of the two major political parties refuses to support it. This does not mean, however, that the American public will stand for anything. The Democrats have learned that the public demands better than token support for the military, that they are willing – even eager – to accept certain sacrifices if their families are safer for it, and that continuing to control Congress and to gain the White House will depend on confirming a resolve to address the threat from Terrorism. The statements made not so long ago that we should accept a certain loss to Terrorism will not be tolerated by decent people, enough that a threshold level for response will continue to exist. In addition, there is a real possibility that the Islamist terrorists are beginning to understand that direct attacks on Americans will provoke a strong response, one quite strong enough to make the attack a strategic failure. The Democrats have shown through words and actions, that they value American blood, but not Muslim blood. As a result, it should not surprise anyone if the main thrust of terrorist activity following the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq, became the wholesale slaughter of pro-American Muslims, and the coordinated destabilization of non-Islamist governments. To the vulgar examination, American lives would be saved – for now – but at the cost of the future of the Middle East. It comes down, in the end, to the Calculus of whether risking several thousand American lives are worth saving a hundred fifty million Muslim lives.