Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Hard Questions

Do we have the fortitude for this?

In a rational, historically aware country, U.S. leaders would have told Americans that the attack on Zawahiri was facilitated by U.S. intelligence officers and Special Forces who risked their lives to gather intelligence that seemed to fix Zawahiri in a specific place at a specific time. Because Washington’s most important duty is to protect Americans, they would have said, we acted on the best information available and, so to speak, let 'er rip. Unfortunately, we missed Zawahiri, but we killed four of his fighters and will keep trying to get him and bin Laden. As for the dead Pakistanis, they are foreigners not Americans and we have no responsibility to protect them. And, in any event, they were about to serve up sautéed goat steaks and curry to one of America’s most dangerous enemies. The lesson all Pakistanis should take from the incident is that we are not concerned with the lives of Zawahiri’s abettors, that they were lucky the village was not hit by B-52s, and that next time they may not be so fortunate.

Such a public articulation would have been neither callus nor irresponsible; it just would have been true. We are engaged in war against Islamic militants who fight as insurgents. These men wear no uniforms, and live -- and hide -- among a population in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan that overwhelmingly supports them because the insurgents are their coreligionists and because they are attacking the United States. The current problem for America is not last week’s near-miss on Zawahiri, but that there have been so few attacks on Zawahiri and bin Laden. Frankly, from an intelligence perspective, the more violence, the better chance to collect quality intelligence. Frequent, deadly bombings -- even if not always totally effective -- make the enemy nervous, force him to move about, and stimulate chattiness as he communicates electronically about his location and status. Our ability to collect intelligence pin-pointing the enemy increases exponentially when he is talking and moving. Thus, even a near-miss is a valuable stimulus to collection.

Is that who we are? The author makes the point that that's who we were -- as recently as World War II. The Greatest Generation had the greatest disregard for dead civilians in the enemies' homelands. The author, like Sherman, like Patton, is a realist, concerned with military goals and legitimate interests of the United States, not with neo-con pipe dreams of spreading freedom.

We are at war against an enemy who is not only willing, but eager, to cause the greatest mayhem conceivable among our civilian population, and who proudly refuses to distinguish soldiers from non-combatants -- who in fact prefers to kill non-combatants.

We are at war against an enemy who has no battlefield strategy except hit-and-run harrassment, but who has a long-term goal of wearing down American morale and will to resist, of waiting for the inevitable fissures in a free society to weaken us, then to bring us down with a few hard, vicious, well-placed blows.

We are at war against an enemy embedded in a people who mostly would prefer to live at peace, as all people do, but who have been steered by generations of bullies and bigots and brutes -- some of whom we aided when it suited us -- to trust only the strong, to respect only the most vicious, and to take the side of him who shows most determination to triumph.

Given that, ask yourself the tough question: Is it wise to wage such a war with deliberate half-measures? To announce in advance that certain options are simply not acceptable, because they are too violent? The world constantly berates us for being the only nation that has used atomic weapons. Yet the world behaves as though it knows we're merely a zoo lion, not the red-in-tooth-and-claw nuclear tiger it scolds us for being. Otherwise they'd be less provoking, or more determined to build up a coalition against us.

Read bin Laden. Read al-Zarqawi. This is a jihad. It is based on a people's belief in the unconquerable power of their religion and their god. It is not a war between nations. It is a war between a nation, on the one hand, and on the other an ideology, a faith.

Consider the Tancredo option, in all its horror. "If you fulfill your promise to use a major WMD -- a chemical or biological or nuclear weapon -- on an American city and cause tens of thousands of casualties, we will, after a 24 hour warning, destroy Mecca." Strategists know you don't have to actually do it. The effective weapon is the one that your enemy believes you will use, and consequently is afraid to call your bluff.

Is the notion of "humane war" an illusion foisted on us by our own hubris about our military might? We can break nations easily. But in a death-struggle with a jihad, the outcome is much in doubt. Is it really wise to go to such a war and refuse to consider all options, all possibilities?

And if this isn't who we are, or who you wish us to be, then how do we win a war against Islamist terrorism? [Pacifists and appeasers may skip this question and go on to the next section.]