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"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Strategic Offensive I:

What we have Achieved in the War on Terror 

I have been convinced for some time that there are a fair amount of people in the world who have not grasped the enormity of what we have done in Iraq.

To them we have panel opened a new era of danger by needlessly provoking Muslims. They say we have overreacted to 9/11. To them the war in Iraq was at best unnecessary, at worst immoral and unjustified.

They are not only mistaken, they have no strategic vision.

For what we have done is nothing short of revolutionary. We have gone to the heart of the enemy camp and destroyed his headquarters. We have seized his leaders and forced the others to flee for their lives. We have grabbed them by the throat and are slowly but surely strangling them.

No more are we probing the enemy listening posts and attacking selected, weakly defended targets. No more are we simply skirting around the periphery.

For a new Iraq, secure in it's borders and with a new spirit of freedom, will shine a light to the countries in the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. That light has already revealed those regimes to be decadent, corrupt, and uncaring towards their own citizens.

Nothing so far has been achieved without great difficulty. Harder times are sure to come. A safe and secure Iraq is not at all assured. Our experiment could still go awry, and Iraq could fall to the Jihadists.

The Nature of the Enemy

It will be objected that since the regime in Iraq was secular, it had no connection with religious terrorism in general or al Qaeda in particular. If they even concede the religious nature of the enemy they say that the terrorist organization is based on a fundamentalist(yet distorted) reading of the Koran, and Saddam was their enemy as much as ours. That this view has been shown to be incorrect (see here and here) does not disuade them.

This is a fundamental misreading of the situation. Al Qaeda is indeed an organization based on a fundamentalist reading of the Koran. Osama bin Laden's goal is to establish a seventh-century Caliphate across the Middle East. Thousands of Muslims have joined his organization, and millions more are sympathetic to it's goals.

One primary reason that they have joined or are sympathetic is that their own governments are corrupt and unresponsive to their needs. They are frustrated by the inability of their governments to provide for their needs, and are embarrassed by their military ineptness and technological backwardness. Saddam Hussein's regime was no different in this regard. It simply stood out because it was more overtly brutal than the others in the region.

As such, Iraq was a particularly virulent cancer in the Middle East. Saddam's regime was uniquely destabilizing. As I have written before, the situation was intolerable and the status quo unsustainable.

As a result of these conditions young Arab/Muslim men looked for an answer to their problems. Radical Islam appeared to provide those answers. Al Qaeda is simply the vehicle.

The nature of the governments in the Middle East is therefore a prime cause of terrorism. In order for conditions to improve, they must be changed. Ideally they will change through an evolutionary process, as revolution is an uncertain and dangerous business. We had no choice in Iraq, and the hope is that this serves as a beacon of hope to the people of the region, and as a ray of warning to their leaders.

To be sure, there are other causes for Muslim terrorism; the lack of a secular tradition, various cultural attitudes, and some of the teachings of Islam are problems. I do not wish to pursue those here, however.

What must be Done

During the worst days of the Cold War the threat of nuclear war kept us from doing anything more than simply containing the Soviet Empire. Only when they had become visibly decadent could we speak of true "rollback." And even then we could apply our military forces only at the periphery of the empire, at places such as Grenada.

But there is no such threat from the Arab and Muslim worlds. The worst-case scenario is that the terrorists could sneak one or more nuclear weapons into our cities. Such an attack is horrible to contemplate, but it would not end our civilization. That the Soviets could do so limited our options severely. We face no such limitations today.

On Strategy and Tactics

By invading Iraq not long after Afghanistan we maintained the Strategic Offensive. An understanding of this concept is crucial to whether we will succeed or fail in this war.

Strategy is the art and science of employing the forces of a nation to achieve the desired political result. These forces include not only military power, but economic, political, psychological, economic, and social forces as well. For example, North Vietnam was able to use our democracy against us during that war. The actions of the protestors sapped our strength and made us doubt the rightness of our cause. These factors are every bit as important as those which occur on the battlefield

Tactics are the minutiae of combat. They are the means by which one employs forces on the battlefield.

Karl von Clausewitz said that we needed to distinguish between "that which is merely preparation for war and war proper." The former is the tactics, the latter the strategy. In other words, it is one thing to train and equip an army. It is quite another to use that force to achieve the desired result.

It is crucial to understand that success on the battlefield (tactics) does not necessarily translate into overall success(strategy). A 1975 conversation in Hanoi illustrates the point:
"You know you never defeated us on the battlefield," said the American colonel.

The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. "That may be so," he replied, "but it is also irrelevant."
We can say that we defeated the Vietnamese on the battlefield all we want. Saigon, however, is now Ho Chi Minh City. There is more to winning wars than what occurs on the battlefield, which is a lesson we forgot during that war.

The North Vietnamese were on the strategic offensive during the war. That they were also on the tactical defensive during most of it did not prevent their eventual success. Our refusal to invade the north or seriously attempt to disrupt operations on the Ho Chi Minh trail placed us on the strategic defensive, whether we wanted to admit it or not.

The purpose here is not to analyze that war in detail. Rather it is to set the stage for a discussion of the current one.

The Offensive

We must remain on the strategic offensive if we are to win the War on Terror.

John Kerry and his supporters imagine that "strong diplomacy" coupled with police-type actions would also place us on the offensive. They could not be more mistaken. This strategy of theirs is strictly defensive. The enemy would be the ones "calling the shots" and we would be relegated to a role of pursuit. That we would be on the tactical offensive by carrying forth raids by special forces would only give the illusion of offense. Our victories on the battlefield would not result in positive results in the general campaign.

By carrying the war to the enemy we have forced them to fight where we want to fight, at a time and place of our choosing. That they are carrying out ambushes and bombings does not change this, for these are merely tactical offensives, and do not change the basic nature of the campaign. By carrying the war to them we are on the offensive. We have taken the war into their neighborhood, and by doing so have kept it out of ours. As Dick Morris recently observed, “The fact is, that the reason we have not been attacked in the United States is that the terrorists are fleeing from cave to cave in Afghanistan and from building to building in Iraq — pursued by our heroic young men and women.”

The Risks

The Strategic Offensive is not without risks. They have been well documented elsewhere, so there is no need to list them here. Yet we must be cognizant of what exactly constitutes a risk. We would do well to consider the words of Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson;

Never take council of your fears

Col Harry Summers evaluates this advice;


The key word is not "fears" since only a fool would disregard the very real dangers of the battlefield. The key word is "counsel" because if fears dominate thinking the resulting paralysis will only increase the hazard.

Jackson, as a student of history, knew what he was talking about.

In Vietnam we allowed our fear of creating a "wider war" to paralyze our thinking. The result was a multitude of restrictions on the targets our pilots could attack. Our fears were not unjustified, for the danger of a wider war was quite real. In the Korean War we turned a successful eight-month campaign to defeat the North Koreans into a bloody three year stalemate against the Chinese. We had ignored the danger that they might intervene and paid the price. However, we were so paralyzed by this fear in Vietnam that we lost all ability to think strategically.

We must not allow that to happen again. We must be quite sensitive the danger of a collapse of the Saudi regime, for example, but we should think creatively to overcome such a possibility. Taking calculated risks is acceptable, gambling with the lives of our soldiers is not.

The Alternative View

The alternative view seems restricted to the headlines of the day. The latest bombing, kidnapping, prison scandal photos, is all they see. They imagine that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have magical results. They fail to see that while resolution of that conflict would deprive the Jihadists of a recruiting slogan, it is not central to their demands. Others say that it is poverty that has caused so many to take up arms against us. Yet even a casual survey of the terrorists we face tells us that most of them came from solidly middle-class backgrounds. More to the point, virtually none of Osama bin Laden's demands are economic.

The alternative course of action recommended by the left would have no effect on the regimes in the Middle East. They would have no reason to change their policies. The people would have no cause for hope. Life as usual would simply go on.

And of course there is the fact that most of them simply abhor American power. They are embarrassed by who we are as a country and our role in the world. Witness the reaction to one of Mel Gibson's films, The Patriot. The left attacked the movie as jingoistic. The scene where Mel Gibson's character seizes the American flag and rallies the troops to victory was simply too much for the liberals to take.

The Choice

The choice is clear; stay on the stategic offensive and the road to victory, or delude ourselves with a false strategy. |
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