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September 22, 2006

Winning The GWOT

Yesterday my post was so pessimistic, I thought I'd lighten things up a bit today — sort of.

Two years ago, President Bush was criticized for saying that we can't win the Global War On Terror:

I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.
In response to my post from yesterday, my friend Matt wrote:
This isn't the kind of war that either side can "win" in any conventional sense. Our enemies can't destroy us militarily, because we're far too strong. We can't destroy them militarily, because they're too disbursed and decentralized. So we'll be taking potshots at one another for a long time to come. What's the end game? I don't know. How will a permanent state of war affect American politics, our collective psyche and our liberty? I don't know. It's a frustrating and frightening thing.
Great minds may think alike, but I'm afraid I must respectfully disagree with both of these learned men. We can win this war.

Matt, of all people, should know as a boxing fan that a lot of times the winner of a bout is decided by who makes the first mistake. He's right in saying that al Qaeda can't destroy us because "we're far too strong." Therefore, no mistake on our part can end the conflict.*

But if al Qaeda, and the radical Islamist movement it has spawned makes a mistake, we can and will crush them in such a way as to end the war. What is the particular mistake that will cause our enemies to lose? I'm getting to that.

As the situation stands now, al Qaeda et al. have the initiative and the upper hand in the GWOT. As it stands now, we cannot deal them a death blow. That's because in the most basic sense, all warfare is about control of geographic areas.† The great strength of the terrorist is that there is no geographic area which we can push him off of. That's what Matt meant when he wrote that the enemy is "too disbursed and decentralized."

President Bush's big contribution to the theory of warfare is the "Bush Doctrine," which in part addresses the terrorist's strength: their lack of geographical origin. On September 11, 2001, he said that the United States, when hunting down the terrorists, "will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." Nine days later, in his greatest speech, the President restated that doctrine in more detail:

This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

The administration's war planners realized very quickly that you can't win a war against an ephemeral enemy unless you can tie them down to a piece of land and then destroy them on that land. That's why we got this oft criticized "you're either with us or against us" part of the Bush Doctrine. The idea was to nullify the terrorists' advantage of not being attached to any state, by attaching them to a state.

It was a brilliant and necessary idea, but unfortunately it has not been entirely successful in practice. Geopolitical considerations have blunted the doctine's effect, as I think the war planners probably anticipated. We've seen the doctrine work beautifully in Libya, but in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for instance, there have been mixed results. We had to make a difficult compromise with those countries because an imperfect alliance with their governments is still of great value to our interests. As a result, we have to accept that, for the time being, there will be some laxity in their efforts to control the extremism within their own borders. We can't fight everyone all at once, and especially not if Pakistan and the Saudis assure us that they are on our side.

The Bush Doctrine alone cannot win this war. So what is the mistake that the Islamists dare not make? What is the mistake that will enable us to win? It is the very thing that the enemy hopes to gain: a pan-Islamic caliphate.

Think back to the 1930's. That was a time when the democratic world looked at the growing threat of fascism and was unable to do anything to stop it. I would argue that appeasement and half-hearted reaction was inevitable then, just as it seems inevitable now. The world simply wasn't in a place where strong and united action was possible. Democracies have many strengths, but swift action is not one of them. In the 1930's there was still a system of alliances that finally mandated a response to Hitler, but the response came almost too late.

The Allies responded to Hitler only after he started taking territory by force. Now fast forward a few years. We responded to the Japanese after they started advancing across the Pacific. We responded to the North Koreans when they invaded the South. Same thing in Vietnam. Same thing when Saddam invaded Kuwait. When territory is invaded by an expansionist enemy, we never seem to have any trouble responding appropriately.

What would happen if Osama bin Laden got what he wanted — the restoration of Islamic territories to a fundamentalist theocracy under Sharia law? My thesis is this: If the Islamic fundamentalist movement were to become attached to a state, and that state were to adopt expansionist ambitions, the Western World would and could oppose them successfully.

We know that one goal of Islamic fundamentalism is to recapture territory lost to the infidel, or lost to secularist governments such as Egypt and Turkey. That is their end game. Their fatal mistake would be to actually start achieving those goals. Once the terrorists start to add nations to their idealized pan-Islamic caliphate, they will become a concrete threat that the world can unite against. Instead of being an ephemeral enemy, unconnected with any state and therefore immune from retaliation, they would suddenly become constrained by the same realities of warfare that have prevailed for centuries — and at which we excel.

The bad news is that my thesis presupposes a long period of very bad setbacks for our side. But I don't see any other way around it. The West has proven that it does not yet have the will to unite against its enemy, and even if it did, fighting insurgents and terrorists is like fighting ghosts. You can bomb a nation into submission, but I think we all know by now, it's pretty hard to bomb suicide bombers into submission. Just ask the Israelis. They've always been able to beat any nation-state with one hand tied behind their back. But they just lost their very first war, against a bunch of terrorists who were disavowed by any government.

The really bad news is that, in my view, the timeline for this caliphate solution to come about is on the order of ten to twenty years. By that time, Iran will have nuclear weapons. I think we all know that it's inevitable. So when Iranian troops spearhead the invasion of Greece, or Spain, or wherever, and the West finally gets up the gumption to oppose them, we will be firing missiles at each other.

I know this post sounds like I've been reading too many Harry Turtledove books, but if you think about it, you'll see I'm right. Countries win wars by finding a way around the enemy's defenses. Islamic terrorists hide within "neutral" states and behind innocent civilians, that is their main defense. But they lose that defense once they attach themselves to a piece of land and call themselves a nation. Therefore the seeds of their own destruction lay inside their own express goals.

I told you this would be a more optimistic post.

* I can hear the nay-sayers now. "But we're already making mistakes that will cost us the war, by being too soft on the enemy, on homeland security, on our borders, etc." I don't disagree that we're being too soft. But what is the probable result of our softness? A major attack? And the result of a major attack will be that our softness is replaced by a hardness in proportion to how bad the attack is. Bottom line is that no terrorist attack, however horrendous, will cause the United States to become part of the pan-Islamic caliphate. That is a danger that exists solely in Europe, due to their lack of moral character, their lax immigration policies, their societal decision not to reproduce, and their sixty year reliance on the United States' security umbrella, which caused them to forget how to defend themselves. But I do not see that fate happening to us. As a people we are too stiff necked and independent. And we love our Constitution too much to replace it with the Koran. (Sure we got some nutty ideas in this country. But when the Swedes are considering a tax on all men to pay for domestic violence treatment — and the idea is taken seriously — all I can say is we have a long way to go in the U.S. before we reach the European level of self-destructive insanity.)

I know von Clausewitz said, "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means," but I'm talking in the micro sense. There's a guy standing on a piece of land that I want to stand on. He's got a gun and I've got a gun. War is how I use my gun to get him to let me stand on that piece of land. He either dies, runs away, or steps aside.

Posted by annika, Sep. 22, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


>If the Islamic fundamentalist movement were to become attached to a state, and that state were to adopt expansionist ambitions, the Western World would and could oppose them successfully.

Excluding the Palestinian situation, is not the Islamic militant movement funded in an underground manner, so that no single state is attached? Are not advances being made in regions of the world, such as Sudan, that are not being opposed successfully?

>they would suddenly become constrained by the same realities of warfare that have prevailed for centuries — and at which we excel.

I had to mull this over for awhile. If countries such as Egypt and Turkey became militant Islamic before a caliphate was installed, then there would be little leverage to attack. If they fell after a caliphate was installed due to civil unrest or even by elections, again there would be little leverage to attack.

And terrorist attacks could continue without any state claiming them.

However, your scenario is also quite plausible.

Posted by: will on Sep. 22, 2006

Very thoughtful post. There are so many variables (e.g. economic) that it's difficult to think all these things through to an endgame. Thanks for putting your thinking out there.

Posted by: blu on Sep. 23, 2006

I agree, for the most part. It is a very thoughtfull post. However, they have already attached themselves to a state, Iran, we are just in a state of denial. But, putting Iran aside for the moment and the scenario plays out as you suggest, which, by the way is quite plausible, and we do crush that state, I'm afraid all it would succeed in doing is set the movement back to the situation we are in now.

I read a book last winter, and the name of the author escapes me at the moment, but the title was 10,000 Years for Revenge. Great read and if you would like, I'll come up with the author's name for you. The title said it all though. The mindset we are up against is so foreign to our way of thinking, and they are tenacious.

The Islamists want control. They are not interested in and in fact despise freedom. The only freedom they seek is the freedom to control one another. It's not about money, or raising the bar of their living conditions, creature comforts, education, technology, scientific breakthroughs, or advancing the human race in any way. They are content and prefer to live in 600 AD. They're just using our tools currently to take us back there.

They are not happy living side by side with their neighbors. They even murder one another in the name of Allah.

On 9/11 our world changed. All of a sudden we were, not only horrified by the attack, but enraged by it. How dare they!!!! Yet as time passes, we as a society seem to be forgetting that the attack was an attempt to change our culture. We are detached from that reality, Instead, we are "enraged by inconvenience". We are scrutinized more and more in our daily lives, our freedom to travel has been affected. Our conversations are suspect, our politics has turned into a political civil war in this country. At a minimum, the bright future America once offered has dimmed.

For the radical Islamists, it has not. They see within their grasp the destruction of the west. They celebrate in the streets every setback the US or any western nation suffers. They threaten our religious leaders promoting the free flow of ideas with death. They murder authors, filmakers and anyone who has a view of the world not in line with their ideaology.

Crushing a future "central state" will not alleviate the problem. We are at war, and it is going to be a long, long war.

We need to act, and we have to a point. But the threats that we face today will just get bigger with time as the Islamists aquire more and more of our tools to level the field. We can't afford to wait until they form some sort of tangible target. We have tangible targets in Iran today. But many in the US and the west are refuse to admit that these threats are real. We are dancing with the devil and the music is about to stop.

I don't want war. I want to mow my lawn as most of us do. I want to go sailing, enjoy Thanksgiving with my family, teach a kid to ride a bike. Unfortunately, as we learned on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, there are those that don't want me or you to do that.

We need a strong leader. A leader who can articulate the crisis we face. A leader that can recall the rage in us we all felt that day, and we need a government who will stand behind him. We have elections coming up and nothing will happen without the right leaders in office. We need to speak to the Muslim world with a united and strong voice that we will defend our ideals and our freedoms. And we need to act. Now. We have been bloodied enough.

Posted by: Billy on Sep. 23, 2006

You may well be right about the way things will unfold, Annika. But the cost of this scenario would be very high: probably 50 million deaths brought about by the enemy attacks and by our retaliation. I hope we can avoid going down this path by taking appropriate actions now, but I increasingly doubt our willingness to do so.

Posted by: david foster on Sep. 24, 2006

I didn't say there was no end game; I just said I couldn't see it. I agree: Very thoughtful post. (I cringe to note that you reprinted my misuse of "disbursement." D'oh!)

Without addressing all the objections, one significant possible flaw I see in your thinking is the conclusion that by crushing a pan-Islamic caliphate militarily, we'd "win." I'm not at all sure that's true. We might, if the war was so terrible that it caused Muslims to turn their backs on radical Islam the way Germans turned their backs on Nazism after six years of horrors. But Islam's a whole lot more resilient and enduring than the half-baked pseudo-philosophy of the Austrian corporal, and the radical strain seems to have a very strong appeal for a certain kind of asshole. A military defeat of a pan-Islamic caliphate could just as easily result in a return to what we have now.

Radical Islam is an idea. As long as it has significant numbers of adherents, we won't really have won. And since we can't kill all its adherents -- not even most of them -- I think the only way to really "win" this war is to kill the idea, or wait it out. That's a whole lot harder than killing people, and it's apt to take a long time. That's what worries me: I'm not sure how long we have.

Posted by: Matt on Sep. 24, 2006

Derbyshire says all we have to do is prevent the Muzzies from getting nukes, brutally retaliate against their terror attacks, and wait them out until they become enlightened in a million years or something.


Posted by: reagan80 on Sep. 24, 2006

That's about the best I can come up with, too. But it's liable to take a very long time, and I don't share Derbyshire's confidence that apocalyptic weapons will remain out of reach of the nut cases for the indefinite future. Technology makes everything easier. Even if they don't build nukes, they probably can manage to breed some nasty bugs.

Posted by: Matt on Sep. 24, 2006

Interesting points gentleman. So, does this mean, in your view, that we must attack Iran sooner rather than later? We can't allow this ideology to acquire nuclear weapons. Yet, attacking Iran would undoubtedly lead to even more zealots. It's a tough call. I think, though, that we have no choice but pre-emption regardless of the certainty of adding to the number of fundamentalists. These people will use the weapons if they have them. We can't allow that to happen. Avoid the mushroom cloud first and worry about winning hearts and minds second. The latter can't possibly happen in time to avoid the former given the timeframe.

Posted by: blu on Sep. 24, 2006

The news tonight, at least on the BBC website is saying that the port in Somalia has now fallen into the hands of the islamists.Thousands are fleeing. Somalia, at this point has now effectively been taken over, by force, by muslim forces. Does that count as attaching themselves to a state?

Now, here's the bad news. The word Somalia evokes memories of Black Hawk Down, failed US policy and all kinds of mean and nasty memories among many Americans.

Now, the good news. Most Americans coudn't show you where Somalia is on a map. So, here's my plan. We bomb Somalia, I mean bomb the heck out of it. It's a coastal community and easily accessed by our ships and the forces we already have in the Gulf region. We explain to the American people that this is an Iranian backed attempt at expansionism that threatens the oil supply lanes. (Strategically it is very important, it's just that up until now the Somalian Navy has been comprised of some old freighters with beat up boston whalers on the deck with which they attack merchant ships with machine guns and RPG's that traverse the area.)

So,.....The Iranians made a BIG deal about War games about a month ago. Videos showed their supposed missle launches from subs and it was accompanied by threats to close off the oil traffic in the gulf, which they would be crazy to do because that would be shooting themselves in the foot that they so often place in their mouth.

Let's allow an Iranian warship or two to enter the newly "radical" muslim captured port of Somalia, then.....bam,zoom, to the moon Alice! We kill two birds with one stone.
1, We avenge the whole Black Hawk Down Incident
2, We attack Iran without attacking Iran, sending a clear signal to Ahmadinejad that we aren't playing games. Heck, he'll probably run and hide like that Hassan Nasrallah punk did when the Israeli's went after Hezbollah.

But here's the sweet part! We blame it on Clinton.!!! I know what you're saying, "this guy is nuts". Maybe, but stick with me here.

We say this plan has been on the table for years, leftover from the Clinton Administration after our short stay in Somalia. It was approved by the Joint Chiefs but the opportunity toexecute it hasn't presented itself until now. Why heck, we contingency plans in the bank for military action against just about everybody on earth.

You see, this could work, The operation is BOUND to succeed and Clinton being the egomaniac he is would be reluctant to say it wasn't his idea after all. Why this could be one of those atta boys that negate that oh shit about the whole Bin laden story. The left will be reluctant to criticise Bush because they'll think it was their boy's idea. Republicans keep the house and senate and we are able to prosecute the war on terror with impunity for the next two years.

But there's more. Inevitably things will go south. Despite overwhelming military victories it is really, really hard to "keep the peace". There probably will be much unrest within, say 1 1/2 to 2 years after the invasion. Just about the time the Presidential election is really heating up. So how does the GOP get out of this one??????........WE blame Clinton!!!! It was his idea,!! heck he admitted it!! Took credit for it,!! we were just trying to reach across the ailse!!!

I'm tellin Ya, this could be one heck of an opportunity.


Posted by: Billy on Sep. 24, 2006