Before 9/11, we almost always knew how to win a war – even the people who weren’t in favor of fighting it.
Plenty of people thought we should have just let the Confederate states go their own way in 1861 – but even they knew that if we beat General Lee on the field and occupied enough of the South, that the CSA would cry uncle and quit.
The First World War? Same story. Before President Wilson asked Congress for a war declaration, pro-German sentiment was pretty evenly divided with pro-English sentiment. But once war was declared, everybody knew – drive on to Berlin, and the world would be made safe for democracy. Except the Germans called it quits before the Anglo-Franco-American allies even crossed the frontier, so WWI never quite ended for the Germans. And that brings us, naturally, to the Second World War.
Not a whole lot of pro-German sentiment here for that one, unless you count some of the really fringe members of the America First brigades. (If I need to refer to them later, we’ll call Charles Lindberg, Joe Kennedy & Co. the “Proto-Buchananites.”) Even after Pearl Harbor, there were still a few pacifists in the country, however – but somewhere in their hearts, they knew the war would be won once we had soldiers occupying Berlin and Tokyo.
And so it went. We did those things, we won those wars.
Nuclear weapons and our first-ever defensive alliances complicated matters. Did we win in Korea, by simply holding the line? Or should victory have been defined as reuniting all of Korea under a friendly government in Seoul? Or, since the Chinese proved to be our real foe after Inchon, should we have considered anything less than deposing the Beijing regime to have been something less than victory?
Well. Fighting the Chinese in China would have led to a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. In 1953, we would have won that, too – but is a win still a win when dozens of nukes have hit us? Some days, the closest you can get to victory is simply not having to fight.
Then there’s Vietnam, which was Korea writ on a much larger scale. We won the battles, as everyone knows, but we lost the war. Or did we? Vietnam was a series of battles in the larger Cold War. Sure, we lost South Vietnam, but we still won the larger war. Former lefty Robert Kaplan argued that fighting in Vietnam was a tragic necessity. Had we not proven ourselves willing to fight for South Vietnam, we could very well have lost our NATO allies without the Reds ever having fired a shot. Was Vietnam a win? A loss? A tragic necessity? All of the above?
As I said, nuclear arms and defensive alliances complicated things for us greatly. Our alliances forced us into wars we couldn’t quite win (because of the nuclear threat), in order to avoid greater losses in future wars (which would have run even greater nuclear risks). Or, to put it in the kind of language I prefer to use when discussing politics, the Cold War sucked.
If you think war has become complex, peace is messier still – and always has been.
Nobody ever knows what the peace will look like. Let’s use our examples from earlier. Even as late as Appomattox, who could have predicted the KKK, Jim Crow, or Radical Reconstruction? No statesmen in 1914 knew that the war they were about to unleash would result in 20 million deaths, Russian Communism, or Nazi Germany. World War II? If you can find me the words of some prophet detailing, in 1940, the UN, the Cold War, or even the complete assimilation of western Germany into Western Europe. . . then I’ll print this essay on some very heavy paper, and eat it. With aluminum foil as a garnish.
NOTE: That’s what gets me about all the complaints that President Bush “didn’t have a plan” to “win the peace” in Iraq. Oh, blow me. Nobody ever has a plan for the peace. Or if they do, it will prove useless. “No peace plan survives the last battle” is the VodkaPundit corollary to Clausewitz’s dictum that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.
By now, you probably know where I’m going with this little history lesson: How do we define victory in the Terror War, and what will the peace look like.
Let’s get the second part out of the way first.
What will the peace look like? I don’t have a damn clue. And neither do you. And if you meet anyone who claims to know, feel free to laugh at them really hard. So hard, you get a little spit on their face. Sometimes, justice can be small and spiteful – ask a meter maid. Anyway.
When peace comes, it could look like whatever Mecca, Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh, Pyongyang, Khartoum, Kabul, Cairo, etc., look like after being hit by big city-busting nuclear warheads. Or it could end with the entire Arab and Muslim world looking like the really well-manicured bits of Connecticut. My best guess is, somewhere in-between. But that’s only a guess.
NOTE: It’s a sad state of affairs (their affairs, not ours) that the first scenario, no matter how repugnant and unlikely, still seems more likely than the second scenario, no matter how virtuous.
Now that we know that we don’t know how we’ll win, that leaves the question (and the oxymoron): How do we win?
Ending the rule of the Taliban didn’t end the war. Ending the rule of Saddam didn’t end the war. We could depose the dictators in every dictatorship, and still not be done with this mess. Our enemy isn’t a nation. It isn’t a leader. It isn’t, despite the misnomer “War on Terror,” a war on terror.
What we’re fighting is an ideology.
First off, let’s brush aside the Loser Notion that if we kill terrorists, we’ll only breed more terrorists. So what? Every dead terrorist is, well, dead. And we can always build more bombs and make more bullets. For 30 years now, the US Army has trained to fight in a “target-rich environment.” Bring’em on.
Now that we have defeatism out of the way, let’s get on with defeating the enemy. “But the enemy is an ideology,” you’ve been told, “and you can’t fight thoughts with bullets.”
Yes and no.
Some people forget (because they backed/worshipped/served-as-useful-idiots-to the other side) that we have fought an ideology before, and – we won. The Cold War was, above all else, an ideological conflict. It was the Great Civil War of Western Civilization. On the one side, you had Western Capitalism, and on the other, International Communism. Obviously, things weren’t that cut and dried. The US certainly doesn’t (to my constant dismay) enjoy a laissez-faire economy, and the European NATO countries even less so. And despite a totalitarian regime, even the Soviet Union tolerated a little samizdat capitalism. Nevertheless, with the exception of France, countries took sides and stayed there.
Which socio-political system was left standing after 45 years of conflict? Oh yeah, baby – despite what you hear on American campuses, the West won. We won completely. We knocked their dicks in the dirt. The bad guys gave up, in the end, without even firing a shot – like Saddam Hussein in his hidey-hole.
How did we do it? How did we endure 45 years of conflict? How did we win? In the end, it came down to one simple thing:
We proved the enemy ideology to be ineffective.
We fought Communism for almost 50 years, and we would have fought it for another 50 – had that ideology not been too incompetent to keep up the fight. Islamism isn’t Communism, however, so the means of fighting it have to be different.
Communism, when it took us on directly, found we were willing to stand up for ourselves and our allies (no matter how undesirable some of those allies were). Korea was ugly and inconclusive. Vietnam was even uglier, and didn’t go our way. But in each case, we sent the same signal to Moscow: Push us or our friends around, and we’ll fight. No one can say for sure that the 1st Air Cavalry Division’s actions in Vietnam kept the Soviets from sending their tanks west to the Rhine – but it sure kept them guessing. And that, in part, was the point.
Communism promised a better life here on earth, but failed to deliver. Selling the Commodore 64 at a retail price of $300 was enough to prove that Communism had failed in comparison to capitalism. The Stealth Fighter just drove the point home.
Meanwhile, not much changed here at home. We lurched from Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan – and that entire time, we not only kept up the fight (more or less), but we didn’t change any of the fundamental precepts of our civilization. In fact, thanks to the Civil Rights movement and the anti-draft protests, we came ever-closer to achieving our ideals.
We can out-produce you. We are willing to fight you. We are unwilling to become you. Add those three things together, and we proved that Communism was ineffective. They lost, we won, get over it.
Islamism isn’t Communism, obviously. Out-producing the Islamic world isn’t hard – subtract the oil, and Finland provides more exports than the entire Arab world. But Islamism doesn’t promise a better life here – it promises a better afterlife. Therefore, we aren’t going to dissuade our enemies by producing a $50 iPod, or even a billion-dollar stealth bomber.
Killing our enemies isn’t enough, because death is what they seek. If there were a million terror-sponsoring nations, we could invade them all and never make any headway in any essential sense. So that’s out, too.
What we are is why they want to kill us – so even if the US were to become my libertarian wet-daydream fantasyland, it wouldn’t help us win the war.
With all that in mind, I’ve identified three keys to winning this war:
1. Take the initiative.
2. Fight when we have to, even if we can’t win.
3. Remain what we are.
Take the Initiative
If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that we can’t sit back any longer. Proactive measure are needed, and probably (sadly, tragically) for the foreseeable future. Had the Soviets engineered a 9/11-type attack on American soil, and had we failed to respond in greater measure, then the Cold War would have been lost. A nation unwilling to respond to attack on its own principal city, can hardly be counted on to defend the cities of its allies. Germany would have been reunited, all right – under a Communist regime.
Islamists can’t be deterred the way the Soviets were, and that means we have to be proactive. And that means taking the fight to the enemy, before he can take the fight to us. Doing so doesn’t preclude further 9/11-style attacks on us. But it does mean, at the very least, reducing their frequency. More importantly, it also means keeping our standing as a vital nation. At this stage in the game, failing to be proactive would mean losing whatever allies we have left. (Are you listening, John Kerry?)
Taking the initiative also means discarding fair-weather allies. If France and Germany would rather scuttle NATO than stand by its most important member, then NATO must wither. This is, as I think I’ve already demonstrated, a fight for our very existence. Allies who fail (or refuse) to recognize that aren’t real allies – and should no longer be treated as such. The UN was never an ally, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
Taking the initiative is why – despite all the WMD talk – we invaded Iraq. We had to topple the Taliban, because the Taliban was directly linked to 9/11. We had to invade Iraq, because Iraq is directly linked to what is wrong with the Arab world. And unless the Arab world is fixed – either by setting up decent governments (I hope), or by nuclear castration (my nightmare), or something in-between – then this war is not yet over.
Fight When We Have To, Even If We Can’t Win.
The Battle of Pearl Harbor was a lost cause. Korea was nearly one. And Vietnam, given the constraints described above, was almost certainly a losing proposition.
But we fought in those places.
We fought at Bull Run, too. And we fought at Kasserine Pass, and Manila, and Bastogne, and Hue, and on Flight 93. We even won at a couple of those places, even though the cause seemed lost.
But we fought.
And that’s the whole point. Going into Afghanistan in October of 2001, we went in without knowing if we could win. We went in, severely outnumbered, trying a brand-new doctrine (forced on the Pentagon by that “idiot,” George W. Bush) in a nation known as “the graveyard of empires.” But Afghanistan was the sanctuary and training ground of those who hurt us so badly on 9/11. Had we not fought there, the War would have been over, scarcely before it had begun. So we went. And we won. But victory was no foregone conclusion. We went anyway.
Whether we can win (by establishing something resembling decent government) in Iraq is still an unanswered question. But, as I argued in the previous section, we had to go into Iraq and at least try. There is a sickness in the modern Arab world, and it must be cured. Iraq is our attempt at curing it without killing the patient. The prognosis for the patient is still unclear – but, so far, our resolve remains crystal clear. But, like a oncologist, we had to go in no matter what the risks.
There will be other battles we may have to face, no matter how dubious the outcome. Will Iran be next? Will we finally lose patience with the Saudis? Will we find evidence that Syria, or Yasser Arafat’s West Bank cronies are now in charge of Saddam’s old chemical weapons?
I don’t know. And nobody knows where such battles might lead us. But, if we want to win this war, we can’t be afraid of fighting any necessary battles.
Remain What We Are
You don’t defeat the enemy by becoming him. We didn’t beat the Soviets by establishing our own Five Year Plans, and we won’t beat the children of oppression by becoming oppressors.
We might stop an attack or two by militarizing our borders, but what would we lose? We’d be three, maybe four, short steps above the dictatorships we so rightly despise. And we’d be this much closer (hold your thumb and index fingers very close together for visual effect) from breeding our own homegrown crazies, just like they breed them Over There.
We might stop an attack or two by inspecting every single cargo container coming into our country – but the economic repercussions would kill more people than a dozen 9/11s.
We might stop an attack or two by nuking every Islamic city from Tangier to Islamabad – but, come morning, we’ll have to look ourselves in the mirror. What that means is, just because you don’t agree with the millions and millions of antiwar Americans, doesn’t mean you may discount completely their opinions. Want a civil war in your own country? Then start nuking other countries indiscriminately.
Defeating terror can, I hope, be done without becoming terrorists, ourselves. But the war is young, and we didn’t nuke Hiroshima until Japan was already almost entirely beaten.
Taking the initiative, fighting where we must, remaining free – those are the keys to victory.
If we show our enemies that they aren’t the only ones who can take the initiative. . .
If we show our enemies that we are willing to fight them, even when the odds are slim. . .
If we fight and fight and fight, without ever giving up those freedoms we’re fighting to defend. . .
. . . then we will have proven, no matter how long it takes, that their ideology is ineffective. We won’t just take it. We won’t retreat. We will not change.
We will have proven that their way is the way of death; our way is the way of life.
How it will all play out is anyone’s guess. But I do know this much. Anyone who claims we should just suffer attacks on our homeland, or retreat before all hope is lost, or surrender our liberties when those freedoms are what we live for –– the only thing that person offers you is the same thing offered you by our enemies:
Stick to the game plan. We can win.