2005-06-03 19:31:46 UTC
Falcon4 Allied Force or even the "Big Patch" for Pacific Fighters here is
about the best summation of "The War on Terrorism" I have read in a while.
Victor Davis Hanson
June 03, 2005, 8:07 a.m.
Our Strange War
Looking ahead, our options.
The three-year-plus war that began on September 11 is the strangest conflict
in our history. It is not just that the first day saw the worst attack on
American soil since our creation, or that we are publicly pledged to
fighting a method - "terror" - rather than the concrete enemy of Islamic
fascism that employs it.
Our dilemma is that we have not sought to defeat and humiliate the enemy as
much as wean a people from the thrall of Islamic autocracy. That is our
challenge, and explains our exasperating strategy of half-measures and
apologies - and the inability to articulate exactly whom we are fighting and
Imagine that a weak Hitler in the mid-1930s never planned conventional war
with the democracies. Instead, he stealthily would fund and train thousands
of SS fanatics on neutral ground to permeate European society, convinced of
its decadence and the need to return to a mythical time when a purer Aryan
Volk reigned supreme. Such terrorists would bomb, assassinate, promulgate
fascistic hatred in the media, and whine about Versailles, hoping
insidiously to gain concessions from wearied liberal societies that would
make ever more excuses as they looked inward and blamed themselves for the
presence of such inexplicable evil. All the while, Nazi Germany would deny
any connections to these "indigenous movements" and "deplore" such
"terrorism," even as the German people got a certain buzz from seeing the
victors of World War I squirm in their discomfort. A triangulating Mussolini
or Franco would use their good graces to "bridge the gap," and seek a
"peaceful resolution," while we sought to "liberate" rather than defeat the
So to recap: The real enemy is an Islamic fascist ideology that is
promulgated by a few thousand. They wear no uniforms and are deeply embedded
within and protected by Muslim society.
Beyond the terrorists, a larger percentage of Middle Easterners, if it cost
them little, gain psychological satisfaction when fellow defiant Muslims
(terrorists or not) "stand up" to Westerners, who enjoy power, status, and
wealth undreamed of in the Middle East.
Even if they would hate living under Taliban-like theocrats, millions at
least see the jihadists as about the only way of "getting back" at the
Western world that has left them so far behind. This passive-aggressive
sense of inferiority explains why millions of Muslims flock to Europe to
enjoy its freedom and prosperity, even as they recreate there an Islamist
identity to reconcile their longing and desire for what they profess to
Still, most in the Middle East wish simply to embrace the human desire for
prosperity, freedom, and security within the umbrella of traditional Muslim
society - and will support American efforts if (a) these initiatives seem to
be successful, and (b) are not seen as American.
Consequently, the United States has not been able to bring its full arsenal
of military assets to the fray. It is nearly impossible to extract the
killers from the midst of civilian society. Too much force causes collateral
damage and incites religious and nationalist anti-American fervor. Too
little power emboldens the fascists and suggests America (e.g., Nixon's
"pitiful, helpless giant") cannot or will not win the war.
Like a parent with a naughty child, a maddening forbearance is the order of
the day: They burn American flags, behead, murder, and promise death and
ruin to Americans; we ignore it and instead find new ways of displaying our
sensitivity to Islam.
Although the enemy is weak militarily and its nihilist ideology appeals to
few, it still has powerful ways to meet our own overwhelming military power
and economic strength.
First is the doctrine of the deniability of culpability. In the legalistic
world of the United Nations and international courts, Islamists depend on
their patrons' not being held responsible beyond a reasonable doubt for the
shelter and cash they provide to those who kill Westerners. Elites in Syria
or Iran deny that they offer aid to terrorists. Or if caught, they retreat
to a fallback position of something like, "Do you really want to go to war
over our help for a few ragtag insurrectionists?"
A second advantage is oil. A third to half the world's reserves is under
Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf States, Iraq, and Iran. None until recently
were democratic; most at one time or another have given bribe money to
terrorists, sponsored anti-Americanism, or survived by blaming us for their
These otherwise backward societies - that neither developed nor can maintain
their natural wealth - rake in billions, as oil that costs $2-5 to pump is
sold for $50. Some of that money in nefarious ways arms terrorists. Should
an exasperated United States finally strike back at their patrons, we risk
ruining the world economy - or at least so it will be perceived by paranoid
and petroleum-dependent Japan, Europe, and China. Without an energy policy
of independence, this war will be hard to win, since Saudi Arabia will never
feel any pressure to purge its royal family of terrorist sympathizers or to
cease its subsidies for Wahhabist hatred.
A third edge for the terrorists lies in the West itself. After 40 years of
multiculturalism and moral equivalence - the wages of wealth and freedom
unmatched in the history of civilization - many in the United States believe
that they have evolved beyond the use of force. Education, money, dialogue,
conflict resolution theory - all this and more can achieve far more than
crude Abrams tanks and F-16s.
A bin Laden or Saddam is rare in the West. In our arrogance, we think such
folk are more or less like ourselves and live in a similar world of reason
and tolerance. The long antennae of the canny terrorists pick up on that
self-doubt. Most of the rhetoric in bin Laden's infomercials came right out
of the Western media.
As September 11 fades in the memory, too many Americans feel that it is time
to let bygones be bygones. Some now consider Islamic fascism and its method
of terror a "nuisance" that will go away if we just come home. We are a
society where many of our elite believe the killer bin Laden is less of a
threat than the elected George Bush. Al Qaeda keeps promising to kill us
all; meanwhile Ralph Nader wants the wartime president impeached for misuse
of failed intelligence.
Fourth, in an asymmetrical war the cult of the underdog is a valuable tool.
Europeans march with posters showing scenes from Abu Ghraib, not of the
beheading of Daniel Pearl or the murder of Margaret Hassan. They do not
wish, much less expect, al Qaeda to win, but they still find psychic
satisfaction in seeing the world's sole superpower tied down, as if it were
the glory days of the Vietnam protests all over again. How else can we
explain why Amnesty International claims that Guantanamo - specialized
ethnic foods, available Korans, and international observers - is comparable
to a Soviet Gulag where millions once perished? So there is a deep, deep
sickness in the West.
In response, we have embarked on the only strategy that offers a lasting
victory: Kill the Islamic fascists; remove the worst autocracies that
sponsored terrorists; and jump-start democratic governments in the Middle
Our two chief worries - terrorists and weapons of mass destruction - wane
when constitutional societies replace autocracies. Currently few democratic
states harbor and employ terrorists or threaten their neighbors with
biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, even if they have ample stockpiles
Where will it all end? Our choices are threefold.
We can wind down - essentially the position of the mainstream Left - and
return to a pre-September 11 situation, treating Islamism as a criminal
justice matter or deserving of an occasional cruise missile. This, in my
view, would be a disaster and guarantee another mass attack.
Or we can continue to pacify Iraq. We then wait and see whether the ripples
from the January elections - without further overt American military action
into other countries - bring democracy to Lebanon, Egypt, the Gulf States,
and eventually the entire Middle East. This is the apparent present policy
of the administration: talking up democracy, not provoking any who might
disagree. It may well work, though such patience requires constant
articulation to the American people that we are really in a deadly war when
it doesn't seem to everyone that we are.
Or we can press on. We apprise Syria to cease all sanctuary for al Qaedists
and Iran to give up its nuclear program - or face surgical and punitive
American air strikes. Such escalation is embraced by few, although many
acknowledge that we may soon have few choices other than just that. But for
now we can sum up the American plans as hoping that democracy spreads faster
than Islamism, and thus responsible government will appear to ensure
terrorists and WMD disappear.
The above, of course, is what we plan, but gives no consideration to the
intent of the enemy. As we speak, he desperately searches for new strategies
to ward off defeat as jihad seems more likely to lead to ruin than the
return of the caliphate.
For now Islamic fascist strategy is to make such horrific news in Iraq that
America throws up its hands and sighs, "These crazy people simply aren't
worth it," goes home, snoozes - and thus becomes ripe for another September
- Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the
Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.