Murdoc’s been in a couple of conversations recently, both face to face and via email, about the definition of “terrorism”, the nature of our “war on terror”, and how to “win” such a war.
First, I think it’s important that these sorts of discussion continue, as even if we could all agree on those points (which we all will agree won’t happen) the definition, the nature, and the goals of our struggle are constantly evolving as surely as our enemy and our own public are evolving. What was obvious (or at least seemed obvious) in late 2001 had become a bit murky by early 2003. And today’s situation makes the murkiness of early 2003 seem crystal-clear by comparison.
Secondly, a lot of people who are otherwise smart, intelligent, open-minded people just do not grasp the seriousness of the situation we are in. A great deal of that has to do with the fact that, for most Americans, terrorism and/or extreme militant religious fundamentalism are just not threats that concern us personally on a day-to-day basis. Another problem is the seeming inability to name the enemy.
I believe that we are currently fighting a World War. I call it “World War IV”, as I have believed since my teenage years back in the 80s that what is commonly called the Cold War was, in fact, World War III. Which Roman numerals you tack on isn’t nearly as important as realizing that this is truly a global struggle against a common enemy.
The Global War on Terror. The Long War. Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a worldwide conflict. Critics are quick to point out that in this war there are no clear victory conditions, no clean end state, and no signing of official surrender documents on a battleship. And the critics are absolutely correct. Nevertheless, this is a war, it is a global war, and it is a war that needs to be won if we want our way of life to continue.
Also, unlike the widely accepted World Wars of the good old days, there will be few battles on the scale of Verdun, the Somme, D-Day, or Iwo Jima. When fighting an enemy such as our current foe, massed winner-take-all clashes of that type are just not on the map. Our huge, mechanized, technologically-terrifying armies have few targets worthy of their might and fewer opportunities to deliver knock-out blows that have the potential to change things overnight.
What’s too often overlooked, to our peril, is the fact that our enemy does have the capability to deliver a stunning punch that can change the course of events. Not overnight, but the lasting power of the victories they can win is much greater than even the dramatic reversals of fortune witnessed at Stalingrad and Midway in 1942.
Why should our enemy kill our soldiers, shoot down our planes, and sink our ships when they can sap our will to win? Defeating our military is very difficult. Defeating our leadership and our public, however, is apparently fairly easy.
This should come as no surprise to anyone, of course. The past fifty years is replete with examples that suggest we the people could be weaker than we’d like and that America as a nation might not be nearly as tough as its outwardly visible strength makes it appear.
Murdoc isn’t despairing as much as the previous paragraphs might indicate. We are far from beaten. The past 90 days or so of military action in Iraq have been as stunning as any three-month period since we invaded in 2003. Things really do seem to be coming together, as if the planets of US military leadership, Iraqi capability, and Iraqi leadership (both governmental and tribal) have suddenly aligned in a way most favorable to us. It’s not good luck, of course, but the result of years of hard work and hard lessons. The victories have been solid and the next three months looks to be just as full of potential for gain.
So why, then does everyone think we’re losing?
Because we are.
Not the battles. Not even the campaign. But the war? We are in very serious danger of losing that.
Murdoc would love to blame the Democrats, and he will, but there’s a lot more to it than just a few surrender monkeys in key positions. Murdoc would love to blame the media, and he will, but there’s a lot more to it than just a few agenda-driven liars telling lies. Murdoc would love to blame the public at large, and he will, but there’s a lot more to it than just a few million gas-guzzling TV-watching apathetics.
Weak leadership (which includes many Republicans), sensationalist media outlets (which include many Conservative organizations), and clueless couch potatoes (which includes just about everyone) are not the problem, per se. Rather, those are some of America’s most glaring weaknesses. Weaknesses that have been identified and attacked by our enemy.
But al Qaeda’s largest harvest from “random slaughter” strategy was realized in America. Through acts of indiscriminate violence transmitted by the media, insurgents brought their war to America’s living rooms. The atrocity-of-the-day is the principal informational input most Americans receive. This forms their knowledge base. The public does not live in the villages and mahalas of Iraq. Patterns of recovery, of normalcy, are not evident.
This is the essence of 4th Generation Warfare. And al Qaeda is clearly winning it. . . . Al Qaeda is running its war on smoke and mirrors – or, more accurately, on bytes of sound and sight. Congress could act on General Petraeus’ reports from the ground, rather than broadcasts generated by insurgents. This requires a simple commitment – one foreign to many in the elective branch: Leadership.
All three weaknesses I noted above are mentioned here, and the way that each is being exploited to exploit the others is explained simply and succinctly. Every small victory in each of the weaknesses reinforces the victories in the others. The media coverage of bad news from Iraq reinforces low public opinion on Iraq reinforces politicians’ lack of resolve reinforces low public opinion reinforces media coverage of bad news from Iraq.
Al Qaeda is winning the information war even as it’s losing the actual war.
Even here, I think, is a bit to look hard at. You see, I think the information war is actually the “actual war”.
The military aspect of this war is secondary, in the long run, to the war of ideas. Freedom or tyranny? Twenty-first century or tenth? These are the battles that will decide the war. The firefights with insurgents and terrorists are a holding action against the physical capability for death and destruction that our enemies would use to prevent discussions about ideas like women’s’ rights and the separation of religion and government from even taking place.
I know that Reynolds realizes this. But I’m afraid that too many people don’t take the time to realize it for themselves.
And from our weakness, the enemy grows strength.
In an email I sent earlier this week, I wrote:
In many ways, terrorism is shock PR warfare to score points against your enemy and to score points with your own people.
Every loss we suffer in the information war is, of course, a victory for our enemy. A victory that translates into a snowball of support, particularly among the impoverished and downtrodden. Everyone loves a winner, and if the underdog looks like it’s beating the imperialist infidels on the evening news, the movement continues to build momentum. Yes, American troops killing of Iraqis will drive some to join the jihad against America, but insurgents killing Americans and getting away with it will encourage many more to volunteer. Nothing breeds success like success.
The retreat following the 1993 Black Hawk Down battle of Mogadishu has been held up for a decade as an example of how America can be defeated. That retreat, regardless of the political expediency that practically guaranteed it, emboldened our enemies rather than placated them. Don’t kid yourself that a similar retreat from Iraq won’t be held up in a similar fashion. Or that the long term results of defeat in Iraq won’t lay the groundwork for similar long term results.
This is a global World War against an enemy that is playing for keeps. Electing not to play is not a luxury that we have. We cannot win, no matter how brave, skilled, and well-equipped our military is, without the will to win. We appear to be losing that will six years into a thirty year war.