The Long Global Test of Wills

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.

This is truly a global struggle against a common enemy.

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.

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.

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.

Today, Glenn Reynolds links to a TCS Daily piece by J.D. Johannes entitled How Al Qaeda is Winning Even as it is Losing and quotes a section that fits right in with the thrust of this post:

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.

The infor- mation war is actually the “actual war”.

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.

Reynolds wrote:

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.

We cannot win without the will to win.

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.


  1. We lost Vietnam and Korea, but won the Cold War. How did we do it? Economics. Don’t equate the war in Iraq with the War on Terror. They aren’t the same thing. We haven’t lost the War on Terror. We have lost the first battle. It’s still up to us to win the war. I’ll put my faith in the average American citizen before I’ll put it in one of those Washington DC idiots any day. The American people will figure out a way to win the War on Terror, and the DC bureaucrats will try to take credit for it like they always do.

  2. Ok, I’m tired of people telling me how great our armies are, but how they can’t win. I’ll tell you, if we keep getting hit, and it’s hard enough, our ‘massive armies’ will turn into a steamroller and knock flat EVERY city in the country that’s causing the problems. Total warfare, no quarter given. It’s like a quote in the movie ‘Swordfish’ : Anyone who impinges on America’s freedom. Terrorist states, Stanley. Someone must bring their war to them. They bomb a church, we bomb 10. They hijack a plane, we take out an airport. They execute American tourist, we tactically nuke an entire city. Our job is to make terrorism so horrific that is becomes unthinkable to attack Americans.

  3. jess – I’m not sure how nuking an entire city, which the terrorists will GLEEFULLY watch on television (no, they’re not IN that city) would help stop the next American tourist from being executed. In fact, I think you just signed the death warrant for the next 100 tourists to be executed. Also, note that anytime you’ve made terrorists gleeful, you’ve probably miscalculated something. You’re not thinking that the radiation-sickened population will somehow turn on the terrorists out of some sort of fear of our retribution, are you? That’s just plain silly, and of course would pit most of the world against us in an actual shooting military situation. Nothing helps us fight the LGWOT (or whatever) like adding the active militaries of a few dozen nations (and former allies) to the enemy’s roster. (Well, every single other nation once we continue to nuke cities.) Also, taking out an airport would just spin the region toward isolation and poverty, swelling the numbers of the enemy. I generally see this as a bad thing, though somewhat less of a mistake than nuking the population centers. ‘Someone must bring their war to them.’ I think you’re missing who ‘them’ are. Leave it to Murdoc (well, his commentators) to supply the ONLY venue in which I’m NOT the most pro-military, pro-force, classic conservative of the bunch. Not wanting to kill a few million folks makes me feel like some tree-hugging eco-terrorist when I’m here.

  4. Sure, we could be so brutal and heavy handed as to ‘steamroll’ the world flat in order to gain security. Who the hell would we be then? ‘USA kills thirty million Arabs to make sure no more car bombs are detonated.’ That will make us much better than Al Queda. Murdoc hit it on the head. Either we have the will to fight the PR war or we don’t. All the guns and bombs in the world won’t win us the war if the American people think it is lost. Vietnam was the same idea. The VC and NVA lost the Tet offensive decisively, yet American perception was that it was a US loss. Which do you think was the more important reality? In WWII, the United States government understood the value of propaganda, not against our enemy, but for our own stateside consumption. How many Rosie the Riveter-type posters do you see these days? War bond drives? I know it is a different conflict, I know we are a wealthier nation that doesn’t need to buy bonds to finance this war, at least not yet. The point is, the leadership has done virtually nothing to keep the American people behind the effort, despite a wealth of TRUE information that clearly shows we are the good guys, and this is a fight we have to win. Where are the press releases about AQI beheading children? Why do we not hear every day about how the car bombs that are being set off are a desperate attempt to sap American will, and not a sign of our military impotence? Where are the human interest stories about the droves of personal the reenlist in the military because they believe so strongly in what they have to do? Where are the pictures on the front page of the New York Times showing a US serviceman cradling a gravely injured Iraqi child, trying to rush her to medical care, but ultimately loosing the race with death? How about the fact that AQ deliberately attacked at such a time as children would be killed, as a message to the Iraqi people to stay in line? In order to find any of this actual, relevant information, one must search the internet, not just flip on the TV. As long as that is the case, we will loose this war.

  5. How can you believe there is a serious terrorist threat, yet refuse to defend our borders? How can you believe there is a serious terrorist threat, yet refuse to do anything about the 600,000 or so who have been ordered to leave and have not? Basically 20 million people are traipsing around and we don’t even know who they are, yet Bush and Chertoff don’t seem bothered. McCain likes to say if we leave Iraq they will follow us here. What is stopping them from coming now?

  6. dfens wrote: We lost Vietnam and Korea….. I actually think we did not lose Korea. I don’t believe our stated UN mandate was to unify the country under democracy. I thought it was to prevent the communists from taking the South in which case we succeeded. S. Korea’s economic ascent relative to the North was icing on the cake. Though I do believe it was a mistake to keep such a large force based there so long after S. Korea was more than able to defend itself.

  7. I think most of us are on the same page. But asking why we as Americans prefer to win quick or get out, or not go to war at all, goes back to the education that most educated Americans have been getting for the last forty someodd years. I’ll give you a hint. Liberals teaching liberal viewpoints and socialist answers to all questions. Leaving out American History or twisting it so as it is anti-American. Our leaders either taught this or learned it, so how they think and act is a reflection of this liberal brainwashing that has been going on right before our eyes and we have even been paying for it in ever increasing amounts. You ever see a liberal socialist Redneck? No, and you won’t. Most never went to college or if they did, they most likely got kicked out because they told the professors that they were full of it. The other reasons you mention are equally infected and affected by this American Education and the influence from [e]urope and their wacky socialist multicultural leanings and teachings. While the democrats are actively trying to make us lose the war for various reasons, it is the liberal left and the socialist liberals that are doing the most damage. Through their media (which is most media) they are misrepresenting, lying, slanting and omitting news and information at a rate that is alarming and unbelievable. But no one but a few right wing blogs seems to care. They say ignorance is bliss, but ignorance through the malfeasance and hatred of the media, for the republicans and this administration, and the fact that their milk and honey socialist future is still being held hostage by the conservatives and republicans…. Well, let’s just say that they [the liberal left] have decided to, and are at war, with the right, and that the right is too busy doing other things to even notice. Except for a few, of course, but their warnings and writings are unread by the majority of Americans, who only watch the liberal media in-between watching their favorite TV shows, and not even very often. Americans get their information somewhat like the rest of the world, the media, the rumor, the talk at work (usually led by a liberal socialist). So, Americans, or at least most of them, do not even know that they are being hoodwinked, tricked and deceived, or that their expensive education was not much more than a liberal socialist brainwashing. Ignorance is bliss… Papa Ray West Texas USA

  8. I don’t know about the US, but here I never received ‘indoctrination’ from any teachers. Rather, a large part of my world-view was formed by news broadcasts (which my father watched religiously and still does). I actually believed what they told me on TV, for a long time. Later I look back on it and wonder how I was so gullible as to trust that one source of information to be objective and correct. So yes, I think the problem is a brainwashing of sorts, but not by teachers. Young people are impressionable. They will be exposed to the media – news, Hollywood, the blatherings of musicians, etc. Young people are inevitably drawn to the left because what they say feels right, and is idealist. It’s easy, however, to listen to talking about equal rights etc. without realizing that what they are calling for is not equal at all. Anyway, I eventually realized, through increasing common sense and quite a bit of reading about history, that the news was giving me a distorted and myopic world-view and that I couldn’t necessarily trust what I heard. Of course, now I’m a bitter and cynical fuddy-duddy, but I feel like less of a dupe.

  9. For the first time in its history America and its allies aren’t fighting a country like Germany, North Korea, North Vietnam. We are fighting an fanatical ideology. A ghost, spirit or poltergeist devoid of mass, living tissue or the ability to be killed in the conventional manner. It’s a whole new concept. The Liberals are in denial and/or want to ‘understand’ and appease the threat. Conservatives want to crush, mash, nuke, decimate and totally destroy the threat, but they still want to use the concepts of fighting a country rather than an ideology. Sorry. Try as you might you can’t kill a misty cloud with one or even a thousand 5.56mm rounds. Until someone gets their head out of their as* and Sh*t together and comes up with a way of countering the propaganda war, which by the way, Osama seems currently to be winning the American people are going to remain divided and eventually the ‘ant’ is gonna topple the ‘Elephant’. And don’t for one minute think it can’t happen!

  10. I believe the following link adds credence to the point that all the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to date and those in the future will never really fully eliminate the threat that Osama poses. Heck, he could even be killed but like the fabled Hydra’s heads cut off one and another takes its place. OK. Admittedly the article has been written by the Associated Press, but it does contain some alarming facts.

  11. This is all hand-wringing. We beat the largest military forces in the world in 4 years and it is supposed to take us longer to subdue some 3rd world puke hole? Give me a break. Americans aren’t stupid. We know when we are being taken for a ride. We’ve spent $600 billion and nearly 4000 lives on this current fiasco. I wonder how far we could have gone toward cutting the terrorists funding source by eliminating our dependance on petroleum with those same resources. Better to let someone else put their life on the line than suffer any inconvenience ourselves. In WW2 they rationed gas for the sake of the troops. We don’t ration anything. Instead we bitch when the price goes up. I still say this is the ‘victory garden’ of the war on terror. If we ever get serious about winning we will start seeing more of these. We will seal our borders. We will take control of our ports. We will quit making this someone else’s war and make it our own.

  12. Studying history is like having zoom lens or a window seat on the Space Shuttle (I was a history major). While sitting at ground level – the Earth appears flat and the center of the universe. As the elevation increases, different patterns become obvious – city, suburb, farm – lakes, rivers, and seas. When you get to orbit, you see that we live on a round water-world that’s not the center of anything. Yes, this is a long test of wills. But soldiers on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan are concerned with their immediate mission, not the orbital view of history. We have to keep both perspectives in mind as we proceed. We can argue whether or not our original invasion of Iraq was a bad idea – we can also debate our involvement in WWI – the debates are equally irrelevant to current policy. Now that we are there, we will either beat the terrorists or lose to them. If we lose, we suffer a tremendous setback in the Long War – significantly delaying our eventual victory or hastening our defeat. Iraq would become a terrorist state controlled by other terrorist states. Forget about future cooperation in the region as our former allies in Iraq are murdered in the streets. Water-hearted Democrats and some Republicans are so selfish and shortsighted they would accept a defeat in order to win the next election. How they would recover from this defeat? They have no answers beyond platitudes like ‘global cooperation,’ and ‘diplomacy.’ In other words, they hope that the terrorists will just leave them alone for a few years and their biggest headache is Social Security bankrupting the country. Their world-view is based on wishful thinking and selfishness and I’ve grown to hate them. They are betraying my children.

  13. It is a huge setback if we lose the war in Iraq, no doubt about that, but if the only alternative is to lose more men with no end in sight, what’s worse? Is it worse to lose after having expended fewer men and resources or lose having expended more? We have made so many mistakes. I only see one path to success right now and it is through Iran. If we went into Iran from Iraq and did to Iran what we should have done to Iraq, then we could put an end to the shooting part of this war. The fact is, though, we aren’t going to do that. So what’s the other option? Stay the course? We’ve already provided Al Quada with all the propoganda they need to have built back up to 9/11 levels. Are we going to help them out some more? If we’re not going to fight to win, then let’s do what we can here at home to fight the war on terror. Let’s fight it the way we eventually won the cold war, economically. Let’s put on a major push to get off of oil and starve the problem. Let’s do something to win. Losing is not an option and that’s what we are doing now. ‘Stay the course’ is losing.

  14. Dfens – I agree with you – I would gladly buy an electric car for my commute. Like this one preferably: The feds and states should get many new nuclear plants built, get the disposal center in Nevada running, and drop all taxes on electricity (about half your current bill). Since it would require foresight and balls, it will never happen.

  15. How is going to Iran going to stop Al Qaeda? I don’t see that stopping the muslims already in the west from carrying out terrorist acts. They are exploiting our society’s openness and shoddy immigration laws. I just can’t believe what is happening to Great Britain. I do agree with you on the alternative energy solution. With all the money we have spent, we could have funded a ‘manhattan project’ or ‘moon walk’ to come up with a practical alternative. It’s mind boggling to think of the money we would save if we were off oil. I think about 1/3 of our annual trade deficit, around $300 billion, are dollars leaving the US for oil imports.

  16. Pushing over the current Iranian regime (preferably without direct intervention) would get rid of a serious sponsor of terrorism. No single battle or place will end the fight.

  17. Yeah, I like the Tesla! There’s no reason electric has to mean ugly. I rode to lunch in a friend’s hybrid Civic today. It was a nice car. Not noticably slow or otherwise cantankerous. As for Iran, the other benefit to stomping their guts out would be the simple fact that people would be much less likely to screw with us. That’s just simple playground science there. They might not like you any better, but they sure as hell think twice before doing anything about it. But like I said, since we’re not going to do that, then what’s the next option? If you take losing off the table, which is what the liberals seem to prefer, then all you’ve got left is economics. Sanctions obviously aren’t working out for us, so I see only one thing we can do unilaterally, which is to get off oil.

  18. toejam, I read the article you linked. Unfortunately, it is not surprising al qaeda and bin laden have not been adequately engaged. Read the PNAC letter to Bush written 9 days after 9-11. Bin Laden only had 2 sentences devoted to him. I don’t know if Bush took their advice, but it would help explain why al qaeda is back to their pre 9/11 strength.

  19. KTLA- You’re not a tree-hugger for not wanting to kill a few million people. You’re a decent human being. But I don’t think the terrorists would be gleefully watching television, because the EMP pulse that would go off above their heads right before the shock/blast wave hit them would fry their electronics. If the terrorists are Sunnis, target a majority Sunni city, et al. No, I don’t think the radiation poisioned people would turn on anyone. But the images of them would be played across televisions worldwide, showing everyone what happens. 100 more tourists die, a hundred more bombs are launched. Eventually, they’d get the point. Militaries of the world be damned. Spend time and money on getting us off of foreign oil and we won’t have to care anymore. At least, not until the next Hitler arises. Taking out an airport would spin a region toward isolation and poverty, just another price they have to pay. I think that if we made the price so high, the ‘them’ that you’re talking about would be pushed out of any country or religion that’s currently letting them walk freely down their streets. I feel that a nation must police its own. It’s not our job to be the police force of the world. If the community at large are letting these terrorists stay, but not helping them in anyway, they are just as guilty. We hurt them enough that the terrorists have no safe haven anymore, they are expelled. We are being way too light handed. Our blood is being spilt. I’ve seen it. I’ve been over there, and I’m going back as a member of the US military. When do we say, ‘Enough is enough?’ I say now. I say be the damn step-father that beats his rowdy red-headed step-child that these backward individuals seem to like being. They were nomadic goat herders who’ve struck oil and they’re all trying to grab a piece of the pie, while thinking that they can impose their will on us. On US???? Hell no. I’ll leave you with another quote from the movie ‘Syriana’ ‘But what do you need a financial advisor for? Twenty years ago you had the highest Gross National Product in the world, now you’re tied with Albania. Your second largest export is secondhand goods, closely followed by dates which you’re losing five cents a pound on… You know what the business community thinks of you? They think that a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other’s heads off and that’s where you’ll be in another hundred years, so on behalf of my firm I accept your offer.’

  20. As an individual who is actually in Iraq and fighting the war I can say that it is a war for people. The bad guys may say that this is a Jihad, but its really about power. They want to tell you what to do, how to dress and where to live. I have a good number of examples in the villages we have recently liberated from these terrorists due to the surge. We have found Al Qaeda courthouses and torture chambers and stories from the victims. I have no doubt that if we were not fighting them here, they would be in the U.S. trying to do the same thing. So I feel better fighting them here then in my hometown.