Thursday, July 28, 2005

On the other hand

Now that I've sneered at the fact we're trying to mulligan, I have to point out that I think we NEED to do it. Of course, I've been saying for a long time (as a couple of early posts I brought along to this blog indicate) that while I thought the described strategy for conducting the war on terrorism was good, the execution was terrible. It was flawed in two significant ways, giving us wholly unnecessary handicaps. While I'll specify both flaws in a moment, I can summarize it by saying it appeared the administration expected both Afghanistan and Iraq to be replays of Grenada and Panama with a healthy dash of Desert Storm.

The first, and to me most important, flaw is the failure to engage the public will. We were told NOT to expect to sacrifice. "Just do what you normally do, spend money, we'll take care of this little problem." There were occasional notes that the whole war would be a long undertaking, but each phase - Afghanistan, Iraq, [fill in the blank] - would be swift and relatively painless.

On September 12, 2001, President Bush could have announced an expectation of huge deficits, longterm economic stagnation to only be offset by extra effort from everyone, and a need for increasing the military tenfold (by draft if necessary), and over 80% of the nation would have said, "OK." That's what the polls said. Everyone - EVERY US CITIZEN - knew we were at war with someone who'd just "covered" Pearl Harbor. Cinch the belt, put aside the leisure things, and get it done so we can go back to being the nation everyone envies - that's a big reason we ARE the nation everyone envies. er, WERE the nation... I'm not sure it's completely true anymore. Instead, "oh, it's no bother. We've got what we need, we'll just keep you informed as we go along. Just stay on with your normal lives."

Thus the first step (IMO) of this mulligan should be a very difficult thing: "We were wrong., we're going to have to call on the citizenry to sacrifice after all." The difficult thing for this administration appears to be saying, "we were wrong," not calling for others to do and give. Passing that, though, the rest becomes a gain. Contraintuitively, sacrificing will actually strengthen us. It will engage the national will. Oh, it means things will get tighter scrutiny - especially as its coming out that not only weren't there WMD but that a number of folk in charge saying there were knew otherwise. But that scrutiny's coming anyway. No, the major gain is engaging the national will. Or in corporate speak, getting the public to "buy in to the process."

As I said, though, I think there was a second flaw to be overcome. As it happens, the preliminary information about the new strategic plan indicates the leadership may indeed be in agreement. Basically, there's this failure to recognize that what we're fighting is a global insurgency. It's not a nationstate (or set of nationstates) using this criminal organization as a cutout. Instead, it's this criminal organization that has safe-harbors of one sort or another in a number of nations. Note that I'm using the adjective criminal to mentally separate it from the concept of being a government sponsored organization. It's an NGO with the goal of supplanting governments worldwide. For the Bond fans, it's more SPECTRE than SMERSH. Except that you don't have a in Blofield in charge of it all. In that respect it's more similar to, well, the French Restistance or Russian Partisans of WWII. Many smaller organizations of various sizes, all with an identical macro-objective, but each with its own agenda of subordinate goals.

To counter this will take a great deal of effort. Effort in terms of manpower, brainpower, and money to begin. The various pieces must be identified, isolated, and eradicated. Where they've supplanted all (or most) of the government - such as the Southern Alliance of Afghanistan (aka the Taliban) in 2001/2002 - "simple" and direct military action can be taken to begin with. Where the nation is fairly strong we have to help it (or let it help us) find the cells buried deep within while avoiding turning the nation against us. This is, basically, anti-insurgency. It's just on a larger scale.

One last thing before I go - the reason it's REALLY going to cost a lot in time and effort and money. That's because the nature of the beast is such that we can't just cut it out and walk away. I'm going to compare the situation to a garden. If you want a good garden, you can't just turn the soil and walk away. Heck, you can't even stop after you plant the seeds (and you can't just throw the seeds anywhere, either, not for best results). You need to tend it - to water it, to weed it, to mulch it, to watch for bugs and other problems. Yes, the garden analogy can be carried too far because in the end we DO want to have it stand on its own. But the basic concept still works.

It's going to be work. And we're going to have to quit looking at nations as the villains, and we're going to have to invest our money, our time, and our lives in winning. And if the leaders of this nation fail to tell us we need to do so - indeed, to act as though it's just a setback in another Panama or Grenada or Desert Storm - then we won't invest ourselves. We will not have bought in with the national will. And we'll pay the price.

So on the other hand, the pseudo-mulligan gives us another chance. I find I've no strong confidence that the current administration will use that chance successfully. But I hope....


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