The Elusive War
Reader David L. has put together two points of view and put them in a table for contrast. Max Hastings takes the position that the President Bush is fighting against a variety of movements each with different grievances which GWB perversely insists on treating as a unit, called the War on Terror. In reality there is no War on Terror. There is the Palestinian grievance. There are a variety of smaller grievances. And there is a vast sea of normal, largely peaceful Muslims who are being organized by President Bush's mischaracterization as the Enemy Other, which they will eventually become. Michael Ledeen on the other hand, believes that the different conflicts observed in the world today -- Lebanon and Iraq to give two examples -- cannot be understood as purely local phenomena. It is not a case of Nasrallah's grievances or some Sunni tribal grievance. It is about a proxy war which has been raging for nearly three decades which America is only recently acknowledging, even though its authors have been openly boasting about it. Ledeen argues that if we persist on denying the connections exist we will be perversely misunderstanding the nature of the war against us.
|The Real War ... -- National Review Online By Michael Ledeen, August 14, 2006||Bush's belief in a worldwide Islamist conspiracy is foolish and dangerous -- Max Hastings The Guardian, August 14, 2006|
Watching the war in
Lebanon and listening to the debate about it, is just like
watching the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its attendant
debate. Israelis are demanding the resignation of Olmert, just as
Americans are demanding the head of Bush. Israeli military
experts, real and self-proclaimed, are explaining how the Lebanon
war could have been won, if only the ground campaign had started
earlier, or had been more ambitious. American strategists of
varying competence are explaining how the Iraq war could have been
won, if only there were more boots on the ground, or if only a
different strategy had been employed, or if only the Baathist army
had been kept intact.
I think it’s nonsense.
Both campaigns and both debates suffer from the same narrow focus,
the same failure of strategic vision, the same obsession with a
single campaign in a single place, when the war itself — the
real war — is far wider. Our leaders and our pundits are
fighting single battles, and, since their strategies are not
designed to win the real war, they are doomed to fail. The failure
of strategic vision is not unique to politicians, or pundits, or
military strategists; it seems common to them all. It is extremely
rare to hear an authoritative voice addressing the real war.
The terror masters in
Syria and Iran are waging a regional war against us, running from
Afghanistan and Iraq to, Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon. Alongside the
ground war in the Middle East, they are conducting fifth-column
operations against us from Europe to India and on to Indonesia,
Australia, and the United States; the plot just dismantled in
Great Britain provides the latest evidence.
Israel cannot destroy
Hezbollah by fighting in Lebanon alone, just as we cannot provide
Iraq and Afghanistan with decent security by fighting only there.
The destruction of Hezbollah requires regime change in Damascus.
Security in Iraq and Afghanistan requires regime change in
Damascus and Tehran. Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan are not
separate conflicts. They are battlefields in a regional war.
Even if the Israelis had
conducted a brilliant campaign that killed every single Hezbollah
terrorist in Lebanon, it would only have bought time. The Syrians
and Iranians would have restocked, rearmed and resupplied the
Hezbollahis, and prepared for the next battle. But if the Assad
regime were replaced with a government opposed to terrorism and
committed to freedom, Hezbollah would die of logistical
starvation, cut off from money, weapons, training facilities, and
the crucial support of Syrian and Iranian military and
In like manner, even if
we continue to win every battle in every region of Iraq and
Afghanistan, we will only prolong the fighting. The Iranians and
their various allies inside Iraq, from the Baathist remnant to the
Sadrists to Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and other
foreign terrorists, would continue to infiltrate the country, buy
agents within Iraq, develop new generations of IEDs and smuggle
ever more accurate rockets and missiles to use against us and the
Iraqi forces of order. They will do the same in Afghanistan. But
if the mullahcracy is replaced by a government empowered by the
tens of millions of pro-American and pro-democracy people now
oppressed by the evil terror masters in Tehran, the fight in Iraq
and Afghanistan would be quickly transformed into a manageable
operation with the balance of power overwhelmingly on the side of
The longer we wait, the
larger the real war becomes. Iran has been at war with us for 27
years and we have yet to respond. As time passes, and our
fecklessness is confirmed, the mullahs’ confidence grows. Surely
they must believe that their moment has come, that we will never
respond, that they can bloody us and force us to retreat. That is
the clear lesson of Lebanon, and they are undoubtedly raising the
stakes for the next round. The Iranian missiles used against
Israeli warships off the coast of Lebanon are now pouring into
Somalia, and will be used against our ships in one of the most
strategically sensitive areas of the world economy. The
clandestine network rolled up in London surely extends to this
country, and it is only a matter of time until they get lucky.
Just a few weeks ago, the Germans fortunately discovered powerful
bombs on their railroads. The French found similar weapons a
couple of years ago. The Italians have arrested 40 people, are
expelling many others, and have more than a thousand under
These are the outlines of
future events in the real war. We have a president who, despite
his many weaknesses, speaks as if he understands it. But we have a
secretary of state who speaks and acts as if she did not, a
secretary of defense who has manifestly failed to grasp the true
strategic dimensions of our peril, and an intelligence community
that is still obsessed with the failed theories of the recent
past, notably the nonsense about the unbridgeable Sunni-Shiite
conflict. The president has finally begun to speak the truth about
Islamic fascists, but he has yet to level with the American people
about the magnitude of the real war, and ask them to support a
strategy for victory.
That strategy does not,
even today, require greatly expanded military action against the
terror masters. Our most potent weapon against them remains the
rage and courage of their own peoples. We must support those
people, we must openly call and work for regime change in Syria
and Iran. Heartbreakingly and foolishly, our failure to support
revolution makes military action more and more likely. If we do
not do the logical and sensible things, if we do not deploy the
massive political weapons at our disposal, we will end by doing
terrible things. Or, shrinking from the consequences of such
action, we will suffer defeat, and the world will be plunged into
a darkness the likes of which any civilized person must dread.
George Bush sometimes
sounds more like the Mahdi, preaching jihad against infidels, than
the leader of a western democracy. In his regular radio address to
the American people on Saturday he linked the British alleged
aircraft plotters with Hizbullah in Lebanon, and these in turn
with the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All, said the president
of the world's most powerful nation, share a "totalitarian
ideology", and a desire to "establish a safe haven from
which to attack free nations". Bush's remarks put me in mind
of a proverb attributed to Ali ibn Abu Talib: "He who has a
thousand friends has not a friend to spare, and he who has one
enemy will meet him everywhere."
In the United States a
disturbingly large minority of people - polls suggest around 40% -
remain willing to accept Bush's assertions that Americans and
their allies, which chiefly means the British, are faced with a
single global conspiracy by Islamic fundamentalists to destroy our
In less credulous Britain
one could nowadays fit into an old-fashioned telephone box those
who believe anything Bush or Tony Blair says about foreign policy.
Many of us are consumed with frustration. We know that we face a
real threat from Muslim fundamentalists, and that we are unlikely
to begin to defeat this until we see it for what it is: something
infinitely more complex, diffuse and nuanced than the US president
wishes to suppose.
There is indeed a common
strand in the anger of Muslim radicals in many countries. They are
frustrated by the cultural, economic and political dominance of
the west, whose values they find abhorrent. In some, bitterness is
increased by awareness of the relative failure of their own
societies, which they blame on the west rather than their own
They turn to violence in
the spirit that has inspired fringe groups of revolutionaries
through the ages. It is essential for the western democracies to
defend themselves vigorously against such people, whose values and
purposes are nihilistic. We must never lose sight of the fact that
al-Qaida's terrorists attacked the twin towers on 9/11 before Bush
began his reckless crusade, before the coalition went into
Afghanistan and Iraq, before Israel entered Lebanon.
In September 2001, most
of the world clearly perceived that a monstrous crime had been
committed against the United States, and that the defeat of al-Qaida
was essential to global security. While many ordinary Muslims were
by no means sorry to see American hubris punished, grassroots
support for Osama bin Laden was still small, and remained so
through the invasion of Afghanistan.
Today, of course,
everything has changed. In the eyes of many Muslims, the actions
of Bush and Blair have promoted and legitimised al-Qaida in a
fashion even its founder could hardly have anticipated a decade
Bush has chosen to lump
together all violent Muslim opposition to what he perceives as
western interests everywhere in the world, as part of a single
conspiracy. He is indifferent to the huge variance of interests
that drives the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Iraq, Hamas
and Hizbullah fighting the Israelis. He simply identifies them as
common enemies of the United States.
Almost three years ago he
contemptuously challenged the Iraqi insurgents to defy American
will: "My answer is - bring 'em on." Today he has
widened this bold defiance to embrace a vastly more ambitious
range of foes: "He who has one enemy will meet him
Far from acknowledging
that any successful strategy for addressing Muslim radicalism must
include a just outcome for the Palestinians, he endorses Israel's
attempt to crush them and their supporters by force of arms alone,
together with Israeli expansion on the West Bank. The west faces
the probable defeat of its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, a
worthy objective, because of the likely failure of its campaign in
Iraq, which began on false pretexts.
There is no chance that
the west will get anywhere with the Muslim world until the US
government is willing to disassemble a spread of grievances in
widely diverse societies, examine them as separate components, and
treat each on its merits. America cannot prevail through the mere
deployment of superior wealth and military power, the failure of
which is manifest. Judicious and discriminatory political
judgments are fundamental, and today quite lacking.
The madness of Bush's
policy is that he has made a wilful choice to amalgamate the
grossly irrational, totalitarian and homicidal objectives of al-Qaida
with the just claims of Palestinians and grievances of Iraqis. His
remarks on Saturday invite Muslims who sympathise with Hamas or
reject Iraq's occupation or merely aspire to grow opium in
Afghanistan to make common cause with Bin Laden.
If the United States
insists upon regarding all Muslim opponents of its foreign
policies as a homogeneous enemy then that is what they become. The
Muslim radicals' "single narrative" portrays the entire
course of history as a Christian and Jewish plot against Islam.
It is widely agreed among
western governments and intelligence agencies that, in order to
defeat the pernicious spread of such nonsense, a convincing
counter-narrative is needed. Yet it becomes a trifle difficult to
compose this when the US president promulgates his own single
narrative, almost as ridiculous as that of al-Qaida.
Whatever the truth about
last week's frustrated aircraft bomb plot, we cannot doubt that
Britain faces a serious and ongoing threat from violent fanatics
undeserving of the smallest sympathy. Yet we shall defeat them
only when our Muslim community at large perceives that its
interests are identified with Britain's polity.
This objective will
remain elusive as long as the British government supports the
United States in pursuing policies that many Muslims perceive as
directed against their entire culture. You and I know that this is
not so. We are as dismayed as they are by Bush and Blair's
Yet, however eloquently
we explain this, many Muslims respond by pointing to the spectacle
of American, Israeli and British troops daily executing operations
that the president declares to be in furtherance of his global
jihad. It avails little that we know our boys in Afghanistan are
pursuing infinitely more admirable purposes than the Israelis in
Lebanon, when Bush is telling the world that the two conflicts are
mere different fronts in a common struggle.
Tony Blair - "waist
deep in the big muddy", as Pete Seeger used to sing about
Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam era - clings to a messianic
conviction that he must continue to endorse American statements
and policies to maintain his restraining influence on George Bush.
This invites speculation about what the president might do if Tony
was not at his elbow. Seize Mecca?
The west faces a threat from violent Muslim fundamentalists that would have existed even if a Lincoln had been presiding at the White House. As a citizen, I am willing to be resolute in the face of terrorism, which must be defeated. I become much less happy about the prospect of immolation, however, when Bush and Blair translate what should be an ironclad case for civilised values into an agenda of their own which I want no part of.
Max Hasting's striking phrase "yet we shall defeat them only when our Muslim community at large perceives that its interests are identified with Britain's polity" is as clever a case for surrender as I've ever heard. What of Britain's interests, the ones which presumably include Hindus, ethnic Europeans, Chinese and Jews. Might one not make an equal argument for saying that Britain's policy should never rest easy until it satisfies them too? And should those conflict with the interests of "our Muslim community" then is it simply a matter of satisfying the most violent petitioners?
Michael Ledeen's argument on the other hand, has but two actors in its cast of characters yet the stage seems crowded with others. Are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia innocent bystanders? And what role does Islam play in this drama? Comment faster please.