The Taliban Leave a Calling Card
The Taliban spring offensive is here. The AP reports:
The Taliban conducted a raid in Afghanistan's volatile south and took control of a provincial district, killing five people including the district chief and the head of the district police, the deputy governor said Friday.
According to the NATO/ISAF site, Ghazni contains a PRT team and is in the American sector of responsibility.
Ghazni is also in the newest of the ISAF "expansion areas" and may have been one of the most vulnerable.
The incident at Ghazni indicates what radical Islamism thinks is the "winning combination" against Western armies in the field. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have taught them the West is willing to allow them a cross-border sanctuary. From Syria, Iran and Pakistan they can strike at leisure and from there can deny the West a strategic victory for as long as they please. They understand that a strategic victory for the West consists in being able to establish a stable, equitable and prosperous successor regime that will serve as a counterexample to radical Islamism. Iraq taught them it is unnecessary to defeat an opposing Western army so long as they can totally wreck the progress towards a successor regime. For so long as they can make life in the neighboring country a hell on earth their purposes are served. Promoting criminal activity, dealing in drugs, sowing chaos, unrestricted terrorism, sparking civil war -- all of these are acceptable and even lucrative tactics which prevent the emergence of a stable regime.
Unable to create a stable successor regime, the Western opponent is caught between the alternatives of struggling against chaos or leaving the field to Islamists ready to turn their conquered Caliphate into a gigantic terrorist training camp. This choice is stark in Aghanistan because everyone remembers how the Taliban and al-Qaeda once controlled it and know they seek to control it again. Once it was a base for al-Qaeda; and al-Qaeda is determined to get it back. But it is no different anywhere else. In Iraq, with its strategic location and oil wealth, lies a glittering prize ready to be seized; and if the US is unwilling to fight for such a valuable position why should they stand elsewhere?
The US understood from the beginning that tactical victories could never destroy the core of Islamic terrorism. It knew from the beginning that the only chance of beating radical Islamism would be to win a political and ideological victory against it. It gambled that establishing a relatively democratic and prosperous regime in the Middle East would provide a counter-model to the despotic regimes in the area and a viable alternative to radical Islamism. Unfortunately, it seems that Osama Bin Laden was correct in his belief that the West had no stomach for the long struggle. He concluded, after the "Black Hawk Down" incident, that relatively light losses would galvanize antiwar opinion in the West and force a withdrawal. Inflict a long war and losses would be inevitable. Then the tables could be turned and Iraq, rather than being a political and ideological victory for the West could be transformed into its complete opposite: a demonstration of the moral and ideological superiority of of radical Islam.
Now, with a seemingly successful tactical combination in hand to compel a long war in any given place, radical Islamism's prospects of a strategic victory have never been brighter. Everything that has happened in Iraq can be replicated in Afghanistan -- the sanctuaries, the campaign of terror, the cunning public relations offensive in the Western press -- and in any other battlefield which radical Islam wishes to contest.
While political defeatism has played a big part in helping al-Qaeda's strategy to succeed, the truth is that the West has not developed the "combined arms" mix of developmental, political and military approaches that can deny radical Islam the opportunity to inflict a long war in any given place. Radical Islamism has a battlefield model that has been refined over long decades. With it they defeated the French in Algeria. With it they bedeviled, though they have not defeated, the formidable Israelis. With it they have vexed the redoubtable Indians. The Algerians themselves, in common with every other regime in the region, have only partially counteracted Islamic terrorism through brutal methods that Western armies could hardly contemplate. Understood in this context, the US experience in Iraq, though riddled with mistakes, has really been far more successful than one could expect. No other Western country has tried to create a functioning, relatively civil government in the face of a terrorist campaign. At best, previous other efforts were aimed at re-establishing a colonial administration or enforcing an occupation. What General Petraeus is trying to achieve is in terra incognita.
But that stretch of undiscovered country constitutes the single most valuable piece of real estate in the 21st century. America and radical Islam are locked in a battle for the future of Iraq and by extension the Middle East; for Afghanistan and by extension Southwest Asia; for the Horn of Africa and by extension for the vast swath of territory above the Sahara. Billions of people are watching to see what the outcome will be. Watching to see which side can lay claim on the future.
Winston Churchill once described Admiral John Jellicoe, who commanded the fleet on which Britain's life existed as "the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon". Nearly a hundred years later, the West finds itself in the position of the Allies in World War in 1916: 2007 is a year in which there is no definite way to win but a clear and obvious way to lose. The US political system with its power to persist or give up the fight may be only force on earth capable of losing the war in an afternoon. Or at least, make a fair start on the road to loss. The Taliban's Spring Offensive marks the flowering of their hopes. And the West, so far, sees only a withering.