It’s coming. That’s the opinion of columnist Robert Novak.
I heard Novak give a tribute at Phyllis Schlafly’s 80th birthday on September 18. Phyllis looks pretty much the same as she did 25 years ago. She sounds the same. She looks about my age. OK, maybe a bit younger. It was unnerving.
Novak made it clear in his speech that he expects Bush to win, and that he favors this outcome. He also said that he has learned from talking with Kerry’s staffers that they are convinced that Hillary will get the nomination in 2008 if Kerry loses, which they think will lead to a Republican victory, maybe for several Presidential elections.
That’s too far in the future for me to worry about. But Novak is as savvy a political columnist as any I read. So, when he, as a partisan Republican, writes about imminent Republican policies, I pay attention.
“DECLARE A VICTORY AND WITHDRAW”
That was Senator George Aiken’s advice to President Johnson regarding Vietnam in 1967. It was ignored. His phrase has remained part of the country’s vocabulary.
Eventually, we withdrew. There was no pretense of victory. We suffered a clean-cut defeat. A bunch of men in black pajamas beat us.
Desert Storm in 1991 was supposed to have been the American military’s liberation from the shadow of a defeat in Vietnam. It wasn’t. It was a war not fought to completion — no occupation of the defeated country. It was fought in the open desert, where modern high-tech military weaponry works: no place for enemy troops to hide. That was a strategic fluke. No enemy will ever fight that kind of war again against a modern military force. Instead, the enemy will be plural. They will fight the kind of war that Iraq’s militants are fighting today: a war with no head of state to surrender.
This is Fourth Generation warfare. William Lind has written a lot about this. It is the warfare of the future, the hit-and-run warfare of Fallujah.
A recent article in The Guardian cited military strategists on the deterioration of the position of the military in Iraq. One of the critics is Marine General Joseph Hoare, who is the former Chief of the US Central Command.
The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We’re conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It’s so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong.
Urban warfare has replaced Vietnam’s jungle warfare, but the strategic question is the same. How does a conventional military force with very long supply lines defeat a nationalist guerilla force that can recruit from a growing number of alienated locals, who shelter the guerrillas? That was the question the Russians faced in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Their military defeat cost them their empire. They are still facing this strategic problem in Chechnya. They have come up with no solution, despite far shorter supply lines.
We finally pulled out of Vietnam. The public would tolerate the war no longer. The guerrillas wore down the public’s will to pursue victory. Novak says that plans are now being made at the highest level to pull out of Iraq next year.
Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.
Could he be correct? He has looked at the three alternatives, and he says the third is most likely.
Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.
Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush’s decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials.
The same three options will face Kerry if he is elected, Novak says. He thinks Kerry will also choose the third option.
The reality of hard decisions ahead is obscured by blather on both sides in a presidential campaign. Six weeks before the election, Bush cannot be expected to admit even the possibility of a quick withdrawal. Sen. John Kerry’s political aides, still languishing in fantastic speculation about European troops to the rescue, do not even ponder a quick exit. But Kerry supporters with foreign policy experience speculate that if elected, their candidate would take the same escape route.
The political problem facing either man in 2005 will be the same. Both have said that it was right to invade Iraq. Each has said that his plan will work to bring democracy to Iraq. Bush has said that a democratic Iraq will serve as a beacon for other Islamic states in the region. He told the U.N., “We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations.” This assertion is looking less plausible every day. The opposite looks true: Iraq’s lack of democracy will stand as a beacon for Islamic radicals throughout the region.
Novak doesn’t mention it, but there is a major piece of evidence pointing to withdrawal next year: the absence of Donald Rumsfeld from TV screens ever since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. He was on screen constantly in March, 2003. This year, he has been invisible. He, above all of the Administration’s officials, is most closely associated with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He is almost as absent today as Baghdad Bob, and for the same reason. Like Baghdad Bob, he is facing early retirement.
Even after our troops leave, the costs of the invasion will remain. Iraq will become a foreign aid sinkhole.
Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting.
But a problem will remain, foreign aid or no foreign aid.
Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out.
Is Bush this resolute? Novak thinks not. Would Kerry be this resolute? Kerry has called for additional troops as a military solution — though not lately. So has the Democrats’ ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden. This would require the re-institution of the draft. But it is politically inconceivable that Kerry would re-institute the draft. This would go against his entire political career, not to mention his constituency. The Republicans would fight him in Congress as a partisan defensive operation. So would enough Democrats to block the bill.
If a President tries to re-instate the draft, soccer moms will go into political lock-and-load.
Meanwhile, the government has re-established the draft for the volunteer forces. Volunteers who signed up for a fixed term are not being allowed to quit. This sends a clear message to would-be volunteers: “Don’t sign on the dotted line. The contract will not be honored.” A contract that can be unilaterally violated is not a contract. It’s a surrender of one’s liberty. Recruiting has failed to provide sufficient troops. This is why the Army is redeploying troops from South Korea and elsewhere.
Kerry has said nothing specific about what he plans to do militarily in 2005. He is a mush-mouth, unlike Howard Dean, who called for withdrawal. He is looking more and more like Wendell Wilkie, the Republican mush-mouth who ran against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 on a platform of internationalism.
The Kerry campaign, realizing that its only hope is to attack Bush for his Iraq policy, is not equipped to make sober evaluations of Iraq. When I asked a Kerry political aide what his candidate would do in Iraq, he could do no better than repeat the old saw that help is on the way from European troops. Kerry’s foreign policy advisers know there will be no release from that quarter.
SPEAKING LOUDLY AND CARRYING A WEAK REED
The cost of the Iraq war keeps rising. Attacks on Iraq’s oil pipelines take place almost daily. The American-appointed government in Iraq does not possess national legitimacy. Guerilla attacks on our troops and Iraqi civilians are continual. Car bombings — the cultural innovation of the Irish Republican Army in 1972 — take place daily. Terrorism is growing.
There was a once-popular argument that by taking the war to Iraq, the President was keeping terrorists away from our shores. The President invoked it again in his speech to the United Nations on September 21. “Coalition forces now serving in Iraq are confronting the terrorists and foreign fighters so peaceful nations around the world would never have to face them within our own borders.” But what happens if the United States retreats, visibly beaten? No one is talking about this. Yet from the beginning, this was the crucial strategic question.
On September 17, 2001, my analysis of the projected invasion of Afghanistan was published on Lew Rockwell’s site. I saw the invasion as a strategic mistake because no nation has ever conquered Afghanistan. At best, an occupying force can control Kabul, as the Soviet Union did, but it cannot control the countryside, where warlords are in control. Today, the warlords are once again in control in the countryside, now that the Taliban is out of power. They make their money from the drug trade. The planting of opium poppies is now at pre-Taliban levels. The Taliban had forced drastic reductions in opium production. This cut the income of farmers, so the U.S. government paid $43 million to the Taliban government in May, 2001. That brought foreign aid to Afghanistan to $124 million for the year.
I wrote that our invasion would subsidize bin Laden’s recruiting program.
A terrorist group needs recruits. A terrorist movement needs recruits. If your strategy of terror involves the extensive use of suicide missions, you need very dedicated recruits.
To get such recruits, you need the following: (1) a cause that is greater than any individual; (2) a sense of destiny associated with your cause; (3) the perception that a sacrificial act on behalf of your cause is never wasted or futile; (4) a vision of victory; (5) publicly visible events that demonstrate the power of your movement.
From what little I have read about Osama bin Laden, his movement possesses all five factors. He is especially skilled with respect to point five. He understands symbolism, and he understands Western media. This man is a formidable enemy of Western civilization.
I believe that Americans have completely misunderstood the events of 9-11. The attack was not a direct assault on the United States primarily for the sake of making us fearful. It was part of a recruiting campaign.
I have not changed my mind. We read today that recruits are flowing into al Qaeda, despite the arrest of bin Laden’s top subordinates. Al Qaeda is now recruiting non-Arabs, making the infiltration of the United States easier. This became clear with Pakistan’s capture of Mohammed Naeem Khan and his computer in July. The media picked up this story, but they did not headline it. It has faded. In 2001, I wrote:
Acts of terrorism are part of a larger strategy. A government cannot stop all individual acts of terrorism. A government’s task is to thwart the larger strategy. It can do this two ways: provide widespread justice, thereby strengthening the resiliency and legitimacy of the society, or else adopt ruthless counter-terrorism. Anything in between will fail, once a society becomes a target of terrorists. Think of Nicholas II. Think of Louis XVI.
The acts of 9-11 were symbolic attacks on American finance capital (the towers) and American military might (the Pentagon). The terrorists knew better than to imagine that a nation can be undermined by terror alone, especially terror that hits only sporadically. They were making a statement: America’s government cannot protect its people or itself from men who are willing to die. This statement was primarily for the folks back home, not for us. The message is this: if you are willing to die, you can help undermine the Great Satan’s seeming indestructibility. I am convinced that this attack was part of a recruiting program.
The problem for any military invader of Afghanistan is that the troops cannot control the territory outside major cities. This is doubly true in this war, because most of the troops have been sent to Iraq, but I did not forecast this in 2001.
Bin Laden got exactly what every strategic terrorist wants. He got the enemy government to escalate a war which the terrorists inherently control, for they pick the battlefields, the weapons, and the escape routes. The terrorists establish the terms of engagement. The initiative lies with the terrorists. The government reacts.
We will be victorious, Congressmen assured us, one by one, on C-Span, in their speeches on September 14. Well, politicians also tell us there will be meaningful tax reform. There hasn’t been for twenty years. They tell us Social Security is solvent. It isn’t. They tell us there are trust funds with money in them. There aren’t. Now they tell us that bin Laden is as good as dead. He isn’t.
Our military defeated the Taliban, but in doing so, it turned the country back over to the warlords. Bin Laden escaped, or seemed to. If he is dead, his name is still a force to be reckoned with. He remains alive in the minds of the recruits.
Our politicians threw down a verbal gauntlet. It was a very risky gauntlet. Its success depends on the ability of U.S. forces to maintain control on the ground.
I have never heard such rhetoric as I heard on C-Span regarding the President’s authorization to use all resources to strike against terrorism. In one-minute segments, Congressmen and Congresswomen kept saying that we will impose our power to show the terrorists that we are strong. The problem is, if we don’t get them, this will expose us as weak. Bluster is a liability. “Speak softly and carry a big stick” is more than a slogan; it is a strategy for keeping enemies off balance. Now we have thrown down the verbal gauntlet. We have said that we will get them. If we fail, it will make the terrorists even bolder.
With respect to bin Laden, our leaders speak loudly and carry a weak reed. Loud talk will not do us any good. “We are coming after you, and the fury of hell is coming with us,” one Georgia Congressmen said on the floor of the House on September 14. He pretended to direct his remarks to bin Laden. In fact, they were for his constituents. It would be best to link our cause to a likely outcome. It would also be wise not to link our fury with hell’s. To invoke hell as your model when you are challenging a Muslim terrorist group is not the best way to get your message across to a Muslim nation that your military strategy requires to provide a base of operations.
Rhetoric can backfire. If reality fails to conform to rhetoric, the recruits will grow bolder. Better to speak softly and carry a big stick than to speak loudly and carry a weak reed.
If bin Laden did it, then he is recruiting. Even if he didn’t do it, he is recruiting. He has taken the initiative. This is a classic terrorist operation. The model goes back at least to the Russian terrorists of the nineteenth century. We have seen it all before, or at least historians have. America is reacting predictably. Except for widespread public prayer, ours has been the classic response to classic terrorism.
It is the response which the terrorists work hard to achieve. The man who understood this best was the non-violent revolutionary, Saul Alinsky. He provided the slogan that encapsulates the revolutionary’s strategy: “The action is in the reaction.”
The action today is in the streets of Iraq’s cities. The initiative is being taken by the insurgents. What was a reaction — defensive operations by guerrillas — has become the action. This was predictable. As I wrote:
The terrorists establish the terms of engagement. The initiative lies with the terrorists. The government reacts.
We are now the government. We react. The insurgents have established the terms of engagement.
Novak believes that the President will remove our troops from Iraq in 2005. If he proves to be correct, then we can expect escalating violence in the region against Western-linked Arab rulers. The Saudi family will be in a difficult position.
The flow of oil is what it’s all about in the region — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in the emirates. It’s why we are there. It’s why we are building 14 permanent bases in Iraq. But how permanent are they? They are no more permanent than the American voters’ will to impose military force of guerrillas, with no hope of victory.
We have pulled our forces out of Saudi Arabia, as bin Laden demanded from the beginning. We are now on the defensive in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is costing American taxpayers billions of dollars a month. More to the point, it is costing American lives, day after day, like the drip, drip, drip of the famous Chinese water torture. But the liquid is blood.
I think Novak is right. By the end of 2005, most U.S. troops will be out of Iraq. But the flow of oil from Iraq will remain at pre-invasion levels. The insurgents know the soft underbelly of the West: oil. The pipeline bombings will continue.
The terrorists will be the winners. They will de-stabilize the entire region. That was my fear in 2001. It remains my fear today. If we depart, they will have proved their point: the West is weak. It has no will to resist. This is the great psychological goal of every violent resistance movement: to erode the enemy’s will to resist. Islamic terrorists are worse in this regard. There is religion involved.
If it really is true that our troops have tied down the terrorists in Iraq, which so far appears to be the case, what happens after our troops are brought home?
Nobody is talking about this. That’s because it’s a Presidential election year. Politicians do not talk about specific solutions to politically unsolvable issues in Presidential election years.
Bush, like Kerry, has now officially placed this nation’s hopes on the United Nations. He said in his speech, after calling for a new round of government funding for democracy, which he has promised to initiate with American taxpayers’ money,
History will honor the high ideals of this organization. The Charter states them with clarity: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, to promote social progress and better standards of life and larger freedom.
I remain skeptical. Betting on the UN is like betting on the Italian Army.
The days of cheap energy have come to a close. We must adjust to this.
September 30, 2004
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