- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

Just when we need creative solutions and new strategies to fight global terrorism, we’re getting political posturing for the 2008 presidential election.

Both sides are a little bit guilty of this: The Congress passed a war funding Bill any president would have vetoed because it interfered with presidential prerogatives as commander in chief. The administration says it is looking for a “war czar” to coordinate the war-related efforts of the State and Defense Departments, an odd idea that critics say looks like part of an exit plan — a political “hand-off” of an increasingly unpopular war.

Neither effort is likely to address the fundamental policy issues raised by the war in Iraq or the larger “war on terrorism.” What’s wrong with our efforts isn’t a matter of exit dates or more coordination — though better coordination is almost always a good thing. The problem is our basic strategy for the war on terror is flawed — this is an extremely dangerous situation and can only encourage further terrorist attacks on us, attacks al Qaeda described recently as “on a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

In fact, here is the very scary proposition: We could fail in Iraq — and in the larger “war on terror” — unless we change our basic strategy to target the various strategic components (financial, political and logistic) that terrorism needs for its continued operational success. However, so far we have mostly fought terrorism using traditional counterinsurgency strategies, with only mixed success. Not surprisingly, Americans have tired of this.

Some history is instructive: World War II was a massive logistic endeavor for us and cost thousands of lives, but it was mostly over in four-plus years — in Europe, just 18 months after D-Day — and we clearly won it. The war in Iraq has already gone that long with no possibility for a “military victory” (according to Henry Kissinger, who learned it firsthand in the 1970s) even though “victory” is still the word of choice used by the administration to describe our goal there.

The war in Korea ended in a stalemate that continues to this day. By many objective measures, we lost the war in Vietnam and at the same time showed anyone interested exactly how to beat us. And the Vietnam War answered this question: Do we have the stomach and patience to fight an insurgency to a successful conclusion? Regardless of whether we should have, the warring factions in Iraq have determined we don’t.

Lesson? Americans are impatient: We only give our political leaderships so much time to win a war — any war — and we had better win this one soon.

The new strategy: The September 11, 2001, attack was an asymmetric attack on us. Should we have responded with say, a withering — perhaps asymmetric — strike on the leadership or infrastructure of the countries we know sponsor terror, despite lack of a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the September 11 attack?

This strategy would assume we may never have a direct cause-and-effect relationship when terrorists strike us. In fact, it is often the trademark of terrorist attack against us that the responsibility for it is “stateless” — so we will not be sure whom to blame. This new strategy would blame the most likely state sponsors of the terror and take action against them.

“Impossible” you might say: The United States has never engaged in asymmetric warfare and never will — this because it’s impossible for a democracy like ours to conduct war other than “by the rules.” By the way, the obvious implication of this idiom explains why asymmetric warfare is so often used against us: Because it has proven so effective and because opposing us conventionally would result in certain defeat — witness the two “conventional” wars in Iraq.

But we have used asymmetric warfare — we used it to end World War II in the Pacific against an increasingly radical, irrational and desperate enemy who refused to capitulate, employing human wave and suicide attacks against us. So, “can we do it” is probably the wrong question, especially against an enemy who has chosen asymmetric warfare as its primary means of military operations against us, and against enemies who have sworn to kill us all, young and old, Democrat or Republican, and who are willing to die trying.

In short, if we truly have had enough of this craziness and want to protect our children and grandchildren against even grander-scale terrorist attacks than those of September 11, we should stop talking about “end games” and “war czars” and dust off some strategic concepts that incorporate these new strategies.

We need make it clear we are tired of counterinsurgency (we clearly are) and intend to hold the leaderships and infrastructures of Iran, Syria, et al., at strategic risk for their support of terrorism — and that this could include asymmetric responses.

Sure we can do it, and in the final analysis we may have no real choice — unless we have become comfortable in the role of the primary target for fanatical terror approved and financed by the various radical, hatemonger, nation-states in the Middle East. And, if you still have reservations about the new strategy, how do you feel about a new attack on the U.S. “on a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki”?

Daniel Gallington is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va.


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