Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A general once said of his own troops that he didn’t know what the enemy thinks of them, “but they scare the hell out of me.” I get that same queasy feeling observing about half of American public opinion and the politicians and journalists who try to shape it. Patriotic bipartisanship seems to be like the cicada: It spent 17 years underground; emerged in public after September 11; fluttered around briefly, and fell to the ground dead and stinking.

Now, less than three years after America began to face down the greatest threat yet to our national survival, not only has half the country given up the fight, but they have closed their eyes to the danger. Having mistakenly called our decision to go to war in Iraq “elective” (i.e., not necessary for our national security), they now mistakenly believe that we can “elect” to lose it without serious consequences. By definition, any politicians proposing to turn Iraq over to the United Nations or other weakling entities are prepared to accept strategic defeat.

Nitwit pundits and Sunday morning television sages, with that fake look of thoughtfulness which is their trademark, talk about an exit strategy — as if it were just one more map quest printout. But any such exit strategy will lead us only on a short path to hell. That is because the essential strategic element in war is to defeat the enemy’s will to win, and accepting anything less than triumph in Iraq will catastrophically embolden the terrorists.

I addressed this reality in a column I published on Aug. 14, 2002 — a full half year before the war started — which I titled “A period of ‘measureless peril’ could be in the offing.” Its central analysis bears repeating today: “On Monday of this week [August 12, 2002], Henry Kissinger endorsed the president’s pre-emptive war strategy In perhaps his most incisive assertion, he justifies ‘bringing matters to a head with Iraq’ for what he calls a ‘generally unstated reason — While long-range American strategy must try to overcome legitimate causes of Islamic resentments, immediate policy must demonstrate that a terrorist challenge produces catastrophic consequences for the perpetrators, as well as their supporters, tacit or explicit.’ In other words, we must break the will and pride of all those in the Islamic world who would dare to terrorize us and the international system.”

My column from Aug. 14, 2002 continued: “It is noteworthy that the Texas-based Strategic Forecasting Co. published on the same day [Aug. 12, 2002] a report that concluded ‘the Bush administration is not abandoning its strategy of war with Iraq because it sees a successful campaign against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a prime way to shatter the psychological advantage within the Islamist movement and demonstrate U.S. power.’ The usually well-sourced Stratfor explains that from the 1973 oil embargo, through the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan, Saddam’s 1991 survival, the U.S. defeat in Somalia to September 11, the centuries-old Islamic sense of impotence has been reversed. In explaining the Bush war aims, they elaborate, Mr. Bush intends to defeat the Islamist sense of their inevitable triumph — to defeat their psychology of manifest destiny.”

I concluded my column from Aug. 14, 2002: “The future the signs suggest we are facing is a violent and perhaps prolonged struggle to defeat the will of an aroused and myriad people. As Winston Churchill warned shortly before World War II, we are moving into a time of ‘measureless peril.’ ”

And, of course, that is exactly where we are today — in the midst of measureless peril. But as lethal and confounding as the terrorist fighters and their allies currently are in Iraq, our greater peril lies within ourselves.

We have the strength — military, economic, cultural, diplomatic, (dare I include the strength of our religious faith, also?) — to persist around the world unto victory — for generations if necessary.

But all this potential capacity for victory can only be brought into full being by a sustained act of collective will. It is heartbreaking, though no longer perplexing, that the president’s political and media opposition want the president’s defeat more than America’s victory. But that is the price we must pay for living in a free country. (Sedition laws almost surely would be found unconstitutional, currently — although things may change after the next terrorist attack in America.)

But even the president’s opponents are not our greatest peril at the moment. The greatest immediate potential danger is a slackening of presidential resolve. President Bush must not hesitate to take all actions with as much force as needed to more fully impose our will in Iraq.

He should not listen to his political advisers — but to his own sound instincts. If he does his bold best in Iraq, the election will take care of itself. America, with the president in the saddle, must re-emerge as the strong horse in the Middle East that bin Laden so fears.

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