Wretchard has an insightful post discussing the meta view of the war. He concludes:
Ledeen’s boilerplate closing ‘Faster. Please.’ is less a demand for reckless adventure than a warning against stasis. One of the reasons the Cold War lasted so long was that the United States could muster neither the will nor the method to undermine Communism’s strategic rear in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union. It was content, for the most part, to embark on a strategy of containment by challenging its foe on circumscribed battlefields lest things ‘escalate’, where it typically won, at least in the military sense. The historical Communist response was counterattack on the domestic American political front, a strategy which, until Ronald Reagan, proved largely successful. The deep seated Leftist belief that ‘Time is not on America’s side” arises from the conviction that that no series of foreign military victories can offset a determined depiction of defeat at home. For it is not only America, but terrorism and before it Communism, which wields the weapon of the ‘deep strike’. Its goal is identically to destroy the fabric on which America’s war-making potential rests and it succeeded once in Vietnam. The challenge then, is for America to find ways to dramatically speed up the collapse of the despotic systems from which the enemy draws his strength. This is far from impossible. Only a small fraction of America’s strength consists of direct military power and only a small fraction of that military power has been employed against the enemy. By any accounting, the US is still only fighting the War on Terror with its little finger. But it will require creative strategic thinking to mobilize and employ the untapped wellsprings of the nation’s strength. US troops in Iraq are doing well. But the nation owes them better than use them to attrit the enemy. Faster. Please.
I think Wretchard frames the issues accurately. It is tempting to think we will muddle through in realpolitik fashion and reach some kind of accommodation with the Iranian mullahs. They will have nuclear weapons but we will be OK, because they won’t dare to use them, because we would respond with overwhelming force, etc.
That’s wrong. We already tried containment and it didn’t work. For years we were attacked by terrorists and looked the other way, or interpreted the attacks as criminal in nature (and therefore lacking in broader geopolitical implications), or rationalized non- or token reactions. The attacks were trivial in the scheme of things, but our enemies interpreted our responses as weakness and repaid us with Sept. 11. (That their interpretations of our behavior were wildly inaccurate made everything worse. Disarmament enthusiasts are always fretting about warmongers on their own side, but in reality having a reputation as a country that won’t fight is much more likely to lead to war.)
A policy of containment by us, toward Iran, now, would be interpreted by Iran and our other enemies as weakness. Sure, there are good reasons for us not to expand our military operations now: we’re overstretched on personnel, lots of our people are being killed and maimed, it’s difficult enough to be involved in the places where we already are. But the bottom line is that the mullahs interpret our willingness to fight as strength and any sign that we are backing away from a fight, or from our stated commitments, as weakness.
Bush laid down a marker in his Sept. 20, 2001 speech. He said that governments are either with us or with the terrorists. I think he was right, and I think we will not have won this war until the governments that are with the terrorists are either reformed or replaced. But it’s been several years, and we are approaching a point, if we haven’t already passed it, where our fastidiousness in conducting this war begins to appear as weakness to our enemies. Cleaning up Afghanistan and Iraq and getting out, and relying on a policy of containment to deter subsequent threats, in my view raises the risk of continued struggle and, in the longer term, nuclear attacks on western cities.
Israel blundered by withdrawing from Lebanon — probably a good idea in principle — at the wrong time. The Israeli govt rationalized the withdrawal in terms that made sense according to its internal logic. The problem is that Israel’s enemies followed a different logic and interpreted the withdrawal as a surrender. If we try too hard to reach an accommodation with Iran, without first defeating/replacing its govt, the Iranians (and Syrians, North Koreans and others) are likely to interpret our action as a victory for them. We must avoid such an outcome.