The Problem: We Aren’t Serious

Glenn Reynolds (and Mohammed) and TM Lutas are both right: the USA has lost momentum in the war AND the USA is doing the best it can. There is no contradiction. The problem is not military but political. The Bush administration lacks sufficient domestic support to prosecute the war at the pace favored by those of us who think Syria and Iran should be next (and should have been next a long time ago). We lack the resources to do much more than we are doing.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this situation. Bush and his staff must be faulted for their chronic ineptitude at explaining his program to the American people, and for not doing much to compensate for the President’s known rhetorical weakness. He means well but he could have done much more to get the message out. The Democratic leadership must be faulted for its cynicism and intellectual corruption in lying about the war, and about its own previously held positions, in order to divide Americans and enhance its own political leverage at a time of national crisis. Congressional Republicans must be faulted for spending recklessly on all kinds of frivolous junk instead of concentrating on winning the war. (Why not cut some of that pork and instead allocate the funds to increased troop levels and more armored vehicles — so that we won’t have to ignore Iran because we’re already maxed out in Iraq? Those are the kinds of earmarks many of us could support.) And a plurality of American voters must be faulted for insisting on business as usual from our elected representatives instead of demanding bipartisan support to win the war. Too many of us have deluded ourselves into believing that our national problem with Islamic extremism will go away if we hunker down and stop poking the hornets’ nest. It won’t: the Islamists always interpret any hunkering down by us or our allies as weakness.

Time is not on our side. How many Pearl Harbors will it take for us to become serious about winning this war? The sooner we retake the initiative, the better.

19 thoughts on “The Problem: We Aren’t Serious”

  1. Congressional Republicans must be faulted for spending recklessly on all kinds of frivolous junk instead of concentrating on winning the war.

    If $100 billion per year isn’t enough “concentration”, how much did you have in mind?

  2. Jim…”concentrating on winning the war” isn’t just about allocating money; it’s about intelligent management. Congress could make a much more positive contribution, for example, with regard to the smart-ID card program I wrote about last week, instead of exercising an often-negative influence.

  3. I think your analysis is naive on many levels. How realistic is a “war” against Islamism? Seems to me that it’s like the war on drugs. Or poverty. And despite the “moral imperative” invoked to fight them, those battles are all un-win-able. (The war against communism, on the other hand, was a basically a cold one – we beat them economically)

    And more to your point, how realistic was it for the Bush administration to think that it could muster the national support for such a war. They have mis-calculated so many things in this challenge it is astounding. Similarly, it is a mis-calculation, I think, to view Congress as helpful in a war. That group is, in many ways, a deliberate impediment to war.

    Finally, I disagree with your assumption that Arabs will only respond to “power” and that any backing down is a weakness. That path leads to the same thousand year conflict that the hard-headed Israelis and Arabs are engaged in.

    I think the solution looks a little more like the one ultimately used against the Mafia: in the end it was the insiders that brought them down.

  4. Jim Harris:
    I don’t have a number in mind. I think we should spend as much as it takes. We have an enormous economy and are still spending much less on defense, as a % of GNP, than we were during the Cold War. I don’t think money is a constraint here.

    -I think this war becomes more realistic if we define our enemies as terror groups such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad et al, plus the dictatorships that support them: Iran and Syria, mainly. These are defeatable adversaries (and, BTW, I think you don’t give enough credit to our military buildup, particularly our anti-missile program, for helping to win the Cold War).

    -I don’t see why Bush couldn’t have done better if he had had better rhetorical skills. It wasn’t so long ago that Qaddafy turned state’s evidence after we invaded Iraq, for example. How soon we forget the national mood of just three years ago.

    -If you look closely at the conflicts between Israel and the various Arabs I think it’s clear, particularly in the last twenty years, that Arab hostility generally follows periods of Israeli appeasement or inattention to deterrence.

  5. Another contributing factor is the ‘outsourcing’ of telling the story. In WWI and WWII the government made serious efforts to delivery the message. Why We Fight from 1943 –
    In WWII the media, by and large, we’re in the fight with the government. However, since then, the government has either gotten lazy or unwilling. Propaganda is a term that in our culture is treats like a pejorative even though it has no problem disseminating similar materials on behalf of the usual lefty issues, environmentalism, health, etc. Why is editorial and production controls by MSM assumed to deliver the ‘truth’ anymore than the government?

    The way to beat a monopoly is to provide a better product or service, but that takes resources and by all demonstrations of both the White House and DoD, no one has the desire to even ask for what is necessary. When cable supports both a Discovery Military Channel and a History Channel, which daily has some military programming in it, you’d think a Pentagon Channel featuring daily news from the front [you know all the good news not covered in MSM and combat footage made by the troops themselves] would get watched? Its amazing the numerous videos produced by the young troops who are familiar with the technology. Often rough and unpolished, but certainly more in line with communicating with their peers than what we get today with military Public Affairs Offices. They have the people, they lack the will.

    The unwillingness to get into the information fight is just another form of Rules of Engagement in which our side has its hands tied. Clausewitz wrote that war is an extension of politics. The boys at the War Department in 1943 understood that and worked the home front as well. Today the General Officer corps doesn’t want to be bothered with that operation. To repeat, it has outsourced that fight to those who carry no love for them nor their goals. You’d think they’d grasp from Vietnam, that you can win every fight on the battlefield with the enemy army and still lose the war.

  6. I fear that Strauss and Howe have, once again, correctly predicted a trend; despite easily having the resources to drain the swamp in the Muslim world, the US is leaving the job half-done (at best) and nearly ensuring that a much larger war will be fought in another decade or two — one that will actually involve most of this country’s wealth and youth, and that will be duly lamented, by some future Churchill, as the unnecessary war, with its attendant irony: “And so the war became unavoidable or necessary, in the sense of being [the] result of the pattern of unfolding historical events.”

  7. Democracy Now complains Jim Lehrer has too many white, male Republican hawks. I assume some take that seriously, though it hardly seems hawkish to most of us.

    Last night, its Hollywood Warriors (the only segment without audio or transcript) examined how Hollywood gets large effects using the military but at the cost of a “censor.”

    Although presenting both sides, the assumption of some clearly questioned the right of the military to make such demands. This seems a far remove from Don’s point. I am probably overstating, but some would believe the military should be at the service of both the generals and the producers and each should be able to use them as they wish. (“Censorship” has long been used in a bizarro – if not Orwellian – way. Someone denied a grant of government money considers that censorship – an attitude which would, it seems to me, make most of us desire an economic system in which we weren’t at the mercy of bureaucrats.)

    All of which is saying what Jonathan does: The problem is not military but political. On the other hand, the strongest propaganda machine in the world is not likely to gin up much support until Iran or Syria does something even stupider, more vile & more blatant. Some of us may take words seriously, apparently others don’t. They may have to be hit by a 2×4 – something we don’t really want to happen.

    VDH, with his usual power & anger, sees the world with a militancy few can match, but acknowledges that a good proportion of the population is always against a leader when he isn’t winning. And Bush certainly isn’t winning the media and is without a clear win in Iraq.

    The borders of Iraq are a much bigger problem than the borders of America. If we have time, Iraq can serve as model. Iran & Syria, seeing success in working out tribal differences in a poliltical fashion & bordering prosperous economies may be more easily won over. Without that model & that goal, are these truly winnable other than by bombing them back to the Middle Ages way?

    But, again, we Jonathan’s worries: Time is not on our side. And his doubts are reasonable. Maybe seeing Iraq, an Arab state, prosper will work. Of course, it isn’t that the Palestinians haven’t had a prosperous democracy beside them and learned little but to covet for three generations.

  8. You got one thing right: “The problem is not military…” It IS like the War on Drugs, the War on Cancer, and the War on Several Other Nouns, the best outcome will be a nagging chronic condition. There is no military solution but we keep sending these kids into the maw, to the point that even they see the futility of it now. Jim Baker said it well on the Imus show Friday – “You have to talk to your enemies” – and you are saying the President has failed by not talking well enough to his friends?

  9. “You have to talk to your enemies.” Oh? The enemy is very clear what he wants, and I don’t think that is acceptable to us. What terms do you think OBL and Zawahiri will offer that will be reasonable and in our interest? He has no incentive to “talk” because he believes, probably correctly, than he can eventually get everything he wants, on his own terms, with no concessions. And this simply because he knows that he is willing to fight and ultimately we are not.

  10. Ah, yes, “the maw,” beloved of pseudonymous trolls. The maw that has produced casualties equivalent to … the Spanish-American war (except that we now have 3x the population, so it’s 1/3 the per-capita death rate of that walkover). The maw that’s eating up, gosh, three-quarters of one percent of GDP. The maw that has produced record re-enlistment rates. “[E]ven they see the futility of it now …” — I refer you to The Unreality-based Community, above. I’m no supporter of GWB, but I can see how people end up Republican after being exposed to too much “maw”-ist propaganda.

  11. “One of the hardest parts of my job is connecting the war in Iraq to the war on terror.” George W. Bush, Sept. 6, 2006

  12. No real hope for change until the pivotal center left coalition that dominates the cultural elite changes its mind. None.

    This means that we waffle until a really catastrophic attack so angers the population that the zeitgeist changes. Ideally something that is horrible yet is botched so that lives are spared. And better in Canada or France than the US.

    Still, I’m placing my bets that nothing will change until we get half a dozen more 911’s or a suitcase nuke going up in a major city.

  13. Unfortunately, “horrible yet botched” describes 9/11/2001 pretty well. Minor changes in either planning or execution could have multiplied the fatalities that day. Prioritizing delayed casualties over prompt casualties could have produced an attack with an eventual six-figure death toll. Even the same methods but with different targets could have immediately divided rather than (temporarily) united the country.

    If Strauss and Howe are correct, some kind of generational consensus will emerge over the next decade or so, perhaps through (their phrase) “new and seemingly odd alliances.” A lasting, unified response is contingent on the development of that consensus, whatever it may be.

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