Can We Win This War?
September 11, 2001
When we find ourselves in a war we can't win, we must either capitulate or change it to the kind of war we can win.
If we find and destroy the perpetrators, we only make them martyrs and guarantee that others will attack us again. But if we absolutely defeat their goals and punish those who support and protect them, we can put an end to this sort of thing once and for all.
Those who attacked us are not terrorists. They are soldiers, and we are at war.
We have been at war for years, and it has been only the stupidity and selfishness of our leadership and the complacency of the American people that prevented us from recognizing this after the bombings in East Africa or the attack on an American warship in Yemen.
We can't fight terrorism using terrorist methods. If we were the kind of people they are, our response to 11 September would be to destroy the holy sites of Islam in Saudi Arabia and to nuke Baghdad, Teheran, and Damascus. Those would be monstrous acts, crimes against innocent people -- the kinds of things our enemies do.
We aren't like that.
America's leaders are calling for patience, for a measured response to the acts of war we suffered on 11 September. They are right.
There is no excuse for any kind of attack on or abuse of Arabs or Muslims. Give it a moment's thought, and realize that American Muslims and Arabs who have chosen to come live among us here in the United States are not our enemies and are as grieved as we are. Most Muslims throughout the world, except where they have been systematically lied to by fanatic leaders, do not hate America and do not have murder in their hearts.
But when America's leaders call this a "terrorist act" and promise that we will find out who is responsible and punish them and only them, they are completely wrong.
First, there is some likelihood that we will never get legal proof of who did it, and strong likelihood that even if we do, we won't have any way of finding the perpetrators and striking against them in any meaningful way. Useless attacks like the famous Monica's-dress bombings of Khartoum and camps in Afghanistan will accomplish nothing.
And if our response reveals us to be helpless or weak-willed, we can expect more and worse terrorist attacks in the future, as rival terrorist organizations take courage from this action and try to outdo each other in the violence and symbolic power of their attacks on the U.S.
But let's say we actually confirm that Bin Laden masterminded this. Suppose we actually find out where he is and send military force against him and kill him and his followers. What have we accomplished? He would forever be a martyr and hero to the fanatics and fundamentalists of the Islamic world, and in his name such attacks would go on and on.
These fanatics do not fear death. Killing them accomplishes less than nothing. It actually advances their cause.
The appropriate response is not to punish them, but to deprive them absolutely of the objective they desire.
We Only Win by Making Them Lose
What do our enemies want? They want the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state. They want to have all of the Muslim world ruled by Islamic fundamentalists under strict Islamic law.
So what is our response?
In consultation with Israel, we stop pressuring them to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority. It is obvious now that the Palestinian Authority has neither the ability nor the will to control its supporters. It is not ready to take its place among the nations of the world, and the Palestinian people have no leaders that can be negotiated with for any purpose.
Therefore, as a direct response to the attack of 11 September, the United States and Israel should jointly undertake the immediate and complete occupation of all Palestinian territory, the arrest and imprisonment of all Palestinian leaders to await trial after a thorough investigation of their role in the acts of war that have already taken place against Israel, and the permanent incorporation of all Palestinian territory into the state of Israel. No Palestinian self-government should be allowed at any level, and Palestinian territory should be under martial law.
At the same time, the United States should announce that any nation that harbors or funds the activities of any of the active anti-American groups, including but not limited to bin-Laden's, will be considered to be in one of two conditions: Either they are unable to govern their own territory, in which case we will send troops to govern their uncontrolled territory for them; or they are in support of these activities, in which case we will regard ourselves as being in a state of war with them.
Then we must act, as quickly as possible, accordingly. No more of the childish, dangerous, and cowardly kinds of responses that typified Bill Clinton's disastrous presidency. No more bombings from high altitudes. No more withholding of our troops for fear of casualties.
Our enemies have shown us that we will suffer casualties no matter what we do. Indeed, while our losses of 11 September are not yet known as I write this, it is possible that we may have suffered as many deaths as our troops sustained in an average year of the Vietnam War.
So instead of tolerating civilian casualties on our own territory, we will risk suffering casualties among our troops and send them into active combat -- because our troops, at least, can fight back.
President Bush should make his best effort to win the support of NATO and other pertinent nations, and at least the noninterference of others, like Russia.
Terrorist-harboring and terrorist-sponsoring nations like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria should be given twenty-four hours to declare whether they wish to be at war with us, or to stand aside while our troops enter their territory to obliterate the terrorist installations we know are there. Those would be their only two choices, and if they don't respond we will consider ourselves to be at war with them.
We Can Only Win If We Wage War
Such a program of war would not be easy. We are talking about a widespread war at the level of World War II. Even though our enemies control only a few governments, it is likely that such actions would virtually force other Islamic nations to give at least lip service to the idea of joining in a war against the U.S.
We should not be surprised to find Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for instance, declaring war on us. However, we should recognize that they have their political constraints and we will take no action against them, despite their declaration of war, until and unless we see that they are providing financial aid, military support, or sanctuary to our actual enemies.
It is also quite likely that China would immediately offer support to our enemies or try to take advantage of our preoccupation with them by making some attempt against Taiwan. Therefore we will have to strengthen our defenses of Taiwan and be prepared to shut down China's international commerce -- and let them know that we will act against them if they make the slightest attempt to support our enemies.
Then, using our best planning and taking normal appropriate care to preserve the lives of American soldiers, we should select one or more of these nations as a first objective to invade and control. There are reasons for and against each of the nations I have listed, and no campaign would be easy. We have heard far too much about being "the world's only superpower" while being told of none of the costs of such a role.
But we are no longer going to worry about being "the world's policeman." We are a nation under attack, and we will defend ourselves by destroying our enemies' ability to make war against us. We will allow them no haven.
Most important, however, is to turn this into the kind of war we can fight. An investigation to find individual perpetrators and bring them to trial would be a stupid as it would have been to try to fight Hitler that way. We cannot defend ourselves that way. We only look weaker and weaker if we try to act like police in areas where our government has no local control or cooperation.
Our strength is military and economic. Economic sanctions, however, are useless in this case. We can only win if we turn this struggle into the kind of war that our military can deal with.
We must make it clear that when a government encourages or supports terrorism, we will remove it as the government of its people, and when a people encourages or supports terrorism, they will soon find themselves conquered and strictly ruled by the Americans they thought they could attack with impunity.
The people of all of Islam should be made to see clearly that the anti-American fanatics and fundamentalists who attacked us in their name bring down nothing but losses -- of land, of independence, of livelihood, of military forces, of nationhood -- on the people they claim to support.
They must see that if the Palestinians had lived up to their agreements and sustained the negotiation process, they would still have some degree of self-government -- but because of the actions of these fanatics, they have lost all hope of nationhood for generations to come.
It is possible that such a declaration of war against some states would succeed in uniting the Islamic world against us. But the will to make war against America will not, in fact, be widespread among the people, and fanatic fundamentalist governments will, after a brief rush of overwhelming support from their people, become less and less popular until they are finally hated by their own people.
At the end of such a war, if we wage it as war must be waged -- not gradually, not with arbitrary limitations, but with all our strength and will over a sustained period of time -- we and our allies will be able to establish democratic governments under our occupying forces, to rule over people who have come to detest the former leaders who brought disaster upon them.
It is almost certain that American life would be seriously affected by such a war -- with oil rationing guaranteed from the first day, putting severe limitations on our travel domestically and abroad. The draft will have to be reinstituted and a lot of industries that we have exported -- particularly steel -- or limited -- especially energy production -- must be brought to a high level of intensity within our borders. This would certainly mean a temporary suspension of some environmental regulations and other luxuries that cannot be afforded by a nation fighting for its survival.
But we're going to have sharp limitations on our travel anyway, in the effort to make further such hijackings and bombings impossible. Our environment will not be secure anyway, and our luxuries will seem foolish indeed. Isn't it better to suffer those limitations as part of an effort to destroy our enemies' ability to make war against us, so we have a hope of returning to normal when the struggle is over?
We may find that we have few allies, for Europe has not been marked by courageous leadership in recent years, and fear of terrorism or oil embargoes might keep them from taking action in cooperation with us.
But we must also remember that our enemies have no naval forces worth noticing, air forces that can quickly be overwhelmed, and (usually) poorly trained and poorly equipped military forces.
Our greatest dangers are the lack of unity within our own nation and American leadership that attempts to wage a war without asking for sacrifices from the American people. Special interest groups that are accustomed to demanding that things be done their way no matter how inconvenient it might be will need to step aside and let the military use time-tested methods of training and organization in order to win this war. Our current president, unlike his predecessor, should forget the question of reelection and do what is necessary to win the war that has, in one form or another, been going on for many years. President Bush must also avoid the mistake his father made at the end of the Gulf War, leaving our enemy's military power largely intact in some misguided effort to maintain "balance of power." Incomplete victories are not victories. Unfinished wars do not fade away.
Anything short of open, declared war with the whole-hearted involvement of the American people will ultimately fail. If we do not have the will to fight to defend ourselves against our relentless and fanatical enemies using the kinds of weapons we can actually use to achieve the kinds of military goals that are within our reach, then we should recognize that we do not have the national will to survive and declare our immediate surrender. For that is the only other response that makes any sense -- to capitulate immediately and completely, withdrawing all support from Israel except for whatever help Israel would need to evacuate all its Jewish citizens.
When I speak of all-out war, however, that still means the kind of war Americans can bear to wage. No attacks against Muslim holy sites that are not being used for military purposes. We will wage war against the military and governments of our enemies, and we will avoid causing civilian casualties where we can do so. But our supreme goal must be to destroy our enemies' capability and will to make war against us or anyone else, and to deprive our enemies of any of the objectives that they were trying to achieve by attacking us. If that is not our goal, we have no right to ask our soldiers to risk their lives in the first place.
When fanatic Muslim nations cease to wage war against us by harboring or financing those who attack us, then we will gladly make peace, because we have nothing against the religion or people of Islam. But as long as they use the pretense that our enemies are terrorists that they just can't control, then their protestations of innocence are confessions of complicity. King Hussein of Jordan showed years ago that when a Muslim government truly resolves to rid its territory of terrorists, it can do so. So any Muslim government that does not do so must be held accountable for its choice on the field of battle.
I write this, by the way, as the father of a military-age son. I do not want my son to be put in harm's way. But our enemies have made it clear that all our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers are at risk, and at such a point a nation that refuses to take up arms to defend itself has decided to cease to exist. And that means that all of us must bear the burden and the risk equally.
The soldiers who seized our unarmed aircraft and attacked civilian and military targets within our borders carried out cowardly assaults -- but they were personally courageous, for they knew from the outset that they would give their lives in these attacks.
If we do not have the courage, as a nation and as individuals, to risk American lives -- our own lives -- in making an effective response, we do not deserve to prevail.
Sooner or later, we will certainly end up fighting precisely the kind of war that I am talking about now. It is better to begin it now than to wait until more American civilians are killed. How many Pearl Harbors does a nation need to lose before it realizes what is necessary?
But maybe this wasn't another Pearl Harbor, which united our country in a great struggle that defined our national soul. Maybe this was another Hiroshima, and will lead to capitulation. Ultimately, those are the only choices we have, and any other plan will only lead us down the road to one or the other.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.