A car bomb goes off in Iraq. Another bomb explodes in Afghanistan. In Beirut the terrorists cheer as one of their own is ransomed to them in exchange for dead bodies.
In any fight, whether it's one man or a nation's army, there must be a clear and direct focus on the task at hand. To fight, to dodge, to ultimately win.
To complete any task requires focusing on the goal. The clearer and simpler your goal is, the easier your path to accomplishing it becomes. The more complex and diffuse your goals are, the more difficult it becomes not to accomplish them, but to go through your day. Clarity is focus. Diffusing that clarity means diffusing your ability to accomplish even the simplest things.
Wars fought by democracies are often a tricky business precisely because they suffer from diffuse goals. If your goal is to win a war while avoiding damage to civilians who are virtually indistinguishable from the enemy while keeping peace, protecting infrastructure and making sure that absolutely everyone likes you-- then you've set a virtually impossible goal for yourself. Yet this is how democracies fight wars today.
Fighting a war in a democracy means being entangled by long chains of rules while the enemy operates under no such restrictions. The enemy's focus remains simple. Ours does not.
The military does not do ambiguity well. A gun is made for a simple purpose. It can be fired or not. Like it the military is built for a simple purpose. While a soldier is a good deal more than a gun, a schizophrenia at the political level and diffuse mission goals lead to diffuse accomplishments.
The US military achieved a strikingly brilliant victory in Iraq only to spend the next few years as policemen, negotiators, nation builders and many other things, besides soldiers. The US military forces have achieved amazing things, but at a mounting toll.
The core of focus is to know your objectives. To know your objectives is to be on the open path achieving your goals. Yet today first world political establishments lack clear and simple objectives. Forget "bring back Bin Laden's head" and think more along the lines of, "work with local tribal leaders, coordinate a multi-nation task force, address the problem of poppy farmers, help provide economic incentives for terrorists to return to civilian life, avoid actually killing anyone who isn't verifiably shooting at you and make sure not to disrespect their traditions when you do kill them." And that's only the first paragraph of the list.
It isn't simply a question of bureaucratic mission creep, but the unwillingness of democracies to confront simple threats with simple responses. Compromise means always seeking the middle ground, the safer route, the one that includes the most options, offends the least people and allows us to have so many goals that we can never get any of them done. And the result is compromised focus and compromised warfighting capability.
The civilian political leadership can't fight wars and they seem to go out of their way to make sure that the military won't be able to either. Nation building and negotiations have the political leadership running for office in the enemy country to insure that we are "liked" and the only way to do that is to keep a choke chain on the men in the field who are expected to play social worker, fire only when they've been hit by a round and withdraw the moment the enemy warlord or thug in a turban announces that he's willing to accept a ceasefire.
A political war means a politicised military fighting for political rather than military goals. It means armies that fight to contain or limit a threat, rather than eliminating it. It means prolonged bouts of inaction giving the enemy the advantage and the initiative to plan and carry out attacks in between phony ceasefires. Such conditions demoralize soldiers and make armies seem incapable and ineffective, thus justifying the political leadership's lack of faith in military solution. When the problem is not in the military, but in the halls of government.
The War on Terror in America has lost its focus and Israel's defensive war against terrorism has floundered. The fault lies not in two great armies, but in two weak and confused political establishments which seek political solutions to military problems. The war on terror will not end with a treaty signing on a battleship, but with the use of military force to demonstrate conclusively that terrorism is not a winning tactic.
But the half-war, half-political process being waged now bleeds the terrorists, before letting them regroup, knowing that in the end the average politician has less endurance than the soldiers who are doing his fighting for him.