The dominant question on everyone's mind is when are we going to get out. Out of Iraq and out of Afghanistan. Liberals who voted for Obama with the certainty that both wars were the product of some evil plot hatched by Cheney in the White House subbasement are confused and frustrated as to why the US hasn't just pulled out. Of course those are the same people who were never troubled by Taliban atrocities or Saddam's rape rooms, and aren't going to be too bothered when the Iranian puppet Mahdi Army and the Taliban come back in for a bloody takeover. And if they do, George Galloway or Robert Fisk will be by shortly to explain to them that it's just the oppressors getting exactly what they deserve.
And so what started out as two straightforward wars to rout a brutal Islamist gang, capture Al Queda terrorists, and remove a tyrant, morphed into nation building exercises in the Bush era, and have now become completely detached from any strategic goal, but that of "Re-Elect Obama-Biden in 2012". It's straightforward enough to see that the more the real goals drift away from that of defeating the enemy, the harder it will be to achieve it. The military is essentially a blunt tool. It is best used for blunt objectives. You can only apply so much finesse with a hammer, until you either break what you're trying to fix, or render the hammer unusable. But for the last 7 years we've been trying to use a hammer with finesse, and the body count has climbed horrifically as a result.
The problem is that we've never gotten over WW2 and its nation building aftermath as a victory condition. And so we shifted from winning wars, to rebuilding infrastructure and winning the hearts and minds of the population. In 1939, the conventional wisdom was that if only an isolationist America had agreed to stay on in Europe, the whole mess of WW2 would have never happened. But while that conventional wisdom might not be wrong, it ignores the fact that we don't know what would have happened if the US had made the kind of investment that Wilson wanted. Or the kind of investment we did make after WW2, maintaining bases for generations, and become the permanent guarantors of European security. History would probably have turned out differently, but there's no way of knowing exactly how.
In 1948 the conventional wisdom certainly said that we had to save Western Europe by rebuilding it in order to keep the Commies out (except for the conventional wisdom coming from the left, which demanded that we get our imperialist asses out and let the "people's parties" who had resisted the fascist beast claim their right to rule). And so we did just that. We saved Western Europe from the Commies-- only to hand it over to the Islamists, rampaging into the senescent remnants of what had once been great nations, who had forgotten how to stand up for themselves. But is it typical enough of the FDR-Eisenhower era that the people in charge could never comprehend that a nanny state turns men and women into children. And that protecting others too much weakens them so that they are unable to protect themselves.
What implications does this have for Iraq and Afghanistan? Once again we repeated the same mistake we made in Vietnam, cultivating tame useless armies of soldiers who won't stand and fight, because they know Americans will do the real fighting for them. We've schizophrenically tried to set up or back governments whose only real agenda is stashing away the dollars we've injected into their economy with our nation building efforts. And we have no idea how to fix any of that, because none of it is fixable.
But none of that even matters anymore. As a former resident of the Muslim world, Obama understands these things himself already. He's simply pandering to the Americans who don't, and throwing away the lives of American soldiers, in order to withdraw on a high note. Obama doesn't expect to break the Taliban, only to demonstrate enough resolve so they'll cut a deal that will avoid any mobs chasing after departing embassy helicopters. He's deluded on that note, because where the Taliban might have cut such a deal with McCain, they won't with Obama, who is just too weak to be taken seriously. Obama's outreach to the Taliban turned Karzai into a loose cannon, further destabilizing the network of tribal alliances, and making it even more impossible to get the job done.
But what is the job anyway? As a blunt tool, the military was never a good choice for winning the hearts and minds of the population. Nor should that have been the goal in the first place. The leftover ideas from WW2 about nation building might seem fine in theory, but are virtually unworkable in reality without turning into a vast multi-generational colonial project on the British model. And such a project would change us, as much as it would change them. And that is the twist in the hook. Because the war we are fighting has already changed us. It has imported Islamic and Middle Eastern culture in a way that we are mostly not aware of. That is the flip side of all such efforts, that they change the conquerors almost as much as the conquered.
Colonialism is not an American project. On the other hand destroying the ability of our enemies to harm us, is. And a strategy that hinges on keeping the Islamists out by reconstructing their countries plays to their strengths, while exposing our weaknesses. We don't need multi-generational nation building projects to stop them. We had the Taliban on the run in the first wave of attacks, and we removed Saddam with very few casualties. Our mistake was trying to step in and take over their jobs. Our strength is not running backward third world countries, it's making it clear that if they pose a threat to us, we will destroy enough of them to end that threat. It's hard to build WMD's or invade your neighbors when you lack basic infrastructure. And tribal leaders who support the Taliban should know that we will bomb them without regard for the collateral damage. It's crude. It's blunt. And it creates a stalemate that favors us.
Beyond that our real war was not in Afghanistan, which was a staging ground for the Islamist proxies of oil rich Middle Eastern states and the Pakistani intelligence service. We've been suckered into fighting a proxy war, while the emissaries of the real enemy in Saudi Arabia take meetings at the White House, and advise us on how we can lose. The enemy is being armed and funded with our money. The money that we send overseas in exchange for oil that was ours to begin with, before a bunch of burnoosed thugs seized it and used it to fund their own terror armies. For every billion that we spend, all they have to do is spend a few thousand to keep us on the ropes.
The same thing goes for the Shiite side of the equation, where Jimmy Carter's support for the Ayatollah has culminated in the ascension of the Revolutionary Guard to the de facto rulers of Iran, with an Allah sent mission to expand and confront the Great Satan. The bulk of our troubles in Iraq come from Tehran. Our passivity in that regard has emboldened Iran to push on into Afghanistan. Iran is now regularly carrying out ambushes in Iraq, whether of US troops, American backpackers or Kurdish guerrillas. And treating this as a problem that we can solve with more Iraqi reconstruction is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Instead of thinking of innovative new ways to dress up the same old nation building hearts and minds strategies, it's time to confront the real source of the problem. Bluntly and forcefully. For too long our Muslim allies have been playing both sides, soliciting our protection, while they nurture and feed the terrorists who are killing us. This double game is business as usual in the Middle East.
The same Kuwaitis who enlisted American PR firms to sell us on Gulf War #1, enlisted more PR experts to portray Guantanamo Bay as a gulag and force the release of the Kuwaiti 12. The Saudis whom we protected in that same war, went on funding Jihadi mosques and just plain Jihadis. Beyond the Middle East, the Pakistani ISI service which we used to fund the Afghan resistance, helped build the Taliban, and it's still playing a complicated double game, complicated further by internal rivalries in both countries. Trying to sort through this mess, just tangles us in it even further. The only way is to decisively cut the Gordian Knot, to end the games and make it clear how we will respond to terrorism. Unless we do that, we'll continue to be stuck in the same objectiveless limbo, fighting hosts of ghosts and shadows, rather than striking at the real enemy.