Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bush Strategy On Terror Compared to Roosevelt's War Against Fascism

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA USA Today op-ed by Peter Schweizer entitled, "Strategies Or Diversions?," draws a parallel between Roosevelt's refusal to chase after Japan immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor (after all, it was Japan that attacked us, not Germany) and GW's refusal to focus all of his energy in taking down the Taliban and chasing after Osama bin Laden. (after all, it was Al Qaeda that attacked us, not Iraq).

In both cases, Schweizer avers, each man saw the issues they faced as part of a picture that was much larger than any one particular incident. Fascism was a world-wide threat and, although it would have been good military strategy to tie up Japan as soon as possible to prevent its military expansion and entrenchment across the Western Pacific (including Korea, China and South-East Asia) Roosevelt knew that Europe might well fall to the German-Italian axis without our immediate intervention. Even if German should fail without us, Western Europe would be so weakened that the Soviet Union, battered as it was, would have had little or no resistance in marching across the continent and taking whatever it chose.

So Roosevelt let Japan off the hook for a while until the European threat was contained. At that point the entire United States military force could be brought to bear on Japan, along with Australian and British troops who otherwise would not have been available at all (because they would have been tied up in Europe).

In the short term, Roosevelt's decisions seemed to fly against political and military reality. "Go hit back at the one who hit you first!"

In the long term, Roosevelt's decisions proved to be the correct ones after all. Europe was left strong enough to rise from its ashes and keep the Soviets at bay with less territory than they would certainly have claimed otherwise (including Austria and Finland and more of Scandinavia for starters).

For Bush, the large-picture issue was Islamic terrorism. Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban were merely symptoms of a much larger, geopolitical crisis that was creating chaos from Algeria to Libya to Sudan, to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Greece, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran, Afghanistan, Khazakistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Chechnya, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, and the Philippines (to name just a few). Growing pockets of Islamic radicals were systematically being planted in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Britain, Australia as well as Canada and the United States itself.

The issue was also at the heart of the conflicts surrounding Israel and the Palestinian militants, including Hamas, the PLO, Fatah and Hezbollah. Organizations such as Al Qaeda the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood were uniting around the Wahhabist-based theology of Islamic militant ascendancy against the infidel, decadent West as well as against the secular Muslim states who had either replaced sharia with constitutional law (Turkey) or compromised it according to local convenience (most other Muslim states).

In the aftermath of 9/11, for Bush to focus exclusively on bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan would have been to prescribe Tylonol for a headache caused by an aneurysm.

Accordingly, after destroying the training bases in Afghanistan and scattering those who had run them, Bush attacked the only other country where there was any shred of "legal" right to do so. Iraq was chosen for three reasons: 1. It was a known supporter and tolerator of terrorism; 2. It was in flagrant violation of an internationally-sanctioned cease-fire agreement, and; 3. It was perfectly placed geographically to isolate Iran from Syria and Saudi Arabia on the West and, with Afghanistan broken, from Pakistan, India and Southeast Asia to the East.

Iran no longer had a clear, unbroken route to supply Hezbollah and the free transfer of money and armaments was critically disrupted.

If Iraq could become autonomous and independent, the other countries harboring and supporting international terrorism could be dealt with one at a time.

The effectiveness of this policy has already been proven with the empowerment of Lebanon to oust its Syrian occupiers and in Libya's new-found conciliatory attitude towards the West. Pakistan was now at least paying lip service toward the containment of radical Islamic terrorists in its midst and, under the "moderate" dictatorship of Mussharraf, its nuclear arsenal was less likely to fall into the hands of bin Laden. And even Sudan has been forced to think twice about its continued slaughter and enslavement of it non-Muslim people in the south.

Hamas in southern Lebanon has now become isolated from its Syrian god-fathers and the Palestinian second intifada has been thrown into a confusion of competing terrorist sects, each challenging the others for control of the West Bank, Gaza and the political power of Palestine. The death of Arafat hurried this chaos by leaving a vacuum in the money=power status quo.

The powder-keg of Islamic radicalism was set to go off whether Bush attacked Iraq or not. The invasion was a bold, strategic move and the stakes were and still are very high. But the potential pay-off would be a dislodging of nearly a century of geo-political stalemate in the Middle East, a stalemate that had allowed the foundations of terrorism to ferment, organize and spread without serious opposition from either outside or inside the Muslim world.

Bush said at the outset that this conflict would not be resolved easily, not even in the lifetime of our present adult generation. This is definitely big picture thinking. Such thinking is necessary if the battle is to be won.

The enemy has been engaged and the battle is hot and serious and hopeful and tragic and heroic and discouraging and much, much more all at the same time.

When Roosevelt declared war on Japan and Germany in December of 1942, he knew that the power of the United States would most likely prevail, but at a great and sacrificial loss of life.

Often forgotten in retrospect is that although Roosevelt felt that we would most likely win out in the end, victory was neither sure nor certain.

Neither is it self-apparent that Bush's War on Terrorism will be victorious in the end. It is conceivable that we could lose...and that bombings and terror would become a daily reality in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and elsewhere just as they have become tragically routine in Iraq.

Clearly, not everything Bush has tried to do has come out well. All war involves an enemy who adapts and counters whatever has been set against him. Particular strategies will fail. Communications and technologies will, on occasion, fail. Intelligence, both on the ground and in the human mind, will also fail....far more often than we would like to believe.

All war is a steep learning curve....and the winner is the one who, in the end, perseveres the longest without running out of manpower, weapons power, money or popular support. In this war, popular support is the key. Our nation needs it. And we need to turn the world against those who would destroy the world in the name of their god, one of whose names is, ironically, Peace.

Schweizer's analogy is useful but not exact. In my opinion, however, it is certainly worth a post on this blog.