As agreed, Calpundit and I will have a back and forth on the six points I raised in my post a week or so ago, plus the thorny issue of internationalization. Buckle up...
First, we're not going anywhere in Afghanistan or Iraq until we're done. Afghanistan will not turn into Vermont any time soon, but we will make sure that the power of the warlords is checked, and that it doesn't collapse again. Iraq could be the leader of the Middle east, and we intend to help build it into that; My comments from this post.
The essence of war is a violent struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other. War is fundamentally an interactive social process. Clausewitz called it a Zweikampf (literally a "twostruggle") and suggested the image of a pair of wrestlers locked in a hold, each exerting force and counterforce to try to throw the other. War is thus a process of continuous mutual adaptation, of give and take, move and countermove. It is critical to keep in mind that the enemy is not an inanimate object to be acted upon but an independent and animate force with its own objectives and plans. While we try to impose our will on the enemy, he resists us and seeks to impose his own will on us. Appreciating this dynamic interplay between opposing human wills is essential to understanding the fundamental nature of war. USMC Warfighting Manual MCDP-1 (.pdf)In any negotiation, there are two ideal positions: 1) "I don't care," in which you challenge the other side to get you to engage in a negotiation at all; and 2) "No matter what it takes," in which you make it clear that no matter what the other side does, you have the will and means to escalate further and prevail. Looking at the war with Islamism that's taking place primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's clear that option 1) isn't available to us (it really hasn't been since 9/11). Our objective needs to be to break the effective will to fight of the opposition. This isn't about the will of the hundred thousand or so fanatics who will fight the West to the death; it's about the more-rational millions who are on the verge of tipping over toward that position, and who are inclined to do so because they think they will win. We brought 9/11 on, in part, by showing irresolution in the face of earlier attacks. (We also brought it on with a hamhanded and shortsighted foreign policy as relates to the Middle East and Arab world, but that's a subject for another, longer blog post). Osama Bin Laden genuinely believed that the U.S. would withdraw - as we did from Lebanon and Somalia - if we were bloodied. Their perception is based on two simple facts; most of us don't like to kill other people, and most of us really, really don't like it when ours get killed. Our goal, I believe, is as much to correct those misapprehensions as to physically disrupt the infrastructure that supports the Islamist movement. This presents some significant dangers. As long as I've been quoting Schaar in support of my views, let me quote him challenging them (from his essay 'The American Amnesia'):
Action taken for psychological objectives (e.g. credibility) inherently contains an element of theatricality, and can easily slide into pure theater. Policymakers come to think of action - even military action - in theatrical terms and lose sight of the real costs. Policymakers' and spectators' sense of reality become attenuated. Even death becomes unreal. Image and substance become independent of each other. Public policy becomes public relations. A war fought for symbolic ends is very difficult to explain and justify to the citizenry. Officials easily employ concealment and evasion, and retreat into isolation. Government and the public get out of touch with each other. Furthermore, when the symbolic end sought is an image of national toughness or determination, then any domestic opposition or criticism threatens that image, thereby threatening - in the eyes of the government - the national defense. Under these conditions, opponents at home seem more dangerous than the enemy abroad. Feeling beleaguered on all fronts, seeing enemies everywhere, officials fear loss of authority and strive for more and more power, even at the expense of constitutional processes. The government becomes enclosed in a private reality, and wrapped in a mood of paranoia and impotence. That was exactly the mentality of the Nixon Administration. And that mentality drove it to the near destruction of the Indochinese peninsula and the American constitutional order.Schaar sums up what it is that I fear about this war; that it will become a war of theater rather than substance, and that - because our leaders are too weak or afraid to demand our commitment in it - that we will create a 'shell' of a war, using theater and image to replace substance. He also sums up the core position of many of the opponents of the war, as well. The problem, of course, is that if you read the theorists (well summed up in the USMC manual), a substantial part of war is theater; it involves both the physical destruction of the enemy and their assets through violence, and the degradation of their ability to use them - through a number of means, including violence, misdirection, reduction in morale, etc. And I do believe there is a key difference between the war in Vietnam and this war: In Vietnam we were fighting our enemy (the Soviet/Chinese alliance) indirectly, through the Vietnamese. The war was as such purely theatrical, in that the resources at risk and expended far outweighed the possible gain (this isn't a complete explanation of my position, but it'll do as a placeholder). Suffice it to say we were fighting the shadow of our real enemy, not the enemy itself. In fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are directly confronting two of the many faces of the Islamist movement. Arab Nationalism - one of the roots of the 'Baath movement, and the reason why Iraq, Egypt, and Lybia briefly entertained the notion of uniting - was a secular attempt to restore Arab greatness and create a secular Caliphate. It is another face on the core desire that is expressed in terms of fundamentalist Islam by Qutb and Bin Laden. And, simply, I'd rather convince an enemy not to fight than actually kill them (because I do in large measure subscribe to the facts about our Western society set out above). Now in a real wrestling match, one isn't going to win - impose one's will on the opponent - simply by sitting on them. They will continue to fight, or simply wait until you get bored and get up, and then continue to fight. Particularly if you're having a loud dialog about whether it's worth it or not to fight with them in the first place; they will simply be more confident that in the face of resistance, or simple patience, you will give up and get up. Sadly, that path leads only to more fighting - because they aren't defeated, they are simply at what they perceive to be a momentary disadvantage. So you will get tired of the game, get up, and then they will attack again. You will sit on them again, and the whole process restarts. Much like our response to the escalation of Islamist rhetoric and action through the 80's and 90's. The way to win is simply to sit on them and make it clear that you will sit on them until they have really and truly given up - until their will is broken to yours. John McCain said it simply and well in his Nov. 5 speech to the CFR:
"Let there be no doubt: victory can be our only exit strategy. We are winning in Iraq - but we sow the seeds of our own failure by contemplating a premature military drawdown and tempering our ambitions to democratize Iraqi politics. Winning will take time. But as in other great strategic and moral struggles of our age, Americans have demonstrated the will to prevail when they understand what is at stake, for them and for the world." [emphasis added]Let me repeat it: "victory can be our only exit strategy." By taking this position, by making it clear that we will stay as long at it takes, spend the treasure and blood required to break the wave of Islamist rage, in my view we will reduce the amount of actual violence we will ultimately have to impose. We have broken the bad governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. We are there, on the ground, and there we will stay until we have accomplished some basic goals. What are these goals? Here is a rough first try: First, until the overall level of violent Islamist rhetoric and action will have abated. Second, until Iraq will have attained some level of stable civil society (note that I think Bush misspoke when he set democracy as the threshold; I've discussed it before, and I believe that simply establishing civil society - the primacy of law - is the necessary precondition to democracy, and that alone will be difficult). Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, I doubt that we'll break the isolated, violent tribal culture. I do think that we can restrain it, and prevent it from being used as a base and recruiting ground for Islamists, and provide some skeletal level of civil society while reining in the tribal warlords who truly rule the country. These goals will require a certain level of commitment - of resources, cost, and most of all of lives disrupted, damaged, or lost. I will leave it to people who more than I do about the levels of forces required, but I will say that I seriously doubt that we have them today. Making sure we have those forces - through alliances or through a commitment to expand our own military - is the necessary first step down this road. When Bush does that, I'll have more confidence that he means what he says.