Last week, I heard repeated for the nth time the charge that the war on terror is a failure. Why did we invade Iraq, and more importantly, why is Osama Bin Laden still out there somewhere? Where is he? And how can we say we’re winning the war if he’s still unaccounted for?
I can see that argument. There’s a part of me (the liberal, emotional, vindictive, touchy-feely part of me) even sympathizes with it. I want to see his ugly, bearded head on one of the spikes on the White House fence. But my intellect dismisses it as a non-issue.
Osama Bin Laden is not THE enemy. He is not who we declared war against. He is not the be-all and end-all of our foes, and even if he were to surrender today, that would not put an end to the struggle.
More and more, I find myself comparing the War On Terror (we still don’t have a snappy name for this yet) to World War II as a model. In that war, we had three major opponents (Japan, Germany, and Italy), two theatres (Europe and the Pacific), numerous campaigns technically outside those theatres (the Battle of the Atlantic, the North African campaign, etc. etc.), and so on. It was, indeed, a World War, eventually touching all six of the occupied continents. (I don’t believe the Antarctic was involved, but I’m sure someone will tell me if I’m wrong.)
So far, we’ve fought two major campaigns — in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve also won at least one campaign without firing a single shot, in Libya. Qaddafi (or however we’re spelling Muammar’s name this week) has been desperately trying to backpedal and twist out of his decades of support for terrorism and get all buddy-buddy with the West ever since he saw what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, even to the point of surrendering every bit of his nuclear program (much further along than anyone suspected) the the United States lock, stock, and barrel and inviting Bush and Condoleeza Rice to come visit him in lovely downtown Tripoli. Mo might have been more inspired by fear then pangs of conscience, but as the old saying goes, “they don’t have to see the light, as long as they feel the heat.”
Iran, on the other hand, is getting more and more belligerent, and pushing on development of nuclear weapons. I’ve always liked the analogy of comparing Iran’s mullahs to a submarine: as long as they can roughly balance the internal and external pressures, they are OK. It’s when they get too far out of whack that they feel most endangered.
Iran seems to be actively seeking out international pressure and condemnation in its quest for nuclear weapons. There is also clear and convincing evidence that they are behind a great deal of the support (moral, financial, and material) for the terrorists in Iraq. I take that as signs that the mullahs of Tehran are feeling less and less secure in their stranglehold over their own people, and are trying to engineer external threats to get the people to rally behind them — a dubious plan at best.
Some may say that the United States military is stretched dangerously thin right now, but it’s the Army and Marine Corps that are doing nearly all the “heavy lifting.” We have two whole other branches of the service available — the Navy and the Air Force. And Iran has a lot of coastline, and we have a lot of air bases all around them. We might not be currently capable of invading Iran, but we are more than capable of causing enough damage and raising enough hell that Iranian dissidents (and there are a lot of them) might be emboldened to challenge the Mullahs — with some covert and overt support from us. After all, we almost entirely relied on local ground troops in Afghanistan.
So, back to my main point: what about Osama Bin Laden? He is/was the leader of Al Qaeda. Prior to 9/11, they could point to a string of successful attacks against the United States, all carried out without significant retaliation. They had freely bombed the World Trade Center, two of our embassies in Africa, our Air Force accomodations in Saudi Arabia, and one of our warships in Yemen, as well as assisting in the slaughter of our Army Rangers in Mogadishu, all without suffering serious consequences (thank you SO much, President Clinton. Here, have some Kleenex — your intern missed some spots.)
9/11 — their greatest triumph — changed all that. We finally recognized them — and their ilk — as the threat they truly were. In short order, we took away their greatest asset, the nation of Afghanistan. We killed or captured their fighters by the thousands. We put bounties on their leaders, and most of them ended up dead or captured. And we so crippled their abilities that their most recent plans involved firing junk missiles at warships that almost didn’t notice they were under attack, and numerous other plots that simply fell apart (the recent foiled gas attack on Parliament, for one).
Personally, I thought Bin Laden had been reduced to a smear on a cave wall in Tora Bora a long time ago, but later released audio tapes indicated he survived that. I still think he’s dead, and he made sure his body wouldn’t be found so he could deny us that victory.
Either way, he’s largely made himself irrelevant. He led one faction of the enemy, and that faction has been thoroughly stomped. And we’re still stomping, and intend to keep stomping whenever necessary. But, thank heavens, we’re not focusing on them single-mindedly.
We’ve won the first campaign of this war, in Afghanistan. We’re winning the second one, in Iraq — they’re no longer a sponsor and haven for terrorists, and we’re working to make sure they stay that way. We won a third, in Libya. And Iraq and Syria are getting more and more nervous.
No, we haven’t won. Bush predicted this could take up to a decade, or even longer, and we’re not even halfway to that mark. But we’re doing a hell of a lot better than I thought possible.
(Update: improper word changed in 3rd paragraph — see comments)