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Copping a plea

I've always tended to be a "reactive" thinker. Most of the time, I need an outside catalyst to trigger my ideas and insights. And it's usually from reading those with whom I disagree that gives me the vital elements that let me pull things together.

Today, I find that both an author at Wizbang Blue and a writer for the Boston Globe have, independently, put forth a similar argument in how to fight the War On Terror -- and in both cases, have helped me crystallize my thoughts on just why they're wrong.

Both authors argue the notion that terrorism is, first and foremost, a criminal problem. Paul Hamilton cites the policework after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, while the unnamed Globe editor praises the British efforts following last summer's subway and bus bombings.

Both make very valid points: it was policework, good old-fashioned policework, that tracked down the terrorists and prevented future attacks. But as essential as it is, it can not be the only approach used. It can not even be the main approach used -- for two very important reasons.

First up, the police are trained to stop criminals. That might sound like I'm stating the obvious, but it's such a fundamental point that it bears stressing. They are fully oriented towards stopping people whose purpose is to violate the laws for their personal gain. Terrorists are, technically, criminals, but their motivations and deeds are far beyond the scope of average law enforcement. Just to name two factors: criminals tend to be highly motivated to survive, so they can properly enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of their labors. They also dislike public attention, so they can continue their crimes. Those two factors alone don't apply to most terrorists; the most committed not only don't mind dying in the commission of their deeds, but actively seek it out, and want public attention for their actions.

I've said before, clumsily, and I'll say it again: terrorists are not criminals, and they are not soldiers. They share elements with both groups, and therefore must be fought on both levels.

The second point is even more important. The police, and law enforcement in general, is a reactive element. In both examples cited, the terrorists got in the first blow, and only after their attacks did law enforcement get them. They stopped future attacks, but they did not stop the initial ones.

Law enforcement mechanisms simply aren't equipped to stop many terrorist attacks. In the case of 9/11, the planning was carried out from outside the United States, beyond our jurisdiction, and nearly all of the prep work done within the United States was within the letter of the law. In fact, no major laws were broken (apart from some immigration laws that are far more often ignored than enforced) by the hijackers until they actually seized the planes -- and there were no police on board to stop them.

Simply put, the police are our primary defensive force. But wars are never won by defense, but offense. And that's the role of the military. They are the ones who will go out and find our enemies before they can strike. They are the ones who will stand between them and us, who will soak up the attacks before they can reach us, and will strike back and destroy the attackers.

That's what they are doing in Afghanistan, in Iraq, on the high seas, and anywhere else we need them.

I had a very lengthy and thoughtful discussion with David Anderson via Instant Message last night about this. (Yes, he's a liberal with moonbat leanings, but he's still a good guy, and I think of him as a friend.) He asked me if I still believe we can "win" in Iraq, and how far I think we should go to do so.

I answered him honestly: I think we have to. For better or worse, Iraq has become the central battlefield. (I think it was the right choice, but it's a moot point to argue now.) We have made our stand there.

Others cite Viet Nam as a model for Iraq, where we made our stand and stuck it out far beyond the point where any benefits to us were outstripped by the costs. That's one comparison, but I think other, more recent examples are far more germane.

In Somalia, we went in with the best of intentions, then got involved in a fight that we had no firm resolve in winning, tried to "fight fair," limited our efforts, and eventually let ourselves be chased out.

In Iran, we had a long-time supporter in the Shah. But when he weakened, we tossed him overboard, saying that he had been too oppressive. The theocratic dictatorship that replaced him, however, was far, far worse.

In Iraq itself, after Desert Storm, we actively encouraged Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam's government -- then, when the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north did just that, we left them high and dry and let Saddam massacre them and crush their rebellion.

Not quite so recently, but still relevant, is the Bay Of Pigs incident. There, we trained, armed, transported, and supported Cuban dissidents in their efforts to topple Fidel Castro -- but at the last minute, we cut them off and left them to stand -- and die -- alone.

The lesson learned by these, and other incidents, is this: do not trust the United States. We will not keep our word, we will not stand by our friends, we will back down in the face of vastly inferior forces if there is enough bloodshed, enough carnage, enough mayhem.

It's a valid argument, but a fundamentally wrong one. I believe that the United States is better than that, and our word is good and our resolve is strong. But the more examples to the contrary that we allow, the higher the price we will have to pay when we eventually have to disprove that assumption.

What is the formula to "winning" in Iraq? Hell, what is the definition of "winning?" I've always defined it as "the existence of a stable Iraqi government that is strong enough to stand on its own from threats both within and without, yet not pose an active threat to others." I think that is still a viable goal, and I think that the latest "surge" strategy is the current best hope towards achieving that.

Will it ultimately work? I don't know. There's an old military aphorism that "no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy." Military plans have the annoying challenge that they are always actively opposed by highly motivated (and, often, highly flexible and highly capable) people whose very lives depend on making those plans fail. They very well may find a way to thwart this strategy -- at which point, we'll need to find a new one. In war, the winner is usually the one who make the last adaptation.

But they are never won by the side that fights a purely defensive fight -- and that's the role of the police.


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Comments (22)

It's a good post, Jay, but ... (Below threshold)

It's a good post, Jay, but it suffers from the fact that you fundamentally misunderstand the role of the police in American culture.

The police are not trained to stop criminals. The police are trained to investigate crimes and catch criminals. Furthermore, in our system their ability to do their job is deliberately and properly crippled by a demand that they follow rigid rules of evidence and procedure.

Just to name two factors: criminals tend to be highly motivated to survive, so they can properly enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of their labors. They also dislike public attention, so they can continue their crimes.

Not really. I recommend you go take a look at a few of the stories told by blogger LawDog, a police officer in an unnamed rural bit of Texas. What the average criminal tends to be, more than anything, is shortsighted and stupid. If they were anything else, it wouldn't be so easy to catch most of them. And many criminals do want to publicize their crimes -- not to the police, but certainly to their circle of friends. Terrorists also suffer from the second flaw, but they're manifestly not shortsighted or stupid -- insane, certainly, but not stupid.

The two reasons that police can't serve as a good line of defense against terrorism is because a) as you say, police are a reactive force, not proactive; and b) the rules say police can't gather or act on the kind of intelligence that is usually all we have to go on with terrorist plots.

Before one on the resident ... (Below threshold)

Before one on the resident loonbats jumps in with, "but Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism or the war on it," let me add the words of (pdf file) Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was then leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq:

I want to be the first to congratulate you for what God has blessed you with in terms of fighting battle in the heart of the Islamic world, which was formerly the field for major battles in Islam's history, and what is now the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era...

And we know, according to Newsweek, bin Laden sent emissaries to meet with Taliban leaders in November 2003 to inform them that al-Qaeda was shifting resources and men from Afghanistan to Iraq.

But don't let Pelosi, Murtha and various and sundry other defeatists know that.

They are wrong because the ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

They are wrong because the Bush Doctrine is right. Terrorists do not operate in a vacuum. They are sponsored and given safe harbor by nations. Bush rightly says that we will go after both. To let the nation sponsoring terror off the hook while pretending that terrorists are mere criminals in an act of cowardice. No wonder the left likes the idea so much.

In addition, if terrorists ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

In addition, if terrorists know that their actions are going to bring consequences for their families, their homes and their countryman - just like they attack ours - it will give the a lot more to think about.

Another great insight J-T.<... (Below threshold)

Another great insight J-T.

I think it's time that you abandon your pen name and tell us whom you really are? Clearly you are the greatest thinker this century, perhaps of all time, and as such, the world, should recognise you, for whom you really are, and give you, your just desserts!

I never knew that Cow, New Hampshire was home to the greatest (move over Ali!). Politics, history, military history, culture, logic,: you have a view on almost anything, and with complete abandon and bravery you share your views to all that would listen. Were it not for the internet, your talents would remain unknown and the world would indeed be a poorer place.

Another difference between ... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

Another difference between criminals and terrorists is the commitment to mission of the two groups. A criminal will call off a mission if he feels that the risk is too great. Terrorists will often continue on regardless of the risks since a result can be achieved even if it is short of the ultimate goal.

Actually, I am going to qui... (Below threshold)

Actually, I am going to quibble with you a bit, Jay, while supporting your overall thesis.

Police forces are NOT trained to stop criminals from committing crimes. At least not primarily. Instead, they are trained to catch criminals after the crime has been committed.

This is one of many reasons, (your post does a better job than me to articulate most of them), the war against Islmaic terrorists is not primarily a criminal matter

Criminals , Lets see ...... (Below threshold)
Rob LA Ca.:

Criminals , Lets see ...Everytime we got robbed at the S&L I worked for it was the FBI that I spoke with and gave access to the atm camera footage. Not the police. I hope I didn't violate anyones civil rights who happened to walk by the ATM machine or the get away driver that I followed and put behind bars. Good thing I didn't work part time for the CIA , I would have been forbidden to share the information (make , model , plates physical description)with the FEDS.

Maybe it has something to do with Liberals (Clinton's) loathing the Military and the fact that the vast Majority of them vote Republican. I've no doubt democrats run this in their heads , there could be democrat voting young adults enlisting and then they learn a few things and begin to vote Republican. After all they have alot invested in dumbing down the populous. Or could it be they don't have as much control over the Military as they would like?

The problem with Bush and m... (Below threshold)

The problem with Bush and many from the right, including Jay Tea here, is that neither he nor you can really define what "victory" in Iraq would be nor explain how to get there. If victory is described as in Jay's description, in an otherwise well done and thoughtful piece here, it is nebulous at best. What does "stable" mean? How long should it take before the undefined stability is attained? What is required before Iraq can "stand on its own." What size Army? What other armed forces? How long should we wait till that happens? And what consideration should be given to the effect on our own armed forces. I don't think anyone denies that they are stretched thin; the national guard is being used up. We here that we should wait till the "surge' (whatever that really means) has a chance to work. Fair statement. But there are no benchmarks for success for the "surge". What if it takes another 2 or 5 or even 10 years for a "stable" Iraq government (which as I understand is now embarking on a 2 month vacation while our troops are dying to save them)? What about the ongoing suicides? How do we measure "success" regarding them? What happens in the Kurds in the north get into a fracas with Turkey?

One of Mr Bush's problems with Iraq is that he has never concretely defined success nor has he ever really demonstrated or articulated a plan to get there. It has changed whenever the circumstances and/or political winds have changed. It's no wonder 55% of the country think it's a losing cause. And 55% is more than the "left" or the "liberals" or even the "democrats".

Jay,This has to be o... (Below threshold)

This has to be one of your best posts. I agree with you about the difference between the police and the military.

JFO:How long did i... (Below threshold)


How long did it take the thirteen American ex-colonies to form a stable government?

How long did it take Germany to organize a functional government after WW2? What about France?

How many years and how many wars did it take for Great Britain to develop from a monarchy to a democracy?

Turning Iraq into a functioning democracy will take as long as it takes. Anyone who tries to set a rigid time limit on it needs to go study some history.

wolf:Those are false... (Below threshold)

Those are false comparisons. I understand your view but you can't compare Iraq to any of those historical events. And to blithely say we should continue to lose our soldiers and our national treasure while policing a civil war for "as long as it takes" isn't reality (I don't mean that in a snarky way).

People, including both the ... (Below threshold)

People, including both the right and the left, have a hard time distinguishing between the war, and the individual battles within this war. The war is global; the United States is only fighting battles on a few fronts. One front is Iraq; one front is Afghanistan. These are two of the places where America is fighting. Other fronts are Europe and Indonesia. This is not an exhaustive list. As to Iraq and Afghanistan, we won the initial battles, but have not achieved compleat victory in those theaters. The important point to remember is that Iraq is not the war; it is only one front, one battlezone. For America right now it is the key battlezone. If we lose in Iraq we have not lost the war, but fighting elsewhere, and ultimately winning will be much, much more difficultif we are forced out of Iraq. The irony is that the enemy can't force us out; only our own lack of resolve will force us out.

Others cite Viet Nam as ... (Below threshold)

Others cite Viet Nam as a model for Iraq, where we made our stand and stuck it out far beyond the point where any benefits to us were outstripped by the costs. That's one comparison, but I think other, more recent examples are far more germane.

A note about Vietnam that I think is germaine and is applicable to our situation in Iraq.

The U.S. ultimately pulled out of vietnam when it was winning on the battlefield. The vast, vast majority of battles in Vietnam were one by U.S. forces. Yes, there were some fights that were lost and casualties for the units involved were high. Even those "losing" battles cost the VC and NVA many times more soldiers than the U.S. The VC/NVA couldn't as easily replace those soldiers as the U.S. could. The Tet Offensive, much ballyhooed by media as a U.S. defeat (not even close) cost the VC so much that they became combat ineffective and field operations had to be taken over by the NVA. The U.S. air operations agains North Vietnam were taking their toll and breaking the will and ability of the NVA to continue. They were fanatical and committed, but you still have to get beans and bullets to your soldiers. With a little more time, probably a year or two we could of won, or at least drawn a stalemate and maintained and armed partition between the two countries. In the peace that followed the people of South Vietnam would of had the breathing space they needed in order to emplace a decent government.

The U.S. unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam tens or hundreds of thousands of S. Vietnam deaths and the displacement of thousands of their people as refugees. The withdrawal caused hundreds of thousands of people to die in Cambodia and Laos as they fell to horriric communist governments. it wouldn't of happened if the U.S. had stayed and fought.

Iraq is in the same boat today. The U.S. presence keeps AQ and the insurgents fighting the U.S., not their own government. Each day their government keeps getting stronger and more able to defend themselves. U.S. forces haven't had anything close to a major defeat the whole time. Every time their is even a small clash, the enemy loses exponentially more fighters. U.S tactics and countermeasures keep getting better and better. Even the IED aren't quite as effective as they once were. The much glorified foreign fighters that come in from Syria are only a trickle and can't keep up with losses. Everytime more than a few congregate on the Ratlines feeding Baghdad, they are destroyed by U.S. forces.

If we hold on, the insurgency and AQ will be fought to a stand-still and then defeated. Many of the insurgent groups that are Native Iraqi will become part of the political process.

If we leave pre-maturely the Iraqi Government collapses and the terror will spread into surrounding countries.

I for one vote we stick it out and win. I like Iraqis over all, have known quite a few, and they deserve a chance to show the world what they can do as a free people.

Matt, your comment is right... (Below threshold)

Matt, your comment is right on and I cannot believe the allegedly kind hearted liberals are fine with the thousand to million people who will die innocently if we pull out. So cavelier. Off with their head type attitude. Anything that will hurt GW, even the slaughter of millions. ww

Wolfwalker,The po... (Below threshold)

The police are trained to investigate crimes and catch criminals
That is still reactive. You cannot investigate a crime until it has been committed, nor is someone a criminal until they have comitted a crime.

Jay: Thanks for the link a... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Jay: Thanks for the link and for taking the time to respond to my post over on Blue. This is a very wide-ranging commentary, so I will limit my response to what we were discussing about police v. military tactics in the ongoing battle against terrorists.

I still believe that terrorists are primarily criminals. Their goal is to disrupt ordered society and to benefit from the chaos they create. In the case of groups like al Qaeda, I believe they are like the Mafia -- they have some central authority, but in practical terms, they are a loose-knit collection of people with a common goal and common tactics, but still a lot of conflict within the ranks. I understand that the killing of that al Qaeda leader in Iraq last week was an inside job...

And while a lot of crime seems to just come out of nowhere, such as a crime of passion, quite often the police can stay one step ahead of the game.

If someone has a criminal record, the police know that he is a person who deserves particular attention. If a criminal organization exists, the police will use all legal means at their disposal to disrupt the group's activities, communications, and especially their cash flow.

This was the first response of the United States and of other law-abiding nations to the attacks of 9-11. We seized their assets, monitored their communications, and almost certainly derailed their plans for further operations.

Regarding your remark that police tactics didn't stop the initial attack, I would suggest that the reason this didn't happen is that we didn't take them seriously. It's been well documented that we had all the intel in the world that terrorists were plotting an attack on US soil months before it actually took place, but Bush had other priorities. So the system worked, we just didn't respond to it as we should have.

You said that much of the planning for the attacks of 9-11 was "outside our jurisdiction," but I'd argue that it shows the necessity of international cooperation against the common threat of terrorists. No one nation can be -- or SHOULD be -- the world's policeman. The primary responsibility for each nation's defense must be their own police and military forces. But we must share infomation and form a united front against the forces who threaten us all.

And finally, I agree that sometimes military force is necessary, but I believe that Iraq has shown that traditional tactics -- large invasion forces, capturing a capital, overthrowing a government -- are not necessarily the best means of defeating terrorists within their borders, and can actually facilitate the goals of the terrorists by creating the anarchy they need to thrive.

Instead, I believe that we should work *with* governments to secure information and cooperation against terrorists and then employ specially-trained units like Delta Force or the Green Berets to get in fast, strike hard and then withdraw quickly. This is the military equivalent of a police SWAT team.

As the Iraq parliament comt... (Below threshold)

As the Iraq parliament comtemplates a 2 month vacation, and as it tells our forces not to come near certain Shia shrines, and as PM Al Maliki orders our army to cease certain security tactics in Baghdad, I must ask you JT: what do you think the chances for "victory" are with al Maliki in office? Is it worth breaking our army on the far flung hope that this al Sadr puppet will disarm the Shia militias?

This post equates "law enfo... (Below threshold)

This post equates "law enforcement" only with "police". It neglects to properly include the FBI, CIA, NSA, foreign police, or any number of other agencies with proper training to address all kinds of domestic threats (yes, even the CIA or NSA can cooperate with domestic authorities). The main point, though, is that "the military" is not among those that are effective domestically. (And I mean foreign-deployed military, not violations of Posse Comitatus.)

You also too narrowly define "criminals" just so you can distance them from "terrorists". Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph, Cho Seung-Hui, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold... criminals or terrorists? Does it matter? If anyone could have stopped them before they struck, was it law enforcement or the military? You also overlook that there have been many apparent "terror" plots that have been successfully disrupted... by law enforcement, not by the military.

These are not people who are "highly motivated to survive, so they can properly enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of their labors", nor did they "dislike public attention, so they can continue their crimes." In fact, in most cases they "not only don't mind dying in the commission of their deeds, but actively seek it out, and want public attention for their actions". Just like terrorists.

The second point is even more important. The police, and law enforcement in general, is a reactive element.

Because that is the most needed and visible role for law enforcement in any society, that is true. However, all law enforcement agencies have investigative and undercover units that can be appropriately tasked with prevention and infiltration. We must put more effort into increasing the investigative talents of law enforcement, not write them off as not up to the job.

But they are never won by the side that fights a purely defensive fight -- and that's the role of the police.

All of the law enforcement agents fighting the offensive fight would strongly disagree with you.

Hell, what is the defini... (Below threshold)

Hell, what is the definition of "winning?" I've always defined it as "the existence of a stable Iraqi government that is strong enough to stand on its own from threats both within and without, yet not pose an active threat to others."

Jay, do you think Patton defined winning the same way? What about MacArthur? Eisenhower?

You can define down victory if you want but the American people know what victory looks like. And Iraq doesn't look like it.

Larkin, by that definition,... (Below threshold)

Larkin, by that definition, we won in Iraq four years ago. Patton, MacArthur, and Eisenhower would agree that we "won" in Iraq when Saddam's government fell -- you know, the end of major military operations.

Thanks for agreeing with me and Bush.


One of the factors on why t... (Below threshold)

One of the factors on why the central battlefied is Iraq has to do (IMHO) with military logistics on our side as well.

If you look at Afghanistan - the part of the war the moonbats have more troubles arguing against - you'll see a lack of infrastructure like roads, water supply and places where you can build a workable airfield for large transports. You've also got lots of mountains, caves, and ravines that can hide lots of things you don't want to mess around with.

If you look at Iraq, you've got (comparatively) lots of roads, two major rivers, lots of flat ground providing relatively unhindered mobility for modern motorized and mechanized troops.

Sun Tzu says that the general that chooses the time and place of battle to favor his forces and disfavor his enemy shall win.

Oh, and JFO apparantly is ignorant of this:

First published in 2004, then updated in 2005, it has a very clear and concise definition of what victory is, and the strategic methods of achieving it.






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