The radical Sunni war on the West (as expressed by al-Qaida's precedents) has roots in the 1940s. (Read Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower," which I will review in a couple of weeks).
Our enemies have long time lines. They see the United States through the templates of Vietnam and Somalia (bug-outs), not the template of sticking out the Cold War.
But our "course of action" must account for others' capabilities as well as our expectations. In August 2004, I had a conversation in Baghdad with a U.S. Army officer -- an Arabist with a diplomatic background. He was tasked with helping Iraqis establish an operations center. I asked how that project was going. "They're doing the best they (the Iraqis) can," he replied, thoughtfully. "(They'll be running it) in their own way, not like us." Translation: What they can achieve is not on our schedule.
President Bush insists on achieving this strategic goal: a self-sustaining, free Iraq that is an ally in the War on Terror. That is an achievable goal.
Columnist Michael Barone likens Bush's determination to that of Harry Truman confronting the Korean War or Winston Churchill after Dunkirk. These are dramatic analogies, but our situation is not nearly as desperate. We've had big successes. Iran is surrounded, Syria hemmed, al-Qaida shot to shreds. Given the ideological and political dimensions, a more apt analogy is Ronald Reagan's 1983 "Euromissile" struggle.
The Soviet Union gambled it could to "decouple" Europe from the U.S. nuclear umbrella; it waged a war of perception in the United States and Western Europe. America was the aggressor. Reagan was evil, a Hitler, a warmonger. Reagan focused on the strategic goal of winning the Cold War and deployed U.S. missiles to counter the Soviet missiles. The Kremlin broke negotiations in a huff, but within two years returned to serious disarmament talks. The road to 11-9 (Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall cracked) is history.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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