Austin Bay

The disjunction between Washington's political cycle and wartime challenges isn't a new strategic tension for the United States. In the election of 1864, "Copperhead" Democrats challenged Abraham Lincoln's aggressive defense of the Union and his emancipation of slaves. Did the Copperheads encourage the Confederacy to hang on just a little bit longer, with the hope that Union will might break?

One of the first conversations I had with a fellow staff officer after I reported for duty in Iraq in 2004 was with the Corps' chief of Civil Affairs, Colonel Sam Palmer. Col. Palmer thought the biggest strategic bind was America's political cycle.

"Here's one of the things a strategic policy guy like you, Austin, is going to see immediately. We're whipsawed by the U.S. political cycle. Somehow we've got to get a stable policy -- something that will help see us through the economic and political development phases of this war."

In a recent Internet audio interview (Blog Week In Review, found at, The New York Times' Pentagon and national security correspondent, Thom Shanker, told me that he thinks there are arguably three competing clocks. Shanker said that the U.S. political clock in Washington is moving forward and pointed to recent comments by Republican senators that they might support a coalition military withdrawal from Iraq. Shanker differentiated between the coalition military clock in Baghdad and the Iraqi government's political clock. He argued that the Iraqi government isn't making sufficient progress. In Shanker's estimate, the Iraqi government's clock has stalled.

It's fantasy to believe withdrawal stops "wartime." Sorry, not this kind of war. Al Qaeda's jihadists plotted a multigenerational war, one that would consolidate Muslim lands and then expand into a global caliphate. Winning a multigenerational war means the United States must fight a multi-administration war. The means the U.S. needs a "War on Terror" clock -- one that only stops when victory tolls.

Austin Bay

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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