Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan is the driving force behind Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' new long-range defense plan. Gates made that clear in an article he wrote for the January issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine: "The United States' ability to deal with future threats will depend on its performance in current conflicts. To be blunt, to fail -- or to be seen to fail -- in either Iraq or Afghanistan would be a disastrous blow to U.S. credibility, both among friends and allies and among potential adversaries."
Given the long lead time in high-tech weapons procurement programs, is this a contradiction, apparently putting short-term considerations over longer-term, over-the-horizon risks that could threaten national survival?
The answer is no.
Gates understands the importance of perseverance in war -- the weapon of spine, determination, will.
Osama bin Laden committed many strategic blunders, but one of his greatest was underestimating American will. References to America "fleeing" from Somalia litter captured al-Qaida documents.
Credibility of commitment -- the will to win -- is the psychological backbone of deterrence. A determined foe will scorn advanced weapons with near-magic capabilities if he believes you won't use them or that he can force you to fight on a battlefield where the weapons are not decisive. He wagers his will to win far exceeds your comfy, bourgeois fecklessness.
Credible commitment, Gates wrote, extends beyond winning the war of bullets to winning the war for long-term security, which requires maintaining "small war" capabilities, including counter-insurgency skills, local security training programs, rule of law projects, and economic and political stabilization capacities. In the strategic context of the 21st century, these are "systematic weapons" (strategic approaches and tactics not dependent on specific weapons systems, but rather people skills). They are potentially more decisive than the deadliest high-tech weapons system, for they are the means of restoring or promoting productive, just societies and thus creating future allies.
The continuing tragedy is that the United States has yet to comprehensively integrate civilian entities and non-military governmental agencies into this process and thus never achieves "Unified Action" (Pentagonese for the synchronized use of diplomatic, military, information and economic power).
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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