President Barack Obama incessantly touts his successful Predator strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. An al-Qaida militant might find Obama's Internet video touts inflammatory.
The Benghazi attack wasn't an act of sudden rage, an escalating protest kindled by a sacrilegious video. It was a calculated act of war conducted on a date, 9/11, with political significance and symbolic power.
Moreover, this is a presidential election year. U.S. elections offer a savvy enemy the opportunity to damage and perhaps alter U.S. policies.
This is not a new insight. In 1864, the Confederates tried to convince Union voters that the Civil War was unwinnable. The Rebs failed, but in the next century the North Vietnamese didn't.
North Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap launched his 1968 offensive during Vietnam's "Tet" New Year celebrations, but his target was the U.S. election. If the shock of Tet convinced enough Americans that the war was unwinnable, the political repercussions would affect the election and U.S. policy. In a 1989 interview, Giap said his most important fight in 1968 was for American public opinion. Then he added: "Military power is not the decisive factor in war. ... Human beings are the decisive factor."
Human beings remain the decisive factor in the Global War on Terror. Obama tried to scotch the GWOT, preferring "overseas contingency operation," but last week's events demonstrate the struggle continues, with cruel violence and harsh consequences, no matter its name, no matter how hard a president tries to deny it or ignore it.
For militant Islamists, Sept. 11, 2012, was a low-level, YouTube-era Tet designed to bloody America and weaken U.S. support for Libya, Egypt and Tunisia's moderate Islamist governments. Remember that: militant versus moderate. The attacks also demonstrated how swiftly terrorists can disrupt these fragile democracies.
Public opinion now matters in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt -- so it, too, is a target.
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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