President Bush cautioned patience from the beginning saying that we would prosecute the war on our own schedule, not the terrorists'. Perhaps he should now turn to the media and tell them the same thing.
Many in the foreign press, especially in Britain, have marshaled an all-out propaganda campaign against America's effort in Afghanistan. The criticisms range from charges that we are waging an inhumane war to derision that we are too weak to achieve our military goals.
One British paper decries our "repeated bombing errors, including the killing of seven children as they ate breakfast at home in Kabul." Another wails, "The war against terrorism is a fraud. After three weeks' bombing, not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has been caught or killed in Afghanistan." The media is also carping about our intention to proceed with bombing through the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, even though Muslims have rarely ceased hostilities during this period, and the Taliban certainly won't now.
It's not just the foreign press. We have homegrown naysayers in our Fourth Estate, as well. The L.A. Times reports that after a week of setbacks, Washington is being warned that a short-term campaign is the only way to prevent a mounting backlash.
So, which is it: Are we callous barbarians or the proverbial paper tiger? The answer is neither.
The claim that America is inhumane barely deserves the dignity of a response. What other nation has ever been so scrupulous about avoiding civilian casualties? Our bombs are aimed to strike military targets with surgical precision. You hear little about their overwhelming accuracy – only the exceptional mistakes. By contrast, our enemy initiated this war by deliberately attacking innocent civilians – not tens of them, but thousands of them.
The charge that we are disrespectful of our enemy's religion is even more insulting. We are not the ones who declared a holy war against Islam. The enemy, in the name of fundamentalist Islam, declared war against the "infidels." We have not bombed Mosques – even though we suspect that some enemy forces are using them as shields. But the enemy in Pakistan just attacked a Christian church and slaughtered 18 worshipers.
There is also no merit to the assertion that we are failing militarily. This is the most unconventional enemy we could ever face – even more elusive and unpredictable than the guerilla warriors of North Vietnam. Our enemy is not defined by nationality. We were attacked by 19 wealthy hijackers from Saudi Arabia at the behest of another maverick Saudi operating out of Afghanistan. Yet Saudi Arabia is assisting us, albeit modestly, in our effort against the attackers. The enemy hides in thousands of caves with elaborate underground networks protected by mines and suicidal zealots hungering for a chance to meet their respective vestal virgins. Remember, too, that Afghanistan is a big place, about the size of Texas. Just ask any Texan how big that is.
This war is also unique in that we are conducting it on various fronts: financial, intelligence, law enforcement and military. All are essential, but much of the progress is invisible and incompatible with our national psyche, which demands instant gratification. It bears repeating that President Bush has stressed from the beginning that this campaign would take not weeks or months, but years.
It's no wonder that some question what side many in the Western media are on. In a recent Defense Department press briefing, one irreverent reporter asked whether our military personnel were on the ground in Afghanistan helping with targeting and, if so, where. Instead of earning looks of disbelief and disapproval, her mind-numbed colleagues giggled in unison at her audacity. Utterly amazing!
I would agree that the administration should not allow diplomatic pressures, coalition partners or concerns about post-war nation building to distract us from our primary mission in Afghanistan and beyond, which is to defeat the enemy militarily. We should use that amount of force that is prudent and necessary to dispatch the enemy as quickly as practicable.
But I don't think our gradual escalation of the military offensive is due to nonmilitary concerns. I believe it's a result of the unorthodox nature of the enemy and their tactics, and the menacing terrain of the Afghan battlefields. I hope I'm not mistaken.
In the meantime, we should do our best to resist pressure from the media and others to wage this war according to their schedules. Cool heads must prevail, especially in matters of war.