Kathleen Parker
Just 57 shopping days left until Christmas and we still haven't won this darn war? For heaven's sake, somebody (ital) do (end ital) something. Already Americans are grumbling. Enough already, we're ready to change the channel. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants a new plan, something creative. Those dadgum caves are worse then we thought; winter's around the corner and our ground troops aren't doing so swell. Call marketing! In Britain, a tabloid is calling "our" war a fraud, while Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz notes that "the media honeymoon is clearly over." Reporters are asking tough questions about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and the "lack of tangible progress." Of specific concern to the media, of course, is the increasing perception that no one's on top of this anthrax thing. Doesn't the Bush administration realize that actual media personalities are at risk here? Meanwhile, the race card has surfaced with its usual punctilious punctuality. Hint: The majority of postal workers in the D.C. area tend to be black while Washington government tends to be white. Clearly, goes the inference, the government's quick response to the presence of anthrax spores in the U.S. Senate was about protecting whitey, while the government's glacial response to the dumbfounding likelihood that there could be anthrax in the originating postal station was about, oh, racial genocide. Osama bin Laden must be tickled pink. Americans. They're soooooo predictable. We speak of war as though we should be at the T-shirt stage. Even Rumsfeld seems to have succumbed to the drive-through mentality. "Rumsfeld Puts Pressure on Central Command to Come up With Creative War Plans; Military Proposes a 'Roll-the-Dice' Raid Against Taliban Leadership" goes the PRNewswire headline. No one seems to remember what President Bush said in his first address to the Congress and in subsequent comments: This is going to be a long war. A difficult concept for the Microwave Nation, to be sure. Hasn't it been three weeks already? I mean, we were still sleeveless when this began and here it is nearly Turkey Time. Never has our national impulse to instant gratification been so lucent, or so weird. This is indeed going to be a long, long war. Not three weeks, not three months, not even three years or 13. Because at its core, this is a war of culture and credence. We're dealing with an enemy that may be embodied by Osama bin Laden- he's as good a guerilla poster boy as any - but our enemy is "A People" who have the stunning capacity to nurture a grudge for 1,000 years. By definition, they are patient. Where we measure time in nanoseconds, they measure theirs by centuries. They bide time in eternity, while we curse at having to wait through a traffic light. We may have more military might and more resources to exhaust, but those at the Islamic lunatic fringe have the mental edge. They understand us perfectly well, and we know them not at all. In Newsweek magazine recently, Robert C. McFarlane, national security adviser to the Reagan Administration, said the CIA "has failed miserably. There's an appalling lack of intelligence skills. I haven't yet found one Dari speaker in the agency - or anyone who speaks any other Afghan dialect, for that matter. Or any analyst with real knowledge of Afghanistan's history, its tribal cultures, the networks that exist here." By contrast, the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center had studied our language and culture for years, patiently learning to fly, studiously grilling burgers, waiting for the right moment while Americans toiled with the mystery of Gary Condit's whereabouts on those leather-pant nights with a girl half his age. From the first days, even as we agonized over the obscenity of the terrorist attacks, we've responded with nearly preposterous naiveté. Doubtless, we're charmingly pathetic to the subterranean beard-strokers half a world away. Like children hugging Santa's lap, we've eagerly embraced the notion that a few mach 1.9 Raptors and newer, even smarter bombs will make short shrift of the bad guys. A few flags here, a prayer there, and Johnny and Susie will be home for Hanukkah. The truth, which understandably we're reluctant to absorb, is that this war will be as hellish as any, but longer than most. With an incubation period of centuries, this hatchling is monstrous, and we'll need more than smart bombs to win. We'll need to adjust to a new understanding of time, become as patient as our enemy, and become smarter than we've ever been.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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