Nobody can doubt that, if the United States truly wanted to, we could win in Iraq, no matter how one defines victory. Our military certainly has the power to crush any insurgency. We’ve got all the tanks, planes, helicopters and trained troops. Our enemy is a rag-tag group of “fighters,” most of whom are afraid to even show their faces.
They hit-and-run, attacking with snipers or roadside bombs instead of slugging it out with our troops, because they know if they went toe-to-toe they’d be destroyed in days. That’s also why they prefer to hit civilian targets: They’re easier to get at and less likely to fight back.
So the question isn’t “are we able to succeed,” it’s “do we have the will to succeed?” That’s an open question, and a critical one. Here’s why:
In his book “Dangerous Nation,” Robert Kagan wrote that, at the dawn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt and others believed that “advanced liberal commercial societies like the United States were in danger of losing the martial spirit necessary to defend themselves.” That’s exactly what’s come to pass.
Think of it this way -- just 100 years ago, even small countries such as Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands effortlessly sent troops to the far reaches of the globe, where they conquered and held colonies. For better or worse, people everywhere feared and respected what Kagan calls “liberal commercial societies.”
Today, the tables have turned. Only a handful of countries are capable of deploying troops overseas, and few are willing to actually do so. Meanwhile our enemies -- radical Islamists -- can easily project power anywhere at any time.
They’ve shown they can raze buildings in New York, destroy trains in London and Spain and blow up nightclubs in Bali. Along the way they’ve killed thousands of civilians, in Iraq and around the globe.
As T.R. feared, we’ve reached a turning point in history.
The war in Iraq and the weather outside are, in one sense at least, both tests of American will. We’ve already failed one. We can’t afford to fail the other. The world is watching.