This war is different and must be won

Posted: Oct 30, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON--The war is not going well. The Taliban have not yielded ground. Not a single important Taliban leader has been killed, captured or has defected. On the contrary. The Taliban have captured and executed our great Pashtun hope, Abdul Haq. The Joint Chiefs express surprise at the tenacity of the enemy. The war is not going well and it is time to say why. It has been fought with half-measures. It has been fought with an eye on the wishes of our ``coalition partners.'' It has been fought to assuage the Arab ``street.'' It has been fought to satisfy the diplomats rather than the generals. Thirty years ago in Vietnam, we fought a war finely calibrated to win ``hearts and minds.'' Bomb today, pause tomorrow. That strategy met with nothing but pain and defeat. One of the products of that war was Colin Powell. He and his generation vowed that never again would American lives be sacrificed, their missions compromised, their objectives distorted to satisfy purely political objectives. And yet for three weeks in Afghanistan we held back from massively bombing the Taliban front lines facing the Northern Alliance. Why? Because Pakistan does not like the Northern Alliance. So we calibrate the war to produce a precise ethnic balance, satisfying our various allies, for a post-Taliban Afghanistan. But you don't get to post-Taliban until you've defeated the Taliban. And you don't defeat the Taliban with antiseptic attacks on fixed installations and pinpoint raids on front-line positions. You do it by scaring the living hell out of the enemy, producing in him the rational calculation that you're going to win and he'd better change sides. The president repeatedly emphasizes that this is not a war against civilians. We are expending enormous effort on dropping food. The Pentagon feels obliged to respond to every Taliban claim of civilian casualties--diverting reconnaissance and other resources to investigating stories that are often entirely fabricated. Why have we turned this into an operation for the liberation of Afghanistan? Afghanistan will be liberated if we succeed. But that is not why we are there. We are there to avenge 5,000 murdered Americans and to protect the rest by killing those preparing to murder again. That defines our mission: destroying al Qaeda and the Taliban. What comes after will be an interesting problem. But it comes after. To restrain our military now in order to placate the diplomats is a tragic reprise of Vietnam. The error began in the very naming of the mission. It started out as Infinite Justice. But we could not have that, we were told, because it might offend Muslims, who believe that infinite justice only comes from God. (Don't Christians and Jews believe that too? Were (BEG ITAL)they(END ITAL) offended?) So we changed it to Enduring Freedom. Very nice. Too nice. We should have called it Righteous Might, the phrase Franklin Roosevelt used in his Pearl Harbor speech to describe what the enemy would now be facing. Instead, the enemy today is facing calibration and proportionality. The ``Powell Doctrine'' once preached overwhelming force to achieve victory. Yet we have held back. Why have we not loosed the B-52s and the B-2s to carpet-bomb Taliban positions? And why are we giving the Taliban sanctuary in their cities? We could drop leaflets giving civilians 48 hours to evacuate, after which the cities become legitimate military targets. We know our enemy is planning more mass murder. Every day of urban safety for them is another day of peril for innocent Americans. Restraint has already cost a lot. An important element of winning is psychological shock, the key to demoralization, defection and disintegration. We have squandered it. Now that the first wave of American power has come and gone, the Taliban are ever more convinced of American uncertainty and of their own indestructibility. Our solicitousness knows no bounds. The president urges the children of America to each send a dollar to feed Afghan children. He now urges American schoolchildren to find Muslim pen pals. After the carnage of Sept. 11, should not our Muslim allies be urging (BEG ITAL)their(END ITAL) people to seek out American pen pals? We were the ones attacked, by Muslims invoking Islam. Why are we are the ones required to demonstrate religious tolerance? Nice is nice but this is war. We cannot fight it apologetically--the very talk of holding our fire during Ramadan is beyond belief--with one hand tied behind our back. Half-measures are for wars of choice, wars like Vietnam. In wars of choice, losing is an option. You lose and still survive as a nation. The war on terrorism, like World War II, is a war of necessity. Losing is not an option. Losing is fatal. This is no time for restraint and other niceties. This is a time for righteous might.