The worst thing about the upcoming elections is, when it comes to war and peace, they turn on a deficient choice. Stay the course versus cut and run. Keep up your dukes versus cry "uncle."
For anyone who wants to fight to win, the choice is clear enough, if also non-compelling. Sticking to offense is intuitively better than giving up, but it doesn't inspire stirring campaign slogans. As in: "Vote Republican -- at least terrorists' overseas phone calls will continue to be intercepted." Then again, intercepting terrorists' overseas phone calls is considerably better than not. But to what end? Here's where the deficiency shows up. What if "the course" is wrong? And what if its destination is a) unreachable or, worse, b) wholly imaginary?
As an Air Force pilot noted in an e-mail to me, he doesn't recall hearing the president define "victory" for Iraq or Afghanistan. Me neither. Terms like "security" and "stabilization" just aren't substitutes. Guided by the false god of democracy, blind to the zealotry of Islamic culture, we have locked onto a course with no rational endpoint. Even as we pursue "security," "stabilizing" the Shiite-dominated, sharia-guided Iraqi government -- and, thus, creating a natural Iranian (Shiite) ally -- makes zero strategic sense. But, see here, say supporters of the president's Iraq policy: If we don't secure and stabilize the Shiite-dominated, sharia-guided government in Iraq, that same government falls, America suffers defeat in jihadist eyes, and Shiite-Sunni war breaks out in full force.
Well, which scenario is better for the US of A? I vote for civil war. It seems obvious when Shiite and Sunni jihadis -- and their Islamic world sponsors -- are busy slaughtering one another, they have much less time to plan their next attack on Americans, in the region or stateside. This isn't to say there's no role for American forces in the Middle East. But that role may be, as a marine captain home from Afghanistan and Iraq put it to me, far from booby-trapped Iraqi cities, perhaps in Kurdistan, where they can keep a lid on Iraq while preparing for the next stage of the war on jihad, against Iran and Syria. Assuming there is a next stage.
Such a redeployment is no defeat. But it would represent a drastic change in war aims and in the Bush belief in the magical properties of Western-style liberty for truly all. The fact is, democratizing Islamic cultures into secular wonders of ecumenical productivity just ain't going to happen. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better for us. And above all, this war should be, as they say in our therapeutic culture, all about us.
What would a war policy "about us" look like? First, as a matter of national security, it would call for energy independence. It also would be designed to keep jihad out of the West, and emphatically not to bring democracy to lands of jihad. Such a mission would necessarily engage the military in the Middle East, destroying or neutralizing myriad Islamic threats, from Iran to Al Qaeda, from Syria to Hezbollah. Maybe what I envision darkly doesn't sound like the kind of "limited war" the West has exclusively waged for a half century. But it doesn't sound like the kind of "limited war" the West has fought without definable end for half a century, either. And here I'm thinking back to Korea, the very first "limited war" fought to stalemate, not victory, by the last total warrior, Douglas MacArthur -- at least until President Truman fired him for the general's not wanting to fight to stalemate.
Since I began reading William Manchester's biography of Douglas MacArthur, I've been wondering what the famed general would say about today's plight. In a 1951 newspaper interview, MacArthur described his multinational (mainly American, of course) forces in Korea as being "circumscribed by a web of artificial conditions ... in a war without a definite objective. ... The situation would be ludicrous if men's lives were not involved."
It all sounds alarmingly familiar. And what was achieved in this limited war? Roughly 54,000 American servicemen dead for stalemate. Fifty-odd years later, we still have stalemate, and we still have American troops in South Korea (incredible) arrayed against Kim Jong Il, son of North Korean war leader, Kim Il Sung. Now we have NoKo nukes there, as well. Which should make us think hard: What will a limited, ill-defined war on terror look like ... in 50 years?