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Winter should bury the chorus of fainthearts
Anyone who has ever met Donald Rumsfeld (I spent some time at Christmas with him a few years back) knows that, whatever vices he might have, vagueness isn't one of them. Which is exactly what the news anchorman Tom Brokaw found out in a recent interview. Brokaw told Rumsfeld that the United States needed a quick and clear victory: Rumsfeld curtly replied: "My goodness."
Last Thursday, when asked if the Pentagon had been deliberately waging a modest war calibrated to political rather than military goals, Rumsfeld said: "It is absolutely false." When asked if there were new attempts to put ground troops in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said: "We have been working very diligently to do that for many, many weeks." Does he sound frustrated? A little - but as much by the impatient press as by the difficulties of war.
It is less than two months since Islamo-fascists launched a war against the US and only a few weeks since hostilities started in Afghanistan, yet already the press is using the word "quagmire" and liberal critics have pronounced that the war is not merely lost but unwinnable, while conservatives call it half-hearted.
To their credit, both George W Bush and Tony Blair warned that this conflict would be complex, covert and long. To demand instant results in Afghanistan is loopy. Yet the pressure of news deadlines and the attention span of the post-MTV generation demand it. Bush's response is even more eloquent than Rumsfeld's: he hasn't said a thing.
Besides, the large-scale evidence suggests that the war is going well. Despite warfare on a Muslim country, the Islamic world has yet to see a dynasty topple or jihad break out. Much of the Taliban's infrastructure has been destroyed; and the anti-terrorist alliance controls the Afghan skies. Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban puppets are in hiding.
If you assume, as I do, that Al-Qaeda had a counter-strike planned after September 11, then we can infer one of several things. The first possibility is that Al-Qaeda is behind the anthrax attacks. But if this is its idea of a deadly blow, it is truly pathetic.
Only a handful have died and a few more have been exposed. If the anthrax does turn out to be from Al-Qaeda via Iraq, then the terrorists have also given the US a perfect, internationally approved, pretext for finishing off the task of destroying Saddam Hussein at some point.
The second possibility is that Al-Qaeda has further plans to inflict revenge on the West but has, for the moment, been foiled. This is relatively good news. What it means is that arresting hundreds of suspects, ramping up surveillance and security and forcing Al-Qaeda to concentrate on its own survival in Afghanistan, have thrown a big wrench into the terrorists' network. The Islamo-fascists seem to be temporarily, or perhaps more than temporarily, neutered.
It's worth remembering that this neutering is not tangential to the war in Afghanistan - it's the point. The US has no desire to conquer Afghanistan except as a means of preventing future terrorism. To date, the evidence suggests that the US is succeeding in that respect.
If it took the allies a full year to subdue Afghanistan and, in that year, the terrorists were prevented from waging effective terrorism elsewhere, the war should be deemed a total success.
Now put yourself in Bin Laden's sandals. He's in a cave somewhere hunkering down for the winter. What are his options? His first call for a jihad hasn't toppled the alliance or any Arab regime. He could attempt another attack on America - destroying a bridge, unleashing a chemical attack, in the worst-case scenario, a suitcase atomic bomb. But what would happen then?
He must know that the American public mood would harden further. Perhaps he hopes to create chaos in order to foment a general Islamic uprising. But in the context of an even more outraged America, he must know this couldn't succeed against its military hegemony, in alliance with every major military and economic power on the planet.
The terrorists' best friends and strongest hope are those in the West whose instincts lead them to appeasement, defeatism or sympathy with the resentment that fuels Islamo-fascism. But although this mood is widespread among BBC producers, US university lecturers and Susan Sontag fans, the evidence is scant that most of the American and British public agree with them. Polls in America show increases in support for the war over the past month.
Besides, winter will help the allies. In difficult terrain in freezing temperatures, the advantage will surely go to those who control the air. Human targets are easier to spot against snow; infrared heat-seeking technology makes terrorists easier to find in the cold; attempts to move on the ground will become ever more difficult for Al-Qaeda.
No ground invasion of Afghanistan will be possible - but that can wait. As long as there is a bridgehead for special forces, and air power to project and protect them, winter is an advantage for the US and Britain. Of course, this is a war.
In wars, anything can happen. As Churchill put it: "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter." Wars reluctantly waged by essentially peaceful democracies often start falteringly. We don't know the terrain; we are unused to war; we panic easily, and get frustrated.
Yet this time the beginning has been remarkably swift (it took six months to prepare for the Gulf war), the initial results promising, the public resolved. The long-term outlook, however terrifying the damage we may yet endure, is still good. This is scarcely the moment to panic. As Rummy would put it, My goodness, no.
-- Swissrose (email@example.com), November 03, 2001
This is a good article, an excellent, level-headed assessment of what is really going on.
-- Loner (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 03, 2001.