A dispassionate assessment | VailDaily.com

A dispassionate assessment

Butch Mazzuca

Are we winning or losing the “war on terror”? Last March I wrote that the United States has been at war with three distinct sects of militant Islam, beginning with the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. I also opined that the true and accurate designation for this conflict should be the war against militant Islam because terrorism is not an enemy – terrorism is a tactic. Geopolitical analyst Dr. George Friedman posited a similar position when he wrote, “Terrorism is a mode of warfare. … Terrorism is a method of intimidating the civilian population in order to drive a wedge between the public and their government. Al Qaeda, then, had a political purpose in using terrorism, as did the British in their nighttime bombing of Germany or the Germans in their air raids against London. The problem in the Bush administration’s use of this term is that you do not wage a war against a method of warfare. A war is waged against an enemy force.” Dr. Friedman also extrapolated that the administration’s misuse of “war on terrorism” has led to the confusion in measuring our success in this war. So let’s look at some facts underpinning Dr. Friedman’s position.To begin with, Al Qaeda, one of the three militant Islamic sects that I referred to in previous commentaries, attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. While there have been al Qaeda attacks in Spain, England and several Muslim countries, no other attacks have occurred on our soil, which is certainly a positive (non)development. We also forced the Taliban government in Afghanistan out of power even though we have not defeated them, as evinced by the continuing insurgency there. And finally, U.S. forces have killed or captured many key al Qaeda operatives worldwide, but not Osama bin Laden.While we have had notable successes, we remain embroiled in a bitter war of attrition that “continues to pose serious military and political challenges.” Many of those challenges stem from the invasion of Iraq that the administration claimed was part of the “war on terror” but whose critics claim had nothing to do with the war. Nevertheless, two unassailable facts remain: The United States has not been attacked since 9/11. And no Muslim government has fallen to radical Islamists. The second point is of particular importance because it has been widely postulated that Osama bin Laden knew the United States had no choice but to retaliate after 9/11. In doing so, he hoped that such a strike would incite the Muslim world to overthrow one or more of the region’s pro-Western governments. The perception of strength and the willingness to use it is critical during wartime. It was essential that the Soviets understood our willingness to use an atomic weapon at the end of World War II, lest they become emboldened enough to try and push our forces off the European continent. So, too, is it critical that governments who openly or tacitly support al Qaeda understand that such support will be responded to. The invasion of Iraq antagonized many in the Muslim world, but it has also eliminated the well-earned perception that America was irresolute in fighting terror, which may explain why Muslim capitals take us more seriously than they did before 9/11. Two of the more arcane strategies behind the Iraq invasion were to pressure the Saudis to cease their support and facilitation of al Qaeda, and to begin cooperating with U.S. intelligence. According to Dr. Friedman, we’ve been successful in both those efforts. So what does the future hold for our forces fighting in Iraq, and how long before we can exit that country without making the mistake of cutting and running? It is believed here that the administration will begin a gradual drawdown from Iraq within the next six months because A) 16 of the 19 Iraqi provinces are for the most part pacified and B) with the current troop levels in-country, the United States no longer has the ability to deal with potential crises elsewhere in the world. The administration is still trying to recover from its early mistakes of alienating the Sunnis and disbanding the Iraqi military. Most of us also realize that Secretary Rumsfeld failed to anticipate (admit?) the depth and strength of the insurgency, and his Defense Department still hasn’t created an independent Iraqi fighting force capable of defeating the insurgency.However, an even more disconcerting aspect of this war is that the scope of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has left us unable to respond adequately to contingencies that could occur elsewhere. But it’s also important to understand that the reason for our predicament doesn’t rest solely with the Bush administration. The military W. inherited was created during his father’s and Bill Clinton’s administrations, and was predicated on many erroneous assumptions. After the Soviet Union imploded, military planners did not foresee the need for multi-divisional, multi-theater operations. Congress, which did not anticipate a 9/11 or the resulting geopolitical dynamic, reshaped our armed forces (a 33 percent reduction) to reflect this anticipated paradigm. Nevertheless, the Bush administration took a calculated risk in anticipating the force structure it inherited could deal with Iraq before another contingency manifested itself. So far the administration has been fortunate. Despite miscalculating the scope of the Iraqi resistance, no other theater except Afghanistan has required major U.S. force deployments. But it would be foolhardy to assume a quiescent world will remain so. The administration knows we’re on borrowed time.Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado