There are weak-spirited critics of your war on terror who try to draw analogies with previous attempts to quell insurgency which have failed. They suggest that the history of the French debacle in Algeria, the Belgians in the Congo, the Americans in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan, the Israelis in Lebanon (twice) , show one simple fact about these kinds of wars – that they never work. The reason, they say, is quite simple. By using military force against a country, it quickly turns people against the outsiders, whatever the original feelings of the majority may have been. They come to hate the people they might have been expected to love.
Furthermore, insurgency is hydra-headed. The more fire-power that is brought against it, the more it seems to flourish. It is like a rubber band; the more it is pushed against, the stronger its resistance. For each ‘terrorist’ killed, two more spring up. Each weapon that is deployed seems mysteriously to generate two in counter-opposition.
What is alleged by these critics is that these kinds of wars are in nature different to the traditional wars such as those of nineteenth century Europe or the American Civil War. It is not a matter of two groups fighting for a finite period, one winning on the field of battle, peace being declared at the end with a ‘victor’ and it all being over. These wars seem much more like feuds; each time you strike, the counter-strike gets larger. There is a terrible and bloody echo. The enemy is diffuse, impossible to pin down, fails to accept when he is beaten, gains in conviction every time you make a mistake and kill or torture the wrong people, resents the fact that, for example, tens of thousands of women and children are killed as ‘collateral’ damage.
So your critics liken us to someone entering a dangerous swamp, sucked in further and further, finally to be pulled out after countless atrocities, in a humiliating retreat as happened in all the cases mentioned above. They suggest that this is what you have already witnessed with the collapse of the well-meaning initiative in Afghanistan and the growing mayhem in Iraq. Are they right?
There is clearly something in what they say, but consider the implications. If you accepted this argument, you would have to leave the nests of vipers in the rogue states to breed without molestation. You would have to pursue the slow and cumbersome route to international peace through bodies like the United Nations, thereby surrendering some of your freedom of action and self-interests. You would just be one among a body of nations, seemingly having to listen to puny countries like Canada or Sweden with their dangerous liberal leanings.
It would be tantamount to re-thinking the whole world order and to accepting that military might is not the solution. It would mean that you should attempt to persuade, encourage and seduce your enemies rather than destroy them. This is clearly unacceptable.
Why can’t your enemies accept defeat graciously like the Japanese did after you had dropped two atom bombs on them and shown them who was military boss, or the Germans when you had defeated their armies and destroyed their cities in infernos? It is all very disappointing, but should not lead us to despair. If you can throw enough weapons, enough troops, enough terror at them, surely they will give up?
The final consolation is that if you fail again, as you did in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and elsewhere, the memory of this defeat and humiliation will not last for long. After previous failures, people said you would never forget your mistakes. But a generation on and the memories are dying. If your current policies do not succeed, in a generation or two people will have forgotten. Indeed, it may be sooner than that, for the effective failure of your attempt to bring a new and more decent order to Afghanistan is already largely forgotten, only a year or two into the process.
Furthermore, it is not winning or losing that matters, it is the game itself. While you’re at war with terror, it has such exquisite side-effects. It increases your power and ability to pursue whatever goals you like, so that the final outcome does not really matter. Europe grew rich during the Crusades, even if it did not gain the Holy Land for good. It grew rich on the pillage of China, even if China slipped from its grasp. It grew rich from its control of India, even if the Indians gained independence in the end. The same was true in Africa and the Middle East. Even the Vietnam years were not bad ones in America.
It is perhaps a pity that many should have to be shrivelled up in the process, but that is the world you live in. The ‘survival of the fittest’, nature ‘red in tooth and claw’, these are good analogies. Make sure you are the fittest and that your teeth and claws are really sharp and you will survive. ‘Attack first, think later’, is not a bad motto.