“Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep doing it. ... You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focused on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.” (John Arquilla, defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, quoted by Seymour Hersch in The New Yorker August 21, 2006)
The death this summer of al-Zarqawi taught practical lessons about how to win this fight, if we have wit enough to see it. The terrorist’s end was not accomplished by massive invasion, but by combining law enforcement skills, good intelligence and a Gideon’s band of commandoes, saving technology-- the F-16s, the lasers and two 500-pound bombs— for the last judicious blow.
The men stepping to the microphone to take credit for the kill had almost nothing to do with it. They show no signs of learning from this small success. The administration still insists we are in a “War on Terror”? that must be engaged with apocalyptic force: but Justice has always carried a sword, a symbol of precision, not a blunderbuss.
American commandoes led the hunt, a careful and precise force that would leave a small footprint in a foreign land. This echoes Stephen Decatur and the first contingent of US Marines, who stole into Tripoli, killed with as much precision as possible, and took away the sanctuary of the Barbary pirates.
Results were less gratifying when Woodrow Wilson sent 10,000 soldiers, Black Jack Pershing, and a shavetail George Patton into Mexico to catch Pancho Villa. They gave up and declared victory after a year of chasing back and forth across the desert; Wilson succeeded only in making Villa a folk hero. Villa laughed for another seven years later, until a more modest,
seven-man Mexican team poured 150 bullets in his car.
Our president does not believe in the judicious use of the sword against murderers who hide themselves in
crowds. He likes his “Shock and Awe”, with the result that 80,000 pounds of bombs fell on Iraq. This was not a small footprint or a precision strike. We held the tearful smile of the world, on the day after September 11, and in a video flash became the best recruiters al-Qaeda ever had.
Our stalwarts then dropped 130,000 green Americans into the Middle East without a shred of Arabic or common sense. A small fierce band can discipline itself, but a sprawling invasion force cannot. Regardless of intentions or nobility, every large army since time began has given employment along its edges to what Wellington called “the scum of the earth”, profiteers and sadists and half-wits. For the next ten years, every diplomatic effort, every proclamation of American virtue will be hag-ridden by the smirk of Lindsey Englund.
The Thrones and Powers of this administration met in conclave last week to discuss their Great War. Secretary Rumsfeld persists in his imitation of a French aristocrat: you can’t tell him anything, he already knows, and damn your impertinence, Sir!
By all reports our affable president is, in private life, every bit as mean as his courtiers. Proud enemies of George Bush must be humiliated, the insubordinate punished, flatterers elevated: thus we see the remarkable elevation of Karen Hughes from Texas publicist to the highest-ranking Arabist in the world.
Two days after the al-Zarqawi hit, Hughes told the BBC, “Europe still, I think, does not see quote ‘a war against terror’ [sic]. I think the perception here [in Europe] tends to be a little more that it’s a law enforcement or perhaps criminal matter.” She claimed “the majority view of people of both parties in America” is that a law enforcement approach to terrorism “hadn’t proved effective.” Hence the model of American efficacy that we see in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The American military can only follow whatever bad strategy they’ve been given. The president’s attempt to bring democracy to the Middle East by bombing the hell out of it resembles nothing so much as John Steinbeck’s Lenny crushing a rabbit that he means to embrace. Here in Michigan, at least, we will be paying with dead children and lost treasure long after
President Bush has skipped on the 300 billion dollar check. Let us not squander the operational lessons we ought
to have learned in finding and killing al-Zarqawi, and spare a grudging prayer for the repose of Ahmed Fadeel al-Khalayleh. He was an indiscriminate killer of both Muslims and infidels. Until George Bush learns the
difference between the sword of justice and a cluster bomb, so are we.