After the attack on the World Trade Center, when it became apparent that those responsible were followers of Osama bin Laden, I began to wonder what was in store for us as Americans. I began to collect information about who these guys were and what their goals were as a first step in trying to determine what types of actions I would support and which actions I would reject. Now I’m not a leader or a mover and shaker of any kind, but it doesn’t matter to me. I had to decide what I would do in order to evaluate whether or not I would be able to support what we as a nation would eventually do.
In other words, I had to think as if I were the leader.
And I had to be as cold and rational as possible because people’s lives were on the line.
But one thing was clear to me from the beginning: there was no way around it, someone somewhere was going to die as a result of my decisions.
And I was determined that it should be “them” rather than “us”.
To me, destroying al Qaeda and their support system in Afghanistan was a no-brainer. Thinking about the types of troops that would be able to operate there, I determined that only a small subset of our military would be able to operate there because of the terrain: light infantry and Special Ops. It is not a place friendly to mechanized or armored units which comprise the majority of the US Army. The full range of air forces and ship-board indirect fire could be employed but only to the extent were are able to get port and basing facilities. This is obviously less of a problem for the Navy than it is for the Air Force. So the Administration was just going to have to do what it could diplomatically to get enough bases in surrounding countries until we get a foot hold on the ground. I even went so far as to play out the scenario using computer game The Operational Art of War and was able to get full military control of Afghanistan by December. The US forces did it much quicker than that.
The question was, was Afghanistan enough?
None of the Sept 11th attackers were from Afghanistan. For the most part, they were from Saudi Arabia. The USS Cole’s attackers were from Yemen. And the news reports were that Afghanistan was the training base for al Qaeda, not necessarily its operational base. The video found in Afghanistan where bin Laden claims fore-knowledge of the attack, does not indicate that they had operational control. More importantly, it seemed that al Qaeda operatives came to Afghanistan for training and then dispersed throughout the world to plan and attack. Having read bin Laden’s “Declaration of War” it became clear to me these people were serious and that what we had here was what we might refer to as a “distributed network”; where each cell throughout the world operated as another “processing” center returning its results to master program. And the Master Program was to bring down the US as a means of bringing down the West.
But three things stood out to me. In order for any military to function it needs people, money, and training. To be successful in any military operation, you must destroy the enemy’s ability to make war effectively. So to accomplish their goals, Islamic fascists needed money, the ability to recuit, and now that Afghnistan was gone, training bases. Where were their logistics lines?
The training bases needed to be either in places friendly to Islamic fascist ideals or hostile to the US.
Money and recruiting could come from anywhere, but we have seen that most recruits come from Islamic nations that espouse anti Semitic policies. This might seem counter intuitive, but when you understand the rationale for calling Israel the “little Satan” you also come to understand that the US is the “big Satan” for the very same reason. It is no coincidence that the same countries and people who are anti-Semitic are also anti-US which is seen to be run by Jewish interests.
To the extent a country fosters anti-Israel sentiment; they also encourage anti-US sentiment. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are dictatorships of one form or another and most of them are similar to pre-war Iraq in the sense that the ruling class takes the capital leaving little for everyone else. To distract people from these facts of life, the governments direct hatred outward towards Israel and the US. And while it is true that the 9-11 attackers were primarily from the privileged class, the foot soldiers attacking Israel are not. Neither are the Taliban or al Qaeda foot soldiers.
So it would seem that to successfully defeat the strategies of Islamic fascist groups the US needs to do the basic military stuff of systematically removing the enemy’s ability to supply their plans. Which means we have to remove their bases of support; men, material, money and physical assets.
The largest percentage of these resides in the Middle East and North Africa. So transforming the Middle East from primarily consisting of totalitarian states who have a vested interested, for one reason or another, in focusing hatred and discontent away from their corrupt regimes outward to Israel and the US would go a long way in focusing people on building their own lives instead of trying to tear down the lives of others.
President Bush and his administration, I believe came to this conclusion as well, but even if they didn’t, from my point of view their actions are consistent with my own rationale so I can support it.
He picked Iraq in which to start the process but it didn’t have to be Iraq. Once you have decided that one way to defeat Islamic fascists is to transform the Middle East, it simply becomes a matter of where to start.
Saddam was a reasonable choice because
• He was the biggest and baddest bully on the block. It’s always most effective politically to take on the big one, if you can.
• Bin Laden’s biggest recruiting tool was US military presence in the holy land. He made this point specifically in his Declaration of War. The only reason why the US was in Saudi Arabia was to contain Saddam. Take out Saddam and you take away the bases in Saudi Arabia removing one recruiting tool. (Which, by the way, has been done)
• Saddam was a mass murderer and had pan-Arabic intentions. Eventually people would lose interest in “containment” and he would be able to use his vast oil wealth to again attempt to accomplish his goals. We can not forget that France, Germany, and Russia were eager for the UN to lift sanctions against Saddam. France had even attempted to pass such a resolution in the UN Security council but was vetoed by the Clinton Administration. Eventually a US President would be elected that would go along and France and Russia could finally make all the money they wanted with oil and arms contracts.
• The US had a legal right to resume war with Iraq since it had not lived up to the cease-fire agreements negotiated at the end of the Gulf War.
The strategy of seriously, perhaps fatally, diminishing the strategic assets of al Qaeda and the Islamic fascists by transforming the Middle East and North Africa into Liberal Democracies is indeed an ambitious undertaking. It is true that it could fail. But in the history of the world, no great undertaking is assured of success from the outset. There was no such assurance when the US went to war in 1941 that it would prevail. When we founded this country and declared independence from Britain, there was no assurance that we could win independence let alone become a great nation or even a successful one.
And no great undertaking knows all of the pitfalls that will impede success or the tactics necessary to eventually bring about success beforehand. If such knowledge was possible, success would be assured from the outset. So the fact that it is an ambitious plan is not a criticism. The criticism that everything could not be foreseen is merely small minds stating the obvious because they have nothing useful to add.
We must keep in mind that no matter what, Afghanistan was not enough because of the distributed nature of the enemy’s organization. Is invading Iraq and subsequently turning it into a Democracy in the hopes that it will be the leavening that transforms the region the only way to defeat the enemy? It would be silly to think it is: If you only see two choices in a given situation, you are missing something. But something had to be done and this is what the President and Congress and by these actions, the American People, chose to do. It’s not an unreasonable decision even if it is ambitious: and it could work. It would have a better chance of working the more people get on board.
It’s an important point to make that the United States of America chose this path. We the people chose this path. In our system of government Congress debated the recommendation of the President. By proxy we the American People debated the issue and a very significant majority decided it was the right thing to do.
So I’m not the only one.