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COGENT PROVOCATEUR:
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Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Monday, March 11, 2002

 
--- 2001-12-05 Flashback: Three Wars on Terrorism ---

In a series of posts on The Fray, 2001-12-05, I distinguished Three Wars on Terrorism -- the War on Osama, the World Series, and the War Without End, and offered assessments of each. On this semi-anniverserary of 9/11, I offer them for review ... with the note that my armchair generalship of the Afghan campaign is (so far as I am aware) unsurpassed in the blogosphere, and with the caveat that my views on the extended outlook are not especially comforting.

Excerpts below, though readers are encouraged to review the originals in full.

From "Three Wars":
FOX and MSNBC caption it "America at War". On CNN it's "America's New War". ["NEW! Improved!! Now with Chlorine Dioxide!!!] Not too far back, a rising chorus sang "quagmire". Turn a page, and we heard "triumph". Turn the page again, and a discordant chorus is groping for the key, wavering between boredom and chaos. Each swing of the perceptual pendulum inspires its own waves of hindsight, chirping and chiding. How goes the war, now, really?

It depends. It depends on which war you mean, which may in turn depend on divergent identification of the core conflict, adversary, strategy, and dynamics of history.

In brief: War #1 - winning ugly; #2 - dicey at best; #3 - losing/lost.

From "War on Osama"
It's hard to find any military conflict in history where the aftermath worked out the way the winners had it figured. Even in a winning campaign there's risk of unintended consequences ranging from annoying through catastrophic:
(1) Osama may go out with a bang ... like taking a big bunch of us with him, or rendering a slice of Pakistan uninhabitable with a dirty nuke.
(2) Reactive elements may reverberate through central Asia (as they did in Southeast Asia post-Vietnam).
(3) Post-Taliban Afghanistan may be no better than pre-Taliban government, only US gets more of the PR focus.
(4) A holocaust-scale humanitarian disaster may follow US victory.
(5) We help turn Afghanistan into Shangri-La, and every other failed state on the map wants the same treatment.
(6) Etc., etc.
The real upshot is probably not any of these ... it hardly ever is.

From "World Series"
Single-threading is harder than it looks. Finishing what we start may take longer than we calculated. Starting what we start may take longer. Sometimes an adversary -- or even an ally -- can seize initiative by starting early. If we simply smash states and leave, the aftermath may be worse ... so each "spike" operation creates a long "tail" of draws on US resource and management bandwidth, and (as in War #1) the inevitable unintended consequences ...

So we face a protracted campaign, during which scheduled foes have time to learn from each others' experience, with no assurance we can dispose of old enemies faster than we make new ones. Even in the best case, invincibility could work against us ... in standard drama, the relentless giant is the heavy, not the hero.

From "War Without End"
We got massacred on the PR front ... burned/bombed bridges with the most vital intelligence sources ... compromised intelligence integrity by dallying with less salient sources ... blew gaping holes in the traditional counterterrorism pipeline ... emphasized the incomparable reach of our long sword, confirming to any alert future foe's the advisablility of attacking inside its arc ... and inside our armor if possible ... advertised vulnerabilities ... declared arrogant indifference to conditions that foment global unrest, tarring all such concerns with the broad brush of "moral equivalence" ... attacked our own traditions of liberal democracy and republican construction of law ... spun on old allies ... disclaimed nation-building ... while acquiring an increased stake in the local outcome, whether we stay or go ... ruled out "appeasement" -- historically the most effective boundary discipline for an imperial hegemon surrounded by barbarians -- on principle (in a principle-depleted battlefield) ... conducted a global interactive virtual workshop in "How to Break the United States".

In sum, we are more vulnerable to terrorism now than when we began the War on Terrorism, and we're marching with our heads screwed on backwards.