The long twilight struggle

Sometime late next year, a young man or woman who was not yet born on September 11, 2001, will raise their right hand and join the U.S. armed forces.  Given the tempo at which those forces have operated the past 17 years, that young person likely will be sent quickly to the Middle East in some capacity.

There, they will form part of the second consecutive generation to fight this “war.”  Unlike my uniformed cohort, they will have no memory of the events that led to them being there.  Nor will they have a concept of a time when the TSA didn’t exist, and the government didn’t conduct constant surveillance.  For them, America has always been at war.

The same will hold true of their contemporaries who stay in civilian life.

So what have we accomplished thus far, at the expense of nearly 7,000 dead and almost $3 trillion?  Very little, it would seem:

…Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.

What U.S. officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that Al Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

In fact, a good case can be made that the resilience of jihadi groups in the face of the most technologically sophisticated military force on the planet only underscores the righteousness of their ideas.  In swatting bees with sledgehammers, we’ve only increased the size of the swarm, with no vision of how this is supposed to end:

There is a stunning lack of strategic vision in America today. The range of foreign policy activities, beyond so-called “traditional diplomacy,” extend across military power and include everything from financial aid to information to exchanges of all kinds. These instruments are, however, seemingly applied without synchronization or thoughts about end states. The different bureaucracies often work together only on an ad hoc basis and rarely share collaborative requirements and communications with their respective oversight committees in the Congress.

Our few and feeble attempts to articulate vision have been badly flawed, and rarely considered the cultural and political realities of where we were fighting.  I was in Baghdad when the Bush administration declared our objectives there were a stable, unified, democratic Iraq.  A quick wit in our section soon had those diagrammed with a triangle on a marker board with the caption “pick any two.”

While pursuing this quixotic endeavor abroad, we have also failed to secure our own borders or effectively increase scrutiny of those entering our country.  The 9/11 hijackers covertly but legally entered the United States.  Now we have a veritable open fifth column of Islamists spreading the influence within the country.  Since many young Americans have been conditioned to believe their nation to be a blight on history, it’s difficult to mount an effective ideological defense.

Our continued thrashing about in the world only underscores our nation’s diminishment.  One measure of “just war” — a pillar of Western thought rarely referenced in the general public these days — is whether a conflict results in improved circumstances.  Can anyone say that Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen… or the United States are better off after a generation of warfare?  Is this likely to change when the sons and daughters of the original military force are the ones doing the fighting?

Seal the borders.  Deport the disloyal.  Bring our troops home.  That’s a coherent proposal, and at least has the benefit of not yet having been seriously tried.  Anything short of that is insanity — defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  That’s no way to honor the memory of those who died 17 years ago… or the tens of thousands of American servicemen dead or disabled since then.

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Iran

The clerical regime in Tehran is facing perhaps its biggest challenge since the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution that put it into power.

This is a very big deal.

For years, Iran has been the world’s biggest state sponsor of international terrorism (in particular the Hezbollah organization).  That’s why it was criminally irresponsible for the Obama administration to weaken sanctions on Tehran, and airlift $1.7 billion in paper currency to them!  This, after essentially ignoring previous unrest in 2009.  In his quixotic quest for a meaningless “nuclear deal” with Iran, Obama spared no opportunity to help the mullahs.  In doing so, he was enabling a regime that exported considerable trouble, including cooperation with other rogue regimes like the one in North Korea.

Many Obama alumni are calling on the current administration to also be silent, saying to speak out risks having Iran’s leaders brand the dissidents as “foreign agents.”  This overlooks the power of moral support.  Trump’s initial statement on the matter — a remarkably statesmanlike missive — was translated into Farsi and quickly passed around among the dissidents before the regime blocked access to social media.  Obama’s team might well be wondering what else will come to light about them, should the mullahs lose power.

America remains the original modern Constitutional republic, however battered that system may be.  The most powerful foreign policy tool available to us is modeling what a free society should look like.  For more than two centuries people in other countries seeking a better way have looked to us for inspiration and example.  We have not always lived up to such scrutiny, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Inspiration is far to be preferred over invasion as a means to advance freedom.

“Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she (America) goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.”  – John Quincy Adams, 1821

Let us all offer “prayers and benedictions” that the Iranian people will finally free themselves of the original Islamist gangster regime.  The world could be a much better place if they do.

Why is this not considered an act of war?

The Islamist regime of Recip Erdogan in Turkey is clearly using 4th generation warfare against its neighbors in Europe:

An explosive report has revealed that close associates of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials of his AKP Party are funding and arming criminal gangs in Germany. This information reportedly was leaked by German intelligence to several media outlets, which subsequently published the allegations…

In response to this week’s media reports, State Office for the Protection of the Constitution chairperson Burkhard Freier described the biker gang as a “paramilitary organization.” Said Freier to ZDF: “For us, the Osmanen Germania working as security guards, carrying guns, engaging in violent crimes and clashing with other groups show that they are a paramilitary group. Their political agenda also strengthens this impression.”

Founded in 2015, “Osmanen Germania” advocates an ideological mix of Islamism and Turkish nationalism.

In May 2016, German police intercepted a weapons shipment of automatic weapons to the group…

Erdogan has also demanded that Germany approve more visas for Turkish citizens to relocate there, threatening to send more waves of refugees if German Chancellor Angela Merkel didn’t comply.

Read the entire story at the link above.  Kemal Ataturk established a secular Turkish government at the beginning, and the country has long sought acceptance into Europe.  Integrating Turkey into Europe has been problematic, though, due to history, culture and not least of all, significant religious differences.  In recent years the secular nature of Turkey has been undermined, and under Erdogan the country’s actions are coming to resemble those of Iran — a revolutionary, totalitarian regime determined to export its particular brand of Islam.

Europe can ill afford to bring in any more “refugees” who can then serve as shock troops for subversive activities or engage in general mayhem.  The best way to shut down that threat is to close the border and expel of all the “refugees” admitted in recent years.  A fitting policy would be to void the residency of any who arrived after September 11, 2001.  Given his own public statements (essentially threats), Erdogan has no grounds to complain about such a policy.

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As I’ve been saying…

this fellow also says it well (emphasis added by me):

War is and always will be an ugly business.

That knowledge should lead Western governments to use their technological and economic advantages to avoid getting into wars with the barbarians on the edge of civilization. Instead, they start wars they never intend to win, so they can preen and pose about their virtue and morality, when something terrible inevitably happens…

The point of war is to kill the enemy and break up their stuff. The hope is they quit before you kill all of them and break all of their stuff, but you plan otherwise. If the Afghans knew all along that helping Osama bin Laden was most likely going to mean their cities and large towns would be flattened, they would have chose differently. Let’s assume they played it the same and Bush had firebombed Kabul, what would have been the result?

Yeah, there would have been a lot of hand-wringing and pearl clutching in Washington, but every other nutjob in the Middle East would have been re-calibrating his plans. A lot less death and destruction would have come as a result.

Not long after it became clear we were in both Afghanistan and Iraq for an extended engagement, I told a fellow Airman our country was making a huge mistake.  Rather than just strike and leave, our country was arrogant enough to believe we could “make democracy bloom” in a soil that has never yet produced it on its own.  Americans today have no stomach for the kind of occupation (both scope and duration) it would take to create that level of change in the region.  To put it bluntly, unless we’re willing to seal off and occupy the countries until we’ve educated a couple new generations, it ain’t happening (and probably wouldn’t then, either).  I said at the time we’d have been better off after 9/11 by turning the Taliban and Kabul into the world’s largest man-made crater as a warning to others, then leaving everyone in literal shock and awe (“Who else wants some of that?  Any takers?”).  Instead, our half-hearted wars of choice over the last decade and a half have eroded the respect and fear (not to mention the capability) our military once commanded.

You’re not powerful just because you’re throwing military forces around.  You’re powerful when nobody dares challenge you, even indirectly, for fear of the deathstroke you’re expected to deliver.  That’s the difference between deterrence and playing expensive whack-a-mole all over the earth.

“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”  – Sun Tzu

But failing that,

“The will to conquer is the first condition of victory.”  – Marshall Ferdinand Foch

 We as a nation don’t have a will.  We’re too hesitant to be feared, and too reckless abroad to be respected.  And that’s why there’s not a way to win.  Trying to fight a war at the level of a low and long simmer is about as sensible as a doctor trying to operate without losing any blood.  Either America has the will to fight — including responsibility for the inevitable horrors — or it doesn’t.  Either there’s a reason to break things and kill people, or there’s not.  If there is, let it be done quickly, relentlessly and efficiently until a better future is secured (that’s Just War theory, by the way).

If, however, there isn’t will or a reason, the families of more than 8,300 Americans deserve to know why their loved one were sent to die.  Tens of thousands of scarred Americans also deserve to know what their sacrifices were for.