2008: As the U.S. armed forces have done
so many times before, they entered the uncertainty of a new war in 2001, and
are now trying to figure out what they gained from it. Most of what went on
during this war was unreported or misreported. This is nothing new. The important
details, and lessons, of all past American wars were poorly reported, and what
the military is trying to avoid is taking away the wrong lessons.
the current conflict, the military made no secret of what they were doing, and
just kept focused on winning. They knew they would be dealing with an unusual
enemy, a stateless force based on ideology and religion based hatred. This foe was weak, in the conventional military sense, but was armed with two powerful weapons.
First, there was the suicide bomber, and terrorism in general. Against civilian
populations, this was a very effective weapon. Against a professional and
resourceful military foe, it was much less so. But the enemy had another weapon;
the media and political opposition in their opponents homeland. The media is
eager to report real or imagined disasters and mistakes. This is how the news
business has stayed solvent since the mass media first appeared in the mid 19th
century. Al Qaeda was run by people who were aware of this, and knew how to
exploit it, both among friendly (Moslem) populations, and in nations they had
declared their enemy. This they did by exploiting the proclivities of the
political oppositions in the West.
the West considered terrorism a police matter. But al Qaeda believed that if
they could turn it into a military campaign, by getting Western nations to use
military force, they would trigger an angry reaction among Moslems. Al Qaeda had long preached that the West was
the enemy of Islam, and a Western invasion of Moslem nations would prove this.
They also knew that many in the West would not approve of military action.
These politicians, and their followers, would continue to insist on treating
Islamic terrorism as a police matter. This would cause political turmoil in the
West, and weaken counter-terror operations.
invasion of Afghanistan, after September 11, 2001, did indeed enrage many
Moslems, even though many of them admitted that the Taliban government there
had provided bases for al Qaeda. But the Islamic terrorists also took advantage
of the fact that Moslems did not use the same logic as Westerners. Even after
the Taliban government quickly fell in late 2001, to an "invasion force" of
only 300 Western troops (U.S. Army special forces and CIA agents), many Moslems
insisted this was an unwarranted attack on a Moslem nation. This despite the
fact that most Afghans wanted to be rid of the Taliban. And then it got worse,
as many Moslems insisted that al Qaeda did not carry out the September 11, 2001
attacks. Many Moslems(and some in the West) still believe that the Israelis were behind it, or that the Americans
staged an attack on themselves to provide an excuse to make war on Islamic
nations. Al Qaeda knew how to exploit fantasies and cultural biases, even while
al Qaeda leaders were taking credit for the 911 attacks.
invasion of Iraq was even more contentious. In hindsight, the Iraq operation
was essential to the defeat of al Qaeda, and the shattering of their popular
support in the Moslem world. Al Qaeda, true to its own beliefs and tactics,
tried to use terror attacks against the Shia Arab majority in Iraq, after 2003,
as a way to put the Sunni Arab minority back in control. All this did was kill
thousands of Moslem civilians and deflate popular support for al Qaeda. This
could be seen, year by year, as opinion polls in Moslem countries revealed
declining al Qaeda popularity.
Qaeda still had a lot of Support in the West. The political opposition in the
United States, true to form (as in all past American wars) found ways to
criticize the Iraq operation without actually joining the enemy. The media in
the West backed the opposition, as that's where the headlines, and the profits,
Out of all
this, the American military found other lessons. Their professional and
resourceful troops found ways to neutralize enemy weapons (suicide and roadside
bombs) while keeping their casualty rate at less than half what it was in
Vietnam and pervious wars. The generals got no credit, in the media, for that,
but the troops sure appreciated it. This resulted in the volunteer military to
maintain its strength in wartime, the first time the U.S. had accomplished that since the
developed a wide array of new techniques for fighting "irregular wars" (where
the opponent is not a regular army.) The military adapted many new technologies
to this new kind of war (smart bombs, data mining, forensics, persistent
surveillance and lots of modern police techniques). The new problem is transferring as much of this new knowledge
to future conventional wars. And there will be a transference. Most other major
military powers are also trying to figure that out, so they can also profit
from the American success.
the continued hammering the military is taking, for "failing" in this new kind
of war, at least makes it less likely that there will be a problem with the
victory disease (where winning brings with it complacency and all the ills that
follow believing your own press releases.)