by Austin Bay
Have you got the guts for five years of war against terrorism?
Substitute "collective will" for "guts," and you go to warfare's pivotal issue.
Of course, military leadership, training and operational capability matter immensely. High-tech weaponry always helps -- lasers and smart bombs are a big edge. Economic resiliency, productive capacity, labor talent, every one of the economist's buzzwords plays a role in war. Global political influence and cultural appeal provide powerful diplomatic tools.
But every grand strategist worth a footnote from Sun Tzu to von Clausewitz understands warfare is a clash of human wills. Clausewitz lays it out like so: "If you want to overcome your enemy, you must match your effort against his power of resistance, which can be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will."
The motive will of a man who spends five years preparing himself and his terror cell to hijack an airliner and smash it into a skyscraper is enormous, sociopathic perhaps, but large in big letters. Harnessed to a destructive enterprise, his hatred for modernity -- as expressed in Western culture, American power, global trade and liberal democracy --becomes a powerful propulsive force.
His cohorts (the gangsters who orchestrated the attacks and the rogue states who harbor them) are betting that America is a sitcom nation, a mere creature of Hollywood and Wall Street, and our attention span is short. We will lose interest, we'll change channels, we'll cut and run as gas prices climb and stock portfolios shrink.
At the moment, the Clausewitzean "total means at their disposal" (i.e., the terror syndicate's weapons and forces) pale compared to America's. But the terrorists believe their millenarian will trumps our abundant material means and utterly dwarfs our decayed, rotting, party-on-dude sense of purpose.
To successfully prosecute an effective war against this kind of enemy becomes a long-term commitment propelled by sustaining will and a renewed sense of national purpose.
Immediate emotions fade. The personal challenge is to transform individual indignation, fear and anger into resolve. When a democratic nation wages war, the collective will to sustain the conflict is the strategic key to victory -- and also the source of defeat. The national challenge is to forge the collective will to sustain the effort required to defeat the terror syndicates and the nations that harbor them despite the inevitable costs, mistakes, setbacks and lost lives.
The distance between individual indignation and sustained collective will is large, and bridging that chasm requires leadership. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have particularly large leadership tasks, but the issue of leadership in this dark and dirty kind of war isn't theirs alone.
In a democracy, all of us share the privilege of leadership. It comes with the ballot as well as the Bill of Rights.
Mature citizens recognize that everyone has a leadership role, especially in times of crisis and in long-term collective efforts. The cooperation, care and common trust demonstrated by Americans evacuating the World Trade Center not only saved thousands of lives, it was indicative of America's capacity for individual responsibility and leadership. Cell phone calls to authorities by passengers on the hijacked planes illustrated not only cool but collective responsibility. Apparently, the passengers of one plane overpowered the hijackers. Though they died when the jet crashed outside of Pittsburgh, their physical courage and valor signal American capabilities in the clutch.
Self-critique is a great American strength. Self-critique spurs American innovation, contributes to adaptability, empowers our pursuit of justice, shapes our moral endeavors.
The acid of self-doubt, however, is something else. Over time, that acid destroys faith and trust. Destroy faith and trust, and the best-equipped militaries rust; the savviest diplomatic initiatives are futile gestures.
Our resolve will be tested by this long, dark war. A counter-terror war, waged against calculating radicals like Osama bin Laden, requires forceful and steady diplomacy. Such a war necessarily plays out in the globe's cruelest shadows, where targets are poorly defined, immediate goals fuzzy, mistakes a certainty, high casualties a real possibility.
The five year estimate for the length of this war isn't drawn from a hat. Prosecuting this war requires designing, implementing and relentlessly pursuing rigorous anti-terror economic, legal, information and political policies that complement and support military campaigns. To accomplish this takes time, treasure and perseverance, sustained by collective will.