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The First Terrorist War - Ten Years Later

Sections of "The First Terrorist War"

1. Calling the War By the Right Name. mumbaifear-thumb
2. Not Process But Victory Restores Freedom
3. Playing for Time is Playing to Lose
4. The Goal of Radical Islam is Our Destruction
5. The War of Two Religions
6. The Unspoken Role of the Ballistic Missile Submarines
7. Avoiding the Islamic War by Winning the Terrorist War

"[Arabs] were incorrigibly children of the idea, feckless and colour-blind, to whom body and spirit were for ever and inevitably opposed. Their mind was strange and dark, full of depressions and exaltations, lacking in rule, but with more of ardour and more fertile in belief than any other in the world. They were a people of starts, for whom the abstract was the strongest motive, the process of infinite courage and variety, and the end nothing. They were as unstable as water, and like water would perhaps finally prevail." -- T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

1. Calling the War By the Right Name.

In a war, "Know your enemy" is one of the first axioms in formulating a strategy for victory. It is an axiom the United States has ignored for over two seven years. Instead we’ve seen a host of euphemisms and slogans thrown up in the belief that, having had many decades of a life where ugly things are given pretty or neutral names, Americans can no longer "bear very much reality."

In the years between September 2001 and today, the public has had little asked of it and seen nothing happen on our soil that alarms it. All is quiet on the western front. [Update April 2013. This is no longer true.]

Foggy thinking, attractive in politics, means defeat in war. War requires "a mind of winter;" a mind that is precise, cold, and unrelenting. War requires that we call things what they are and cease to skirt issues that make us, "uncomfortable." Vague names create fluffy policies, hamstrung strategies, and wishful thinking. This is where we are drifting.

To say we are "involved" in a "war on terror" extends our infatuation with euphemism and obfuscation into dangerous territory. The phrase lulls us into a state where all dangers seem unclear and distant. The "war on terror" joins an expanding list of "wars on..." such as drugs, poverty, or profuse paperwork in government. The "war on terror" implies a "process" rather than a campaign; an indeterminate series of unresolved encounters rather than decisive actions that lead to an end, to peace.

Peace is the goal of war. To accept a perpetual "war on terror" is to accept a plan for mere "management" rather than victory. The failure to plan for victory is the construction of a plan for defeat.

To those with a clear vision of this war and a knowledge of history, it is a lie that we are "involved in a war on terror." Our presidents, pundits and policy wonks may prefer it that way, but war is not the same as being "involved in a business slump" or "involved in a troubled relationship."

Wishful souls in the West may see the war as a "process;" as an exercise in supply chain management. Our many millions of avowed enemies do not. Our enemies have no truck with vague thinking and phrases front-loaded with vacillation and pusillanimous wishing. Their thinking is driven by an ancient religious doctrine designed to manipulate, exploit and harness societies into servitude.

Our enemies’ commitment to our destruction is adamantine. It is no accident that many of their spiritual leaders speaking from the centers of their faith call for the death of the "Crusaders." Obfuscation has no place in their plans except as if creates confusion and doubt among us. Our enemies' goals are the same goals they have held for more than 500 years. They are the goals announced several times a week in tens of thousands of mosques throughout the world. For our enemies, the wars of the Crusades and the wars surrounding the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire were merely prologues to this war.

One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before the breath of an idea, till it reached its crest, and toppled over and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more." - T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Our present reality, brought home to us in the cataclysm of September 11 (and last week in Mumbai), is that we are now fighting The First Terrorist War. We had best know it by that name. When we persist in calling it the "war on terror" our implied goal is control and containment; a "management problem". This is a lethal illusion.

In war the only acceptable outcome is complete victory. A negotiation does not end a war - - as Oslo shows. A partition does not end a war - - as we learned in Vietnam. A cease-fire does not end a war -- as we saw in the Gulf War. The Cold War taught us that a wall does not end a war. Only victory, clear and decisive, ends war and creates peace. To date, we have failed to learn this lesson. In life, when a lesson is not learned, it is repeated.

In war, language is a strategic asset. Indeed, we see daily how language, here and abroad, is used to weaken the resolve of the United States. The central problem in calling The First Terrorist War the "war on terror’ is that the phrase soothes us into accepting less than victory; makes us accept war-without-end as a new deal; a new normality where terror is accepted as the status quo. This is the state in which Israel has existed for decades as terrorist violence becomes the scrim screen against which that nation's life lurches on. Although our present foreign policy may impose this on Israel, a garrison state may, over time, prove less popular here at home. We are not yet the kind of country that easily accepts "The Forever War."

2. Not Process But Victory Restores Freedom

An open-ended "war on terror," like a ‘war on drugs" invites a continuing erosion of small liberties. As this persists, once rare infringements on liberty become the norm. If it is to be the case that the shoes of all air travelers are to be inspected from now until the last ding-dong of doom, we will all be wearing sandals on airlines for the rest of our days. In this, many are correct to be wary of the long term effects of The Patriot Act.

Short of military conquest, a free society does not lose its freedom. Rather, freedom is lost through small infringements on liberty and dignity in the name of security. A perfectly safe state is a state without freedom. As our policies look to sustain rather than defeat our enemies, we are to that degree held hostage to both our policies and our enemies. When war is reduced to a process, that process becomes a self-renewing system in the same way that the "war on drugs" has become institutionalized in our lives; a normal part of the background noise that defines our days. A strategy based on "management," on diplomacy rather than victory, leads only to the establishment of internal organizations dedicated to their own perpetuation.

During the Civil War and the World Wars of the last century certain freedoms were, at times, curtailed, infringed or suspended. Following victory in 1945 these freedoms not only returned but even greater states of equality and liberty emerged. Had the Second World War ended in a negotiated stand-off at the Rhine and Okinawa, a state of war would have continued for an unknowable time and, in such a state, a less-free United States would have been a certainty. Only the destruction of the Axis powers yielded a peace out of which freedom surged, not only in America but in the lands of her former enemies as well. Victory yields freedom in peace. An armed process yields only stasis.

3. Playing for Time is Playing to Lose

Our enemies (many of whom have studied and lived or now live among us) know us better than we are prepared to know either them or ourselves. In order to reform, rearm and launch future attacks they depend upon our belief that we are effectively managing the "war on terror." At the same time they know that, absent any large attacks, we will grow weary with small but constant losses tallied daily by our "caring and sensitive" media. They depend upon us being lulled back into the state of slumber we enjoyed on September 10th. And we grant their wishes.

If they are as wise as they are ruthless, our enemies will continue with their strategies of constant attrition and small, distant attacks. They will, for the present, avoid large shocks to the nation in hopes that the ambitions of our political factions and the intellectual lassitude of our major media will result in the defeat of the present administration in the coming elections.[Check... ] The goal of this strategy is the expectation of a more somnambulant administration less invested in war and more inclined towards the failed policies of appeasement, negotiation and payoff. [... and double check.]

When that happens our present "war on terror" will become even softer; will be said sotto voce if said at all. It will be supplanted by something resembling "a diplomatic initiative to ameliorate terrorism." In effect we shall find ourselves, as we have so often in the past under liberal guidance, trying to buy out way out of the "war on terror." Our error will be believing that we are dealing with reasonable extortionists rather than blood enemies. And the measure of our leaders’ cowardice will be how deeply they promote this belief and the false hope it engenders.

4. The Goal of Radical Islam is Our Destruction

The consequences of a political and military stand-down would be to allow our enemies the time, basing and mobility to grow in numbers, advance in training, achieve greater tactical position within and about our borders, and acquire ever more sophisticated and powerful weapons. Once they have advanced to the next level of lethality they will strike us again with an effect on our lives, liberties, property and economy more extreme than 9/11.

The goals of the Radical Islamic forces arrayed against us are the same as their factotums, the Palestinians, have for Israel. In the jihad against Israel we can see what the Islamic forces have in mind for us: the complete destruction of our systems, the occupation of our land, the usurpation of our government, and the death or conversion of all our citizens. These are the goals of Radical Islam as understood by their fundamentalists and as tolerated by the vast majority of believers.

Much has been written about these goals. Most of our scholars conclude they are only fantasies. A nuclear weapon detonated in Seattle does not care if a fantasy set it off.

Whether the goals of Radical Islam can be achieved is a matter for history to determine. It is the belief that they can be achieved that brings the First Terrorist War upon us. To the extent that we fail to recognize the intensity and commitment of our enemies in this war; to the extent we fail to match their passion for our destruction with our passion for victory; to the extent we cast our lot with our "process" as they cast their lot with their god, we weaken our ability to decisively defeat them.

Ours is a "war on terror" while theirs is a "Jihad." Our efforts are a process. Theirs are directed by divine mandate. Whether you are of a secular or religious persuasion, it is well to remember that if you go to war you’d best have God on your side.

It is time to put away the feeble designation of our actions as the "war on terror" for it is not "terror" that shooting wars engage. Wars engage combatants, armies, populations, institutions, nations and religions. It is unpopular, almost unsayable, to designate the First Terrorist War as a religious war, yet all serious people know that this is the case and that this, in the end, is what it shall come to.

5. The War of Two Religions

Through the violent attacks of a Radical Islam, two religions have been brought into conflict. The first is that of Islam, a faith that at its core requires absolute submission from its adherents, and looks towards the subjugation of the world as its ultimate apotheosis. As the youngest of the monotheistic religions, Islam is at a point in its development that Christianity passed through centuries ago. And it is not with Christianity that Islam is currently at war. Islam is saving that for the mopping up phase of its current campaign. The religion that Islam has engaged is a much younger one, the religion of Freedom.

As a religion Freedom has been gaining converts since the success of the American Revolution enabled it to go forth and be preached to the world. Freedom is easily the most popular of the new religions and historically converts nearly 100% of all populations in which it is allowed to take firm root. This is the religion which we have lately brought to Iraq.

The genius of the religion of Freedom is that it allows all other religions, from the venerable to the trivial, to exist without fear of censure or destruction. Indeed, the only thing that the religion of Freedom firmly forbids is the destruction of Freedom itself. "Thou shalt not destroy Freedom" is Freedom's single commandment. And Freedom has been shown to resist efforts to destroy it in the most ferocious way. It’s enemies would do well to ponder the fate of previous attempts to do so.

On September 11, the agents of Radical Islam began their attempt to destroy Freedom by attacking it at its core. The reaction of Freedom to this assault has been, once you consider the destructive power of the weapons systems it possesses, measured, deliberate and cautious. This is because Freedom, although sorely wounded, does not yet feel that its very existence is threatened. A more serious attack at any time in the future will put paid to that specious notion.

Following a second attack at a level equal to or exceeding September 11, any political opposition to pursuing our enemies with all means at our disposal will be swept off the table. The First Terrorist War will begin in earnest and it will not be a series of small wars with long lead times and a careful consultation of allies. The war will become, virtually overnight, a global war of violent preemption and merciless attack towards the spiritual and geographic centers of our enemy. Arguments revolving around the true meaning of ‘imminent’ will be seen as they are -- so much factional prattle. Due to the nature of the enemy, the First Terrorist War will be fought here and there and everywhere. It does not matter when or where the second serious strike on the American homeland takes place, it only matters that on the day after this country will be at war far beyond the current level of conflict.

6. The Unspoken Role of the Ballistic Missile Submarines

Since 9/11 there is one element of our strategic forces that has not been discussed. Indeed, you seldom hear a question asked about its status. That element is our fleet of ballistic missile submarines. We currently possess 18 of these "ships," but a ballistic missile submarine is known not as a ship, but as a "strategic asset."

Each submarine has 24 missile tubes. Each tube holds one missile with from 5-8 nuclear warheads. Each warhead can be targeted separately from the others. The range of these missiles is classified but is thought to be in excess of 6000 nautical miles. The total number of warheads is approximately 50% of US strategic warheads. In sum, any single one of these strategic assets can create the end of a significant portion of the world. At present roughly 40% of this fleet is deployed at unknown and unknowable locations throughout the world’s oceans.

Originally built in order to deter, these strategic assets now assume a more aggressive role in the First Terrorist War. Because of the religious nature of the war, our enemy is unlikely to be deterred by the threat of obliteration. He will view that as highly unlikely since it would, of necessity, involve us in the deaths of large number of civilians in countries known to harbor or be friendly to Islamic terrorists. He believes we would not employ these weapons. This misunderstanding of the history of Western democracies under arms and in a state of total war invites global tragedy.

Nevertheless, the character and goals of our enemy are as fixed as the words of the Koran and he is not to be dissuaded by the threat of annihilation. Only actual annihilation will, in the end, suffice and yield victory. In attempting to achieve this annihilation we can only hope that the political and military situation does not evolve to a level where the submarines would have to play a role.

7. Avoiding the Islamic War by Winning the Terrorist War

Because we are large, lumbering, impatient and somnambulant our enemy depends on these factors to defeat us. He uses the opportunities of Freedom in order to make war upon it. He is able to infiltrate our society and institutions. He is able to be infinitely patient. He plans for the decades while we can barely manage to plan from one fiscal quarter to the next.

This is a war that will play out over years and will not be resolved in months. In order to gain victory and defeat our enemy we must put in place policies and strategies that cannot easily be altered by reports, polls, or election cycles. In order to achieve this we must be, as we were in the Second World War, united in purpose. It is, sadly, the nature of our society today that September 11th's unity was fleeting. To find this unity we must suffer through one more horrendous attack the nature and timing of which will not be of our choosing.

Still, as surely as the next attack will come, so will the unity that it creates in its wake and at that point the full power of Freedom’s Arsenal will at last be used to defend it. This is the social and political conundrum that confronts us in the First Terrorist War. And this is why the war must be divorced from ‘process’ and the goal of victory be cut into the stone of the American soul.

During the Second World War, our system, with few alterations, brought us through to a peace in which there were greater freedoms than before the war. Victory validated our way of life. Not only were our freedoms intact in 1945 but they were poised, with the economy, for a great expansion throughout the rest of the century and into this. If you had proposed, in the summer of 1946, that within 50 years all minorities would be fully enfranchised, that women would be fully liberated, that homosexuals would be a dominant force with their enfranchisement only a moment away, and that an African-American could be elected President, you would have been dismissed as a socialist dreamer. And yet, here we are.

The same situation can also be envisioned as the result of our victory in the First Terrorist War at the end of a less-clear but no less threatening passage of arms. But this will only happen if we remain clear about the real nature of the First Terrorist War, and committed to unequivocal victory regardless of the costs in lives and treasure. Only by matching the determination of our enemy to destroy us will we prevail. The only thing that can defeat us are a dull reliance on management, a fascination with process rather than victory and the reluctance to believe the extent to which our enemy desires our annihilation.

Beyond victory in the First Terrorist War is a greater goal. What we must seek is not merely the "control" and "containment" of terror, for terror in this guise cannot be controlled or contained. We must come to the deeper understanding that only a complete victory over the global Radical Islamic forces can prevent the onset of a confrontation more terrible than the current war.

What we must press for in the Terrorist War is a victory so decisive that we can, in the end, avoid the larger war lurking on the not-so-distant horizon - - a true war between civilizations. That war, should it come, will not take the name of The Terrorist War, but of The Islamic War.

The Terrorist War is still a struggle that can be fought and won with conventional means. An Islamic War, should it come, would engulf the world and be anything but conventional.

[Originally published @ American Digest in it's first year, October, 2003 ]

"Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances."T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

 

 

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