First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
We Can Lose This War After All
Um, in case anybody hasn't noticed, the war isn't over.
I hear ludicrous statements being made, and stupid questions being asked.
Statements about "quagmires." Questions about "exit strategies."
And there's always Nancy Pelosi's irresponsible call for Bush advisers to resign because they did not anticipate all the possible problems that they might face in "postwar Iraq."
But there is no such thing as "postwar Iraq." Iraq has our troops all over it, but there's still a war going on inside it.
We knew going into Iraq that defeating Saddam's organized military force was only the start. We defeated that military faster than any serious military thinker anticipated (but never fast enough to please the media or the anti-military critics).
However, we also knew that anti-U.S. forces would regard our military presence in Iraq as a golden opportunity. How long were we inside Iraq before anti-Americans were howling that we weren't doing enough, or we were doing too much?
A Test No Prez Can Pass
When you hear people like Pelosi accusing the Bush administration of being "unprepared" and of making "mistakes" and having "bad strategy," don't you understand that no matter what the President did, they would have found something to howl about?
It's not that they had some reasonable measure of Presidential or military success, and Bush and his government failed to meet it.
No matter how successful our campaign in Iraq, no matter how successful our reconstruction, it wouldn't be fast enough, fair enough, P.C. enough, cheap enough, multi-national enough to please them.
Whatever President Bush achieves, they move the bar to show that he's a failure.
In fact, the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq succeeded beyond our best hopes in breaking the organized military. This was partly because of our extraordinarily well-trained, disciplined, courageous, and morally decent soldiers, partly because of brilliant strategy brilliantly applies, partly because of high-tech advantages -- and partly because we had the tacit help of vast numbers of Iraqis.
But Afghanistan and Iraq were only stages in a campaign.
To think that the war is "over" and we should be working on an "exit strategy" is as stupid as saying, after Allied troops drove the Germans out of North Africa, that it was time for our boys to come home -- with France and Eastern and Northern Europe still in chains.
Yes, we have the goal of getting out of Iraq as quickly as possible -- after the job is done.
First, we have to help the Iraqis set up de-Ba'athized institutions -- a bureaucracy, if you will -- that are not organized on the principles of treachery and terror. In other words, in a nation where the governing class has bullied and lied as a matter of policy, people have to come together again and discover how to govern as public servants, with integrity and openness.
Since Americans have to keep relearning the same lessons, it isn't as if we can wave a wand and create a government. The government must grow out of the Iraqi people, by their own choices; and people who didn't seek to be in the old government need to be found to lead and serve in the new one.
Can't we please allow at least a few more weeks before we whine about how long it's taking?
Meanwhile, the military action is far from over, just as it is far from over in Afghanistan.
Making Silk Purses from, er, Lambs' Ears
Afghanistan remains a challenge because it is not a nation -- it's a hodgepodge of tribes and languages, with warlords ensconced here and there.
We face this quandary: We need the help of the warlords who rule various parts of the country in order to track down and destroy Taliban and Al-Qaeda holdouts (and new infiltrators from Pakistan and elsewhere).
But every time we work with one of these local warlords, we weaken the central government, because the warlords become that much more independent, as if they were small independent nations with their own foreign policy.
Eventually, these warlords have to be defanged and made subservient to the central authority if Afghanistan is to be strong enough to defend itself. But if we try to do this prematurely, by force instead of persuasion, we will simply turn these warlords into allies of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Not exactly a smart idea.
While that delicate dance is going on in Afghanistan, we face a different set of problems in Iraq. No warlords here, unless you count the Kurds who have been struggling to survive against Saddam's program of genocide -- but so far, at least, they are committed to subservience to a central government, mostly because they know that any other course of action would lose them the vital support of the United States.
But Iraq has an infinitely permeable border, and plenty of places where Saddam's remaining Ba'athist loyalists can hide while they prepare deadly little guerrilla and terror attacks.
(By the way, when they attack U.S. military forces, it is not terrorism, it is guerrilla war. It is only terrorism when it targets the civilian population.)
Our goal is to get a new Iraqi military and police force trained to deal with these insurgents, holdouts, and criminals themselves, so we can get out of the business of policing and defending Iraq.
But the old Iraqi police force was in the habit of beating people up as their way of saying hello, and torturing those that they actually suspected of something. Not to mention extorting payments from their citizen-victims.
In other words, the police force was likely to attract bullies and bribe-takers rather than public servants. We get a few of those in our police forces, too, but we have mechanisms to root them out -- most effectively, good cops who despise corruption and abuse of power.
And as for the Iraqi military, we have to train soldiers who are committed to defending a democratic Iraq -- and will do so against foreign invaders, Ba'athist loyalists, and Islamicist revolutionaries.
Meanwhile, the work goes on. The vast majority of Iraqis are grateful that we're there and are cooperating in every way they can to get things up and running again.
They are greatly aided in this by the fact that the war damaged relatively little of the infrastructure. Most of the hardest jobs involve repairing damage done by Saddam's people, and we owe it to Iraqi soldiers and workers who refused to obey his destructive orders that there is not more damage than there is.
The War Is Not Over
But the rebuilding is not the most important thing going on in Iraq. The war is the most important thing:
1. Finding Saddam and his supporters and destroying their ability to conduct even the ugly little guerrilla they're fighting now.
2. Finding foreign troops and guerrillas and materiele infiltrating from other countries -- and identifying which countries are supplying them.
3. Laying the groundwork for the next round of warfare, should it become necessary.
Remember, Iraq is not the whole war, any more than Afghanistan was. The war is against terrorism and the nations that make it possible. Three of those nations are, as far as we can tell, still utterly untamed: Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
Taking out Iraq's military force is not where I would have started the main campaign, but nobody checked with me. Having begun with Iraq, and having confused things by letting people think it was about the weapons of mass destruction and nothing else, the Bush administration faces only one real danger:
That America will lose interest and go away with the war unwon, just as Osama Bin Laden promised his followers that we would.
He has prophesied to them that if they just kill enough Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the way they did in Somalia -- the Yankees will go home and leave Al-Qaeda to remake the middle east as a vast and brutal Islamic dictatorship, with Osama as Caliph -- which is, I believe, his secret dream, despite his utter unfitness for the job.
We can't afford to lose interest and go away. If we stop now, our campaigns so far will have been like poking a bear with a stick and then turning your back.
Instead, we must finish it, even if -- no, especially if -- we have to drive out the terrorist-loving Ba'athist dictatorship in Syria or the fanatical but corrupt and power-loving religious dictatorship in Iran.
As for Saudi Arabia, well, it's not so much that we can't trust the government there, it's that they're barely holding on to power, and their most likely successors, if they fall, will be a group of fanatics who think Osama's a wimp.
If they ever get control of the Muslim holy places, then any action we took against such a government would serve to unite all the Muslim world against us. It would be a disaster of the worst order ... and yet it's hard to see how we can prevent it.
Our only hope is to have finished our job before the Saudi government falls. If fanatics take over Saudi Arabia, but they find themselves surrounded by powerful democratic Muslim nations that are firm enemies of terrorism, then America will not have to be involved in the struggle over control of Muslim holy places.
If we're very, very lucky, that's how it will play out.
But there is no chance of a good outcome if we give up now, as the anti-Bush forces are so eager for us to do.
What Should Ordinary Citizens Believe?
It is possible to be critical of real problems and raise real questions, while remaining loyal to our soldiers and to the mission of defending the United States (and the rest of the world) from Islamicist terrorism.
But beware of the mindset that blames the Bush administration when a Shi'ite religious leader is assassinated by a suicide bomber. We are not gods. We can't prevent all bad things in the world.
Think what would have been said if we had detailed U.S. troops to surround every mosque and every Muslim leader!
But Pelosi -- and the troop of whiny Democratic presidential candidates -- are determined to blame Bush for all bad things, as if he should have anticipated and prevented them, condemn him also for taking any measure that might actually prevent something bad, and then give him no credit at all for any good thing that might happen during his presidency.
It's politics, of course ... but dirty and stupid politics. Eventually, the American people will see through such nonsense.
But the most shameful thing is when they play these games with the war. We have soldiers doing their duty in a dangerous foreign country. Do they think that their public carping about the conduct of the war is actually helping those soldiers?
Quite the opposite.
President Bush's consolation can be this: When Abraham Lincoln was conducting the Union side of the Civil War, he faced exactly the same kind of vicious stupidity -- and he had to do it without the benefit of competent generals to lead the troops. It took him years of trying incompetents like McLellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and, yes, even Meade, before he got his winning team.
Bush had this team waiting for him when he took office, despite the best efforts of the Clinton administration to demoralize and weaken our military.
But it is to his credit that he has used them well.
The only component that is weak right now is public opinion. We need to learn to tune out those who are using the war as a stick to beat the President with. There are real questions that need to be raised, but if it looks like whining and sounds like whining, it's whining, and such political jockeying can and should be ignored.
Until and unless a Democratic presidential candidate emerges who promises to continue the war on terrorism with the same vigor and intelligence shown by President Bush and his people, then what does it matter if they have good ideas for governing in other areas?
They're counting on the American people being tired of the war.
They're counting on us deciding to give up on rooting out all the supporters of terrorism.
Let's not do it.
Let's surprise them, and show we have the spine to stick with it till it's done and the world is rid of these murderers.
Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.
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