First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Why We Are Winning and How We Can Still Lose
The dominant issue in this election is the war on terror.
Kerry and the other Democrats have made a series of charges against President Bush and his administration -- that the Iraq campaign was a distraction from the "real war" against Al Qaeda; that the Patriot Act is not necessary and that it is being abused; that Bush "let Bin Laden get away" at Tora Borah.
Are these charges true?
The best answer is a book called Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror, by Richard Miniter. This is the one book that every American should read before this election.
Unlike the people writing (and uttering) vicious personal attacks on President Bush's integrity, Miniter is rigorous about knowing what he's talking about. And while he definitely comes down on the side of President Bush's current handling of the war, he is nonpartisan in his method and his conclusions are thoroughly supported.
For instance, Miniter makes it clear that it was a gross mistake for Condoleezza Rice, when she first became National Security Adviser, to downgrade Richard Clarke's position as chief of counterterrorism. Up to then, Clarke had been the one person who had the bureaucratic clout to force competing agencies within the government to cooperate; afterward, things reverted to business as usual, to the detriment of our counterterrorism effort.
So it's no surprise that Clarke was bitter and angry and full of blame for the Bush administration -- though of course Clarke had to admit that even if all his recommendations had been followed, it wouldn't have made one whit of difference in preventing 9/11.
Miniter also explains why Rice would do something that seems -- now, in retrospect -- to have been foolish. Rice was coming into a Republican administration, where memories of the results of Oliver North's escapades as an action figure in the NSA are still clear and painful. To Rice, Richard Clarke's position and power were strongly reminiscent of North's ability to freelance, and so she pulled back on the reins, not because she didn't think terrorism was a danger, but because she wanted to avoid another Iran-Contra disaster.
In other words, she made a mistake, but for responsible reasons -- which is how most mistakes are made.
Miniter praises Democrats and dispraises Republicans, and the reverse, when the evidence warrants it.
The Anti-Terror War Close Up
But political side-taking is irrelevant to his book, anyway. Miniter reveals, often for the first time anywhere, actual battles in the war on international terrorism. By the time you finish the book, you realize that the Bush administration, and the dedicated public servants in the military and intelligence and diplomatic communities, are doing everything as well as it could conceivably be done.
Contrary to Kerry's deliberate deception, Bush did not "let Osama get away" at Torah Bora. It was winter in extraordinarily rugged country. All the forces that could be brought to bear were deployed, but no one, not even Bush, can defeat weather and terrain all the time.
Nor is Iraq is a distraction. In fact, there is simply no doubt among honest people who know anything at all that Iraq under Saddam was a sponsor of terror, that it had ties to Al Qaeda, and that it was a dangerous source of shelter, training, weaponry, and funding to international terrorism.
The Iraq campaign has diverted nothing and distracted no one. The work being done against terrorism has vastly increased and improved during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. The Bush administration is using appropriate levels of force and funding. There are times when pumping more money and manpower into a particular area does not make things go better, it makes them go worse.
Miniter points this out in an extended example, about a seemingly reliable intelligence source from Sudan who warned of an assassination plot against George W. Bush. He named names, and the details he provided checked out -- everything except the tiny detail that the alleged assassin was nothing more than a Sudanese whose only goal was to live in America without waiting for the appropriate paperwork.
The informant who provided false information was doing it simply to make money -- we had been paying too much for information, with the result that people were making stuff up in order to get rich.
But the result of this deception was good: We entered into a more intensely cooperative relationship with Sudan.
In fact, that's why you don't see President Bush leaping into a harsh war of words with the Sudanese government. While they once were major sponsors of terrorism, they have changed their stripes; and in the bloody civil war in southern Sudan, while there are plenty of innocent victims, there aren't any good guys. That is why President Bush's plan to assemble a multinational force consisting entirely of Africans, working in cooperation with the Sudanese government to end the terrorism and slaughter in southern Sudan, is the only viable solution.
Why President Bush Can't Answer
By its very nature, diplomatic efforts to enlist the cooperation of Arab governments in the war on terror must be kept quiet. For one thing, the anti-American propaganda machine that has made the Arab street hate America so much makes it impossible for many governments to openly help us and remain in power. Yet they recognize that Al-Qaeda and its fellow-travelers in international terrorism pose as grave a threat to them as to us, and so we have nations helping us, at grave risk to themselves.
At the same time, some of them may only be putting on a show of helping us ... and somehow, over time, we have to warily sort out the lies from the truth.
Sudan and Yemen seem to have moved into the sincere-cooperators group; Syria is almost certainly pretending to cooperate while actually permitting -- or even encouraging -- Syrian operatives to support and wage the insurgent war against the new government of Iraq.
The point is that irresponsible politicians like Kerry are free to make false accusations against President Bush -- about how he is distracted from the real war, etc. -- and they know he can't answer, because he cannot prove how well the war is going without exposing and, probably, ending secret cooperation from Muslim governments.
In other words, Kerry is free to be irresponsible, dishonest, and unfair precisely because he knows that President Bush puts national security ahead of his own political advantage.
Unbeknownst to most Americans, the coalition President Bush has assembled in the war on terror -- as opposed to the Iraq campaign -- is vast and impressive. Building on the cooperation gradually built up among nations by his predecessors, including Clinton and Bush's own father, George W. Bush has gone even farther, enlisting an astonishingly wide range of governments that are helping us -- and being helped by us -- in stamping out terrorism and preventing terrorist acts.
Thus we have had quiet triumphs in preventing attacks in places as widely separated as Singapore, the Philippines, the Sahara desert, Turkey, Latin America, and the United States and Europe.
Al Qaeda and World War IV
Another important contribution of Miniter's book is to point out who Al Qaeda is and what they want. From the start, Al Qaeda has been committed to unifying the Muslim world under the leadership of a Caliph who will enforce Shari'a -- Islamic law as interpreted by radical hardline Sunni Muslims.
From the start, Chechen Muslims have been in the highest circles of Al Qaeda. After all, Bin Laden got his start waging war against the Soviets in Afghanistan; Al Qaeda's hatred of Russia is deep and unforgiving. So when we complain about Russia's lack of support for us, let's remember that they are fighting the same war we are -- and have borne just as heavy a burden.
We should also remember that the monstrous attacks that Russia has suffered from Chechen "rebels" are exactly the sort of thing Al Qaeda would happily do inside America.
Miniter adopts the view of recent history that says that the so-called "Cold War" was really World War III -- it may never have escalated to the point of nukes, but hundreds of thousands if not millions of soldiers and civilians died in that war, from Korea to Vietnam, from Cuba to Angola to Afghanistan, and the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States did not end until one side lost the will to fight.
We did not "defeat" the Soviet Union -- and I, for one, am sick of people claiming that Ronald Reagan "won" the Cold War. World War III ended because the Soviet government decided to stop fighting it. Freedom movements in Eastern Europe could have been crushed by Gorbachev, but he chose not to. If any person on earth deserves credit for ending World War III, it's Gorbachev himself, even if it took a form that he didn't intend.
Setting that aside, however, Miniter is absolutely right in calling the war on terrorism World War IV. Even though, like the Cold War, it breaks out in hot combat only in a few selected places, in fact the struggle is going on almost everywhere.
Our relentless enemy, with no population to protect, is undeterrable in the conventional sense. We cannot threaten that if you nuke us, we'll nuke you -- in fact, meaningless retaliation against Muslim populations would play into our enemies' hands.
The Patriot Act and Guantanamo
We have to wage our war by a completely different set of rules from our enemy. At the same time, because we are facing a completely different kind of threat, we have to revise our own society in various ways in order to allow our forces to discover and prevent terrorist actions directed against our own country.
Take the prisoners held at Guantanamo. We can't treat them as common criminals and put them on trial, because with skilled lawyers they could probably get off and go free -- to kill again. That's because the evidence against them comes from intelligence sources which, if exposed in open court, would be killed. So we would have to prosecute without our best evidence -- always a hard thing to bring off.
But we also can't treat them as prisoners of war, because they have not been taken out of combat. They know many secrets of the inner workings of Al Qaeda, and it sometimes takes years to win the cooperation of those with the most valuable information.
They are not being tortured, and only moral cretins like our anti-American critics in Europe would equate the treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo with Saddam's treatment of prisoners.
Above all, World War IV requires us to be able to respond instantly to information that will only be useful for hours or minutes. Those who would add new layers into the process of obtaining warrants for wiretaps and searches, or who would deny our operatives the right to make a search that is designed to be undetected, can wrap themselves in the flag and pretend that they are protecting the American way of life.
But if they succeed, then when our forces, hampered by the inability to take necessary actions, fail to prevent a massive attack on American soil, you can bet that the very people who eviscerated the Patriot Act will be the first to attack the government for "failing to keep us safe."
Bush's Personal Contribution
Naturally, most of what President Bush has personally done is to choose from the many alternatives presented to him by his advisers. The president doesn't go out and personally collect information; he does not personally develop weapons systems; he does not lay out specific military campaigns.
Bush has, however, made clear strategic choices that made it possible for our forces to be effective in the war on terror. For one thing, the decision to hold state sponsors of terror accountable transformed the war into something that we might win. Without the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, governments would still behave as if they could thumb their noses at us with impunity; those campaigns are the foundation of the newly cooperative attitude of many governments.
Bush also made a very specific decision that has been crucial. He decided, against the advice of many, to order that some of our remotely-piloted surveillance aircraft be armed. He had to overcome much institutional resistance to get it done -- but because of his foresight and insistence, when a Predator spots a terrorist driving along a lonely highway in Yemen, we don't have to wait an hour for a jet to be scrambled from an aircraft carrier. The Predator that spotted the bad guy can launch its missile and kill him on the spot.
We owe that capability to President Bush, just as the Union troops in the Civil War owed their fast breech-loading rifles to President Lincoln, who virtually forced these weapons on a reluctant military.
Most important, though, is the fact the President Bush has shown, since 9/11, a firm resolve to carry the war to the enemy and to keep fighting over the years it will take to bring the war to a successful conclusion.
The troops, as a whole, believe in President Bush's leadership, and don't you doubt it. They know that when they go into battle, their efforts will not be wasted.
It is a well-known fact that actual combat soldiers invariably express an attitude of cynicism about "those idiots" who give them stupid orders and foul things up. And nothing gets you ridiculed more quickly in a combat unit than an expression of gung-ho patriotism or enthusiasm for combat.
But underneath the social behavior of soldiers is their deep morale. Regardless of what they say, they have to believe in their cause and trust their leaders or they can't fight.
It's too hard to overcome natural fear and put your life at risk, if you don't have a powerful underlying belief in the worthiness of your cause and the effectiveness of your leadership.
Our enemies have that morale -- they believe in the lies their leaders tell them about how God wants them to blow up innocent people in order to bring the world into subjection to "God's will" as interpreted by Osama Bin Laden or Ayatollah Khomenei. They believe that if they die, their cause will be advanced.
Under President Bush, our soldiers also believe in their cause -- and their cause is not a lie. They know that because they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and a hundred other smaller struggles around the world, they are protecting their homes and families and their way of life.
They know that their leaders are being careful of their lives while providing them with training and equipment to make them as effective as possible in the field.
They know that no army in history has ever been so powerful against its enemies while being so protective of innocent civilian lives.
They know, above all, that they are led by a President who intends to win and believes in their struggle.
That is the minimum condition for victory. Without that morale, without those firm beliefs, soldiers fight like ... well, like the Arab forces that have been swept away by Israeli armies in the past. (And when Arab soldiers believed in their commanders and were well led, as under Anwar Sadat in 1973, they showed the clear difference that morale makes.)
What Would Kerry Contribute?
John Kerry is quite possibly the worst possible commander-in-chief for a nation at war that has ever been seriously considered during a political campaign. There is no aspect of the war on terror that his record shows him capable of or even interested in promoting.
And despite his claim that he could assemble a multinational force to firmly pursue our enemies, we know this crucial fact: In 1991, when we had a U.N. resolution, a multinational force, and an enemy that had invaded another country, threatened to control the world's supply of oil, and had a record of using weapons of mass destruction which we knew he had, Kerry still voted against the Gulf War.
Kerry is the enemy of American military power, even when used multilaterally in support of international law. He will never, ever be capable of using our military effectively or carefully, despite the lies he tells during the process of a campaign.
And I call them lies because they so obviously are lies. Democrats speculate without evidence about President Bush's and Vice-President Cheney's motives all the time, accusing them of deception without a shred of evidence.
But Kerry's claim to being tougher and smarter about military matters than Bush is so obviously false that we should be laughing whenever he makes it. He has been wrong on every defense system, on every vote in his entire political career. If Kerry's will had prevailed, we would have no military that was capable of resisting our enemies.
And that is precisely the reason why the fanatic left wing of the Democratic Party is so eager to elect John Kerry. Because they know he's lying about his intentions concerning the war. They're counting on it. If they believed that he actually meant what he says about the war on terror, they would never vote for him.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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