Thursday, September 15, 2005

Since 9/11

This past Sunday's New York Times Magazine (9/11/05) featured a review of the GWOT since 9/11/01, by Mark Danner.

The article is useful for a number of reasons, but it is most useful for putting both the attacks, reactions and subsequent attacks all into the wider context of the purposes of the Islamofascist fanaticism that spawned them.

As Danner points out, the attacks were not carried out because "they hate our freedoms" (to quote the President), but because they hate our presence in the Middle East (particularly Saudi Arabia) and our support of non-theocratic regimes in the region (particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt). At least part of the purpose was to lure the U.S. into a "quagmire" in Afghanistan (a la the USSR in the late '70s) that would damage our prestige and power in the region and the world.

Due to unforseen tactics by the US military, that didn't happen. Afghanistan was intially fought by air and special forces along with local proxies, and the result was a rout of the Taliban.

Iraq, however, has been a different story. Begun for a since discredited mix of reasons, it has now become the quagmire that was intially avoided in Afghanistan.

The sun is setting on American dreams in Iraq; what remains now to be worked out are the modalities of withdrawal, which depend on the powers of forbearance in the American body politic. But the dynamic has already been set in place. The United States is running out of troops. By the spring of 2006, nearly every active-duty combat unit is likely to have been deployed twice. The National Guard and Reserves, meanwhile, make up an unprecedented 40 percent of the force, and the Guard is in the "stage of meltdown," as Gen. Barry McCaffrey, retired, recently told Congress. Within 24 months, "the wheels are coming off." For all the apocalyptic importance President Bush and his administration ascribed to the Iraq war, they made virtually no move to expand the military, no decision to restore the draft. In the end, the president judged his tax cuts more important than his vision of a "democratic Middle East." The administration's relentless political style, integral to both its strength and its weakness, left it wholly unable to change course and to add more troops when they might have made a difference. That moment is long past; the widespread unpopularity of the occupation in Iraq and in the Islamic world is now critical to insurgent recruitment and makes it possible for a growing insurgent force numbering in the tens of thousands to conceal itself within the broader population.

Sold a war made urgent by the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a dangerous dictator, Americans now see their sons and daughters fighting and dying in a war whose rationale has been lost even as its ending has receded into the indefinite future. A war promised to bring forth the Iraqi people bearing flowers and sweets in exchange for the beneficent gift of democracy has brought instead a kind of relentless terror that seems inexplicable and unending. A war that had a clear purpose and a certain end has now lost its reason and its finish. Americans find themselves fighting and dying in a kind of existential desert of the present. For Americans, the war has lost its narrative.
We cannot know what future Osama bin Laden imagined when he sent off his 19 suicide terrorists on their mission four years ago. He got much wrong; the U.S. military, light years ahead of the Red Army, would send no tank divisions to Afghanistan, and there has been no uprising in the Islamic world. One suspects, though, that if bin Laden had been told on that day that in a mere 48 months he would behold a world in which the United States, "the idol of the age," was bogged down in an endless guerrilla war fighting in a major Muslim country; a world in which its all-powerful army, with few allies and little sympathy, found itself overstretched and exhausted; in which its dispirited people were starting to demand from their increasingly unpopular leader a withdrawal without victory - one suspects that such a prophecy would have pleased him. He had struck at the American will, and his strategy, which relied in effect on the persistent reluctance of American leaders to speak frankly to their people about the costs and burdens of war and to expend the political capital that such frank talk would require, had proved largely correct.


At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This writer you quote clearly wants to be able to play both sides and win. He thinks the president should have reinstated the draft in the beginning of this war, but if the president had, this same writer would have been using that to condemn the president. It annoys me when a writer speaks about the "American people" as if he speaks for all of them. No, the whole country is not opposed to this war. No, we don't all think that the Taliban/Osama will kindly stop being mean to us if we just allow them/him to continue terrorizing his part of the world. You see, some of us understand the nature of bullies. They will eventually seek to expand their power and control and will not stop unless someone stronger stops them. It's strange to me that the political party who claims to look out for minorities and protect the weak, doesn't understand this basic concept.


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