Kerry Patton recently posted an article, pointing to the catch-and-release treatment of terrorists in the current conflict, asking the question, “Is the War on Terrorism Even Real?”
Go read it. I’ll wait.
Now, I don’t have the degrees in Intelligence that Kerry does. I was just on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a glorified over-trained Grunt most of the time, getting to see the consequences of the lackadaisical, politically correct approach to fighting a “war” firsthand. I’m also, in spite of a Bachelor’s degree in History, largely self-educated.
There is an old saying, “Never attribute to malice what can be put down to common stupidity.” I think a lot of people have forgotten that, and it’s led to a lot of conspiracy theories and fear-mongering lately. My opinion, based on my own study and experiences, is that what we have here is largely common stupidity, worse the stupidity of people who are convinced they are oh-so-smart.
There is a tendency, including in the higher echelons of the political, defense, and intelligence communities, to over-simplify. We fixated on Al Qaeda, thinking it was just an irregular army similar to the Vietcong. It wasn’t, and it isn’t. It’s a brand, a loose support network, and it always has been. The main thing Osama Bin Laden brought to the table was funding, and words that were stirring to the average jihadist. That goes back to the Soviet-Afghan War; aside from some brief combat, Bin Laden was a financier. (Which also kind of puts the lie to the “we supported and trained Bin Laden during the war” myth that’s been going around. He wouldn’t have accepted it even if we’d offered. We did, however support Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose followers are still killing our people today. I’ll get to that in a moment.)
As far as who we support, which as included terrorist groups the world over, for various reasons, a lot of it has to do with this over-simplification, and a push to defeat the enemy of the moment, without considering second and third order effects. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has become our motto in many cases, and it has bitten us in the ass over and over again. Anyone studying history, especially in the Middle East, will see what results from “the enemy of my enemy” outlook; as soon as my enemy’s enemy is gone, my enemy and I go back to killing each other. But, you’ve got a subset of people in the rarefied atmosphere of politics and intel who think they are so much smarter than anybody who’s gone before them, so they won’t make the same mistakes. They of course don’t study those mistakes, so they continue to make them.
There’s also the political aspect. Actually, there are two separate political aspects. The first relates to the two political parties here in the States. Since 9/11 happened with a Republican President and Republican-controlled Congress, a large proportion of the Democrat Party seemed to go with the “enemy of my enemy” path, only in this case the enemy they were more against was the Republicans. Accusations of war crimes, prejudice against Muslims, a general refusal to accept that Muslim extremists could be a threat, or if they were even real. This divide has colored efforts to combat the jihad from the get-go.
Of course, the Republican administration was just as handicapped by “oh-so-smart” syndrome, and mismanaged the effort themselves. In the past, I’ve blamed a lot of the problems with Iraq and Afghanistan on excessive optimism on the part of the folks calling the shots. The thought that we could fight a “new kind of war,” where you hardly have to kill anybody, and just get the people to like you, then there will be peace. They went into countries with millennia worth of blood soaked into their sand, and a deep-seated cultural memory of that conflict, and thought that they could win by being nice and civilized. They put aside Clausewitz for “Three Cups of Tea,” and it hasn’t worked. They won’t admit that, though. That would mean admitting they were stupid, and they can’t do that. They are so much smarter than anyone before or since, remember. They couldn’t possibly be wrong.
Nation-building is a fool’s errand. When you’re attacked, you hit back and leave the survivors to rebuild and consider what might happen if they cross you again. The result of our “oh-so-smart,” touchy-feely stupidity has been to make us look weak, in spite of how many bad guys we have managed to take out of circulation, especially when we release the ones we manage to take alive. Remember, it was the perception of the US as a paper tiger after the Battle of the Black Sea in Mogadishu in ’93 that further emboldened Bin Laden to step up the jihad. 3000 corpses in New York eight years later was the result.
I don’t know if anything can be salvaged at this point. I don’t see the powers-that-be getting serious about this anytime soon. They aren’t the ones who have to pay the price of their screwing around, after all.