John Edwards got a lot of grief from conservatives when he said that the "war on terror" was just a slogan rather than a strategy. I wonder what the reaction will be to this, essentially the same argument from someone on the right:
Yet if your entire knowledge of what is going on was derived from reading transcripts of the president's speeches, with their bombastic blather about “ending tyranny in our world” and “fire in the minds of men,” and the desire of the Creator that we all enjoy political liberty (what was the Creator doing during all those long millennia of despotism in Egypt, Persia, China, Russia?), you would assume that we are engaged in a huge, epochal conflict. So... How big a war are we in? How big an end do we hope to achieve? Have we allocated means proportionate to that end?
I return to the crass inappropriateness of those WWII and Cold War analogies. In WWII we flattened cities and interned an entire ethny, citizens and all. In the Cold War we banned the entry of communists into our country — and, as a matter of fact, the entry of long-inactive ex-communists and “fellow-travelers,” too.
There is no prospect of our doing such things in the War on Terror. We shall not be interning any Muslim citizens or excluding foreign Muslims or Muslim “fellow-travelers” (what would one of those look like? Karen Armstrong, perhaps), let alone annihilating any cities. It's just not that big a war.
The standard debate on Iraq is between its supporters, who say it is part of the larger war on terror, and its detractors, who say it has been a dangerous diversion from the war on terror. And, of course, the primary effect of Iraq is that it has clouded the discussion on terror so that we have not been thoroughly addressing how serious the threat is and how we should respond to it. The author of the article makes the point that when this nation has had a serious threat, we have responded with serious measures. Whether it was the American Revolution or World War II, we responded to drastic ends by employing drastic means. What we have today are politicians tellings us that we are in a struggle for civilization itself but who are unwilling or unable to take the obvious steps such a struggle would require.
The author concludes:
Whether that is the case or not, these dainty means, with their dainty economic and diplomatic equivalents, are all we shall employ. The grosser means of earlier wars — carpet-bombing, ethnic internment, mass exclusion, government requisition of entire industries — are not appropriate. We all feel that instinctively. Why do we feel it? Because we know that the end — the suppression of a worldwide nuisance — is not really that important, except in the president's flights of gassy rhetoric.
I'm not sure I agree with that. I think "worldwide nuisance" rather understates the threat from people with a tribal mentality and access to modern technology whose goal is to convert or kill. But that is the debate to have, and we are not having it.
There are lots of people who were always against the war in Iraq, and plenty who have always been for it, and there are a growing number who were for it before they were against it. I'm in the smallest group of all, those who were against it before we were for it. I wrote about half a dozen editorials about Iraq before the invasion, and all of them were skeptical -- the last one that ran before we went in said that President Bush had still not made the case. Always make war the last option, and don't get into one unless you are serious about it -- that's the lesson I brought home from Vietnam. But once you are in, your moral obligation is to win it as quickly and decisively as you can. We have been fooling around in Iraq, just the way we fooled around it Vietnam, the end result being that we will have wasted lives and then just walked away.
Our going to Iraq changed the world, and we must deal with the world as it is now, not the world that existed before we engaged. We are in a larger war -- however it is defined, however serious you think it is or is not -- and Iraq is now a part of that larger war. How we end in Iraq will affect how we fare everywhere else in the future. If we are no longer able to cope with conventional war -- with geographic boundaries, identifiable leaders, recognizable beginning and end points -- how can we possibly handle this new kind of war? We are way beyond the point where we can be Fortress America and just ignore the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is not going to be like suburban Indianapolis anytime soon.