The Washington Times
One month into the military operations in Afghanistan, and already the second-guessing is running high as hopes for success are running low. You would almost think people had developed the expectation that wars are supposed to be over and done with in six weeks at most – and in that time are supposed to deliver an unbroken string of success stories from the battlefield.
What are our lamentations this week? Take your pick. Our bombs are falling off target. The coalition is under stress. The coalition is hamstringing our efforts. The Taliban is still in power. We don’t know where Osama bin Laden is. Mobs are demonstrating against us. Winter is fast approaching. Ramadan is fast approaching. We aren’t doing anything about Iraq. States that have sponsored terror aren’t being held accountable. The Northern Alliance is ineffectual. Abdul Haq is dead. Palestinians are attacking Israelis. Israel is overreacting.
OK. And the point is what? That we are losing? Please.
I do not claim the gift of prophecy. Nor am I privy to any military secrets. But is it entirely rational to conclude, based on a month’s worth of military action, that something is fundamentally wrong with how the government is conducting the war on terror? No, it simply isn’t.
Let us recall the Kosovo campaign, and what turned out to be the achievement of all our war objectives with the capitulation of Slobodan Milosevic in the course of little more than 11 weeks – a sequence of events that would lead to a new government in Belgrade and Milosevic in the dock at the Hague on war crimes charges. By about this point in the Kosovo conflict, we were accidentally bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, our NATO allies were wobbly, we were conducting war by committee, we were running out of cruise missiles, we couldn’t get our helicopters into position, and we were up against a deadline for starting the inevitable ground war lest it be completed before winter. Right about then, I wrote a column here way out of sync with the spirit of the moment, one verging on eccentricity or worse. In it, I said that the most likely outcome of the Kosovo conflict was that we would win.
Well, we did in fact win. And that was Kosovo, for heaven’s sake. The current challenge we face is much more complicated and is certain to be far more protracted. It is going to unfold in stages, and its course is not now known to anyone. Chances are excellent that we will have rough patches and worse. We have already been through a more harrowing experience on Sept. 11 than this country has suffered on its shores since the War of 1812, and our enemies see that as only the first installment. They are determined and vicious.
But, and this is the point, we are determined ourselves. We are not going to acquiesce in the destruction of the West by goons in caves and their friends and admirers, no matter what fantasies they harbor about bringing us down so that they can rule the world. We are going to fight them until we beat them. This is an entirely reasonable expectation. But it is entirely unreasonable to think that 30 days on, they ought to show signs of being beaten – that a mere month into a new kind of war is an appropriate time to look back, take stock and despair.
I think that these lamentations about the military campaign also have origins in the lamentations on the home front: We haven’t cracked the terror conspiracy here. No one has been indicted in the Sept. 11 attacks. We don’t know where the anthrax came from. We don’t know how much more is out there. We might not have enough Cipro. We might not have enough smallpox vaccine. We can’t be sure the food supply is safe. We can’t be sure the water supply is safe. We can’t be sure they don’t have “dirty nukes.” We can’t be sure they don’t have nukes, period. Flu season is coming.
True. And here, I think a greater degree of recriminations is appropriate on the merits. Tommy Thompson may have been the right governor for the reform of “human services” in Wisconsin, but he seems a remarkably ill-informed and awkward secretary of health. Our postmaster general reminds us of the good old days when the postmaster general was supposed to be something of a joke. The president will do himself a favor by finding a suitable time to move in the A-team.
But the national security team is the A-team. One might improve on it, or one might find its equal with an entirely different set of people, but its competence is not something subject to rational doubt, nor, so far, its resolve.
Whatever the source of the lamentations, it’s not what the people are thinking, since they are still telling pollsters that they approve of the way the administration is handling matters by 85 percent or more. Yes, these are scary times, and we aren’t used to them. But I will go to sleep tonight secure in the knowledge that whatever happens to me or you, the future of the country is in pretty good hands.