Tuesday, September 17, 2002
Still easing my way back into things. Yesterday was Yom Kippur, so no blog, and I also didn't get around to reading any of the Journal. Which means I missed Mark Helprin's eloquent (as usual) denunciation of President Bush's conduct of the war.
Eloquent, yes, but I have to admit: I went into the piece agreeing with him, and came out skeptical. I agreed going in with many of his points. Do I feel we're drifting? Yes. We have been talking about invading Iraq since September 12, 2001. Now it looks like we may have cleverly maneuvered ourselves into playing another game of hide-the-bomb-from-the-inspectors. It's pathetic. Am I disappointed by Bush's lack of a military build-up? Acutely. Our armed forces need the most expensive thing in the world: more men. We won't get them by drafting them; a draft would actually degrade readiness. But we could get them by upping recruitment goals and paying the necessary price. And don't get me started on the home front.
So I'm inclined to agree with his critique. But by taking it too far, Helprin winds up hoist on his own petard. Most glaringly, Helprin's relentless analogizing to World War II leads him to say absurd things. He suggests, for example, that without the military power in place to take on a united Arab world all at once, we are foolish to go into Iraq. That's an interesting view. It happens to coincide rather nicely with the views of Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell. If, after all, you need not only sufficient force to overwhelm the known enemy but all potential enemies, then you are unlikely to commit forces to combat. Helprin ridicules the Perle-Rumsfeld view that the Iraqi army will lack the will to fight. There's no reason to bank on rosy scenarios, but again, the acme of the art of war is to defeat the enemy without, or with a minimum of fighting. It's certainly no dishonor to try to win that way.
Osama bin Laden would like to be Hitler. But he is not Hitler in 1940, the conqueror of Poland and France threatening to invade Britain. He is the Hitler of 1922. The attack on America was his beer-hall putsch; it is as if Hitler had tried to spring to power in Germany by blowing up the Eiffel Tower. And because he is a different enemy than Hitler, he will need to be fought differently.
The threat of overwhelming force is invaluable, and we need to have that force available. But we also need many of the things that Helprin disdains: allies, in Europe and in the Muslim world, whom we can leverage to deny the terrorist enemy access to far greater force. Al Qaeda's primary goal is to seize control of a powerful enough Muslim territory that it can claim leadership of the Muslim world and unite it in war against the West. To deny them that success, we need to kill the members of al Qaeda, but we also have to keep other governments from falling to them or cooperating with them. Some states, like Iraq, are unlikely to be deterred; they need to be eliminated. Once eliminated, though, we will need to manage them; that is something we will not achieve solely through the application of force, though force will be an indispensible element.
Again, I don't want to downplay the need for greater military strength. With 500,000 or so more men under arms, with a couple of additional aircraft carriers and so forth, we could stop worrying about our ability to defend Taiwan and invade Iraq at the same time. We could move with greater confidence, and we would frankly attract more allies. But the military buildup we need is on the scale of the Reagan buildup, not the Roosevelt buildup. The world is not our enemy. Much of the world is actually sympathetic to our larger cause, and we want to enlist them, not ignore them. Places like Egypt, Pakistan, Russia and Belgium are not always friendly or attractive. But they could be far more obstructive than they are, and far more dangerous. The last thing we want to give al Qaeda is the grand battle they want.