Monday, September 21, 2009

What's this war for?

In a recent column by Tarek Fatah in The National Post, he says we have lost the war in Afghanistan, we should acknowledge defeat and we should bring home our troops now before any more of them are killed.

I don’t agree with him.

I normally have a lot of time for Fatah. He is one of a handful of Muslims who calls for the reform of the religion. For his efforts, he and his family have been threatened with death by other Muslims.

Fatah is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, a book that has been reasonably well-received by the public and was a runner-up in the 2009 Donner Prize for the best books on Canadian public policy. The book discredits the notion of a world-wide Caliphate from an historical perspective.

However, this column is the most defeatist I have ever read. If he had written this kind of thing in 1942 about the war with the Axis Powers, he probably would have been locked up for sedition.

Fatah says:

We have lost the war. The Islamist jihadis have won it. We must acknowledge defeat and bring our troops home.

In a war between those who desire death and those who treasure their RRSPs and IRAs, the outcome is predictable. Canadian soldiers are professional, but mission-less armies have never fared well on the battlefield. American soldiers, who enlist primarily with the objective of obtaining a college degree, will never be able to defeat their counterparts, who view their freshman year as starting in paradise on the banks of rivers of milk and honey surrounded by 72 virgins.

This is hyperbole, of course, because there are many Americans who did not enlist for a free ride into college, but to avenge 9/11 and to do what the American military exists to do; i.e., keep the country secure.

We are told that we are involved in an “asymmetrical” war and that different strategies and tactics need to be employed if we are to “win” it. Asymmetrical is just a fancy name for guerrilla warfare and guerilla wars have been won; the British in South Africa, Kenya and Malaya, as examples. The more recent one is the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the government of Sri Lanka.

However, those conflicts were carried out in confined geographical territories, where the combatants on the other side did not have easy access to outside material support, or had little room to maneuver, and where the victorious party could effectively bottle them up in less and less defendable territory.

The problem with the war against radical Islam is that it recruits its “soldiers” from everywhere, including our own country, and it can supply them from a bottomless armory of small arms and explosives, available mainly through the helpful manufacturing and distribution by the very governments who send their armies to fight these zealots.

So, just as the military needs to think differently about how it combats non-state agents of a death cult, we, the people, need to consider redefining what we mean by defeat and victory. Sometimes a victory is merely keeping somebody at bay.

Did we experience a victory over the Soviet Union like we did over Germany and Japan? Clearly not. But we defeated it just the same. We contained its expansion and it eventually imploded.

That is how we need to think about victory with respect to radical Islam. Keep it off balance, bottle it up, interdict it wherever it appears, and discredit it at all times. As long as Islam lives, the death cult will never go away, but it can be contained and its harmful effects minimized.

I agree with Fatah that we should bring home the troops, but only when our commitment to Afghanistan ends in 2011. The Islamists will crow about it, but we accomplished what we set out to do which was to disrupt al Qaeda and chase away the Taliban government.

In the future, we should not set ourselves lofty goals of bringing democracy to these backwater Islamic states. We should just interfere enough to derail any emerging threats and then let them sort out their own messes. The strategy is containment and successful containment is a victory. Had we identified this goal early on, we would have withdrawn from Afghanistan long ago and not found ourselves in the current quagmire of endless warfare.

Israel employs such a strategy with its neighbours. It fights them when necessary, inflicts a military beating, without complete conquest, and then goes back to the status quo. It is instructive that Lebanon’s belligerent Nasrallah declared war on Israel in 2006 in support of Hamas’s dustup with the Jewish state and got such a bloody nose from that encounter that he stayed well away from its re-run in 2008.

Although I disagree with Fatah about claiming a defeat and running home now, I do agree with this sentiment.

In the U. S., a bumbling President who knows the threat of Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood ideology very well still bends over backwards and welcomes the bearers of this doctrine into his inner circle.

Imagine fighting the U. S. S. R. without confronting the ideology of Stalinism. Could we have won? Not a chance. Today we are fighting Islamist jihad-ism, yet neither Obama nor the British PM nor Harper or Ignatieff dare utter one word against the ideology that attacked us all on 9/11. So what is this war for?

We have to have a clearer idea of the enemy we are fighting and who our real friends and allies are in the Islamic world.

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