There’s a War to be Won

President George W. Bush’s recent misstatement that the “War on Terror is unwinnable,” corrected by the President the next day on the Rush Limbaugh Show with an explanation that the war will not end with a surrender ceremony reminiscent of the Japanese delegation capitulating on the decks of the Battleship Missouri, typifies a general misunderstanding of the war in which the United States finds itself. There’s a war to be won, but a winning strategy cannot be devised until the Administration makes clear who the enemy is and what is at stake.

The Administration’s first task is to clearly define the enemy. The United States is at war with al Qaeda, Hezbollah, associated groups and regimes that support them; namely Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Second, this is a total war. Al Qaeda’s war aims are as encompassing as were those of Nazi Germany in World War II or the Soviet Union in World War III, the Cold War. Their goal is to establish a global Islamic caliphate. There will be no negotiated peace. It may be possible to appease the enemy but each appeasement will lead to further demands designed to move the West along the road to total subjugation. Just as the Munich Agreements of September 1938 emboldened Hitler to further aggression, appeasing terrorists will encourage them to additional acts of deprivation.

Third, given the totality of the enemy’s war aims, the only alternative is for the United States to pursue total victory. Al Qaeda, along with their associates and supporters, must be decisively defeated. Kill the hard-core terrorists and their less-committed followers will understand that hanging out with mad dogs means sharing their fate. We should accommodate terrorists who seek martyrdom by sending them to their virgin-rich, wine-soaked paradise before they strike at innocent people. The less than hard-core will opt for life and, from our perspective, it is preferable that they spend their lives hating us rather than both hating us and trying to kill us.

Fourth, World War IV could be a very long war. Al Qaeda’s strategy is to protract the war in hopes of eroding American will and resolve through acts of terrorism carried out over time. The enemy means to fight for as long as it takes to achieve victory. The best and quickest way to thwart that outcome is to eradicate them. Time is the enemy’s ally.

Fifth, the war will get far bloodier. Al Qaeda aimed its attacks on 9/11 primarily at civilians and the American economy. Three years into World War IV, civilians make up nearly three-fourths of the more than 4,000 Americans killed thus far. Future attacks are inevitable. Al Qaeda plans meticulously and they are patient. The terrorists know that spreading their attacks over relatively long intervals lulls the American public into a false sense of security so that when the axe falls the mental impact is greater. As Clausewitz put it, “War is an act of force to compel the enemy to do your will.”

For the United States and its allies, a pre-emptive strategy makes the best sense. It may be that we will have to ferret out each terrorist cell and, when we do so, exterminate every terrorist we find. When we strike, it must be with the kind of demonstrably decisive determination that makes it clear to the terrorists’ supporters in Pyongyang, Tehran and Damascus that they are candidates for the same treatment meted out to Saddam Hussein and his terror-supporting regime. Sensitive strategies only make sense to kind-hearted and well-meaning people oblivious to the implications of terrorists flying airliners loaded with innocent passengers into skyscrapers filled with office workers.

Finally, to win the United States needs reliable allies. Spain caved in to terror. Germany and France must decide whether they are with us or against us. Britain, Australia, Italy, and Poland along with more than thirty other nations stand with us in Iraq because they know the outcome of World War IV will determine the kind of world our grandchildren inherit. Israel remains our most reliable Middle Eastern ally. The murder of 338 children, school teachers and other innocents by terrorists linked to al Qaeda should make it abundantly clear to the Russians that terrorists have them in their crosshairs. An alliance between the US and Russia could prove historically pivotal in our common struggle with a savage foe propounding an antithetical worldview.

While many Americans seem ambivalent, there’s a war to be won. It is a war the United States and the West with its traditions of respect for individual rights and human dignity must win. What is at stake is the world of the twenty first … and twenty second centuries.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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