The good thing about picking such an intangible invisible enemy as “terrorism”, is that you never have to spend too much time justifying your wars and your actions. “Terrorists”, much like “communists” a few decades ago, can surface anywhere and take on any appearance.
Although they preferably do not dress like us and probably do not celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. Ideally, their skin even has a different shade.
Declaring war on an invisible army force with, by definition, no way to assess your progress, is very convenient for two reasons:
First, because there’s nothing like a good war to help people forget about other less palatable aspects of your policies. Bush’s government is only the last of a long line of variously skilled politicians who have waged some improbable war and based their entire political agenda on this premise.
If we look on the American side, we got everything from the 50’s war on commies up until the would-be-laughable (if not for the countless lives it has destroyed, both in the US and abroad): “war on drugs“…
While there’s no need to go over the futility and hopelessness of the latter war, one thing bears reminding about the cold-war and one of its long-term consequences: following 1979’s invasion of Afghanistan by soviet forces, the US directly provided both military and financial support to resistance troops. The very same people that would, a decade later, take over the country and instigate one of the most oppressing Islamic dictatorship of all times, while apparently backing Al Qaeda operations… But more on that later.
Has anybody noticed to what extent domestic policies have been reduced to an overt game of back-patting self-gratification between white-house cronies, while at the same time receiving close to no media coverage?
I guess it’s much more exciting to report about the glorious advance of the War on Terrorism, rather than, say, focus on Bush’s catastrophic environmental policies or his frighteningly medieval AIDS prevention program based on… “abstinence”…
All in all, Bush’s buddies hardly bother hiding their cynical agenda: they know no one’s watching and hardly anyone cares, ’cause that whole war stuff is so much more exciting.
The other reason why you would want to start a war with enemies you can’t count is precisely that you can’t win it… There’s an infinite supply of evildoers to ensure your “war” never comes to an untimely end, suddenly bringing back the public’s short spanned-attention onto your lucrative little business of cronyism and embezzlement…
Of course, in order to avoid unpopular messy wars, this strategy requires quickly jumping from one opponent to the next, forcefully fitting entirely unrelated countries under a common description of “axis of evil”…
And to a point, it works: nobody (read: no mainstream media) seems to have noticed how quickly Afghanistan disappeared from the US focus and how, beside a few gas pipelines quickly restored and put back to work, nothing much has changed in war-torn Afghanistan ever since… Why did everyone forget so quickly about the original goals of the campaign in Afghanistan that seemed so clear at the time (“eradicate Al Qaeda”, “find Osama Ben Laden”, “rebuild the country”)? Simply because, just when it started being a bit more complicated than dropping bombs and shooting a few underarmed disheveled fanatics, when it started being about building stuff and organizing and investing important amount of money in a country with little promise for immediate return (remember: no oil there), then the US government understood it was time to get the hell away, let the UN deal with the mess and move onto the next target… Which happened to be the good old arch nemesis of yore: the evil Sadam Hussein!
And that’s where the invisible-enemy strategy choked on a serious bone and showed its flaws: when you can’t see your enemies, it’s much harder to beat them, especially if they start actually materializing into real, concrete, people with good reasons to kick your ass and wide support from their country.
Most people (including me, I must admit) were somewhat expecting this to happen in Afghanistan, as there’s a very famous historical precedent. But the US military were quite careful not to make the exact same mistake that cost the USSR its worst military defeat ever. There was close to no ground engagement in Afghanistan, and the US backed pretty much anybody willing to say they disliked Al Qaeda, giving them weapons and telling them to go take care of the bad guys for them, thus making room for the next generation of US-equipped violent factions that will backfire in a few years. But at the time, it worked out well, as the dreaded guerilla war that proved fatal to Soviet troops twenty years ago was avoided.
But there wasn’t such an option in Iraq: against a real country with a somewhat real army, the US had no other choice than to engage completely and send ground troops. Plus, this time, they had a much more specific agenda regarding the use of local resources (let’s liberate the oil derricks) that required real involvement, not just a few bombs casually dropped here and there. The problem came when, after getting rid of a bunch of thinly-motivated Iraqi regular troops, they had to deal with other people who had their own agenda (anti-US, pro-islamic etc) and much more determination to carry it through.
This is how the loop has been looped and now the US faces the same exact problem which the Soviet faced two decades ago: myriads of invisible partisans that do not care for their life and can easily get their hand on semi-heavy weapons (the ones the US provided them with, back when we still liked them better than their evil Iranian neighbours) that are all too sufficient to inflict continuous, relentless damages to occupation forces. If you’ve read any account of the Soviet-Afghan war, you will have noticed how strikingly similar the attacks are: a few people with a rocket-launcher can down a lot of planes or helicopters without much effort. The Afghans have done it successfully for years, and so are the Iraqis now.
On one side, a bunch of regular militaries in a foreign country, on the other side, guerilla fanatics with an increasingly wide popular support (due mostly to US ruthless behaviour toward civilians during the invasion)… Odds -and time- are working strongly against the US. And it’s not hard to see the specter of an Afghan-style defeat looming over the horizon (Vietnam being not too far either, although the involvement levels are definitely not comparable).
Just as a note: although there hardly ever was a single real “battle” fought on Afghan territory during the Afghan-Soviet war, the Soviet lost a total of more than 25,000 troops over their decade of occupation, before completely withdrawing in 1989…
Continued in some next entry
in the meantime, you can always read this rather funny piece about why “White House No Longer Uses Orwell and Machiavelli as ‘Consultants'”