Is the enemy winning?

They've had the stuffing bombed out of them in Afghanistan. They've had their financial resources revealed and weeded out, their money men arrested and thrown in jail, their supporters and enablers cowed by a law enforcement effort involving upward of 80 countries and thousands of investigators. Their leaders are cowering in fear for their lives in caves and cavities in the earth ranging from air—conditioned bunkers to spider holes. And in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, and all across the continent of Europe their soldiers are systematically being hunted down and killed or captured.
 
And yet....
 
And yet al Qaeda may be winning this war. On this beautiful late spring morning in the Midwest with the promise of summer right around the corner, our enemies have much to celebrate. For the debate in the United States is no longer be what to do about this group of  fanatical, murderous thugs who ruthlessly and heartlessly attacked our homeland on September 11, 2001. The debate could revolve around the question of how we can have  a "return to normalcy," a question reflective of a yearning to turn back the clock to a time when we didn't have dead serious debates about whether or not the accidental splash of urine on a Koran translates as "abuse" or which interrogation methods truly constitute torture.
 
Our national conversation about the War on Terror is proceeding in a manner very much as our enemies wish. They have seized the psychological initiative by playing our national news organs like a Wurlitzer. Admittedly, the military has helped al Qaeda out enormously, not only by the occasional breakdown in discipline which has led to isolated but significant incidents of torture, but by the natural tendency of the military command authorities to not give the enemy a propaganda weapon to use against us. This has resulted in the appearance of cover—up, if not in the intent then certainly in the result of torture allegations.
 
At bottom, the brouhaha about prisoner abuse, Koran flushing, puppet governments, Bush— lied—and—people—died—no—blood—for—oil—U.S.—out—of—Iraq battle cries reveals a desperate desire on the part of many Americans — perhaps a majority — to wish away the harsh realities that the war in Iraq is exposing, and the monumental effort it will take to win this conflict and defeat the forces of ignorance, intolerance, and terror.
 
President Warren G.  Harding used the phrase "return to normalcy" to describe a state of mind that existed in the United States prior to our entry in World War I. There was a reaction to America sullying her hands by taking part in what, at the time, was seen as part of the endless cycle of European self—immolative conflagrations that had flared up every hundred years or so. Harding thought it was high time America returned to a pre—war state of mind where, as his successor Calvin Coolidge so aptly put it, "the chief business of the American people is business," and the only foreign entanglement worthy of our interest was trying to keep Latin America peaceful and beyond the clutches of European powers.
 
Harding and Coolidge succeeded in making America forget its involvement in that war. The League of Nations, President Wilson's flawed attempt to integrate America into the world community, was roundly defeated because, in their heart of hearts, Americans believed themselves too pure, too righteous to become involved in world affairs. We did emerge briefly from our self—imposed slumber to propose and sign the Kellogg—Briand Pact, which idealistically renounced the use of force in solving all international disputes. But that was perfectly in keeping with our belief that the forces of evil could be kept at bay simply by the lucky accident of geography. Separated as we are from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, we believed that the forces of darkness gathering strength during the 1920's were of no concern to us simply because they couldn't possibly threaten our well being.
 
Today the forces of darkness can't be kept at bay by geography. They can't be stopped by wishful thinking. They must be confronted, attacked, pursued, captured, and killed. There simply is no other way.
 
And yet....
 
And yet the opponents of this war — most of whom are good Americans who love their country as much as any of us— are playing directly into al Qaeda 's hands.  Unable to defeat us on the battlefield, unwilling to confront us directly, al Qaeda is using its battlefield defeats — the capture and detention of its soldiers — to turn our successes upside down and put the United States government on the defensive. And the opponents of the war, seizing upon this sidebar issue with a fervor reminiscent of a revivalist reverend preaching hellfire and damnation, are unwittingly following the game plan of our enemies, by excoriating the Bush Administration for its alleged failure to uphold American values.
 
The anti—war crowd is using traditional grips and handholds in the political mud wrestling going on over the war. This begs the question: Who do they think the enemy is: Bush or al Qaeda? For that matter, when was the last time you heard or read anyone from the anti—war left actually using the pejorative "enemy" to describe our opponent?
 
In effect, much like their Democratic Party forbearers who took Abraham Lincoln to task for a variety of issues not directly related to the Civil War, including the suspension of Habeas Corpus and questions about what constitutes free speech in wartime, Bush's political opponents rarely, if ever, mention the reason we fight. Instead, their constant carping about prisoner abuse seems to be having its desired effect; the American people are losing confidence in the President to bring the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and are becoming more anxious about our War on Terror in general.
 
Anyone who doesn't believe that this is part of our enemies' strategic thinking is disingenuous or naive. Despite Michael Moore's portrayal of Bin Laden and his cohorts as ignorant savages living in caves, many of the top leadership in al Qaeda are college educated — many of them matriculated at some of the finest colleges and universities in the west — and are keen students of both the Western media and Western attitudes. A translated copy of the al Qaeda Training Manual reveals a deep understanding of not only what makes the American people tick, but how to roil the streets of the Islamic world and bring the masses to their side.
 
The next significant test for American resolve in the War on Terror is in 2008. While the election last year could have been considered a referendum on the Iraq conflict and hence of surpassing significance for that reason alone, it's devoutly to be hoped that by 2008 the mass of troops currently stationed in that country will be redeployed and American casualties will have virtually ceased. If that's the case (and I believe the Administration will make it so whether completely warranted or not) then the Democratic candidate will have an interesting decision to make about an overarching theme for the campaign.
 
Will a "return to normalcy" theme — one that seeks to fulfill John Kerry's dream of a return to a 9/10 world — be so attractive to the American people that it brings the Democrats the White House in 2008? It's a seductive approach, one with very little political downside, and it could resonate with swing voters. But what consequences will flow from a decision to stop doing the things necessary to successfully prosecute the War on Terror and take the battle  to where our enemies live, rather than fight the war on terms of the enemy's choosing?
 
The sad fact is, the constant drumbeat about prisoner abuse has lowered the morale of the American people and made them question not only the tactics, but fundamental tenets about the necessity for the War on Terror. And since the next attack on our homeland will not be blamed on terrorists per se, but rather on the personal leadership of the President, the anti—war crowd will be able to use any such assault as a political weapon to attack the way we are currently fighting this war. They will turn the country's gaze away from fighting terrorists elsewhere to battening down the hatches at home and withdrawing from the fight. In a supremely  ironic twist to Harding's reasons for a "return to normalcy," they will make the case that America is, in effect, too evil to lead this fight, and is better off letting the wiser, more virtuous  heads in Europe and the United Nations take the lead.
 
The enemy knows the only way to win the war in Iraq and elsewhere is if we voluntarily withdraw. In short, if we abjectly surrender. And in a conflict where many of us believe we fight for our existence, this is simply unacceptable.
 
But the siren song of "normalcy" may prove too tempting to resist. Unlike Odysseus's sailors, no amount of wax we stuff in our ears will be able to muffle the alluring sound of the birds singing sweetly on a glorious September day in 2001 — September 10th, that is.
 
Rick Moran is the proprietor of
Rightwing Nuthouse.
They've had the stuffing bombed out of them in Afghanistan. They've had their financial resources revealed and weeded out, their money men arrested and thrown in jail, their supporters and enablers cowed by a law enforcement effort involving upward of 80 countries and thousands of investigators. Their leaders are cowering in fear for their lives in caves and cavities in the earth ranging from air—conditioned bunkers to spider holes. And in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, and all across the continent of Europe their soldiers are systematically being hunted down and killed or captured.
 
And yet....
 
And yet al Qaeda may be winning this war. On this beautiful late spring morning in the Midwest with the promise of summer right around the corner, our enemies have much to celebrate. For the debate in the United States is no longer be what to do about this group of  fanatical, murderous thugs who ruthlessly and heartlessly attacked our homeland on September 11, 2001. The debate could revolve around the question of how we can have  a "return to normalcy," a question reflective of a yearning to turn back the clock to a time when we didn't have dead serious debates about whether or not the accidental splash of urine on a Koran translates as "abuse" or which interrogation methods truly constitute torture.
 
Our national conversation about the War on Terror is proceeding in a manner very much as our enemies wish. They have seized the psychological initiative by playing our national news organs like a Wurlitzer. Admittedly, the military has helped al Qaeda out enormously, not only by the occasional breakdown in discipline which has led to isolated but significant incidents of torture, but by the natural tendency of the military command authorities to not give the enemy a propaganda weapon to use against us. This has resulted in the appearance of cover—up, if not in the intent then certainly in the result of torture allegations.
 
At bottom, the brouhaha about prisoner abuse, Koran flushing, puppet governments, Bush— lied—and—people—died—no—blood—for—oil—U.S.—out—of—Iraq battle cries reveals a desperate desire on the part of many Americans — perhaps a majority — to wish away the harsh realities that the war in Iraq is exposing, and the monumental effort it will take to win this conflict and defeat the forces of ignorance, intolerance, and terror.
 
President Warren G.  Harding used the phrase "return to normalcy" to describe a state of mind that existed in the United States prior to our entry in World War I. There was a reaction to America sullying her hands by taking part in what, at the time, was seen as part of the endless cycle of European self—immolative conflagrations that had flared up every hundred years or so. Harding thought it was high time America returned to a pre—war state of mind where, as his successor Calvin Coolidge so aptly put it, "the chief business of the American people is business," and the only foreign entanglement worthy of our interest was trying to keep Latin America peaceful and beyond the clutches of European powers.
 
Harding and Coolidge succeeded in making America forget its involvement in that war. The League of Nations, President Wilson's flawed attempt to integrate America into the world community, was roundly defeated because, in their heart of hearts, Americans believed themselves too pure, too righteous to become involved in world affairs. We did emerge briefly from our self—imposed slumber to propose and sign the Kellogg—Briand Pact, which idealistically renounced the use of force in solving all international disputes. But that was perfectly in keeping with our belief that the forces of evil could be kept at bay simply by the lucky accident of geography. Separated as we are from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, we believed that the forces of darkness gathering strength during the 1920's were of no concern to us simply because they couldn't possibly threaten our well being.
 
Today the forces of darkness can't be kept at bay by geography. They can't be stopped by wishful thinking. They must be confronted, attacked, pursued, captured, and killed. There simply is no other way.
 
And yet....
 
And yet the opponents of this war — most of whom are good Americans who love their country as much as any of us— are playing directly into al Qaeda 's hands.  Unable to defeat us on the battlefield, unwilling to confront us directly, al Qaeda is using its battlefield defeats — the capture and detention of its soldiers — to turn our successes upside down and put the United States government on the defensive. And the opponents of the war, seizing upon this sidebar issue with a fervor reminiscent of a revivalist reverend preaching hellfire and damnation, are unwittingly following the game plan of our enemies, by excoriating the Bush Administration for its alleged failure to uphold American values.
 
The anti—war crowd is using traditional grips and handholds in the political mud wrestling going on over the war. This begs the question: Who do they think the enemy is: Bush or al Qaeda? For that matter, when was the last time you heard or read anyone from the anti—war left actually using the pejorative "enemy" to describe our opponent?
 
In effect, much like their Democratic Party forbearers who took Abraham Lincoln to task for a variety of issues not directly related to the Civil War, including the suspension of Habeas Corpus and questions about what constitutes free speech in wartime, Bush's political opponents rarely, if ever, mention the reason we fight. Instead, their constant carping about prisoner abuse seems to be having its desired effect; the American people are losing confidence in the President to bring the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and are becoming more anxious about our War on Terror in general.
 
Anyone who doesn't believe that this is part of our enemies' strategic thinking is disingenuous or naive. Despite Michael Moore's portrayal of Bin Laden and his cohorts as ignorant savages living in caves, many of the top leadership in al Qaeda are college educated — many of them matriculated at some of the finest colleges and universities in the west — and are keen students of both the Western media and Western attitudes. A translated copy of the al Qaeda Training Manual reveals a deep understanding of not only what makes the American people tick, but how to roil the streets of the Islamic world and bring the masses to their side.
 
The next significant test for American resolve in the War on Terror is in 2008. While the election last year could have been considered a referendum on the Iraq conflict and hence of surpassing significance for that reason alone, it's devoutly to be hoped that by 2008 the mass of troops currently stationed in that country will be redeployed and American casualties will have virtually ceased. If that's the case (and I believe the Administration will make it so whether completely warranted or not) then the Democratic candidate will have an interesting decision to make about an overarching theme for the campaign.
 
Will a "return to normalcy" theme — one that seeks to fulfill John Kerry's dream of a return to a 9/10 world — be so attractive to the American people that it brings the Democrats the White House in 2008? It's a seductive approach, one with very little political downside, and it could resonate with swing voters. But what consequences will flow from a decision to stop doing the things necessary to successfully prosecute the War on Terror and take the battle  to where our enemies live, rather than fight the war on terms of the enemy's choosing?
 
The sad fact is, the constant drumbeat about prisoner abuse has lowered the morale of the American people and made them question not only the tactics, but fundamental tenets about the necessity for the War on Terror. And since the next attack on our homeland will not be blamed on terrorists per se, but rather on the personal leadership of the President, the anti—war crowd will be able to use any such assault as a political weapon to attack the way we are currently fighting this war. They will turn the country's gaze away from fighting terrorists elsewhere to battening down the hatches at home and withdrawing from the fight. In a supremely  ironic twist to Harding's reasons for a "return to normalcy," they will make the case that America is, in effect, too evil to lead this fight, and is better off letting the wiser, more virtuous  heads in Europe and the United Nations take the lead.
 
The enemy knows the only way to win the war in Iraq and elsewhere is if we voluntarily withdraw. In short, if we abjectly surrender. And in a conflict where many of us believe we fight for our existence, this is simply unacceptable.
 
But the siren song of "normalcy" may prove too tempting to resist. Unlike Odysseus's sailors, no amount of wax we stuff in our ears will be able to muffle the alluring sound of the birds singing sweetly on a glorious September day in 2001 — September 10th, that is.
 
Rick Moran is the proprietor of
Rightwing Nuthouse.