Our Hundred Years' War

All the commentaries about ISIS and the campaign against it, whether coming from the left, right, or middle, overlook the basic nature of the conflict: the fact that this is a thirty -- if not a hundred -- years’ war.

Barack Obama, the president with the least understanding of military affairs of any on record, is fighting this as a limited war, a war of “containment” with no overall strategy of the moment, much less any kind of grand strategy for the long run. Obama, along with his various Middle East “experts” of the Susan Rice and Samantha Power variety, persists in stumbling from crisis to crisis, never accomplishing much, never looking forward to the next move, forever playing catchup ball. The end result has been political chaos, humanitarian disaster, and a revival of Jihadi fortunes throughout the Islamic crescent.

We got in this position through half steps. The Bush administration was unwilling to lay out the facts of this conflict in the manner of John F. Kennedy’s description of the Cold War as the “long twilight struggle.” All the same, Bush had a strategy, and a very profound one: crush the Taliban, harry Al Qaeda, destroy Saddam Hussein’s Iraq -- which would inevitably try to set itself up as Terrorism Central -- and terrify the rest of the Arab world, whether allies or enemies, into behaving themselves.

Much of this worked. But at the same time, Bush and his people were unwilling to define the conflict, to clarify that the post-9/11 campaigns were simply the first phase of a long war that would last for decades at best. This is perhaps understandable in a knee-jerk oppositionist media environment directed and manipulated by the likes of Michael Moore, but it remains a serious failing. An ignorant and easily-led public expecting instant results was not adequately prepared for a lengthy, grueling struggle against a canny and fanatical enemy, and soon lost patience.

The Democrats, always ready to take advantage of anything at all, no matter what the risk or cost to national security or the actual interests of the people, proved more than willing to exploit this in 2008. After years of peddling the line that the entire terror conflict was Bush’s fault, with the Jihadis themselves amounting to ciphers, the Dems appealed to the popular “war-weariness” (that they had in large part generated) with the implicit promise that, once Barack Obama was elected, the wars would be all finished, the terror conflict tidied up, and everything returned to what it had been pre-9/11. A bow to various Muslim chieftains, a public apology or twenty, and things would be fine. This was in keeping with the policies of the last two Democratic administrations of running on “normalcy” platforms -- a guarantee that the country could take a permanent holiday from history and pay nothing at all for it. 

Obama promised that the U.S., under his guidance, would return to a 90s status quo, the status quo that had vanished on September 11, 2001 and is doomed never to be revived. He was unable to keep that promise, any more than he kept any of his others.

The voters, having heard nothing else, fell for it. The war effort was geared down to the lowest possible level, with pullouts from Iraq and Afghanistan scheduled in defiance of any and all developments and with action left to drone strikes.

An apparent attempt at an end run around the entire problem was made through the “Arab Spring,” an effort to “democratize” the Middle East which ended in absolute disaster. We know very little about the details behind this effort (Benghazi is only the upper part of the iceberg), our honest media having absolutely refused to look into it.

As for the ISIS, American strategy is limited to airstrikes and possible Special Forces action. We have no allies and no coalition. There is not a spark of enthusiasm among the nations of the West. That is where it stands, and where it will stand. Nobody trusts a United States run by Obama, Kerry, and Hagel. Would you?

The future progression is easy to predict. This is a Vietnam strategy, produced the same way that the Vietnam War was produced -- through less-than-competent individuals overthinking the situation in attempts to account for every last variable before ever making a move. The inevitable result is a long drawn-out conflict with no discernible goals, a steadily deteriorating situation marked by failure and stagnation, encouraging manipulation and interference by third parties such as Russia and China. In short order, members of our progressive elites will begin to insist that the Jihadis are a “fact of life” -- as they did concerning the USSR -- that must be “accepted” with endless proposals for appeasement and propitiation.

So the first phase of the war, under Bush, was a success on its own terms. The second, under Obama, is a disaster of near-apocalyptic proportions. Tens of thousands have already died, millions will join them, possibly no small number of them on the streets of American cities.

Despite this, ISIS will eventually be defeated, as much by its own internal contradictions -- sectarian conflict, assassinations, and friction with other Jihadi outfits and nations -- as anything else. There are a lot of people who want to be caliph, and Arab history gives a good idea as to how this will all shake out.

But there will be a third phase. Another such organization will arise and require further action. This is due to the nature of the distributed network on which Islamism is based and the fact that the Jihad is a product of a mass religious movement. Al Qaeda, Boko Harum, the ISIS, and what have you are only aspects, masks for the demented face beneath, used and discarded as circumstances demand.

There is a strategic solution (there is always a strategic solution). One that is not easy to face, particularly for Americans, who like things done quickly, simply, and humanely, with as little fuss and expense as possible. World War II is the American model: the country gearing up as a whole for a swift, overwhelming effort to destroy three evil and menacing empires. The war lasted roughly three-and-a-half years and ended with the total destruction of the enemy and the near-universal punishment of the aggressors.

The Cold War was another story. Precisely as necessary as WW II -- the Soviets, Maoists, and Castroites nearly matched the Nazis in pure viciousness -- but a far more difficult sell. It was not a conflict that could be settled in a few quick campaigns, but only through lengthy, grueling efforts, many of them invisible to the citizenry and difficult to explain at best. (The constant deterrence patrols by aircraft over the Arctic and SLBM submarines in the world’s oceans are examples of this.) It’s no surprise that after thirty years of it, most politicians, almost all intellectuals, and a large fraction of the general public had thrown in the towel. (If this can said about an intelligentsia that rather approved of the Marxist dictatorships in the first place.) It was a very small number of politicians and their advisors who saw it through to a successful conclusion.

The arc of the Jihadi conflict will be similar, tempered by several facts: nobody particularly approves of the Islamists, not even the left. The Jihadis easily exceed the Marxist tyrannies in sheer vileness -- every Islamist is his own death camp commander, ready to commit unimaginable atrocities for any reason or none. While the Communists avoided direct strikes against the West, the Jihadis yearn for such actions. Many such strikes (Fort Hood, Times Square, Boston, Tulsa) have occurred under the Obama dispensation. These will only increase to a point where they can no longer be swept under the rug by a corrupt government and complicit media.  

Because of these differences, the long-term strategy will be different from that of the Cold War. Rather than simple containment until the Soviet empire collapsed of its rotten weight, it will be a war of attrition. There are a billion-plus Muslims currently active. If 1% are convinced fanatic Jihadis, that translates into somehting in the range of ten to twelve million. Which means that we need to kill a large portion of that ten to twelve million. As William T. Sherman put it repeatedly during the Civil War, the Confederate war effort was dependent on 300,000 Southern aristocrats -- slaveholders with influence over poorer and less educated Southerners. Once those 300,000 were killed, the war would end. This Sherman and Grant set out to do.

It took Lincoln and his cabinet over three years to face this fact. This was impossible for Obama (and for that matter, Bush). In the ultra-civilized, not to say effete 21st century, this will not occur until the U.S. has suffered far greater injuries than it has. The left will play the terror conflict the same way they did the Cold War. Obama has set the pattern and they will follow it.

We have a people whose mental horizons are set by sports, entertainment trivia, and reality TV. People who want no more than to retreat to their mancaves, malls, and game consoles and not be bothered. They are easily played and manipulated by anybody who is willing to promise exactly that.

This mindset will need to be destroyed before a serious campaign against the Jihadis can be resumed. Eventually the terrorists will take care of that themselves through their own atrocious actions. But it won’t happen tomorrow, and until it does, there’s no point in discussing an abstraction like “strategy.” Without will, strategy is pantomime.

We need a grand vision for the United States. Not only as the world’s leading economy and pioneer in participatory democracy, but as something more: a nation with a great destiny as defender of the West and protector of the civilized virtues against a savage and implacable enemy.

There is no one on the political horizon that can shape this vision. Fortunately, democracies have a tendency to produce such figures (Pericles, Churchill, Truman, Reagan). But only when the chips are down. They’ve scarcely even started falling yet.