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Quote of the Day for 9/11

Excerpts from this NY Times essay. The whole thing is brilliant, here are bits:

"Four years after we watched the towers fall, Americans have not succeeded in "ridding the world of evil." We have managed to show ourselves, our friends and most of all our enemies the limits of American power.

Instead of fighting the real war that was thrust upon us on that incomprehensible morning four years ago, we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination, an ideological struggle that we defined not by frankly appraising the real enemy before us but by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions. And we have finished - as the escalating numbers of terrorist attacks, the grinding Iraq insurgency, the overstretched American military and the increasing political dissatisfaction at home show - by fighting precisely the kind of war they wanted us to fight...

"Washington policy and defense cultures still seek out cold-war models," as members of the Defense Science Board, a Defense Department task force commissioned to examine the war on terror, observed in a report last year. "With the surprise announcement of a new struggle, the U.S. government reflexively inclined toward cold-war-style responses to the new threat, without a thought or a care as to whether these were the best responses to a very different strategic situation."

Al Qaeda was not the Nazis or the Soviet Communists. Al Qaeda controlled no state, fielded no regular army. It was a small, conspiratorial organization, dedicated to achieving its aims through guerrilla tactics, notably a kind of spectacular terrorism carried to a level of apocalyptic brutality the world had not before seen. Mass killing was the necessary but not the primary aim, for the point of such terror was to mobilize recruits for a political cause - to move sympathizers to act - and to tempt the enemy into reacting in such a way as to make that mobilization easier...

We should return here to the lessons of Afghanistan, not only the obvious one of the defeat of a powerful Soviet Army by guerrilla forces but the more subtle one taught by the Americans, who by clever use of covert aid to the Afghan resistance tempted the Soviets to invade the country and thereby drew "the Russians into an Afghan trap."

Bin Laden seems to have hoped to set in motion a similar strategy. According to a text attributed to Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian Army colonel now generally identified as bin Laden's military chief, "the ultimate objective was to prompt" the United States "to come out of its hole" and take direct military action in an Islamic country. "What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere."

After Tora Bora, the Qaeda fighters who survived regrouped in neighboring countries... Not all the fighters would return to Afghanistan. Other targets of opportunity loomed on the horizon of the possible. "Abu Mus'ab and his Jordanian and Palestinian comrades opted to go to Iraq," al-Adel recalled, for, he said, an "examination of the situation indicated that the Americans would inevitably make a mistake and invade Iraq sooner or later. Such an invasion would aim at overthrowing the regime. Therefore, we should play an important role in the confrontation and resistance."

Abu Mus'ab is Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi - or A.M.Z. to the American troops who are pursuing him and his Qaeda in Mesopotamia forces all over the shattered landscape of occupied Iraq. The United States, as Al Qaeda had hoped, had indeed come out of its hole...

It was not a war the Americans had been trained or equipped to fight. With fewer than 150,000 troops - and many fewer combat soldiers - they were trying to contain a full-blown insurgency in a country the size of California. The elusive enemy - an evolving, loose coalition of a score or so groups, some of them ex-Baathists from Saddam Hussein's dozen or so security agencies, some former Iraqi military personnel, some professional Islamic insurgents like Zarqawi, some foreign volunteers from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Syria come to take the jihad to the Americans - attacked not with tanks or artillery or infantry assaults but with roadside bombs and suicide car bombers and kidnappings. Iraq, bin Laden declared, had become a "golden opportunity" to start a "third world war" against "the crusader-Zionist coalition..."

It is difficult to think of a place in which terror has been deployed on such a scale: there have been suicide truck bombs, suicide tanker bombs, suicide police cars, suicide bombers on foot, suicide bombers posing as police officers, suicide bombers posing as soldiers, even suicide bombers on bicycles. While the American death toll climbs steadily toward 2,000, the number of Iraqi dead probably stands at 10 times that and perhaps many more; no one knows. Conservative unofficial counts put the number of Iraqi dead in the war at somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000, in a country a tenth the size of the United States...

The sun is setting on American dreams in Iraq; what remains now to be worked out are the modalities of withdrawal, which depend on the powers of forbearance in the American body politic. But the dynamic has already been set in place. The United States is running out of troops. By the spring of 2006, nearly every active-duty combat unit is likely to have been deployed twice. The National Guard and Reserves, meanwhile, make up an unprecedented 40 percent of the force, and the Guard is in the "stage of meltdown," as Gen. Barry McCaffrey, retired, recently told Congress. Within 24 months, "the wheels are coming off." For all the apocalyptic importance President Bush and his administration ascribed to the Iraq war, they made virtually no move to expand the military, no decision to restore the draft. In the end, the president judged his tax cuts more important than his vision of a "democratic Middle East."

The administration's relentless political style, integral to both its strength and its weakness, left it wholly unable to change course and to add more troops when they might have made a difference. That moment is long past; the widespread unpopularity of the occupation in Iraq and in the Islamic world is now critical to insurgent recruitment and makes it possible for a growing insurgent force numbering in the tens of thousands to conceal itself within the broader population...

We cannot know what future Osama bin Laden imagined when he sent off his 19 suicide terrorists on their mission four years ago. He got much wrong; the U.S. military, light years ahead of the Red Army, would send no tank divisions to Afghanistan, and there has been no uprising in the Islamic world. One suspects, though, that if bin Laden had been told on that day that in a mere 48 months he would behold a world in which the United States, "the idol of the age," was bogged down in an endless guerrilla war fighting in a major Muslim country; a world in which its all-powerful army, with few allies and little sympathy, found itself overstretched and exhausted; in which its dispirited people were starting to demand from their increasingly unpopular leader a withdrawal without victory - one suspects that such a prophecy would have pleased him.

He had struck at the American will, and his strategy, which relied in effect on the persistent reluctance of American leaders to speak frankly to their people about the costs and burdens of war and to expend the political capital that such frank talk would require, had proved largely correct."

-- Mark Danner, professor of Journalism and Politics at the University of California
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9/14/2005 10:04:00 AM

Okay, I've been putting off reading this post and the Richard Mouw post because of their length. I'm glad I took the time to finally read them. There's a lot of food for thought in both of them. Now, I have to take the time to read them in their entirity. Thanks.:)    



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