Saturday, November 15, 2003

The Two Front War On Terror

When Heinz Guderian looked across the frontier at the French Army in 1940 he knew that it was far stronger than his own. The French knew it too and boasted, "We will win the war because we are stronger". Nearly every assessment of the strange collapse in the West, from the contemporaneous study of Marc Bloch to the recent work by Ernest May acknowledged that on paper, at least, the French Army was the mightier of the two combatants, all the more formidable because it sheltered behind nearly impregnable fortifications. But they had the wrong point of view. The Germans had no intention of fighting the French Army one soldier at a time. They had decided to send mobile forces around the massed divisions and sever the nervous system of their enemy, so that at the moment of defeat the vast knotted fists of the French army hung limp, intact and impotent from the decapitated torso of the Third Republic, the victim of Blitzkrieg.

Osama Bin Laden, pondering the far greater challenge of defeating the USA, embraced a grander conception. He believed that America's true center of gravity was it's will, and that will was terminally infirm. America was outwardly formidable, with ample means to defend itself, but not the resolution to wield it. Speaking to journalists in 1997 and 1998, Osama described his anticipated triumph the way a strong thief might regard the planned mugging of an old woman as a foregone conclusion. He told anyone who would listen that the America was a hollow, pitiful shell; an overripe fruit that he would pluck at leisure. 'To kill them', he seems to say, 'would be a great mercy'. The answer to defeating America was sheer effrontery. He would simply come and announce that they deserved to die; and they would trample each other in fear.

1998 Interview with John Miller of ABC News 1997 Interview with Peter Arnett

OSAMA BIN LADEN: "We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. We are ready for all occasions. We rely on Allah. ...

NATO, that America created, we know it spent $455 billion American dollars in improving weaponry to protect Europe and America from Russia, and they did not fire a single shot. ...

The youth ... headed for Somalia and prepared for a long battle, thinking that the Americans were like the Russians, but they were surprised ... at the low morale of the American soldiers and ... after a few blows ... left, dragging their corpses.

OSAMA BIN LADEN: "some Arab 'Mujahideen' who were in Afghanistan ... participated with their brothers in Somalia against the American occupation troops and killed large numbers of them. After a little resistance, The American troops left after achieving nothing ... after some resistance from powerless, poor, unarmed people whose only weapon is the belief in Allah The Almighty, ... we learned ... the low spiritual morale of the American fighters in comparison with the experience they had with the Russian fighters. The Americans ran away from those fighters who fought and killed them, while the latter were still there. If the U.S. still thinks and brags that it still has this kind of power even after all these successive defeats in Vietnam, Beirut, Aden, and Somalia, then let them go back to those who are awaiting its return."


So great was his belief in American weakness that Osama announced his intention to kill as many Americans as he pleased in advance, confident that no one would stop him.

1998 Interview with John Miller of ABC News 1997 Interview with Peter Arnett

JOHN MILLER:  Mr. bin Laden, you have issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to kill Americans where they can, when they can. Is that directed at all Americans, just American military, just Americans in Saudi Arabia?

OSAMA BIN LADEN: We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are all targets in this fatwa.

PETER ARNETT: "Mr. Bin Ladin, you've declared a jihad against the United States. Can you tell us why? And is the jihad directed against the US government or the United States' troops in Arabia? What about US civilians in Arabia or the people of the United States?"

OSAMA BIN LADEN: We declared jihad against the US government ... As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places ...


Then he killed them. Like Guderian 60 years before him, Osama Bin Laden had calculated the emptiness of the defenses to a nicety. His flying bombs penetrated American airspace as easily as the Wehrmacht's panzers crossed the 'impassable' Ardennes.  And the headlong impulse to fear, flight and panic, as he predicted, gripped his victim. The American Left frantically offered Osama Bin Laden anything to placate him  -- abjection, money -- anything but resistance. 'How was it our fault, why do you hate us, what do you want?', they asked. Osama's pitch-perfect reading of the cultural elite was confirmed by Gore Vidal's warning against any contemplated act of defiance. "With each action Bush ever more enrages the Muslims. And there are a billion of them. And sooner or later they will have a Saladin who will pull them together, and they will come after us. And it won’t be pretty." Better to hand over the wallet and hope the mugger will go away. What the liberals wanted, as Osama anticipated, was an excuse to deny an attack on America had ever happened so that they could run, run and run. Former Vice President Al Gore, who nearly outpolled George W. Bush in the 1990 Presidential elections, flatly refused to regard September 11 as an act of war, just a large-scale ordinary crime -- like a mugging -- to be ever so cautiously solved with subpoenas, apprehensions, trials and jail sentences, preferably within the framework of the United Nations. In a speech opposing the invasion of Iraq, he said:

"To begin with, I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than predicted. Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another."

Osama had a capitulation which would have dwarfed the blitzkrieg 1940 at his fingertips but for the unanticipated emergence of a hitherto unsuspected segment of America -- the "red states" -- that would fight. Aeschylus famously said that "in war, truth is the first casualty"; but he was wrong. In war the first casualty is fantasy; and the second most copious product of combat, after suffering and death, is the painful and unflattering truth. The truth about the state of one's own courage, preparation, resolve and the enemy's corresponding qualities. If September 11 revealed a massive failure on the part of US intelligence to anticipate the Al Qaeda attack it simultaneously uncovered an even more catastrophic error in the Islamist assessment of their enemy's willingness to fight. Osama Bin Laden watched in shock as America went after him in Afghanistan. Islamic expert Bernard Lewis describes the tremor that ran through Al Qaeda's self confidence as the worm turned. 

PRINCETON ALUMNI WEEKLY: Did Osama bin Laden expect the U.S. to respond as it did to the attacks?

Bernard Lewis: No. Bin Laden’s very clear — from his various writings and broadcasts, it’s not so much hatred as contempt. The message that comes again and again from him and others is that Americans have gone soft. They are pampered. They can’t take casualties. Hit them and they will run. And then they use the same litany: Vietnam, Beirut, Somalia. The swift response to September 11 brought some reconsideration.

How had Bin Laden gotten it so wrong? He had not, insofar as what he saw. As as wealthy Saudi, he had read the American media, cultural elite and intelligensia with whom he was in contact perfectly, a reading which any Arab diplomatist on the Ivy-league and cocktail circuit would readily confirm. But he was ignorant of the America that lay beyond the circle of light, the frou-frou and clink of wine glasses; an America largely invisible but for those with eyes to see it. There is in my drawer a letter from my nephew's Sunday School, soliciting contributions to support a class field trip to "our Nation's capital" -- not Washington, or D.C., or the Beltway -- but a far more imperishable city of dreams that will live as long as 12 year olds can look up at the Flag -- "our Nation's capital". And there is in that cheap blue paper and provincial phrasing the hint of something that would hound Osama Bin Laden and those like him into hell itself, had he but the wit to know it was there.

Osama Bin Laden had reckoned that after defeating the "stronger superpower" -- Russia -- in Afghanistan, he was one short step from establishing a global Caliphate.  Instead Wahabism found itself in a two-front war on all five continents: the first against American military forces and the second over the very nature of Islam itself. From Malaysia to Riyadh, the echoes of the September 11 are ringing in every mosque, every Islamic forum and every private Muslim home calling each and every one to his separate flag. America too is at war both in the streets of Baghdad and with itself. And here all comparisons between Guderian and Osama Bin Laden cease. For the aftermath of September 11 showed that we are not in the end refighting the Second World War so much as a global Civil War; a war as much between brothers as enemies in which the stake is the fate of all mankind over the issue of slavery or freedom. We may look for a Lincoln as eagerly as the Al Qaeda await a Saladin. But in the end there is just us and uncertain destiny, as there was for men on Little Round Top who had never heard of Appomattox, where courage in doubt was the greatest kind of faith.