Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Soft Target Is the Mind

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times believes that terrorist attacks on Iraqi soft targets have nearly brought that country to its knees, a development that can only be forestalled by tough talking from John Kerry. (Hat tip: Belmont Club reader DL)

The situation in Iraq is fast approaching the tipping point. The terrorists know that if they can wreak enough havoc, kill enough Iraqis waiting in line to join their own police force, they can prevent the U.N. from coming up with a plan for elections and a stable transfer of U.S. authority to an Iraqi government. Once authority is in Iraqi hands, the Baathists and Islamists have a real problem: They can't even pretend to be fighting the U.S. anymore. It will be clear to all Arabs and Muslims that they are fighting against the freedom and independence of Iraq and for their own lunatic ideologies. Which is why they are desperate to prevent us from reaching that tipping point. Their strategy is to sow chaos, defeat President Bush and hope that his Democratic successor will pull out. Which is also why at this moment the most important statement on Iraq that can be made - one that could even save lives - is nothing President Bush could say. No, the most important statement on Iraq right now could only come from the likely Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry.

The press perception of success may be why Al Qaeda is planning to extend its attacks on soft targets to the United States. A Reuters report quoting Robert Hutchings, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, says:

"Soft targets, including the U.S. stock market, banks, major companies, and tall buildings are a primary focus of active al Qaeda planning," he said. Those targets are seen as easier to hit than U.S. government buildings and major infrastructure, which have higher security, Hutchings said. Al Qaeda has looked at derailing trains, perhaps carrying hazardous materials, to attack U.S. interests, he said. Nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities, and other public utilities are high on al Qaeda's target list, he said.

The U.S. government is concerned that al Qaeda will try to take its ability to build truck bombs as demonstrated by past attacks in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, and marry it with toxic or radioactive material to increase the damage and psychological impact of an attack, Hutchings said. "My biggest worry, however, is how far al Qaeda might have progressed in being able to deploy a chemical, nuclear, or biological weapon against the United States or its allies," he said.

Which brings us back to Thomas Friedman and his advice to John Kerry. Friedman suggests that these words from Kerry would break the terrorist's will:

"You see, Tim, if I were president, I would insist that we have a real policy of energy conservation to enlist every American in this war, by asking each of us to choke off some of the funds going to the Islamist totalitarians. I would immediately invite the leaders of the U.N., Germany, France and NATO to Camp David to rebuild the alliance that won the cold war, so we have the staying power to win this war of ideas in the Muslim world. And I would have my secretary of state out in the Middle East regularly, arguing our case, bolstering our allies and trying to bring about a secure peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

"Oh yes, Tim, my means would be very different. Unlike the Bush team, I understand that just because you have a hammer, not every problem is a nail. It takes more than force to win a war of ideas. But on ends, Tim, let no one have any illusions: a Kerry presidency will pay any price and bear any burden to try to build a decent Iraqi regime in the heart of the Arab world. My making that commitment now is the best way to prove to the terrorists that their actions are futile, and in that way save American and Iraqi lives. Failure to make that commitment would have horrific consequences for U.S. foreign policy.

"Tim, I am no dreamer. I've seen a quagmire close up. We can't want a unified, decent Iraq more than the Iraqis themselves. Ultimately, they will have to step up and come together around a plan and a leader. But the terrorists should have no illusions, and the Iraqi people should have no fears: America under John Kerry will give them every chance to succeed. We will not run."

This is the liberal clarion call. No determination to carry the fight to the enemy heartland, but a declaration of war against energy wastage and intolerant ideas, borne forward by a network of European alliances, where it is presumed that terrorists will lose heart because "we will not run". It is the same kind of message-sending, political-positioning and self-deluding claptrap that made Vietnam -- the war that never was -- into a nightmare. While Lyndon Johnson may never have believed in American victory, Vo Nguyen Giap certainly believed in American defeat. That is asymmetrical warfare at its most fundamental and its roots are in the liberal mind.