Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Shield Without the Sword

Spain's new Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has vowed to fight terrorism in all its forms. "My immediate priority will be to fight all forms of terrorism", he said yesterday.  But he should be careful not to fight it so effectively as to invite Al Qaeda's retaliation. If Zapatero seriously carries out his program to discommode Osama Bin Laden, the Shiek of Jihad might strike back, creating that which was to be avoided in the first place. Hence the phrase "fight all forms of terrorism" really means to 'fight the lion short of waking him', a task best accomplished with rubber-tipped children's bows and arrows and water pistols.

The operational question now facing the Spanish Armed Forces is not 'what do we do to exterminate terrorism' but what can we do without provoking them. Before anyone derides the Spaniards for adopting this absurdity one should remember that America tried this folly before them. The dilemma Lyndon Johnson faced in Vietnam was that he wished to prevent the invasion of South Vietnam without provoking China into intervening by defeating Ho Chi Minh. He wanted to avoid facing the Chinese volunteer human waves which McArthur encountered in Korea when he had driven the Nokors to the Yalu. The answering strategy provided by Robert McNamara was "calibrated response". The US Armed Forces would be allowed to do thus, and no more; pluck at Ho's beard yet caress his face. LBJ famously said, "they can’t hit an outhouse without my permission." The result of course, was endless war, war in which victory itself had been ruled out. There was never any "light at the end of the tunnel" because the war itself had been designed that way. History has not been kind to either Lyndon or Robert. They managed to suffer as many casualties as Truman did in Korea without attaining their goals. It was left to Ronald Reagan to remember that those who would embark on war must first of all be willing to win it.

Those who believe that the Global War on Terror is founded on a lie should recall the greatest deception in modern history was perpetrated upon the 2.6 million Americans who were sent to Vietnam. The government which exhorted them to endure any sacrifice and bear any burden buried 58,000 men with Lyndon Johnson's outhouse as their tombstone. As Spaniards prepare to shift from the GWOT to Zapatero's war on "all forms of terrorism" they should ask whether it includes not merely the prospect, but the intention of victory.