In an August 22 speech, the Historian-in-Chief claimed, among other things, that America’s enemies view American withdrawal at the end of the Viet Nam War as a sign of our inherent weakness. Throw in Beirut or Somalia and Bush is 100% correct. Kudos to his speech writers. Someday a young terrorist may point out to his followers that the US did not have the stamina to complete our mission in Afghanistan before moving on to Iraq.
The conceptual error, or rather the psychological crutch, comes in concluding that Viet Nam was lost because we pulled out. By definition I suppose the war is not lost until you leave the battlefield or are dead. In practice, there comes a moment when one side can no longer achieve victory and the war is, for all intents and purposes, over. This is the point when those living in the Reality-Based community start searching for a way to prevent their retreat from turning into a rout.
The lesson on Viet Nam is that the number of situations in which military might is sufficient is fleetingly small. So Osama Bin Laden thinks that the US is weak because it pulled out of Viet Nam and Mogadishu? Let him! This is a man who believes that he is going to establish a new Caliphate. So let’s allow him the fantasy that America is a pushover. We may be naïve and anti-intellectual but we are also basically resilient and just plain big. Now is the time to prove we are not stupid.
While Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri sit in godforsaken Waziristan, boasting about how they have tricked the West into doing their bidding, we should come to our senses and treat these thugs in a quiet and deliberate way. No B52s. No bounties. There may still be a role for “special” units but the thrust will be - *gasp* - diplomatic and judicial. We have dealt with spies, internal terrorists and organized crime in the past. Many were brought to justice. It’s not sexy and it would be hard work but it can be done (as if fighting a land war in central Asia is a cake walk.) America has never been especially good at human intelligence and we will have a lot to learn. In the end, however, while Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri dream their dreams of the overthrow of apostate Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we will be steadily tightening the noose and dragging them, finally, disgraced and robbed of their mystique, to be judged before the world.
Update 24-Aug-2007: Punched up the ending