TCS Daily


Lessons Learned the Hard Way

By Ken Adelman - December 19, 2001 12:00 AM

While wrapping up the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, we should pause to reflect on what weve learned in the war thus far. Theres much that remains to be done, but here are some of my modest thoughts, while Id welcome others from readers.

American military power prevails. Despite a deluge of dribble about todays globalization hoisting economic, social, and political factors to the top of the list of priorities for nation states, raw military power still matters the most. When combating evil tyrants be they Hitler, Stalin, or Mao from last century, or Osama bin Laden from this century power truly does come from the barrel of a gun.

Freedom is valued everywhere. Long deemed a privilege of a few, freedom has proven universally attractive. If a shepherds in rural Afghanistan cheer the Talibans fall and rush to play music, dance, sing, enroll in school or just walk down the street smiling, then people everywhere, and of every stage of development, would appreciate liberty. As Margaret Thatcher quipped two decades ago, when people are free to choose, they choose to be free.

The revolution in military affairs works wonders. Applying massive firepower from the air with precision guidance produces stunning results. This airpower succeeds in urban areas of Bosnia and Kosovo, as in the most backward region of Afghanistan.

To see such power hitting targets squarely in rapid succession has been mind-bending. Ground spotters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), satellites in space, and a host of other assets furnish a complete picture of the battlefield for commanders and pilots alike. This gathering and integration of multiple information sources has made the U.S. military many times more powerful than it was even during the Gulf War.

The international coalition is a handy diplomatic fiction. I say handy because Americans like company. We like other democracies, especially our European allies, and friendly Islamic states in the region, to be our allies in a conflict. However, its mostly a fiction since only two or three coalition members have contributed anything more important than a kindly U.N. speech.

The two who have come through are Britain, with whom we truly share strategic interests, and Pakistan, which made a brave but wisely self-serving decision. Once its president felt we were going to wage this war and win it -- with or without them -- he made the shrewd decision that its better to go with a winner than stay outside as a loser.

The Arab street counts for little but vagrancy. The pundits pervasive fear of Arabs rising up against encroaching Western infidels, genuine though it may have been at the outset, seems downright silly now. Americans were warned of terrible consequences to result from waging this war. So far, the consequences have proven all beneficial.

Friendly Arab states is mostly a misnomer. Before this war began, our main Arab allies were Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both now seem pass powers, and forces more for harm than for good.

Sure, each issues government press releases of fuzzy non-opposition to our policies. And of course the State Department spokesman turns himself into a pretzel to explain how nothing weve requested of them has been denied. But this is the stuff of inside baseball -- dealings between diplomats and government types. Thats not where the real action is.

The real action is outside -- in the Mosques, schools, newspapers, television broadcasts, pamphlets, and coffee shops. There, Egyptian and Saudi government-sponsored and funded institutions spew hatred and calls for jihad and martyrdom against America, Jews, Westerners, and the civilization we hold dear.

While most Arabs long for something better, with this government sponsored invective spewed 24-hours-a-day-7-days-a-week, its no coincidence that Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, as were 15 of the 19 terrorists ramming their planes into America. And its no coincidence that the September 11th terrorist ringleader was an Egyptian.

So weve learned a lot already in this, the early stages of the war for civilization.
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