TCS Daily

Game Plan

By Stephen Green - August 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Before 9/11, we almost always knew how to end a war.

The Civil War? Beat the CSA on the field, and occupy all the choice bits of the South. The First World War? March on to Berlin. Of course, the Germans called it quits before we got anywhere near Berlin, so WWI never quite ended for the Germans. Which, naturally, brings us to the Second World War -- Occupy Berlin and Tokyo, and it's game over, man.

Nuclear weapons and our first-ever defensive alliances complicated matters after 1945. Did we win in Korea, by simply holding the line? Or should victory have been defined as reuniting all of Korea? Or, since the Chinese proved to be our real foe, should victory have meant deposing the Chinese Communists?

Then there's Vietnam, which was Korea writ on a much larger scale. We won the battles, as everyone knows, but we lost the war. Or did we? Vietnam was a campaign in the larger Cold War. Sure, we lost South Vietnam, but we still won the larger war. Was Vietnam a win? A loss? A tragic necessity? All of the above?

If you think war has become complicated, peace is messier still.

Nobody ever knows what the peace will look like. At Fort Sumter, who could have predicted the KKK, Jim Crow, or Radical Reconstruction? Who knew in August, 1914 that the European War would result in 20 million deaths, Russian Communism, or Nazi Germany? If you can find me the words of some prophet detailing, in 1940, the UN, the Cold War, or even the complete assimilation of western Germany into Western Europe. . . then I'll print this essay on some very heavy paper, and eat it. With aluminum foil as a garnish.

It simply isn't possible to plan for the peace. "No peace plan survives the last battle" is Green's Corollary to von Moltke's dictum that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

So then -- how do we win this Terror War, and what will the peace look like?

Let's tackle the second part first: I don't have any idea how it will end, neither do you. If you meet anyone who claims to know, feel free to laugh at them really hard. So hard, you get a little spit on their face. Sometimes, justice can be small and spiteful -- just ask a meter maid.

When peace comes, it could look like whatever Mecca, Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh, Pyongyang, Cairo, etc., look like after nuclear strikes. Or it could end with the entire Arab and Muslim world looking like the really well-manicured bits of Connecticut. It could even end with a terror strike on America so awful that we sue for peace -- not that we'd get it.

However, just because we don't know where we're going, doesn't mean we can't figure out how to get there.

Ending the rule of the Taliban didn't end the war. Ending the rule of Saddam didn't end the war. We could depose every dictator, and still not be done with this mess. Our enemy isn't a nation. It isn't a leader. It isn't, despite the misnomer "War on Terror," a war on terror.

We're fighting an ideology.

"But you can't fight thoughts with bullets," you've been told. Yes and no.

Let's brush aside the Loser Notion that by killing terrorists, we only breed more terrorists. So what? Each dead terrorist is still dead, and we can always build more bombs and make more bullets. For 30 years now, the US Army has trained to fight in a "target-rich environment." Bring'em on.

Some people forget (conveniently) that we have fought an ideology before, and -- we won. The Cold War was, above all else, an ideological conflict. On the one side, you had Western Capitalism, and on the other, International Communism. Which socio-political system was left standing after 45 years of conflict? Oh yeah, baby -- despite what you hear on American campuses, the West won. We won completely. The bad guys gave up without firing a shot -- like Saddam Hussein in his hidey-hole.

How did we do it? How did we win? One simple thing:

We proved the enemy ideology to be ineffective.

Communism, when it took us on directly, found we were willing to stand up for ourselves and our allies. Korea was ugly and inconclusive. Vietnam was even uglier, and didn't go our way. But in each case, we sent the same signal to Moscow: Push us or our friends around, and we'll fight.

Communism promised a better life here on earth, but failed to deliver. Selling the Commodore 64 at a retail price of $300 was enough to prove that Communism didn't measure up. The Stealth Fighter just drove the point home.

Meanwhile, not much changed here. We lurched from Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan -- and that entire time, we not only kept up the fight (more or less), but we didn't change any of the fundamental precepts of our civilization. In fact, thanks to the Civil Rights movement and the anti-draft protests, we came ever-closer to achieving our ideals.

We can out-produce you. We are willing to fight you. We are unwilling to become you. Add those three things together, and we proved that Communism was ineffective. They lost, we won, get over it.

Islamism isn't Communism, of course. Out-producing the Islamic world isn't hard -- subtract the oil, and Finland provides more exports than the entire Arab world. But Islamism doesn't promise a better life here -- it promises a better afterlife. Therefore, we aren't going to dissuade our enemies by producing a $50 iPod, or even a billion-dollar stealth bomber.

Killing our enemies isn't enough, because death is what they seek. If there were a million terror-sponsoring nations, we could invade them all and never make any headway in any essential sense. While set-piece battles will remain necessary, they aren't a complete solution.

With all that in mind, I've identified three keys to winning this war:

1. Take the initiative.
2. Fight when we have to, even if we can't win.
3. Remain what we are.

Take the Initiative

If 9/11 taught us anything, it's that we must be proactive and remain so for the foreseeable future. Being proactive means taking the fight to the enemy, before he can take the fight to us. Doing so doesn't preclude further 9/11-style attacks on us, but it does mean reducing their frequency. More importantly, it also means keeping our standing as a vital nation. At this stage, merely responding to attacks would mean losing whatever allies we have left. (Are you listening, John Kerry?)

Taking the initiative also means discarding fair-weather allies. If France and Germany would rather scuttle NATO than stand by its most important member, then NATO must wither. Allies who fail (or refuse) to recognize that we're in a fight for our very existence aren't real allies -- and shouldn't be treated as such. The UN was never an ally, and I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Taking the initiative is why -- despite all the WMD talk -- we invaded Iraq. Iraq is directly linked to what is wrong with the Arab world, and unless the Arab world is fixed -- either by setting up decent governments (I hope), or by nuclear castration (my nightmare) -- then we remain at risk.

Fight When We Have To, Even If We Can't Win.

The Battle of Pearl Harbor was a lost cause. Korea was nearly one. And Vietnam, given the constraints, was almost certainly a losing proposition.

Yet we fought in those places.

We fought at Bull Run, too. And we fought at Kasserine Pass, and Manila, and Bastogne, and Hue, and on Flight 93. We even won at a couple of those places, even though the cause seemed lost.

We went into Afghanistan in October of 2001, without knowing if we could win. We went in, outnumbered and testing a brand-new doctrine (forced on the Pentagon by that "idiot," George W. Bush) in a nation known as "the graveyard of empires." Afghanistan was the sanctuary and training ground of those who hurt us so badly on 9/11. Had we not fought there, we would have lost the War, scarcely before it had begun.

Whether we can make something decent out of Iraq is still an unanswered question, but we had to go into Iraq and at least try. Iraq is our attempt at curing what ails Araby without killing the patient. That the prognosis for the patient is still unclear doesn't make his treatment any less necessary.

There will be other battles we may have to face, no matter how dubious the outcome. Will Iran be next? Will we finally lose patience with the Saudis? Will we find evidence that Syria has Saddam's old chemical weapons? I don't know. And nobody knows where such battles might lead us. But, if we want to win this war, we can't be afraid to fight.

Remain What We Are

You don't defeat the enemy by becoming him. We didn't beat the Soviets by establishing our own Five Year Plans, and we won't beat the children of oppression by becoming oppressors.

We might stop an attack or two by militarizing our borders, but what would we lose? We'd be three, maybe four, short steps above the dictatorships we so rightly despise. And we'd risk breeding our own homegrown crazies, just like they breed them Over There.

We might stop an attack or two by inspecting every single cargo container coming into our country -- but the economic repercussions would kill more people than a dozen 9/11s.

We might stop an attack or two by nuking every Islamic city from Tangier to Islamabad -- but, come morning, we'll have to look ourselves in the mirror. What that means is, just because we don't agree with the millions and millions of antiwar Americans, doesn't mean we may discount completely their opinions. Want a civil war in our own country? Then start nuking other countries indiscriminately.

Taking the initiative, fighting where we must, remaining free -- those are the keys to victory.

If we show our enemies that they aren't the only ones who can take the initiative...

If we show our enemies that we are willing to fight them, even when the odds are slim...

If we fight and fight and fight, without ever giving up those freedoms we're fighting to defend...

... then, no matter how long it takes, we will have proven that their ideology is ineffective. We won't just take it. We won't retreat. We will not change.

How it will all play out is anyone's guess. But I do know this much. Anyone who claims we should just suffer attacks on our homeland, or retreat before all hope is lost, or surrender our liberties -- the only thing that person offers us is the same thing offered us by our enemies:


Stick to the game plan. We can win.

Stephen Green writes, invests, and enjoys an evening martini with his wife at their home in Colorado Springs. An earlier version of this essay appeared on, which is updated daily.


TCS Daily Archives