Sunday, September 11, 2005

Clear planning for unclear critics

I'm referring to an editorial by Michael Hirsh of Newsweek that appears in today's Washington Post. It's titled, "9/11 - And Counting", subtitled, "Four Years In, No Clear Plan." Kinda makes you wonder what side of this conflict he's on, doesn't it? Of course, most editorials don't allow the author to come up with the headline, so why don't we just give him a pass on that one, hmm?

I have so many issues with what Hirsh has to say in this article I scarcely know where to begin and I'm really, really trying to avoid a line-by-line commentary. But it's gonna be tough.

The basis for this editorial is that the Bush Administration hasn't got a "clear plan" for winning the war on terrorism and the unspoken premise is that the President bloody well should have by now. To law the groundwork for this argument to proceed, Hirsh dives right into a comparison of the war on terror to WWII with special emphasis on the timing involved. Here's what he has to say:

::::::::Over the next 3 1/2 years, he and then his successor, Harry Truman, transformed a depression-ravaged, isolationist nation -- one with virtually no army -- into the world's dominant power. They assiduously cultivated alliances that shared the fighting and dying, oversaw the defeat of two hegemonic threats (Japan and Germany), and began to rebuild these former enemies into peaceful democratic allies. At the same time the two presidents created many of the institutions that still define the global system, including the United Nations, planning for which began in 1944.

And they did it in less time than has now elapsed in the war on terrorism. Today marks the fourth anniversary of 9/11. It is a depressing milestone, made grimmer by the comparison to World War II. President Bush himself drew this analogy in a speech on Aug. 30, declaring that we face a "determined enemy who follows a ruthless ideology" just as we did 60 years earlier, and "once again we will not rest until victory is America's." What Bush failed to note was that it took FDR and Truman precisely 1,347 days, from Dec. 7, 1941, to the surrender of Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, to win WWII, pacify the enemy and largely secure the peace that followed. By comparison, 1,461 days have now passed since that terrible day in 2001. And even now there is no end in sight to the "global war on terror." What is perhaps more unsettling, there is no detailed strategy for winning this war.

So, Hirsh thinks WWII and this war on terror are similar endeavors?

::::::::Clearly, this is a very different kind of conflict from WWII. Then, we were fighting an easy-to-identify enemy in plainly delineated theaters of war. The same can't be said of the war on terrorism. Bush himself has said that it would be a long, open-ended conflict. And as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has put it umpteen times, al Qaeda is "not going to be signing some sort of a surrender aboard the battleship Missouri."::::::::

If it's so clear to Hirsh that "this is a very different kind of conflict from WWII" then what's the purpose of the preceding 2 paragraphs? If it's a very different kind of war, then what does the length of the 1 have to do with the other? While in school, I took a variety of tests in basic computer operation. They were very clearly different kinds of tests from the certification testing I undergo as a professional. Any guesses how seriously I'd take someone who conceded that point and yet went on to castigate me for taking longer on a 75-question exam involving network design simulations than on a 10-question multiple choice quiz? That's right: not very. And Hirsh repeats the mistake yet again just a couple of paragraphs later when he complains that we still haven't found bin Laden but Hitler was already dead by now in the comparitive timeline.

This war is different and that makes comparing the timelines of the two a fool's exercise. Germany, Italy and Japan were not just enemies, they were known locations that could not move. Their ability to fight was tied to the industrial might they had developed and to the manpower they could raise and arm. There were physical boundaries to both of those resources. Today's terrorists are armed by people who call us allies and funded by governments who shed crocodile tears at the loss of our citizen's lives. It's as if Canada had been supplying engines for Japan's Zeros while urging us on at Normandy. With no capital city to surround and, as Dick Rumsfeld put it, force a surrender-signing on the deck of a battleship the concept of watching a clock and complaining that we're taking longer than someone else did in another war is just idiocy masquerading as rational argument.

All this and we're not even addressing the supposed point of the article.

But Hirsh isn't ready for that yet as he pulls out the Kerry Campaign talking point yet again about how Bush is squandering US prestige. He makes the charge that Bush is now projecting weakness rather than US power. The power he's referring to, of course, is our "moral standing" with the rest of the world. Without so much as a single example of a loss of moral standing with any nation that wasn't already working against us in the background, he proceeds with yet another of the Left's favored myths: that resistance to terrorism is only making it stronger. We're now even more beholden to Arab and Russian oil and our trade and budget deficits are reaching record levels.

Haven't we all read the economic figures that show the deficits are decreasing? That revenues are up? Unemployment is lower now than it was after the Clinton-era dot-com bubble burst? Why is Mr. Hirsh, along with so many of his fellow journalists, unable to report the facts about these items but they have no problem editorializing in the reverse?

Here's a line that just required me to re-read it twice:

::::::::Most disturbing of all, the man who once called himself a "war president" has not formulated a well-thought-out plan for winning this war, either in public or privately within his administration.::::::::

Skipping lightly past the concept of what Mr. Hirsh would even consider as "well-thought-out", one must ask: how in hell would he know what war plans the President has or hasn't formulated in private? The last I checked, Newsweek wasn't on the Cabinet and they sure as hell aren't represented on the Joint Chiefs. That's some towering arrogance on the part of a reporter to think that because he's not privy to national security planning it must not exist. He speaks of our not having "metrics" to determine if we're winning the war. He's obviously not talking to people like Michael Yon or any of the leadership of the "Deuce Four" Yon's been working with for months. I can certainly understand Hirsh's lack of metrics if he's only listening to mainstream media reports - such as Newsweek - for his information. Of course, he also doesn't want to leave you with the impression that you're only listening to a reporter from a magazine whose singularly, spectacularly dead wrong reporting resulted in riots and real deaths. So he tells us that a "surprising number" of strategists think we're losing the war. I'll bet it's surprising. He thinks all of them should be saying that and could only find 2. What a surprise!

Getting serious, though, what is a "surprising number"? And who are they? He tosses this out there as a fact and can't name a single one? He moves right along, however, hoping no one will notice that he's neither provided an example or a real number for us to be surprised at and seques into yet another unnamed source. There's some "senior military official" at the Pentagon who's "exasperated" that there are people at the Pentagon spending time thinking about a war with China, "a war that is never going to happen..." If there's a senior military official so blatantly stupid as to make a comment like that, Hirsh should consider himself patriotically duty bound to report him and get such an obvious incompetent out of our national security apparatus.

The editorial wends its way back into the WWII comparison by purporting to show how FDR planned everything about the war and the postwar way before Pearl Harbor. (Does speaking about the US foreign policy at the time constitute war planning?) And my, oh my, didn't all those plans just go so well for the next 4 years? Here's a tip to Hirsh: go have a chat with some real WWII vets and ask them just how well planned everything was. Be prepared for an earful.

Here's another one: Hirsh quotes a political science prof who sees no link between democratic societies and the reduction of terrorism. In fact, Hirsh continues, "some" scholars suggest most terrorism occurs within democracies.

Hirsh, are you even paying attention to what you just said? Of course more terrorism occurs within democracies. Where the hell do you think the terrorists are setting off the bombs? In their own towns? (In Iraq they are, but you know what I mean.) Hamas doesn't get much mileage out of blowing up busloads of Palestinians, now do they? No, they blow up Israelis. The Taliban-sheltered bin Laden wouldn't have gotten very far crashing a plane into downtown Kandahar in 2001, now would he? No. He did it in New York and Washington - and inadvertently in Pennsylvania, thanks to courageous Americans - in the heart of our democracy. This is a worthless point.

Hirsh finally gets around to comparing the war on terror with the Cold War, a more apt comparison. However, it still suffers the same flaw as the other comparison. The issue of containment is raised which begs the question: contain what? Where? Throw up a cordon around what country or neighborhood? In the Cold War the enemy was the Soviet Union and her minions. We knew where they were and we could contain them because we knew where they were. I have the same arguments as I did about the WWII comparison - if the communists were being sheltered by nations claiming to be our allies and funded by those who made a show of fighting communism then containment would not have worked. In the end, it wasn't containment that defeated the Soviet Union, either.

The real question one has by the time you've read Hirsh's article this far is: OK, so what would constitute a "clear plan" for Hirsh? For all of his complaining up to this point, Hirsh's only comment is about (of course) the oil. It always comes down to the oil with the Left these days. Hirsh believes that a national strategy would be based on reducing this country's need for oil out of the Middle East and that this would assist us in winning the war on terror. But, the Bush Administration has screwed that pooch, too, because the only energy plan that's been passed has concentrated on finding new sources of oil, not investing huge sums in unproven technologies that would provide power without the oil.

OK, first off I'm all for reducing our need for oil. I'd love nothing better than to be running my house and car on something other than petroleum products. Sodium Borohydride, for instance, but I digress. Secondly, Hirsh makes the snarky comment that Bush's energy legislation was "four years in the making" implying that even this flawed legislation took too long. Well that wasn't the administration's fault. Blame Congress for that one. They're the ones who wouldn't get off their collective asses and vote, so you can't put that one on Bush. Last, if we're in such dire straights and the critical issue is to reduce our reliance on oil from "a region that was far more unstable than we realized", then it doesn't make sense to dump money into maybes. We put the funds into getting the energy sources we know are there and getting them to our citizenry as soon as possible. Develop the alternative fuels alongside, if we can.

While energy policy doesn't get the attention it deserves, it's just amazing that someone can complain there's no clear plan to win the war on terror and then point to energy policy as the only issue that matters. Ridiculous. What about border security? How about shutting off the flow of illegal aliens that are undoubtedly carrying terrorists into this country? How about puting in those port modifications to detect radiation signatures that we've heard so much about? Better bomb detection gear, and not just at airports. And what about our military deployments? Any thoughts on that, Mr. Hirsh? The article makes one thing clear at least. Critics like Mr. Hirsh aren't really so interested in clear plans for victory in the war on terror as much as using their perception that no such planning exists as a smear weapon against a sitting President. Must be nice that Newsweek and the Washington Post offer people like him such a venue to broadcast their views.