I have a theory to explain why we're winning the War on Terror. No, it's not because we're killing more of them than they are of us. Although this happens to be true right now, this fact taken alone and out of context could be used to justify an argument that we're losing. This war is not about who can kill the most people- this war is about meeting objectives. We are meeting our objectives. Our enemy is not.
First, I'd like to take a look at our enemy's objectives. This isn't very difficult, mainly because Osama bin Laden (the undisputed leader of our enemy) has been kind enough to share his thoughts and feelings with us over a period of many years. In my opinion, the most important disclosure from bin Laden came from this Frontline interview from May of 1998:
...Allah has granted the Muslim people and the Afghani mujahedeen, and those with them, the opportunity to fight the Russians and the Soviet Union. ... They were defeated by Allah and were wiped out. There is a lesson here. The Soviet Union entered Afghanistan late in December of '79. The flag of the Soviet Union was folded once and for all on the 25th of December just 10 years later. It was thrown in the waste basket. Gone was the Soviet union forever. We are certain that we shall - with the grace of Allah - prevail over the Americans and over the Jews...
Here we see bin Laden taking full credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then promising to bring the same fate to Israel and the U.S. He honestly believed everything he said there. He must have- for it explains his decision to declare war on the U.S. on September 11th, 2001. Many argued that by going into Afghanistan, we were playing right into bin Laden's hands- that bin Laden actually wanted us to come after him and his followers. I am one of those people who believe this. However, I don't think bin Laden had any clue what he was up against. It's not good practice to bait your enemy without first knowing who your enemy is. Why would he be so naive to think that we would simply walk into our own doom? Why did he believe we would suffer the same fate as the Soviets? Once again, bin Laden told us in his own words:
Our boys no longer viewed America as a superpower. So, when they left Afghanistan, they went to Somalia and prepared themselves carefully for a long war. They had thought that the Americans were like the Russians, so they trained and prepared. They were stunned when they discovered how low was the morale of the American soldier. America had entered with 30,000 soldiers in addition to thousands of soldiers from different countries in the world...As I said, our boys were shocked by the low morale of the American soldier and they realized that the American soldier was just a paper tiger. He was unable to endure the strikes that were dealt to his army, so he fled, and America had to stop all its bragging...After a few blows, it...rushed out of Somalia in shame and disgrace, dragging the bodies of its soldiers. America stopped calling itself world leader and master of the new world order, and its politicians realized that those titles were too big for them and that they were unworthy of them. I was in Sudan when this happened. I was very happy to learn of that great defeat that America suffered, so was every Muslim...
This is a stunning peek into the mind of bin Laden. He didn't think of us as Soviet equivalents- he thought of us as far inferior to the Soviet forces that he truly believed he had beaten. His "paper tiger" criticism might hold some water if directed toward the Clinton Administration (it's debatable- I won't get into it), but when he adopted the belief that the American people- American soldiers- were "paper tigers" with "low morale"- this was his most fatal miscalculation. Bin Laden must not be much of a history buff. He must have missed the part where the Reagan Administration bankrupted the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He should have studied the history of World War II- specifically Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's now-famous quote following Japan's ill-advised bombing of Pearl Harbor- "I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."
Bin Laden fully expected a sub-Soviet "paper tiger" to come after his mujahedeen in Afghanistan- he did not expect an awakened giant with a "terrible resolve." When the American giant answers a call, it does not send a few cruise missiles into a suspected terrorist camp and call it a day. It does not send some Special Forces troops on a covert mission to kill a bunch of people in some caves. The American giant awakens to change the planet:
-Japan was once one of the most feared war machines in the world- now they are known for producing some of the world's finest cars and electronics. They don't even have an Army- they have a Ground Self-Defense Force. This isn't a bad thing- the Japanese people wouldn't have it any other way.
-The Germans once attempted to conquer the world while exterminating an entire race of people. Once again- great cars, nice people, excellent beer.
-Afghanistan is now a scene out of bin Laden's worst nightmare. Women (lots of them) just voted in a successful election. People (including women) are allowed to educate themselves using books other than the Quran. The list goes on.
-Iraq is a much different place than it was 2 years ago. The entire Arab world is watching as "Iraq, like Afghanistan, just zigs and zags forward toward a democratic future" (from a great article by Victor Davis Hanson).
There is much work to be done, but things are going in a far different direction than bin Laden could have ever imagined. Before we jump to ridicule him for his fatal miscalculation, let's not forget that many great "thinkers" right here in the U.S. actually agreed with bin Laden's faulty foresight. VDH (I like this guy) doesn't name names, but he likes to rub it in:
In September and early October 2001 we were warned that an invasion of Afghanistan was impossible - peaks too high, winter and Ramadan on the way, weak and perfidious allies as bad as the Islamists - and thus that the invasion would result in tens of thousands killed and millions of refugees. Where have all these subversive ankle-biters gone? Apparently into thin air - or to the same refuge of silence as all the Reagan-haters of the 1980s who swore that a nuclear freeze was the only humane policy of dealing with Soviet expansionism.
They said the country had descended into rule by warlords, and called the very idea of scheduled voting a laughable notion. We endured them for almost two years. Yet after the recent and mostly smooth elections, Afghanistan has slowly disappeared from the maelstrom of domestic politics, as all those who felt our efforts were not merely impossible but absurd retreated to the shadows to gnash their teeth that Kabul is not yet Carmel.
Obviously, bin Laden was wrong about many things. I would submit that he was most wrong about the one thing that matters most- the American Spirit. By this I mean the intangible quality that makes Americans who we are- it's a quality that remains an enigma to many around the world, but continues to be our secret weapon- a weapon that no amount of fascist rhetoric or Al Jazeera-sponsored propaganda can successfully fight against. When we speak of "winning their hearts and minds," we're not talking about using some kind of "Jedi mind trick" or phony psycho-babble. We don't "trick" the people into thinking we're there for purely magnanimous purposes, when we "secretly" just want to make the world safer for our own children. It's much simpler than that. The fact is- we're just being ourselves. Nothing more, nothing less. This may shock some people around the world (especially bin Laden), but the truth is- Americans are good people!
We went to Iraq because our leaders sent us there. When we went out on our first humanitarian missions, we were simply doing as we were told. But as we got to know the people that we were ordered to help, something amazing happened. We actually wanted to help those people- it became our new motivation. What was once "let's go downtown and risk our lives in order to make America (and the world) a safer place" soon became "let's go out there and help these guys!" We liked them. And they liked us.
This is what's happening over there. Bin Laden and Zarqawi try to fight it by releasing some tapes and proclaiming that Americans are "butchering innocents" and "waging war against Muslims." But the people in Afghanistan and Iraq are seeing something very different with their own eyes. We're winning these people over simply by being ourselves- and they win us over as well. Check out what our Iraqi friend, Ibn Alrafidain, had to say about us (emphasis added):
I've been trying to be more acquainted with American people through the internet which I started using it since few months before the recent war of 2003. I was, and still, wondering why we deal with the Americans, or the western in general, as enemies. So I started to gain pen pals from all over the world using the internet. For my amazement, I discovered that these people, especially the Americans, are wonderful, helpful and friendly. One should distinguish between the foreign policy of the administration of a certain country and its people. Let's look forward to a day in the near future. A day on which the Iraqi people receive guests from all over the globe saying (Ahlan Wa Sahlan) which means welcome.
I know many Iraqis who feel exactly the same way. Someday you will, too...