America’s new strategy must rest on managed impatience  

“Think hard about it.  I’m running out of demons.  I’m running out of villains,” said Colin Powell a decade ago when he was General of American forces.  He was wondering out loud whether the US needed such a large army after the fall of Soviet Russia.  What’s the point of having the world’s greatest military power and no dark forces to fight?


Soviet Russia fell with a little help from US friends in Afghanistan. They were the freedom fighters called the Mujahedeen.  Muslims from all over the Islamic world had gathered in Afghanistan to fight a holy war against the communist Russian invaders.  And the US provided some firepower.

“We could no longer allow these people to walk into martyrdom but we had to give them something that might in fact allow them to win,” said Milt Beardon, former Director of the CIA.  That something was the ground-to-air guided mistle, the Stinger. It instantly gave the Muslim freedom fighters an advantage.  Russian helicopters didn’t know what hit them.

There is no lack of demons and villains now.  Not after the kamikaze attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon three weeks ago. No one now suggests a reduction in US military power.

Colin Powell, now a politician and Secretary of State has a different battle on his hands.  There is pressure to do something but the former general knows that it would be a mistake to act without a clear goal.  To act in haste would be worst than not acting at all.

The US has to been seen to be doing something without doing anything hasty. That’s why there are 15,00 US troops in the area with no immediate military strikes.  It’s a manoeuver to buy time.

Powell understands that control of language and its meaning is the basis for influence and power.  Wars are won in thoughts and ideology before they are fought by soldiers on the battlefield.  Powell must shape the ideas of a coherent military plan in the minds of Americans.

And Secretary of State Powell must guide his inexperienced President through a political minefield.   Public sentiment is on President Bush’s side but a ground war (if that’s the plan) would be dirty, bloody and protracted.  It took a few weeks, but President Bush has figured out what to call the military offensive.

Bush first suggested “Operation Infinite Justice”.  It has a nice ring to it,  as good as George Bush senior’s “Desert Storm”.  The word “infinite” correctly suggests it’s going to be a long battle. The problem is that in the Islamic faith only Allah can provide infinite justice.  So now  15,000 soldiers are involved in “Operation Enduring Freedom”.

Calling the military incursion a “Crusade” would also bad idea.  In the Arab mind, it conjures up images of Christians marching in to save “holy lands” from the Arab infidels.  That’s just what terrorist leader Osama bin Laden wants.  He wants to provoke a holy war between Christians and Muslims — a war in which he is sure that Muslims will win.

This is an enemy who is very savvy about operating in a globalized world, says Fareed Zakaria, foreign correspondent for Newsweek Magazine. “They have, in many ways, the hallmarks of good, globalized corporations. They are lean, they’re flexible, they don’t require a great deal of money. They’re catalysts, for the most part, and their greatest strength is their intellectual organization.”

To defeat such an enemy at war, American soldiers must have the same resolve as Osama bin Laden’s soldiers.  They must be prepared to spend years infiltrating the enemy’s culture; learning their language, training at their schools, probing their weaknesses, and be ready to die for the righteousness of their cause.

It’s a war determined by an enemy who has virtually no resources but are willing to give up their lives.  They have no weapons, they turn our own technology against us.  Bin Laden’s soldiers are not even an army, they are more like a cancer that eats from within and dies with its host.

Secretary of State Powell has to respond to unspeakable acts of horror with a speakable plan of retaliation.  The plan must be one of managed impatience, one of hurry up and wait.


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