FPI Policy Advisor Abe Greenwald: Re: Will’s Loss of Nerve

Agreed on all points, Pete. I just want to add a note about the conspicuous omission in George Will’s piece. He writes:

Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Strange that a column calling for a new direction in American policy avoids all discussion of what that direction would mean beyond an immediate reduction in American casualties. Will can’t justify his recommendation within the larger framework of what he used to be comfortable calling the Long War. So he avoids the topic altogether.

His column represents September 10 thinking, only worse. On September 10, we thought doing “only what can be done from offshore” was keeping us safe. Today we know how insufficient were our measures. On September 10, we thought a handful of special ops could mind a border that runs nearly half the lateral distance of the United States. Today we know that that terrain is endlessly accommodating to vast enemy armies. On September 10, we thought a monochromatic wasteland like Afghanistan didn’t “matter.” Today we know better.

Or we did, until the fighting got harder.

Bill Clinton decided that Somalia didn’t matter in 1993 after two U.S. helicopters were shot down and 18 American soldiers were killed there by militia fighters. In George Will’s sense of “mattering,” Clinton was right. As Will points out, “The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state” than Afghanistan. But the Somali militia fighters were training with al-Qaeda, and when we decided to “do only what can be done from offshore,” al-Qaeda knew they had us. They saw no downside in drawing America into a long, messy war, as American leaders would always decide that inhospitable lands with determined fighters don’t matter.

It has only been the rejection of this failed calculus that’s enabled us to get the upper hand against terrorists. If we now knowingly decide that the costs of victory aren’t worth victory itself, then we will have done ourselves in through an unprecedented brand of national decadence.

Originally published on Commentary's blog Contentions.

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