Pessimism in retreat?

Gerard Baker:

"My centre is giving way. My right is in retreat. Situation excellent. I shall attack!”

If only our political leaders and opinion-formers displayed even a hint of the defiant resilience that carried Marshal Foch to victory at the Battle of the Marne. But these days timorous defeatism is on the march. In Britain setbacks in the Afghan war are greeted as harbingers of inevitable defeat. In America, large swaths of the political class continues to insist Iraq is a lost cause. The consensus in much of the West is that the War on Terror is unwinnable.

And yet the evidence is now overwhelming that on all fronts, despite inevitable losses from time to time, it is we who are advancing and the enemy who is in retreat. The current mood on both sides of the Atlantic, in fact, represents a kind of curious inversion of the great French soldier's dictum: “Success against the Taleban. Enemy giving way in Iraq. Al-Qaeda on the run. Situation dire. Let's retreat!”

Since it is remarkable how pervasive this pessimism is, it's worth recapping what has been achieved in the past few years.

Afghanistan has been a signal success. There has been much focus on the latest counter-offensive by the Taleban in the southeast of the country and it would be churlish to minimise the ferocity with which the terrorists are fighting, but it would be much more foolish to understate the scale of the continuing Nato achievement. Establishing a stable government for the whole nation is painstaking work, years in the making. It might never be completed. But that was not the principal objective of the war there.

Until the US-led invasion in 2001, Afghanistan was the cockpit of ascendant Islamist terrorism. Consider the bigger picture. Between 1998 and 2005 there were five big terrorist attacks against Western targets - the bombings of the US embassies in Africa in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, 9/11, and the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005. All owed their success either exclusively or largely to Afghanistan's status as a training and planning base for al-Qaeda.

In the past three years there has been no attack on anything like that scale. Al-Qaeda has been driven into a state of permanent flight. Its ability to train jihadists has been severely compromised; its financial networks have been ripped apart. Thousands of its activists and enablers have been killed. It's true that Osama bin Laden's forces have been regrouping in the border areas of Pakistan but their ability to orchestrate mass terrorism there is severely attenuated. And there are encouraging signs that Pakistanis are starting to take to the offensive against them.

Next time you hear someone say that the war in Afghanistan is an exercise in futility ask them this: do they seriously think that if the US and its allies had not ousted the Taleban and sustained an offensive against them for six years that there would have been no more terrorist attacks in the West? What characterised Islamist terrorism before the Afghan war was increasing sophistication, boldness and terrifying efficiency. What has characterised the terrorist attacks in the past few years has been their crudeness, insignificance and a faintly comical ineptitude (remember Glasgow airport?)

The second great advance in the War on Terror has been in Iraq....

The “surge”, despite all the doubts and derision at the time, has been a triumph of US military planning and execution. Political progress was slower in coming but is now evident too. The Iraqi leadership has shown great courage and dispatch in extirpating extremists and a growing willingness even to turn on Shia militias. Basra is more peaceful and safer than it has been since before the British moved in. Despite setbacks such as yesterday's bombings, the streets of Iraq's cities are calmer and safer than they have been in years. Seventy companies have bid for oil contracts from the Iraqi Government. There are signs of a real political reconciliation that may reach fruition in the election later this year.

The third and perhaps most significant advance of all in the War on Terror is the discrediting of the Islamist creed and its appeal.

...

... As Lawrence Wright described in an important piece in The New Yorker last month, there is growing disgust not just among moderate Muslims but even among other jihadists at the extremism of the terrorists.

...
He is right. I think much of the pessimism on the left comes from a deep desire for defeat. They hate the idea of George Bush's leadership and strategy winning this war. You can see it in the way they seek to elevate the misfortunes of a few into a reason to quit or to argue that we never should have fought.

Part of this sickness on the left comes from a deep antipathy for the sue of force in general and particularly if it is used to achieve some strategic US objectives. their idea of using the military is a meals on wheels program in an area of no strategic significance. They also have a profound ignorance of warfare. From top to bottom few on the left even comprehend counterinsurgency warfare and the time it takes to win.

They also tend to seize on every mistake as if it is proof that we never should have engaged the enemy. This is further evidence of their ignorance of warfare. There are hardly any wars that have been fought that did not have mistakes on both the winning and losing side. What characterized the winning side is the ability to learn from the mistakes and overcome them. That is what we have done in Iraq and the new strategy has been successful beyond any one's expectations.

Wars that extend over a period of time tend to have ebbs and flows as each side makes adjustments to what the other is doing. Eventually one side will make an adjustment that the other is incapable of responding to in a meaningful way. That appears to be where we are in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan is an area that is going to need some attention on both the diplomatic and kinetic levels.

President Bush deserves a lot of credit for his perseverance and his ability to adapt a new and winning strategy after showing too much patience with the military's earlier strategies. Most of the main stream media is too invested in their story line of incompetence and defeat to see the truth yet, but it is becoming unavoidable.

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