by Austin Bayisn't moving quick enough for the lords and ladies of television chitchat.
According to the tube's more hype-drenched squawk shows, the
Pentagon has already botched the war on terror. Why, Headline News has to
repeat week-old videos of Navy F-18s bombing bleak Afghan hills. Airstrikes
get same-old, same-old fast, babe. As for Don Rumsfeld in a suit behind a
podium? Not hot visually, no sex and bang bang to press conferences with
clunky blue drapes, y'know?
Take a deep breath, folks.
As you release that breath, pray that the American chattering
class' need for constant carnival and instant gratification doesn't damage
Uncle Sam's shrewd war effort too darn much.
Some cultural essayist will soon churn out a frothy piece for
The Atlantic Monthly asking "Can the Me-Generation Really Wage a Long Haul
War?" The essay will opine on baby-boomer self-absorption, the short
attention span of a channel-surfing public raised on sitcoms and soundbites.
Why, if the essay gets real aggressive, it may even ask one or two pointed
questions about the eight-year beach party known as the Clinton
I can already answer the culture critic: Yes, contemporary
America can and will wage a long, tough war because we know we have to.
After Sept. 11, this is a We-Generation. A television programmer's craven
need for "the new" isn't an American fundamental, liberty is.
At the moment, securing liberty means conducting a savvy
military and political campaign in Afghanistan. As this war progresses and
the weeks become years, the major venue of the struggle will change.
Afghanistan will become old news.
That's a point that appears to escape too many TV pontificators:
Afghanistan isn't the long-range objective. The goal is to thoroughly
cripple the nodes and networks that support global terrorists --- a daunting
but doable task.
Toppling the Taliban regime is a critical first phase. How we
topple the Taliban will have long-term strategic resonance. America wants
success, but the right kind of success.
Afghanistan presents an array of challenges --political and
military obstacles that take time to assess, invest and defeat. So to heck
with TV's demand for hype and a headline.
Afghan demographics -- religious, tribal and ethnic fractures --
create a politically fragmented society. It takes time to seed CIA and
Special Forces teams among rural tribes, particularly in the
Pushtun-dominated south. Developing personal relationships with tribal
elders is a glacial process. Green Beret majors have to sit down and sip a
lot of tea, as chieftains scrutinize promises of aid. Uncle Sugar wants my
warriors now, but where will the Americans be in three years?
The pay-offs of this intimate diplomacy, however, are
significant. America gleans intelligence on the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These
contacts provide for a more stable political accommodation after the Taliban
collapse. To leave Afghanistan in chaos is not the precedent America wants
in its global terror war.
Some critics blithely ignore the disarray created by Al Qaeda's
murder of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Massoud. Bin Laden bet Massoud's
assassination would produce an Afghan opposition collapse. Bin Laden lost
his bet. However, slaying the opposition's best commander certainly hindered
combat operations. In that light, the Northern Alliance's recovery and
cooperation with the United States demonstrates a remarkable resiliency, not
While opposition groups have adequate ammo to hold their own
territories and conduct limited local offensives, a sustained offensive
requires resupply. A hasty general attack that flopped would be both a
battlefield and political disaster. The U.S. military has jury-rigged a
supply line into the heart of Central Asia in less than six weeks, a
Aid agencies, like the World Food Program, do need access to the
starving Afghan population. However, politics, more than military activity,
opens and closes Afghan aid corridors. At the moment, food trucks are ready
to roll, but Taliban militias block the roads. The Taliban regime thus
assumes responsibility for the Afghans' plight. Offensives, prior to the
onset of winter, to better secure aid routes makes military and political
sense, and I suspect these operations are in the works.
But in war everything is difficult. In part, America is paying
the price for a generation of elite opinion leaders largely devoid of
personal military service. The lords of chitchat might have more patience if
they had suffered the wretched (but enlightening) experience of humping a
rifle and 70-pound rucksack at 2 a.m. in the rain, with a sergeant hard on
their weary heels.