by Austin BayAfghanistan, should serve as a sobering reminder that this nuanced and
intricate war will be long and difficult.
This first offensive combat commitment of U.S. conventional
ground troops -- and I emphasize "first" -- should also remind us that we
are still in the early, formative phases of this conflict.
On Afghan mountains, in the White House, on Capitol Hill, in
every American home, the United States is now constructing the political and
military "architectural foundation" for a long-haul campaign.
In order to win this war, that foundation must be strong, it
must be sustaining.
Let's first consider the military foundation. Yes, some of the
initial construction was slap-dash. War, like every other human enterprise,
has a learning curve.
America didn't expect to fight a war in the Himalayas. 9-11
forced the fight. The Afghan battlefield required instant adaptation. Hill
tribes and warlords aren't the most reliable allies, but, frankly, that's
Afghanistan. Afghanis topple Afghan governments. Astute outsiders accept
The war in Afghanistan demonstrates that the United States is
able to recognize unique local conditions and adapt strategy and operations
as required. That's an excellent long-term foundation.
Sure, there are limits to accepting local "givens." That allied
warlords might let trapped Al Qaeda fighters slip away was a risk the United
States took last fall. The logistics infrastructure necessary to support
effective U.S. ground combat operations in the region didn't exist.
It does now. The commitment of troops to the Gardez battle
demonstrates long-term U.S. resolve to smash terrorist resistance. When
circumstances demand it (and particularly when we've "reshaped" conditions),
U.S. infantry will destroy terrorists in even the most forbidding terrain.
In fact, the Afghan campaign provides an ongoing object lesson
in America's ability to "reshape and re-set" initial military and political
conditions, one that should produce long-term diplomatic benefits.
- With the Taliban collapse, radical Islamists no longer
control a nation-state that promoted terrorism. Those hasty local alliances,
which had the downside risk of letting defeated Al Qaeda slip free, had the
upside effect of demonstrating the internal "brittleness" of dictatorial
- U.S. counter-terror intelligence has improved dramatically.
Busting the Taliban loosened tongues. We've a more precise idea of who's who
around the globe.
- In September 2001, the supply line to support large-scale
U.S. operations in Central Asia didn't exist. The logistics line is still
slender, but the Pentagon can now support brigade-sized forces. But here's
the foundation statement: The United States has demonstrated the military
ability to not only "go to the ends of the Earth," but to go there in force
and sustain that force. It may take time, but we'll get you.
- Non-Afghan allies are now fully involved in the mission.
French Mirages are dropping bombs. Allied commandos are engaged in the
Gardez operation. International peacekeepers, with Muslim Turkey taking a
lead role, are securing Afghan cities and coalition support facilities.
These four "military" points, of course, are indicative of real
political success. America is conducting a "global war" with global support,
a remarkable political foundation.
"Coalition building" by Secretary of State Powell has been
effective. Russia and China have cast their lot with the United States.
Despite snipes and gripes by the ilk of French Foreign Minister Hubert
Vedrine, Bush's "axis of evil" speech clarified one of the war's key tasks,
stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Though these successes are significant, the long-term political
foundation necessary to win this war still isn't secure. Afghanis topple
Afghanistan. Meet another geopolitical truism: The trick to defeating
America is to get America to defeat itself, to weaken American will.
Unfortunately, 9-11's full import has yet to sink in on some
Americans. 9-11 changed our world. The habits of political partisanship must
change as well. Congress plays an essential role in building the political
foundation for a successful war. Real national leaders --as opposed to
headline-seeking hacks -- must understand that building and sustaining the
American public's will to fight and finish The War on Terror is, at the
moment, their most urgent mission.
Constructive critique, the vetting of realistic alternative
policies made with an understanding of the stakes, is a democratic strength.
Cheap shots in the hope of partisan gain, however, can have deeply
fracturing effects on public faith, and undermine military success in a long
war where setbacks are a certainty.