Despite the poor grades on Saddam Hussein’s report card, a number of my left-of-center friends are still presenting the same tired argument against the probable war with Iraq. They claim that one of the reasons President Bush is planning to invade Iraq is because the current war against terrorism is not going as well as planned. Of course, sound debate is a hallmark of our democratic republic. It should be. But to suggest that the war against terrorism is not going well simply defies logic.
Consider the following:
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese caught American forces completely by surprise at Pearl Harbor. Then for the next several months they racked up victory after victory in the Pacific. More than four months after Pearl Harbor, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led his Air Corps raiders in a militarily ineffective, though psychologically effective, retaliatory air strike on the Japanese mainland. And eight months passed before U.S. forces were able to mount the beginnings of any type of ground offensive (Guadalcanal) in the Pacific.
Nearly two years later, the eventual outcome of the war was still undecided.
In Europe, the defeat of Germany hinged on the Normandy invasion. Even though allied forces had crushed the enemy in North Africa, the consensus on both sides was that the Allies could still lose the war. And that was against an enemy with a well-defined military force that the Allies could locate (a dramatically different situation from today’s).
Today, the U.S. is again involved in a dangerous war, one that as yet is undecided . . . and may not be in any of our lifetimes. This war was also initiated after a surprise attack on American soil, one that directly targeted civilian men, women, and children — not soldiers or sailors — and produced a greater number of American casualties than Pearl Harbor.
In this war, our forces have been tasked with rooting out a motley collection of rats from one end of the globe to the next: far more difficult than prosecuting a campaign against a uniformed, disciplined enemy in the open. But what our forces have been able to accomplish in the nearly 17 months since 9/11 will doubtless serve as a model for future leaders tasked with prosecuting similar wars.
Almost immediately after 9/11, American covert operatives were on the ground in Afghanistan. Our first air and naval strikes took place less than one month after the attacks. A few days after the initial strikes, American and British ground forces were going after the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban was crushed, the leadership in Afghanistan was changed, and al Qaeda was sent packing toward the Pakistani border, where they were pursued by jets, helicopters, American and allied soldiers on foot, and equestrian U.S. Special Forces troops equipped with everything from rifles to palm-top computers.
American GIs, law-enforcement officers, and intelligence operatives have since rooted out al Qaeda and other terrorist cells all over the planet. And not a single attack by any foreign-based terrorist has been successfully executed on American soil.
The naysayers will argue that the terrorists are simply patient souls. Of course they are: They don’t have any choice in the matter. But patience is certainly not their preference. Still, that’s not good enough for Bush’s opponents, who will spin anything to make their case.
Who hasn’t heard the anti-Bush argument that if the war were going well for the current administration, American forces would have “nailed” Osama bin Laden by now? Again, pure spin. The fact is, the U.S. and its allies have nailed bin Laden. He’s either: 1) on the run and aware that his days are numbered; 2) dead, buried deep in some remote cave, and U.S. forces are simply unaware of it; 3) dead and the U.S. intelligence community is aware of it, but chooses to play the know-nothing game so as not to reveal sources, blow some operative’s cover, show its hand in a related counterterrorist operation, or turn the man into a martyr.
During World War II, the Allies also wanted Adolf Hitler’s head in a box. But they were never able to capture or kill him. He committed suicide as the Soviet Army closed in on his Berlin bunker. And it was decades before we were convinced that Der Fuehrer wasn’t still alive and hiding out somewhere in South America.
But who today would question FDR’s or Harry Truman’s successful prosecution of that war?
There are new fears these days that the occasional increase in the levels of terrorist threat warnings published by the FBI and the Office of Homeland Security are indications that the terrorists are somehow becoming more eager and emboldened. Wrong. The terrorists would attack us at every turn if they had the infrastructure to do so. The threat warnings — though real — are nothing more than proof that the U.S. is, again, winning the war on terror.
As a result, the intelligence community is gaining access to better raw information, which is processed into better finished intelligence. This doesn’t mean we won’t be attacked again. But it does mean that American forces are capturing bad guys, playing the game far better than the bad guys had anticipated, and are ultimately saving American lives. Unfortunately, the war against terror is a dirty, covert conflict without flashing sabers and waving flags. So the public often cannot appreciate the unprecedented victories won by the current administration.
Those who have served in uniform understand the mechanics of it all. America is winning big time.
— A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of national and international publications. He is author of the upcoming Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency.