Tuesday, 28 December 2004

All Kerry needs are 416 more recounts and the election is his.

Happy Birthday, Linus!

Today is the 35th birthday of Linus Torvalds, principal author of the Linux kernel.

The Long War

We finally have a new title for the war on terror: The Long War. The term comes from General John Abizaid and is passed along via David Ignatius. Here’s a clip of Ignatius’s column:

Gen. John Abizaid probably commands the most potent military force in history. The troops of his Central Command are arrayed across the jagged crescent of the Middle East, from Egypt to Pakistan, in an overwhelming projection of U.S. power. He travels with his own mini-government: a top State Department officer to manage diplomacy; a senior CIA officer to oversee intelligence; a retinue of generals and admirals to supervise operations and logistics. If there is a modern Imperium Americanum, Abizaid is its field general.

I traveled this month with Abizaid as he visited Iraq and other areas of his command. Over several days, I heard him discuss his strategy for what he calls the “Long War” to contain Islamic extremism in Centcom’s turbulent theater of operations. We talked about the current front in Iraq, and the longer-term process of change in the Middle East, which Abizaid views as the ultimate strategic challenge.

“We control the air, the sea and the ground militarily,” Abizaid told one audience, and in conventional terms, he’s unquestionably right. From its headquarters near the huge new U.S. airbase in Qatar, Centcom’s military reach stretches in every direction: To the west, the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet has its base in Bahrain; to the north, the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman and its task force are steaming on patrol in the Persian Gulf; to the east, more than 17,000 troops are working to stabilize postwar Afghanistan; to the south, about 1,000 troops are keeping a lid on the Horn of Africa. And to the northwest lies the bloody battlefield of Iraq, where nearly 150,000 of Abizaid’s soldiers are fighting a determined insurgency.

For all of America’s military might, the Long War that has begun in the Middle East poses some tough strategic questions. What is the nature of the enemy? If the United States is so powerful, why is it having such difficulty in Iraq? What will victory look like, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Islamic world? And how long will the conflict take?

Sometimes I find Ignatius irritating, but he’s always enlightening. He probably intends it that way. In any case, I never question which side he’s on and always respect him for his candor.

Over the long term, what we are trying to do is alter a culture. To marginalize the radical Islamists, in the same way that Nazis have been marginalized, and show the moderate Muslims of the Middle East that they can practice their religion peacefully and that modernity isn’t something to be afraid of. As the earlier link explains, it won’t be easy. The Muslim culture in the Middle East doesn’t recognize the seperation of church and state and the only way the leaders in the Middle East have succeeded in the past is through despotism. Of course, this served their own ends as well, so I’m not convinced that despotism is the only way to govern in the ME.

A couple of years ago an economist, Alan Krueger of Princeton, ran a test to see if terrorism is tied to poverty, which is a fairly common claim. The answer he got was no. Instead, he found that it’s tied to political repression. Winning The Long War will require undoing the repression of the Middle East and convincing the people that they can live in an open society.

Not a small task, not one that will be won through the military alone and not one that will end any time soon.