A Little Imagination, Please

Winston Churchill had said something like this: "The next world war will be fought only peripherally in the battlefield, and the great battles in this next war will be fought in the minds of men."

I would submit that Al-Qaeda understand this, and the US/Great Britian/Alliance (with exception of the Poles--I would refer all to Stanislav Lem's recent articles in Tygodnik Powszechny) do not. As evidence, compare the Madrid train bombings, (highly effective and public opinion savvy) with the frequent misstates of GWB. The crusade quote comes to mind.

If one truly accepts that the battle is truly being fought "primarily in the minds of men" I think a profound difference would arise in how the war is conducted. For example, after 9/11, this outlook suggests that the correct way to proceed would through international police action, using existing Treaties and legal mechanisms to bring those responsible to justice. This could have either succeeded or failed in its stated objective of bringing those responsible, e.g., bin Laden, to justice.

But it would have succeeded, IMHO, in its unstated objective: to not squander the moral/PR advantage of being the victim, and would not have had the effect the present war in Iraq is having which is: a giant recruiting drive for Al-Qaeda. Every new story of Arabs or Muslims being killed driving the anger against the USA. And where is bin Laden today? We don't know. So the Bush administrations policy has a fundamental conceptual flaw: It is fighting an ad hoc network by trying to kill those it believes are part of the network. But this ad hoc network is feed by a fundamental belief, which is: The US is evil, it is out to kill Muslims, and it is therefore the duty of good people to destroy this evil killing machine. Now, to defeat this network we need to fight this fundamental belief, not to kill those who hold it, because this would just demonstrate that the belief is correct. Every time we win, we lose.

Hence my conlusion: the US response is flawed at a deep, conceptual level that no amount of perfection in the execution can remedy. Understanding this elementary truth requires conceptual thinking far beyond beyond what anyone in the present US administration has demonstrated, so I must conclude we could very well lose the war.

And while we are using our imagination, here is a bad scenario: Could it be that what Al-Qaeda is waiting for is a sufficiently massive atrocity to be committed by the Allies or their proxies so they can use WMD's against the US without losing to much of their support in the Muslim world? In this scenario, the WMD's they would chose to use will probably be knowledge based (biological or large scale chemical warfare) and, will probably not leave any "fingerprints." Those in US will believe the attack was by Al-Qaeda, those in Arab world will not believe this, rightly noting that the evidence is circumstantial. If this attack is successful, there could arise in the US enormous pressure to react, perhaps with WMD's. This reaction by the US would be perceived as justified by Americans, and unjustified by most of the rest of the World. The measure of our enemies success is the difference, the delta if you will, between these two different perceptions of the same event. (Repeat Churchill quote above) Our enemies will then have then won the war. The international geo-political power balance would be fundamentally altered by the scenario described above, with the US isolated, perhaps for a very long time from most of the rest of the world.

A Paranoid scenario? I hope so. But we need to keep our eye on the ball (win the war), and not get distracted by side issues and dead ends, such as Iraq.

(originally posted 7.20.05)