War's two exit strategies: Victory or defeat

Osama is not Ho Chi Minh, and al-Qaida are not the Viet Cong. If you exit, they will follow.

osama bin laden 88 (photo credit: )
osama bin laden 88
(photo credit: )
Rumors of Abu Musad al-Zarqawi's death may be exaggerated. He was reported by several Arab TV networks to have been among eight terrorists who self-detonated in Mosul last Sunday. Still, whether or not he's sleeping with the fishes or the 72 virgins, he's already outlived whatever usefulness he had to the jihad. Last Friday, the allegedly explosive "Arab street" finally exploded, in the largest demonstration against al-Qaida or its affiliates ever seen in the Middle East. "Zarqawi," shouted 200,000 Jordanians, "from Amman we say to you, you are a coward!" Also "the enemy of Allah" - which, for a jihadist, isn't what they call on Broadway a money review. The old head-hacker was sufficiently rattled by the critical pans of his Jordanian hotel bombings that he issued the first IRA-style apology in al-Qaida's history. "People of Jordan, we did not undertake to blow up any wedding parties," he said. "For those Muslims who were killed, we ask God to show them mercy, for they were not targets." Yeah, right. Tell it to the non-Marines. It was perfectly obvious to Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari and his missus what was going on when they strolled into the ballroom of the Radisson Hotel. Still, Zarqawi has now announced his intention to decapitate King Abdullah. "Your star is fading," he declared. "You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors." The Hashemite kings are descended from Muhammad, so I'm not sure what family tree he thinks he's barking up there. But it was just a passing slur and Zarqawi quickly cut to the cut. "We will be able to reach your head and chop it off." You and whose insurgents? I don't know what Islamist Suicide-Bombing For Dummies defines as a "soft target" but a Jordanian-Palestinian wedding in the public area of an hotel in a Muslim country with no infidel troops must come pretty close to the softest target of all time. Even more revealing, look at who Zarqawi dispatched to blow up his brother Muslims: Why would he send Ali Hussein Ali al-Shamari, one of his most trusted lieutenants, to die in an operation requiring practically no skill? Well, by definition it's hard to get suicide bombers with experience. But Shamari's presence suggests at the very least that al-Qaida's Iraq branch is having a hard time meeting its recruitment targets. Though the "insurgency" is much admired in the salons of the West, armchair insurgents such as Michael Moore seem to have no desire to walk the walk. Moore compared the Zarqawi crowd to the "Minutemen" of America's revolution, pledged to take to the field of battle at a minute's notice. Alas, the concept of self-destructing Minutemen depends on the often misplaced optimism of the bus stop: There'll be another one along in a minute. Mrs. Shamari's brother, Thamir al-Rashawi, Zarqawi's right-hand man and the so-called "Emir of al-Anbar" (i.e., the Sunni Triangle), was killed by US troops in Fallujah last year. Her other two brothers and her brother-in-law all died in engagements with the enemy this year. Sending a surviving member of your rapidly dwindling inner circle to blow up a Palestinian wedding is not a sign of strength. TRUE, HE did manage to kill a couple of dozen Muslims - not even Shi'ites, but his fellow Sunnis. And what's the strategic value of that? Presumably, it's an old-fashioned mob heavy's way of keeping the locals in line. And that worked out well, didn't it? Hundreds of thousands of Zarqawi's fellow Jordanians fill the streets to demand his death. Did they show that on the BBC or CNN? Or are demonstrations only news when they're anti-Bush and anti-Blair? And look at it this way: If the "occupation" is so unpopular in Iraq, where are the mass demonstrations against that? I'm not talking 200,000, or even 100 or 50,000. But, if there were just 1,500 folks shouting "Great Satan, go home!" in Baghdad or Mosul, it would be large enough for the media to do that little trick where they film the demo close up so it looks like the place is packed. Yet no such demonstrations take place. Happily for Zarqawi, no matter how desperate the head-hackers get, the Western defeatists can always top them. In the US, a Democrat Congressman, Jack Murtha, has called for immediate US withdrawal from Iraq. He's a Vietnam veteran, so naturally the media are insisting that his views warrant special deference, military experience in a war America lost being the only military experience the Democrats and the press value these days. Hence, the demand for the president to come up with an "exit strategy." In war, there are usually only two exit strategies: victory or defeat. The latter's easier. Just say, whoa, we're the world's pre-eminent power but we can't handle an unprecedently low level of casualties, so if you don't mind we'd just as soon get off at the next stop. Demonstrating the will to lose as clearly as America did in Vietnam wasn't such a smart move, but since the media can't seem to get beyond this ancient jungle war it may be worth underlining the principal difference: Osama is not Ho Chi Minh, and al-Qaida are not the Viet Cong. If you exit, they'll follow. And Americans will die - in foreign embassies, barracks, warships, as they did through the Nineties, and in nightclubs in Bali, and eventually on the streets of US cities, too. As 9/11 fades into the past, that's an increasingly hard argument to make. Taking your ball and going home is a seductive argument in a paradoxical superpower whose inclinations on the Right have a strong isolationist streak, and on the Left a strong transnational streak - which is isolationism with a sappy face and biennial black-tie banquets in EU capitals. Transnationalism means poseur solutions - the Kyotification of foreign policy. So, just as things are looking up on the distant, eastern front, they're wobbling badly on the home front. Anti-Bush Continentals who've been assiduously promoting the perception of American failure in Iraq ought to remember some of the other fronts in this war: Europe is both a home front and a foreign battleground - as the Dutch have learned, watching the land of the bicycling Queen transformed into 24-hour armed security for even minor municipal officials. In this war, for Europeans the faraway country of which they know little turns out to be their own. Much as the Euro-naysayers would enjoy it, an America that turns its back on the world is the last thing they need. The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.