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Five years of mis-waged war

On December 7, 1941, America was blindsided by an attack by an industrial nation prepared for war. By August 15, 1945, we had defeated them while supporting a war on another front. That duration is three years, eight months, a week, and a day.

On February 26, 1993, we were attacked by a new enemy. We treated it as primarily a law-enforcement matter, prosecuted and imprisoned many of those responsible, and closed the issue. Six years later, they struck at a military target, the USS Cole. A year after that, they struck again. We had some justification in surprise: dozens of petty warlords have announced their intention to wage violent war on the United States. It’s been a reasonable policy decision not to kill each of them.

That attack in 2001 was, in the view of those responsible, a military attack. They valued the terror caused, certainly—but they struck at US government and military positions, and at a target of economic and national symbolic importance. They killed my uncle, because he worked for a bank, and that bank was in a building associated with global American financial dominance. They killed my boss because he was on the wrong plane—and because of who he was.

Today, we’ve spent longer chasing the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden than we did chasing the Japanese around the Pacific. We’ve failed to recognize the dual requirements of this problem: it is a law enforcement problem and a war. We must continue excellent law-enforcement to stop the McVeys and the Kaczynskis. We must also carry the war to those who started it.

We’ve done well in Afghanistan. Iraq still feels like a distraction, but I don’t think the public will know for sure until 2060 or so. Maybe Iraq would have further destabilized the region had we not invaded; maybe Hussein would have used his chemical weapon stashes. Maybe the Middle East of 2020 would have been much worse if we’d done nothing. We’re not done in Afghanistan or Iraq, and both wars look like they need to get bigger before they get smaller: we need to wipe out the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan and the related “al Qaeda in Iraq” organization. This is going to be hard. We will need more national support for our military. Some of that may hit rather hard. We need to increase the amount of manpower available without harming the volunteer-driven morale of the American military.

At the same time, we need a law-enforcement focus on preventing terrorism. We need to cease wasting resources on security theatre or on propping up business models and put those resources into finding the Bad People and stopping them from doing Bad Things. The TSA is wasting a fortune guarding airplanes, while trains and busses lie unprotected. The pork-filled federal funding process is wasting another fortune on border protection in Kansas and Ohio.

This cannot be an overnight switch. It will take years to undo the mistakes of the poor leadership of the last five years, and it’ll be 2011 by the time we have a good, long-lasting solution in place. Let’s not waste any more time!

Glenn Reynolds predicted where we were going to go five years ago today:

It’s Not Just Terrorists Who Take Advantage: Someone will propose new “Antiterrorism” legislation. It will be full of things off of bureaucrats’ wish lists. They will be things that wouldn’t have prevented these attacks even if they had been in place yesterday. Many of them will be civil-liberties disasters. Some of them will actually promote the kind of ill-feeling that breeds terrorism. That’s what happened in 1996. Let’s not let it happen again.

Only One Antiterrorism Method Works: That’s punishing those behind it. The actual terrorists are hard to reach. But terrorism of this scale is always backed by governments. If they’re punished severely—and that means severely, not a bombed aspirin-factory but something that puts those behind it in the crosshairs—this kind of thing won’t happen again. That was the lesson of the Libyan bombing.

“Increased Security” Won’t Work. When you try to defend everything, you defend nothing. Airport security is a joke because it’s spread so thin that it can’t possibly stop people who are really serious. You can’t prevent terrorism by defensive measures; at most you can stop a few amateurs who can barely function. Note that the increased measures after TWA 800 (which wasn’t terrorism anyway, we’re told) didn’t prevent what appear to be coordinated hijackings. (Archie Bunker’s plan, in which each passenger is issued a gun on embarking, would have worked better). Deterrence works here, just as everywhere else. But you have to be serious about it.

I mourn my Uncle Joe, Danny Lewin, and the thousands who have died in this war. I pray for a quick and successful conclusion, leading to a new peace of liberty.