A war that won’t end:

Thus neither side won the Twenty Years’ War. Victory would mean achieving core aims at an acceptable cost relative to the benefits. Al-Qaeda did meet some of its goals: With limited resources, bin Laden gained incredible notoriety and inflicted enormous damage on a great power. In 2003, U.S. troops left Saudi Arabia—the key goal outlined in the 1996 manifesto. In 2004, bin Laden released a video that compared the costs of the 9/11 attacks to al-Qaeda versus the United States: “Al-Qaeda spent $500,000 on the event, while America, in the incident and its aftermath, lost—according to the lowest estimate—more than $500 billion, meaning that every dollar of al-Qaeda defeated a million dollars.”

But in a broader analysis, bin Laden failed. Yes, U.S. forces left Saudi Arabia, but they did so voluntarily, after Saddam was toppled. Crucially, al-Qaeda was unable to mobilize Muslims around a strict Islamist identity that transcended other loyalties. As Charles Kurzman showed in his book The Missing Martyrs, after 9/11, fewer than one in every 100,000 Muslims became jihadist terrorists. The vast majority of Muslims completely reject bin Laden’s ideology. And national, tribal, and other local identities remain profoundly important from the Palestinians to the Pakistanis. From 2003-2011, confidence in bin Laden collapsed in many Muslim-majority countries, falling from 59 percent to 26 percent in Indonesia, and from 56 percent to 13 percent in Jordan. In a 2013 poll taken in 11 Muslim countries, a median of just 13 percent had a favorable view of al-Qaeda, whereas 57 percent had an unfavorable view.

Al-Qaeda’s loss is not U.S. gain:

Let’s turn first to the United States on offense: the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Recounting the costs is numbing: over 7,000 Americans killed, tens of thousands of soldiers seriously wounded, trillions of dollars expended, and over 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq alone. And there’s the wider impact of spending on America’s debt, of enhanced interrogation and torture on the U.S. global image and ethical standing, and of seemingly endless quagmires on domestic political unity.

In an interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, told me, “The Iraq War was unnecessary, self-damaging, demoralizing, delegitimizing, and governed primarily by simplistic military assumptions that didn’t take into account the regional mosaic in which Iraq operates and the internal mosaic inside Iraq.”

The eclipse of al-Qaeda by ISIS is a loss for al-Qaeda but not a gain for the United States. ISIS is an even more ruthless and capable adversary.

Does idealism hurt the United States (and are believers responsible for imbuing America with too many ideas?)?

But the main combatants in the struggle lost for similar reasons: They were hobbled by ideology. Al-Qaeda’s vision of austere Wahhabi Islam and endless global jihad is profoundly unappealing to the vast majority of Muslims. But ideology also shaped U.S. strategy, sometimes in dangerous ways. American idealism is one of the country’s most attractive qualities, central to its moral standing and “soft power.” But idealism also helped to frame the Twenty Years’ War as a struggle between good and evil, which required grandiose goals to topple regimes and build beacons of freedom in the Middle East. It also encouraged Americans to lump terrorists and rogue states together into a big bucket of bad guys. At the same time, Americans are also hostile to the whole notion of nation-building, often seeing stabilization missions as a kind of big-government welfarism, and not something that the country’s warriors should be doing. In a recent foreign-policy speech, Donald Trump said, “ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president,” but at the same time, the United States will be “getting out of the nation-building business.” This combination of beliefs is as American as apple pie.

As a result, the United States is an impatient crusader: eager to smite tyrants and terrorists but unwilling to invest the time and resources needed to win the peace.

9 thoughts on “Winning?

  1. “Does idealism hurt the United States (and are believers responsible for imbuing America with too many ideas?)?”
    Ding a Ding. Stop staking ultimate destiny to every endeavor and just solve what’s in front of you. If you get five years from it you’re a genius or just lucky.


  2. I am grateful every minute of my life to have lived in a satellite country of the US that has retained its freedom under American exceptionalism and idealism and capitalism.


  3. I sometimes get the sense that when America strikes out against it’s enemies there is often a big mess left for someone to clear up, usually bodies and little good to show for it. Can Americans point to any relatively recent sucessful militairy focused campaigns? Vietnam? Afghanistan? Iraq? Libya? Syria? Why have so many American evangelicals got such a starry eyed and prominent love for the militairy?
    I am then stunned in view of these failures which have deeply affected many American families and equally those in foreign lands to hear so called Christian conservatives like Sarah Palin say America should never apologise for it’s militairy. Half wits like these warped theonomists and admired odd balls like carpet bomb Cruz make me seriously consider the Biblical New Testament thinking and practise of the Bruderhof Hutterites I once stayed with in East Sussex, England as a far more sane approach.


  4. UK Paul, do you think American Christian conservatives are worse than an older set of British imperialists or simply that we have held on to such folly for much longer?


  5. Darryl,
    Great question. I will answer properly on Monday. I want to emphasise a related thought at this point. I deeply respect those who rightly serve in the militairy and in no way belittle them. But as Britain lost it’s finest like cattle to the slaughter as Wilfred Owen put it in the First World War, I cannot help wonder how many in recent times have likewise died in battle for next to nothing. It is important to remember that there are the widows, children and family members of the fallen who need much support along with those disabled for life as a result of being wounded in action.
    Just one other point. A half wit is a fool, and I put Palin and President wannabee Ted Cruz firmly in this catagory.


  6. The American Conservatives are worse than the UK Imperialists as the former didn’t articulate as much as the Reconstructionists a strong theonomy. Trade, making money and European rivalry was very much in the make up of national thinking and the church probably went along with this.
    In America the Conservatives articulate a clear, single minded theonomy. John Rushdooney’s influence is still massive, having been taken up by a plethora of parachurch and internet networks like those of David Barton and other such exceptionalists. Aaron Denlinger did a good article in Ref 21about parachurch set ups being too influential. What is disturbing is the American exceptionalism which almost infers other nations and peoples are somehow simply handy tools for American interests, even if they suffer tremendously as a result.
    If folk thinks think this is hyperbole then check out Ted Cruz’s ideas of hitting America’s foes, carpet bombing and making the sand glow inthe Middle East. And people take him seriously?


  7. UK Paul,

    I hear you. Just beware when you turn to the colonists for help. They may succeed and then not know what they are doing.

    Which means I largely agree with you AND I wish the UK had not invited us into world affairs.


  8. Paul,

    Do you think that the actions carried out by the American government have historically been in the interest of theonomy or more from America’s desire to really help people in other countries who are often in urgent threat from thugs who also pose an immediate threat to the safety of Americans abroad?
    Also, as for Cruz’s language, do you think he would seriously advocate that we harm innocent people when seeking to stop IS? Personally, I think that the language is bravado, being the same kind used by generals to their soldiers. I don’t think it’s good to talk that way, but I don’t seriously think that congress would sanction bombing of territory and people that were part of foreign sovereignties. What should be kept in mind is that for war to be just you can’t create more death and destruction than those you are trying to stop. It can never be easy to decide when t go to war or when to pull out. I can’t imagine being responsible for such decisions. But clearly, you have to behave and speak responsibly, so I agree with you about Cruz’s language.
    But what about drone wars? Is this a more favored way by the left? Innocent people can be in the way in these cases too. And, it looks like the UK has done its share of helping to attack.

    “Strikes Surge, bigger bombs
    The surge in strikes over the past six months can partially be attributed to the increase in the number of British aircraft taking part in bombing raids. An additional 2 Tornado and 6 Typhoon aircraft were despatched to the region following the House of Commons vote to undertake strikes in Syria in December 2015. In addition, the Iraqi and Kurdish advance on Ramadi at the turn of the year and more recently the advance on Fallujah has also meant an upswing in the number of strikes.

    As well as an increase in the number of strikes, the UK has also begun to fire much larger weapons in the last three months. On six occasions since mid-April, the UK launched multiple loads of the 1,000 lb Enhanced Paveway II and 2,000 lb Paveway III bombs, while on the 26 June, British Tornados launched 4 Stormshadow Cruise Missiles. All these larger strikes were pre-planned in contrast to the vast majority of strikes which are dynamically targeted – that is launched ‘on the fly’.”

    I live near a town that is very left wing, and every Friday afternoon a group of elderly folk stand at a busy intersection with signs that say, ” Say no to war!”. They smile and ask for car to honk, giving drivers a thumbs up if they do, and a frown, if you meet their eyes, and don’t. As if I want my son to go to war because I didn’t honk.
    I have traditionally voted Republican because of the issues of life were part of the platform, but I care about our being involved in foreign wars too. Participatory democracy can be a good thing, but sometimes it doesn’t look to have any clear purpose. Anyways, I get more than a little irked that the left thinks they are the ones who hate violence, death, and destruction.


  9. Thank you for your questions. I will answer briefly. I think US foreign policy is driven by American interests primarily and above all else. But theonomists can be very noisy and would want to have a say in such matters through political leaders who share their views, especially in matters like policy towards Israel which is dispensationalist driven. One look at Fox news confirms the latter with their unquestioning support of Israel which pleases the evangelicals who watch it.
    I don’t think Congress always gets a say by a long shot on military intervention decisions regarding bombing of territory and foreign sovereignties either. Look at the secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and Reagan’s messing in Central America. Any Congress approval in either case? And then there was Bush and Blair who basically decided between them and other neo-cons to shape the course of action towards Iraq; others had to take their line. Now in 2016 we see Syria’s territory being used daily for US backed militias of very questionable beliefs, along with others who vie for power in the area.
    Cruz’s language is indicative of his outlook – essentially simplistic and shallow. He just plays all the time to his base supporters but also seems to get a buzz out of annoying people. Whether he would truly care if there were collateral damage in a war is questionable as I guess he would see much action as justifiable if it was in the best interests of America. I wish Christopher Hitchins was still alive to expose him like he did Kissinger.
    Thanks for the info. on drones. The UK has come a long way since the indiscriminate and wicked bombing of such places like Dresden in 1945, and overall our bombing is today piffle compared to that of France in Syria and the surrounding region. Much of our regular input for Syria and Iraq is reconnaissance and surveillance from the RAF base in Cyrpus. I hope my answers help.


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