The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The anniversary of 9/11 forces the country as a whole to reflect on our efforts to combat Islamofascist terror. In a wonderfully insightful analysis of our country’s reaction to terror over the past six years, George Friedman of Stratfor discusses “War, Psychology, and Time” and its impact on American attitudes. He argues that “six years on, the overwhelming and reasonable fear on the night of Sept. 11 has been erased and replaced by a strange sense that it was all an overreaction.” Part of this “strange sense” is due to the fact that there have been no other meaningful terrorist attacks in this country. But there is more to it than that.

A botched war plan in Iraq has opened the door for the Left to criticize not only the Iraq war, but our entire approach to terrorism. Critics offer the following set of solutions: (1) talking with our enemies (regardless of the likelihood of success), (2) improving our intelligence apparatus (while at the same time curtailing intelligence operations that have the highest likelihood of producing useful results), (3) withdrawing from Iraq immediately (regardless of the consequences or the impact on our other terror fighting activities), and (4) repairing our many perceived insults to the Islamic world (believed by many to be the root cause of all of this). As abstractions these all seem reasonable enough, but in the real world, they offer little in the way of an effective strategy.

But here we are, September, 11, 2007. Friedman comments:
The paradox is this: There has been no follow-on attack against the United States. The United States did dislodge Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, and while the war goes badly, the casualties are a small fraction of those lost in Vietnam. Most important, bin Laden's dream [of establishing a global caliphate] is gone. No Muslim state has been overthrown and replaced with a regime that bin Laden would find worthy. He has been marginalized by both the United States and by his rival Shiite radicals, who have picked up the mantle that he dropped. His own jihadist movement is no longer under his effective control.

Bin Laden has been as badly battered by time as Bush. Unable to achieve any of his political goals, unable to mount another attack, he reminds us of Che Guevara after his death in Bolivia. He is a symbol of rebellion for a generation that does not intend to rebel and that carefully ignores his massive failures.

Yet, in the end, Guevara and bin Laden could have become important only if their revolutions had succeeded. There is much talk and much enthusiasm. There is no revolution. Therefore, what time has done to bin Laden's hopes is interesting, but in the end, as a geopolitical force, he has not counted beyond his image since Sept. 11, 2001.

The effect on the United States is much more profound. The war, both in Iraq and against al Qaeda, has worn the United States down over time. The psychology of fear has been replaced by a psychology of cynicism. The psychology of confidence in war has been replaced by a psychology of helplessness. Exhaustion pervades all.

That is the single most important outcome of the war. What happens to bin Laden is, in the end, about as important as what happened to Guevara. Legends will be made of it -- not history. But when the world's leading power falls into the psychological abyss brought about by time and war, the entire world is changed by it. Every country rethinks its position and its actions. Everything changes.

That is what is important about the Petraeus report. He will ask for more time. Congress will give it to him. The president will take it. Time, however, has its price not only in war but also psychologically. And if the request for time leads to more failure and the American psychology is further battered, then that is simply more time that other powers, great and small, will have to take advantage of the situation. The United States has psychologically begun tearing itself apart over both the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Whatever your view of that, it is a fact -- a serious geopolitical fact.

The Petraeus report will not address that. It is out of the general's area of responsibility. But the pressing issue is this: If the United States continues the war and if it maintains its vigilance against attacks, how does the evolution of the American psyche play out?

Time heals, but it also blurs. We'd all rather believe that the threat was overstated, that what we're really facing are criminal thugs, not a worldwide ideology that threatens the long term destruction of Western ideals. Little things, like democracy, freedom of religion, free expression, you know the list. After all, no caliphate has emerged, the status quo remains largely unchanged ... except for 100,000,000 Moslems who express some level of sympathy for Jihadist philosophy. Let that rattle around in your psyche for a while and then think back to 9/11/01 and ask yourself whether you had any reason to be worried on 9/10/01.