With this quote, Winston Churchill summed up how the next World War would be fought. It’s notable how often he uses the phrase “the minds of men” when describing the future. The Churchill Center had sent me an email describing the number of times this phrase reappears–I believe the number was in the 100’s. Now, I am no raving Churchill fan, as he had some notable moral lapses, namely in his lack of support of Poland in the second half of World War II (as in he completely forget that Poland existed, see Norman Davies excellent books; Rising ’44 is particularly recommended) and his decision to have Dresden bombed. However, despite his moral shortcomings, he was an individual with insights and experiences that are both singular. So it is notable how convinced he was of the centrality of “the minds of men” in the next conflict.
It’s clear that the present US administration hasn’t a clue as to the significance of this, although Al-Qaeda has listened (or perhaps reached the same conclusions on their own, I am not sure, but it really doesn’t matter.)
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, by the way, was basically Noam Chomsky’s proposal) 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 drives anger against the USA, and feeds the al-Qaeda recruiting effort, which is now, thanks to complete mismanagement, is self-sustaining. And where is bin Laden today? We don’t know. Even if he were to be killed, the giant recruiting drive the USA has been conducting on his behalf has already done damage beyond repair. The Open Source insurgency is now so strong it does not need any particular leader any more.
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.