Gerard Baker wonders in his Times of London column why the West wears such long faces regarding the war on terror. On every front, we have prevailed far past the hopes we had after 9/11. The radical Islamists have managed to marginalize themselves among even conservative Muslims, and both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to advance towards stability and moderation. The al-Qaeda network has not been able to stage a major terrorist attack in over three years. By any measure of war, the West has not just taken the initiative but has delivered a series of major defeats, especially in stripping AQ of its easy shelter in Afghanistan, from which it launched a series of attacks in the decade before 9/11.
So why does the West despair?
There ought to be no surprise here. It’s only their apologists in the Western media who really failed to see the intrinsic evil of Islamists. Those who have had to live with it have never been in much doubt about what it represents. Ask the people of Iran. Or those who fled the horrors of Afghanistan under the Taleban.
This is why we fight. Primarily, of course, to protect ourselves from the immediate threat of terrorist carnage, but also because we know that extending the embrace of a civilisation that liberates everyone makes us all safer.
Every death is an unspeakable tragedy. It’s right that each time a soldier is killed in action we ask why. Was it really worth it?
The right response to the loss of brave souls such as Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British woman to die in Afghanistan, is not an immediate call for retreat. It is, first of all, pride; a great, deep conviction that it is on such sacrifice that our own freedoms have always rested. Then, defiance. How foolish is the enemy that it might think our grief is really some prelude to their victory? Finally, confidence. We are prevailing in this struggle. We know it. And everywhere: in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and among Muslims around the world, the enemy knows it too.
I believe that a couple of impulses are at play in the doom and gloom coming from Western media. First, it’s a lot easier to report on bombings than on bomb disposals, and on attacks rather than prevented attacks. That doesn’t even involve a bias as much as a structural defect of the current way the news media presents itself. Consumers get overdoses of instant reporting, but demand a lot less longer-view analysis. Decades from now, when historians write about this conflict in a complete narrativ, Baker’s point will be more clear, but at this stage, people simply don’t look at the long view.
A larger component of the defeatism could have been predicted from the start. The common wisdom after 9/11 was that invading Afghanistan would be a huge tactical mistake, and that the American military would repeat the experience of the British Army in the 19th century and the Soviets of the 1980s. On a wider basis, many voices insisted that terrorists could not be defeated militarily and that it was useless to try that strategy. Nor have these opinions disappeared. It came from the pacifist Left movement that gained strength after the failure in Vietnam, and they have a large stake in fostering an air of futility rather than acknowledge success.
Read through Baker’s recap of the war as we approach the seven-year mark. What would have been the alternative? Had we not opened fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq against terrorists, we would have left them free to send the same jihadis against Western targets around the world, especially after their success on 9/11 and later in Bali and Madrid. Instead, they have been more or less neutered into an ideology, still dangerous but at least so far not capable of major coordinated action outside of their region.
It’s not victory, but it is initiative and momentum. Defeatism run amuck could derail both.
Update: Here’s another victory:
The US military in Iraq says a militant killed on Tuesday has been positively identified as the leader of al-Qaeda in the city of Mosul.
It said the man – identified by a pseudonym, Abu Khalaf – had co-ordinated and ordered many attacks.
He was shot dead by American troops during a raid on a building in Mosul.
Khalaf was a protege of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to the OIF-MNF website. He tried reaching for his pistol as his partner, a Syrian named Abu Khalud, attempted to detonate a suicide vest. Both died before they could attack, as did a woman with them who attempted to detonate the vest after Khalud began to reach room temperature.