In an unexpected moment of candor less than two weeks ago, the President of the United States said regarding “the war on terror:” “I don’t think we can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror are less acceptable in parts of the world.”
Knowing that such honesty doesn’t play well at the polls, the President and his handlers rapidly spun it to mean nearly the exact opposite, that the United States can and will definitely bring an end to terrorism. Of course, his opponent, John Kerry, must also pretend that such a war is winnable.
Of course the war is unwinnable, at least by the methods presently used by nations. Great Britain’s war against the Irish Republican Army has been going on for eighty years now, Israel’s against the PLO for nearly sixty, Russia’s against Chechnya for a full decade, and the list goes on. A war is winnable only if its fuel can be exhausted. The fuel of violence is resentment. How is resentment brought to an end? By either the complete and total exhaustion of one of the two warring entities, or by ending the underlying resentment that fuels the violence.
World War II was won by the utter exhaustion of the Axis powers, after the destruction of millions of people on both sides. A single entity, like a government, can indeed be brought to such exhaustion. The Taliban fell, Saddam Hussein fell. But Iraqi and American forces are now wracked by almost daily terror attacks. Al-Qaeda still commits terror attacks around the world. Afghanistan is now back in the control of local warlords financed by the opium trade, and Iraq has largely disintegrated into chaos. Brutal dictatorships like Pakistan are propped up with weapons and money to become even more dictatorial to their citizens.
This is the simple truth, which no one wants to say, and no one wants to hear: War doesn’t stop terrorism. It fuels the resentment, and for every terrorist killed, more rise up, as long as the resentment grows.
This is the bitter truth that world leaders must face, regardless of their country or party: do what is needed to end the resentment, and you will cut off terrorism at its source. It’s essential that we try to understand why our enemies hate us, and how we can change that hatred into something else.
Not a thousand American troops, nor ten thousand Iraqi civilians killed, nor any number of insurgents, militants, or terrorists killed will bring peace, as long as people are angry enough to die.
I told you you didn’t want to hear it, but that’s Jedi life in the real world.