Yearning for a Carteresque war on terror

The only thing worse than an MSM piece that’s plainly devoid of analysis is an MSM piece that contains its illusion. A case in point is this shockingly bad article by Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh that appeared in today’s Washington Post. Hirsh purports to take stock of how the war on terror is progressing. He concedes, as he must, that the U.S. has been free from terrorist attack since 9/11 (unless one counts the anthrax incidents that occurred immediately thereafter). He acknowledges that the world has become a tougher place for terrorists to operate in. And, if he were providing a fair account, he would have to add that the U.S. has succeeded not only in destroying the regime that harbored al Qaeda but also in decimating the leadership of al Qaeda as it existed in 2001. In addition, he would have to concede that there’s no evidence al Qaeda has been able to come up with a new leadership structure that’s anywhere close to as effective as the old one when it comes to attacking the U.S. or its interests.
If, in the aftermath of 9/11, one had asked the American people whether these successes would represent good progress in the war against terrorism over the coming four years, the answer surely would have been overwhelmingly affirmative. Indeed, it would have been affirmative as to our anti-terror efforts even if Americans were also told that we would not capture bin Laden, that our relations with Europeans would sour, and that we would become bogged down in a conflict in Iraq which may or may not be closely related to defeating terrorism. We know this because that’s how America answered last November, at which time polls showed the public to be satisfied with the prosecution of the war on terror (though not necessarily with our progress in Iraq).
What, then, is Hirsh’s basis for concluding that the war on terror isn’t going well. His lead argument (and I’m not making this up) is that we won World War II in only four years. But, as he later agrees, that conflict, which involved only a war between nations and traditional forces in plainly delimited theatres, had essentially nothing in common with the present struggle.
Next, Hirsh trots out the more conventional claim that through our policies we are creating more terrorists than we’re killing. If he’s on safer ground here it’s only because this claim can neither be verified or falsified — we simply have no way to measure this (Hirsh never explains how we could do so), although recent polling by Pew suggests that we are slowly making inroads with Arab public opinion. Astonishingly, Hirsh tries to turn the fact that he has presented an argument for which he has no evidence against the administsration by blaming Secretary Rumsfeld for not having developed the metrics to determine whether we are killing more terrorists than we are “creating.” He might just as well criticize Rumsfeld for not having figured out how to weigh clouds.
As his last resort, Hirsh asserts that President Bush doesn’t have a plan to fight terrorism. By this, he seems to mean that Bush has no strategy for dealing with the “root causes” of terrorism. But this claim is patently false. Bush regards the lack of self-government in the Arab world (and the things that flow from that deficiency) as terrorism’s root cause. Hirsh disagrees, citing the argument of some unnamed “scholars.” But that means that Hirsh disagrees with Bush’s plan, not that the president lacks one.
At the end of the piece, Hirsh finally reveals “what. . .a true national strategy in the war against terrorism would look like.” It would look like Jimmy Carter’s energy policy (I’m not making this up either). Specifically, a “true” strategy would involve energy conservation and “hybrid technologies” that would make us less dependent on foreign oil. Apparently, it would not involve drilling for oil in Alaska and using nuclear power, both of which Bush has promoted.
So there you have it — the case that, appearances notwithstanding, we’re losing the war on terror rests on a historical comparison that Hirsh won’t defend, the views of “scholars,” and Hirsh’s confidence that his ideas for finding and generating more energy are better than Bush’s.

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