Some of my conservative

October 27, 2001 8:30 p.m.

Some of my conservative friends must be wondering something like this right about now: if we wanted a war fought from the air, with strategy dictated by politics and not the military, we might as well have given Bill Clinton a third term and kept Larry Klayman out of the unemployment line!

Now, obviously I don’t have such a negative view of the former President’s foreign and military policies (far from it), of which we’ll say more later. But you do have to wonder: this is starting to look not like a new kind of war, but the old kind of war, just fought really badly.

Having said all this, a few disclaimers. It’s really easy to gripe from the sidelines. The folks at the Pentagon have more information at hand than we do. And as everyone should have learned during the Kosovo War, if you’ve got a strategy and you think it’s a good one, don’t get all wobbly just because things get rough for a bit. I remember toward the end of the air phase of the Gulf War there was a lot of grumbling about why we hadn’t just gone ahead and invaded Kuwait. But the military planners knew what they were doing. And at least in purely military terms the whole thing came off famously.

But you don’t come to Talking Points for disclaimers, do you? So let’s cut to the chase.

My concern is less that this is going too slowly than that I’m uncertain just what our strategy is, or more to the point, whether the one we have makes any sense. As nearly as I can understand it, our current plan is to weaken the Taliban through sustained air strikes; and weaken them enough relative to their Afghan opponents (the Northern Alliance,, that they collapse or get overrun. Then we go in and mop up Al Qaeda.

But like any air power strategy, this leaves it to our opponents to decide when, where and how to say ‘uncle.’ They have the initiative, not us. And decentralized opponents are more able to withstand this sort of barrage than centralized ones.

We also seem to want our ground allies to have at best only a partial victory, which further complicates what we’re trying to do. And the comments leaking out of the Pentagon, that the Taliban are tougher than expected, don’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Our beef here is with Al Qaeda. And as brutal and bloody as it will be, I don’t know what alternative there is to going in on the ground and rooting them out. The problem with our current strategy is that we lack the initiative and as much as we might bluster, time does not seem to be on our side.

Why isn’t time on our side? Because the longer this goes on, the less convincing we become when we say we’re fighting terrorism and not the Afghan people. And because the longer this goes on the more antagonism we kick up in the rest of the Muslim world.

Trust me, I’m not saying this is easy. It’s not. I’m just wondering whether we may have angled ourselves into a position where our opponents are controlling this situation and not us.

Who knows? Maybe next week things will start to break free. I hope so. But for the moment, maybe Perle-Wolfowitz & Company should stop yammering about expanding the war to Iraq and start pushing to expand it to Al Qaeda.

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