Never Mistake a Mirror for a Window

NEVER MISTAKE A MIRROR FOR A WINDOW….William Arkin uses his final column about military affairs and the war on terrorism in the LA Times today to look back on “Five Big American Blunders.” Here’s #5:

Fifth: Never mistake a mirror for a window.

With dismaying frequency, Bush, Rumsfeld and senior military leaders have made critical decisions on the basis of what they thought was a clear view of their adversaries ? looking at the enemy through an open window, so to speak. In reality, they were looking at a mirror and seeing fuzzy images of themselves.

….Senior officials talk about Iraq as part of something fundamentally different from past military challenges. But they fight it like a conventional war: From the beginning, our strategy was to engage the enemy in battle, win a crushing victory and reap the fruits of unconditional success. Thus, field commanders have talked of “victories” in Najaf and “strategic progress” in Fallouja. Meantime, soldiers continue to die by the ones and twos on conventional infantry patrols.

Unfortunately, our adversaries are not interested in engaging us head-on. That’s why the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon happened in the first place.

….What is true militarily in Iraq is also true politically, there and in the rest of the Arab world: We keep thinking that, deep down, our adversaries are really just like us. In reality, for the present and for the foreseeable future, most of the Islamic world is not ? and does not want to be ? like us. It has profoundly different values and priorities. Thus our entire strategy is predicated on a mirror-picture that we will someday “defeat” the increasingly angry anti-American mob of Iraqi nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists, with democratic stability miraculously arising from the ashes.

I really don’t know how to get this across effectively to ordinary voters, but it strikes me as the critical point in the debate on terror. Bush has surrounded himself with people who fundamentally believe in the use of military power and flatly don’t understand that conventional assaults aren’t always the answer in a nonconventional war. To them, anything aside from a smashing military victory is simply a sign of weakness.

What’s more, although they’re downplaying the idea of future military action at the moment (there’s a campaign to run!), there’s no real indication that Bush’s team has learned Arkin’s fifth lesson. They’ve fought two wars so far, they still believe that both have gone swimmingly, and based on everything they’ve said and done over the past decade there’s every reason to believe they still think military action is our primary tool for defeating Islamist zealotry.

In other words, they don’t have a clue how to win this war. John Kerry needs to convince the country that he does.