TERRORISM….One of these days I’ll get around to writing a longer post on this subject, but for now I just want to highlight some recent remarks from a couple of highly placed military leaders. First, via Eric Umansky, here’s Lieutenant General Wallace Gregson, currently commander of Marine forces in the Pacific:

This is no more a war on terrorism than World War II was a war on submarines. It?s not just semantics….Words have meaning. And these words are leading us down to the wrong concept.

….The center of gravity, the decisive terrain in this war is the vast majority of people who are not directly involved but whose support, willing or coerced, is necessary to insurgent operations around the world. Hearts and minds are more important than capturing and killing people.

And here’s recently retired Army General Jack Keane on the Charlie Rose show, as reported by Suzanne Nossel over at Democracy Arsenal. Is it true, Rose asked, that commanders in Iraq don’t believe we need more troops on the ground?

The General explained that what was meant is not that more troops aren’t needed: in fact, Keane has seen first-hand that the officers in the theater are badly understaffed and over-tasked.

He went on to say that there is powerful opposition to the American presence, and that our troops are having great difficulty with the cultural and social challenges of combating an urgan Iraqi insurgency that, in his words, has as its sanctuary the Iraqi people. Thus, notwithstanding how overloaded our troops are, General Abizaid and others have concluded that more American forces would make the problems worse, not better.

This is pretty much at the heart of the liberal/conservative divide over Iraq. Is our real battle with terrorists themselves? Or is it with the fact that far too many people are sympathetic with their aims?

George Bush and his advisors appear to believe the former. I believe the latter. Al-Qaeda itself, even if you count all its far flung and loosely affiliated partners, doesn’t number more than a few thousand, most of them ill-trained and poorly educated zealots. It’s foolish to underestimate them ? they’ve proven over and again that they’re a deadly enemy that needs to be extinguished ? but it’s equally foolish to compare them to fascism or communism as existential threats.

That might change in the future, but only if they retain the support of substantial segments of the Islamic population. It’s popular support that’s the real threat, but conservatives seem flatly unwilling to admit this publicly for fear of looking soft. That’s squishy liberal pap! Conservatives prefer direct action!

But as Keane implied, military force can sometimes make the long term problem worse ? and right now, that appears to be pretty much where we’re headed. As long as 10-20% of the Islamic world is actively on the side of al-Qaeda, there’s not much chance of ever truly defeating them. So far, though, most of our actions in the Middle East have just made this worse. When are we going to get serious about taking on the real enemy?

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