Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2001 / 12 Kislev, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- THE best sign of how things, mainly the Taliban, are going in Afghanistan isn't the reports of cities falling and the opposition occupying territory. It's a news item noting that the Taliban's fleeing leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has issued a communiqui ordering his troops not to desert.
When an army has to order its soldiers not to desert, it's not much of an army anymore. It may be a guerrilla band, a militia, dangerous, or all of the above, but not an army.
How long, really, could a regime that banned music have hoped to last?
"Every war will astound you.'' -- Dwight D. Eisenhower.
War focuses the attention, concentrates the energies, and may be the perfect demonstration of Murphy's Law: Sometimes everything that can go wrong does.
I can remember only one phrase from the critique my ROTC instructor delivered after they let me play battery commander one day during summer camp: ". . . and that's when Cadet Greenberg made his fatal error.'' It's a phrase that has arisen in my mind unbidden on many an occasion since when I've had reason to think on some royal mess I've gotten myself into.
But other times, with lightning speed, everything that can go right does, and the enemy collapses with unanticipated speed.
Sometimes the causes of victory or defeat are clear; other times they may be debated for years without reaching a clear conclusion. The only thing for sure about every war is that it will, yes, astound you.
Watching George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin at their joint press conference Tuesday, one couldn't help but note the contrast.
Our Fighting Russian Ally (to use a phrase that went out of style circa 1946) answered each question in some detail, grasping its point and then going into some depth. He was forceful, articulate and specific even in translation. One could understand why the American president is happy to have him as an ally. W. is reported to have said that Vlad's the kind of guy he'd want to share a foxhole with.
When occasionally confronted by an unpleasant truth, like a report of atrocities by Our Fighting Afghan Allies in the Northern Alliance, the Russian leader simply denied it in the best Soviet style. Just like the old KGB man he is. It's assuring to have that kind of ruthlessness on our side. It also sends a shiver up the spine. I wouldn't advise W. to turn his back in that foxhole.
As for our president, he was as inarticulate as the Russian was incisive. Whatever the question, W. seemed to answer it with phrases that sounded as if they came untouched from the presidential briefing he'd received that morning. He kept repeating the same talking points no matter what the question.
You couldn't put your finger on it, but his responses in general had a dyslexic feel to them. On occasion he would use a word meaning the opposite of what he clearly intended. No answer quite matched the question; the whole Q. and A. was slightly off-center. The Bushisms weren't as frequent as they were during the campaign, but they're not as amusing anymore.
Just as I was getting thoroughly depressed by the president's performance, particularly in contrast with that of the other president next to him, I remembered something: This was also the guy who had chosen Dick Cheney as his vice president, Colin Powell as his secretary of state, and Don Rumsfeld as his secretary of defense. The three best people in the country for precisely the three most crucial positions in an administration. One need not agree with their politics or policies, or find their personalities attractive, to recognize their simple competence, which of course is never simple.
Yes, Colin Powell's diplomatic hypocrisies may be irritating -- as when he issues those standard objections to the Israelis' hunting down terrorists while we've launched a whole war to hunt down ours. Then there was his wanting to postpone victory in Afghanistan till we had just the right kind of nice, broad-based, universally acceptable government to install in place of the enemy. That kind of strategy is, in a word, maddening. But that's what a secretary of state is for: to play the diplomatic game. Happily, the president chose to accept victory instead.
It occurs that George Washington must (and did) impress some of the sharper intellects of his time as an inarticulate old general without a gift for rhetoric or even a capacity for simple English composition. He was always an awkward speaker and writer. Yet it was Washington who chose the two best-suited men on the continent for the key positions of secretary of state and secretary of the Treasury in the country's first, crucial administration: Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The quality of Washington's appointments spoke for him.
Articulateness, I remembered, is not synonymous with judgment or wisdom, as we should have learned from this president's predecessor.
Let's see if I've we've got this straight: We're in a conflict duly recognized and authorized by the president and Congress, and there are still those who object to the commander-in-chief's decision to establish military courts to try foreign terrorists and saboteurs.
Should the Mullah Omars and Osama bin Ladens and similar types ever make it to trial, can you imagine the circus that would ensue if their fate were left to the trial lawyers and endless appeals that have made American law an exercise in plea bargaining?
The American Civil Liberties Union could make the trials the centerpiece of their next fund drive, Geraldo could interview feuding attorneys and the defendants' PR consultants night after night, We the taxpayers would put up millions to defend the killers, which their lawyers would be happy to accept. The only thing overlooked might be their crimes. And their victims.
If by unlucky chance these mass murderers aren't killed on the ground, they need to be judged the same way Nazi saboteurs were in the Second World War: by military courts. With dispatch. Justice delayed is justice denied.
From the day that America was attacked, there has been a loud contingent of impatient types warning that a large-scale commitment of American ground forces would be needed to break through the Taliban lines. The case has been made by quite a distinguished crew -- academics, pundits, Middle East experts, military analysts and even an occasional senator like John McCain.
An American army on the ground, we were told, would be needed to take the crucial road junction of Mazar-e-Sharif. Or capture Kabul, the Afghan capital. Or to take Kandahar, the heart of Taliban support in the south of Afghanistan. And Jalalabad in the east. Air power alone, coupled with American supplies and special forces on the ground, wouldn't be enough.
Again and again the experts warned us that "special forces do not win wars'' and that "the Northern Alliance remains far weaker than its adversary, it boasts fewer troops, and lacks the determination of its foe. Winter is already arriving in northern Afghanistan, and with it the shuttering of the Alliance's supply routes. Its forces lack fuel and ammunition, remain pathetically divided, and seem in no rush to march to an American timetable.''
This typical expert assessment is from "The Case for Ground Troops'' in The New Republic, November 19, 2001. By the time my copy arrived, Kabul had been liberated, Jalalabad was falling, Kandahar was under siege, and what was left of the Taliban were taking to the hills. I guess the Northern Alliance doesn't read The New Republic.
I'm glad the White House doesn't pay much attention to it, either. And that John McCain isn't
president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United