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Jewish World Review March 14, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Nisan, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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The prophets of defeatism | The American press seems to have contracted Black Hawk Down Syndrome, a malady in which reporters and editorialists, whose military experience consists largely of watching Hollywood war movies, project a hand-wringing fear of American military failure. These reactions may seem bizarre after a period of extraordinary military success, but they do make sense -- because the very same organizations promoting this defeatism also promote the policies that would actually lead to defeat.

After an American helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan at the beginning of last week's battle in Shah-e-Kot, the media was awash in references to "Black Hawk Down," the recent film about a bloody 1993 military mission in the Somalian city of Mogadishu, which went awry when an American helicopter crashed. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was forced to field inane questions about parallels with that battle, The New York Times reported that Rumsfeld was "working hard to exorcise the ghosts of Mogadishu." But it is the press, not the Pentagon, that is plagued by the ghosts of Mogadishu.

A typical expression of this defeatism is a March 6 analysis in the Los Angeles Times, which agonizes that "The fierce combat unfolding in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan is ... taking the U.S. military into precisely the sort of conditions that felled the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s." America, it says, is "knowingly plunging ahead in areas where it is most vulnerable," and "Special operations forces are engaged in risky combat and searches in and around caves -- something Pentagon officials said in the early days of the war they wanted to avoid at all costs." Risky combat? How unexpected.

This is just a sample. Since Sept. 11, for example, The New York Times has warned that defeating the Taliban would not be as easy as the Gulf War against Iraq -- then warned that a new war against Iraq would not be as easy as the defeat of the Taliban. The only constant is the newspaper's confident prediction of U.S. military failure.

Why does the press systematically ignore America's history of military success, obsessing instead over a few failures? Note that these failures all have the same cause: political restrictions that deprived our soldiers of the tools they needed to win.

Take Mogadishu. In the "Black Hawk Down" scenario, the disaster was not caused by the mere downing of a helicopter. It was caused by the Clinton administration's refusal to authorize the use of armor and AC-130 gunships, which would have provided crucial support for our soldiers. The reason? The politicians did not want to appear to be "escalating" our involvement, for fear of sinking into a "quagmire" -- and they were afraid that the use of gunships would cause civilian casualties among the enemy.

Does any of this sound familiar? These are the same demands commentators are making on our military today in Afghanistan. Win the war, but don't get involved in fighting on the ground, don't take any casualties, and above all, don't cause any civilian deaths, because that would be bad PR. The press is especially certain about this last point, because they will make sure that any civilian deaths -- an unavoidable by-product of war -- are splashed over the front pages and presented as evidence of American barbarity.

Or take the other bogeyman of American military failure: Vietnam. Our military was told that it could not eliminate the source of the enemy's power by invading North Vietnam. Instead, our soldiers were ordered to fight a defensive war of attrition, while we bombed the enemy -- not to destroy his capabilities, but merely to bring him to the bargaining table. Sound familiar? This is the strategy we have helped foist on Israel in its current war with terrorists. This is why, for example, the Israelis bomb empty Palestinian Authority offices, not to kill enemy soldiers or destroy Yasser Arafat's ability to fight, but merely to "pressure" him to return to the "peace process."

Similarly, commentators in the press have warned us that we have to fight the War on Terrorism with an eye on world opinion, in consultation with our squeamish European allies and our hostile Arab coalition, that we have to avoid civilian casualties and coddle al-Qaeda prisoners to maintain the "moral high ground." The only kind of war they think it is proper to wage is a restricted, non-lethal, self-effacing conflict.

It is no wonder that these same people fear that the war will end in failure. On their terms, it would.

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