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Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2001 / 20 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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The phony war -- ACCORDING to a breathless report in the morning news, American jets over the Taliban's front lines have engaged in "one of the fiercest bombardments yet, unleashing more than 15 bombs in the space of hours." Get that? A whole 15 bombs. Within hours.

Is this a real war or a phony war?

I do not presume to second-guess our soldiers. I have no doubt that our pilots and special forces are achieving the military objectives they have been given. But none of that will ultimately matter, because our larger military and diplomatic strategy is built on the quicksand of timidity and appeasement. The fear of giving offense to our "allies" -- and even to our enemies -- is eviscerating our war effort, undermining every requirement for victory.

Our leaders are sacrificing victory to the demand, by our Arab and European "allies," that the United States inflict zero civilian casualties in Afghanistan. This is impossible in any war, but especially when fighting an adversary who deliberately hides himself among civilians, using his fellow countrymen as human shields. Faced with the massive threat of Islamic terrorism, protecting enemy civilians shouldn't even make it on our list of priorities. The first and only job of our military must be to protect our civilians here at home, by killing the enemy.

And after all, why should enemy civilians have a right to be protected from the consequences of actions taken by their own government? If Afghans didn't want to be in the line of fire, they should have kicked out the Taliban long ago.

But of course, Afghans didn't entirely have a choice in the matter. The Taliban were foisted on Afghanistan partly by the government of Pakistan. Which leads us to the second reason we are waging a phony war: our desire to mollify Pakistan.

Remember that Pakistan is home to the religious schools that trained the Taliban, that the government of Pakistan created the Taliban and helped put it into power. Even now, Pakistan is providing supplies to the Taliban, negotiating with the Taliban, and demanding that a "moderate" Taliban be included in a new Afghan government. In short, Pakistan is in league with our enemies.

The nature of any Western "alliance" with Pakistan -- a dubious idea to begin with -- should have been stated clearly: we will generously refrain from destroying you, so long as you obey our orders. Instead, Bush and Blair have set up an opposite arrangement: Pakistan will generously allow us to fly over its airspace, so long as the war only lasts a few weeks and we refrain from bombing during the whole month of Ramadan.

This is part of a broader policy of sacrificing victory for the sake of public opinion in the Arab and Muslim world. Our leaders insist on trying to win the "hearts and minds" of those who hate us.

This is why we are demanding that Israel sacrifice itself to Islamic terrorism. This is why we are treating the whole Ramadan ruse as if it were worthy of debate. This is why we refuse to name a single government -- not Iran, not Iraq, not even the Taliban -- as our enemy in this war, lest it be "perceived" by America-hating Muslims as a war against their religious fanaticism.

This is why we have taken no steps to mobilize an occupation army or engage in any large-scale fighting on the ground, preferring to fight this war through the preposterous proxy of the Northern Alliance. Secretary Rumsfeld has said that he won't send more ground troops because he doesn't want to create "the appearance of holding ground" in Afghanistan. That is, he doesn't want to create the appearance that we are winning.

That is the awful secret of American policy. Our conduct of the war is dictated by Arab and Muslim public opinion -- yet that public opinion is squarely opposed to an American victory. Our Arab "allies," in combination with the anti-American left and the spineless pragmatists in the Bush administration, are demanding a fight so timid and restrained that it is doomed to fail. And when it fails, they will tell us this proves that more appeasement, rather than more war, is the only answer to terrorism.

"In war," General MacArthur famously declared, "there is no substitute for victory." We must realize that only victory, a complete victory over the armies of Islamic fundamentalism, will bring peace and security. But to achieve that goal requires more than 15 bombs, and more -- much more -- than this phony war.

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