By Michael Ledeen
Watching the war in Lebanon and listening to the debate about it, is just like watching the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its attendant debate. Israelis are demanding the resignation of Olmert, just as Americans are demanding the head of Bush. Israeli military experts, real and self-proclaimed, are explaining how the Lebanon war could have been won, if only the ground campaign had started earlier, or had been more ambitious. American strategists of varying competence are explaining how the Iraq war could have been won, if only there were more boots on the ground, or if only a different strategy had been employed, or if only the Baathist army had been kept intact.
I think it’s nonsense. Both campaigns and both debates suffer from the same narrow focus, the same failure of strategic vision, the same obsession with a single campaign in a single place, when the war itself — the real war — is far wider. Our leaders and our pundits are fighting single battles, and, since their strategies are not designed to win the real war, they are doomed to fail. The failure of strategic vision is not unique to politicians, or pundits, or military strategists; it seems common to them all. It is extremely rare to hear an authoritative voice addressing the real war.
The terror masters in Syria and Iran are waging a regional war against us, running from Afghanistan and Iraq to, Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon. Alongside the ground war in the Middle East, they are conducting fifth-column operations against us from Europe to India and on to Indonesia, Australia, and the United States; the plot just dismantled in Great Britain provides the latest evidence.
Israel cannot destroy Hezbollah by fighting in Lebanon alone, just as we cannot provide Iraq and Afghanistan with decent security by fighting only there. The destruction of Hezbollah requires regime change in Damascus. Security in Iraq and Afghanistan requires regime change in Damascus and Tehran. Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan are not separate conflicts. They are battlefields in a regional war.
Even if the Israelis had conducted a brilliant campaign that killed every single Hezbollah terrorist in Lebanon, it would only have bought time. The Syrians and Iranians would have restocked, rearmed and resupplied the Hezbollahis, and prepared for the next battle. But if the Assad regime were replaced with a government opposed to terrorism and committed to freedom, Hezbollah would die of logistical starvation, cut off from money, weapons, training facilities, and the crucial support of Syrian and Iranian military and intelligence organizations.
In like manner, even if we continue to win every battle in every region of Iraq and Afghanistan, we will only prolong the fighting. The Iranians and their various allies inside Iraq, from the Baathist remnant to the Sadrists to Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and other foreign terrorists, would continue to infiltrate the country, buy agents within Iraq, develop new generations of IEDs and smuggle ever more accurate rockets and missiles to use against us and the Iraqi forces of order. They will do the same in Afghanistan. But if the mullahcracy is replaced by a government empowered by the tens of millions of pro-American and pro-democracy people now oppressed by the evil terror masters in Tehran, the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan would be quickly transformed into a manageable operation with the balance of power overwhelmingly on the side of the governments.
The longer we wait, the larger the real war becomes. Iran has been at war with us for 27 years and we have yet to respond. As time passes, and our fecklessness is confirmed, the mullahs’ confidence grows. Surely they must believe that their moment has come, that we will never respond, that they can bloody us and force us to retreat. That is the clear lesson of Lebanon, and they are undoubtedly raising the stakes for the next round. The Iranian missiles used against Israeli warships off the coast of Lebanon are now pouring into Somalia, and will be used against our ships in one of the most strategically sensitive areas of the world economy. The clandestine network rolled up in London surely extends to this country, and it is only a matter of time until they get lucky. Just a few weeks ago, the Germans fortunately discovered powerful bombs on their railroads. The French found similar weapons a couple of years ago. The Italians have arrested 40 people, are expelling many others, and have more than a thousand under surveillance.
These are the outlines of future events in the real war. We have a president who, despite his many weaknesses, speaks as if he understands it. But we have a secretary of state who speaks and acts as if she did not, a secretary of defense who has manifestly failed to grasp the true strategic dimensions of our peril, and an intelligence community that is still obsessed with the failed theories of the recent past, notably the nonsense about the unbridgeable Sunni-Shiite conflict. The president has finally begun to speak the truth about Islamic fascists, but he has yet to level with the American people about the magnitude of the real war, and ask them to support a strategy for victory.
That strategy does not, even today, require greatly expanded military action against the terror masters. Our most potent weapon against them remains the rage and courage of their own peoples. We must support those people, we must openly call and work for regime change in Syria and Iran. Heartbreakingly and foolishly, our failure to support revolution makes military action more and more likely. If we do not do the logical and sensible things, if we do not deploy the massive political weapons at our disposal, we will end by doing terrible things. Or, shrinking from the consequences of such action, we will suffer defeat, and the world will be plunged into a darkness the likes of which any civilized person must dread.