The Taliban’s boasts that they can fight forever must be countered with visible exhibitions of U.S. dominance. Good-natured humor would help, too. President Reagan used humor with devastating effect against the Soviets. Today, American politicians will go to great lengths to embarrass and humiliate their political opponents, but refrain from mocking our undying enemies. This is unfortunate, as our enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan are largely incompetent and worthy of ridicule.
This worked in Iraq. The U.S. military released a video of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi unable to work his weapon, shattering his image as a military mastermind. The terrorists’ cause would be greatly damaged should our national leaders use similar tactics on a more consistent basis. It would be nice to hear a U.S. official or general officer speak of the Taliban’s widespread pedophilic treatment of young Afghan boys, or make the Seinfeldian observation that al-Qaeda spends too much time working out on the monkey bars. This, above all, will drive the enemy nuts: they do not want to be laughed at.
Advocates of the current strategy argue that our abandonment of the nation-building project will result in al-Qaeda and the Taliban reestablishing their bases throughout Afghanistan (from which they would plot more attacks). There are three counterpoints to this argument. First, the 9/11 attacks were planned in apartments in Hamburg, Germany, not in Afghan training camps. Second, the enemy has long goaded us into making this a war of attrition— M16s vs. AK-47s—and we have unfortunately obliged. But we do not have to fight the war on their terms. There are smarter, more cost-effective ways to fight our nation’s enemies than “teaching toothless villagers how to brush their teeth,” in the words of Col. Ralph Peters.
Third, the U.S. has aerial technologies today that did not exist in 2001 when the war began. Should the terrorists be dumb enough to coalescence into specified, observable camps, we would simply be able to target them that much quicker. We should openly encourage them—dare them, even—to reestablish those training camps. Hell, maybe they’ll even hold parades like Hezbollah. They’d last ten minutes. It’s unsettling that more senior officials do not share this confidence. Such a “worst-case” scenario would be indistinguishable from Yemen or Somalia, for which we successfully use a fly-swatter strategy (Predator drones, Special Forces, and aid to indigenous allies). Let’s stop pretending like Afghanistan is the Gates of Vienna. It’s not. It’s Mars. Our strategic focus should be on Iran and Pakistan.
We should show more assurance and less worry regarding the outcome in Afghanistan. The entire theater should be inundated with fliers from the sky, translated into Pashto, Arabic, and Farsi. They should contain a photograph of the Wright brothers, and they should read: “This was human aviation in 1901. More than a century has passed and you still cannot get off the ground. We will be overhead forever.” As we “retreat” in the coming years, the point must be made that we are, in fact, advancing in another direction—that we can continue the fight, at low cost, on our terms, indefinitely.
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