|Traffic | Weather | Your account||Movies | Restaurants | Today's events|
America at war on Memorial Day
Special to The Times
Since assuming command of I Corps and Fort Lewis in November of 2004, I, along with my wife, have attended more than 40 memorial services for soldiers killed in action in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Prior to each of the services, we both hold in our arms the grieving parents, spouses and children.
Words simply cannot express the depth of sympathy we feel for those who have lost loved ones or the depth of respect we have for those who sacrificed themselves.
Only close, human contact and tears can begin to convey that depth. When the bugle plays taps at the end of the service, all are reminded that America remains at war this Memorial Day, as it has for four years.
Our experience is repeated around the country at nearly every base, camp, post and station. No one can doubt the courage and sacrifice of the men and women — soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors — who fight and the families who support them and await their safe return. How different is this war compared with any of our recent experience? In the words that follow, I'll provide my answer, an answer with which some will agree and others not. This war is difficult to understand; it's hard even for those of us who have studied war's history for more than 30 years. For some, it's so different, they have a hard time calling it a war, yet it is. Our enemy has clear political and ideological aims that are directly counter to U.S. interests, and it is using violent force to achieve those aims — the classic definition of war.
And we do have an enemy — al-Qaida and its associated organizations. This enemy began as a somewhat disparate, hardly affiliated group of terrorists with only common hatred of the United States and its influence and a common dissatisfaction with members' lives. Over time, a set of leaders developed, with Osama bin Laden ultimately emerging as the head of that set. A common ideology also emerged, one that combined the pre-existing hatred with an extremist interpretation of Islam. Even though the terrorist groups remain globally distributed, the emergence of leadership and a common, motivational ideology resulted in collective behavior that continues today.
This collective has as its short-term aim to force the withdrawal of Western and other "infidel" presence and influence from the Middle East, Central Asia and Northern Africa. Its long-term aims include: the destruction of, or at least a crippling blow to, the U.S. economy, thereby threatening our and the world's free-market economy; the establishment of an Islamic-governed caliphate that adheres to its radical beliefs from North Africa, through Central Asia and the Middle East, to South and Southeast Asia — then to the rest of the world. The recent letter from al-Qaida's leader-in-hiding, Ayman al-Zawahri, to its lead agent in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, clearly spells out its strategy. After they overthrow Iraq's budding democracy, Zawahri writes, they intend to establish an extremist authority as a platform to extend "the jihad wave" to the neighboring countries. (Read this for yourselves at dni.gov) Think of what their success would mean to America and so many others around the world.
As a collective, our enemy has declared this war and these aims publicly, repeatedly and consistently from 1996 to 2006. Equally important: It has sufficiently organized the globally distributed, associated terrorist groups into an effective network; established and sustained funding; armed itself with both sophisticated and lethal weapons; and created an information network that promulgates its ideology, an ideology that is very compelling and motivating to those it seeks to lead.
Further, America has been under attack for at least 25 years: in 1979, the hostages in Iran; 1983, bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon; 1993, the World Trade Center bombing, the Kasi attack on CIA employees, and the attempt to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush; 1996, the Kobar Tower bombing; 1998, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; 2000, the attack of the USS Cole and the foiled millennium plot — and these are just the major events preceding the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These attacks — initially planned and conducted by separate and unrelated terror groups — ultimately changed character some time in the early to mid-1990s. When leadership, common ideology and sufficiently collective behavior emerged, so did an enemy. Individually and cumulatively, these acts can be seen as a campaign to attain political and ideological goals.
For more than a decade, in my view, our enemy has been waging a protracted, global insurgency that seeks to exploit local and regional tensions and movements that serve its transnational agenda. The letter to Zarqawi instructs him, for example, to maintain popular support — at least until jihadist rule has been established. Like other insurgents in history, those we fight make public some intentions but hide others, attempting to deceive both their enemies as well as their temporary allies-of-convenience. Our enemy understands the centrality of the war in Iraq for its global jihad, and it understands that "more than half of the struggle" is information and psychological warfare that plays itself out in today's media-rich environment. It is vicious, cunning and patient. It is motivated by its ideology and relentless in pursuit of its political and ideological aims.
This insurgency, like others, flows back and forth among three distinct sets of activities. First, insurgencies require a period of proselytizing ideology and growing a military capability. The second consists of irregular warfare used to expand appeal and establish "legitimacy." If they are successful in irregular war, a period of conventional fighting is often necessary to achieve final victory over the governing authorities. Conditions dictate to the insurgents when and where to move from one set of activities to another. Having two or more sets of activities going on simultaneously is common.
The insurgency we fight is no different in this regard. For example: In Afghanistan, we defeated our enemies after they had succeeded in establishing Taliban rule using a combination of irregular and conventional combat. Those who survived that fight have reverted to proselytizing and regrowing a fighting capability. Similar low-level insurgent activities — disguised as "legitimate" and often using the cover of the democratic laws they seek ultimately to destroy — are ongoing in other places around the world. In Iraq, our enemies are fighting an irregular war using both unconventional and conventional weaponry and equipment. Historically, insurgencies have taken place within a single nation-state with the purpose of replacing one form of government with another. The insurgency we fight, however, is not limited to just one nation-state — it is global.
As insurgents, our enemy seeks to operate in that gray area between combatant and criminal. It uses democracy's openness for its camouflage. In democracies, the set of organizations, procedures and laws governing war are separate from those governing crime. Our enemy understands this distinction and its importance to the way of life it seeks to destroy or discredit. It chooses, therefore, to act in the space between, hoping to use our legal and political structures to its advantage and our disadvantage.
Simply put, our enemy is not mere random groups of terrorist criminals. It is using terror and irregular warfare as a means to conduct a protracted, global insurgency. It is waging war of a kind and scope rarely seen before. As incredible as it may seem to us, this is the nature of the enemy we face.
For all these differences, significant though they are, some aspects of war endure. War remains brutal, face-to-face, a matter of survival. Innocents suffer. The enemy hides and deceives, so war is still the realm of fog and uncertainty — regardless of technological advances. War requires skill, cunning, imagination, sacrifice and leadership. Once war starts, its outcome is unpredictable. Straightforward cause-and-effect logic only partially applies to activity in war, for emotion, chance and the human heart reign as much as reasoning. War remains a clash of wills, a duel where guts and staying power count.
America and her allies have fought a hot, sustained, global campaign against enemies who sought to impose an ideology on the world before. Then, however, the threat was clear and unambiguous, for the enemy was a set of nation-states and they fought conventionally. Clarity and conventionality went a long way to sustain the national will necessary to persevere when times were bleak; maintain support for those in uniform and their families; welcome home with open arms those who fought; and rightly continue to show appreciation for their sacrifices year after year, Memorial Day after Memorial Day.
The enemy we are fighting today has chosen means that exploit ambiguity and lack clarity. Eroding our national will is its very intent — all the while acting to achieve its political and ideological aims. There are soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors who are fighting this very day and this very night to prevent the enemy from achieving its political and ideological aims. They and their families need our continued support, our perseverance and our open arms. The shape of our future is literally in their hands.
But in today's environment more than ever before, the future is also in your hands. In a conflict where the erosion of your will is a major goal of our enemy, you are a soldier as well.
Our frontline servicemen and women are doing and will continue to do their jobs — it is my hope that those of us in the rear will match their courage and determination.
Those who fight are changed forever — as are their families. This Memorial Day, please remember the soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors and their families who have served us in the past as well as those sacrificing on our behalf now.
Understand that your support is not just needed, it is essential if we are to succeed.
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik is commanding general of Fort Lewis Army Base and I Corps (First Corps), which encompasses some 40,000 active-duty and reserve troops across the country, including Fort Lewis.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company