How has a cave-dwelling trust-fund baby with a video camera and a chip on his shoulder managed to outfight the most powerful nation in the history of Earth?
Next month is the sixth anniversary of the War on Terror™.
Six years is a mighty long time.
That's longer than it took the Union to subdue the Confederacy. Longer than it took the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Longer than it took Frodo to get the Ring back to Mount Doom. Longer than it took me to graduate college.
Of the United States' major conflicts, only the Revolutionary War, Vietnam and the Battle of the Network Stars lasted longer. And what have we gotten for our six-year, trillion dollar war?
A debacle of historic proportions that has left hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, weakened the U.S. military, earned the animosity and distrust of the world, and left the United States with stronger enemies.
The United States is losing the War on Terror™. Badly.
So what happened?
America is losing the War on Terror™ because it put a feckless man-child in charge, then turned and watched "American Idol," "CSI: Miami" and YouTube videos of teenagers making rockets out of Diet Coke and Mentos.
Let's start at the beginning.
The pilgrims came to America for religious freedom and turkey dinners in Massachusetts.
OK, maybe not that far back.
Let's try Sept. 20, 2001.
President Bush preempted both "Will & Grace" AND "Temptation Island" to formally announce the nation's response to the 9/11 attacks:
"Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
Hold it right there.
Loser move No. 1: The war's objective was defined so broadly that the war can never be won.
A group of violent Muslim fundamentalists with bases, operatives and national allies attacked U.S. civilians.
But instead of declaring war on them and their supporters, the president declared a war on terror – a war to fight the feeling they instilled in us.
It's as if FDR walked into Congress the day after Pearl Harbor and said "Yesterday is a day that will live in infamy, but instead of declaring war on Japan, I've decided to declare war on infamy."
Terror is an emotion. Terrorism is a guerilla warfare tactic. It's possible to fight and even defeat groups of terrorists, but the tactics and the emotions they generate cannot be eradicated.
Declaring war on an emotion or a tactic is to declare either a) a state of perpetual war or b) a war that will end in certain defeat.
Let's not forget the second part of Bush's war declaration – the bit about a war that will not end until every terrorist group with global reach has been defeated. Um, what the fuck?
Every terrorist group didn't attack us. Al-Qaeda attacked us. What's the point of declaring war on terrorist groups who didn't attack us and never will?
Hey, Lord's Resistance Army, leaving piles of dead bodies all over Central Africa. I'm talkin' to you. Kashmir separatists in India. So what if most Americans think you're a sweater, a scarf or a Led Zeppelin song, we're coming after you.
Except, we're not really.
War on Terror™ is a brand and therefore required a hyperbolic marketing hook, kinda like how tooth-whitening products are marketed as "revolutionary." "Every terrorist group with global reach" sounds better than "We'll fight some of you. The rest can carry on terrorizing."
Loser move No. 2: President Bush can't seem to finish what he starts.
On Oct. 7, 2001, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan. Kinda sorta.
Instead of a full-scale invasion, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom. Enduring Freedom was a massive air campaign backing the ground forces of the Northern Alliance, a confederation of anti-Taliban rebels fighting in Afghanistan since 1996.
With our help, however, Northern Alliance started kicking ass. Its forces swept across Afghanistan in weeks.
By early December, the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar had fallen and bin Laden was hunkered down in Tora Bora, a rugged mountain region near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.
Three months after his followers killed 3,000 Americans in a single morning, we had bin Laden surrounded.
And Bush choked.
Instead of sending our best soldiers into Tora Bora to get him, he outsourced. The United States paid local tribal militias to do the job for us. Up against soldiers whose only incentive to capture him was cash, bin Laden opened his fat wallet and offered them even more cash. He bribed local militiamen and nearby villagers to get him and his people across the border to safety in Pakistan.
Faced with the war's first major setback, Bush did what spoiled children tend to do when they don't get their way: He lost interest.
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