Five years after Pearl Harbor, the United States was already engaged in the rebuilding of Japan. Five years after 9/11, our troops are refereeing a bloody internal war in Iraq between Sunnis, Shiites, and assorted terrorist groups; the Taliban is reemerging in Afghanistan; and Osama bin Laden? He's become the ultimate boogeyman, more useful to this administration as a living symbol for the bad guys than as a dead enemy leader.
So how did we overcome the massed armies, navies, and air forces of the original "axis of evil" -- Japan, Germany, and Italy -- in four years? And how is it that we have become embroiled in a seemingly endless battle against scattered terrorists using car bombs, IEDs, and machine guns? The differences in the two conflicts are many, but primarily I think it's a matter of how we've defined the enemy -- and how we've chosen our battles.
The president keeps saying we have to win the "war on terror." But as so many have written, terrorism is a tactic, and as such is no more beatable than would be a "war on kidnapping" or a "war on mugging." To extend the analogy, invading and overthrowing the government of a country that endorsed kidnapping would do nothing to prevent a kidnapping from happening in Millington.
The "enemy" is not terror. It is those who use terrorism as a tactic -- the loosely organized and diverse radical groups operating in dozens of countries around the world. I have no doubt that terrorist cells are working in this country right now and that we should be "fighting them here" rather than overextending our forces and resources "over there."
Vice President Cheney this week charged that critics of the administration's policies were giving comfort to our enemies. And President Bush once again threw out the specter of 9/11 to reinforce his belief that we need to "stay the course" in Iraq -- apparently no matter how long that might take or how many Americans die in the process.
I think most Americans now believe we need a fresh approach and that staying the course that got us into this mess is no longer -- if it ever was -- the country's best option. In any war, it's important to know how to choose your battles. This administration has chosen poorly, over and over again.
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor