Americans Must Maintain Resolve to Win Long War, General Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 20, 2006 Extremists cannot hope to match the United States and its coalition allies in battle, but that might not matter at all. Al Qaeda and like terrorist groups understand that they only have to win the battle for American resolve to be successful, a top military strategy official said.
Americans are an impatient people, and that impatience will work against final victory in what many people are now calling "the Long War," Army Brig. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the Joint Staff's director of strategy for the global war on terrorism, said in an interview.
The Long War is more than just the battle in Iraq or Afghanistan, and calling the struggle the Long War does not mean that U.S. troops will be in those nations for a long time. Rather, is the term refers to the overall struggle against the ideology of extremism, the general explained.
Defeating an ideology is tough and will require time and resources to win, Caslen said. Defeating the appeal of fascism took almost 25 years. The appeal of this "ism" began soon after World War I ended and was not defeated until the Allies defeated the Nazis in 1945. Defeating the ideology of communism took most of the 20th century and the long-term resolve of the Cold War.
The United States has proven it can maintain this resolve. The Cold War against an expansionist Soviet Union began soon after World War II ended and ran through the implosion of the nation in 1991. The temperature of the Cold War heated and cooled through the era -- hotter in Korea, Berlin and Vietnam -- but the core of the struggle remained, and it was the grandchildren of those who began the struggle who reaped its benefits.
It will be the same with extremism and terrorism, Caslen said. Americans must retain that resolve and commitment as the war on terrorism continues, he said.
The terrorists have a battle plan, just as Adolph Hitler did. And like Hitler did in "Mein Kampf," al Qaeda and affiliated groups have published their strategic goals, Caslen said.
Their first goal is to drive America from Iraq and establish Islamic authority in the country. This would give the extremists a base to operate from and would help in their second goal, which is to go after and defeat all neighboring "apostate" states -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Jordan. These countries, terrorist groups have claimed, have abandoned Islamic ideals.
The third step is to destroy Israel. The fourth step would be to establish a Caliphate -- a government under a supreme religious ruler -- stretching from Central Asia to the Atlantic.
"Could it happen?" Caslen asked. "Yes. If we lose our resolve."
Studies have shown that it takes on average nine years to successfully put down an insurrection, the general said. Studies have also shown that the American peoples' support begins to wane after about three years, he said. Through American history the three-year mark seems to be important.
- In 1864, after three years of battles and lengthening casualty lists in the U.S. Civil War, a large peace group blossomed throughout the North.
- After three years of war in the 1950s, the United States pushed for an armistice to end fighting on the Korean Peninsula.
- In 1968, three years after the first major U.S. combat units landed near Da Nang, South Vietnam, the peace movement in the United States significantly matured.
"So if it takes nine years to overcome an insurrection but the American people only have three years of patience, that leaves you a six-year gap," Caslen said.
Convincing Americans to maintain their resolve becomes a strategic necessity. "Americans would be much more patient with this struggle if they understood what the implications are," Caslen said.
Caslen wondered aloud what the effect on the West would be if extremists were to be successful in their goals. "How would life change? Could free and democratic societies survive? Even if they could, life would be completely different," he said.
Countries would have to curtail freedoms, Caslen said, because if such enemies got weapons of mass destruction they would threaten much of the world. "Osama bin Laden said that it is the religious duty of all Muslims to acquire weapons of mass destruction and use them against the 'infidel,'" Caslen said. "If (bin Laden) had the chance to use asymmetric threats and kill 3 million people instead of 3,000 (on Sept. 11, 2001,) he would have."
A war of ideas exists within Islam between the small numbers of extremists and the vast moderate majority, Caslen said. American strategy, therefore, needs to concentrate on defeating not only extremists in arms, but stopping people from joining extremist organizations.
U.S. strategy has to be aimed at improving conditions around the world so the percentage of those who believe in such extremism shrinks. "Even if just one percent of Muslims worldwide believe in the extremist, terrorist interpretation of Islam, that's 12 million people," Caslen said.