American Enterprise Online
April 12, 2002
By Alan W. Dowd 

From the outset of the war, the president has warned of “a very long and difficult struggle.” Admiral Michael Boyce, Chief of the British Defense Staff, is even more direct, predicting that the war “may last 50 years.” But after six months of combat, Sen. Tom Daschle is concerned not only about how long the war will last, but how much it will cost and where it will lead us. “Before we make commitments in resources,” he declares with his soft-spoken sobriety, “I think we need to have a clearer understanding of what the direction will be.”

Since he seems to have forgotten, the direction and destination of this war can be summed up in one word: victory.Victory over global terror, no matter where it exists. To achieve that goal, Daschle helped craft a resolution authorizing the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”

Anyone who has read that resolution would understand that Afghanistan was only the beginning. In fact, during a January trip to Uzbekistan, Daschle himself cautioned the American people to “view our military success [in Afghanistan] as the beginning, not the end of our effort.” To have thought otherwise is to live in a fantasy world.

Of course, Tom Daschle doesn’t live in a fantasy world. He saw the Pentagon’s smoke hang over Washington with his own eyes; he walked amid the rubble of Manhattan; and he himself was targeted in the anthrax blitz. But if the last few months are any indication, the war has flustered the normally unflappable Daschle.

In October he deflected a question about the importance of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, arguing instead that the more important questions are, “How do you stop terrorism? How do you deal with al Queda?” But Daschle has since determined that “we’ve got to find Mohammed Omar, we’ve got to find Osama bin Laden…or we will have failed.”

In January, he declared Afghanistan “a remarkable success,” adding, “We are extraordinarily optimistic about the successful conclusion of the first phase of this effort.” Just 40 days later, he was not so sure. “Continued success,” he concluded, “is still somewhat in doubt.”

Daschle initially endorsed Bush’s “axis of evil” reference, arguing that even if “it takes preemptive action, I think Congress is prepared to support it.” However, just a month later, the Senate leader was hedging. “I have had my own concerns about this axis issue,” he revealed on Meet the Press. While conceding that Iran, Iraq and North Korea pose a threat, Daschle warned that grouping them together “minimizes the differences in strategy that have to be required.”

In late October, when Sam Donaldson pressed Daschle about carrying the war beyond Afghanistan, the majority leader shot back with old-fashioned common sense: “I don’t think we ought to reveal what we’re going to do, frankly.” Yet by springtime, Daschle was singing a different tune: “What will phase two require and how many troops are going to be there?  How much is it going to cost? How long will [U.S. troops] stay? What are the goals?”

Within a fortnight, he had an answer to at least one question. American forces, Daschle explained in the Washington Post, "should stay in the region as long as it takes to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, break the back of al Queda…and ensure the conditions necessary for peace and stability.” By this time, even the New York Times had noticed the senator’s zigzagging war policy. 

Contrary to the howls of his critics, Daschle’s backtracking and impatient glances at the exit sign may have little to do with partisan politics. In fact, Daschle could be guilty of nothing more than failing to understand that this is a different kind of war.

For most Americans, including Sen. Daschle, wars are fought in weeks or months. They are quarantined within clear geographic boundaries. They don’t impinge on domestic matters. And they begin and end at a time of America’s choosing. Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo all fit that mold. Even Vietnam—though long in duration and tumultuous back home—began and ended according to Washington’s watch.

The War on Terror reflects none of these contemporary conceptions of war. It won’t be short; it cannot be confined within the boundaries on a map; by its very nature, it is a domestic problem; and short of surrendering all that America stands for, Washington cannot predetermine the war’s ending point. That’s because the enemy in the War on Terror is not a state or an individual, but an ideology. States can be defeated; individuals can be killed; but ideologies must be outlasted. This was true during the Cold War, and it remains true today.

While the parallels between the Cold War and the War on Terror are by no means perfect, the Cold War provides a better roadmap than anything else history has to offer.

For example, the detainees in Cuba represent 25 different nationalities. They come not just from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but Australia and Europe. Indeed, at least one Taliban soldier was an American. In the same way, Leninism seduced anti-colonialists in Africa and the Middle East, elites in Europe and America, nationalists in Latin America and Asia.

Their starting points may be light years apart—Leninism, after all, was an antitheist movement, while bin Ladenism is theocratic—but their ending points are identical. Bin Laden’s followers, like Lenin’s, seek nothing less than a global revolution. As former FBI Director Louis Freeh observed four months before September 11, al Queda’s ultimate objective is “to overthrow all governments which are not ruled by Sharia, or conservative Islamic law.”

Sen. Daschle has a right to disagree with the administration, even in wartime, and a duty to ask hard questions, especially in wartime. Whether he should do so publicly or privately is another question entirely. But regardless of how or where he expresses his qualms, Sen. Daschle needs to understand that in a war like this—a war for our very way of life—there is no exit strategy, no easy measure of success, no weekly scorecard. There is only victory and defeat. We no longer have the luxury of waging war according to political seasons and their artificial timetables.