Great na­tions don’t quit be­fore pre­vail­ing

Marc A. Thiessen says Amer­ica’s en­e­mies’ def­i­ni­tion of vic­tory is when we give up the fight be­fore they do.

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD -

“Great na­tions do not fight end­less wars,” Pres­i­dent Trump de­clared in his State of the Union ad­dress. It was a line that could have been de­liv­ered by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who in 2015 mem­o­rably said, “I do not sup­port the idea of end­less war.”

Just a few days be­fore Trump’s ad­dress, his own party de­liv­ered the pres­i­dent a sting­ing re­buke when Se­nate Repub­li­cans passed a res­o­lu­tion op­pos­ing his Syr­ian and Afghan with­drawals by an over­whelm­ing bi­par­ti­san 68-to-23 vote. Trump’s de­fend­ers say: That’s just the for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment ad­vo­cat­ing “for­ever war.” When, they ask, will these wars end? When will we be able to de­clare vic­tory and go home?

These are fair ques­tions, and they de­serve se­ri­ous an­swers.

In tra­di­tional wars, defin­ing vic­tory is easy. Vic­tory comes when the en­emy sur­ren­ders and lays down its arms, but this is not tra­di­tional war. We are not fight­ing na­tion-states with de­fined bor­ders, ar­mies, navies and air forces. We are fight­ing rad­i­cal ter­ror­ists who are en­gaged in what Osama bin Laden called “a war of des­tiny be­tween in­fi­delity and Is­lam.” There will be no sign­ing cer­e­mony on the deck of the U.S.S. Mis­souri. They will never lay down their arms. In this war, vic­tory for the United States is ev­ery day that passes with­out a ter­ror­ist at­tack on Amer­i­can soil. That daily vic­tory is made pos­si­ble be­cause the men and women of the U.S. mil­i­tary are hunt­ing the en­emy in far­away lands.

Amer­ica’s en­e­mies have a very clear def­i­ni­tion of vic­tory. For them, vic­tory comes when we give up the fight be­fore they do. We know this be­cause they have told us so. The 9/11 mas­ter­mind Khalid Sheikh Mo­hammed told his CIA in­ter­roga­tor “Amer­i­cans don’t re­al­ize we do not need to de­feat you mil­i­tar­ily; we only need to fight long enough for you to de­feat your­self by quit­ting.” That is how the ter­ror­ists see Obama’s with­drawal from Iraq in 2011 and Trump’s planned with­drawals from Syria and Afghanistan: Amer­ica de­feat­ing it­self by quit­ting.

It is un­der­stand­able that, af­ter 18 years, Amer­i­cans want the war to end, but what we want is ir­rel­e­vant. We don’t get to de­cide uni­lat­er­ally that the war is over. The en­emy gets a vote. Just be­cause we have tired of fight­ing doesn’t mean that they have.

Here is the hard truth: We don’t get to choose when the war ends, but we do get to choose where it is fought. It can ei­ther be fought over there, in the deserts of Syria and the moun­tains of Afghanistan, or it can be fought over here — on Amer­i­can streets and in Amer­i­can cities, as it was on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s up to us.

Trump de­serves enor­mous credit for tak­ing the gloves off in the fight against the ter­ror­ists. He was ab­so­lutely cor­rect when he de­clared in the State of the Union ad­dress,

“When I took of­fice, ISIS con­trolled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. To­day, we have lib­er­ated vir­tu­ally all of that ter­ri­tory from the grip of these blood­thirsty mon­sters.” But the Is­lamic State is not de­feated. It still has tens of thou­sands of fighters un­der arms and, ac­cord­ing to one es­ti­mate by the In­sti­tute for the Study of War, as much as $400 mil­lion it smug­gled out of Iraq, money that can be used to sus­tain its move­ment and plan at­tacks across the world.

In Afghanistan, U.S. in­tel­li­gence es­ti­mates there are about 20 ter­ror­ist groups — in­clud­ing al-Qaeda and the Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate known as Is­lamic State Kho­rasan, or IS-K — who would im­me­di­ately gain an un­con­tested sanc­tu­ary from which to plan new at­tacks if Amer­ica with­draws. On Jan. 28, the New York Times re­ported that a 2017 in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment, re­newed last year, “says a com­plete with­drawal of Amer­i­can troops from Afghanistan would lead to an at­tack on the United States within two years.”

Right now, the U.S. mil­i­tary has its boot on the ter­ror­ists’ necks. They are fo­cused on sur­vival, not on launch­ing far­away at­tacks. Take that boot away, though, and the ter­ror­ists will get up, dust them­selves off, re­group, re­build and go back to try­ing to kill Amer­i­cans in the United States.

In his ad­dress, Trump praised the hero­ism of the men who stormed the beaches of Nor­mandy on D-Day. “They did not know if they would sur­vive the hour,” he said. “They did not know if they would grow old. But they knew that Amer­ica had to pre­vail.”

The same is true to­day. Great na­tions do not quit be­fore they pre­vail.

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