THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

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BUREAUCRATS VERSUS ZEALOTS | 2001-09-14

We are all rooting for America in this war. But most of us feel a very deep pessimism about our chances. I think I have found the reason for that deep dread.

That fear is because, down in our bones, something is remembering recent history.

Our giant military bureaucracy operates fine against other military bureaucracies. It conducted a ground campaign against organized Iraqi forces perfectly. It did mass bombings perfectly. It did fine in World War II in an organized campaign against other organized forces.

Our problem now is that we have old established military and intelligence bureaucracies trying to deal with small, fanatical groups of terrorists.

These terrorists are operating from the midst of their own ethnic kin. They are Arab Moslems based in Arab Moslem country.

This war looks very much like the first war the United States Government ever lost, the one in Vietnam.

In Vietnam we faced an enemy organized into small groups operating almost independently. They faded back into the Vietnamese community and struck when they chose, like terrorists today.

We tried to fight in Vietnam with our giant military bureaucracy and we lost. We used mass bombings and body counts, things that a titanic, centrally organized force could do. But they controlled the ground by night, as terrorists do, and in the end our nerve and our national patience couldn't hold.

If we don't attack the bureaucracy problem, we are in deep, deep trouble (See September 11, 2001 - AMERICA'S BUREAUCRACIES GET DEADLIER EVERY DAY and September 11, 2001 - UNTIL WE FACE THE SIMPLE CAUSE, THE SITUATION WILL GET WORSE).