We have all done our share of Monday morning quarterbacking, but with the killing of bin Laden for me it is more I told you so. As an ex- U.S. Navy SEAL I have been an advocate of use of Special Forces and an array of surgical procedures instead of use of cumbersome full-scale military assaults on multiple countries.
Islamic countries are a hold-over from ancient times when they were ruled by a united church and state; when leaders represented both entities. Perhaps America’s greatest achievement was divorcing church and state. We were so successful in that accomplishment that we hardly know how to deal with an enemy that uses religion as the motivating force driving a war in which terror is the mode of operation. We are so sensitive to the issues involved between church and state that we cannot admit the wars we are engaged in are with radical religionists; thus, in a real sense we are in a religious war. We, therefore, prefer to fight the primarily political element of, in this instance, Islamic countries.
Muslim extremist/terrorists live all over the world–even in America. That is their main advantage and we played into their hands by attacking countries rather than individuals and organizations representing and acting on extreme religious agendas. Surgical strikes are, in this instance, the equivalent of fighting fire with fire. When one gives the situation sober thought it is evident that as wars go the terrorists have killed relatively few people in the west directly. What they have done is cause us to kill more of them, spend trillions of dollars, change our lifestyles, suffer inconveniences, and most important of all suffer psychological and emotional stress. This stress is a result of the uncertainty of when, where and on whom the next attack will fall and anxiety about going bankrupt supporting large armies as they invade countries and as we guard every vital asset in America. This bankrupting a nation was no doubt bin Laden’s goal. He did it to the Soviet Union and almost completed it for America.
Terrorist warfare can work both ways. SEALS have long ago made great use of the art of being where they are not supposed to be. They are not supposed to be under a ship anchored out in the bay, loading explosives underneath it, nor showing up in bin Laden’s compound armed and ready. The surprise and the sudden deadly consequence is something to be dreaded. (I speak here of SEALs because of my experience, but now there are other Special Forces groups who are well trained and capable who all cooperate with each other).
Shock and awe, as we saw in Iraq, is no doubt terrorizing, but it is most expensive and a lot of innocents are killed. Often it is not the number of people killed but who they are and the manner in which the operation is carried out that causes terror. In the Korean Conflict certain Turkish NATO soldiers spread terror by slipping into a tent at night when all were asleep and cutting one soldier’s throat. When the others woke the next morning and saw their comrade dead and realized that they too could have been killed, they were terrified and more importantly they spread their terror among their comrades; it was contagious.
It would be advantageous for America to not publicize the event of a Special Forces Team killing radical Muslims or destroying their assets. When the pattern becomes clear to them and they have difficulty identifying their attackers their terror will grow. They will know they will never be safe again.
By their nature armies occupy countries and thereby cause as many problems as they solve. They are highly visible and somewhat predictable. America could at a small fraction of the cost in blood and treasure instill terror in the hearts and minds of Islamic terrorists in any location in the world. We could force them to be looking over their shoulders day and night. They could enjoy the defense of their families, compounds and other assets. They could not freely travel or use electronic communication equipment without risking their lives and the safety of their families.
Had we not announced to the world that we were sending two armies after Saddam Hussein and bin Laden we could have taken them much earlier and with much less cost in blood and treasure.
The SEAL style is to use stealth. They do not welcome the limelight, publication of their methods or accomplishments. They do not want personal attention; they want good intelligence, equipment and freedom to accomplish their mission. In the Panama operation their style was cramped by orders to not fire until fired upon. That order was counter to all their training and orientation. Give them a mission, let them plan and execute the plan and the enemy will not know what hit them or if they do it will likely be too late to do anything about it.
We likely will never know the names of the SEALs involved in the killing of bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda, and that is not important to them. They are professionals dedicated to taking out bad guys or destroying their assets.
SEALs and their counterparts in the other branches of the military are so effective and efficient, especially in this type of war, they may become our primary choice—our First Responders so to speak—but tradition is a powerful, binding and predictive force. Our tradition inclines us to use large military forces to fight our enemies. The Muslim extremists count on us continuing in our traditional ways. We are smarter than that. It is difficult to predict when, where and on whom a small military team will fall and what it may do. That should be something for Al Qaeda to figure out in the next fifty years.