Navy SEALs got bin Laden. This Thursday, Army Special Forces got ISIS leader al-Qurayshi in Syria. In both cases, our military got the lowdown on where the terror leader was located — with help from Pakistanis taking enormous risks by cooperating with us in the former case, and with help from the Iraqi Falcons, same huge risks, in the latter — and our elite warriors assembled, planned, and struck.
They got their man, they minimized the collateral damage that he caused by staying in a place densely populated by non-combatants — a tactic the IDF, Israel’s sword and shield, is familiar with and put its own men at risk in finding ways to fulfill its mission — and they came back with the scalp, metaphorically speaking, in today’s terms the DNA and fingerprints needed to confirm the kill.
It is a triumph of American arms.
It is also a sobering lesson for American policy-makers.
How many thousands of Americans — the best of their generations — died or came home maimed and crippled because we allowed conventional wisdom to push aside strategic innovation? Why did we choose to fight a conventional war in these wretched territories — countries scarcely describes them, nations even less — when the efficient application of our superior marksmanship — with all the high-tech, 21st-century gadgetry that now goes with it, but it is basically just the same, Scotch-Irish backwoodsmen with Kentucky long rifles waiting to see the whites of the bad guys’ eyes — does the job?
Or as much of the job as we can humanly demand of anyone. And if we have to do this job for a long, long time, until Islam learns to live with the modern world, until savages learn to respect order and civility, or, most simply, as long as it takes to ensure that free societies, ours first among them, will stay free, then we can do it and we will. The raid that got the psychopath al-Qurayshi was carried out with not a single casualty on our side.
It is with some melancholy that an observer my age can remember when the striped-pants experts at State and the khakis at Defense brushed aside the advice of Robert Thompson, as he then was for he was not yet knighted, who had defeated the communist insurgency in Malaysia and had been asked, in the overlapping Eisenhower–Kennedy years, what to do about South Vietnam. Sir Robert, as he would later be called, told them to cool it.
Ngo Dinh Diem is fine, he said, do not waste time worrying about whether he is an “authoritarian” or “corrupt” by standards totally foreign to the land where he is, in truth, popular, respected. And for heaven’s sake do not over-militarize the show. There is a terror problem in the Delta. Efficient policing with adequate intelligence can manage it. Help them there, but do not, please, think you are fighting Germany or even North Korea and Red China.
The lesson did not take. President Nixon called upon Sir Robert for advice on what became known as “Vietnamization,” and he was wise to do so. But by then — ah, well, you know.
Let us hope our Special Operations Command has been given, in simple terms, a blank check to recoup what we lost in 20 years of wrong-headedness, God only knows how and why, and will keep us safe and free. For this alone, dare I say it, the Biden administration, wittingly or not, will go down in history with merit.