Iraq is a battle in the wider Long War on Terror and defeating al Qaeda is only a battle, too. The Afghanistan campaign is significant only in terms of that latter battle. If we don't fight that war and win it, we will be faced with endless battles around the world. Relying on unmanned drones that kill enemies (and some level of innocents near them) but don't risk American lives doesn't make that future much better.
President Bush's freedom agenda in the Arab Moslem world doesn't have a lot of currency these days, after the Iraq War and the disappointments of the Arab Spring; and we are again debating whether our defeat in the 11 SEP 2012 Battle of Benghazi negates the administration's position that killing Osama bin Laden essentially won the war with al Qaeda.
But these two items are linked and are the difference between winning the war on terror and simply fighting an endless string of battles against jihadis pumped up with hatred by Islamist ideology.
I have been disappointed by the Arab Spring so far but not discouraged. Toppling the dictators who stoked Islamist ideology even as they claimed our support by saying that they were the only thing that stood between us and the jihadis was a necessary first step to cultivating rule of law and democracy as an altenrative to despotism or Islamism in the Arab world.
And this path to helping the Arab Moslem world change their own system was the reason I believed it was so important to winning the Iraq War after major combat operations ended and insurgencies began. We cheaply destroyed the Saddam regime, which was a nice tactical victory.
But once Islamist Iran (of the Shia variety of Islamism) and al Qaeda (the Sunni variety of Islamism) invaded Iraq to make that country the main battleground against us, it became even more important to win that battle in the heart of the Arab Moslem world where Shias and Sunnis meet. Afghanistan was not as important in the wider war on Islamism because Afghanistan's Moslems are a peripheral part of the Moslem world. Afghanistan was a symptom and not a cause of the problem of jihadis and Islamism.
Hence my continued frustration that we essentially called off the fight in Iraq by saying it was enough to think of the Iraq War as a tactical victory--and going home after 2011--rather than as a strategic opportunity to make Iraq an example for the rest of the Arab Moslem world.
Iraq may be enough of an example to have inspired the Arab Spring. And perhaps Iraq will do well enough to inspire those who want democracy (and rule of law, whether or not they understand this is necessary for democracy) even without out a sizable American presence in Iraq.
We do have allies and potential allies in the Moslem world. But they need our visible help in the battle against fanatics in their midst who are willing and eager to kill fellow Moslems who stand in their way of creating Islamist states to wage war on the West.
If we don't even fight the war in the Arab world (I won't get ahead of ourselves by wondering if we can win it), we will face other Benghazi battles even though we hope the endless war we refuse to win will simply be our drones killing their terrorist leaders to hold them at bay--forever.
Oh, and as I've also droned on about for years, if we don't win this Long War, our civil liberties at home will erode as homeland security is ratcheted up tighter and tighter after any enemy successful attack or even after failed attacks that show weaknesses in our passive defenses.
Mind you, I'm not arguing for constantly waging Iraq- or Afghanistan-scale counter-insurgencies for decades on end. We can't afford that. It is best to support others who have a common goal of defeating jihadis. Like in Iraq, for example, where we changed a terror-producing regime into a terror-fighting ally. Why do we refuse to help them more rather than just assume they are fine as is?
The alternative to trying to help Arabs create democracy and rule of law--no matter how long the path and how frustrating--is once again falling for the siren call of relying on friendly dictators to clamp down on Arabs who embrace Islamism as a path away from dictatorship.
This is how we got to where we are today. That choice was excusable in the Cold War when we had to accept the problems this caused in order to face the main threat of Soviet Communism. We don't have that reason any more.
We can win this war. If we fight it on the battlefields that matter in the societies of Moslem states (mostly in Arab states, but not exclusively). The Arab Spring is not the end of the war. But it may be the beginning of the end. But only if we fight this campaign to finally win the war.
Or we can fight endless battles (not limited to immaculate drones as we seem to hope) that at best hold our fanatical enemies at bay and keep our domestic freedoms limited, because we've done nothing to reduce the breeding grounds of jihadis.
We can see the battlefields most clearly in Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Syria, Libya, and most recently, Mali. More will arise even as we clamp down on others or contain them. Let's not forget the slums of western Europe where Islamism simmers and occasionally boils over.
At worst, our civil liberties erode under both the misguided notion that we can freely limit our civil liberties to avoid offending the easily offended Islamists and under the pressure of constant battles overseas that we occasionally lose in a war we refuse to try to win. And one day our jihadis enemies succeed in getting nuclear weapons to inflict an Atomic 9/11 on us.
We can't "responsibly" end our war as long as our enemies keep trying to kill us.
Have a nice day.