By Brian Bresnahan
One of the Captain’s I served with in Iraq would have shocked the politicians who like to point at our equipment and say “see what I did for our troops, vote for me.” There were times during operations when he wouldn’t wear his helmet, thus excluding himself from politician poster-boy status. The Captain wasn’t overheating or uncomfortable in his helmet, he was simply demonstrating that he was the “toughest kid on the block.”
Arab culture respects courage, aggressiveness, and strength. It respects boldness in the face of one’s enemies. Conversely, it shuns those who do not demonstrate these characteristics, who are weak, don’t exhibit personal courage, are not tough. Those qualities determine the honor and dignity of a man, especially at the age when most decide to take the “terrorist” career path. Men who do not exhibit these attributes at that age are seen as being of less value, as weak, or worse yet, without honor. They are subject to ridicule, exploitation, and sometimes even death if they dishonor the family.
Al Qaeda and most other Islamic terrorist groups originate from that culture. They are led by individuals and derive their operational mentality from that culture. We therefore face an enemy which has been brought up, from day one, to respect only these attributes.
They have no respect or desire for nuanced negotiations with those they see as weak, especially anyone they have a deep hatred for. They have no intention of quitting until those weaker and unworthy are either destroyed or bowing before Allah. They do not respect or fear an enemy who has not shown them a reason to be afraid.
Our enemy only respects those who have and are willing to use superior strength against him; those who give him a reason to be afraid; “the toughest kid on the block.”
That Captain fully understood this. The intent when not wearing his helmet was to project the message “I do not fear you.” Now, let it be known that neither he then, nor I now, am advocating that we shun the Kevlar. It was only done on specific occasions as a statement to serve notice to the enemy and is illustrated here accordingly. And yes, he did make it through the deployment and received a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in combat.
The Captain understood the culture and was able to apply that knowledge at the tactical level. Our Generals understand this and are applying it at the strategic level, especially now more than ever. But most importantly, I believe that our President understands this aspect of the enemy. He understands the consequences of raising the white flag and demonstrating the weakness that some politicians are demanding. If he seems immovable on this subject, it’s because history provides a solid foundation for his position.
The basic questions of national security, preservation of one’s nation, and strength in the face of the enemy are lessons learned and recorded long ago. Bevin Alexander summarizes an aspect of Machiavelli’s philosophy on the subject this way: there are “two ways to deal with an enemy: destroy him altogether, or treat him so generously that he will become your friend.” Our only choice with regard to Islamic terrorists is their complete destruction. They see us as infidels and want us to die or convert, not become friends. Treating them generously would be seen as a weakness. It would be a reason for them to attack us, not befriend us.
Jimmy Carter’s failure to show American strength in the face of Iranian terrorists emboldened other terrorist groups to act against us, they saw us as weak. Many agree that we are still paying for his weak national security policy today.
But, President Reagan understood the need for strength as demonstrated through his policies. He certainly could have been more aggressive after the death of so many of my Marine brethren in Beirut. But overall, his actions nearly always reflected his comprehension of how to deal with the enemy when he said, "They do not fear the United States for its diplomatic skills or the number of automobiles and software programs it produces. They respect only the firepower of our tanks, planes and helicopter gunships."
However, Bill Clinton’s failures after the first World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of the USS Cole, the Kobahr towers, and Mogadishu have been specifically cited by Al Qaeda as reasons to attack America. With each demonstration of weakness, we were perceived more and more as a nation which lacked courage and would not fight for its own defense.
Today, with ongoing attacks by terrorists in Iraq, some want to pull out and leave before the job is finished, but the President refuses. They want our actions in Iraq to be counted with our previous weak responses. They want to continue the legacy of Carter and Clinton, but this President has chosen a better course. They want our national resolve to resemble that of the French of whom we have to ask before the fight even begins, “Have they surrendered yet?” They want to add to the reasons why terrorists should be emboldened to attack us, but the President rightfully refuses to surrender.