Europeans are always calling Americans ‘cowboys’ and saying that we think, ‘life is like a John Wayne movie.’ I wish they were right because it would make the entire ‘War on Terrorism’ a lot easier. Unfortunately, we seem bound and determined to play the part of the Lone Ranger while we force Israel to take the role of our loyal sidekick Tonto.
Not that the Lone Ranger was such a bad guy. He was a decent man who was an incredibly talented gunfighter. He was so much better than the villains he fought that he was actually able to shoot the guns out of their hands. There did always seem to be some people who distrusted him because of his mask but the Lone Ranger always turned them around by the finish of the show and proved that he was ‘one of the good guys.’
Since this was TV, things always worked out in the end. The bad guys went to jail or ‘saw the error of their ways” and then the Lone Ranger galloped off into the sunset, with Tonto at his side, looking for more people to help. Unfortunately, when you try to apply the ‘Lone Ranger Philosophy’ to real life it doesn’t work out as well. Think about how we use our military and you’ll see what I mean.
The Lone Ranger had his pistols and the US has its smart bombs. Most people would argue that we’re not as accurate as the Lone Ranger was, but I’d beg to differ. When we invaded Afghanistan, most reliable estimates put the number of civilian casualties caused by our bombing in the 500-1500 range. Compare that to the 500,000 plus Afghan casualties the Soviets caused during their invasion in the 80s and you’ll see that we have the most ‘accurate’ military on the planet. In fact, we have such overwhelming military superiority that defeating an enemy with negligible casualties on our side and minimal civilian casualties is theoretically possible for us in almost any conflict.
There is a problem with being this good. Every time we make the smallest mistake, it produces screaming headlines and raging debates. For example, the fact that a single soldier died in combat merited front page headlines while the fighting in Afghanistan was hot and heavy. Furthermore, we go into conniption fits over things most nations don’t even really consider during a war. Should captured terrorists be covered under the Geneva Convention, when can they go home, who will rule the nation we’re about to defeat, how do we feed the people in the nation we’re fighting, etc, etc, etc? When you’re the Lone Ranger, everyone expects perfection.
Most nations don’t worry about these sorts of things during wartime because all of their efforts are focused on actually winning the war. But we have such military superiority that we feel we can pick and choose our spots. We know that it doesn’t really matter how long our enemies prepare because if we want to hit them, they don’t stand a chance. That breeds a sense of complacency that we never had during WW2 when we were fighting for our lives against strong and capable adversaries. I’m sure that the men who were fighting desperate battles against the Japanese and Germans didn’t lose any sleep at night wondering whether the enemy soldiers we captured were getting enough Fruit Loops back at the prison camp.
But the fact that we do worry about such things points out another problem our ‘Lone Ranger Philosophy’ has caused for us. How scary was the Lone Ranger really? Sure he could he could outshoot you and outfight you, but even if you were a ruthless killer who thrashed Tonto within an inch of his life, the worst that might happen is that the Lone Ranger would shoot the gun out of your hand before he took you to jail. Then if your boys broke you out of prison or you bribed a sheriff you’d be back on the street, free to rob, rape, and plunder until the next time the Lone Ranger rode back into town.
The US has the same sort of problem when we deal with potentially hostile countries. Nations like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Syria can jerk us around as long as they like without worrying that we might fire a missile into their leader’s favorite palace. Even after 9/11, we just can’t bring ourselves to let Israel kill the world’s foremost living terrorist, Yasser Arafat. Nations that boldly and openly promote terrorism like Syria and Iran will be sleeping easy tonight because they know Saddam Hussein is next on the agenda ‘ maybe. Could you blame them for doubting that we’re even going after Hussein? The last time we had him in the crosshairs during the Gulf War we just shot the gun out of his hand like always and let him go back to gassing Kurds, starving his people, and menacing the region just as he did before. Worse yet, all the skittish townsfolk (the Europeans) seem too scared to even form a posse and ride behind us like they did last time.
After we decided to hit Afghanistan, the terrorist supporting regimes were genuinely scared that we’d changed from the Lone Ranger into Dirty Harry. Soon thereafter, the US started receiving unprecedented cooperation from rogue states. Suddenly Pakistan decided that they wanted to be our friend. Countries like Yemen and Sudan came to the conclusion that being friendly to terrorists might be fatal so they began to cooperate with us. Even the ‘big boys’ of the terrorism business like Iran and Syria started making some efforts to placate us for a while out of fear that they might see the business end of a tomahawk missile otherwise. But now we’re back in full ‘Lone Ranger mode’ and it’s obvious to everyone who’s paying attention. From their actions, it’s apparent that the entire Middle East has already decided that we’re no longer serious about winning this war. Even our ‘friends’ in the Middle East like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait now seem publicly contemptuous of the ‘War on Terrorism.’
If we’re going to win this war or even defeat Iraq, we’re going to have to go beyond the ‘Lone Ranger Philosophy.’ Everything isn’t going to go perfectly in this war, everyone isn’t going to like us when it’s over, and we’re not going to win by playing nice all the time. We have to be willing to do anything it takes to get the job done. Whether it means that we invade Iraq without any outside support, give the upcoming revolution in Iran a ‘helping hand’, or allow Israel to blow Arafat’s brains out, we need to win by any means necessary. The time for shooting the guns out of enemy hands is over. Now it’s time to start aiming straight for their hearts.