Cats are supposed to have nine lives but fallacies must have at least ninety. Some notions will be believed, no matter how many times they have been refuted by facts.
One of these seemingly immortal fallacies is the implicit assumption that our enemies have unlimited resources, so that our efforts at strengthening ourselves militarily are doomed to be self-defeating.
At least as far back as the 1930s, the intelligentsia and others have warned against military spending as setting off an “arms race” in which each side escalates its military buildup in response to the other, making the whole thing an expensive exercise in futility. The same notion was repeated throughout the long years of the Cold War.
Today’s version is that, no matter how many Middle East terrorists we kill, new ones will take their place and we will have nothing to show for all our efforts and sacrifices. People who talk this way are completely undaunted by the fact that Ronald Reagan proved them wrong during the Cold War.
President Reagan understood that the Soviets did not have unlimited resources — and in fact their resources were far more limited than ours. Going directly counter to those who wanted a “nuclear freeze” or other weapons limitations agreements, Ronald Reagan began a military buildup that kept upping the ante until the Soviets had to throw in their hand, ending the Cold War.
When Reagan ordered a bombing of Libya in retaliation for Libyan terrorism, the immortal fallacy was immediately voiced by former President Jimmy Carter, who declared that this would only make matters worse and bring on more terrorism. But Libya toned down its terrorist activities.
Years later, when Saddam Hussein was overthrown in Iraq and was then dragged out of his hiding hole, Libyan dictator Kaddafi decided to end his nuclear program and cooperate with monitors. Unlike Jimmy Carter, he knew that he did not have unlimited resources.
Those who argue today that virtually every military action we take only arouses “the Arab street” against us and provokes a new stream of terrorist recruits fail to understand that international terrorism requires more than new recruits. It requires huge amounts of money, sophisticated leaders and an intricate structure of command.
President Bush hit the terrorists in the pocketbook with the help of countries around the world by exposing and disrupting their financial networks. Then many of the top terrorist leaders were killed or captured and their training bases in Afghanistan destroyed.
There is not an unlimited supply of money, sophisticated leaders, or countries willing to risk American military action by aiding and abetting international terrorism. A number of countries have begun cooperating, making this one of the largest international operations ever to be called “unilateral.”
There may not even be an unlimited supply of potential suicide bombers in “the Arab street,” now that Saddam Hussein is no longer there to subsidize the families of suicide bombers who kill civilians in Israel or to provide sanctuary for other terrorists.
Critics of the Bush administration may keep saying that there is no connection between Iraq and terrorism but the terrorists themselves seem to believe otherwise. Why else are they pouring into Iraq, in what they themselves have characterized as a crucial battle to stop the Americans from reconstituting that country in ways that will make their plans for the region harder to carry out?
There is a cost to this war as there have been costs to all wars, including the Cold War. And there have been painful setbacks and surprises in this war, as there have been in all wars.
George Washington lost most of the battles he fought but we still came out of it as a new and independent nation. But there were grownups in that war and in our other wars.
The big question today — and for our future — is not whether our enemies have unlimited resources but whether we have an inexhaustible supply of immaturity in our media and among our politicians.