Thugs and murderers Osama bin Laden and associates are. But rulers of powerful, militarized nation-states they are not. Defeating such terrorists requires targeting everything from ideology to personnel to finances. Military action is most useful where terrorists gain de facto control of a government, as in Afghanistan.
That always should have been America's primary military deployment in the war on terrorism. Sensitive politically but important operationally is hot pursuit into Pakistan. If Pakistan is unable or unwilling to suppress Al Qaeda and Taliban forces - and Islamabad has never really controlled the border area - the U.S. needs to do so.
The U.S. military also can play a small but sometimes critical role in training allied forces. The Philippines is a semi-failed state, but U.S. assistance appears to have improved the performance of the Filipino military in confronting Islamic guerrillas.
Where the U.S. military should not be is Iraq. Every invasion rationale was flawed. Saddam Hussein did not participate in 9/11. There were no WMD. There was no evidence that Baghdad could not be deterred. Instead of ongoing genocide to stop, there was sectarian conflict to unleash.
After more than four years, the Iraqis have proved unwilling to create what Washington desired: a united and liberal Iraq aligned with the West against neighboring states targeted by the U.S., most notably Iran and Syria.
Of course, it is much harder to get out than get in. Which offers an important lesson for future military action: Do not put U.S. lives, honor and prestige on the line for less than vital interests.
This is also the most important lesson of previous debacles, such as Lebanon. Bin Laden might have perceived weakness in America's withdrawal, but why were U.S. forces there in the first place?
Washington intervened in a bloody, multi-sided civil war. It should surprise no one that U.S. Marines became targets.
In response, American ships and aircraft bombarded Muslim positions. What more should President Reagan have done? Backed his favorite faction and tried to rebuild Lebanon? The mind boggles.
Rethinking commitments would provide the Pentagon with more manpower. The problem is too many missions, not too few people.
The U.S. is secure against traditional threats, accounting for roughly half of the globe's military spending and far outranging any potential competitor. But Washington foolishly tries to micromanage international events.
America continues to garrison Europe against phantom threats, defend prosperous South Korea from its decrepit northern neighbor, and protect Japan, which possesses the world's second-largest economy. Washington attempts to build nations in Iraq and Kosovo.
Extra Pentagon personnel already are present. The U.S. government simply needs to decide that defeating the Taliban is more important than, say, relieving South Korea of the burden of defending itself.
Dire new threats may eventually arise, but today terrorism is America's most pressing military concern. And the epicenter of potential terrorism against the U.S. is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Which is where we should concentrate our military efforts.
Doug Bandow is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance. A former special assistant to President Reagan, he is the author of "Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire"
The virulent strain of Islam has no single locus
Yesterday and the day before, I asked if you had read Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower." I'll ask again, and add to it an inquiry about whether you have gone through Robert Kaplan's "Imperial Grunts" or his brand new "Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea and on the Ground." I also wonder if you have been following the headlines over the recent days, and the foiled terrorist plots in Denmark, Germany, Austria and Turkey? How about Israel's raid deep into Syria to destroy, what? Some speculate arms for Hezbollah, others the worst sort of shipment from North Korea.
Because I am a civilian and because my last job involving counterintelligence was in the first half of the '80s, I have to rely on the work and reports of others to tell me what is the shape of the world in which we live and the nature of the war in which we are engaged. I am not interested in the theories of philosophers or the speculations of political scientists. None of the problems written about in the books mentioned or cited in the articles linked have their exclusive locus or solution on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, though certainly that border is a part of the problem.
All of them have their origin in a virulent strain of Islamist theology, nurtured by fanatics held at bay by some Arab governments and abetted by others. The Bush Doctrine is aimed at removing the latter while pressuring the former to move into the modern world before they too are made victims of this extremism.
Saddam Hussein was an abettor of terror, and a once and future possessor of WMD. It is a very good thing that he is dead, and a very great mission on which America's finest are embarked. I am not sure what you want President Bush to order them to do, but I like his emphasis on stabilizing Iraq and forcing Iran to abandon its pursuit of nukes before that branch of the extremist ideology gets its hand on the ability to wipe Israel from the map, to borrow from Ahmadinejad's prophecies.
You want a perfect world, Doug? Read science fiction. This real one is dangerous and becoming more so, and the only solutions are hard ones, extraordinarily costly in the sacrifices demanded. I listened closely to what Gen. Petraeus testified to this week, and I wish you had as well.
Hugh Hewitt is the executive editor of Townhall.com and a nationally syndicated talk-show host whose show can be heard in more than 100 cities across the United States. He blogs at HughHewitt.com, and his most recent book is "A Mormon In The White House?: 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney."