...it is essential to realize that from al Qaeda's strategic point of view, the last three years have been a series of failures and disappointments. This is the objective reality. It is not the American perception. The first reason for this perception gap is the definition the administration has given the war: It is a war on terrorism. If the goal of the war has been to deny al Qaeda strategic victory, then the United States is winning the war.
We have also argued, and continue to be amazed, that the single greatest failure of the Bush administration in this war has been its inability to give a coherent explanation of why it invaded Iraq. The public justification -- that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- was patently absurd on its face. You do not invade a country with a year's warning if you are really afraid of WMD. The incoherence of the justification was self-evident prior to the war, and the failure to find WMD was merely icing on the cake. The consequence was a crisis of confidence that was a very unlikely outcome after Sept. 11 and which the administration built for itself. In other words, the decision to invade Iraq was, from our point of view, inevitable following the failure of the covert war. What was not inevitable was the catastrophic failure to explain the invasion and the resulting crisis of confidence.
...we can say that al Qaeda has failed to achieve its strategic goals. At the same time, the United States is facing its own strategic crisis. Since Vietnam, the fundamental question has been whether the United States has sufficient will and national unity to execute a long-term war. One of the purposes of the Iraq invasion was to demonstrate American will. The errors in what we might call information warfare -- or propaganda -- by the Bush administration have generated severe doubts. The administration's management of the situation has turned into a strategic defeat -- although not a decisive one as yet.
Massive dissent about wars has been the norm in American history. We tend to think of World War II as the norm, but, quite the contrary, it was the exception. The Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Vietnam War and others all contained amazing levels of rancor among the American public. The vilification among the citizenry of Washington's generalship or Lincoln's presidency during the action was quite amazing. Thus, it is not the dissent that is startling, but the perception of U.S. weakness that it generates in the Islamic world. And the responsibility does not rest with the dissidents, but with the president's failure to understand the strategic consequences of public incoherence on policy issues. Keeping it simple works only when the simple explanation is not too difficult to understand.