What is victory now?
Admiral Michael Ratliffe, USN (Ret.) made many remarkable
comments, during his recent lecture in Daggett Lounge, but perhaps one
was slightly more remarkable than the others. "We will almost never
have advance notice," Ratliffe announced, speaking of future terrorist
attacks. His frightening intuition gains additional significance in light
of his many years spent in the intelligence community, culminating in
his service as the 58th Director of Naval Intelligence. Drawing on his
decades of experience, Ratliffe gave a lecture entitled "What is
Victory in Our War Against Terror?" on Thursday, October 11th.
There was both fear and hope in the admiral's message. Of paramount importance was his recognition that the events of September 11th fundamentally altered the way Americans will think and act in the future. Many aspects of our lives will now be seen through the lens of the 11th, and Ratliffe spoke of a "dissonance" between the time before and after the events in New York and Washington. His preliminary observations focused on what he saw happening in wake of the tragedy, with an emphasis on the new unpredictability in the world. His hope, and it was a sincere hope, was that America would meet this new uncertainty through, in his words, its "awesome unity."
The bulk of Ratliffe's lecture focused on the war on terror
from a theoretical standpoint. There was little discussion of front-line
tactics and the military. Rather, Ratliffe sought to justify the current
U.S. action in Afghanistan using a pragmatic, "just war" approach
to the situation. He stated that our action was directed by a competent
authority (elected leaders), whereas the action against us on September
11th was directed by a fanatic empowered only by his own distorted vision
of the world. While our action will inevitably yield noncombatant casualties,
they are never our intention; the action against us served the sole purpose
of slaughtering the innocent. Finally, our action is justified by the
most basic of human motives-self-defense; the action against us was motivated
by hate, the most inhuman intent of all.
Victory in this war, Ratliffe argued (using carefully chosen euphemisms), will come when we have "dislocated" international terrorists and delivered a "stern message" to those who aid them. Ratliffe avoided a word often used to describe our goals in this campaign: elimination. Terrorism is not an idea, and ideas cannot be eliminated. Terrorism isn't the inherent problem; it is the expression of terrorism-violence-that plagues us. We need to deter violence, and we can do this by "dislocating" the present terror threat. Ratliffe's concept of victory is yet another example of his pragmatic approach. As a corollary to his argument on victory, he emphasized that success depends on will; that is, America in its "awesome unity."
To conclude his talk, Ratliffe proposed several characteristics
of the future world. He sees the twenty-first century as one with great
conflict, and even went so far as to say that without restraint and control
"our future as a species will be called into question." In addition,
this conflict will be "nastier" and "up close and personal."
Finally, Ratliffe's experience as an intelligence officer in the Navy
was reflected in his expectation that information superiority will become
key in waging war. He took this opportunity to describe America as "incapable
of spy work," highlighting the need for greater investment of money
and human resources in the intelligence community.
In the end, Admiral Ratliffe's message was clear: victory in our war on terror depends much more on what we do here at home than what goes on in Central Asia. The question he posed, "what is victory in our war against terror?" assumes that there can be victory in our war against terror. Considering his remark that we will almost never have advance notice of an impending terrorist attack, one questions the sheer possibility of true victory. Yet given the awesome unity of America in the past month, one can also argue that victory is already ours.