The concept of "manliness" or machismo is found not only in Spanish cultures but in most of those where Islam is dominant. The reason for this is not that Islamic cultures are somehow "backward" or insensitive to gender issues but rather that the religion in and of itself is male oriented. It is, after all, a religion created by and for warrior based tribes of the Arabic Peninsula. The spread of Islam was not only by the sword but by the strong appeal of its belief structure to men of tribally based societies. This can be seen simply by tracing where Islam has enjoyed the greatest growth, persistence, and popular support.
War in an Islamic context is celebrated to a degree which has not been seen in the West for nearly a century. The strong belief in the purifying and consolidating nature of war on a society would not have been unfamiliar to Europeans or Americans at the outset of World War I. The combination of the "industrialization of death" and the consequent death toll served to erase the attractiveness of war in the Western mind.
That is most assuredly not the case in Islamic societies--even those such as Iran which have experienced prolonged and very costly wars. Even in Iraq where many have turned against sectarian war in the wake of the death count of the past several years, war is still lauded as the duty--even the privilege --of the believer.
Societies which have a pronounced tribal orientation such as is the case in both Afghanistan and Pakistan accept the view of war as an instrument of societal purification and consolidation to an even greater extent than those in which tribal affiliation has been weakened by the rise of a purely national identification. To put it bluntly: War is a symbol and a test of one's manhood.
The linkage between war and manhood is weak if it exists at all in the US and the rest of the West. We tend to deprecate the existence of this sort of linkage as atavistic, as a symptom of some sort of psychopathology, as "testosterone poisoning." The ultimate asymmetry in the "asymmetrical warfare" between ourselves and the Islamist jihadists is that we see war as an unpleasant reality forced upon us while the opposition sees it as a sign of personal worth, personal commitment, personal manhood.
What is to us a "continuation of politics by violent means" is to the jihadists a visible testament to belief and courage, to faith and manhood. This means that the political will of the Islamist jihadist is far more deeply rooted, far more pervasive, and infinitely more difficult to erode or eradicate than is ours. For us it is mere policy; for the jihadist it is the nature of life both now and eternal.
The recent attacks by Taliban in Pakistan, particularly the raid on the Pakistani version of the Pentagon have made the contest in that country very much one of mano a mano. The assault in Rawalpindi may prove to be the single greatest mistake ever committed by Taliban.
The Pakistani Army has no choice other than to finally launch a real attack on the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan. It is either that or admit that the single most important institution in Pakistan has no cajones. The second alternative is outside the realm of possibility.
The attack also demonstrates to the ever hopeful pro-Islamists within the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence that their creation, Taliban, is no longer under their control--or even capacity to influence. The monster has escaped the Dr Frankenstein.
At nearly the same time Taliban again demonstrated its ability to be its own worst enemy. The teenage suicide bomber who blew himself up in Swat killed a half dozen troops, but eradicated several dozen civilians. Pakistanis, like Afghans, object to seeing civilians killed by either the foreign infidels or Islamist jihadists.
The net result of the recent Taliban attacks has been to enhance the political will of the Pakistani civilians, government, and, most of all, the Army to destroy Taliban. The only uncertainty in the minds of Pakistanis exists with respect to the US.
There is much doubt in both Pakistan and Afghanistan regarding the willingness of the US to continue, let alone enhance, its efforts in Afghanistan. The opposition, most notably the two senior figures of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, have expressed confidence that the Americans will soon cut and run. This sense has been echoed in at least diminuendo form by members of the Pakistani military, legislature, and media.
There is a growing belief in both Afghanistan and Pakistan that the US does not have the testicular fortitude to keep on keeping on. Preparations have been underway in both countries by members of the local elites to get out of Dodge ahead of the Taliban victory--or the American pull out. The two are seen as one.
The spectre of Vietnam hangs heavy in the air of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. People in both countries as well as here in the US look back at the end game of that war as paradigmatic of what is soon to happen in Afghanistan. Unlike some American commentators who use the specious analogy of Vietnam to prove that we are engaged in a war we cannot win, the folks in Pakistan see the correct parallel. They see the US simply tossing in the towel and leaving--which is precisely what was done in the final days of the Vietnam War.
Behind the carping and hissy-fit tossing over American UAV attacks in the FATA and (yet to come) Baluchistan, the Pakistani government and military want the US and its allies to stay the course in Afghanistan. With the realization that Taliban has escaped its creator's control, there is a genuine anxiety as to what will happen if the US quits the war before the Islamist jihadists are well and truly defeated.
It is critical that Taliban, al-Qaeda, and others of the Islamist jihadist ideology not have any basis to claim that the US has been defeated by their efforts. These groups have a fine record of distorting history to prove their point. The constant claim of Osama bin Laden, Omar, and others is that the jihadists defeated the Red Army.
More recently, when the US evacuated a remote outpost which had been the scene of a heavy Taliban attack a few weeks earlier, Taliban claimed it was the result of its victory over the infidels. In reality the Taliban probe had been repulsed with very heavy losses after several hours of bitter, close range combat between the outnumbered defenders and the jihadists. That reality did not bother the Taliban propagandists. They pointed to the fact that the outpost had been abandoned. That was enough.
In order to achieve even the minimum necessary strategic goal of "not-losing," the US and its allies must carry the war up close and personal to the Islamist jihadists. While taking pains to assure that any civilian casualties are the result of jihadist actions, we and our allies, including the Afghan National Forces, must confront the jihadists in very personal combat. We must accept the enemy's linkage of war with manhood.
This brutal reality means our forces must take greater risks than would otherwise be the case. Our superiority in stand-off weapons is of no assistance when the enemy scorns death dealt from a safe distance. Taliban and the others will not allow us to demonstrate the bravery of being out of range.
Whether we like the idea or not (and the Geek does not), the enemy's concept of war demands that we revert to "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes." If--and only if--we show the Islamist jihadists repeatedly that we have both the capacity and personal will to take the war right to their doorstep will we be able to achieve the minimum necessary strategic goal of "not-losing." To put it crudely, we have to show the Islamist jihadists that we have bigger balls than they do.
This may be an atavistic way of war. It isn't the sort of war we in the US (or the West generally) prefer to fight. But, it is the understanding of war which is inherent to both Islam and the tribally based societies of Northwest Asia. And, now get a grip on this, the locals define what war is and how it must be fought. The locals see war as manhood. We must do the same, unpleasant as that may be.
The US military is and has been awash in phrases such as "kill the enemy in close combat," or "find, fix, and destroy." The war in Afghanistan demands that these phrases be translated from paper slogans to the reality of life and death in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.
This is the "war of necessity" to which President Obama alluded some weeks ago in Phoenix. It is the way in which the war must be fought--if we are to "not-lose." It means that we must send more troops into hazard. It means that We the People and our purported representatives in Washington must accept an ever lengthening butcher's bill.
It means that both We the People and our representatives must accept the ground truth that what is at stake in Afghanistan is not simply the future of the people who live there or next door in Pakistan. It means that We the People and our representatives must accept the overarching reality that all Islamist jihadist groups everywhere in the world are linked head and hip so that a defeat one place is a defeat everywhere. Or, a success in one place is a victory for Islamist jihadism everywhere.
Finally, it means that President Obama must show that his manhood no less than that of the jihadists is at stake in the barren hills of Afghanistan. Only Mr Obama has the power to decide who has the bigger balls--the US or the Koran-thumping, trigger-pulling, bomb-wearing Warriors of Allah.
That's a hell of way to see matters, but it's a fact.