Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The fog of war and the war on fog

I’m not trying to be funny. The more I study the weather, the more impressed I am by it. And I suspect it has something to tell us about the war on terror.

Winslow_Homer_-_The_Fog_Warning_-_Google_Art_Project
Winslow_Homer_-_The_Fog_Warning_-_Google_Art_Project

 

I’m not trying to be funny. The more I study the weather, the more impressed I am by it. And I suspect it has something to tell us about the war on terror.

The other day I was looking at the wind blowing straight in from the southeast. Where I live, that almost certainly means it will push in the fog bank that sits out on Georges Bank.

 

I’m not trying to be funny. The more I study the weather, the more impressed I am by it. And I suspect it has something to tell us about the war on terror.

The other day I was looking at the wind blowing straight in from the southeast. Where I live, that almost certainly means it will push in the fog bank that sits out on Georges Bank.

If our politicians decided the fog was “evil,” our military would be told to stop it. Spend enough money, and our military could do it. We’d erect barriers, build giant fans, and even design ship-borne massive heat machines that could cook off the fog. A longterm solution would be a giant wall that kept the Newfoundland Current from banging into the Gulf Stream. Sure, it would cost billions, and likely wouldn’t survive a good hurricane. But evil is evil, right?

Here is where the meteorologist comes in. For every solution you devise, the weather will have a response. If you stop winds from the southeast, other winds will curl into the vacuum you’ve created. So is our enemy “the wind,” or “the south wind,” or “the moisture-bearing gray southeast wind?”

In the same way, I think we are flummoxed by Islamic extremism, or certain forms of it, or certain forms of it when they mix with ethnic divides. Some of our analysts effectively want us to counter wind power. Others want to make the south wind less humid. Some people say the winds have been blowing like this for thousands of years. And a few would say the problem is not the wind but the water, and that we need to focus on that bad Newfoundland Current pumping ice cold water into the Gulf of Maine.

None of them are wrong, yet none of them are right. The question is: What are you trying to do?

Photo credit: Winslow Homer (1885)/Google Art Project/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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