The Taliban’s defeat may give the American people a false sense of security.  They may convince themselves that we can vanquish those who launch terror attacks on us with the use of our push-button arsenal and massive airpower, precision missiles, and a modest use of ground forces—Special Forces, light infantry, and Marines, or even local militias, such as the Northern Alliance.  That would be the wrong lesson to take from Operation Enduring Freedom.  The Taliban and their erstwhile Al Qaeda allies played to our strengths by creating an armed force that tried to mirror a conventional army.  They utilized bases, barracks, planes, tanks, artillery, motor-vehicle pools, anti-aircraft systems, and fixed command-and-control facilities, and they constructed an elaborate defensive system of trenches to fend off the Northern Alliance.  In short, they provided a vast array of targets for our push-button war machine.

In classic revolutionary-war theory, successful insurgents move through four stages: organization, terror, guerrilla war, and, finally, mobile war.  Each stage builds upon its predecessor; by the time the insurgency reaches the guerrilla-war stage, it is in possession of occupied territory, which enables it to construct bases.  These bases are used to assemble personnel and equipment, organize them into larger units, and train them to conduct the conventional military operations characteristic of the mobile-war stage.  Finally, the insurgent forces slug it out with the conventional forces of the regime that they are attempting to overthrow.

Under the rules of push-button warfare, the insurgents’ bases become enticing targets and fatal traps for those who use them.  It is likely that America’s future foes will learn from the mistakes of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Instead of building barracks and bases and lining up their tanks, planes, artillery, and motor vehicles for us to flatten, revolutionary terrorists will not move out of the terrorist stage.  They will become even more dangerous, because their groups will be less structured and hierarchical.  The terrorists will resemble members of a cult, receiving religious motivation and broad instructions through radio broadcasts, audio tapes, satellite TV, or the internet.  A leader like Osama bin Laden could call on Muslims to attack the United States, and the terrorists would go off and do their own thing.  We cannot target such foes from 15,000 feet with precision munitions.  The terrorists are living among us, and the most reliable weapon we can deploy to counter them is the traditional spy, who can mingle among them undetected.

Nonstate Islamic groups have demonstrated a disquieting ability to take the war to the American homeland and have shown genius, flexibility, focus, and patience in their attacks on the United States.  Does anyone doubt they will try again, as the botched attempt to blow up an American Airlines flight with a shoe bomb demonstrated?  The world today is a very dangerous place.  As the ancient, ongoing conflict between Islam and the West heats up, that danger will grow.  The sooner we wake up to that fact, the better we can counter the threat.