I just caught a documentary on CBC which showed folks in America who are liberals in all other respects who intend to vote for Bush because they think he can stand up to terrorists better. They want a guy who the terrorists will know will come after them if they attack.
Let me make something clear: Islamic extremist militants do not give a rats ass if you come after them. They believe that if they die in their cause they will go immediately to paradise. It doesn't matter to them if you kill them, and it doesn't matter to their cause either if they can recruit enough people to replace their lost numbers. As a message from Al Qaeda affiliated group put it, "You love life, but we love death."
The situation in Islamic countries in the middle east is perfect for producing terrorists: huge numbers of young males with no purpose and poor prospects for marriage. 75% of the population of Saudi Arabia are below the age of 20. Polygamy means that the majority of women will be married by a select group at the top of the economic ladder, leaving vast hordes of "bare branches", young men with nothing to do and no attachments, in a land where the greatest social influence is Wahabbiism, a strict fundamentalist brand of Islam. All that is needed is a justification for the cause, and this is precisely what Iraq is providing.
Because Bush went in under false pretenses with gross underestimates of the challenges to be faced, heavy short term American casualties are extremely embarrassing to the administration and must be avoided at all costs. The preferred tactics are long ranged and automated: bombs and shells, which cause far higher collateral damage. A more realistic approach would have used more troops, less bombs, and would have taken more time to oust Saddam without Shock and Awe by encouraging a coup from within. In the absence of WMD and ties to terrorists, the Americans had time on their side, an advantage that the Bush administration squandered.
Terrorists do not hide amongst civilians in order to avoid being attacked, but to bring the attacks down on the civilians, in the hope that they will eventually feel compelled to fight back in self defense. The current American tactics play hand in hand with this strategy; in fact, terrorist elements are probably feeding the Americans with 'targets' intended to cause the maximum civilian casualties. And the result is being played and spun by the media to Muslim countries throughout the Middle East. The intent may well be to win freedom for Iraqis, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
There are other factors at work here. First, the American commitment to Iraq is tying its hands with regard to other threats. Right now, America couldn't do anything about North Korea even if it wanted to. Second, the American military consumes vast amounts of oil, money that is pouring into the Middle East, some of which is being used to fund the very terrorists they are fighting. Third, an army travels on its stomach, and the American economy is tanking. It is largely being kept afloat by outside investment, largely by countries like China who need to keep American markets alive but have no love for America itself. If the debt bubble that Bush is building busts, and the American economy fails, it will no longer be able to support a superpower military, nor will it be able to sustain the vast influx of money needed to support friendly nations like Israel.
This is not something that anyone should wish for. America bashers who think this would all be for the best are deluding themselves. And the fanatics in the Middle East who dream of returning to the middle ages may get their wish--only to discover that a medieval economy cannot support the vast majority of their people at even a subsistence level. You cannot eat oil. The scenario is bad for the west and very bad for Americans, who will see a dramatic decrease in their security, influence, and wealth. But the west, and America in particular, are very inventive and adaptive. They will adjust and recover, though America may lose its status as a superpower permanently. Islam, however, is not as flexible. And China will simply stop.
As for Israel, it will get very tough. But I have this suspicion that if everyone on the world got wiped out except for one single guy, when that guy woke up, the first words out of his mouth would be "Oy vey!"
I have three words for all those anti-semites out there: give it up.