Schumer and AP: Selective Amnesia Posted by: McQ
on Thursday, March 20, 2008
An interesting recent claim about al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) says it is a totally homegrown and separate entity from the al Qaeda (AQ) that Osama bin Laden heads.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, on Tuesday’s “Larry King Live” said, "The al Qaeda the president is talking about is different than the al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, which is the al Qaeda that's in Iraq. The al Qaeda that bin Laden is in charge of is a totally separate organization."
And AP’s Jennifer Loven, in an article on the same day, claimed that AQI “"is mostly homegrown ... ". She further claims that, "[t]here has been no evidence presented that the group is plotting or intends attacks outside of Iraq," and, "[t]here is little or no evidence of coordination between the two groups."
Well then I assume Sen. Schumer and Ms. Loven are able to explain why this "homegrown organization" was started by foreigners. AQI’s founder was Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian, and his successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, is Egyptian. Please explain why a "homegrown organization" chooses to appoint a foreigner as its head and then when he eats a 500 pound JDAM, replaces him with another foreigner – does that sound like something a “homegrown organization” would do?
After that, Schumer and Loven can explain why Zarqawi publicly pledged alliance to bin Laden, and promised “to follow his orders in jihad.", or why bin Laden publicly declared Zarqawi the "Prince of al Qaeda in Iraq," instructed followers to "listen to him and obey him," and regularly communicated with him through his second-in-command Zawahiri.
And it would be peachy-keen if they could also include an explanation as to why the U.S. intelligence community reported that many of AQI’s other senior leaders were also foreign terrorists, including a Syrian who is AQI’s emir in Baghdad, a Saudi who is AQI’s top spiritual and legal adviser, and an Egyptian (Abu Ayyub al-Masri) who fought in Afghanistan in the 1990s and (like Zarqawi) has met with bin Laden.
Once they're finished with that, they can explain why bin Laden, in his 12/28/04 audio message to Muslims in Iraq, claimed Baghdad is "The Capital Of The Caliphate." That is, if he had no connections there why would he say, "I now address my speech to the whole of the Islamic nation: Listen and understand. The issue is big and the misfortune is momentous. The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world's millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate." Why make that claim if you have nothing to really back it up. And in ’04, AQ actually thought they were winning in Iraq if you’ll recall.
And, of course, there’s that inconvenient statement by AQ’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri made to coincide with our Independence Day in ’07 in which he said, "I convey to you the Mujahideen's commanders mobilization of you, so hurry to Afghanistan, hurry to Iraq, hurry to Somalia, hurry to Palestine” to explain. Maybe Schumer and Loven can tell us who Zawahiri is referring to when he cites the “Mujahideen’s commanders mobilization” order? If Zawahiri is AQ’s number two, then there’s only one “Mujahideen commander” he answers too – and he’s ordering AQ followers to Iraq.
And who can forget, other than Schumer and Loven, that October 2005 missive from Zawahiri in which he laid out the AQ plan for Iraq:
ZAWAHIRI: "…Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals: The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate – over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq … The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity."
Last but not least, to the Loven claim that "[t]here has been no evidence presented that the group is plotting or intends attacks outside of Iraq," I refer her to July 2007 NIE which is quite specific about her claim:
“We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al-Qa’ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.”
You know, given all of that, I'm just not seeing much to back the Schumer/Loven assertions, are you?
While AQI may have become functional after the invasion, it wasn’t then and isn’t now a homegrown and wholly separate organization. And unless both Schumer and Loven can come up with something other than the rather weak claims they’ve made, they should be taken with the giant grain of salt they deserve. __________
Liberal (noun): One who does not possess the capacity to understand asymmetric warfare.
Love is clearly not capable of understanding thoughts of this magnitude. Schumer, on the other hand, has the capacity and the intel briefings to know what really is going on. That he refuses to and makes public comments to the contrary of his briefings conjures up reflections of Benedict Arnold.
Why knowledgeable people flat lie when the facts are clear can only mean that they have no respect for their constituents and/or Americans in general. Yet of those who do this, few politicians ever seem to face any consequences during elections or reporters by their management (assuming management is not of the same ideological bent). I sometimes get so darn angry at the American voter; especially when the Internet offers so much factual information to evaluate political speech. Or have Americans lost all of our supposed historical belief in truthfulness, integrity and character?
Al qaeda in Iraq is separate from Bin Laden’s organization in that: a) al qaeda is a diffuse organization, with many sections operating relatively independently; b) back when Zarqawi was leader, he was appealling to Bin Laden for support, trying to be recognized as representing Bin Laden (showing that he had developed the organization separately); and c) there is no reason for Bin Laden to have any kind of active involvement in Iraq, modern terror networks don’t have the kind of command and control centers of old style militaries, which is one reason why we are unable to actually defeat them — this is a very difficult kind of conflict.
The fact that they come across borders doesn’t alter the fact that it’s been an organization grown in Iraq. First, they do recruit foreign fighters, and foreigners headed to Iraq for the opportunity. The US provided a prime target for people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt who otherwise would have no way to harm the US. Second, they do not reach outside Iraq, and certainly would be defeated if the US really did leave and the Shi’ites and Sunnis in Iraq would go after them. Finally, the real al qaeda we should worry about is in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We didn’t defeat them there, we just pushed the Taliban from power. Because we didn’t understand the nature of the conflict people thought that meant the war was over and nothing was left but reconstruction, and then we got caught up in what just about everybody agrees is a fiasco that has sucked American dollars, resources and lives (not to mention Iraqi): Iraq. I know of few of you want to chime the mantra ’it was worth it,’ but that’s looking pretty silly at this point, especially if you climb out from right wing and militarist blogs.
A growing number of foreign fighters are leaving or attempting to flee Iraq as U.S. and Iraqi forces have weakened al-Qaeda and forced its members from former strongholds, U.S. military officials say.
The trend reflects a broad disenchantment among foreign fighters, particularly since al-Qaeda has lost sanctuaries in parts of Baghdad and Anbar, a Sunni province west of the capital, U.S. military intelligence officials say.
"They’re being told in their countries of origin by facilitators that, ’Hey, we’re basically winning the war against the apostates,’ " said Brig. Gen. Michael Flynn, intelligence director for Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East. "They go there and find out it’s not quite the case."
Foreign militants constitute about 10% of al-Qaeda’s strength in Iraq, but Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said they make up about 90% of the suicide bombers.
The departure of some fighters doesn’t mean al-Qaeda is quitting the fight, said Brig. Gen. Brian Keller, the chief intelligence officer for the U.S. command in Iraq. "We’re just starting to see more and more fissures in the morale and leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq," he said.
Professor Erb- By your standard, it seems fair to say that al Qaeda proper is limited to Osama bin Laden, his bodyguards and his dialysis assistants. If that’s the case, why worry about the organization at all?
Well before US troops toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, I heard al Qaeda described as a network of terrorist organizations with inspiration and loose coordination from the top (rather than a unified group with a master plan). From that perspective, unless one is bent on serving an agenda, I am not sure why one would say that AQI is not part of al Qaeda. The organization now called al Qaeda in Iraq did not start out with that name: it had to earn it.
modern terror networks don’t have the kind of command and control centers of old style militaries, which is one reason why we are unable to actually defeat them
I hope you’re not a professor of history, because this is flat-out malarky of the first proportion. Allow me to explain. There are so many things unconsidered in this short snippet that I think the only way to approach this is to talk about a few seemingly divergent lines of thought, then bring them together at the end. Bear with me, please.
First, let’s talk about "old style militaries" and their corollary, war as most people know it. Most people today see war entirely through the lens of WWII. In wars from about the time of Napoleon until fairly recently (about which more later), wars have been fought with mass national conscript armies, in a framework where two or more states (read: governments controlling territory) have attempted to get their enemies to submit to their will by the defeat of their enemies’ armies on the battlefield. A further characteristic of most people’s view of what war is, is that most people unconsciously — and even many military people, consciously — have absorbed von Clauswitz’s dicta about warfare as holy writ. So most people see war as two massed armies controlling coherent bodies of territories with easily-determined boundaries of demarcation ("front lines"), aiming to destroy each other in direct combat.
This view of war is a problem, because that type of warfare is the exception in world history, not the norm. Even during the period named above, only the major powers truly fought this way consistently, and wars like WWII only look that way because they were wars where great powers were fighting each other. Most wars throughout histories are what we would now call guerilla wars or insurgencies, on one or both sides. Even to the extent that mass national conscript armies have been used, their success has largely been inversely proportional to how closely their leaders have hewn to von Clauswitz’s dicta of mass, concentration and so forth. The logical outcome of von Clauswitz was the slaughterhouse of WWI: throw force on force at the enemy’s strongest point, and keep doing it until they give in, or you do.
(As an aside, von Clauswitz did contribute useful ideas to warfighting theory as well, such as the concepts of "friction" and "the fog of war." It’s his ideas of how to seek and wage battle that I take issue with: even when you win, it’s generally pyrrhic.)
So first, if most wars are more like Iraq than not, and if most wars are won by one side or the other (which they manifestly are), then "modern terror networks" that operate on a hit and run or attacks of opportunity basis (that is, that operate like guerillas) are not inherently incapable of being defeated. After all, historically, the insurgents usually lose, and "usually" becomes "almost always" when the insurgents are attacking a government with broad popular support.
Now let’s diverge a little and talk about command and control centers and their importance. Warfare is inherently moral far more than it is physical. That is, if I can get you to give up your aims and submit to mine, without ever fighting you, I win (and at low cost). If I can get you to give up your aims and submit to mine with a minimum of fighting, I win (at some cost). If I can get you to give up your aims and submit to mine, but at the cost of a large fraction of my army and maybe even of my civilian populace, I win but it’s Pyrrhic, and few wars are worth that cost because few political aims are that far-reaching. (Indeed, I can only think of three in American history that would be worth that: the Revolution, the Civil War, and WWII.) The key to all of these, though, the common factor, is that you have to give up. The side that gives up loses, and war is ever and always about making the other guy give up and go home and not fight any more.
A largely conscript military, without internal motivation to fight (i.e., who are fighting to stay alive, not because they have a willing stake in the outcome), depends on its officers to give them objectives, rally their fighting spirit, control their movements, keep them supplied with food and ammunition and otherwise to command and control them. If you destroy or co-opt those centers of command and control, lines of communication (and particularly, lines of supply and lines of retreat), or leaders, the armies become ineffective and quickly give up and don’t fight. They either retreat (if that option is available to them) or surrender or die in place, fighting ineffectively.
But again, remember that this kind of force is abnormal. Can the concept of attacking the enemy’s command and control be generalized into a more widely applicable tenet of warfare? As it turns out, yes, it can. Remember that the aim is to get the enemy to give up. What will cause an enemy to give up fastest, absent all other factors? In the case of a national mass conscript army, it is his centers of command and control and lines of communication. In the case of a volunteer military for a largely free society like the US, it’s not the army but the political leadership that is easiest to defeat; remove popular support for the effort, and the politicians will abandon the war like rats abandoning a sinking ship, even if we are demonstrably winning the war at the time. This is how, to be blunt, we lost Viet Nam, and it is the only way we might lose in Iraq or Afghanistan: the enemy does not have to destroy our army, only our will to use it.
So, to wrap up the second point, the enemy does not have to have "command and control centers" to have a "center of gravity" (another of von Clauswitz’s useful concepts). And any enemy with a center of gravity can be defeated by defeating that center of gravity.
Given all of the above, I will now challenge the side-swipe malarky at the end of the statement, that "we are unable to actually defeat" modern terror networks. In fact, defeating the enemy is largely an exercise in determining your own and the enemy’s centers of gravity, protecting your own, and destroying or otherwise neutralizing the enemy’s.
So what is the enemy’s center of gravity, given that the enemy is a "modern terror network?" All guerilla movements, and terrorists attempting to set up a state are indisputably that, have two assets that must be maintained in order to wage war successfully: sanctuary and popular support. This enemy has a third: the feeling that their victory is inevitable, which comes from a combination of religious tenets (if God says you’re going to conquer the world, that helps to fuel your morale) and propaganda about how the US always cuts and runs. So this enemy can be defeated, but to do so requires that we protect our center of gravity, popular will to continue the fight, while attacking the enemy’s centers of gravity: sanctuary, popular support, and the feeling of inevitability. That is all. Do those things, and we will win. That is, continue the will to fight while denying the enemy sanctuary, popular support, and victory, and the enemy will give up and stop fighting, because he will feel the cause is hopeless.
At the considerable risk of going far beyond responding to just the malarky in the quoted snippet, I would like to extend this concept to analyze what we’ve been doing and are doing, as well as what we need to do, to win the war.
First, let’s examine our center of gravity. I think that few would dispute that this is where we have had the least success. The Bush administration has done little to sell the war to the public, and to keep selling it. They have not explained our actions, nor our intentions, and that has allowed the enemy to be the sole voice saying why we are doing what we are doing. That is bad enough, but this has been amplified by the press, which seems to largely agree with the enemy’s assessment that we are greedy imperialist oppressors out to strip the brown people of their oil, representing their one hope for living happy, independent and self-fulfilled lives of kite-flying bliss. That amplification is why many who see, even if only intuitively, the factors I note above commonly say that the press is not anti-war, but on the other side: by constantly attacking our center of gravity, our will to win, the press is actively aiding the enemy. (I’m sure that they would reject any argument of intent to aid the enemy, and they might even be right, but the effect is to aid the enemy.) Similarly, this can be extended to the anti-war movement generally, and it is why those who want the US to do well "question the patriotism" of those who are acting to make the US do badly, regardless of their protestations of intent. It is fortunate that the surge had good effect when it did: had it not, it is quite possible that the US would not have been able to sustain the will to fight past the end of last year. With the success of the surge in reducing violence (precisely the metric that the media was using to constantly assail our center of gravity), the appearance of our ability to attain an unambiguous victory was enhanced, and with it our collective will to fight was strengthened. (I should point out that despite our desire for an unambiguous victory, about which see above on the general public’s misunderstanding of what war is like, we will have no unambiguous victory in this war; victory will look like a gradual falling off in violence and US activity, and will be tenuous for a long time after the victory is in effect achieved. Unambiguous victories are, again, the exception rather than the norm in warfare. Even WWI is pretty ambiguous: would WWII have happened had we not so badly buggered up the peace after WWI?)
Now let’s look at the enemy’s centers of gravity. Taking the Afghan sanctuary was the bare minimum required for the US to begin to fight the enemy. That was a remarkably difficult problem to solve (just ask the British and the Russians, who had far more reason to expect success than we did), and the fact that we made it look so easy is testament to the brilliance of those in charge of planning and executing the Afghan campaign, particularly of General Franks and President Bush. We have also done pretty well in preventing the enemy from establishing new sanctuaries in Africa. We have done terribly at preventing the enemy from establishing a sanctuary in Pakistan, and there may come a point where we have to risk a nuclear war with Pakistan to remove that enemy sanctuary, if the Pakistanis cannot or will not do it on their own, and refuse to allow us to do so. We have had mixed success in breaking up enemy sanctuaries within civilian populations in Europe and the Muslim world, but those sanctuaries (being small and ill-equipped) are less useful to the enemy than large, safe areas where they can train and recruit openly.
The Iraq campaign has actually been a brilliant move in attacking the second enemy center of gravity: their popular support. While the enemy was blowing up "infidels" in other places, that was all hunky-dory to the majority of Muslims, apparently. But blowing up the infidels is considerably less popular when it’s actually blowing up Muslim women and children in Iraqi markets. And while many on the Left (and many who are simply opposed to President Bush and anything he does) deride Iraq as a distraction from the war generally, they are simply wrong: the enemy’s falling popularity is directly attributable to the fact that we’ve drawn them into killing their natural base of support. As a result, we appear to have delivered a body blow to the enemy’s credibility that they may never fully recover from. And pushing the violence into Pakistan, Iran and Syria (which is a distinct possibility) could erode that credibility to the point where the enemy loses essentially all of their remaining popular support. This will take some years, but is certainly within sight as a strategic aim.
We have done less well in attacking the enemy’s popular support culturally. Here, the entertainment industry has hardly helped, and has generally actively hurt our cause. (Movies like "Syriana" boost the enemy’s popular support while undermining our own, a double blow against us.) It may be that successfully establishing a non-tyrannical government in Iraq, which looks like it will happen, will help with this by giving Muslims a view of how an Arab country can succeed and be relatively free, but this will take a long time to become apparent, if indeed it happens at all. In the short term, we could win faster with Barbie than people realize, but we seem afraid to even engage on that front. What we need is a lot more Mohammed cartoons, rather than the ineffectual bleating of "religion of peace" that we keep hearing. So we have reduced the enemy’s popular support, but we have not been entirely successful at this yet. More needs to be done, starting with the government reinvigorating some of the programs to actually put out the American point of view to the enemy, so that it is not just the enemy talking about the events of the day and interpreting them for the Muslim world.
Finally, we come to the enemy’s feeling of invulnerability, what bin Laden has called picking the strong horse. The enemy, and even our potential friends, were convinced that America could not sustain casualties, even small amounts of casualties. They were similarly convinced that we would cut and run rather than stick with a long, hard slog. They were wrong, but it was a close run. Apparently, at least a fifth and maybe up to a third of our people are not willing to fight a sustained battle, at least not without some explanation of what we are doing and why (again, this has been President Bush’s largest failure in the war), and another third are not willing to fight a sustained battle unless it looks like we are winning. But close run or not, we did stick it out, and when the calls were loudest for us to fold and go home, we upped the ante with the surge in Iraq and a changed combat posture in Afghanistan, in conjunction with moves to cut off a lot of the enemy’s ability to move money through international financial systems. Merely by continuing to fight, we daily demoralize the enemy. As long as we do not run, the enemy has to question whether or not he can win; they are only human, and even with the religious rewards they see in keeping fighting, no one can keep up a hopeless fight indefinitely.
So on all three counts, we are having significant (but so far incomplete) successes against the enemy’s centers of gravity, as well as being able to see places where we can do much better. It won’t be easy, but we can win. In fact, it is almost impossible for us to lose unless we lose our nerve. So Professor Erb, let’s not make "we can’t win" into a self fulfilling prophecy, OK?
Al qaeda in Iraq is separate from Bin Laden’s organization in that: a) al qaeda is a diffuse organization, with many sections operating relatively independently, so it’s all a matter of interpretation, don’t you know, and we wise anti-war types can parse out whatever level of association or disassociation is convenient for our arguments; b) back when Zarqawi was leader, he was appealling to Bin Laden for support, trying to be recognized as representing Bin Laden (showing that he had developed the organization separately), and the fact that Bin Laden granted his recognition that the two organizations have exactly the same aims and most of the same methods is completely beside the point; and c) there is no reason for Bin Laden to have any kind of active involvement in Iraq, modern terror networks don’t have the kind of command and control centers of old style militaries, which is one reason why we are unable to actually defeat them. Which is why we should just give up and let them do what they want, since fighting them is fruitless. This is a very difficult kind of conflict, and despite any signs that al qaeda might be in disarray and on the way to defeat, we wise leftists know that such so-called evidence is never really indicative of progress.
The fact that they come across borders doesn’t alter the fact that it’s been an organization grown in Iraq. Yes, I understand that "home-grown" is not the same as "grown in a given location", but give me a little latitude here because McQ did a pretty good job of raking those home-grown arguments over the coals, so I really need to construct some sort of strawman to get back into the argument.
First, they do recruit foreign fighters, and foreigners headed to Iraq for the opportunity. The US provided a prime target for people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt who otherwise would have no way to harm the US, except possibly to fly airplanes into buildings, but we know that would never happen. I mean, yes, it happened once and thousands of people died, but our by turning our airports into police-state enclaves, we’ve pretty much shut off that avenue of attack. Unless they just rent private planes or something. But I’m sure they would never do that, so they can’t harm the US.
Second, they do not reach outside Iraq, and certainly would be defeated if the US really did leave and the Shi’ites and Sunnis in Iraq would go after them. The fact that the US is encouraging the Shi’ites and Sunnis to go after them right now and that is happening daily is beside the point. As long as we’re there, al qaeda just can’t be defeated, because we wise political scientists have decided that US presence is automatically a disqualification for just a victory.
Finally, the real al qaeda we should worry about is in Pakistan and Afghanistan. See, I can shift the goalposts anywhere necessary to make the case that our efforts are hopeless, and that’s the great thing about al qaeda being so diffuse. We didn’t defeat them there, we just pushed the Taliban from power. Because we didn’t understand the nature of the conflict people thought that meant the war was over and nothing was left but reconstruction. Of course, the level of violence there is pretty low and Afghanistan has a modern government for the first time in its history, but we wise leftists know a war when we see one and what’s going on there is a way, and by our previous definition that the US can never win one of those imperialist wars, somehow we just know that ultimately we’ll lose the war there too. Then we got caught up in what just about everybody around my college campus agrees is a fiasco that has sucked American dollars, resources and lives (not to mention Iraqi): Iraq. I know of few of you want to chime the mantra ’it was worth it,’ but that’s looking pretty silly at this point, especially if you climb out from right wing and militarist blogs. And I’m going to keep telling you how silly it is, no matter how many of your so-called facts seem to indicate otherwise.
Jeff, not enough time to try address all your points, but I think you miss mine.
I am arguing that globalization and the internet revolution is having an impact on politics and international conflict similar to the revolutions at the time of the reformation, which destroyed the old system and started the system of sovereign nation states. Terror organizations are able to be defuse and loosely organized, and can disappear and re-appear. Moreover, terrorism is a strategy, and thus there is no set number of enemy combatants or clear population identified with them. Someone can be a normal citizen of a number of countries until, for whatever reason, he or she chooses to engage in an act of terrorism.
Also, right now the motivation may be Islamic extremism, but one could imagine a variety of reasons why third world peoples might choose terror tactics in the future — it could well be a way to neutralize the advantage the West and industrialized world has in terms of military strength.
Finally, the religious component of the current terror threat is largely misunderstood. Myopic westerners believe it is an effort by Muslim extremists to defeat or even conquer the West. In reality, the cause is mostly internal. The Islamic world is modernizing, and this brings pressure to change the traditions and customs that were defined by the conservative Ulama for Islam after the Ottomans took power (and after the Muslim rationalists like Avicenna and Averroes were brushed aside). A tiny fraction wants to redefine Islam in the wake of these changes in a very conservative, traditional manner, and see the enemy not just the West, but primarily governments and social movements in their own population. We are seeing the Islamic reformation, in other words, and like the Christian reformation, it entails major social change and likely more violence. Thus we’re not in a "war" we can "win," we’re actors in an historical process, and how we come through this depends on choices we make in dealing with the complexities. After all, Bin Laden’s stated goal is to bring down the western economy. That’s our Achilles heal. Otherwise, we may not be able to defeat them, but they can’t defeat us either. We can marginalize them, they can’t marginalize us. The only real threat they pose is to our economy, and I would argue that attacking Iraq and getting involved militarily as we have actually has increased our vulnerability, and hasn’t truly hurt the terrorist networks. Indeed, Islamic extremism can only be defeated in the Islamic world, by Muslims.
In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks."
So Al Qaeda in Iraq is better at recruiting and raising resources to fight the crusaders in Iraq, than Al Qaeda tout court is at recruiting and raising resources for its aims. Al Qaeda Corporate may be able to recruit some of the people who signed up to fight the crusaders in Iraq for its global aims, thus the possiblity that the association of AQ Corporate with AQ in Iraq might make AQ Corporate more capable of Homeland attacks. It’s a bit tenuous but if it’s true, then our being in Iraq strengthens Al Qaeda Corporate even if we’re "beating" Al Qaeda in Iraq. Fighting them over there makes it more likely that we’ll have to fight them over here, according to this assesment. This jibes with what the Army’s recently released profile of AQ in Iraq says too.
I didn’t miss your point; I merely left out a part of mine.
I noted that before the Napoleonic era, national mass conscription armies essentially did not exist. I should also point out that before the Treaty of Westphalia, national armies did not exist: armies were the private forces of monarchs and other royals. And before the Treaty of Westphalia, the way that a problem like "the angry tribe next door is raiding our livestock" would be solved was to have the local nobility’s forces go out and kill the angry tribe next door, assuming that a negotiated settlement couldn’t be reached.
Now the interesting thing about modern armies is that they became widely used among the great powers (essentially defined by those countries that could afford to field a mass conscripted national army) because they were so much more effective than either tribal raiding groups or the other informal arrangements that occurred before modern armies. For a case study, take a look at the American aboriginals. Fierce warriors on an individual or small unit basis, they simply could not compete with an organized and professional military. For another case study, look at Afghanistan or Iraq, where our army (and increasingly the local forces) have atomized the enemy to the point that anything larger than a very small unit action simply cannot be launched by the enemy. (This is one reason the enemy has resorted to bombing the innocent: they cannot fight the soldiers and live.)
The thing that keeps what happened to the American aboriginals, or the various African and Asian tribes during the colonial era, from happening to the Iraqi and Afghan insurgents is that we are more moral now (by our own lights) than we or the French or the Germans or the British were then. We simply feel that it’s morally wrong to slaughter a whole village to make a point, no matter how effective it is in practice.
Yes, the Westphalian system is breaking down, because low-power states do not have a sufficiently higher degree of power than high-power groups and even certain high-power individuals. As a result, groups like al Qaeda and Hizb’allah and the larger drug gangs in South and Central America (and for that matter, northern Mexico) can, at least locally, overwhelm the power of the state. But the only thing that it takes to turn that around is for a major power to decide to revert morally to the state that we were in before WWII. And the only thing that it would take to get us there is a few more attacks like 9/11, which contra your assertion, did more than attack our economy. I have about 3000 points to make on that score. I have no doubt that, if it came down to it, both the US and the major European powers (not to mention China and Russia) would fight entirely gloves off before we would accept the widespread and semi-random killing of our people. In fact, the US will be the least likely to fight with its full strength, because it is so much more powerful than any of the other powers that it can afford not to.
People say that you can’t kill 1.2 billion Muslims. They are wrong: killing any given 1.2 billion people is trivial, fast and cheap. The difficult, slow and expensive thing is to kill the right 120,000 people without killing more of anyone else than you absolutely must. Frankly, I prefer the way we are doing it now to the alternatives in either direction: subjugation on the one side, and genocide on the other.
I agree with you, though, that this is primarily a Muslim civil war of sorts that we got sucked into. bin Laden thought that we were an easier target than the Saudis, that if he attacked us, hit us really hard, we’d give in to his demands and abandon the Saudis and the other tyrannical Arab governments, which would make al Qaeda’s goal, the replacement of those regimes with a theocratic tyranny, easier to reach. He miscalculated our will. Having done so, this is no longer the primarily intra-Muslim struggle that it once was; we have been brought into the game, and it’s a new game. Sure, the old game is still playing out, but there will be a vastly different result, assuming we don’t just give up at some point, than would otherwise have been the case. And I think that this result is likely to be better than the possible outcomes were before, because before, replacing the tyrannies with representative and secular governments wasn’t even on the table.
The spread of freedom and self-governance is a cause worth fighting for on its own, but given the alternatives, the fight would be worthwhile even if we weren’t promoting a profoundly morally improved situation in the process.
Brilliant analysis, clearly expressed. I know it is brilliant because almost all of what you say agrees with me. In particular,
"I think that few would dispute that this is where we have had the least success. The Bush administration has done little to sell the war to the public, and to keep selling it. They have not explained our actions, nor our intentions,"
This has been apparent since the invasion, particularly in Iraq. There is absolutely no excuse for this almost total lack of salesmanship, particularly among senior military officers who have received years of expensive education and experience. It is not like this is unknown, cutting edge stuff with no vast body of theory and historical documentation, including both insurgency and counterinsurgency efforts.
It was apparent long before that. When President Bush was asked what Americans could do to help, and he said, in effect, "go shopping," I groaned. While the premise was sound — to prop up the economy after such a large shock so that the terrorism would have failed in its intended material effect — there was no context or depth to the answer, which essentially left the answer as a non-sequitur. But I think that this is a part of the larger problem in the domestic approach of this administration to the war: they do not want us to think of ourselves as being at war. They want us to think of the military as being at war, and the rest of us free to go about our normal lives. Except that in a free country, this is hardly the recipe for getting the public to support the war effort, and lack of public support inevitably leads to failure, in time.
Here, for example, is a better answer the President could have given to that question. "This was an attack on three things: our confidence in ourselves, our economy, and our support for our allies in the Middle East. First, the American people can remain confident in America, can remain confident that we are the greatest and freest nation in the history of the world, and that we are strong enough that, together, we can pull through this. Second, Americans can be confident in our economy and in their security, can carry on their lives as they have before, can shop and invest and pursue happiness according to their own best abilities. Third, Americans can be confident in the ability of ourselves and our allies to defend them, and to defeat this enemy, no matter how long it takes and no matter what sacrifices it requires, because while America can be attacked, she cannot be defeated, so long as we all believe in the common ideals of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
How much difference would answers like that, explanations like that, repeated over the year, have made in the outcomes since then, and in particular in the strength of support for the efforts ongoing now? Quite a lot, I’d think.
And if, as I suspect, the Iraq campaign was an attack along the lines of least expectation, intending to make the enemy fight in an area that would otherwise have been a base of support for them, then that explanation, even given in retrospect, would have been a useful one to help people understand what we are doing and why. Could the President have said that in advance? No, because then the enemy wouldn’t take the bait. But before the surge, had the President come out and said that, and noted that with the sectarian violence AQI had sparked and the change in strategy that it entailed, we could now discuss our reasons for that in clear strategic terms, I think it would have boosted confidence in his ability to handle the situation, and thus boosted confidence in our ability as a country to win the fight.
As it is, Professor Erb’s point of view has gotten most of the airplay, well, at least in combination with the enemy’s point of view. Meanwhile, the administration’s point of view basically goes without a defense outside of the political blogosphere, and that is a major failing.
I agree with you, though, that this is primarily a Muslim civil war of sorts that we got sucked into.
Well, we got ourselves into it; if we weren’t addicted to oil, we wouldn’t care. You also are wrong about "our will." It’s clear that we don’t have the will to really go into this as a major war. The public has a pretty strong opinion against more US war, and given our economic crisis, we can’t afford it. But do we really need to see this as something we have to fight? Why?
We have a particular culture; it would be arrogant of us to think that others should adopt our particular cultural attributes, even if we can wax poetic about ’freedom and self-governance.’ It took us centuries to get where we are, and the way we do it is very much a product of our particular cultural-religious heritage. Others will get to where they want to go their own way, within their own particular cultural-religious world view. We are being forced into a new kind of isolationism by public opinion and economic realities. But that’s probably the best policy at this point in time.
But the bottom line is that we have little to gain and a lot to lose if we continue to kill people. It also makes us appear to be moral pygmies, no better than the terrorists, people who lack ethics and an understanding of the humanity behind it. To rationalize killing others because they don’t have the same political rights our culture considers important simply doesn’t pass muster.
Better plan: Humility. We build our shining city on a hill, we focus on our economy and our freedoms. We avoid intervening in foreign wars, we deal with others without trying to impose our values on them. We show respect for other religions, we work with the vast majority of Muslims who are moderate and modernizing. We recognize that killing people tends to make more enemies — one thing people don’t get in this war is that an essential calculus has changed. In the past if you kill the enemy, the number within the enemy ranks decreases. Now, the more enemies we kill, the more the enemy recruits those to join — their ranks grow. Until we realize that, and recognize the futility of seeking a military solution to all of us, the more likely we’re going to be shooting ourselves in the foot, and unwittingly aiding al qaeda and the extremists.