April 16, 2004

Letter to the Paper XVII

The Australian has a breathless article over a December monograph regarding the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and why the Bush administration is all wrong.

I found the monograph unpersuasive to say the least. The author's email was more easily found than the journalists so I sent my fisking direct to him. I include it below:

I just got hold of your December monograph on the GWOT via an article in The Australian (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,9271716%255E12250,00.html) and how it is misnamed and must be downsized to match US power. I'm having some difficulty swallowing your ideas.

My first difficulty is in your dismissal of GWOT as an actual war. The idea that war is between states or states and an insurgent force is predicated on the principle of national sovereignty. That principle only goes back to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. In President Bush's speeches he seems to be implicitly repudiating Westphalia. This would be a mere supposition by an amateur (me) except that Prime Minister Blair *explicitly* repudiated Westphalia and called for its revision and updating to take into account the new threat picture. Until somebody in our press corps comes out and asks the administration whether they are repudiating Westphalia or not the question is still somewhat up in the air but I suggest that you might want to take into account the idea of moving into a post-Westphalian world, and thus GWOT is a real war after all. It's just a war that is post-Westphalian.

In a post-Westphalian world, it is likely that there will be no such thing as MOOTW when violence is being employed. But once you miss one of the biggest geopolitical earthquakes in 350+ years, you're bound to come to wrong conclusions.

You also state "The ultimate measure of success in the GWOT will be diminished incidence and scope of terrorist attacks" but I think you are creating a straw man here. The ultimate measure of success is the elimination of the preachers and ideologues who create the various strands of what I (and many others) call nihilistic death cults that end up in suicide terrorism of the 9/11 type as well as the less extravagant manifestations in Israel and around the world where clothing by semtex becomes a political statement. This is roughly analogous to the goals of the imperial british campaign against thuggee. Since the british ended up winning that, I suspect that this is an attainable goal for the US as well, though we're not limiting our campaign against this quasi religious phenomenon to a specific territory as these death cultists are not geographically limited.

Here's a clue for generally identifying those we are at war against. If they say, with any frequency "we love death" then they have self-identified as enemies in GWOT. As more and more destructive power devolves to the capability level of individuals, it becomes less acceptable for death cultists to continue to exist on this planet. At a certain point, individuals *will* gain the power to create private WMD. It is a certainty unless we give up ideas like progress, research, and freedom. Given the will, anybody with a bit of imagination today can cobble together a radiological weapon. It really isn't that hard to do.

Later on, in attempting to make the case that rogue states are deterrable, you ask "How is the inaction of Saddam Hussein and North Korea explained other than by successful deterrence?" and present your evidence for this in note 48. First of all, all your footnoted references are about Iraq, not North Korea. Since the North Korean regime is heavily involved in proliferation and developing its own nuclear weapons, your case starts off half wrong. But with the jury still out Iraqi WMD and the current head of the WMD search talking about Saddam creating the ability to produce WMD quickly without the need for stockpiles I'm not so sure that even the modified proposition that some rogue states are deterrable from acquiring WMD will be supportable once all the evidence is in.

The idea that "the administration unnecessarily expanded the GWOT by launching a preventive war" builds on earlier errors. Since the ultimate aim is to defeat the preachers an ideologues and not reduce the incidence of assaults by the foot soldiers created by these people, you're looking at Iraq in entirely the wrong way. Democratization in Iraq is the entire point of the exercise. Creating a society which will shred these nihilist death cultists in the rough and tumble world of vigorous, nonviolent debate while at the same time creating a harbor where liberals (classical, 19th century liberals) have a safe haven in the arab world from which to write and speak openly from is an profound assault and progress towards our central war aim.

If Scowcroft, Brzezinski, and Albright were around in WW II they would have argued against the N. Africa campaign as it was Hitler that was the problem not their N. African allies. Clearly Hitler was the central problem, but we swept through N. Africa, Italy, and France before we ever set foot on German soil. I cannot see how such serious figures can support such a position and your approving citation of them on this matter does you little credit.

Iraq is the place to come attack americans because Iraq threatens the central apparatus of the nihilistic death cultists, the ability to create waves of suicide warriors to assault us, the knowledge that there are certain countries where such activities will always be able to take place. If Iraq can fall, if it can rise again as a free society with open debate and a state monopoly on violence, the death cult will lose its ability to recruit among its large muslim component and other components (such as N. Korea) will have to enter into their calculations, the idea that they could be next if they don't reform. Libya's example shows that there is a way out for them. I expect, during a second Bush administration, that others will follow Libya's path.

If I understand the following correctly "Historically, moreover, transition from autocracy to stable democracy has more often than not been protracted and violent; the road from the Magna Carta to the birth of the American republic took 561 years. So the potential policy payoff of a democratic and prosperous Middle East, if there is one, almost certainly lies in the very distant future" you are implying that there were no intermediate worthwhile payoffs between the Magna Carta to the American republic. Since that doesn't pass the laugh test, it would be helpful to have some clarification. Certainly imperfect democratic republicanism or constitutional monarchies will provide better results than the current dysfunctional oil states with regard to hostility to the death cultists. Furthermore, I don't think that it necessarily follows that since the pioneer model took 561 years to figure how to get from autocracy to democratic republicanism, subsequent societies have to take the same length of time.

Your approving quotation that terrorist groups who have "never taken a swing at the United States" necessarily "never will" is citing a fantasy land where secular baathists never cooperate with sunni religious radicals and shiite mullahs never make pacts with sunnis. This is both ahistorical and unrealistic.

You're on a little better footing with the following "The Germans were defeated in two world wars notwithstanding their superb performance at the operational and tactical levels of combat because their strategic ends outran their available means; their declared strategic ambitions provoked formation of an opposing coalition of states whose collective resources in the end overwhelmed those of Germany." Unfortunately you draw the wrong conclusion. Take a look at the list of opponents you don't want to rile up. "Basque Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (E.T.A. [Fatherland and Liberty]), the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Sendero Luminoso, Hamas, and Hizbollah" is the list. Do they collectively have the resources to make the US outrun our available means? A major part of the problem is the parts of the world where these terrorists thrive are largely economically powerless and they simply can't create large material threats as the US could to Germany, using its superior production capabilities to drive them to defeat.

Delegitimizing terrorism, you complain, is a meaningless goal as everybody in power already thinks they are illegitimate but millions of ordinary people do not. I point you to Thomas Jefferson's right of rebellion and suggest that as societies who have internal peaceful debate and settle their difference at the ballot box expand in number, terrorism will be delegitimized. Surely you can't be arguing against this but you certainly seem to be doing so.

You later say "whereas satisfaction of political and economic grievances might assuage Arab terrorism conducted on behalf of clear political goals (e.g., Palestinian terrorism directed toward the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state), satisfaction of said grievances would probably do little or nothing to mollify Islamist extremist organizations motivated by religious ideology." Again relies on the earlier error in misidentifying the war aim. There are people who are willing to fight for an Islam that would not accept terrorism as a ticket to anywhere but hell. Unfortunately, such people have to run to Europe or the US right now because they are killed by their coreligionists in bloody retribution. For them to have safe haven in a free Iraq would be a great step forward. They would remain "in the neighborhood" putting out their papers, able to build mosques in highly visible places, worship as they see fit, and create an Islam that would fight the extremist imams theologically. Islamism is theologically rigid and archeologically unsupportable. The mere fact that old Korans have been discovered in Yemen that are different (even slightly) from the modern Koran destroys a great pillar of their belief system, the literal unchanging Koran whose only additions have been pronunciation marks. But such things cannot be said in the Middle East without worrying about your life. In a free Iraq, they could be said and the wellsprings from which suicide bombers come forth would become stopped up. The Koran is not unchanging therefore these fundamentalist imams preaching that doctrine have been lying.

It is liberal, interpretive, modernist Islam which will thrive in a free society. This is an islam we can live with as americans. Creating a Middle East where such an islam would thrive is a worthwhile goal and a key to winning the GWOT. It's a pity you seem to have missed it.

Posted by TMLutas at April 16, 2004 11:08 PM