October 28, 2004

Inducing Strategic Despair Amongst the Delusional

Anybody that has read Bernard Lewis' excellent book What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East knows that Islam has been on a long downhill slide for centuries. A civilization that could have easily eradicated christianity were it not for its own internal divisions distracting it has become one of the most backward on the planet. A great contributor to this long slide is a sense of self-deception. Muslims were on top, they must still be on top, and only dark, diabolic conspiracies keep them from their rightful supremacy. Only sharp, undeniable physical reality, a Napoleon invading Egypt, the inability of anybody other than a western power to dislodge Napoleon from Egypt, and all the other undeniable expressions of islamic decline disturbs this ongoing charade of superiority and then only temporarily. The charade resumes quickly and the islamic world climbs deeper into delusion.

All this came to mind in reading Dr. Barnett's analysis of a recent article entitled What the Terrorists Have in Mind. It's something of a communications analysis piece, comparing the despair of jihadists in 2002 with their current state which can best be described as hopeful bravado. What it does not do is set any sort of context beyond the one cycle of sharp setback during military operations in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and the development of optimism since.

Dr. Barnett analyzes the piece from the point of view of the goal of inducing strategic despair. This is a normal thing to do because strategic despair is generally what makes the other side quit before you kill every member of that side. Given the generally delusional nature of islamist opinion on geopolitics, that God has anointed them to be first in the world, that we outside of Islam are intrinsically lesser creatures I think that any analysis of inducing strategic despair must explicitly take into account the long-term delusional nature of their group think. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn, I believe, is that inducing strategic despair among the islamists is going to take longer and be harder than among a more rational enemy.

The pattern of false propaganda to whip up the troops and whip up the people was most recently and openly on display in the pronouncements of "Comical Ali", Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf in talking about victory after Iraqi victory but the battlefields kept getting closer to Baghdad. But why were his pronouncements viewed with such mirth? You could measure progress on a map. In a consolidation campaign, there few pins to put on maps, external reality is difficult to measure, and so delusional pronouncements cease to be comical. In fact, they can have the very real positive effect of staving off strategic despair.

Dr. Barnett suggests that we need to take the whitebread look off of the current international coalition. I think that there is far more hope than he thinks in the very article he analyzes.

It is remarkable, for example, that the Pakistani Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Tayba appears to be shifting its sights away from its longtime focus on Kashmir and toward Iraq. Probably the largest militant group in Pakistan, it has used its online Urdu publication to call for sending holy warriors to Iraq to take revenge for the torture at Abu Ghraib prison as well as for what it calls the "rapes of Iraqi Muslim women." "The Americans are dishonoring our mothers and sisters," reads a notice on its site. "Therefore, jihad against America has now become mandatory."

I have no doubt that the Indian prime minister would rather have Iraqis be the innocent bystander victims of Lashkar-e-Tayba than Indians. But how to manage this? If they allow the Iraq situation to deteriorate to defeat to the US, all that will happen will be a bunch of Islamist fire eaters pouring back into Kashmir with more combat experience and international support links forged during the Iraqi campaign. It will be a repeat of the arab fighters in Afghanistan. For the sake of his own country, he needs Iraq to succeed.

Does it make sense for an Indian prime minister to do this now, before a US election which could leave his freshly arrived troops holding the bag as a new Kerry administration pulls out? Of course not. It would make a great deal more sense for India to answer a call for help from a new Iraqi government in early to mid 2005 if India could be assured that the US was not going to simply substitute Indian troops for its own and that there would be a real increase in coalition forces. Russia's traditional relationship with Iraq could also be renewed by them participating in a new force on the Iraqi government's request for aid on the same conditions, that the US not do a 1:1 substitution of their forces for its own.

The fundamental question is whether Russia, India, and all the rest of the potential New Core partners hate George W Bush enough to act against their country's best interest. If that is the case, the very idea of Core, a system of countries that are inextricably linked by mutual connectivity, is in doubt. If so many countries are willing to cut off their noses to spite George Bush, why would Core ties mean anything over momentary passions of all stripes?

Posted by TMLutas at October 28, 2004 07:19 PM