Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Old war horses

Last night, General William Odom said that the best strategy was to redeploy out of Iraq (Kuwait, perhaps) as soon as practicable. This is precisely the suggestion advanced by Colonel Jack Murtha, now a representative of Pennsylvania and long time friend to the military.

It is also precisely the opposite plan advanced, at present, by the administration of George W. Bush. A journalist wrote recently that a hot debate in Washington is what exactly is going on in Bush’s head. That may be a contested state of affairs, but Dick Cheney’s thoughts appear in crystal, resolute clarity. Moreover, his staunch, militaristic stance has lead an old friend of his, Brent Scowcroft, to say that he no longer recognizes the vice president.

Twenty-seven times, the vice president used the word “terror” or something derived from it in his speech today at Fort Drum. Cheney’s definition of the enemy we now face:

The terrorists want to end American and Western influence in the Middle East. Their goal in that region is to gain control of a country, so they have a base from which to launch attacks and wage war against governments that do not meet their demands. The terrorists believe that by controlling an entire country, they will be able to target and overthrow other governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that encompasses a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way to Indonesia.

Once more the delusional ideal of al Qaeda, the caliphate spreading across an Islamic empire of the Middle Ages, is invoked by the administration as a reason to stay in the fight. Bush vowed not to use the U.S. military as a global police officer and a nation builder, and now that military is entangled in a difficult, sectarian war to police a huge swath of territory (well beyond Iraq) and attempt the construction of something worthwhile in a dangerous neighborhood.

However, this caliphate is a ridiculous ideal for al Qaeda to desire and it is a ridiculous rationale for Cheney to use as a stated objective in Iraq. Al Qaeda is a violent, reactionary movement that has emerged over time and altered to circumstances. Terrorism qua terrorism is a tactic, as General Odom noted yesterday on Hardball:

It was in our—al Qaeda is our enemy. The idea of a war on terrorism is ridiculous. What if the president—terrorism is a tactic, it‘s now said. What if the president declared war on night attacks or left-flanking movements?

The grand caliphate in bin Laden’s vision and Cheney’s nightmare is absurd. Political movements develop because of circumstances and such a set of affairs in the world will not unite Spain to Indonesia, Somalia to Chechnya into a caliphate. Terrorism is a more finite and immediate development produced from a small force in history, it will never yield this caliphate.

The career of Abu Musab al Zarqawi illustrates the evolving nature of Islamic terrorism. Zarqawi was no ally of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, he refused to strike an allegiance and become a junior member of al Qaeda. Zarqawi is a violent, dangerous thug who has adopted an adaptation of Islam for his own political purposes. He reviles the Hashemites of Jordan, a substantial motivation behind the hotel bombings in Amman.

Before the American invasion of Iraq, he entered that country and took advantage of disciplined fighters and financial contacts to be the driving force in the early days of the insurgency.

Terror in the 21st Century will adapt at a rapid pace and will be dictated by the confluence of historical legacies, manipulated into propaganda, and more recent events that dictate recruitment trends. Zarqawi hopped onto the al Qaeda bandwagon to solidify those two elements of his personal terrorist cause. Additionally, al Qaeda likely retains a shell of their revenue streams in the region, so membership has a financial windfall for this local terror franchisee.

It is imperative that we understand our enemy before we develop our strategy to destroy him. Successfully attacking the tactic of terrorism will require responding to three aforementioned components in a coordinated endeavor. 1.) Undercut the historical legacies manipulated into propaganda. 2.) Alter current events to diminish recruiting trends (keep the would-be jihadists surfing the web) and 3.) Target the financing and technological innovation.

General Odom, in his own words, realized a long time ago that al Qaeda was benefiting by our presence in Iraq:

Well, I really don‘t understand that, because as the CIA told Congress not long ago, al Qaeda is sending in young recruits to get experience in Iraq and then come home to be dispatched to other parts of the globe to do other terrorist activities.

Therefore, I don‘t see that one can prove that we are safer as a result of that, and I see at least a prima facie case that we are in worst shape, because we are making them look strong compared to the U.S., which looks incapable of managing the situation, and willing to expose itself to losses it doesn‘t have to take.

Some of the old war horses do not convey an understanding of this enemy in their rhetoric. Our presence in Iraq is labeled as “occupiers” and this is not a slur stemming from a tradition of nationalism. This term conveys the venom of a people that were once colonized by outsiders for their resources in their region. When Cheney speaks of free markets, he is using the same economic philosophy that governed much of European history since the Enlightenment:

And by staying in this fight, we honor both the ideals and the security interests of the United States of America. The victory of freedom in Iraq will inspire democratic reformers in other lands. In the broader Middle East and beyond, America will continue to encourage free markets, democracy, and tolerance -- because these are the ideas and the aspirations that overcome violence, and turn societies to the pursuits of peace. And as the people of that region experience new hope, progress, and control over their own destiny, we will see the power of freedom to change the world, and a terrible threat will be removed from the lives of our children and our grandchildren.

It takes a particular degree of lunacy to call Iraq an inspiration. One might be willing to concede Iraq as an example of a tough but worthwhile effort, but this is no city on a hill. Security, the ability to run a small shop in a market district, the ability to attend social events at will, the presence of newspapers on street corners, a hot dinner after a hard day at the office, electricity and clean water throughout the day -- every day -- build peace. Cheney is wrong to assert that we can establish the goals he outlined above by continued military involvement. Sudden, precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will not be a boon for the Iraqis -- and very few Americans support this as policy. Our presence both fuels and limits the insurgency. Some military commanders now realize that the political will to remain in the fight will not be sustained by the American populous for a period of time sufficient to end the insurgency, so reports Michael Ware on tonight’s Hardball.

General Odom on the same program yesterday elaborated on the mess our presence has created. This is not something you will ever see Cheney acknowledging. But, by invading Iraq, the United States strengthened its enemies:

The longer we stay, the bigger mess we create. Once we invaded, we set in motion a group of forces that inexplicably has taken us to this point. We can‘t change that by staying longer. We can make it worse.

We essentially invaded for other peoples‘ interests without understanding it. We made Iraq safe for al Qaeda, therefore, we really encouraged or pleased Osama bin Laden.

The Iranians detested Saddam‘s regime. He had invaded them and fought them for eight years.
Therefore, seeing Saddam and his regime overthrown greatly pleased the Iranians.

It has also created a situation inside Iraq, fragmentation, that‘s leading to the creation of a regime that will almost inexplicably will be an Islamic republic much closer to Iran than to the U.S. or anyone in the Arab world.

It is understandable that we look to our own cultural and political traditions with well deserved pride. A great many worthy advances have resulted from economic liberalism, religious and ethical pluralism, et cetera, et cetera. It was a mistake to believe that this historical legacy could be exported in a few years. Worse, this idea lead not to our interests but to the detriments.

Consideration for the traditions of the Middle East is necessary in the U.S. prosecution of the war in Iraq. Note what another war horse, General Wesley Clark, wrote in today’s New York Times:

The American approach shows little sense of Middle Eastern history and politics. As one prominent Kuwaiti academic explained to me, in the Muslim world the best way to deal with your enemies has always been to assimilate them - you never succeed in killing them all, and by trying to do so you just make more enemies. Instead, you must woo them to rejoin society and the government. Military pressure should be used in a calibrated way, to help in the wooing.

This is not a call for a conciliatory stance toward brutal al Qaeda terrorists, as reactionary elements within the White House would no doubt claim. It is a sensible strategy, however, to counter the present dangers in Iraq. Helping moderate Sunni and Shiite find common ground in both the expulsion of al Qaeda and the broadening of Iraq’s supranational affiliations (away from Iran, toward Jordan -- two examples) is a worthy effort that needs much more attention. Clark, again:

But these efforts must go hand-in-glove with intensified outreach to Iraqi insurgents, to seek their reassimilation into society and their assistance in wiping out residual foreign jihadists. Iraqi and American officials have had sporadic communications with insurgent leaders, but these must lead to deeper discussions on issues like amnesty for insurgents who lay down their arms and opportunities for their further participation in public and private life.

Clark also says that America and Iraq need to work with (pressure politely) Iran and Syria to protect Iraq’s autonomy. He concludes with a similar assessment as Odom‘s:

What a disaster it would be if the real winner in Iraq turned out to be Iran, a country that supports terrorism and opposes most of what we stand for. Surely, we can summon the wisdom, resources and bipartisan leadership to change the American course before it is too late.

Our withdrawal from Iraq may still be a number of years away, but our ability to make something worthwhile out of the Iraq misadventure is quickly running out. Tonight on Hardball, Robert Baer said that he believes a religious Shiite victory (augmented by autonomy minded Kurds) will result in more Iranian influence and the removal of America’s presence. He portrayed a worst-case-scenario, but one that has lead to the construction of additional border defenses by Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

It is more likely that enough Sunni and Shiite will vote moderately and enough Shiite firebrands will have cold feet about booting the most powerful military out of the country that this four year Iraqi government will move in fits and starts. That tempo is beneficial to American interests if we are willing to exploit it. Attacking the convergence points of terrorism is one way to begin.

First, minimize the historical legacies of the region that fuel violent propaganda. The establishment of a Palestinian state is vital to the security of Israel, America and the entire region -- perhaps the world. It must be a central focus of United States policy. Security for Israel should not be compromised for this endeavor, it must be enhanced. Both imperialistic and sectarian tendencies in Iraq must be curtailed as much as possible. The United States military needs more Arabic speakers to better interact with the Iraqi people. Iraq cannot be allowed to develop an overly sectarian police nor military. Early in the rebuilding of the Iraqi military, the cheap and easy route was to swear in formations of the Badr Brigade or the Kurdish peshmerga. That may have been useful for a time, but the potential dangers of a reaction from the opposite pole of Iraqi demographics to these forces under the authority of the government is impossible to ignore.

General Clark has an interesting idea in undermining the foreign jihadists. By reaching out to Sunni nationalists, as the Bush administration is willing to do, jihadists will be undermined. Suicide bombers are not born, they are twisted from the forces of hate and misery. They are employed by a brutal terrorist infrastructure. That infrastructure needs to be attacked on as many fronts as possible. The Army and Marines, Navy and Air Force are one crucial front, but they are not the only one.


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