April 16, 2007


‘LES Anglo-Saxons,” argues Andrew Roberts, were united by the English language and by the Common Law. Still more links were listed by Winston Churchill in 1943: “Common conceptions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice and above all a love of personal freedom . . . these are the common conceptions on both sides of the ocean among the English-speaking peoples.”

Roberts has built “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900” around four great ideological challenges to the dominance of the English-speaking world and its liberal values: Prussian militarism in 1914, Nazi-Fascist aggression in 1939, Soviet Communist aggression in the Cold War and the Islamist jihad against the West today. He tells the story of how these conflicts were begun and (with the exception of the last) resolved.

Roberts’ message is essentially optimistic. The first three challenges, he points out, were formidable; all seemed, at times, to be within reach of their goals; all benefited initially from a reluctance of their intended victims to take them seriously, but all eventually lost because “les Anglo-Saxons,” once aroused, were powerful and determined enough to crush them.

The fundamental insight of the


February 5, 2007

The Clash of Civilizations Revisited (Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor, is famous for his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. He was interviewed by Amina R. Chaudary of Islamica Magazine (NPG, Winter 2007)
NPQ | You have argued that as civilization changes in America, it has moved toward focusing on democratic liberalism as an ideology.

Huntington | That always has been the American ideology. Since the revolution of the 18th century, America has basically had an ideology of liberal democracy and constitutionalism, though generally I try to avoid the use of the term ideology to describe this. I talk of American beliefs and values.

When you mention the word ideology, people have communism in the back of their minds, which was an entirely well-formulated ideology and statement of belief. You read the Communist Manifesto and you know what the core of it is. What we have, however, is a looser set of values and beliefs, which have remained fairly constant for two and a half centuries or so. And that’s really rather striking.

Obviously, changes and adaptations have occurred as a result of economic development, industrialization, the huge wave of immigrants that have come to this country, economic crisis, depression and world wars. But the core of the American set of beliefs has remained pretty constant.

If one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence came back today, he would not be surprised about what Americans are saying and believing and articulating in their public statements. It would all sound rather familiar.

NPQ | How is the Muslim world faring in the context of a world that has mostly accepted, if in theory, not practice, liberal democracy?

Huntington | We’ve seen at least the beginnings of rather significant social and economic change in the Muslim world, which I think will in due course lead to more political change. Obviously, Muslim societies, like societies elsewhere, are becoming increasingly urban, many are becoming industrial. But since so many have oil and gas, they don’t have a great impetus to change.

At the same time, the revenue that natural resources produce gives them the capability to change. Countries like Iran are beginning to develop an industrial component.

NPQ | Do you think that the “Islamic civilization” will become increasingly coherent in the future?

Huntington | Certainly we’ve seen movements in that direction. Certainly there are various trans-Islamic political movements, which try to appeal to Muslims in all societies. But I am doubtful that there will be any sort of real coherence of Muslim societies as a single political system run by an elected or non-elected group of leaders.

But I think we can expect leaders of Muslim societies to cooperate with each other on many issues, just as Western societies cooperate with each other. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Muslim, or at least Arab, countries developing some form of organization comparable to the European Union. I don’t think that’s very likely, but it conceivably could happen.

NPQ | You’ve written, “Islamic culture explains, in large part, the failure of democracy to emerge in much of the Muslim world.” Yet large parts of the Muslim world have democracy—Indonesia, Mali, Senegal and even India, with its large population of Muslims. What is the connection, or lack of it?

Huntington | I don’t know what the answer to that question is because I’m not an expert on Islam, but it is striking the relative slowness with which Muslim countries, particularly Arab countries, have moved toward democracy. Their cultural heritage and their ideologies may be in part responsible. The colonial experience they all went through may be a factor in the fight against Western domination, British, French or whatever. Many of these countries were, until recently, largely rural societies with landowning governing elites.

I think they are certainly moving toward urbanization and much more pluralistic political systems. In almost every Muslim country, that is occurring. Obviously, they are increasing their involvement with non-Muslim societies. One key aspect that will influence democratization, of course, is the migration of Muslims into Europe.
In the end it is futile for both our own isolationists and for Islamic extremists to flail out against the Americanization/liberalization/democratization/globalization of the Islamic world. We are indeed evangelicals in the cause of universal liberal democracy and always have been. The periodic pauses in which we tone it down a little just end up being followed by needlessly bloody wars when someone annoys us enough that we re-engage the fight.


January 17, 2007

Rogue State America: Has America become a rogue state? (John B. Judis, 1/17/07, TNR Online)

What exactly are we doing in the Horn of Africa, where we have encouraged the Christian government of Ethiopia to invade Somalia and replace its Islamic government? As far as I can tell, we have violated international law, committed war crimes, helped Al Qaeda recruit new members, and involved ourselves in a guerrilla war that could last decades. It’s Iraq writ small. And it can’t be blamed on Donald Rumsfeld.

There’s an old principle of international law, going back to the seventeenth century, against one nation violating the sovereignty of another. It was often breached, but, after two world wars, it was enshrined in the United Nations charter. We criticized the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and justified the first Gulf war on these grounds. The purpose of this principle has been to prevent wars that could arise if more powerful countries simply took it into their hands to dominate smaller, less powerful ones. […]

In the 1990s, foreign policy experts, eager to identify a new enemy, hit upon the concept of a “rogue state.” A rogue state operated outside the bounds of international norms and had to be restrained. The obvious candidates at the time were Libya, Iraq, and North Korea. But the Bush administration has turned the United States itself into a rogue state. Tough-minded conservatives, flexing their “muscular” inclinations from comfortable sinecures in Washington, may dismiss concerns about international law and war crimes as inventions of silly panty-waist liberals. But these inventions, which, in the modern era, were championed by Theodore Roosevelt, were meant to protect Americans as well as other peoples from the wars and the inhumanity that prevailed for thousands of years. We ignore them at their peril, whether in Haditha or Ras Kamboni.

Mr. Judis is correct about the intervention being a mistake vis-a-vis the Somali people, but if he’s just now noticing that we’re a rogue state and sovereignty is a dead letter he doesn’t pay much attention to American history.


November 28, 2006

Once upon a time in the west: a review of DANGEROUS NATION: America and the World 1600-1898 by Robert Kagan (Robert Cooper, Sunday Times of London)

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 — that the US would not accept European interference in the Western hemisphere — was unilateral, like all subsequent American “doctrines”. But America also retained an ideological preference for Britain over the continental powers; if not a republic, it was at least a liberal monarchy. This was not the special relationship that the British still like to imagine. Britain was the superpower of the day; and it is this that accounts for the remarkable survival of Canada on a continent where the United States took everything else within reach. Dealing with America is always easier if you are powerful.

Why was the nation dangerous? Because it believed in itself and in its cause. America, Kagan tells us, was never a status quo power. It wanted to remake the world in its own image; and because its cause was righteous it saw no reason to limit its power. Reacting to the American wish to be rid altogether of the French and Indians, Edmund Burke argued for a balance of power in America. The idea that you could feel secure “only by having no other Nation near you was alien and repulsive to the European mind”. The search for absolute security — which was American policy then and now — represented, like the search for absolute power, immoderation; and that was dangerous.

So are idealism and democracy. The unnecessary wars that America fought in the 19th century — in 1812 against Britain, and in1898 against Spain — began on a wave of popular enthusiasm. (By contrast, America entered the necessary wars of the 20th century with reluctance.) Throughout this period the United States was long on ambition but short on the power to impose its ideals. But by the end of the century it had taken over most of the continent, settled the question of slavery, and was sending gunboats to Samoa, Brazil and Korea.

Dangerous Nation’s emphasis on democracy as a constant goal, accompanied occasionally by regime change (starting 200 years ago, during the war on piracy, with an attempt to overthrow the Pasha of Tripoli), make this a neoconservative history. Perhaps, but the case is well put and is beautifully written. This reader could not put it down, and cannot wait for part two.

Back to the Future (Fouad Ajami, November 26, 2006, US News)

The sin of George W. Bush, to hear his critics tell it, is that he unleashed the forces of freedom in Arab-Islamic lands only to beget a terrible storm. In Iraq and in Lebanon, the furies of sectarianism are on the loose; and in that greater Middle East stretching from Pakistan to Morocco, the forces of freedom and reform appear chastened. Autocracy is fashionable once again, and that bet on freedom made in the aftermath of the American venture into Iraq now seems, to the skeptics, fatally compromised. For decades, we had lived with Arab autocracies, befriended them, taken their rule as the age-old dominion in lands unfit for freedom. Then came this Wilsonian moment proclaimed in the course of the war on Iraq. To the “realists,” it had been naive and foolhardy to hold out to the Arabs the promise of freedom. We had bet on the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, thrilled to these young people in Beirut’s plazas reclaiming their country from Syrian tyranny. But that promise, too, has been battered, and in the shadows, the old policy of ceding Lebanon to the rule of Syria’s informers and policemen now claims a measure of vindication. On the surface of things, it is the moment of the “realists,” then: They speak with greater confidence. The world had lived down, as it were, to their expectations. And now they wish to return history to its old rhythm.

But in truth there can be no return to the bosom of the old order. American power and the very force of what had played out in the Arab-Islamic lands in recent years have rendered the old order hollow, mocked its claims to primacy and coherence. The moment our soldiers flushed Saddam Hussein from his filthy spider hole, we had put on display the farce and swindle of Arab authority.

Primacy and power. We can’t shy away from the very history we unleashed. We had demonstrated to the Arabs that the rulers are not deities; we had given birth to the principle of political accountability. In the same vein, we may not be comfortable with all the manifestations of an emancipated Arab Shiism–we recoil, as we should, from the Mahdi Army in Iraq and from Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut–but the Shiite stepchildren of the Arab world have been given a new claim on the Arab political order of primacy and power. In the annals of Arab history, this is nothing short of revolutionary. The Sunni Arab regimes have a dread of the emancipation of the Shiites. But American power is under no obligation to protect their phobias and privileges. History has served notice on their world and their biases. We can’t fall for their legends, and we ought to remember that the road to all these perditions, and the terrors of 9/11, had led through Sunni movements that originated in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.


November 27, 2006

The Exceptionally Entrepreneurial Society (Arnold Kling, 27 Nov 2006, Tech Central Station)

Edmund Phelps is the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. Shortly after his award was announced, Phelps published an essay on how capitalism in the United States differs from the system in Continental Europe. Phelps wrote,

There are two economic systems in the West. Several nations — including the U.S., Canada and the U.K. — have a private-ownership system marked by great openness to the implementation of new commercial ideas coming from entrepreneurs, and by a pluralism of views among the financiers who select the ideas to nurture by providing the capital and incentives necessary for their development. Although much innovation comes from established companies, as in pharmaceuticals, much comes from start-ups, particularly the most novel innovations…

The other system — in Western Continental Europe — though also based on private ownership, has been modified by the introduction of institutions aimed at protecting the interests of “stakeholders” and “social partners.” The system’s institutions include big employer confederations, big unions and monopolistic banks.

In Continental Europe, large banks control the bulk of investment. The United States has a more vibrant stock market, many more banks, venture capital firms, and other financial channels.

In Continental Europe, large established firms have access to funds from the large banks, but newer enterprises have a much more difficult time raising money. In the United States, the more competitive financial system gives more opportunity for entrepreneurs to raise start-up capital. […]

If the United States is exceptional because of our entrepreneurial culture, then our natural allies may not be in Continental Europe, in spite of its democratic governments and high levels of economic development. China seems more dynamic than Europe, but I would argue that China’s government-controlled financial system ultimately is not compatible with American-style entrepreneurship. Instead, we may have more in common with other nations of the Anglosphere, as well as such entrepreneurial outposts as India, Israel, and Singapore.

For the half century following World War II, the United States focused on democracy as the cornerstone of foreign policy. Democratic nations were our allies, and promoting democracy abroad was a top priority. However, it may be that American exceptionalism mostly reflects entrepreneurship. In that case, we have less in common with European social democracy than we thought previously. And, if our goal is to have more countries that look like America, then having them adopt a democratic political system may not be necessary and will certainly not be sufficient.

One wouldn’t expect a libertarian to grasp the fact, bit neither democracy nor capitalism are sufficient. They’re means, not ends.


November 22, 2006

Interventionism’s Realistic Future

By Robert D. Kaplan
Wednesday, November 22, 2006; A21

Hard-core foreign policy realists (the kind who say this country should rarely intervene again, anywhere) are hoping that in the wake of our comeuppance in Iraq things will be going their way. That is to say, U.S. foreign policy will be defined by an obdurate caution, coupled with a ruthless, almost mathematical application of balance-of-power principles. You’d think — to hear some of them talk — that we’re about to emulate China, which seeks only energy sources and advantageous trade agreements and cares nothing at all for the moral improvement of regimes in such places as Zimbabwe, Burma and Uzbekistan.

This is nonsense. Our foreign policy is about to experience an adjustment, not a flip-flop. Neither political party will support anything else if it really wants to elect a president in 2008. Just look at the dismay in this country over our failure to intervene in Darfur, even given the burden we already carry in Iraq. To be sure, the recent evidence that our democratic system cannot be violently exported will temper our Wilsonian principles, but it will not bury them. Pure realism — without a hint of optimism or idealism — would immobilize our mass immigrant democracy, which has always seen itself as an agent of change.


November 22, 2006

U.S. legislator warns of Bush plot to merge Canada, the U.S. and Mexico (Beth Gorham, November 21, 2006, The Canadian Press)

A U.S. legislator who backs tough anti-immigrant measures and more security at the Canada-U.S. border is warning Americans that President George W. Bush is plotting to integrate the continent.

And he says Prime Minister Stephen Harper “buys into it.”

Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, revered by some U.S. conservatives for his efforts to staunch the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico, said this week that Bush is a dangerous internationalist.

“He is going to do what he can to create a place where the idea of America is just that, it’s an idea. It’s not an actual place defined by borders. I mean this is where the guy is really going,” he told WorldNetDaily, a controversial conservative website.

Manifest Destiny doesn’t respect artificial borders.


November 17, 2006

How Terrible Is It? (Max Rodenbeck, 11/30/06, NY Review of Books)

To whoever wants to listen, several new books offer detailed and persuasive explanations of what has gone wrong in America’s counterterror policy, why it went wrong, and how it may be put right.

One of the best is by Louise Richardson, a Harvard professor who not only has been teaching about terrorism for a decade, but brings the experience of an Irish childhood, including youthful enthusiasm for the IRA, to understanding the phenomenon. As she explains, she had always thought it wise for academics to stay out of politics. The sheer boneheadedness of Washington’s incumbents, who have ignored decades of accumulated wisdom on her subject, prompted her to write a belated primer.

The result is a book that reads like an all-encompassing crash course in terrorism: its history, what motivates it, and the most effective ways of treating it. Her analysis is clear, thorough, illuminating, and provocative. The lesson, as it unfolds, is quietly, authoritatively excoriating about the policies this administration has pursued. Indeed, one would like to see the entire US national security establishment frog-marched into Richardson’s Terrorism 101.

Here are a dozen of her basic points:

1. Terrorism is anything but new. Violence by nonstate actors against civilians to achieve political aims has been going on for a long, long time. The biblical Zealots known as the Sicarii used it against the Romans, as well as against fellow Jews, in the vain hope of provoking the Imperium to so extreme a response that they would foment a mass uprising. Following the failed 1848 revolutions in Europe, the German radical Karl Heinzen published a tract, simply titled Murder, which advocated selective homicide as a spark to general revolt. Various groups soon put such ideas into practice. The Clerkenwell bombing of 1867, carried out by the Fenians, an Irish nationalist group, prompted a surge of hysteria in London reminiscent of the response provoked by September 11.

So, in later decades, did the wave of anarchist terrorism that swept Europe and the United States. Revolutionaries assassinated seven heads of state between 1881 and 1914. Paris suffered bomb attacks no fewer than eleven times between 1892 and 1894. In the 1930s and 1940s of the last century, Menachem Begin’s Irgun organization slaughtered scores of Palestinian civilians and British soldiers. The Israeli leader went on to share a Nobel Peace Prize.

2. Terrorism is obviously a threat, and the deliberate killing of innocent civilians an outrage, but it is not a very big threat. As John Mueller points out in Overblown, his sadly funny, far less patient account of America’s response to September 11, the probability of an American being killed by terrorists is about the same as of being felled by an allergic reaction to peanuts. Six times more Americans are killed every year by drunk drivers than died in the World Trade Center. (And more Americans have now died in Iraq and Afghan-istan.) Excepting a few particularly bad years, the annual number of deaths from terrorism worldwide since the late 1960s, when the State Department started record-keeping, is only about the same as the number of Americans who drown every year in bathtubs.

3. The danger from terrorist use of so-called weapons of mass destruction is not as large as scaremongers profess. Known chemical weapons do not, in fact, cause much wider damage than conventional weapons, and in addition they are difficult to use. The Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo (Aum is Japanese for Supreme Truth), which had excellent technicians and facilities and plenty of money to brew lethal potions, discovered this when it tried to poison the Tokyo subway with sarin gas in 1995. Biological weapons are potentially more deadly, but also hard to make and to diffuse. As for nuclear weapons, there is no evidence that any terrorist group has ever come close to acquiring them. Placing all these dangers in a single category of threat is misleading, and greatly exaggerates the overall threat posed by terrorist groups around the world.

4. Many terrorists are not madmen. The choice to use terror can be quite rational and calculated. In his memoirs, Nelson Mandela recalls that the African National Congress debated what method to use to confront apartheid. Terrorism was considered, but scrapped, mercifully, in favor of sabotage attacks, for fear of alienating potential supporters. The IRA was murderous, but found that planting bombs and then warning of their presence was just as effective as setting them off in crowds. This tactic had the advantage of avoiding some of the “collateral damage” of bad publicity. Other terrorists, such as those linked with al-Qaeda, unfortunately, like bad publicity as much as good.

5. Groups that commit terrorism, in many cases, believe they are acting defensively, using the most effective means at their disposal. Their justifications can be self-serving and morally repugnant, but are often carefully elaborated. Some terrorists rely on the complicity of the people around them, and so must work to persuade them of their rectitude. Others operate in inhospitable environments, and aim more to shock and provoke. It is, Richardson emphasizes, important to distinguish these differing approaches, since they suggest different remedies.

6. Suicide attacks can also represent a rational policy choice. They are cheap. They can be a means of access to difficult targets. They are effective in frightening people, and in advertising the seriousness and devotion of those who undertake them. Typical suicide “martyrs” are not loners or misfits; in their will to die for a cause, they tend to be sustained by the strong solidarity of a close group of collaborators. They are often motivated by personal humiliation at the hands of those they wish to hurt, or they wish to take revenge for the killings of family members or comrades. Suicide attacks are not new, either. They were used, for example, since the nineteenth century by the Muslim Moros guerrillas against both Spanish and US invaders of the Philippines. Before Iraq, their most intensive use in modern times was not in the Middle East but in Sri Lanka, where, since 1987, Tamil rebels have killed hundreds of government soldiers in scores of suicide operations, often carried out by women.

7. There is no special link between Islam and terrorism. Most major religions have produced some form of terrorism, and many terrorist groups have professed atheism. If there is a particular tenacity in Islamist forms of terrorism today, this is a product not of Islamic scripture but of the current historical circumstance that many Muslims live in places of intense political conflict. Contemporary Islamist movements that resort to terrorism are, however, often strengthened in their appeal by the fact that they want to link a faith-based activism, intended to “transform” society, with ethnic and nationalist causes. Most other terrorist groups have not combined their intentions in this way. For instance, the IRA does not have “transformational” aims, as Richardson puts it, but rather territorial ones.

8. Electoral democracy does not prevent terrorism, which has flourished in many democracies, typically being used by groups representing minorities who believe the logic of majority rule excludes them. The Basque separatist group ETA and Greece’s November 17th urban guerrillas started under dictatorships, but continued their attacks following transitions to democracy in both countries.

9. Democratic principles are no impediment to prosecuting terrorists. On the contrary they are, Richardson asserts, “among the strongest weapons in our arsenal.” Pointedly, she recalls that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington, although incensed by Britain’s policy of incarcerating American revolutionaries on grisly prison ships, where twice as many perished as on the battlefield, gave strict orders for the humane treatment of British captives.

10. Military action is sometimes necessary to combat terrorism, but it is often not the best way to do so. When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, after a twenty-two-year occupation, it left behind a far stronger and more determined adversary in Hezbollah than it had started with. The Peruvian army spent twenty years in an ugly, scorched-earth campaign against Sendero Luminoso guerrillas, during which nearly 70,000 people were killed. The group was defeated and disbanded after a change in tactics when a seventy-man police team took just six months, using incisive analysis and good intelligence, to capture its leader. In the cases where brute military action has succeeded, as in Uruguay and Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, it was at the cost of democracy and human rights.

11. Armies, in fact, often create more problems than they solve. When Britain sent its army into Northern Ireland in 1969 in response to the Troubles, it took just two years for the majority of Catholics, who were at first relieved by their presence, to turn against them. The turnaround for the US in Iraq was far shorter. During the seven months between September 2003 and April 2004, as Charles Peña reminds us in Winning the Un-War, the proportion of Iraqis saying that attacks on foreign troops were somewhat or fully justified leapt from 8 percent to 61 percent. This was exactly the period when a sudden surge in attacks on US forces, following the initial post-invasion calm, prompted vigorous counterinsurgency measures. That is all the time it took, it seems, for Iraqis to decide they did not like being searched, beaten up, shot at, jailed, and humiliated by American troops, whatever the reasons given. Recent polls show some 61 percent of Iraqis still approve of attacking the Americans, and 78 percent believe the US presence is “provoking more conflict than it is preventing.”

12. To address the issues terrorists say they are fighting for cannot automatically be dismissed as appeasement. Britain did not succeed in disarming the IRA by ignoring its de-mands but by engaging them, and by altering the situation in Northern Ireland that had created the IRA’s perception of a threat to its goals. In fact, the conversion of terrorist groups in-to peaceful political movements has often occurred because their rationale for violence has ceased to exist, or because they came to feel that resort to terrorist tactics would limit their room for political maneuver.

One particularly important point of Richardson’s is that few terrorist groups have ever succeeded in achieving their stated primary aim, whether to foment a revolution or to “liberate” a territory. In fact, most of them do not really expect to do so, and are extremely vague about what they would do if they actually succeeded. Osama bin Laden has said next to nothing about what sort of society he would actually like to create, just as Marx never described in any detail what his communist utopia would look like. This may explain why the terrorist groups that have taken power have sometimes produced such incompetent rule —as was the case with Yasser Arafat.

Because terrorists tend to be aspirational rather than practical, their practices typically amount to what Ms. Richardson calls a search for the three R’s of terrorism: revenge, renown, and reaction. As she puts it, “the point of terrorism is not to defeat the enemy but to send a message.” This simple insight is important, because it suggests ways of dealing with terrorism: you must blunt the impulse for revenge, try to limit the terrorists’ renown, and refrain from reacting in ways that either broaden the terrorists’ appeal or encourage further terrorism by showing how effective their tactics are.

Richardson’s three R’s go a long way toward explaining why American policy has become so disastrously askew. As she notes, an act such as September 11 itself achieves the first of her three R’s, revenge. So spectacularly destructive an attack also gains much of the second objective, renown. But the Bush administration’s massive and misdirected overreaction has handed al-Qaeda a far greater reward than it ever dreamed of winning.

“The declaration of a global war on terrorism,” says Richardson bluntly, “has been a terrible mistake and is doomed to failure.” In declaring such a war, she says, the Bush administration chose to mirror its adversary:

Americans opted to accept al-Qaeda’s language of cosmic warfare at face value and respond accordingly, rather than respond to al-Qaeda based on an objective assessment of its resources and capabilities.

In essence, America’s actions radically upgraded Osama bin Laden’s organization from a ragtag network of plotters to a great enemy worthy of a superpower’s undivided attention. Even as it successfully shattered the group’s core through the invasion of Afghanistan, America empowered al-Qaeda politically by its loud triumphalism, whose very excess encouraged others to try the same terror tactics.

This analysis suffers from one fatal mistake that’s especially peculiar in those who seek to explain Terrorism; it fails to consider our response through the lens of terrorism. That is to say, we need to strip away the pejorative connotations and consider the history of American warfare as a particularly consistent and successful use of terrorism to achieve our own liberal ends. Even setting aside the obvious revenge for 9-11 in our destruction of al Qaeda, look at the way we removed both the Taliban and Saddam from power in reaction to that event. Likewise revealing is to consider the dozen points (or at least those that aren’t truisms) as if the terrorists under consideration were us:

(2) No, terrorism by radicals isn’t much of a threat to us, while we are a lethal threat to them. America absorbed 9-11 fairly easily. For OBL, the Taliban, and Saddam it was the end of the line. And whether by bombing, sanctions, or more traditional warfare we’ve been perfectly happy to terrorize Middle Eastern populations and leaders into behaving as we require them to, which is why Libya gave up its nuclear program, the Palestinians held real elections and are now moving towards peace with Israel, and the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. are so rapidly evolving into mere political parties.

(3) Their prospective WMD isn’t a threat. Our very real WMD means that no terrorist can ever take control of a state so long as we’re willing to use it or they have cause to fear that we will. We can literally terrorize them out of ascension to power.

(6) Our use of terrorism–as in fire-bombings, use of nuclear weapons, remote cruise missile and Predator attacks, irrespective of collateral damage–is likewise rational. While there’s a perfectly sound argument against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was nothing irrational about targeting Japanese civilians in order to make their nation surrender. And while it would have been better to take the Cold War hot and use those same terrifying weapons on the USSR, we ultimately settled instead into a balance of terror that was backed up by volumes of study in things like game theory and rational choice doctrine. Our repeated successes in war are testimony to the rationality of using terror as a weapon of state.

(7-12) It doesn’t matter what the terrorists want in any particular case, the simple reality of America’s existence is that we have inexorably forced liberalization and democratization on unwilling parties for a couple centuries. And we’ve been willing to use far more lethal and terrifying means of coercion than any piddling terrorists have. Asking folks who perpetrated Sherman’s march to the sea on their own countrymen to back off and allow totalitarian regimes to do whatever they want is an exercise in futility.

If the three “R’s” for non-state actors are revenge, renown, and reaction, the three R’s for states ought to be thought of as revenge, reason and results. Until folks stop attacking us, stop giving us other reasons to regime change them, or History ceases to move in exactly the direction that our policies are intended to push it, there’s little reason to believe that America will abandon the Long War for more than brief respites.

MORE (via Kevin Whited):
DOWNFALL: How Donald Rumsfeld reformed the Army and lost Iraq. (PETER J. BOYER, 2006-11-20, The New Yorker)

As a pro-defense Republican, Bush would have the political capital to bring about genuine, even historic, change. During the campaign, he had vowed to give his Secretary of Defense “a broad mandate to challenge the status quo and envision a new architecture of American defense for decades to come,” and he had chosen Rumsfeld because he believed that he would be more willing and better able than the other candidates to pursue his agenda. The contents and scope of that agenda were not yet known, but Rumsfeld made it clear that his approach to the military was very much hands-on.

Among those gathered at the River Parade Field for the Rumsfeld ceremony was an elderly man with a pleasant, grandfatherly aspect, who, amid the political celebrities and military brass, might have been taken for someone who had strayed from a Pentagon tour group. But within the national-security priesthood Andrew Marshall was something of a legend. He headed a unit called the Office of Net Assessment (he was its first and only director), which had evolved over the years into a sort of in-house Pentagon think tank. That made him the resident deep thinker, and what Marshall, who was in his late seventies, had been thinking about for every President since Richard Nixon (and for two decades before that at the Rand Corporation) was how America could prevail in the next big war.

Marshall’s professional life had paralleled the full sweep of the Cold War. He was admired as a boldly original theorist; in the forty-year strategic chess match between East and West, it sometimes seemed as if Marshall were playing a three-dimensional game. Marshall was among the very few who understood the Soviet vulnerability, and it was largely Marshall who imagined the strategy for exploiting it—the Reagan-era conceit of a winnable nuclear war, based on technologies (such as the unproved missile-defense shield) and levels of expenditure that the Soviets could not hope to match.

Marshall fell out of favor under the Clinton Administration, which saw less call for an esoteric Cold War strategist. But he had already turned his focus on something that he believed was of immense and pressing importance. It was a new way of thinking about the military, an idea with vast implications for every aspect of American defense, from the nation’s weaponry to its global posture, because it would radically change the way America waged war—indeed, it could alter the very nature of war. It was called the Revolution in Military Affairs.

This revolution had begun to unfold in the Cold War’s last stages. In the post-Vietnam nineteen-seventies, the Soviet-led forces of the Warsaw Pact conducted a steady, massive buildup of heavy forces—tanks and mechanized infantry—along the western edge of East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Twenty thousand battle tanks, mostly Soviet, faced west; on the other side, NATO fielded a force of only seven thousand tanks. In the event of a conventional Soviet attack, NATO forces would be forced to wage a fighting retreat until reinforcements arrived, mostly from the United States. One option for countering the Soviet advantage was the deployment of “tactical” nuclear weapons to Europe. Tactical nukes posed obvious political and strategic problems—the NATO allies did not welcome the prospect of even limited nuclear war in Europe, and there was always the chance of escalation into full-blown nuclear conflict.

But the Americans were also working on a non-nuclear weapons system that would change the equation. The top-secret Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was funding a program called Assault Breaker, which was designed to strike far behind enemy lines, disrupting or destroying follow-on forces, gaining time and cover for the Western alliance to launch a counter-offensive. Assault Breaker was meant to compress the process of locating a target and launching a strike into a synchronized target-and-fire action taking just minutes. DARPA equipped an Air Force plane with an advanced radar system and onboard computers that worked out the target’s coördinates and transmitted them to an Army missile base, which fired rockets toward the target area. In a test of Assault Breaker at the White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, the system hit five out of five targets.

In the early nineteen-eighties, Marshall and his colleagues began to notice in their reading of Soviet military literature that the Russians were writing about this new American weaponry with increasing alarm. The Soviets assumed that deployment of Assault Breaker was imminent, and that this American advance represented the dawn of a new military epoch—what the Soviet analysts referred to as a “military-technical revolution.” (The Americans weren’t nearly as attuned to the implications of their own developments. Assault Breaker was not close to deployment; in fact, the Air Force and the Army were disinclined to coöperate, and the joint program eventually died.) Marshall began to analyze this idea, and, after months of study, his office concluded that the Russians had got it right. The Red Army’s Chief of Staff, Marshal Nikolai V. Ogarkov, had recognized that advances such as those tested by the Americans would give conventional weapons many of the strengths of nuclear weapons, without the apocalyptic effects. Implicit in Ogarkov’s insight was the idea that a key breakthrough in technology (for example, microprocessing) could suddenly reconfigure the battle-field—in this case, with accuracy so precise that, Ogarkov wrote, conventional warfare took on “qualitatively new and incomparably more destructive forms than before.”

Marshall was struck by this idea, and, throughout the eighties, he assigned teams of analysts to search for historical instances of such advances. (“What’s amazing,” Marshall told me, “is how much we know, it turns out, about the chariot revolution back in 1700 B.C.”) The example he found most compelling was that of Europe in the years between the twentieth century’s two World Wars. After the Pyrrhic victory of the First World War, France built the finest Army in the world, and an imposing defensive complex of forts, bunkers, and tunnels—the Maginot Line—along its border with Germany. A defeated Germany, on the other hand, had to overcome the constraints of the Treaty of Versailles (forbidding Germany warplanes, tanks, submarines, or heavy guns, and outlawing its general-officer staff) to build Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Yet, in the late spring of 1940, Germany invaded France and won a French surrender in less than six weeks. The stunning German victory was produced by a battlefield innovation, blitzkrieg, that married two relatively new technologies—radio and the internal-combustion engine—to facilitate a tactic of rapid, coördinated movement. The Germans had designed their new panzer divisions to suit this doctrine, and their impact was decisive. The German forces bypassed the Maginot Line, attacked directly through the Ardennes Forest, and dashed to the French rear, sowing chaos en route and forcing a quick surrender.

To Marshall and his associates, the lessons were clear. The side that recognized and exploited such advances gained not just an edge in warfare but an overwhelming advantage; for the side that missed the chance, the consequences could be fatal.

With the impending demise of the Soviet Union, the U.S. was entering a new interwar period. Marshall had no doubt that some new competitor would emerge to challenge the United States, and it struck him as exactly the moment to prepare for the next big war. The U.S. led the world in microchip technology, and the information age promised a dazzling range of military applications, such as advanced sensors, satellite imagery, robotics, and laser systems. The danger would not arise in Europe, Marshall believed, but in Asia—most likely China. The conflict would not be a prolonged ground war, involving massed formations of infantry and tank divisions; rather, there would be long-range precision strikes by “smart” missiles. If there was infantry in the fight at all, it would be in small, specialized units. Marshall supposed, too, that in the global economy these technologies would be available to all. This made it imperative that the U.S. push conflicts to distant battlefields, if possible, and to reduce (or eliminate) such easy American targets as overseas airbases and huge aircraft-carrier battle groups.

In July, 1992, during the race between George H. W. Bush and Clinton, Marshall gave the Pentagon’s senior leaders a formal assessment reflecting his conclusions about the Revolution in Military Affairs. Marshall preferred that term to the Russians’ “military-technical revolution,” because he believed that technology only partly accounted for such bursts of progress. The other critical element was a military’s adoption of entirely new operational concepts, organizational structures, and doctrines. For instance, the French and British had radios, tanks, and airplanes in 1940, but Germany put them to novel use. Marshall wrote that new ideas had to be tested, even if most of them failed. Perhaps most important, the Pentagon needed to stop depending exclusively on the big-ticket weapons that devoured defense dollars and perpetuated the status quo.

Marshall’s assessment came just as the national-security establishment was trying to define America’s posture in a world without a Soviet counterweight. Some, including the first President Bush, Brent Scowcroft, his national-security adviser, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, were avowed “realists,” who believed that America’s role was to be part of a new world order, with the emphasis on order. But others believed that the U.S. should embrace and, if possible, enhance its position as the world’s sole superpower. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, was inclined to this view, as was his top policy official, Paul Wolfowitz, who argued emphatically that the United States should strengthen its military superiority so that potential rivals would have no hope of catching up. Marshall’s Revolution in Military Affairs offered a means to achieve that goal, and both Cheney and Wolfowitz became converts.

There were also converts within the uniformed military, including a few in the senior ranks, but the services were generally skeptical about the R.M.A., as it was now being called. Some of the resistance, particularly in the Army, reflected the belief that Marshall’s vision of long-distance precision strikes ignored the gritty reality of actual war, with soldiers on the ground. Had President George H. W. Bush won another term, he might have been willing to impose upon the military the upheaval that a revolution in military affairs implied. But the last thing the Army was inclined to do while facing cutbacks under the Clinton Administration was tinker with its revered divisional structure, and the Navy was no less inclined to reduce the number of its aircraft-carrier battle groups. Clinton’s last Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen, had tried to get the Army to transform itself into a lighter, more expeditionary force. But Cohen, a Republican, was frustrated from the start. “I was coming into a Democratic Administration, and that had its own dynamic,” Cohen recalled. “I must say that President Clinton gave me total authority, so it wasn’t a question coming from him. But just dealing with the issue—how do you push transformation in a Democratic Administration? Is this something that’s weakening the military? The perception on the Hill would be ‘Here they go cutting back on the military powers of the Army.’ ”

Still, Marshall continued to promote his revolution. Using his budget at the Office of Net Assessment, he financed his own futuristic war games. The Revolution in Military Affairs thrived in think tanks and seminars.

As Marshall watched Rumsfeld’s official welcoming ceremony, he was hopeful that the revolution’s moment had arrived. During the Presidential campaign, George W. Bush had promised to build a new American military for the twenty-first century. In a speech at the Citadel in 1999, Bush had said that as President he would instruct his Defense Secretary to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the military, to question everything from its force structure and strategy to its acquisition process. He promised not just to make “marginal improvements” but “to replace existing programs with new technologies and strategies, to use this window of opportunity to skip a generation of technology.” That speech was instantly recognized, by those with a trained ear, as the language of the Revolution in Military Affairs.

Marshall had known Rumsfeld over the years, and he liked him. Shortly after Rumsfeld’s induction, the new Secretary arranged to have lunch with Marshall—not, as Marshall had expected, in Rumsfeld’s private office but in the “Sec Def Mess,” a nearby dining room where the guests seldom went unnoticed. “Oh, I think it was very clear,” Richard Perle, a former Reagan defense official and a close adviser to Rumsfeld, recalled. “It went all over the building that Andy was back. It was like Deng Xiaoping’s return.” The President had pledged to conduct a comprehensive review, identifying probable American adversaries, and when and where the next wars would likely occur. Rumsfeld asked Marshall if he would like to take something like that on. Marshall said he could put a team together right away. The Pentagon’s traditional review process, the Quadrennial Defense Review, was just getting under way, and wouldn’t be finished for another nine months. Hundreds of uniformed staff officers from all the services had spent tens of thousands of man-hours trying to answer essentially those questions. This review tended to be an exercise in justifying the budgets, force size, and programs that the military services wanted to protect. Rumsfeld evidently intended to circumvent that process. He told Marshall that he’d like to have the first draft of his strategic review in six weeks. “We delivered on that,” Marshall recalled.

Word of Marshall’s new assignment rang through the Pentagon like a distress signal, which may have been part of Rumsfeld’s plan. Rumsfeld had in mind for the military, and for the Pentagon itself, an agenda of radical reform. He called it “transformation,” and the return of Andrew Marshall meant that it would be guided by the principles of the Revolution in Military Affairs. Rumsfeld intended to remake the American military into a lighter, more agile, more readily useful force that would be able to leverage new technology to project lethal power over great distances.

Marshall would have been the first to say that technology and the Revolution in Military Affairs had very little application to certain kinds of conflict, such as a counter-insurgency fight against some indigenous guerrilla force. But that was the sort of war that no one—on the new Bush national-security team, or certainly in the American military—had any intention of ever fighting. That would be a war like Vietnam.

When war came, with the invasion of Afghanistan, in late 2001, Rumsfeld had only the barest beginnings of a transformed military, but he had a fully formed philosophy that dictated how America would fight. In Afghanistan, it meant routing the Taliban with small bands of American Special Forces and coördinating long-distance air strikes and Afghan ground troops. For the subsequent invasion of Iraq, in March, 2003, the Rumsfeld vision meant getting to Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime as quickly and with as small a force as prudence permitted. Many professional military men strenuously disagreed with Rumsfeld’s war plan, but, fresh from the validating triumph in Afghanistan, he prevailed. […]

The circle of defense advisers that had most ardently advocated the Iraqi invasion, including Richard Perle and Newt Gingrich, had imagined a strategy that wouldn’t require a lasting American presence in postwar Iraq. The plan depended on the recruitment and training of “free Iraqis” to participate in the combat phase of the operation, and the imposition of a provisional government, run mostly by Iraqi exiles, after the war. Something like that had worked in Afghanistan, and, the reasoning went, the approach stood an even better chance of working in Iraq; Iraqi exiles had been planning for such an eventuality for more than a decade. But the program to train Iraqi fighters produced fewer than a hundred recruits; it also ignored the reality that prominent exiles like Ahmad Chalabi had less credibility, and less of an indigenous base, than those whom the U.S. had relied on in Afghanistan. The Defense Department’s plan to set up a provisional Iraqi government was abandoned after a bitter interagency argument within the Bush Administration that lasted until the very eve of the war. The State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency refused to endorse the imposition of a provisional government composed of Iraqi exiles, arguing that it would not be seen as legitimate. In the end, Rumsfeld surrendered on the point—to the lasting distress of the hawks nearest him. “I think he made a serious mistake,” Perle, a member of Rumsfeld’s advisory Defense Policy Board, recalled. “I think he underestimated the importance of getting those matters right.”

President Bush, with Rumsfeld’s approval, ultimately decided that postwar Iraq would be governed by an American-led Coalition Provisional Authority, to be headed by a veteran diplomat, L. Paul Bremer. With that appointment, and the implicit personal authority conveyed therein, came a critical, and not entirely intended, shift in American postwar policy. Bremer became the American proconsul in Iraq, technically reporting to Rumsfeld’s Defense Department but exercising a degree of authority that came to surprise even Rumsfeld. Bremer began his tenure, in May, 2003, by issuing a series of edicts that included the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and the removal of senior Baath Party members from government jobs. (Bremer said that he was acting on instructions from the Pentagon.) The edicts signalled that Baathists would have no place in the new Iraq, but they also crippled the bureaucracy and eliminated the most important instrument of Iraqi unity and a crucial tool in establishing order. In effect, half a million men, many with guns, were sent into the streets.

These moves had a decisive impact on the coalition’s response to the widening insurgency. A huge instant bureaucracy was set up inside the walls of Saddam’s former Republican Palace, where Americans laboriously laid plans for undertakings ranging from the design of a new Iraqi flag to the restructuring of the Iraqi monetary system. Meanwhile, no coherent, unified plan to fight the insurgency emerged, which rendered such plans increasingly abstract. “It was Alice in Wonderland,” recalled Gary Anderson, a defense specialist who was dispatched to Iraq by Paul Wolfowitz to help set up an Iraqi civil-defense corps. “It was surreal. I mean, I was so depressed the second time we went there, to see the lack of progress and the continuing confusion. The lack of coherence. You’d get two separate briefs, two separate cuts on the same subject, from the military and from the civilians.”

To Wolfowitz and others who had advocated the quickest possible turnover of authority to Iraqis, the C.P.A. was a maddening obstacle to the ever-dwindling hope of replicating the Afghanistan success.

The irony, of course, is that Rumsfeld failed to follow his own doctrine when he made that shift to occupation. Fortunately, the take-away is obvious: topple regimes by any means necessary–and we have quite some means–don’t fight insurgents hand-to-hand. And we’re very skeptical that the neo-cons understood this, rather than being cheerleaders for staying and nation-building, as witness. Rumsfeld’s self-inflicted wounds: The outgoing defense secretary was too focused on transforming the military, and failed to plan for achieving political goals in Iraq. (Frederick W. Kagan, November 12, 2006, LA Times)

Belief in the value of technology and the need for light, swift ground forces pervaded the senior military leadership in the 1990s. Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki had launched an ambitious program to “lighten” the Army and equip it with advanced precision weapons. Shinseki certainly warned that more troops would be needed to secure Iraq in the wake of major combat operations. But Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander who developed and executed the actual war plan, wanted fewer. Many officers opposed the “light footprint” approach with which Rumsfeld tackled the problem of the Iraqi insurgency — but not Gen. John Abizaid, who took over from Franks right after the end of major combat operations. A secretary of Defense who encouraged discussion and dissent would have perhaps anticipated more of the flaws in the policies he was proposing. Still, the strategy that has led to disaster in Iraq belonged to the commanders at least as much as to Rumsfeld. Scapegoating him in isolation will prevent us from learning the essential lessons of our recent failures.

For the problem with Rumsfeld was not his flawed managerial style, but his flawed understanding of war. Early in his term, he became captive of an idea. He would transform the U.S. military in accord with the most advanced theories of the 1990s to prepare it for the challenges of the future. He was not alone in his captivity. As a candidate, President Bush announced the same program in 1999 — long before anyone thought Don Rumsfeld would return as secretary of Defense. The program, quite simply, was to rely on information technology to permit American forces to locate, identify, track and destroy any target on the face of the Earth from thousands of miles away. Ideally, ground forces would not be necessary in future wars. If they were, it would be in small numbers, widely dispersed, moving rapidly and engaging in little close combat. This vision defined U.S. military theory throughout the 1990s, and it has gone deep into our military culture. Rumsfeld’s advent hastened and solidified its triumph, but his departure will not lead instantly to its collapse.

At its root, this “transformation program” is not a program for war at all. War is the use of force to achieve a political purpose, against a thinking enemy and involving human populations. Political aims cannot normally be achieved simply by destroying targets. But the transformation that enthusiasts of the 1990s focused too narrowly on destroyed the enemy’s military with small, lean and efficient forces. This captivated Rumsfeld, becoming his passion. He meant it to be his legacy. It was the fatal flaw in this vision that led, in part, to the debacle in Iraq.

These guys, presumably because they’re so anti-Shi’a, have too little faith in the people we liberated.


November 14, 2006

From foe to friend: Vietnam and the legacy of war: When George Bush arrives in Hanoi this week for a trade summit, he will see a country which has prospered during three decades of peace – but is still scarred by conflict (Kathy Marks, 14 November 2006 , The Independent)

Thirty-one years have passed since the fall of Saigon brought an ignominious end to the Vietnam War. The last US troops had left two years earlier. Yet it continues to haunt the American psyche, especially today, when so many parallels can be drawn with the current situation in Iraq.

Images of Vietnam remain profoundly influenced by the war: forests defoliated by Agent Orange; the massacre at My Lai; B-52 bombers dropping their deadly load; people fighting to board a helicopter as it takes off from the roof of the US embassy; a little girl runing in terror, her body scorched by napalm.

But while reminders of that conflict are still visible, modern Vietnam is very different from the place abandoned to the Viet-cong in 1975 – as President George Bush is set to discover this Friday when he arrives for the Asia-Pacific summit. It is a country of elegant colonial-era hotels restored to five-star luxury, restaurants offering the best of Asian and French cuisine, golf courses, and upmarket shops rivalling those of Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Vietnamese economy – devastated by decades of fighting, the destruction of much of the infrastructure and the dead hand of communism – is booming, fuelled to a large degree by tourism. A country that was once a byword for death and devastation is now a chic travel destination, and a must-do stop on the backpacker trail.


November 14, 2006

To Know McCain, Read Mahan (JOHN BATCHELOR, November 14, 2006, NY Sun)

“War, once declared, must be waged offensively, aggressively,” wrote the sage of American navalists, Alfred Mahan, in his seminal 1890 book, “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783.” “The enemy must not be fended off, but smitten down.”

Mahan is important today because our chief architect of Mahanian policy now forms an exploratory committee to begin his campaign for the presidency in 2008. John McCain, son and grandson of admirals, Annapolis graduate, aviator, and war hero, who is notorious for hectoring the Bush administration on policy issues as wide-ranging as federal judgeships, torture protocols, and pork-barrel spending, is in fact the clearest living expression of Mahanism on planet Earth. He not only inherits Mahan’s core philosophy of American imperial power through naval supremacy and global commerce, but also inherits the duly famous combat legacy of his Mahanian grandfather, Vice Admiral John S. “Slew” McCain, who commanded the fast carriers that defeated the Japanese Imperial navy — steaming to the rescue at Leyte Gulf — and who invented through experiment the naval air tactics that have guaranteed American foreign policy since World War II.

Mr. McCain brings to the campaign many gifts, such as curt candor and a savvy tolerance of new ideas, but his overwhelming strength is that he thinks, plans, and acts according to Mahan. In this, Mr. McCain is in a potent line of presidential actors, starting with William McKinley and his Mahanian Spanish War, continuing to the Mahanian champion Teddy Roosevelt and his globalizing Great White Fleet, and including Franklin Roosevelt, who studied Mahan while still at Groton, and the Cold Warriors Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the two Bush presidents, both of whom asserted Mahanism by protecting American energy resources in the Persian Gulf.

If the Republicans choose Mr. McCain for 2008, and if Mr. McCain survives the crusading candidacy of Hillary Clinton, he will take the oath of office in 2009 with the salty ghosts of all the triumphant Mahanians of every ocean on the reviewing stand.

Wouldn’t Senator-elect Webb, who quit the Reagan Administration in a huff when he realized we weren’t going to have a 600 ship navy, be the leading Mahanian?