Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WINNING AND LOSING....Fareed Zakaria has a piece in the current issue of Newsweek that makes some valuable points about our successes against terrorism over the past few years:

In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which were Al Qaeda's original bases and targets of attack, terrorist cells have been rounded up, and those still at large have been unable to launch any major new attacks in a couple of years. There, as elsewhere, the efforts of finance ministries — most especially the U.S. Department of the Treasury — have made life far more difficult for terrorists.

....In Iraq...Al Qaeda has morphed into a purist Sunni group that spends most of its time killing Shiites....As a result, an organization that had hoped to rally the entire Muslim world to jihad against the West has been dragged instead into a dirty internal war within Islam.

....The split between Sunnis and Shiites — which plays a role in Lebanon as well — is only one of the divisions within the world of Islam....Rather than speaking of a single worldwide movement — which absurdly lumps together Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite warlords in Lebanon and Sunni jihadists in Egypt — we should be emphasizing that all these groups are distinct, with differing agendas, enemies and friends. That robs them of their claim to represent Islam. It describes them as they often are — small local gangs of misfits, hoping to attract attention through nihilism and barbarism.

This is good as far as it goes, and its realistic look at the strength of al-Qaeda is a welcome antidote to the scaremongering favored by the Rudy Giuliani crowd. I also like Zakaria's emphasis on the obvious divisions between different countries, sects, and movements, something we could use to our advantage if the Bush administration were bright enough to understand that it takes more than mere displays of stubbornness to win a war. (Stephen Holmes made a similar point in The Matador's Cape, which I reviewed here.)

But there's something big missing, namely that regardless of what you think motivates terrorists in the first place, they have a hard time surviving as a large-scale threat without support (or, at a minimum, tolerance) from a surrounding population. Zakaria gives this three sentences at the very end of his piece:

How to open up and modernize the Muslim world is a long, hard and complex challenge. But surely one key is to be seen by these societies and peoples as partners and friends, not as bullies and enemies. That is one battle we are not yet winning.

He's right: we're not winning that battle. We're losing this part of the war pretty dramatically, and in the long run that's a lot more important than the scattered successes we've racked up against individual jihadist groups here and there. In fact, in the long run it means we're losing the war itself. If the Muslim world largely decides to turn against jihadism, then terrorists will find themselves unable to build the critical mass it takes to do serious damage. But if they don't, and jihadists have safe havens in large numbers over long periods, we'll find that we can't kill them as fast as new ones are created.

This is by far the most important aspect of our broad fight in the Middle East, one that the Bush administration first ignored, then prosecuted ineptly, and now seems simply confused about. It doesn't get nearly enough attention, and it's something Zakaria would be smart to devote his next column to. After all, Bush won't be president forever.

Kevin Drum 5:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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Comments


kevin: After all, Bush won't be president forever.

go fuck yourself...

Posted by: dick cheney on June 25, 2007 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

The analysis assumes that stability in the Middle East is the objective of the people who send our kids to die in Iraq.

That's a big assumption.

Posted by: gregor on June 25, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

But there's something big missing, namely that regardless of what you think motivates terrorists in the first place, they have a hard time surviving as a large-scale threat without support (or, at a minimum, tolerance) from a surrounding population. Zakaria gives this three sentences at the very end of his piece.

Hmm, what motivates the terrorists. Didn't Ron Paul talk about that during a debate in South Carolina?

Posted by: Sean Scallon on June 25, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

After all, Bush won't be president forever.

Sez who?

Posted by: george w bush on June 25, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

Fucking moron Bush will be the first president to lose 2 separate and different wars. He started one legitimate, just war, and is losing that. Then, because he could, he started a second illegitimate, unjust war and is losing that.

Losing two wars - that's what repukeliscum are good at.

Posted by: POed Lib on June 25, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

Posted by: RonBot #53 on June 25, 2007 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

"modernize the Muslim world" - isn't that a condescending phrase? For decades the US has demonstrated that we do not see the Muslim world - in particular, the Arab world - as partners to be respected, but instead societies to be manipulated. Perhaps it is precisely that version of the "modern world" that Islamicists have already taken to heart - get power and use it to obtain one's self-interested goals (of course that motive is as old as human nature) and to heck with what it means to those who are having the power used against them. Radical Islamicists are playing the game exactly the Cheney plays it - except they have to exert their power in a different way.

Am I saying that what the radical Islamicists are doing is okay? Absolutely not. And neither is the way the Bush administration has gone about dealing with the problem. The US, like all societies, does need to do what it can in self defense against the specific groups that directly endanger it. But the best self defense is not to found only in application of force. We need to be asking more questions of the peoples of Muslim nations and listening to them much more, and then demonstrating to them behavior that is a more enlightened version of the "modern world."

Posted by: TK on June 25, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

"In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which were Al Qaeda's original bases and targets of attack..."

So how about the area the whole GWoT started?

"After the fall of the Taliban five years ago, some experts warned of a nightmare scenario in which the Taliban and Al Qaeda would escape from Afghanistan into neighboring Pakistan and set up new command centers far out of America's reach. That nightmare scenario has now come true."

And aside from handing Iran a strategic victory in the area, I guess we're doing pretty good.

Posted by: Uli Kunkel on June 25, 2007 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Terrorist are motivated out of some perceived humiliation. They are the militant arm of a muslim world that feels that they have been humiliated for centuries by the West.
Bush's approach to terror feeds into that dynamic. In spite of their rhetoric to the contrary, Bush and his supporters see the war on terror as a battle between white Christians and brown Muslims. To them, there is no compromise or shades of gray, it's our values against theirs, and victory means getting them to submit completely to our values, which is why you see such a strong component of humiliation in the torture stories that come out. If you see the world this way, the war in Iraq makes complete sense.
It's an obtuse and myopic world view, but there it is.

Posted by: Del Capslock on June 25, 2007 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

How to open up and modernize the Muslim world is a long, hard and complex challenge. But surely one key is to be seen by these societies and peoples as partners and friends, not as bullies and enemies. That is one battle we are not yet winning.

Does it occur to anyone that maybe, just maybe, the reason for this is the Muslim culture and its resulting political systems, and not us?

I'd love to see Zakaria come up with something the length of a column that would finally tell the West what secret button to push that would make Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and all the others fade into irrelevance and bring the Muslim world into the 21st century. Culturally, not just in terms of shiny buildings and private jets. For eight years Clinton pretty much did all the right things with Arafat and the Palestinians. Did any of it help? Did millions in aid? Recognition of their new government? Withdrawal from Gaza?

Is it even barely conceivable that--Bush, or Clinton, or Reagan, or all other presidents aside--that the central issue of violent radical Islam isn't actually our fault?

Posted by: harry on June 25, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Presidential candidates from both parties think they have to act tough in order to win the support of their American electorate, who are only swayed with talk of dominance. Making partners and friends from adversaries is not a characteristic that Americans care about, and not one its leaders think requires development.

Posted by: Brojo on June 25, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Does it occur to anyone that maybe, just maybe, the reason for this is the Muslim culture and its resulting political systems, and not us?

Are you kidding? Of course that occurs to people. That is the primary thought occupying every single racist in the US.

Posted by: Disputo on June 25, 2007 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda

Hamas and Hezbollah are political institutions founded to protect significant, if not majority, populations that have been subjected to tyranny by superior forces. The US should attempt to become friends and partners with these groups by helping to protect and provide them with the political power that is legitimately theirs. Instead, the US does everything in its power to subjugate them in order to please its despotic allies.

Posted by: Brojo on June 25, 2007 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

What Brojo said.

Posted by: Disputo on June 25, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Does it occur to anyone that maybe, just maybe, the reason for this is the Muslim culture and its resulting political systems, and not us?"

I blame the Muslim Religeous leaders. They are using hatred to control the people and keep themselves in power.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on June 25, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

I blame the US political leaders. They are using hatred to control the people and keep themselves in power.

Posted by: Disputo on June 25, 2007 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Not so long ago, it was all those Sunni sheiks supporting the US by turning against al Qaida. Some have been slain in a bomb attack while another allegedly took the dough and ran. ($75 Mil)
The new practice of labeling all insurgents as al Qaeda remains. Victory is elusive when everyone suddenly becomes your stronest opponent.

Posted by: Mike on June 25, 2007 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

"Does it occur to anyone that maybe, just maybe, the reason for this is the Christian culture and its resulting political systems, and not us?"

I blame some Christian Religious leaders. They are using hatred to control the people and keep themselves in power.

And, I can spell.

Posted by: thersites on June 25, 2007 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

"If the Muslim world largely decides to turn against jihadism, then terrorists will find themselves unable to build the critical mass it takes to do serious damage."

This has been happening in Iraq, particularly over the last 6-12 months. Even Baathists have had enough of Al Queda and are turning on them in increasing numbers, fed up with their butchery and self-righteous blustering:

"The head of a Sunni insurgent group that has turned against al Qaeda in Diyala province and is cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi forces in the area said his fighters were participating in the operations and had succeeded in clearing several neighborhoods in eastern and western Baqouba.

The group leader, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, spoke as his fighters linked arms, chanted and danced. Women ululated in celebration. An Associated Press reporter also saw residents in the Mustafa area in western Baqouba serving food to the former insurgent fighters. Other residents began repairing their shops."

-http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/20/iraq/main2954616.shtml

WG

Posted by: weary_g on June 25, 2007 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

An attack on Iran would surely rally Muslim solidarity against the West to a large extent.

Posted by: Neil B. on June 25, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

So big picture, Bush has pretty much won the war on terror?

OK, Got it!

You think GoreKerryClinton could have done that in under 6 years?

Posted by: egbert on June 25, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK
"The head of a Sunni insurgent group that has turned against al Qaeda..."

Since the US military and MSM are now regularly referring to "insurgents" as "al Qaeda", this excerpt makes no sense whatsoever. Or our we to understand that the head of the insurgent/al Qaeda group has betrayed his group?

Posted by: Disputo on June 25, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'd love to see Zakaria come up with something the length of a column that would finally tell the West what secret button to push that would make Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and all the others fade into irrelevance and bring the Muslim world into the 21st century.
Posted by: harry on June 25, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Kill the kleptocrats.
The Shah, Mubarak, Saddam, Arafat, House of Saud, and their ilk. No matter how much aid these people are given, no matter how profitable their economies - the problem is that vast amounts of wealth are being hoarded by a very few. The people starve, live lives without hope, they turn on their televisions, should they be fortunate enough to have one, and look at the lifestyles of the west. Then the Mullahs tell them to hate us. If the Mullahs get out of line and start criticizing the kleptocrats (like Osama bin Laden, did, when he criticized the Sauds, and got kicked out) - then the kleptocrats pay-off the Mullahs, or find other ways of convincing them. The Sauds did this by pouring hundreds of millions into Madrassas. Where they're told that they have to hate the west, blame the west, blame Israel, for their problems. Don't blame the kleptocrats.

We buy oil. The kleptocrats divert that wealth into their pockets, and shave off a few pennies here and there to make sure that their radicals' hatred isn't directed at them. And we wonder why they riot in the streets with "Death to the USA" signs?

In the West, we had a labor movement, we had free land (19th century), we had ample resources, the New Deal, and prosperity was shared by many. This is not the case in the muslim world.

You want a magic button?
Find a way to kill the kleptocrats (like Saddam), without ending up with anarchy and chaos (like today's Iraq). Bush has duplicated the old Soviet formula for creating a failed state in Afghanistan. Why don't we use the formula that worked so well in Western Europe post WW-2? Because if we did that, all the reconstruction money will be stolen (as it was in Iraq). Why did that happen in Iraq? Because Bush (and Grover Norquist) wanted it to happen. You've got to eliminate ALL of the kleptocrats from the equation.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on June 25, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

But surely one key is to be seen by these societies and peoples as partners and friends, not as bullies and enemies.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt were presented as successes. Are we seen as partners and friends by those societies and people? By some but not others?

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 25, 2007 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

The new practice of labeling all insurgents as al Qaeda remains.
In fact, most seem to be senior al Qaeda as well.

Posted by: Qwerty on June 25, 2007 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

"So big picture, Bush has pretty much won the war on terror?"

No, dear, he's losing it, as Kevin correctly notes. Reading comprehension doesn't seem to be your strong point, does it?

Posted by: PaulB on June 25, 2007 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

The analysis assumes that stability in the Middle East is the objective of the people who send our kids to die in Iraq.

That's a big assumption.

I don't think they're planning on permanent instability or permanent occupation. I think they'd be satisfied with keeping several thousand troops doing police work there for a hundred years, as long as it wasn't nearly as much as we have there all ready.

But I think they built the huge embassy there because they actually believe the violence is going to die down there and the Iraqis are going to get it under control themselves.

Posted by: Swan on June 25, 2007 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo: "I blame the US political leaders. They are using hatred to control the people and keep themselves in power."

While Pelozi and Reid are of course to blame at least the Democrats in power did double cross their supportors and vote to continue the war.


What me spell purty gud but not purfek.

There are some or perhaps most christian leaders that I certainly don't trust.


Posted by: TruthPolitik on June 25, 2007 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

""So big picture, Bush has pretty much won the war on terror?"

No, dear, he's losing it, as Kevin correctly notes. Reading comprehension doesn't seem to be your strong point, does it?"

It isn't Bush's war on terror. It's Americas war on terror. Some of us see that we must win it. Others are too blinded by hatred to see.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on June 25, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

To be more precise, it's Bush's manipulation of terror. If Bush were serious about terrorism he would confront Saudi Arabia. Imagine the most terrifying sci-fi, dystopian nightmare, add a theocractic bent and you have the Saudi state. The fact that Bush is deliberatly concealing Saudi Arabia's role as the epicenter of terorism suggests that he not only wishes to conitmue his and his cronies profitable relationship to these "islamofascists" but that he is actively manipulating them to his own ends.

Posted by: blog on June 25, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

Some of us see that we must win it. Others are too blinded by hatred to see.

Agreed, wingnuts are too blinded by hatred to see. Others of see that we must win it -- which means no more invading and destabilizing Muslim countries which have not attacked us nor been state sponsors of terrorism. It means no more propping up dictators so Republicans can keep getting themselves elected and pursuing their business interests at the expense of others' freedom. And it means an end to the casual killing of brown people so that middle class Americans feel safer in their beds at night.

You're absolutely right, TruthPolitik: your ideological kindred have been blinded by hatred, which over decades has given rise to a terrorism problem that they've now exploited to arrogate power unto themselves, and which they're doing all the wrong things to combat it so they can look and feel powerful, when in fact they're very small men.

Good on you for admitting it.

Posted by: tRex on June 25, 2007 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

Check out this latest red-letter headline from Drudge:

Iranian forces crossed Iraqi border: report
Jun 25 07:23 PM US/Eastern

Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces have been spotted by British troops crossing the border into southern Iraq, The Sun tabloid reported on Tuesday.

Britain's defence ministry would not confirm or deny the report, with a spokesman declining to comment on "intelligence matters".

An unidentified intelligence source told the tabloid: "It is an extremely alarming development and raises the stakes considerably. In effect, it means we are in a full on war with Iran -- but nobody has officially declared it."

"We have hard proof that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have crossed the border to attack us. It is very hard for us to strike back. All we can do is try to defend ourselves. We are badly on the back foot."

The Sun said that radar sightings of Iranian helicopters crossing into the Iraqi desert were confirmed to it by very senior military sources.

...

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=070625232254.etwt6z5u&show_article=1

Posted by: Neil B. on June 25, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

"In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which were Al Qaeda's original bases and targets of attack, terrorist cells have been rounded up, and those still at large have been unable to launch any major new attacks in a couple of years"

I would respectfully disagree. The reason there haven't been any major terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia "in a couple years" is that they've been too busy murdering Americans in Iraq:

www.asecondlookatthesaudis.com

Case in point: who do you think hit the Golden Mosque is Samara last year? And the deadliest attack against Americans since the war began, guess where the suicide bomber who pulled that off came from? It ain't Poughkeepsie.

Posted by: Bill in Chicago on June 25, 2007 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't Bush's war on terror. It's Americas war on terror. Some of us see that we must win it. Others are too blinded by hatred to see.

Sorry, I'm blinded by the view out my window, which is a big empty pit where the World Trade Center used to be. Too bad Bush couldn't be bothered to get off his ass during vacation to actually do something about the warnings he received, or those buildings might still be there.

Posted by: Stefan on June 25, 2007 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Iranian forces crossed Iraqi border: report
Jun 25 07:23 PM US/Eastern. Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces have been spotted by British troops crossing the border into southern Iraq, The Sun tabloid reported on Tuesday.....

Polish forces crossed German border: report
August 25, 1939 07:23 PM US/Eastern

Polish forces have been spotted by German troops crossing the border into Germany, Die Sonne tabloid reported on Tuesday.

Germany's OKW would not confirm or deny the report, with a spokesman declining to comment on "intelligence matters".

An unidentified intelligence source told the tabloid: "It is an extremely alarming development and raises the stakes considerably. In effect, it means we are in a full on war with Poland -- but nobody has officially declared it."

"We have hard proof that the Polish Lancer Corps have crossed the border to attack us. It is very hard for us to strike back. All we can do is try to defend ourselves. We are badly on the back foot."

Die Sonne said that sightings of Polish horsemen crossing into the German forests were confirmed to it by very senior military sources.....

Posted by: Stefan on June 25, 2007 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

This is by far the most important aspect of our broad fight in the Middle East, one that the Bush administration first ignored, then prosecuted ineptly, and now seems simply confused about.

Well, Bush did put his ace messenger out of retirement (Karen Hughes) to work on the problem.

In any case, there were lots of battlefields during the Cold War, but winning the fight for hearts and minds proved decisive, from the first skirmishes in Germany and Japan after the end of WWII (think of the hundreds of thousands of Berliners assembled to plead with the West to save them from the Soviet blockade) to the domino-like collapse of Eastern Bloc regimes at the end. Those people CHOSE to open up and westernize.

Instead of confirming the Muslim world's worst fears, we should be doing everything we can to encourage them to make the same choice.

Posted by: Model 62 on June 25, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

This is by far the most important aspect of our broad fight in the Middle East, one that the Bush administration first ignored, then prosecuted ineptly, and now seems simply confused about.

Well, Bush did bring his ace messenger out of retirement (Karen Hughes) to work on the problem.

In any case, there were lots of battlefields during the Cold War, but winning the fight for hearts and minds proved decisive, from the first skirmishes in Germany and Japan after the end of WWII (think of the hundreds of thousands of Berliners assembled to plead with the West to save them from the Soviet blockade) to the domino-like collapse of Eastern Bloc regimes at the end. Those people CHOSE to open up and westernize.

Instead of confirming the Muslim world's worst fears, we should be doing everything we can to encourage them to make the same choice.

Posted by: Model 62 on June 25, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin criticizes Bush for paying too little attention to opening up and modernizing the Muslim world. OTOH liberals criticize Bush's active promotion of democracy (a modern form of government) in Iraq and Afghanistan. In reality, Bush has had considerable success promoting democracy in these two countries. That's a big achievement.

P.S. the column points out other areas where Bush deserves credit:

-- Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which were Al Qaeda's original bases and targets of attack, terrorist cells have been rounded up, and those still at large have been unable to launch any major new attacks in a couple of years.

-- In Egypt and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, the efforts of finance ministries — most especially the U.S. Department of the Treasury — have made life far more difficult for terrorists.

-- In Iraq, al Qaeda, had hoped to rally the entire Muslim world to jihad against the West. However, they have morphed into a purist Sunni group that spends most of its time killing Shiites. As a result, al Qaeda has been dragged into a dirty internal war within Islam.

Posted by: ex-liberal on June 25, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

The column is a complete whitewash of Saudi Arabia under Wahhabism. Wahhabism is an extreme, totalitarian theocratic sect that is fueling the insurgency in Iraq and the main breeding ground of jihadis. Ex-lib is a propagandist or rube.

Posted by: blog on June 25, 2007 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

Blame? Values? Just be nice?

C'mon. If our oil weren't under their sand, the US wouldn't even be interested in the ME (except for Israel). Chalmers Johnson wrote 'Blowback' a couple years before 2001. It's obvious to anyone with a clear understanding of American foreign policy and its globally-based military force what America's real interests are, and those interests have nothing to do with cultural differences, democracy or values except to the extent that a closer match between them and the West might allow easier access to, and protection of, ME energy resources. Iraq's complete and utter defeat will occur if and when the Iraqi oil bill, which gives US and other non-Iraqi oil companies 30% of oil profits for the next 30 years, passes the Iraqi parliament.

Posted by: nepeta on June 25, 2007 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

holy crap am I tired of seeing people seriously talk about "winning a war" against a military strategy (albeit a barbaric one). All nations have carried out terrorist attacks - Latin America's history is filled with it.

Confronted somewhat intelligently terrorism is certainly manageable. The idea that you can "win" and eliminate terrorism is ridiculous.

Further, Zakaria states that "Al Qaeda has morphed into a purist Sunni group..." To morph I believe you have to have existed first, and Al Qaeda never had a presence in Iraq before the invasion and are now of course a relatively small force within the much larger force opposing Bush et al's imperialistic ambitions in the region.

Certainly funds for terrorist groups should be curtailed to the maximum possible (of course they should have been pre9/11 as well) but I didn't get much out of the column at all.

Posted by: b.h. on June 25, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

perhaps we can win by withdrawing from Afghanistan:

http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/out-of-afghanistan-rumblings-on-the-hill-2007-06-26.html

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 25, 2007 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

nepeta, yes. mhr, nativist cuckoo land.

but 30% I've seen figures of 70% and even 87.5%.

and yes to b.h. re. "winning."

Posted by: snicker-snack on June 25, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

Reliable sources inform me that in his next life Fareed Zakaria will be a poor white boy arrested at fifteen and tried as an adult for stealing cars and ass raped in prison until he can no longer stand up straight.

Posted by: Linus on June 25, 2007 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

More people die falling off ladders in one year than al-Qaeda has killed in the past 10 years. Why hasn't Bush declared a "war on ladders"?

Look, al-Qaeda was never more than a low-tech, low-risk threat before The Decider had his bullhorn moment at Ground Zero. Now, the U.S. has one billion Muslims pissed at us and we are sure to reap what we have sown in terms of dead innocents over the past six, miserable years under this dumb fuck....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on June 25, 2007 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

perhaps we can win by withdrawing from Afghanistan

That would be so like the U.S... abandoning its allies in a perhaps winnable and just fight to chase after imperial fantasies elsewhere. You did the same thing with peacekeeping in Haiti. I guess though it helps the slow learners among us understand that we can never count on you guys and that as much as possible we should never get involved with you.

As it stands Canadian casualties in Afghanistan are about 30% higher than yours on a per capita basis. We've kept our eye on the ball and are not getting the right amount of support but have held steady nonetheless. But the Canadian public will not stand our forces staying another day in Afghanistan should you completely scamper off elsewhere.

Posted by: snicker-snack on June 25, 2007 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Boy Matthew, I just learned not to trust your characterization of an article. The gist of the article is better captured in these quotes:

"Once we show that we can handle a successful resolution of withdrawing troops from Iraq, it will be easier to shift direction in Afghanistan" said Kucinich. "There is a sequence of events - get out of Iraq and then we must focus on getting out of Afghanistan."

and

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have stressed over the past several months that the U.S. should refocus on stabilizing Afghanistan and capturing Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Posted by: snicker-snack on June 25, 2007 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

The Conservative Deflator,
"Look, al-Qaeda was never more than a low-tech, low-risk threat before The Decider had his bullhorn moment at Ground Zero." What history are you lookin at? al-Qaeda had numerous successful operations prior to the bullhorn. WTC I, Khobar Towers, USS Cole, US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and 9-11. The movement started long before Bush. The attacks were growing in sophistication. It does not matter one bit if something is low-tech as long as its effective. And al-Qeada was effective.

nepeta,
"C'mon. If our oil weren't under their sand, the US wouldn't even be interested in the ME (except for Israel)." Another idiotic rambling about it being all about oil. Kuwait and the UAE have similar reserves to Iraq. If it were about oil, shouldn't we have invaded one of those countries? They would have been a hell of a lot easier to control than Iraq. Number 2 on the list, after Saudi Arabia, is Cananda - should the Canadians be worried?

Posted by: Dave! on June 25, 2007 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Kuwait and the UAE have similar reserves to Iraq... They would have been a hell of a lot easier to control than Iraq.

Let me change the tense here for you:

They are a hell of a lot easier to control than Iraq. Woops. We've gone and eliminated the need for invasion. And gosh, look who those bases in Iraq sit next to.

And if Canada ever did pursue a truly independent policy, yes, we would need to worry (especially if you guys keep drifting in the direction you've been going in)... though our ties are strong enough that we have a lot of allies your side of the border. But, yeah, I've been thinking lately (only half facetiously) that we should be developing nukes.

Posted by: snicker-snack on June 25, 2007 at 11:51 PM | PERMALINK

"That's a big assumption" in my comment at 8:18 should have been italicized, as it was a quote from gregor at 5:40, not a sentence of mine. Please read again because it effects the meaning of my comment.

Posted by: Swan on June 25, 2007 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think al Qaeda is concerned about building large numbers or reaching critical mass in host populations. It's a loose network of cells. Those are composed of apparatchiks, sociopath foot-soldier equivalents and some number of dupes willing to be fitted with a bomb vest or sent out in a bomb-rigged vehicle for the cause.

Any kind of action involving massed fighters on an open landscape is the last thing al Qaeda is interested in.

As far a al Qaeda ambitions for getting the Muslim world to unite against infidels, especially Western ones, ever tried to herd cats? Closest the Muslim world came to being united in recent decades was during the 1950s era of Gamel Abdel Nasser's rule in Egypt and his pan-Arab ambitions. The effort turned out to be short lived.

In fact, the one thing likely to unite the Muslim world was the rise of Israel. If that hasn't done it, it's not likely to be done for a very long time, if ever.

So, if al Qaeda appears to be (or be becoming) Sunni, look for Shiites to be aloof or an enemy of it, depending.

What we need to do is reconfigure, to emphasize intelligence/penetration, law enforcement and collective counterterroism operations with willing countries, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

Posted by: S.W. Anderson on June 26, 2007 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

The U.S., as Michael Scheuer wrote, faces not a choice between war and peace, but between war and endless war. If the U.S. ends her entanglements with Israel and Saudi Arabia, it is likely she will face a war with Islamists that will some day end. If she continues to entangle herself in the region, and expands our entanglements there (ie permanent bases in Iraq), we will face endless war, as the Quran forbids the presence of infidel militaries on Muslim soil.

If this endless war was necessary to defend the Republic, then we should fight it. But does the survival of the U.S. depend on the survival of Israel or Saudi Arabia?

The U.S. did involve herself around the world during the Cold War, but during that conflict, we faced the threat of the Soviet Union, a powerful empire with an ideology that calls for our destruction and a military powerful enough to truly bring it about.

Will the U.S., however, find the lives of her citizens threatened if the Palestinians continue to wage on the Israelis, or if rebels overthrow the Saudis? Why are we entangling ourselves there?

No amount of diplomacy, no amount of human aid, no amount of developing the Middle East into a "modern" society will cure the violence. Only extrication combined with military and covert force against the irreconcilables can do that.

Posted by: brian on June 26, 2007 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

I just learned not to trust your characterization of an article.

the title of the article included "rumblings".

"There is a sequence of events - get out of Iraq and then we must focus on getting out of Afghanistan."

Does that fairly characterize the article? In both cases "get out of" does not mean prevailing, and the emphasis regarding Afghanistan is the opposite of the emphasis by Pelosi and Reid.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on June 26, 2007 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

"Since the US military and MSM are now regularly referring to "insurgents" as "al Qaeda""

This is a false meme. You need to read a little closer, or a little more. That's not snark, that's the truth. Sorry.

WG

Posted by: Weary G on June 26, 2007 at 6:28 AM | PERMALINK

It is undeniable that actively fighting various enemies has the effect of concentrating support for those enemies. But it doesn't necessarily follow that treating everyone as "partners and friends" will remove those same enemies.

If we were to take the softer approach, it would soon be criticized as equally unrealistic and cynical. Will it mean that no one will complain if we treat the Saudis as friends? How, exactly, will that approach work with, for example, Hamas? Is it possible that the soft power approach is simply another way to avoid any confrontation, needed or not?

Chistopher Hitchens illustrates the difficulty:

"[Consider] the strenuous life of a professional Muslim protester in the Kashmiri city of Srinagar. Over the last few years, there have been innumerable opportunities for him to demonstrate his piety and his pissed-offness. And the cameras have been there for him every time. Is it a fatwah? Is it a copy of the Quran allegedly down the gurgler at Guantanamo? Is it some cartoon in Denmark? Time for Rage Boy to step in and for his visage to impress the rest of the world with the depth and strength of Islamist emotion...

...But our media regularly make the assumption that the book burners and fanatics really do represent the majority, and that assumption has by no means been tested. (If it is ever tested, and it turns out to be true, then can we hear a bit less about how one of the world's largest religions mustn't be confused with its lunatic fringe?)"

How soon after a deliberate shift to total reliance on soft power will we find ourselves avoiding any attempt at all to counter islamic radicalist tendencies?

Posted by: trashhauler on June 26, 2007 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

trashhauler, it's not really a soft power/hard power problem you guys have. It's cutting down on the stupid use of either of these that's your big issue.

(sorry if I sound snide but it's the truth.)

Posted by: snicker-snack on June 26, 2007 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

This is a false meme. You need to read a little closer, or a little more. That's not snark, that's the truth. Sorry.

LMAO. Looks like we got yet another knucklehead here who thinks that the "truth" is what he says it is, regardless of the facts. *yawn*

We will one day run out of oil, but we'll always have an unlimited supply of knuckleheads. The way forward is obvious.

Posted by: Disputo on June 26, 2007 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Stefan sez:

Sorry, I'm blinded by the view out my window, which is a big empty pit where the World Trade Center used to be.

I was there two weeks ago. Did you see me waving?

Posted by: Disputo on June 26, 2007 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps WG is correct in posting that all insurgents are al-Qaeda - Guess that's why bin Ladin recently named Shrub, al-Qaeda's Recruiter of the Decade. At this rate, Osama may permanently retire the award and give George a Lifetime Achievement Award as well.

Well done, George

Posted by: thethirdPaul on June 26, 2007 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

snicker-snack wrote:

"trashhauler, it's not really a soft power/hard power problem you guys have. It's cutting down on the stupid use of either of these that's your big issue."
______________________

I have no argument with the above, except that the use of "you guys" is a little indistinct. The stupid use of power is always to be avoided. But it's also regrettable if the metric for "stupid" is which party is doing it.

The parameters of soft power are, perhaps conveniently, rather ill-defined. That causes some to suspect that use of the term "soft power" is code for "if we ignore it, we won't be bothered by it."

Posted by: Trashhauler on June 26, 2007 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I was there two weeks ago. Did you see me waving?

Yes, I did!

Posted by: Stefan on June 26, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

WG: Do you really have evidence supporting the idea that so many of the insurgents should be called "al Qaida"? Juan Cole, very knowledgeable, expresses much skepticism. Of course, since anyone can say they are "al Qaida" and just follow informally, you may be right, but not in a meaningful sense.

Posted by: Neil B. on June 26, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

The parameters of soft power are, perhaps conveniently, rather ill-defined. That causes some to suspect that use of the term "soft power" is code for "if we ignore it, we won't be bothered by it."

Bullshit. Soft Power is very well defined. It may be hard to measure, but that is a different issue.

The reason "some" reject Soft Power is because it doesn't give them the same thrill as cracking skulls does. This can be demonstrated by the fact that those who reject Soft Power for Hard Power also invariably reject "Carrots" in favor of "Sticks" (both Hard Powers and both easy to quantify), even in cases were it can be demonstrated that "Carrots" are more cost-effective.

These people all about the "Stick". They would much rather 1) spend a trillion dollars to kill a million people than 2) spend half a trillion dollars to induce 35 million people to support us or 3) spend 100 billion dollars to behave in positive ways that one billion people will freely want to emulate.

Posted by: Disputo on June 26, 2007 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Neil B wrote: Do you really have evidence supporting the idea that so many of the insurgents should be called "al Qaida"? Juan Cole, very knowledgeable, expresses much skepticism. Of course, since anyone can say they are "al Qaida" and just follow informally, you may be right, but not in a meaningful sense.

Dr. Stephen Metz - he of the War College - released a paper on Rethinking Insurgency the first week of June. He points out in the paper that the lines have blurred, to the point that all jihadists are now "al Qae'da."

Since most people won't download the 77 page .pdf and read it, I did. Here is the summary.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 26, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

"Bullshit. Soft Power is very well defined. It may be hard to measure, but that is a different issue."
___________________

If you can call that well defined, it's only because you've never been involved in the use of any power. The definition of power must include some sort of measurement of effort and results. Otherwise, the actions taken become merely wishful thinking. This is true of both hard and soft power. Consistency in the use of metrics is also pretty useful.

So, for example, if we continue to rely on soft power with Saudi Arabia, what does that means? Are we collaborating with the Wahabiists or are we merely being pragmatic? It would be nice if the answer didn't vary depending on which party is in office.

Posted by: Trashhauler on June 26, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

You need to read a little closer, or a little more.

We will be nicer when you get smarter.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 26, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

all jihadists are now "al Qae'da."

Looking more and more like GWB is a deep cover al Qaeda mole.

Posted by: Disputo on June 26, 2007 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

If you can call that well defined, it's only because you've never been involved in the use of any power.

No, it's because I use the English language more thoughtfully than you do and don't conflate definition and measurement.

I'm in business. Most of my power comes through the exercise of soft power.

Posted by: Disputo on June 26, 2007 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

"WG: Do you really have evidence supporting the idea that so many of the insurgents should be called "al Qaida"? Juan Cole, very knowledgeable, expresses much skepticism. Of course, since anyone can say they are "al Qaida" and just follow informally, you may be right, but not in a meaningful sense."

Neil,

If I could produce some, would you believe it?

The reason I ask is that I have found that when I bother to link to information, people don't bother read to it, or dismiss is as "Rovian" in some way shape or form nomatter the source.

WG

Posted by: Weary G on June 26, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

The reason I ask is that I have found that when I bother to link to information, people don't bother read to it, or dismiss is as "Rovian" in some way shape or form nomatter (sic) the source.

That is a pretty bold assumption on your part. You got here yesterday. Nice headfake on excusing your own laziness, tho.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 26, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK
The definition of power must include some sort of measurement of effort and results.

You are confusing definition with operationalization. A definition need not include such things, an operationalization will certainly need to include empirical measures; operationalization shift based on the inquiry being conducted and available tools, and serve as more easily measured proxies for the definition.

This is as true of "hard power" as it is of "soft power"; there is no single accepted measure of "hard power", either. Particular studies or investigations of power, hard or soft, will apply different operationalizations.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 26, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

"people don't bother read to it, or dismiss is as "Rovian" in some way..."

Well woe is you. If I were you, I would refuse to tolerate such treatment and just go away, with my head held high and tunnel-vision intact, assuring myself that I really tried to educate the lefties that infest this snakepit, but it just wasn't possible.

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on June 26, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

It's not a question of which party is in office, but rather the fact that this current administration has blundered rather badly in their use of soft power. This is to differentiate their party from the party under Presidents Bush (41) and Reagan.

The current administration has gone out of its way to ensure that very few people internationally give them the benefit of the doubt in any action they take these days. This lack of trust makes building and using soft power very difficult.

Posted by: royalblue_tom on June 26, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

This is off topic, though it does concern Zakaria. MoveOn.org has been sending out an email to memebers asking them to call ABC to protest the lack of progressives in This Week with George Stephanopoulos. In the email they describe Zakaria as a neoconservative. Now I've been reading Zakaria's stuff since he became an editor at Newsweek in 2000 and have always considered him a centrist to center-right depending on the issue. Where would MoveOn get neocon from for him? That seems way off base.

Posted by: Kevin on June 26, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely wrote:

"You are confusing definition with operationalization."
__________________

Okay, I can buy that. I have no problem with soft power, either. Only an idiot fights for something that can be achieved in another way.

The question is, how long do we persist whilst trying to persuade the jihadists to see things our way? In which cases does one rely upon the attractiveness of our culture and values, even if they appear to be the cause of the other side's discontent? Do we come to the aid of allies with force or not? Measurements, operationalization, are crucial to making soft power more than just a slogan.

Posted by: Trashhauler on June 26, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

The article disputo cited puts it well:

"[I]t is important to specify the conditions under which attraction is more likely to lead to desired outcomes, and those when it will not. All power depends on context—who relates to whom under what circumstances—but soft power depends more than hard power upon the existence of willing interpreters and receivers. Moreover, attraction often has a diffuse effect of creating general influence, rather than producing an easily observable specific action. Just as money can be invested, politicians speak of storing up political capital to be drawn upon in future circumstances."
___________________________

So soft power alone does not suffice if the desired result is to change behavior or reach a specific agreement. Soft power is best used as an enhancement of other traditional means of diplomacy, not as a total replacement for hard power. Moreover, the lack of willing receivers severely limits the influence of soft power. An infidel is still an infidel, even if he makes great jeans and DVDs.

Posted by: Trashhauler on June 26, 2007 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK
The question is, how long do we persist whilst trying to persuade the jihadists to see things our way?

No one is suggesting whe should be trying to "persuade the jihadists" to see things our way.

People are suggesting that we should apply various forms of soft power to prevent people from becoming violent enemies of the United States.

(Also, note that "hard power" vs. "soft power" is not really a strict dichotomy, but more of a continuum, and where exactly the line is drawn by those treating it as a dichotomy varies. Some draw the line at the use or proximate threat of force, giving the narrowest definition of "hard power" and the broadest definition of "soft power", others—like the link Disputo provides—extend "hard power" to include anything with direct imposed consequences, providing a very broad definition of "hard power" and a narrow definition of "soft power".)

In which cases does one rely upon the attractiveness of our culture and values, even if they appear to be the cause of the other side's discontent?

Our culture and values may be the rhetorical hooks used by terrorist leaders to recruit and rally followers, but they are not the fundamental causes of dissatisfaction.

And, further, in no cases is relying on the "attractiveness" of our culture and values going to do much good as a central strategy. Addressing, rather than aggravating (as we have both through the application of hard power and soft power over recent years) the real sources of animosity is what is called for, not just cultural marketing with no substance. Yes, I know the piece Disputo links to is fond of the use of the word "attraction" to describe the effect of soft power, but the key element there is that the desired behavior has to be seen as inherently serving the interests of the targetted actor, whereas with hard power that is seen only through the positive or negative consequences imposed by the motivating actor.

The key is to understand and appeal to the real interests of the target governments and peoples that are inherently advanced by actions that also serve our real interests.

Do we come to the aid of allies with force or not?

What allies? In what circumstances?

So soft power alone does not suffice if the desired result is to change behavior or reach a specific agreement.

Nothing in the material you quote says that. Indeed, if it it didn't work to "change behavior", soft power would be no power at all. But specific agreements are often arrived at largely through "soft power", even under the narrow definition used by the source Disputo points to. The more the scope of common interest, the more possible such agreements (like the US Constitution) are.

Soft power is best used as an enhancement of other traditional means of diplomacy, not as a total replacement for hard power.

Sure, many real agreements require the application of harder power; particularly, specific material incentives provided to one party by the other. And some real agreements require the application of the hardest power, force or its immediate threat. But many do not, and even where those harder forms of power are necessary, a priority to identifying and leveraging shared interest is valuable. I would argue that harder forms of power are most useful as an enhancement to the softest forms of power, not as a replacement for it. Hard power is inherently exhaustible, and its application (particularly in its hardest forms, and particularly when it is perceived as gratuitous) often, even where successful, makes future agreements harder to come by.

Moreover, the lack of willing receivers severely limits the influence of soft power.

A lack of willing receivers limits the utility of most forms of hard power, as defined in the article Disputo points to, as well. You can't use direct cash incentives, or even the threat of force, on someone who isn't willing to listen because of how they perceive you, either. OTOH, even with willing receivers, you can't effectively apply any form of power except the hardest (blowing up the party you are attempting to influence) without understanding what the other guys real interests are, so that you can effectively motivate them, whether with threats, incentives, or appeals to common interest. And once you do that, you'll often get the most bang for your buck out of the softer forms of power.


Posted by: cmdicely on June 26, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Also, note that "hard power" vs. "soft power" is not really a strict dichotomy, but more of a continuum, and where exactly the line is drawn by those treating it as a dichotomy varies.

Since Nye coined the term "soft power", I usually defer to his def.

Posted by: Disputo on June 26, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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