Friday, January 28, 2011

Iraq and Winning the Global War on Terror - Full Article

This is an essay I wrote in 2006 on my thoughts about our strategy for fighting the GWOT. I wrote in repsonse to some comments and questions by Shrinkwrapped and he was kind enough to post it in his blog. I'm reposting it here in its entirety by request of an interested party.

It is rather long -- you have been duly warned.

Why we write…
It may seem odd to begin a essay on strategy with a personal reminiscence, but I do so because it has relevance beyond the symbolic interpretation that immediately occurred to me.  On 09/09/01, our beloved Newfoundland underwent a serious operation that our vet told us would result in profuse bleeding for at least a couple of days. We asked our vet what “profuse” meant. Before answering , he cocked an eyebrow and his face settled into that off-kilter expression that means, “You have no idea.”
Indeed, we didn’t. A 150-lb dog has a great of a blood and since it was important that he be roused and walked periodically, it got everywhere. We covered most everything in our house with sheets and blankets and towels, changing them as  they became saturated. Blood lay pools on our front porch and ran down the steps; the walk leading up to the house was covered with bloodstains; our backyard, a scene I cannot adequately describe. We slept in relays, and so it was I who woke on the morning of 9/11 into a house spattered with and reeking of blood to have my wife tell me that the Twin Towers had been attacked and several thousand Americans had been killed.
9/11 marked us all in different ways, according to our natures and circumstances. For me, those included being a career intelligence analyst. My shock and grief were compound by the realization that we had failed; that this was exactly what community I was a part of and the discipline I had dedicated my life to was supposed to prevent. This sense was heightened, not by a prior sense of foreboding but by the memory of how many times in the past eight years, and increasingly over the past four, I had looked at the priorities and tasking given us and said, (out loud or sotto voce, depending on who was in the room), “What the hell?”
And then I reacted according to my nature: I sat down and wrote what I thought we needed to do about this new war we had just woken up to. That is the genesis of this post.
I write the foregoing to give an idea of both the dislocation I felt and the sense of purpose that immediately followed; reactions that were common among my colleagues. The realization that “the dogmas of the quiet past are insufficient to the stormy present” and “as our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew” was forcefully brought home to us in a way we did not anticipate, and indeed, at no time in our history since the original speaker first spoke those words have they been so true. The responsibility to think anew that others might act anew fell quite heavily upon us, the intelligence community, and we were determined, even eager,  to embrace it.
Thinking anew is always risky and never easy, and what was difficult for us has been even harder for others. This is a new type of war against a new adversary under circumstances that are unprecedented. We do not have a public vocabulary to adequately discuss it or much in the way of historical examples to lend clarity or use as a basis for reasonable expectations. Parts of the conflict occur at bewildering speeds; others seem unreasonably slow, and our ability to interpret events depends on information affected by a host of factors, many of which are distorting; some deliberately so. It is no wonder that our debate on the conduct of the war resembles nothing so much as the three blind men and the elephant, with the blind men engaged in rancorous debate and elephant taking sides.
These debates have gone off in all sorts of directions, from denying the threat to an extreme us-or-them mentality that sees all Islam as an existential threat and fears a devastating general war against an enemy who could be tens or even hundreds of millions strong. The middle ground sometimes seems a bleak a no-man’s land where idealists wander mumbling nostrums about democracy in the chilly company of moderate Muslims whose existence is elsewhere doubted if not denied. 
Can any real answers be extracted from all this? Do we have a strategy to fight this war? Is it realistic? To what extent is it working? These are the questions I’m going to try to address in this essay, or perhaps I should say begin to address. To address these questions as comprehensively as they deserve is beyond my information and probably beyond my means. But I do hope to clarify the major issues and if I cannot conclusively answer those questions, at least bound them, and perhaps provide a starting point for future discussion. 
My ideas and opinions here are my own; they are not endorsed by anyone in any organization and I have consulted no one in the community on any of this. But neither are these just my personal notions of how things should be done. I am not a general of the armchair or any other variety. I am an observer and an analyst, not a strategist. What I write here is based on what I know of our overall strategy as it was formulated in the year after 9/11 (I retired in late 2002) and what I have observed since, interpreted according to my experience. So the following is my assessment of what we are doing and, for the record, what I think we should be doing. Any instances of factual error, faulty logic, and wishful thinking are therefore solely mine.
On Terminology
Naming our enemy has been a problem, and not just reason of PC sensibility. I don’t like the term “Islamofascist” because I doubt its accuracy and have a hard time spelling it. “Islamic terrorist” I think is too narrow; our foe has adopted terror as his main weapon, but I think to use that term may imply I’m talking just about the people who fly planes into buildings and not the larger infrastructure that supports them and the social elements that inspire and guide them. The situation is also complicated by there being two different, and in principle opposed, Islamist groups opposing us: Sunni, principally Wahhabi, extremists and radical Shi`ites. These two groups are based on different traditions but have adopted similar methods to broadly similar aims.
There are also Palestinian terrorist organizations whose motivations are substantially different than the Wahhabis or the Shi`ites, and while both of these latter have attempted to get some leverage out the Palestinian conflict, this is a tactical accommodation to benefit from what is essentially side issue.[i] As such, my discussion is not going to consider the either Palestinian terrorists or the Palestinian question.
So I’m going to settle on “Jihadis,” which I take to mean those who engage in or actively support war with us in the name of Islam. I will also sometimes call them simply: “the enemy;” and when I do, that is who I mean.
When talking about the people on our side of the war, I am simply going to say “us” as opposed to the US, America, the West, Western liberal civilization, etc. By “us” I mean anyone who stands with us in opposing the Jihadis, and even some people who don’t but that, because of civic duty, we are obligated to protect. I will use terms like the West or Western liberal civilization or culture when discussing historical factors or events as they relate to our past or current interactions with Islam. I trust this will not create confusion.
On Strategy
Fundamentally, we need to achieve three things in this (or pretty much any) war. We need to defend against enemy attacks, we need to destroy the enemy’s capacity to fight,  and we need to ensure that in future new enemies do not arise to revive this threat. Our strategy must encompass each of these goals and must employ all possible means: law enforcement and traditional counter-terrorism, military force, and diplomacy, nation building, and promoting democracy.
In fact, although it is simplistic, it is not inaccurate to say that the first goal is primarily a counter-terrorism issue; the second, a military issue, while the third relies on it own triad: diplomacy, nation building, and democracy. That conception might lead some clarity to the ongoing debate over approaches: they are all necessary and they all ultimately reinforce each other.
There is a fourth element in our strategy that is not really separate from the other elements, but is part of each, while at the same time it operates outside of each and supports each independently: the information war (IW) component. It is the major IW component that gives this war much of  its unprecedented character. Although I doubt IW is seen as a separate and distinct discipline in this war, because of its nature I will discuss it separately, hoping that will not introduce fatal confusion.
Counter-terrorism strategy
I think counter-terrorism is the most straightforward and easily grasped part of our overall strategy. It is the part we hear a lot about and that touches us most directly. It is also largely tactical in nature and the furthest from my particular expertise. So I will summarize it by saying that the objective of this part of the strategy is to detect and destroy terrorist cells and their leaders, and to thwart their attacks. Intelligence is key — rapid, timely, precise tactical intelligence — which employs all the methods we read about in the NYT and then some.
An equally important objective of the Counter-terrorism strategy is dealing with the infrastructure that supports the Jihadis. This includes mainly the people and organizations  that finance and supply them; in effect the logistical tail of the Jihadi movement. (Jihadis seem to provide much of their own tactical intelligence, though they also get intelligence from their sponsor states.) Counter-terrorism methods may or may not be able to isolate or attack these elements, but they are important to at least finding them, and the golden rule of doing so is: “Follow the money.” (Hence, the critical importance of the SWIFT operation that the NYT revealed.)
Counter-terrorism strategy is of the most immediate concern, especially to the general public, but in essence it mainly holds the line against the Jihadis. It can make it very difficult for them to operate and it can, with help, starve them of funds and supplies. But it cannot keep the enemy from reconstituting himself; one good counter to the counter-terrorism strategy is simply patience.  
Military strategy
The objective of the military strategy is primarily to deal with hostile governments that support the Jihadis. It also operates against hostile insurgencies and organizations like the Taliban and Hezbollah that have significant combat power. Destroying the ability of hostile governments to support the Jihadis is important because the Jihadis are a transnational state-supported threat, not a non-state threat. Although the Jihadis also derive considerable support from social elements within countries that are nominally opposed to them, state support is more important.
Only states can give the Jihadis the type of sanctuary that allows them organize and train large numbers of fighters, or to maintain the type of organization necessary to plan, coordinate, and execute major attacks. Deprived of sanctuary, they must move frequently and focus on maintaining tight security, which means smaller groups, less communication, less coordination. Logistic support becomes both harder and more risky. Constantly operating in a hostile environment increases stress, erodes trust, and encourages mistakes. All these factors enhance our counter-terrorism capabilities and make that strategy more effective.
States also are obviously important sources of funds, weapons, weapons development, recruits, and intelligence. In recent years, some fascinating scholarship has evolved that shows what happens to the size and operational capability of groups that are not state supported. (Note: I’m afraid no link. I believe it was discussed over at the Belmont Club, quite sometime ago.)
Another critical point is that WMD, especially nuclear weapons, are state assets. It would very difficult for a terrorist group to get their hands on a nuke without state support any time in the foreseeable future. Chemical and biological weapons have a lower threshold, but they have their own characteristics that make obtaining and using them difficult without state support. Lack of state support therefore dramatically reduces the chances of the Jihadis obtaining WMD.
So eliminating state support is key. But operations just to topple a hostile government, such as Saddam’s previously or potentially Iran and Syria now, is not always sufficient. To make sure the deposed government does not reassert itself and resume support for the Jihadis, we may have to remain in-country and that probably means dealing with an insurgency.
Any deposed hostile government with a significant power base can try to organize an insurgency. It helps if the former power holders are ethnically distinct or have a religious or class identity that gives them a degree of natural unity, but most will have enough followers to make an uncomfortable degree of trouble.
Iraq of course had all the prerequisites for an insurgency, and I believe organizing one and fighting the invasion that way was Saddam’s plan, possibly from the beginning. I take nothing away from our military accomplishments in Iraq by saying this, as the insurgency plan may have been a fall-back and it is clear from the panic and disorganization among the Iraqis during the final days on the invasion that Saddam expected his military’s resistance to give him more time than it did and we no doubt disrupted his plans to no small degree. (I very much doubt that sneaking about and living in septic tanks was part of Saddam’s pre-invasion plan.)
I bring this up because it gives the lie to the theory that if we had done this or that — more troops, harsher crackdown, not disband the Iraqi army, or whatever — the insurgency could have been avoided. It could not. So our military strategy must consider the likelihood of an insurgency in future cases. (I’m not sure this was appreciated as much as it should have been in 2003, but live and learn.)
As important as it is, our military strategy cannot by itself prevent the Jihadis from recovering from even a quite severe military defeat. As with counter-terrorism, an effective counter to our military strategy can be patience. Military operations are expensive, taxing, and carry significant political risk. Waiting them out is easy, cheap, and under the right circumstances, foolproof. If they can, Jihadis will adopt this plan when the tide is strongly against them.
It should be noted however that our military capability does give us credibility; especially when it has been experienced up close. Demonstrated military strength, I think, gives us foothold in the Islamic imagination which allows us to begin to set the foundation for controlling the militant strain of Islam from which the Jihadis arise. This has been demonstrated in both Iraq and Afghanistan and should not be discounted.
Diplomacy
In conventional wisdom, diplomacy is seen as an alternative to military action: a means by which conflicts can be resolved through a political solution, or hostile governments can be contained or even brought down by economic sanctions, international pressure, or internal pressure through encouragement of dissident groups. Such measures are almost entirely useless against religiously motivated enemies who are uninterested in political solutions, largely immune to international opinion, and generally unimpressed by, or not subject to, economic sanctions. Under such circumstances, diplomacy acts mainly to enable our counter-terrorism, military, and nation building efforts, rather than as a means of direct action.
Our diplomatic strategy, as I see it, is therefore comprised primarily of these things:
Ø      Maintaining the coalition of our allies.
Ø      Enhancing cooperation with our “semi-allies”, especially in intelligence activities.
Ø      Pressuring non-hostile governments to curtail support for the Jihadis from elements within their borders and to cooperate with us in identifying and disabling local terrorist groups.
Ø      Buying time in the international arena for our military and nation building activities.
Ø      Laying the diplomatic groundwork for future action.
Note that I don’t mention combating anti-American feeling abroad as part of our diplomatic strategy. Frankly, I don’t think it is. Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that anti-American feeling abroad has been seriously increased by Iraq or our other efforts against the Jihadis. The apparent upswing is due mainly to an increase in noise level by governments and social elements who have been persistently anti-American for decades, and subsequent exaggeration by anti-war elements in the media. Largely ignored and therefore under-appreciated are the governments with which our ties have been strengthened since this war began. On the balance, I think our international position may actually be somewhat improved compared to the last years of the Clinton administration.
Regardless of these factors, the crucial point is that our overriding concern is defeating the Jihadis and most of the anti-Americans overseas are themselves targets of the Jihadis. Because of this, anti-American feeling does not preclude important cooperation. It just means that cooperation may be given as unobtrusively as possible.
Nation Building and Democracy
I have lumped nation building and democracy together here not because they are the same thing or have the same goals, but because they support each other and often operate side by side.
Nation building is not a term I much like, but it has common currency so I will not try to coin another. By nation building, I mean establishing a degree of security, repairing infrastructure, and helping to set up or revive the social institutions necessary for stability, economic growth, and a return to public life. Such achievements make promoting democracy possible; without them “promoting democracy” is reduced to holding meaningless elections.
Neither nation building nor democracy are necessarily aimed at what many think of as “winning hearts & minds” in that the goals do not include getting the population to love us or even like us very much. The goal is to get them to take ownership of their society and economy, and to make sure that they have something to take ownership of. If that happens, people will naturally gravitate towards a government that does not promote war or terrorism, in order to hold on to what they have achieved. Often they will see representative government as the best means of doing this. That is why our strategy is to promote democracy by creating the conditions that encourage it, not by imposing it, as some have  said.
Many people have legitimate doubts about that premise, or that representative government is a panacea. Those doubts must be taken seriously because, as the previous paragraph makes clear, nation building and democracy are the means by which we intend to achieve final victory. But even if the doubts are well founded, nation building and promoting democracy play an important role even if their ultimate success is in doubt.
Recall that one of the more effective counter-strategies for the Jihadis is simply patience: if our strategy is limited to counter-terrorist and military means, time is on their side. Nation building and democracy counters that by threatening the Jihadis with a transformation of their society that would destroy them. It presents them with a serious dilemma: either lay low and wait to see if the transformation is being successful or not, by which time it may be too late, or fight both us and the transformation of their society.
Therefore, nation building and efforts to promote democracy seek to accomplish three things, all of them important:
Ø      Engage the population’s self-interest to resist the Jihadis and deny them support.
Ø      Present an ideological challenge to radical Islamist ideology.
Ø      Put time pressure on the Jihadis, enhancing our military and counter-terrorism operations.
 It short, these efforts, although difficult and time-consuming, form the foundation of our overall strategy and make it what it is. If that premise is wrong, our strategy is built on sand. That of course is the central question I will take up in the final section.

On IW
I have often characterized the conflict we are fighting as unprecedented, and indeed it is; so much so that we cannot even adequately name it. We fight this conflict on a global scale, on multiple levels, in various ways. Our enemy is comprised of hostile governments and transnational organizations supported by both international and local groups, many of which reside in nominally friendly governments. Politically, there are governments and groups that are allies, some that are enemies, and a number that are trying to have it both ways. We are not fighting a conventional war, or a counter-insurgency, or a counter-terrorism campaign, but all of these all at once. And all are asymmetric. No wonder we don’t know what to call it. No wonder people are confused about it, or even fail to believe in it.
To go into all the dimensions of this multidimensional, global, asymmetric war is outside the scope of my discussion here; an apt topic for a future book perhaps, to be written by someone else. Here I will restrict my comments to one of the factors that makes this conflict unprecedented: the central role information plays in it. This is, I think, the first conflict that is more than anything else an information war. Given its centrality, some discussion of information warfare is appropriate.
Information warfare has meant different things to different people at different times. When I starting working on IW in about 1991, it was just out of the pet theory stage and many foolish things were said. Fairly quickly, a consensus view developed along with a consensus definition — which I now forget. I made no great attempt to remember it because it did not adequately capture the essence of IW, which is to manipulate the enemy’s decision-making process in our favor while maintaining the integrity of our own. To use this as a definition probably assigns IW an unacceptably wide ambit; it certainly does from the organizational, operational, and bureaucratic point of view.
For this reason, the official definition of IW is much narrower to give it its own place within both the theoretical understanding of conflict and the organizational structure of the military. Under this definition, IW relates to gaining control of or dominance over the information sources and/or channels that an adversary uses to develop what the military calls situational awareness, which they define as the degree to by which one’s perception of one’s current environment accurately reflects reality. (There’s a nice page on it here: wwwnt.cnet.navy.mil/crm/crm/stand_mat/seven_skills/SA.asp )
But I like the broader, more expansive, definition in the context of the war we are currently fighting. It properly emphasizes, in my view, the multidimensional nature of this conflict and role almost everyone it fighting it. I think it also help us understand what is going on and gives us a more useful framework for interpreting current events than the traditional one.
So by separating IW out for discussion, I do not mean to imply that we have a coherent IW strategy that guides our conduct of this war. I doubt that we do. Instead I want to highlight how information — that is, the asymmetric use of information — changes the nature of this conflict and what affect that has on the conduct of the participants.
Also when I speak of IW here, I do not necessarily mean IW operations consciously conducted in accordance with a separate IW strategy; I mean the effects we achieve by our conduct when viewed from an IW perspective. Almost everything we do, intentional and not, affects our enemy’s decision-making process, even as everything they do is intended to affect ours.
As there are different modes of warfare, so there are different modes of information warfare. In conventional warfare, one can speak of maneuver warfare and direct assault. Maneuver warfare seeks to maneuver the enemy into an untenable position, at least partly in the hope that he will realize this and surrender. Direct assault seeks to crush the enemy by brute force.
Our enemies have been conducting their IW in a direct assault mode. Their IW strategy is much more explicit than ours; terrorism is in the broad sense an IW tactic. Combined with the rest of their IW strategy, it is intended to convince us to abandon the fight — in effect to surrender. They use their media, the internet, messages by terrorist leaders, and speeches by national leaders to spread direct propaganda. They manipulate our media through techniques that range from faked photos and staged photo-ops to granting direct access, manufacturing false stories, and inserting friendly sources into the news gathering process. They have even manufactured atrocities. They stage Islamic protests (with signs conveniently written in English for our benefit), videotape the savage murder of hostages, encourage and sometimes financially support antiwar and anti-American groups, and they manipulate the UN. All these are a direct assault on our national will.
In contrast, our IW is of the maneuver variety. We use a much broader spectrum of approaches because our circumstances do not afford the luxury of the simple and direct approach. For example, our diplomatic efforts, seen from an IW perspective, work simultaneously on multiple levels. At one level, we pursue diplomatic options because they might yield some direct result. On another level, our pursuit of diplomatic options prepares the ground, both internationally and domestically, for what is to come. On a third level it obscures our real intentions, buys time, sends mixed messages to our enemies about our intentions, and provides useful misdirection.
In a similar manner, our reaction to the Jihadis’ IW efforts is in itself a kind of IW response. When the Jihadis get their desired viewpoint on the war into our media, which they have been very successful in doing, it creates a reaction that is reflected back to them and that they observe to gauge their success. So when opinion makers and the media present doom-and-gloom assessments and presentiments of defeat, the Jihadis are led to believe their IW efforts are succeeding.
But this perception can be just as distorted as the one they insert into major news outlets and wire services. This distortion arises as much from organic stresses within US society as from conscious effort. The Jihadis do not understand how we deal with controversy, they do not understand how different sectors of our society assign credibility to different information sources, and they don’t understand the relationship between public debate and public opinion, or how both ultimately influence government policy. By viewing our society through the same distorting lens that they spiked with false information in the first place, they derive a misleading picture of what we are about. The picture is all the more convincing for not being fake, and it leaves them vulnerable to being blind-sided, as Saddam was twice, and as the Taliban and al Qaeda were in Afghanistan, and again in Iraq.
It may seem nonsensical to characterize largely unconscious reactions as IW, and strictly speaking I suppose it is. But my point is that, whether conscious or not, our reactions have equivalent force and effect. Combined with diplomacy and the IW component of our military and counter-terrorism operations, it does give us a strong overall IW capability that we have used to our advantage in the past, and continue to employ.
My intent in the foregoing is to briefly illustrate the IW nature of this conflict and to partially redress the perception that the information war is going as quite badly for us as many think. That is not to say all is well. As IW is about perception, that perception is still a sign of trouble and the trouble comes as much from us as from the actions of our enemies. So it behooves us to take a closer look at IW and perception.
IW and Perception
It will not take a remarkably astute reader to deduce from the foregoing that IW, especially as applied in the current conflict, is a two-edged sword. Crudely put, to fool the enemy we have to, if not fool ourselves, at least obscure our true plans, as well as our methods, and perhaps even some of our successes. Public statements, diplomatic overtures, even UN agreements all serve more than their stated purpose. Thus, the observables that we, as a society, are used to relying on to make judgements are no longer fully reliable, and this problem is worst with those pundits and professional commentators who believe they have a good bead on things, by virtue of their professional experience.
These people are often poor at interpreting current events not simply because of bias. Bias affects everyone to some degree but I’m discounting commentators from the ideological fringes here. The problem is more that the pundits were not forced to think anew by 9/11 because they bore no direct responsibility for what would come after. As a result relatively few have made the necessary effort to educate themselves about the unprecedented nature of this conflict. Therefore, they cannot educate the public in such important matters as reasonable expectations and signs of actual progress, and a great deal of uninformed debate flourishes, not only between those who support the war and those who oppose it, but among the supporters of the war themselves.
 As a result, public perceptions are almost hopelessly muddied, unrealistic expectations flourish, and domestic opponents of the war gain because whatever their arguments may lack in facts and logic, they make up for in conviction and consistency. In this sense, Bush’s political problems are more a result of the unprecedented nature of the conflict than what is often referred to as his failure in leadership. Bush is simply ahead of the country, and our peculiar circumstances are making it more difficult for the country to catch up. In this way IW has, in effect, changed the nature of national leadership.
IW and Leadership
We, in common with most people, yearn for strong, even uncompromising, leadership. Bush’s second-term leadership is derided as tepid by many of his supporters. There is a yearning for clarity; the kind of clarity that would come from abandoning maneuver warfare, in my military analogy, for direct assault. I deeply sympathize with these sentiments, but I think they are misguided because those who hold them do not fully appreciate crucial facts.
In this new type of war, every action Bush takes, every speech or comment, even [especially?] inadvertently into an open mike, directly affects the decision making of our enemy. He must act and speak with that in mind and he knows it. He cannot always reassure us, saying what we wish he would say if it does not suit his larger purpose in this conflict.
But more importantly, things have changed. In his first term, Bush could show us that kind of bold, direct, “cowboy” leadership because in it was right thing to do at that time. Aggressively moving into Afghanistan and taking out Saddam were correct not only in the interests on national security but to send the proper message to the our enemies and the rest of the world.
The successes of his first term laid the groundwork for his second term, which has presented different challenges requiring different approaches. So Bush has had to adapt and his public leadership style has changed as a result. If a return to direct leadership is called for, I have no doubt we will see it. So in essence, Bush has not changed — but the war he is fighting does change and will continue to do so. It falls to us to be aware of that and better appreciate the ramifications.

Strategy and IW — Terrorism and Democracy
In the beginning of the IW section, I commented that terrorism is in the broad sense an IW tactic. The same may be said of democracy. The intent behind both is the same. Iraq provides the clearest example of this. The Jihadis use terrorism and their other IW efforts not so much to directly degrade our military but to convince us to withdraw support from our military. We support democracy in Iraq not to directly defeat the Jihadis, but to convince the Iraqis to withdraw their support from the Jihadis, and indeed to actively resist them.
What is true of the conflict in Iraq is true of the greater conflict. Neither we nor the Jihadis stand a good chance of ultimately prevailing purely by military means; they because they lack the military capability, us because it is not consistent with our nature to wage a war of general devastation. The most important thing about our strategy is that it is focused on specific bad actors within Islamic society, and intended not just to capture or kill them, but to isolate them and delegitimize their ideology. The Jihadis have the same goal: to isolate us internationally, to delegitimize us and more broadly to delegitimize Western liberal values as the basis for civilization.
So call it IW or a war of ideas, that is essentially what we have. They have chosen terrorism to underpin their strategy. We have chosen democracy to underpin ours.
Is this realistic? Are there better alternatives?
To answer that requires that we look at more at Islam, the Jihadis, and the paradox of the war they are waging.

On Islam, War, and Paradox
“For many centuries, Muslims had been accustomed to a view of history in which they were the bearers of God’s truth with the sacred duty of bringing it to the rest of mankind. The Islamic community to which they belonged was the embodiment of God’s purpose on Earth. The Islamic sovereigns who ruled over them were the heirs of the Prophet and the custodians of the of the message he had brought from God, with the God-given duty of maintaining and applying the Holy Law and extending the area in which it prevailed. To this process there were in principle no limits.”
That quote from Bernard Lewis (The Middle East, Chap. 16, pg. 305) aptly sums up the cornerstone principle of the argument for general conflict between Islam and us. For Muslims, it provides the religious, moral, and legal justification to conquer and subjugate non-believers who resist the will of God. For us, that principle, when combined with the aspects of Islamic culture we find deplorable, leads many to the conclusion that Islam is a fundamentally dysfunctional culture, inexorably drawn to extremism and bent on our destruction. To accept this view is to conclude one of two things:
1.       That Islam itself is the enemy, not just radical elements within it, and a general war with Islam is inevitable; or
2.       That while Islam itself is not the enemy, it is inimical to democracy, and its inherent dysfunctionalities will always create violent radical elements that will continue to attack us unless it can be reformed. 
In the first view, Islam itself must be defeated, in a conflict that will be prolonged, violent, and bloody. In the second view, the Jihadis must be defeated or at least contained, and Islam itself reformed. If Islamic democracy is not seen as viable, the alternative would seem to be a largely self-imposed Islamic reformation that does not depend on the successful introduction of democracy. Such reform would represent the triumph of moderate Muslims over the extremists, delegitimizing the latter and allowing the moderates to control (if not expunge) their violent tendencies.[ii]
If the first view is correct, our current strategy is not only wrong but dangerously shortsighted. It fails to do any more than address the symptoms and may actually encourage the enemy’s efforts. If the second view is correct and our belief in the transformative power of democracy is indeed misplaced, our experiments in nation building and promoting democracy are doomed to fail. Under these circumstances, Islamic radicalism would sustain itself and continue to breed violence, and the specter of Jihadis armed with WMD becomes increasingly real.
Just as worrisome, the aftermath of our failures could recapitulate the bloody dislocation that followed on the failure of “imperialist” meddling in the Middle East in the early years of the last century, but this time with much more powerful weapons. While likely to be different in character than a general war with Islam, it is perhaps an equally undesirable result.
So on our side, the strategic options to avoid a larger, potentially global war come down to democratizing Islam or reforming it. If neither of these is possible, the question of war is almost entirely out of our hands.
Let us look then at the other side; the Jihadis. They certainly agitate for war: the Wahhabis and their adherents {the Sunni side of the Jihadis) in have explicitly said they are at war with us, and have announced their intention to restore the Caliphate.[iii] Their emphasis on the international nature of this conflict and their widespread international activities, particularly in Europe, make clear that they do not consider their aims as limited to the Middle East. Radical Shi`a, based in Iran, at least contemplates a return hegemony over the Middle East and the religious domination of Islam.[iv] They may also foresee an apocalyptic showdown with the forces of the Great Satan, but they have been somewhat less consistent about this.
Both the Wahhabis and the Shi`ites are minority sects in Islam.[v] They are less separated by doctrine than by over a thousand years of mutual animosity. The Shi`ites in particular have a sense of martyrdom and persecution that has deeply affected their religious and political attitudes and behavior.  Their ultimate aims would thus seem to be diametrically opposed, but at this time, we stand in the way of both of them. As such, what is required for them to fulfill their apocalyptic aspirations?
Apocalypse Now … or Later?
From a historical perspective, war between us and Islam has been more the rule than the exception, so the notion that another major war is looming is not an extraordinary one. But history also demonstrates that high degree of Islamic unity is a necessary condition to succeed in such a conflict. When Islam has been lead by a Caliph, a Sultan, or an Emperor of sufficient authority, it has advanced. When such rulers have been absent, weak, or had to face rivals of similar stature, Islam has retreated.
Such rulers have always embodied an important religious as well as social and political dimension. Caliphs were explicitly the religious leaders of Islam, as well as rulers, and were maintained in that role as figureheads even after their executive power was eclipsed by the Sultans. Eventually the Sultans appropriated the religious role too, and after the last Caliph was over thrown by the Mongols, the Sultans did not see any need to later resuscitate the office. Sultans, in their role of “defender of the faithful”, engaged in a number of campaigns of conquest and conversion against Europe, capturing Greece and much of the eastern Europe.
The Ottomans raised Islam to the height of its power, but the decline of the Empire beginning in the sixteenth century, and especially the failure of the second siege of Vienna in 1683, badly shook Islam’s confidence in it’s own superiority. The initial response of the Ottoman court was to reform its military on the European model. Although the Emperors intended to limit this reform strictly to the military, it lead to more far-reaching reforms and by the mid-1700s, the Ottoman Empire had acquired a distinct European taint that compromised the religious authority of the Emperors. By the late 1700s, it was apparent that there was no longer an Islamic authority that, even in principle, could mobilize the Faithful to support a war against the Infidel.[vi]
The Ottoman Empire continued to become involved in wars with Islamic rivals like Iran, and in European Wars where it role was determined by geo-political, not religious, concerns. By the time of its collapse, the Ottoman Empire was so far removed from its nominal role as the leader of Islam and, by virtue of its extensive adoption of European modes, from the core of Islam itself, that Mustafa Kemal (Attaturk) succeeded in establishing a secular republic in its place.
Yet throughout this period of decline, and ever since, no comparable Islamic authority has arisen and attempts to establish unity by other means have not met with success. In the late 19th Century, the idea of pan-Islamism originated as means to unify all Muslims against the threat of Christianity, but it was quickly appropriated by the Ottomans who made a limited form of it official policy to prop up their flagging prestige. As such it was of some use to the emperor in appealing to his subjects for loyalty against dissident elements and gaining the support of other Muslims outside the empire, especially those in Europe. But overall it seems never have become a major factor, being eclipsed by other imported ideologies and by the idea of nationalism.
Pan-Islamism probably did help inspire the Pan-Arab movement which espoused unification among the Arab peoples and nations of the Middle East based on Arab nationalism. Pan-Arabism was the most serious attempt to establish unity among Muslims on non-religious grounds. Its most successful champion was probably Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the Ba’ath Party in Iraq and Syria supported it as well, but military defeat by Israel and the failure of pan-Arabist governments, who had strong Marxist leanings, to produce economic growth effectively ended the movement as a serious force for Muslim or even Arab unity. (Pan-Arabism does still exert considerable influence among Arab intellectuals, I believe in a manner analogous to Marxism among US academics.)
Part of the problem with pan-Arabism was in fact its secular and nationalist nature, which flew in the face of the Islamic egalitarianism and the ideal of unity among believers. Seen as discriminating against non-Arab Muslims, pan-Arabism failed to gain enough traction outside of intellectual circles to compensate for its failures. The fact that the end of pan-Arabism as a serious force coincides with the rise of radical Islamist ideologies is probably not a coincidence. Eventually even such a dedicated pan-Arabist as Saddam Hussein had to adopt a much more Islamic stance to maintain his prestige in the Muslim world.
The trans-national character of the Jihadi movement is significant in that it represents the skeleton of a authority that might compel a greater portion of Islam to support a war with us, as in times past. (Such a war may not be one of conquest per se, but of subjugation: the Vichyization of the West. In practical terms the distinction hardly matters.) However, the skeleton has remained just that despite the careful nurturing of decades, and as such the Jihadis, even with state support, have been unable to exert the influence necessary to achieve their designs.
Furthermore, they are subject to opposing tensions. The stateless nature of the Sunni Jihadis works in their favor in being congruent with Islamic ideals, but those ideals are in tension with national and sectarian loyalties. The Shi`a Jihadis have the opposite problem: their creed has a more ethnic and nationalist tenor which enhances identity and group unity but that tends to be in opposition with Islamic ideals and may alienate non-Iranians.
So the Jihadis themselves have something of a problem. To inaugurate the war they seek with us, they need to muster much more active support than they have, and also do something about the competing tensions, both between their groups and greater Islam and between each other.
Do they have a plan to deal with this problem, or — if that question is too doctrinaire, and it probably is — how does this situation bear on what the Jihadis are seeking to accomplish today?
Jihadi War Aims - Killing Peter to impress Paul
One of the Sunni Jihadis’ stated goals, frequently mentioned with a degree of derision, is to restore the Caliphate. This claim conjures up for us visions of an seventh-century ideological movement attempting to turn back the clock and elicits many pejorative comments in that same vein. But it also misunderstands the basic premise that underlies their goal.[vii]
The Jihadis do not understand their fundamentalism in the sense of reverting to a seventh-century society; it is doubtful that they intend to restore legal concubinage or slavery, or excise Western influence to the point of depriving themselves of cell phones or the technology to exploit their oil resources. Like Christian fundamentalists, their focus is on capturing what they hold to be a truer essence of their religion, going back to first principles, as it were. For the Jihadis this means in large part rekindling a sense of dedication to the sacred duty of bringing Islam to the rest of mankind while it defending from attack by whatever means necessary.
The Jihadis understand their history quite well and recognize the vital role of a religious unifier in their success. The last such unifiers who in their view had the proper credentials are the Arab Caliphs. Later Sunni Islamic rulers were mostly Turks, and while the Turks were quite successful and represent the pinnacle  of Islam achievement, the deep cultural antipathy between Turks and Arabs explains why the Jihadis do not hold up the Ottomans as a proper historical inspiration.
Thus, the Jihadis’ desire to restore the Caliphate does not imply a return to some bygone semi-mythical social ideal, but return of Islamic authority with the credibility to create an Islamic unity with sufficient power to challenge us. This in turn explains the Jihadis methods and tactics, which brings us to the paradox.
The Paradox - the Circle is Squared
Up to this point, my discussion skirts a paradox that underlies much of our public discussion of the war, and it is time to address it. The paradox is this: the Jihadis employ terrorism as their tactic of choice. Terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Conventional terrorism may cause us pain but cannot threaten our civilization. Even nuclear terrorism is unlikely, as terrible as it is, to result in our collapse. Yet we say that the Jihadis present an existential threat.
How can this be? Either Islam presents an existential threat and we are fighting the wrong sort of war, or this really is a law-enforcement problem and we’re still fighting the wrong sort of war.  What is the resolution to the paradox? How can this particular circle be squared?
It can be squared because the paradox is based on a misunderstanding of what the Jihadis are trying to accomplish at this stage in the conflict. The key is that they are not yet fighting to destroy us — they are fighting for control of Islam. The terrorist campaign is designed to force our retreat, not defeat; to show our weakness and lack of fitness to hold our paramount position in the world. The 9/11 attack, following up earlier attacks, was intended to be a master stroke that, after two decades of demonstrated vacillation and weakness — in Iran, in Lebanon, in Somalia, in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Palestine — would render our decline irreversible. Muslims throughout the world would take note and embrace the movement that had inflicted these blows and demonstrated our basic unfitness. With us in retreat and themselves ascendant, the restoration of the Caliphate, in the sense of described above, would be inevitable. And with the restoration of that authority, they believe their victory would be assured.
The Vital Corollary
The vital corollary is this: the Jihadis are not yet in a position to impose the degree of unity they need for their victory. Their master stroke energized us and moved us to action, calling into question their basic assertions about our strength. They continue fight us using terrorist means because they lack sufficient support in the Islamic world to fight us any other way. This means that the Jihadis are not as dangerously close to the mainstream of Islamic society as many seem to think. They have yet to prove themselves and so can be isolated, and being isolated, defeated. That is exactly what our strategy intends: to destroy not only the Jihadis and their resources, but to destroy their credibility as potential leaders of Islam as well.
The Vital Caveat
The vital caveat is this: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is more than just a desire to get the means to wipe out Israel. Nuclear weapons confer instant credibility. If we allow the Mullahs to achieve them, it represents not only a serious threat, but a severe symbolic defeat for us as well. In essence, the Mullahs are trying to achieve through the acquisition of nukes what they has so far been unable to achieve through terrorism. This benefit accrues to them — in principle — even if they have no intention of ever using nuclear weapons. The same might be said — again in principle — for idea that nukes will give them an “instant hegemony” over the Middle East.
I emphasize  “in principle” because acquiring nukes is a gamble for them, not just with us and Israel, but with the Islamic world as well. It is not clear that Iran’s Sunni neighbors are prepared to accept a nuclear-armed Iran, in which case rather than enhancing the Mullah’s Islamic prestige, this may be a “bomb too far.” The resulting prospect of nuclear one-upmanship in the Middle East is frightening indeed. All the more reason (as if more were needed) for us to do everything in our power to see that the Mullahs do not succeed in their nuclear aspirations.[viii] 
Now, with this understanding of Jihadis war aims, we are brought back to the question: what are our options and what are the chances of successfully implementing them?
Our Response - Weighed and found wanting?
At the beginning of this section, I stated that our strategic options to avoid a larger, potentially global war come down to democratizing Islam or reforming it, because only such measures can destroy the Jihadis’ credibility as potential leaders of Islam and remove the societal support on which they depend. Our counter-terrorism, military, and diplomatic efforts must support one or the other of these options or our strategy becomes in effect just a holding action, with no clear victory in view.
In order to examine these options more fully, it is time to explore the approaches we might use for each and try to assess how realistic they are. But first I want to emphasize that my purpose here is not the set up rhetorical straw men to demolish in pursuit of a preconceived result. In discussing these options it is important realize we are discussing a constellation of activities under each approach, and that each approach offers, and generally requires, flexibility. A simple example is that we are supporting democracy in Iraq and an autocrat in Pakistan while largely ignoring another autocrat in Libya — all at the same time and under the same strategy. So when I talk about our different approaches to implementing our strategic options it will be well to bear this example in mind.
That said, I think we can reduce our approaches to three alternatives without oversimplifying too badly. I will term them: Passive Containment, Active Containment, and Engagement. The first two support Islamic reform; the third, Islamic democratization. (Again, by reform, I mean reform that does not depend on the successful introduction of democracy but a triumph of moderate Islam that results in their ability to control the extremist factions and deny support to the Jihadis.)
Passive containment I include in the spirit of completeness and because I think it exemplifies the typical pre-9/11 approach as applied to Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Palestinians. The general characteristics of Passive Containment are:
Ø      A law-enforcement approach to terrorism emphasizing defensive and legal measures.
Ø      A diplomatic approach to hostile governments emphasizing international agreements, resolutions and sanctions imposed through the UN, and moral (and possibly some practical) support to dissident elements.
Ø      Relies on but weakly supports deterrence.
Ø      Military action only as a last resort and with a limited objective, which may or may not include regime change, and then only under UN auspices.
Ø      Little or no emphasis on nation building or even establishing lasting security.
Ø      Strong emphasis on politically expedient exit strategies.
The failures of this approach are manifest and it does not deserve further consideration. That leaves us with two genuine alternatives, Active Containment and Engagement.
Active Containment is I think close to the approach favored by people, including some experts, who are dubious about our current strategy’s reliance on Islam adopting democracy and concerned that our approach does not pay enough attention to Islamic cultural realities. Such people often seem to consider our current strategy unnecessarily idealistic and that we might recklessly sacrifice stability because of that idealism. Other potential objections are that our current approach does not take sufficient notice of international opinion, which might tend to undermine our efforts, or that it inflames Islamic popular opinion against us, which certainly would. An Active Containment approach is intended to address these issues. Accordingly, its general characteristics of are:
Ø      A broad approach to terrorism emphasizing both national defense and active measures against terrorists overseas.
Ø      A diplomatic approach to hostile governments emphasizing international penalties and sanctions and practical support of dissident elements is preferred but not entirely relied upon.
Ø      Strongly supports deterrence as preferable to defensive measures that may be provocative.
Ø      Military action as a last resort and with a limited objective, which may or may not include regime change
Ø      Military action preferably, but not necessarily, conducted under a broad international coalition.
Ø      Little emphasis on nation building.
Ø      Strong emphasis on establishing lasting security under a compliant regime.
Ø      UN participation in diplomatic and military measures is preferable but not considered vital.
Ø      Exit strategies are based on stability.
Finally, Engagement best typifies the public expression of our current approach, although I think in reality our approach is an admixture of Engagement and Active Containment. This admixture results mostly from the need to be flexible but the reported tension in the administration over approaches undoubtedly accounts for some of it as well. Engagement is a more radical and revolutionary strategy than Active Containment and is therefore perceived as risky, hence the tension. Its general characteristics of are:
Ø      A broad approach to terrorism emphasizing both national defense and active measures against terrorists overseas.
Ø      Approach to hostile governments balances military and diplomatic options.
Ø      Supports deterrence but prefers strong defense measures.
Ø      Military action acceptable on clear evidence that further diplomacy is counterproductive.
Ø      Military action preferably, but not necessarily, conducted under a broad international coalition.
Ø      Military objective will usually include regime change and establishing lasting security.
Ø      Strong emphasis on nation building and supporting representative government.
Ø      UN participation in diplomatic measures is desirable but can be secondary.
Ø      UN participation in military measures is undesirable and to be avoided.
Ø      Exit strategies are based on victory
In trying to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of Engagement vs. Active Containment to assess which is more realistic and offers the better chance of victory, we face the problem that only one is being tried in the field, with results are sometimes muddled or controversial and cloud our assessment. The other we can only evaluate with an appeal to history, which may offer more clarity but with the caveat that some of the history may no longer apply. So our task on the one hand is to find measures of our effectiveness that are, as much as possible, directly observable and free of distortions, and on the other to focus (again, as much as possible) on history of permanent relevance.
I think a good way to begin this process is by examining containment. Containment strategies, best exemplified by the Cold War, can offer a relatively low-risk way of overcoming an adversary with minimal armed conflict. They emphasize deterrence and steps are taken to keep what military actions that do occur from escalating. Military action may involve the use of proxies to keep the main antagonists out of direct contact. Diplomatic measures, including sanctions, embargoes, and agreements to internationally isolate the adversary, play an important role.
Accordingly, containment strategies require a high degree of international cooperation, making them subject to corruption and diplomatic gamesmanship, especially by non-aligned parties. A combination of leverage and accommodation is necessary to keep them working, and this often results in compromises with regimes and other actors whose behavior is otherwise distasteful. Maintaining stability is important because abrupt changes in the international landscape tend to threaten deterrence, change the degree or type of leverage available, and upset the web of agreements and accommodations that are necessary to maintain containment. Containment therefore militates against such things as regime changes that might otherwise be considered beneficial and prefers to work through the established political order of the countries or regions with which it is concerned.
But the key fact about containment is that it only works by itself if the adversary is subject to internal stresses or inexorable external pressures that will eventually bring on his collapse. For this reason, containment alone is unrealistic against the Jihadis. Both the internal stresses within Islam and the external pressures it is subject to — most of which are applied by our culture — tend to act in favor of the Jihadi movement, not against it. The only important stress within the movement is the Sunni-Shi`a sectarian divide and so far, this has had little effect. Within the Wahhabis and radical Shi`a movements themselves, there appear to be no important internal stresses.
This is why containment must be coupled with an effective reformation movement within Islam to be ultimately successful.[ix] Such a movement almost certainly would have arise within Islam though not necessarily within Arab culture.[x] Islamic theology itself, as originally conceived, would clearly support reform and moderate elements do exist within Islam that could in principle use it to challenge the Jihadis. A containment approach, with its emphasis on working with existing political and societal structures, nominally seems well suited to support these moderates in their efforts.
The difficulty, and I believe it is a fatal one, is the way a containment approach would have to interact with the nature of Islam itself. History records various Islamic movements that have attempted to restore Islam to the purity of its original faith. These movements have become radicalized and often violent because paths to reform in Islam are blocked by the autocratic nature of the state. Because the containment approach works through the existing political structure it cannot unblock these paths to reform. Instead, it must rely on imposing reform from the top down and unfortunately, the autocrats that would do the imposing are either the problem, as in Iran, or lack sufficient credibility to institute meaningful reform, as in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. The involvement of us in encouraging the state to undertake reform would also tend to discredit reform in direct proportion to our visibility in this regard. This has the obvious drawback of taking reform out of our hands and entrusting it to an autocratic government whose motives are suspect and whose operations are generally opaque. In effect, we would be putting the ultimate success of our strategy in the hands of people who have been the cause of much of the problem in the first place.
Finally there is the question of whether moderate Islam can by itself mount a serious ideological challenge to either Wahhabism or radical Shi`a. The silence of moderate Muslims on the subject of Islamic terrorism has been so nearly total that many have come to, if not actually doubt, then simply discount their existence. The necessary moderate impulse has long existed in Islam, notably among the Sufis, but it has existed along side the extremists and rarely if ever challenged them. There is no reason to believe that with such encouragement as a containment approach could afford it would do so now.
If the Active Containment-Reform approach offers no realistic chance of success, does the Engagement approach do any better? Certainly the historical antecedents do not auger well. Liberal western ideologies did make their way into Islam from Europe during the 19th Century and there was a period of experiment with consultative bodies and representative government. Except in Turkey, none of them worked and overall they may have done more harm than good. These ideologies were in direct competition with authoritarian ideologies from eastern Europe, and it is these latter that had the more lasting effects, being familiar and comfortable to autocrats and authoritarian reformers alike.  
It is on this basis I believe that many scholars and career experts on the Middle East doubt the wisdom of Engagement approach with its dependence on establishing democracy. The extensive experience and knowledge of these experts must carry great weight, yet I would be careful of showing them too much deference. Part of the difference between the approaches is philosophical and unfortunately, such differences are not generally resolvable through debate.
For example, their emphasis on history and their view of Islam’s cultural realities invites the rebuttal that they are applying to Muslims the soft bigotry of low expectations. More personally, I might believe that these experts retain too much of the pre 9/11 mindset and thus fail the test to think in the new ways necessary to this new world. But these are not arguments: “old thinking” is not necessarily wrong just because it is old, and what cultural realities are depends on how reality is perceived. That perception depends the subjective weights each observer gives to the various elements that make up this ineffably complex reality.
Perhaps a better argument for Engagement is that the Jihadis are less accustomed to it and less comfortable with it. Pursuing solutions thought to be idealistic puts more pressure on them than what might be called the “calculated realism” of a containment approach. They believe us to be timid and risk-adverse. To the extent we express fervor in our strategy and follow it up with deeds, we combat their portrayal of us and dilute their advantage in that regard. Idealism impresses them more than careful diplomatic maneuvering; it makes us an enemy to be reckoned with.
It can also be argued, as I have done, that promoting democracy confronts the Jihadis with a direct ideological challenge that shortens the time in which they have to establish themselves as leaders of Islam. Democracy hold out the promise of tangible benefits and, what is more, it is fundamentally incompatible with Jihadi ideology. Unlike the moderate Islamic theology, which seems too comfortable living with extremism, democracy requires its adherents to take sides and defend it if they are going to retain its benefits. This is likely to form a more compelling argument than asking them to oppose the Jihadis in the name of Islamic reform, but actually just because they threaten us. Evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan strongly argues that this is indeed the case.
In addition, the potential utility of democracy in promoting Islamic reform should not be overlooked. Democracy by its nature opens up the paths to reform that have been blocked, and allows the consultative nature of original Islam can be restored. Theologically then, Islam and representative government are not incompatible, and the adoption of one does not necessarily imply the abrogation of the other. I would argue that democracy coupled with Islamic reform presents an insurmountable challenge to the Jihadis.
On the basis of such arguments, I could maintain that our current strategy offers distinct advantages over the alternatives and a better chance for victory and a stable Middle East. But these arguments are, for the most part, uncomfortably theoretical. After all, al Qaeda still appears to be capable of hatching major plots, violence in Baghdad has increased, and the cease-fire in Lebanon is seen by many as emboldening Hezbollah, and even Syria and Iran.
Are these events setbacks that should call our strategy into question, or just the kind of things we should expect as our strategy moves along to a successful conclusion?
Are there reliable measures of our effectiveness available that support the conclusion that our strategy is in fact working?   
It’s time to take a closer look at victory.

On Victory
In the 5 years since we started the current campaign we have achieved undeniable successes. We have freed 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies on Earth. We have introduced representative government into two countries who have never known it and whose people are seeing the benefits. We have successfully defended our country against further attack and destroyed numerous terrorist cells and networks. We have defanged Libya and dismantled a network that would have supplied nuclear weapons to our enemies. And we have done all this minimal casualties and collateral damage. Such achievements are unprecedented.
But victory is more than a list of deeds. Victory is ultimately about removing the enemy’s will to continue the fight. It might be surprising that I did not mention that maxim until now, but I think it explicitly belongs here. It has been pointed out — correctly — that we will never break the Jihadis will to fight. They are not a rational enemy, many argue that they are not even sane, and they covet glorious death. There is only one way to deal with an enemy who will never give up: you convince the larger society of which he is a part to give him up. As I have pointed out throughout this essay, without the support of their larger society, the Jihadis cannot survive.
How do we measure such a thing? I submit that the best barometer we have is the Jihadis themselves in Iraq. By their words and actions, they reveal to us their assessment of how Islam regards them, how our strategy is working, and therefore their own prospects for victory.
Some of this evidence comes directly from internal communications and captured intelligence. These sources are encouraging but they are also limited in scope and possibly episodic. In contrast, their strategic choices are quite telling. The Jihadis are acutely aware of the value of time and patience; it occupies a vital place in their strategic doctrine. They know that they are currently fighting us in Iraq and Afghanistan at an increasingly severe tactical disadvantage. They know about the antiwar and anti-American feeling that they have done everything they can to intensify, here and abroad. Their know the pressures on us to leave Iraq and that their situation would greatly improved if we left, so their best strategy now would be to lay low and be patient until that happens.
But they are not being patient. They are in fact fighting tooth and nail, both against us and against the new Iraqi democracy. There can be only one explanation for this: they believe democracy in Iraq is working; that our strategy is therefore working, and that time is not on their side.
Twenty years or more of teaching in madrassas, preaching in mosques, exhorting through their media, issuing fatwas, establishing charities, subsidizing martyrdom, attacking us, and all rest have not brought more men to their banners than can support a strategy of weakness. But if they were confidant in their future — confidant that Iraq would not become a stable democratic state, confidant the Afghanistan would collapse again of its own discord, confidant that Islam would eventually turn to them for guidance and leadership — they would not be attacking and slaughtering fellow Muslims. They would not be fighting and dying in large numbers in battle against the most proficient military in history.
The Jihadis have watched the progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, considered the consequences for Islam and for themselves, and I think they are ones who now see the writing on the wall: that they are divided, that they have been found wanting, and that their days are numbered. They are not fighting for time anymore — they are fighting for their lives.
And as the Playwright said: “To these aged eyes… that’s what winning looks like,” [xi]

Conclusion
I have tried to articulate, as far as my modest gifts allow, what our strategy is, how I think it is being implemented, how well it is working so far, and why. I have meandered into this topic and that one, giving cursory treatment where perhaps more was needed, indulging perhaps in superfluity where I should have been concise. I have disagreed with experts whose detailed knowledge I cannot hope to match and made arguments in pages that could justly fill a book. It is likely that others could have done this better and I hope they will, and sooner rather than later. That said, I conclude with two things of which I am dead certain.
First, we are winning — but we have not won. Victory cigars or breaking out the champagne is not yet in order. We are near the cusp of a critical moment — a nuclear-armed Iran — and if we bungle it all our previous efforts may be for naught. Even if we don’t, there is a long road still to go, and doubtless future setbacks to be overcome. So there are yet risks and hard slog throughout, but this is no time to give in to useless alarm. We have a winning strategy for this war, but resolve is the weapon we most need. Without it our arsenals are pointless, our soldiers irrelevant, our efforts to spread democracy still-born, and we ourselves surrendered. With it, victory is in reach.
Second, I began this essay with a personal reminiscence that I said came to have a relevance greater than the symbolic one I immediately attached to it. It is this:
In this war there are no noncombatants. Not only are we all military targets in the eyes of our enemies, but we all take part in the fighting. Every opinion we form and express, every conclusion and argument we make, and particularly every vote we cast, influences our enemy and affects our collective will. We need to be aware of this. We do not need to stifle debate or speak with one voice or declare “my country right or wrong.” But we do need to care about winning this war, resist fashionable defeatism, denounce it’s ally, relativism, and display some old-fashioned fortitude.
Fail in that and nothing else will help us. Succeed in that, and everything else is just details.

Epilog - The World turned upside down
If every cloud has a silver lining, the converse is also true. If I have concentrated on the silvery aspects, believing as I do that the doom-and-gloom aspects have been over-emphasized, I must acknowledge that the cloud does exist. And I probably ought a say a little about what I think it looks like and over whom it currently floats. Here I think a historical example is apt:
In 1921, two years after Attaturk began his quest to form his secular republic in Turkey, a new leader seized power in Iran. This man, Reza Khan, had similar problems to Attaturk’s and saw a similar solution to dealing with them: modernization based largely on Western principles. But Reza Khan set about his solution in two fundamentally different ways: instead of establishing a republic, he deposed the Shah and declared himself Shah; and instead of secularizing the state, he maintained the primacy of Islam. Just over 50 years later, Turkey was a stable republic while Reza Khan’s successor, while having made great strides towards modernizing his country, was trying to cope with an insurrection mounted by a charismatic Shi`ite cleric who would shortly depose him, found an Islamic regime, and become the foremost exporter of both Shi`a radicalism and terrorism in the world.
The contrast is instructive: Attaturk was ruthless in imposing a type of westernization he saw as internally consistent. Reza Khan, while personally ruthless in dealing with rivals, temporized in his approach, creating an Islamic-Western hybrid that unfortunately combined Islamic autocracy with western education, modes, and ties, and that ultimately could not survive. A further contrast between the two situations is that Iran had the benefit of oil revenue, especially during the late Shah’s reign.
Of course, I am not the first to note the toxic combination of Islamic religion, autocratic government, western ideas, and an oil-based economy, but I believe that it is not well enough appreciated. The biographies of many in the Who’s Who of Islamic Terror reveal men with western education and western ties, coming from autocratic oil-rich states. Osama bin Laden is the scion of Saudi oil magnates;. The Ayatollah Khomeini preached his version of radical Shia and nurtured his revolution from France, and the current Iranian leaders (including the current president) were educated in the Shah’s westernized universities. These are just a few prominent examples.
On the surface, it is not surprising we should find such men leading terrorist and radical organizations. Western thought has always been a catalyst for change, whether it is democratic or socialist principles, or even on Nazi ideology, which enjoyed considerable popularity in the Middle East in the 1930 and 40s and influenced the founding of the Ba’ath Party. Western-educated intellectuals were the primary conduit for these ideas and thus the leadership of reformist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (founded in the 1920s) was dominated by doctors, lawyers, and philosophers, many educated in the US or Europe.
The failures of reform and the experience of WWII and its aftermath radicalized some of these men, who often turned back to Islam while same time embracing authoritarian western social models — Nazism or Bolshevism — that were themselves antithetical to Islam, but operated from the well understood principle of strength. These imported ideologies legitimized violence in the pursuit of social reform just as Islam legitimized violence in the name of imposing God’s truth on the Unbeliever. In effecting this combination, these radicalized intellectuals seem to have combined the worst aspects of Western and Islamic thought, while the godsend of oil wealth gave them a way to put their ideologies into practice (with minimal concern of hard economic realties) if only they could get their hands on it. Some eventually did.
It is not my intent here to lend dignity to the various “Why they hate us” screeds, but to point out the Western connections to the antecedents of today’s Islamic terrorists, and to emphasize that the reformist impulse of the last century was not native to Islam. The important ramification of this is that it tends to shift the battleground out of the more traditional and conservative Islam societies into those in close contact with the Western traditions of license and protest, and of tolerating, even supporting, Islamic radicalism when it suited their purpose — in short, to Europe.[xii]
Europe seems have become a kind of Jihadi paradise. It is at once a godless community of temptations both material and carnal that despises young Muslims for their otherness while admiring them for their conviction. The epitome of multicultural tolerance, it makes no serious attempt to assimilate Muslims in the name of that ideology, thereby effectively condemning them to an underclass existence while marinating them in a protest-based political culture. In orgies of self-loathing, Europeans can stand arm-in-arm with terrorists, waving signs proclaiming “We are all Hezbollah”.
In this paradoxical land where so much is allowed but so little is approved of, legions of marginalized young men in search of clarity and greater meaning can find both in the local mosque, and acting out their fantasies of redemption requires nothing more than a trip to the local train station. Europe itself provides them with motive and opportunity, and the Jihadi terror masters with the method. Little wonder then that the fastest growing population of radicalized young Muslims seems to be found there.
Should my statement of the conditions approximate the truth and Europe be unequal to the task of dealing with it, I foresee a singularly disturbing possibility: Even if we defeat the Jihadis in the Middle East, as we seem to be doing, could Muslim Europe provide a potential refuge; a reservoir for re-infection if you will?
If so, the most serious challenge of our times may not be in the Middle East, where the current focus is, but dealing with radical Islam nurtured in the Nihilist void of the European soul. The Doom’s Day scenario is not then a new Caliphate centered on Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, or Cairo, but one centered in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, or Madrid. Is the bewildering, other-worldly possibility then that 50 years hence, a democratized Middle East will stand with us against the new autocrats of Islamic Europe?
“And as they marched away, the band played, The World turned Upside Down.”[xiii]



[i] By side issue I mean that the avowed intent of Iran and the Wahhabis terrorists to destroy Israel is not primarily for the benefit of the Palestinians nor would a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian conflict cause either of these groups to abandon their larger conflict with us.
[ii] Given the history of Islam expunging extremists and their predilection for violence would seem unlikely at best.
[iii] It is interesting to note how little the Arabs, having founded Islam and spread it throughout the Middle East, have actually controlled it. The period of Arab ascendancy was relatively brief and it was diluted almost from the beginning by Persian influence. The demands of empire obliged to the Arab Caliphs to adopt the only imperial model under their control, Sasanid Persia, and this gave rise to resurgence of Persian power and influence. Within three hundred years, the Arab caliphs fell under the domination of Persian rulers and Islam itself was dominated by Shi`a theology. When the Sunni revival came, it was the Turks, not the Arabs, who accomplished it. The independent Persian rulers were not conquered by Arabs, but by Mongols, who did little lasting damage to Persia and allowed Persian national life and culture to continue to flourish. Ironically, the most lasting damage the Mongols did was to Arab Iraq, and Baghdad and Iraq would never recover their central place in the Islamic world. By the early 20th Century, the Arabs were a poor people in rebellion against their Turkish overlords. This history is useful to reflect upon when considering the claims and attitudes of the Sunni Arab Jihadis.
[iv] The Iranians have a long and proud imperial tradition dating back to classical times. Perhaps unique in the Islamic world, they have not last touch with their pre-Islamic traditions and continue to celebrate them. [Egypt has an equally long and proud history but not with the same continuity, having been under Hellenic and then Roman control for almost 1000 years before the coming of Islam, and it does not popularly celebrate its pre-Islamic status to the same degree.] Iran has remained important since the advent of Islam, being, along with Turkey and Egypt, one of the three major Muslim power centers since the Middle Ages. This gives Iranian Islamists a distinctly national character that Arab Islamists tend to lack, and which affects their aspirations and their ultimate goals. In addition, Shi`a was briefly the dominant sect in Islam, giving inspiration to radical Shi`ites. [Shi`a has a long radical tradition — the original assassins were a radical Shi`ite sect.]
[v] Radical Shi`a has the benefit of controlling a state, which gives them resources and options the Wahhabis lack. While I do not mean to belittle a war with Iran, especially a nuclear-armed Iran, I do not put in the same category as a war with Islam. Some might consider that a war with nuclear-armed Iran, while not in the same category, is still over the threshold of serious catastrophe and they may well be right. This is of course one of the reasons it is so critical to deny Iran nukes (the probability of nuclear terrorism being the other). But the question of nukes and Iran is a subset of my topic and it does not effect our strategy at the level I am discussing it, so I take leave to put it aside for the purposes of this piece. (It certainly effects how we implement our strategy and our priorities, but that is outside my scope.)
[vi] The late 1700s saw a religious backlash against the Ottomans and it took two forms: Wahabbism and a radical Sufi movement, the Dervishes. These movements were not allied; the Wahhabis despised the mysticism of the Dervishes. But the Wahhabis organized against Ottoman authority and enjoyed some success before being crushed by the Emperor’s forces in 1818. They remained a minor movement they found a patron in the al-Saud dynasty, which captured Mecca and Medina in 1924. The rest, as they say, is history.
[vii] I’m focusing on the Sunni faction here as my example, but the same basic approach underlies Shi`ite terrorism.
[viii] A great deal has been said about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his belief in the imminent return of the Hidden Imam and the attendant apocalyptic confrontation with evil — presumably us, but also perhaps encompassing those Sunni leaders whom the Shi`ites see as usurpers and the heirs to those who martyred the Prophet’s family. Whatever Ahmadinejad is about — seriously planning catastrophic destruction or just talking recklessly in hopes of rekindling the spirit of the Islamic revolution — it is clear he is dangerous. But it needs to be pointed out that wanting to blow up the world, or even just the Middle East, is not the same thing as doing it. Even if Ahmadinejad is crazy, he would need to find enough other equally crazy people to help him carry out his plan. Such people are not that common and one or two in critical places regaining their sanity or losing their nerve can bring such operations to an abrupt end. This reduces the odds of his succeeding substantially. So I think it is a mistake to focus too heavy on the peculiar nature of Ahmadinejad. Nukes in the hands of more “rational” Mullahs with more prosaic plans of hegemony and religious domination is just as bad, and in some ways perhaps worse.
[ix] One could also argue that democratization could be coupled with containment, but I’m going to avoid that because containment strategies, as they are usually described, are not suited to introducing democracy into authoritarian societies and the necessary adjustments would make them indistinguishable from Engagement for the purposes of this discussion.
[x] The Wahhabi movement itself may have gotten an important impulse from an Indian scholar of the Naqshbandi dervish sect writing in Arabia in the 18th Century. Of Sufi origin, the Naqshbandi dervishes were introduced into the Middle east from India where they spread widely and had considerable influence on the religious revivalism that affected Islam during the 18th and 19th Centuries. 
[xi] James Goldman, The Lion in Winter. (Henry II to Philip)
[xii] Saying Europe may be too broad here, since the information of which I’m aware centers on France.  Germany also seems to have a serious Muslim situation but I’m not yet clear on its dimensions and how they are dealing with it. The same may be said of Spain and Italy. I would suspect Spain of having a greater problem, but Muslims there may also be better assimilated for cultural reasons. Holland seems to have a serious problem as a result of laxity, and possibly Belgium as well. The Swiss, I have no idea. The UK has a problem by virtue of its tolerance for radicals, but also has the best chance of dealing with the situation. Its sources of immigration are perhaps different from France and Germany’s as well. Even Sweden has reported issues with young Muslim men, but I suspect these won’t reach the serious proportions. Norway I’ve heard nothing about and may be largely immune as it seems to be a less popular Muslim destination, and also lacks Sweden’s famous tolerance.  Denmark may have a bigger problem than Sweden by virtue of proximity but I do not expect it to reach the proportions of Germany. Eastern Europe seems to be little effected so far, probably because they are more pragmatic and not yet afflicted with crippling multicultural relativism.
[xiii] A historical fable about Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. Let’s try to keep it that way.

1 Comments:

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