Following on the last post, some criticisms of Scheuer’s work.
The largest and most glaring is that while Scheuer properly notes the level of anti-American (anti-American FP) in the Muslim world, this does not translate into support for al-Qaeda. In fact, given the recent spate of barbarism from AQ (particularly Zarqawi in Iraq, esp. between 2005-2007) support for the group has plummeted in the Muslim world. There simply is no desire for a caliphate with or without bin Laden at the head. Guerrillas can self-sustain in this networked age without populace support but they will never gain power.
Another point that Scheuer underestimates is the degree to which there have been some real successes in terms of coordinated attacks on the terrorist networks (finance, communication, delivery). Always derided by the right as the left fighting terrorists as if they were “criminals”. As if their subjective state mattered as compared to their tactics and stated goals (both of which are clearly articulated by bin Laden publicly).
Fallows says the war against (so-called) Islamic terrorism if there ever was one is already one. Scheuer says we are losing. I think both are in a way correct. We are losing vis a vis lacking a strategy of aiming directly at AQ. They are reconstituted in many regards (though not all) in Pakistan. And still very dangerous. The AQ ideology has morphed and virally spread and now the future of such terrorism will come from smaller, self-financed autopoietic cells around the world.
AQ-Central in Pakistan is hobbled (thank God) by its self-defeating proposition that each attack has to be bigger and badder than the last one. And it would be hard to top 9/11. Scheuer in this article I think seriously underestimates the damage (via their own theory of wanting to evoke over-reaction) that terrorists attacks on infrastructure, public events, and the like but not a made-for-tv catastrophic nature as say 9/11.
We are winning insofar as they do not pose a threat to the entire country. Fallows’ article highlights that the greatest potential threat is over-reaction (see: Iraq). If for instance another attack did occur, the threat to the republican civil liberties order would be serious.
And also, as a point leaning more towards Scheuer, while it’s true as FZ says these groups can do damage, serious damage but if we don’t let me, they can’t destroy us, that is not the same as saying the Middle East and larger Muslim world (say into Pakistan) will not be roiled with convulsive violence for the next decade plus. People may not want a Caliphate. The US will not totally accept some neo-isolationist posture and withdraw completely from the region, but that arena will be rocked with violence for sometime to come. And the US is bound to get pulled into some of that conflict. Which if improperly handled could easily re-ignite support for terrorism (as Iraq gave new life to a terrorist system on life support prior to the invasion and occupation).
A key going forward will be (again on the theme of over-reaction) learning to live with the emergence of anti-US but not AQ-friendly regimes in the region. The tyrants are going to have to fall at some point and God only knows what is on the other side of that happening. But if we become locked into this loony right-wing nonsense about a Clash of Civilizations/they hate us for our freedom/Islamo-fascist worldwide conspiracy united front, then whether or not bin Laden/AQ are the beneficiaries, their basic theory of bleeding the US dry will continue apace.
To conclude, Zakaria’s closing words:
In a sense, the warriors are pessimists. In the old days they were scared that communists would destroy America. Today they rail that Al Qaeda and Iran threaten our way of life. In fact, America is an extremely powerful country, with a unique and extraordinary set of strengths. The only way that position can truly be eroded is by its own actions and overreactions—by unwise and imprudent leadership. A good way to start correcting the errors of the past would be to recognize that we are not at war.
In other words, the US is in wars not at war. The US is in a war of discipline not a war of survival to borrow Shelby Steele’s terminology. However allies of ours will be (that is at war/war of survival). For Scheuer that shouldn’t matter given his tendency towards realism/isolationism/no foreign entanglements. For others, the question then becomes how intelligently to operate given the risk of over-reaction as a self-inflicted suicidal wound both strategically and to the republic as a whole.