Scheuer II: Criticisms

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).

Fareed Zakaria has a piece today on this very theme. Zakaria also cites this excellent article by James Fallows from 2006.

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.

Zakaria on Obama Re: Iraq

Zakaria outlines a speech for Obama on the subject here.

Key quotation (my italics):

These reversals of strategy have had the effect of creating what General Petraeus calls ‘breathing space’ for political reconciliation. And he has always said that without political progress in Iraq, military efforts will not produce any lasting success.

“He is right. All today’s gains could disappear when American troops leave—and they will have to leave one day. The disagreement I have with the Bush administration is that it seems to believe that time will magically make these gains endure. It won’t. Without political progress, once the United States reduces its forces, the old mistrust and the old militias will rise up again. Only genuine political power-sharing will create a government and an Army that are seen as national and not sectarian. And that, in turn, is the only path to make Iraq viable without a large American military presence.

In other words, Zakaria is advocating a policy of conditional engagement.  FYI: Colin Kahl author of the policy is an Obama adviser.

While a part of me leans to the William Odom rebuttal (same piece linked above) that is not politically feasible in US politics (see Democratic Nominee Bill Richardson for proof).  I also tend to lean towards a Biden federalization plan outlook (Obama so far has not and Zakaria’s speech correctly reflects that fact).

My fear is a combination of the (by me) italicized passage as fundamentally correct as well as the inability of the US to help broker political progress (Odom’s point as well William Lind’s).  Meaning the inevitability of the return (they never really left) of the militias.

Nevertheless, still sane points in Zakaria’s approach.  One point that would add strength to the speech is a call for no permanent bases.

Published in: on June 23, 2008 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Post American World

I’m not a fan of book titles that begin with the word The.  A postmodern trick often helpful is to pluralize thereby neutralizing the definitive for all timenesss of THE, e.g. The Post-American Worlds.

Also of course the book is not about a literal post-American world.  Like some Vonnegut novel where someone deploys a neutron bomb that destroys all of and only American plus all Americans not in America at the time of the drop.

Nor is it some Alex Jones argument about how some North American Union is going to take over the US.  [Incidentally if such does occur and the global elite do create that giant superhighway and heard us all into giant ghettos I want a better named currency of my oppression that an f’in amero).

It’s not even an argument that the US is in decline per se, but rather that others (esp. China and India) are rising plus the increased economic power of the EU.  Russia with gas and oil in the mix as well.

It should really be titled The Post-Unipolar Hegemonic American Worlds. Sounds much more exciting yes? It’s a good plane read.  Finished it from Houston to Vancouver (along with seeing Definitely, Maybe which was a decent flick).

It’s interesting that Obama again signaled his interest in a George HW Bush-like foreign policy.   Maybe he sees himself like HW transitioning from to the Post American World (a la Bush and the Cold War world).  Don’t know.  Or he sees the increased need for diplomacy, fox-ness, and nimble maneuverability in this world.

The book is worth the read and I think is fundamentally correct.  Even if he got where’s the world’s largest casino is at wrong.

It’s obviously a wide-angle lens and isn’t as much detail on more national economic policy say–e.g. the intricacies of the centrist versus from left-wing economists in the Democratic Party and the latter having more energy and momentum in the current economic mess. More on that in a separate post.

But the key definition for why Post American is that it’s more clear what we are leaving (Pax Americana) then it is where we are heading.  When that becomes more clear (whenever that occurs) someone will have to come up with a new name.

The best criticism as I said before is probably Thomas PM Barnett’s, which is that the book could use more in the way of policy and politics (how to convince) for US strategy in this new reality.  There is some but it could definitely be filled out.  Barnett’s book is aiming to do that.

Unless of course John Robb is right and the whole nation-state order is going to collapse via open source insurgencies (military and financial), black swans (probably environmental in nature), and cascading crashes.   In that case, it won’t be a Post American World it’ll be a Post-Everybody World (aka Everybody minus a Milita is F—ed) Think now about how you want yours to look and who is going to be in it.  Just to be clear (if it sounds like I’m being too cute by half) I actually have moments of not being able to sleep at night thinking he could very well be right.

TPMCafe Book Club Fareed Zakaria

There is a really interesting discussion for foreign policy big-strategy nerds (like myself) going on at TPMCafe on Fareed Zakaria’s new book: PostAmerican World.

I just want to highlight a very interesting argument made by (the always interesting) Michael Lind. Link here (read the whole thing). He argues contra the Concert of Democracies crew (McCain and Krauthammer from the right, Anne Marie Slaughter/John Ikenberry and the Princeton Project from the left) that the liberal international order after WWII consisted of two moments:

I stand by my observation that what Anne-Marie and John Ikenberry call the postwar liberal international order was in fact two distinct orders. Plan A–the UN, Bretton Woods, the Four (or Five) Policemen–was reluctantly set aside in favor of a hastily improvised but ultimately successful Plan B–NATO, the Marshall Plan, what became the EU–when the Soviet Union chose to act as a revisionist power instead of a status quo power after 1945.

The upshot of which is that by the standards of Plan A, Russia and China today would qualify as upholding the terms of the non-aggressive powers standard. Whereas since Kosovo and now Iraq, many in the US, some in Europe (e.g. Tony Blair) have moved to want to force the world into Plan B. By that standard Russia and China (and other powers presumably) fail, and therefore a Concert of Democracies are created to push towards this reality and/or circumvent the UN (Plan A writ large) when it fails to uphold the standards of Plan B.

Very interesting argument. What is needed then I would say is something that splits the difference–I’ve never bought into this Concert of Democracies stuff. I would rather expand the G8 and use that as the primary multi-lateral institution (betraying my Plan A preferences/roots). Thomas Barnett is writing the Third Volume of his books. That post details how he thinks his book might fill that slot: namely on the one hand agreeing basically with Zakaria and Lind about the international order (contra neoconservatives) and yet finds a role for the US practically to influence and operate within that order.

I do however stand on record to being more open to The League of Democracies if they create a Hall of Justice.

France is Aquaman?