Thinking aloud about the mid-period of the ongoing war

Michael had this post below, about what we can learn from the atrocity in Beslan, and what we might have to do in the future as this war continues. I started to type a comment, but I’ll just put it here.

I have been thinking more and more that we need to start thinking about what this conflict will look like in the next few years, particularly if it does evolve into a Huntingtonian war of civilizations. As it is, we are currently engaged against a terrorist organization which is the militant arm of a widespread politico-religious movement, which enjoys a high degree of sympathy among many Muslims, and benefits from the intimidated silence or verbal acquiescience of most of the rest. That is a large challenge, but possibly one which can be overcome.

Michael summarizes the current approach so far: “I think the US is on exactly the right track. Fight and kill the terrorists where we find them, change the social-political conditions which gives rise to them, and to the greatest degree practical defend our populations from them.” Bush has employed this progaram, call it Plan A — destruction of the active militants coupled with political and economic reform leading to liberalization and hence economic development and pacification of the militants’ supporters. The end game for Plan A is a win-win for all communities. The only people who die are the militants, their victims when they manage to pull off one of their atrocities, and those unfortunates caught in the crossfire when we attack. This is a supremely optimistic approach, a very muscular Wilsonianism. If it works, it is the wonder of the age and many benefits will accrue to us and to the rest of the world. I will admit that I have a strong streak of pessimistic “realism”, and I fear this is too hopeful to really work in the muddy reality of the world.

Martin van Creveld, whom I think is too pessimistic, is not a lightweight thinker. He believes the American ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are absolutely doomed. See his essay Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did. He concludes that “the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.” (See also this short pieceby van Creveld.)

Whether or not van Creveld’s analysis is correct, my recent reading of Alan MacFarlane, this one and this one, both brilliant btw, make me think the Muslims are a long way from being able to sustain a modern liberal society and economy. (Details in some future post, I hope.)

What if the attempt to liberalize the Muslim world fails? Then what? What is our “go to Hell” plan? Do we advert to some kind of genocidal onslaught against the Muslims? Wretchard has suggested this — I can’t find the link, but he has talked about what might provoke such a response and how it would play out. This approach, if you can call it that, has become general wisdom, almost, in the right/libertarian spiral arm of blogspace.

But I don’t see that happening, even if New York or Washington or Chicago are destroyed with nuclear weapons, a scenario I consider likely. I don’t think the American people will go for a spasmodic response which kills millions of people who have little or nothing to do with the attacks just because they practice more-or-less the same religion as the attackers. I could be wrong, but assume arguendo I’m not.

What, then is the Plan A.2 before we get to a Jacksonian annihilatory program? I suspect it will look a lot like what we had in the majority of the Postwar period, i.e. reliance on local strongmen like the Shah to keep order by coercion and cooption. That model worked but was ugly and provoked a lot of resentment, and a lot of moral objections here at home. As a stopping point half-way down the cliff to armageddon, it may have appeal in the future. Finding and funding and arming a local tough guy to be “our bastard” may be revived as a middle-ground between social uplift and something approaching genocide. In other words, forthright imperialism in the areas which present a threat to us and which contain petroleum we need. We are to some degree doing this now, leaving the authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia alone, while trying to liberalize the countries which were so far gone they presented a threat.

I hope someone in the Pentagon or the State Department is coming up with a list of possible candidates in the relevant countries to be our future Muslim strongmen. Of course these guys have a way of being dragged out of their palaces by angry mobs. But, those are the risks you take.

Or is there a better Plan A.2 which I haven’t thought of?

10 thoughts on “Thinking aloud about the mid-period of the ongoing war”

  1. Well, thinking about “our bastards”, what made Taiwan and South Korea work and Egypt not work? You start from similar initial conditions, with some respect for property but a one party state with bogus elections. Things got better, first economically then politically, in the first two cases but not Egypt.

    Religion is certainly a differentiator. So is a credible external threat. But Chile did not have an external threat and followed the pattern, better economically then politically.

    Turkey is a secularized Islamicate country, which i guess you could also claim for Egypt. Turkey did not improve as quickly as Korea etc. even though their elections seemed moderately less bogus. They had repeated military interventions, where the more successful states seemed to have just one long one at the beginning.

    Mentally i keep coming back to globalization. States that became more fully engaged in the world industrial and financial economy got better. States that stayed in an agricultural or resource based economy did not. Is that really the key? If so, how can we get Iran engaged? They have the educated people and enough of an internal market to get started. What is their competitive advantage other than oil? How can we engage that?

    Matya no baka

  2. I don’t think it will evolve into a “war of civilizations.” If it ever gets to the point where American voters think that that’s what it is, they will sanction the brutal suppression of our enemies — negating the Islamists’ skill at political manipulation (their most powerful weapon). Also, a lot of Muslims are not on the side of the Islamists, and more Muslims would probably oppose the Islamists if the annihilation of Muslim civilization came to be seen as a likely consequence of pan-Muslim unity vs. the West.

    IMO our main problem is that a lot of people around the world don’t trust us, not because we are evil imperialists or whatever, but because we have abandoned so many allies in the past few decades. It will take a while for us to become trusted in this way again, and until we are trusted it will be difficult to convince Muslim inhabitants of dictatorships that it’s safe for them to stand up to Islamist thugs. We have made a lot of progress in this regard, but our current status WRT Syria and, especially, Iran, are troubling. The most important actions we can take now are to stay the course in Iraq and apply military pressure to Iran and Syria. We must at all costs remain true to our public commitment to reform or replace regimes that support Islamist aggression.

  3. First, let me say I agree with Lex that we need a “go to hell” plan, and the one he suggests strikes me as very reasonable. Still, I wonder whether van Creveld and others like him are taking the easy path of predicting the future will be exactly like the past. This is easy, because its having happened before automatically means it’s plausible to predict it will happen again. It also absolves one of any responsibility for doing the sort of heavy lifting we are currently trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, are van Creveld and the others merely playing the odds, like betting the field against the favorite without really trying to find out which one will probably win in this particular race, on this particular day, at this particular track, with these particular horses, trainers, owners, and riders? Of course, as far as pointing to the past goes, supporters of Plan A can point to the successful transformations of Germany and Japan. They, the fatally flawed Weimar Republic notwithstanding, had never known democracy either, and, at the time, not a few members of the intelligentsia claimed that neither was “temperamentally” capable of democracy. And, if van Creveld says that Iraq and Afghanistan are not Germany or Japan, the obvious reply is neither are they Vietnam.

  4. A couple of years ago, van Creveld said that Israel could only defeat the Palestinians by killing thousands of them, so that they would be completely demoralized. It now appears that Sharon has accomplished the same thing, or effectively the same thing, by killing a few terror leaders and building a wall, thereby mainly neutralizing the terror threat and putting the Palestinian leadership into a difficult position politically. This isn’t to say that van Creveld is necessarily wrong about the U.S. and Iraq, merely that his past analysis of a similar situation appears to have been excessively narrow in scope, and perhaps was too much colored by personal pessimism. It seems like an unlikely worst case.

  5. I wonder what would happen if every time the BBC World Service or CNN World bombarded the worlds airwaves with propaganda designed to use a British or American soldiers death as a tool in British or US domestic politics, the next day the BBC World Service or CNN were forced to report on the tragic death of yet another CNN or BBC jounalist, killed in the line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. I suspect that it wouldn’t matter that the connection was mere coincidence. Journalists in Iraq would come to dread the exploitation of the soldiers death by civilian political hacks in London or New York because Journalists are a superstitious bunch, and the next day when another CNN or BBC hack stepped on a mine or got fragged by a crazy suicide bomber in Iraq, they wouldn’t attribute the death to their own encouragement of suicide bombers, but would, Andrew Gilligan-like, falsely accuse Blair and Bush of conspiracy.

    Of course the Russians would also have the means and the motive… and when it comes to asymetrical warfare and soft targets, everyone knows sleezy journalists are softer than Russian school girls. No people knows how to get into the minds of Trotskite intellectuals better than the Russian spooks, who can’t be expected to spare the axe when someone’s soiled a Russian child.

  6. As a plan B I suggest after the next attack on the U. S., forces be sent from Iraq to Damascus, Riyadh, Tehran and perhaps Cairo in a manner not unlike that of Sherman in the Confederacy, only more circuitous and destructive and destroying evey airport in the region.

    As part of the peace settlement, the oil fields in Saudi Arabia and Iran should be removed from the jurisdiction of these countries and made Trust Territories by the U. N. to be administered by the U. S. but not subject to the jurisdiction of the Congress or the Supreme Court. The U. S. would be free to import workers from anywhere in the world to operate the fields and would be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion. It would be allowed to build walls and to defend the fields in the manner it sees fit. The net income from the fields should be given to the U. N. to be paid to France and other countries as necessary as a bribe, to eliminate U. N. dues and UNESCO trick or treating at Halloween, for development efforts in the third world countries and to research ways to end global warming. These would all be useless expenditures but at least the recipients would not finance wackos to fly planes into buildings.

    Arab and Persian lands would be left devastated to recover at a pace to be determined by their willingness to become civilized and the confidence of private capital in that willingness. Think Africa without the humidity. If any other Islamic countries think this unfair treatment, they should be subjected to the same.

    After the next attack this will not seem as outlandish a proposal as it does now. Think your child’s school.

  7. I don’t think it will evolve into a “war of civilizations.”

    I think it already is. Call it militant antiglobalization backlash if you will. Same thing. There is a violent strain of islamists who reject all that western civilization represents and are determined to push those influences out of their societies.

    our main problem is that a lot of people around the world don’t trust us…because we have abandoned so many allies in the past few decades.

    I think there’s truth in that. I think there’s also a lot of fear of America the hyperpower, the Colossus.

    Part of the problem is of our own making. We’re still so near the beginning that we, the Americans, have yet to lay a clearly delineated and comprehensive strategy that our allies can sign-up to. ‘Sign the blank check and trust us’ does not make a very persuasive argument.

  8. Here’s my “hearts and minds” suggestion: arrange for some of those “firebrand clerics” to turn up dead. I don’t mean just in Iraq, but in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as well. Maybe it would cause some of the others to re-read their holy texts.

    There are precedents: we hanged Julius Streicher at Nuremberg, and several managers of Mille Collines radio are in prison for encouraging the Rwandan genocide.

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