Terrorism’s Heart of Darkness

This post, entitled Assessing Counter-Terror Since 9/11 is worth reading. But one line jumped out at me.

Successful terror attacks require real skills at surveillance, security, and usually explosives manufacture. None of these skills are easy to acquire. Most successful attacks have involved someone with real training, usually acquired in Pakistan. By monitoring movements to and from Pakistan (and other areas that could be training centers) and extensive sharing between national intelligence agencies suspect activity can be identified and monitored.

(emphasis added) It is axiomatic that terrorism usually requires state sponsorship to be effective, and this post makes a strong case that this axiom has ongoing validity — and that the worst state sponsor is Pakistan. (This is consistent with other things I have read.) In fact, according to this post, it is so bad that you can monitor terrorists generally by monitoring who comes and goes from Pakistan. That, if true, is intolerable.

I had a good visit this weekend with our colleague Zenpundit. One of the things we talked about was the seeming lack of strategy underlying American policy. It has been spasmodic and reactive. We contrasted the current “three wars” — The Global War on Terror, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, none of which have a goal or an articulated means to reach that goal (i.e. a strategy) which is worthy of the name.

Contrast this with two very successful strategies. In World War II our strategy was “Germany First”. Two words, and all else flowed from it. In the Cold War our strategy was “Containment” or “Containing Communism”. This over-arching aim held through thick and thin and we eventually succeeded in our aim of containment.

In the current conflict we seem to be floundering around. The goal in both Iraq and Afghanistan is to arrange things so we can leave. In other words, we are admitting that we should not have invaded either place and that we cannot accomplish much of anything of value by being there. We just don’t want to make things worse by the way we leave. This reminds me of the sort of prestige-based decision-making that kept us in Vietnam. The current vision of population-centric COIN appears to be way too expensive and time consuming to be worth doing on a big scale in Afghanistan. Gen. Krulak’s recent letter to George Will is one example of a proposed different course. As Afghanistan becomes “Obama’s War” I hope we will see some creative thinking.

In the meantime, I am thinking more and more that the focus should be on state sponsors of terrorism. The main sponsor of terrorism is Pakistan. Of course, there is no “Pakistan” but rather factions within Pakistan. Nonetheless, if we are going to focus our military and political energy anywhere, it should be on ending Pakistan as a source of terrorism.

I am not yet committed to the idea, but I suggest “Pakistan First” as our strategy. I do not mean conquer and occupy Pakistan. I mean compel the government there, but whatever combination of carrots and sticks, to stop supporting terrorism and to actively work to stop terrorism originating within its borders.

Accidental Wars

In this Reason Hit&Run post, the vile Patrick Buchanan takes a well deserved beating for his bizarre and ahistorical defense of Adolf Hitler in WWII. However, as loathsome, racist and stupid as he is, Buchanan is correct about one thing: Hitler did not intend to start a second world war that would drag in every industrialized country and leave 3/4 of the industrialized world in ruins.

Instead, Hitler planned on fighting a short, sharp war in Poland. Based on his experience at Munich, he expected that France and Britain would either merely raise a token protest or that they would would fight briefly, realize that they couldn’t recover Poland and then negotiate a peace. He never envisioned that he would fight a gotterdammerung war of global destruction.

Hitler miscalculated. In this he was far from alone. In the 20th Century every war that involved a liberal democracy resulted from the miscalculation of an autocratic leadership.

Read more

The Vietnam War (eventually) resulted in an American victory

There is a pretty heated discussion about the war in Vietnam, among other things, in the comments of this post by Ginny, so these observations by Jerry Pournelle should contribute some useful context:

Viet Nam was a US success because a great part of Soviet transport production including trucks and such was built in the USSR, transported at great expense to Viet Nam and destroyed by USAF. When North Viet Nam invaded the South in 1975 they had more armor than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk, and more trucks than Patton ever had in the Red Ball Express. This was all replacements for similar amounts of materiel destroyed in 1973 when the US at a cost of 663 US casualties aided ARVN in repulsing a 150,000 troop invasion — fewer than 40,000 ever got back home — bringing with it more tanks than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk and more trucks than Patton ever had — none of which ever got home.
Viet Nam helped convert the USSR into Bulgaria with missiles. They neglected their own infrastructure to send materiel to Viet Nam for us to destroy.

As Pournelle also writes in his post, Afghanistan was yet another war of attrition that finished them off. One important reason why the Soviets didn’t realize all that in time was that they lied to each other. If displeasing your superiors with reports about problems is risky, you simply report successes all the time. The West in turn didn’t notice what happened because our spies didn’t get to hear anything but the misinformation Soviet officials were feeding each other. That’s also why the victory in Vietnam didn’t feel like one for decades. While Iraq isn’t Vietnam (it can’t be repeated frequently enough), the example of the long-term success that the Vietnam turned out to be should serve to demonstrate the virtue of patience. Iraq will only turn into a defeat (in the long as well as the short run) in case of a premature troop withdrawal (but that is an issue for another post).