Thursday, September 07, 2006

Are We On the Right Road?

In Part IV of Nemesis' overview of the war (Parts I and II are covered at A Return to Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.... and Part III is covered at The Alpha Male Problem) Nemesis discusses possible strategies and their pros and cons.

Nemesis dismisses Passive containment out of hand. It was the pre 9/11 strategy and 9/11 proved it didnt work.

He then covers Active Containment vs Engagement. Here is his estimate of what active containment is about.

* A broad approach to terrorism emphasizing both national defense and active measures against terrorists overseas.
* A diplomatic approach to hostile governments emphasizing international penalties and sanctions, and practical support of dissident elements is preferred but not entirely relied upon.
* Strongly supports deterrence as preferable to defensive measures that may be provocative.
* Military action as a last resort and with a limited objective, which many or may include regime change
* Military action preferably, but not necessarily, conducted under a broad international coalition.
* Little emphasis on nation building.
* Strong emphasis on establishing lasting security under a compliant regime.
* UN participation in diplomatic and military measures is preferable but not considered vital.
* Exit strategies are based on stability.
He contrast that strategy with Engagement.
* A broad approach to terrorism emphasizing both national defense and active measures against terrorists overseas.
* Approach to hostile governments balances military and diplomatic options.
* Supports deterrence but prefers strong defense measures.
* Military action acceptable on clear evidence that further diplomacy is counterproductive.
* Military action preferably, but not necessarily, conducted under a broad international coalition.
* Military objective will usually include regime change and establishing lasting security.
* Strong emphasis on nation building and supporting representative government.
* UN participation in diplomatic measures is desirable but can be secondary.
* UN participation in military measures is undesirable and to be avoided.
* Exit strategies are based on victory
What are the prospects of these two (not mutually exclusive) strategies?
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.
Containment was always based on mirror imaging. The idea that the values of the opponent was sufficiently similar to our own so a policy of containment could work. It was based on the idea that both sides considered the results of a nuclear war catastrophic. That is probably not the case in this war. Iran has openly talked of accepting its own destruction in exchange for the destruction of Israel. So containment is of limited value in this conflict.
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.
It is the alpha male problem writ large. Which I discussed in my review of Part III titled appropriately enough The Alpha Male Problem.
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.
So how can the differences be resolved. Nemesis says the way to go is to "consult" the jihadis.
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.
So how should we judge victory?
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.
Which says that despite our current difficulties, the enemy has it worse.

As is usual I have left out a great deal that is good to get to the heart of the matter. You should read the whole thing.

Update: 07 Sept '06 1058zz

Shrink Wrapped has a Part V up which consists of links to Parts I - IV and some interesting commentary on Parts I - IV.


Anonymous said...

> But they are not being patient

Palestinian terror groups were not patient, but they succeeded. At least, they succeeded in undermining the peace process and have gotten themselves elected into the government. I realize they face new challenges now but the point is, if you're a jihadi in Iraq and you're looking over at Hamas, why shouldn't you be confident?

It's possible that impatience is caused by competition more than anything else. Hamas could have waited until a peace deal was signed - they would have had unprecedented access to Israeli cities. But there were also Islamic Jihad and Fatah Tanzim and PFLP and who knows - maybe more of them - to consider, and all of these groups competed for accolades and psych points and wanted to prove themselves. In such a setting, how could hamas wait?

Democracy is a threat to them, for sure. But I'm not sure I follow the argument that, since they're fighting against the things that threaten them, they must therefore be weak. Couldn't the same argument be applied to us with the same conclusion?

Anyway I don't want to give the wrong impression. I learned a lot from this, but I do question this part of it.

linearthinker said...

Impatience is just a symptom of some deeper drive, but I'm damned if I can figure it out. I've been puzzled why the jihad in Europe has been so aggressive. In a contest that's lasted centuries, they are gaining ascendency through simple demographics and the wavering of Western institutions. A few decades more and they could have it all by default. Yet they persevere in riling up the latent defensive instincts in the societies they've targeted. Makes no sense if they have time on their side. Is it simply hubris and, as shahar notes, a destructive competitive nature that drives them? What's pushing the jihad movement so hard at this particular time?