“The most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.” – George Orwell
At the start of the 20th Century, Vladimir llyich Ulyanov penned a short polemic called “What is to be done?” In this essay, he laid the intellectual foundation for a rebellion and a future that was to become the Soviet Union. Lenin argued that while revolution might be made in the name of the proletariat, the heavy lifting was actually done by an elite “vanguard” of intellectuals. This oligarchy would latter bloom into such institutions as the Politburo, Central Committee, the Congress of People’s Deputies, Committee for State Security (KGB), and other euphemisms for nomenklatura. Lenin also rejected moderation; setting the stage for the Bolshevik/Menshevik split, a long civil war, and a delusion of world revolution – the Internationale.
Ironically, while tilling the ground for revolution, Lenin was also sowing the seeds of internal contradiction that would eventually bring down the Soviet Union and put the lie to Communism. His brand of socialism made all the right noises about equality, pluralism, and democracy; yet, the truth became the face of Joseph Stalin – a dictator. For fellow travelers in the West, the first doses of reality therapy came from two quarters; a British author and a minor American Foreign Service officer. In 1945, George Orwell lampooned socialism as an Animal Farm where some critters would inevitably be more equal than others. And George Kennan argued, in a 1947 Foreign Affairs essay, that if the spread of Communism were “contained” by means short of nuclear war; it and the Soviet Union would implode from the weight of contradictions. Oddly enough, Kennan couldn’t overcome his background as a diplomat; he spent the rest of his life complaining that “containment” didn’t mean military force.
Nonetheless, the combined pressures of containment, deterrence, and flexible response provided the policy synergy necessary to hold the line and prevail in the Cold War. By the late decades of the last century, a revolution without guns was underway. In 1987, Ronald Reagan blew on the Berlin Wall and the animal farm imploded.
A new debate about the fate of the world arose soon after. By 1989 the optimists were represented by Frank Fukuyama who argued in the End of History that the demise of Fascism and Communism represented a triumph of tolerant democracies. Like Hegel before, Fukuyama saw history as an evolving rational unity. Alas, equating the passage of time with progress doesn’t explain regressions like the Dark Ages, National Socialism, nor the irredentism of contemporary Islam.
Samuel Huntington responded to Fukuyama’s optimism with The Clash of Civilizations, a more pessimistic view of Islamism. Huntington was half right; clash yes, civilization no. Ayatollahs and Imams seldom refer to Western culture as civilization; and “civilization,” as the West knows it, is hardly the goal of Islamists. Like every other war, the clash is political, not cultural. The goal of Islamism is to replace secular with theocratic; while replacing bikinis with burkhas could still be a lesser social objective. Islam, in its most animated forms, is an aggressive political ideology.
The Afghanistan War is now nearly a decade old. The White House has concluded its “top to bottom” policy and objectives review. The narrowly focused results were announced on 1 Dec 09 at West Point. Charitably, the new plan could be described as an exit strategy with an expiration date. The problem with any extended effort in Afghanistan is its potential to obscure or encourage more dithering on existential threats – like Iran.
So what is to be done?
The first step might be a dose of reality therapy. We must recognize the conflict with Islamism for what it is – a global conflict. There are no wars of “choice” (Iraq) or “necessity” (Afghanistan) and no separate archipelagos of terror. This is a single phenomenon with unitary tactics, strategy and objectives. The enemy is not a bearded man hiding in a cave somewhere or simply AL Qaeda, as many administration sources have suggested. The foe is an extensive and remarkably effective net of decentralized proselytizing and fighting cells which have secular and theocratic state sponsors. Their reach is global and that includes domestic sleeper cells.
If we can bring ourselves to rebrand the threat, we might rethink our alliances. Oriana Falacci may have been correct about the “cicadas,” her acid characterization of the European Union. At the moment, we may have more in common with the state Capitalism of Russia, the market Communism of China, the democratic pluralism of India, and the social security state of Japan. Other partners might include South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Israel; but the big four would be a start. The US has more of a future with any of these nations than any nation in the Muslim world – and possibly much of Europe.
The recent Ali al Megrahi pandering to Libya by Great Britain is a symptom of how viral European appeasement has become. The one person convicted in the Lockerbie mass murder has been granted amnesty. If a few bombs on Spanish trains can change a government in Madrid, imagine what changes might be wrought in Europe with nuclear weapons in Sunni and Shiite hands? We can let the Norwegian Parliament’s pandering associated with the last year’s Nobel Peace Prize speak for itself.
We might also rethink our strategy and tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every measure of effectiveness; force to force, force to population, and strategy to strategy metrics suggests that ground war can not possibly result in anything that approximates victory or even stability in Iraq or Afghanistan (see appendix below). Contrary to White House claims, save technology, the war plan for South Asia is little different from our strategy in Vietnam or the Soviet strategy in their Afghan war. Making forays against terrorists or insurgents from defensive cantonments, with extended lines of communication, then as now, cedes most of the initiative to the enemy. The imperative is to move from defense to offense and let the Ummah (Islamic world) do the nation building and stabilize their insurgents.
To this end we should gift the so called “war on terror” to Islam; their problem to solve – or else. Jihad doctrine, fighters, finances, and moral support all originate within Muslim world. All Muslims are not terrorists, but just as surely nearly all terrorists and their supporters are Muslims. If Islamism is a greater threat to Muslims, then Muslims should carry the burden of fighting.
Instead of wasting precious lives and expensive munitions on remote mountain roads, we might contemplate the occasional shot across the bow, or more if necessary, over Tehran, Damascus, Cairo, Riyadh, Karachi, or Tripoli. Surely such offensive initiatives put our energy sources and debt service in play, but Muslim autocrats have even more to lose; and we might make that clear.
If our cities are at risk, then their cities must suffer the same anxiety until the madness ends. The alternative is an endless, one-sided, war of attrition against the West by Islamist rules, on their turf – all of which is designed to bleed Dar al Harb (literally “house of war” or we infidels) into submission.
Recent arguments have parsed the Afghan front into two options; a war on terror (specifically against al Qaeda) or a war on insurgency (aka “nation building”). Choices here are distinguished by troop requirements; the Biden option argued for less troops and the McChrystal option called for more. Unfortunately, after nearly a decade, neither strategy offers a clear path to victory or stability.
Afghanistan not only represents another potential graveyard for Western empire, but it is a tactical distraction from a larger strategic question. We need to ask ourselves why European and American troops need to die in any political desert to save the Islamic world from itself. If Iraq was a distraction from Afghanistan, we should ask also why Afghanistan is not a distraction from the existential threat from Iran.
We might also serve notice also on Muslim co-religionists worldwide that those who advocate or rationalize jihad of the sword, kalifa, sharia, anti-Semitism and other seditious polemics will not be welcome to America as immigrants, teachers, students, or visitors. The Bill of Rights was written to protect America not some global village. In short, kill two birds with one stone; turn the Islamic population bomb, “revenge of the cradle,” back on itself and end the oxymoronic policy of tolerating intolerance in the name of tolerance.
And finally, we need to be crystal clear on the question of future Holocausts. No theocratic state or their “non-state” actors should possess the capability to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth”. We can take Islamists at their word on their intentions; it’s their growing military capability, those weapons of mass destruction, which need to be neutered. The idea that passive missile defense in Europe, or in the Mediterranean, will act as a deterrent is an assumption and nothing more. There is no evidence to suggest that defensive missile technology works or that “supreme rulers” in any theocratic state subscribe to Deterrence or any other rational actor theories.
Israel can not do anything about her geography or her history; and to be candid, Israel has done more with her modest sand box in fifty years than Persia or Arabia has done in the last five hundred years with all of the Levant and North Africa. Ralph Bunche once said that “when two peoples claim the same land, someone has to lose.” Indeed! We need make it clear to Americans and the world that our immutable policy on Jews and genocide is “never again”.
There are more than a few practical advantages to adopting the foregoing policy initiatives. As a group they are deficit neutral; indeed, there is every reason to believe that there might be Mid-East and South Asia dividends if we turn “nation building” over to the natives. The new American administration ran on the slogan; “change we can believe in.” Surely, like Lenin at the start of the last century, Barack Obama is the most articulate and persuasive revolutionary of the new century. The world is still waiting to be told; “what is to be done?”
The following is a brief summary of (operations research) measures of effectiveness, statistically based ways of assessing the probability of military success; success is defined as victory or stability. None of these measures comes remotely close to a positive reading for a ground war in Iraq or Afghanistan.
S. J. Deitchman, “A Lanchester Model of Guerrilla Warfare,” Institute for Defense Analysis, 23 May 1963: Lanchester models of force ratios are thought to apply best to conventional warfare. However such modeling has established a number of axioms: all other things being equal (which they seldom are), a bigger force is a better force; technology does offset the numbers; but numbers still matter in important ways.
James T. Quinlivan, “The Burden of Victory; the Painful Arithmetic of Stability Operations,” Rand Review, summer, 2003: The combined Iraqi/Afghan populations are over 50 million; suggesting more than a million trained personnel might be required just to stabilize these two countries of the Ummah. Or in the words of a mathematician: “The extremely low force ratio for Afghanistan, a country with a larger population than that of Iraq, shows the implausibility of current stabilization efforts by external forces”. This is the polite way of saying there are not enough US troops in the field to do the job – nor is an adequate force likely to be deployed. For a government contractor, Quinlivan’s candor is rare, indeed.
Ivan Arrequin-Toft, “How the Weak Win Wars; A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict,” International Security, summer 2001, pp. 93-128: Toft’s strategy to strategy findings are consistent with force to population models. Yet, it is less clear that Islamists are weak or small, but Toft’s bottom line is hard to dispute; “If history is any guide, the insurgents (Islamists) will win”.
Aside from the low probability of success, Afghanistan has the same “distraction” potential that Iraq had. For the moment, Iraq and Afghanistan are still secular states; Iran, on the other hand, is a theocracy about to go nuclear. Our inability or unwillingness to prioritize the targets in the Islamist threat matrix is the most alarming and dangerous development of the new century.
This essay appeared in the 20 May 10 edition of Family Security Matters.