Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Two Views of the War on Terror: Part I

We're all familiar by now with most of the arguments for and against the war in Iraq. In a simplified breakdown it would be three camps: the "no war for oil" refuseniks that are members of various organizations that still exist from the Cold War/Vietnam era - "counter culture"; the "legitimate" opposition that sees the war in Iraq as a separate distraction from prosecuting a "war" against Al Qaida and those that see Iraq as a second front or battle in the war (of which I am a member).

I am disregarding the first group entirely in this discussion because I see this group as the least logical, reasonable or bound to any sort of reality in our current world. At least, in my view of the world and humanity.

The second group, after many conversations with several fairly "reasonable" members, is the group I will focus on here. This group has often been referred to as the "9/10" people: those that still see terrorism and combatting terrorism based on a view of these organizations that we were familiar with prior to the 9/11 attacks. In some instances, I think of them as "9/11" people who do recognize that we were attacked by murderous terrorists, but view the war as something that should be persecuted against a small specific group of men. Mainly, Osama bin Laden, his closest circle of leadership and whomever we can scoop up through small efforts against individuals or small groups. In their view, there are limited states that would be considered an "enemy" of the US, if any. These folks see Saudi Arabia as the most reprehensible of these states and sometimes consider that, if we were going to prosecute a war against any state, why not Saudi Arabia?

The reason that I call this group of people the "legitimate opposition" is because some of their ideas are not completely rejected by the "pro-war" group who have often (even I) considered the prospect of going to war with the entity that has spawned wahabism across the globe. Wahabism which is the base of most Islamist terrorist movements across the globe. Although, I am not certain that this "legitimate" opposition is really anymore convinced than me that doing so would be a good idea. As a matter of fact, I believe that the legitimate left, had they received their wish and Kerry was elected, would still have been disappointed on this one point because I don't believe that Kerry would have been any harsher on the Saudis or would have considered going to war at all with this state, anymore than President Bush did. This is a simple deduction (besides Kerry's odd campaigning of following Bush's plan but would have "done it better") because no administration would have been able to avoid the fact that we are extremely dependent on oil from the region. Further, a Kerry administration would not be and could not be any further along in creating or supporting a drastic change in energy policy because, even if technology exists, it still has to be viable enough to make a quick change and support a massive transportation infrastructure from the ground to the sea to the air.

However, I believe that the real difference in opinions on how to fight the war on terror breaks down to how exactly each group views "the enemy".

I decided that I would explore these opposing views because, as I've mentioned before, legitimate opposition is helpful (sometimes) when we are actually able to consider some of their ideas as feasible, even if it is largely broken down on partisan lines and sometimes seems more like an attempt at obstruction or to win political points then to be helpful in the prosecution of the war. I believe that this often throws up a wall between the two groups and keeps either side from considering the ideas of the others and building from them to create a comprehensive plan to defeat the enemy.

Then again, as we see in congress, committee type planning and action often leads to no specific action at all. Gridlock. Good in government, sometimes good to be cautious in war, but, in war victory goes to the bold.

I digress. The view of the legitimate opposition is based on their view of the enemy and I believe that it breaks down to this:

1) Terrorims does exist around the globe
2) Not all terrorist organizations, even if they are Islamist in nature, are direct threats to the United States
3) Osama bin Laden and his direct cohorts and minions attacked us on 9/11 and these are the people and the one organization that poses either the greatest threat or only threat to the United States
4) Even if many terrorist organizations have some sort of relationship or affiliation with "Al Qaida" this does not create one large army with a single ideology and plan that we can or should confront (ie, this is not the Communist Russian army (or any state army) with a direct line of command, a nation state with assetts that can be deployed or destroyed in direct combat that can be used to effect a war or as mutual points of destruction that can pre-empt a war from occuring). Further, most organizations were regional or specific to a state and largely concerned with their own efforts to change their area as opposed to presenting a direct threat to the United States as part of a large organization with over all goals or strategies for effecting the world at large. It may also have been more politically and financially viable to allow the regional or state authorities to handle these organizations with minimal financial and material support or personnel allowing the greater burden to be spread out among multiple states.
5) Because al Qaida and it's affiliates are not a nation state with a direct line of leadership and command and because they cannot be linked directly to any specific state as having direction or command coming from the leadership of that state, state on state war is not necessary and may be "unhelpful".
6) If the leadership of al Qaida could be taken out, it would end or severely damage the ability of the organization or any other affiliate organization being a direct and immediate danger to the United States. The Iraq war was a distraction from this endeavor.
7) An al Qaida goal was to provoke an over reaction by the United States and other western countries, expand the war and thus bring to fruition their desire to expand the war into an Islam vs. the West war, causing Muslims from across the globe to make a decision to support "Islam" or support the West. Because this was an Al Qaida goal, we should not have played into this goal in any way. Instead, we should have done the opposite and maintained the war as "small operations" against small specific groups that could still be viewed as "terrorists", limiting the possibility of inflaming other groups that might otherwise stay out of the "war" and pose little or no danger to the US. The Iraq war played into this goal and now has extended the war into areas and peoples that we might not have had to deal with or be as concerned about in the past.
8) We are using assetts, money and soldiers that put us in a vulnerable position in other parts of the world and may keep us from meeting other obligations or worse yet may engender an economic debt which we cannot recover from.
9) It would be less expensive, less intrusive and easier to prosecute actions against individuals and work within the international community to interdict, arrest or kill these individuals than to committ war. Since nation states do not have a direct command structure over these organizations, even if they are funding them or supplying other material assistance, using them as proxies to committ wars the states themselves may not be able to do so or in order to serve their interests developing influence within other states, because the states themselves are not or cannot be linked to acts of war, legitimate cases for war against those states are difficult if not impossible to make. Also, these wars would, again, contribute to the over all instability of the area and provide the possiblity of these terrorist organizations to obtain certain objectives such as providing on the job training to commit other wars or terrorist actions, provide them territory where in they may create training camps or bases from which to commit other terrorist activities, provide them with propaganda or other resources which they may use to finance additional activities.
10) Declaring war or prosecuting a greater, more intense war against these organizations, instead of diminishing them, actually provides recognition and possible legitimization of their claims, making the organization(s) appear larger and more organized which, in terms of guerilla wars can lead to increased financial and material aid from the general population as well as increased recruits.
11) The "War on Terror" did not have to include Iraq, was a strategic mistake since Iraq would have maintained it's security and, while possibly providing some assistance at the state level to terrorist organizations, was not doing any more or less than certain nations that we may currently call an ally. Further, the police state of Iraq was less dangerous to the United States because the state would have acted in it's own interest to protect itself and would have controlled the ability of terrorists to work within the state, set up bases or recruit from inside. Also, the amount of weapons and financial aid from the state might have been far less in quantity as well as less direct. The cost of controlling these actors in state, in money, resources and blood would have fallen on Iraq itself. Without the control of these police and the brutal leadership of Saddam, the terrorists are now able to move freely in and out of the state, moves money, men and resources freely within that state and neighboring states and greatly destabilizes the area. While the leadership of Iraq was egregious, it mostly posed a threat to it's own citizens having little if any capability of prosecuting a war directly against the United States. The military and economic quarantine of Iraq was less costly and was generally effective.
12) Promoting "democracy" in the region may serve to destabilize more regimes at the same time during a time when the United States and most of the world is dependent on oil from this region. This may lead to civil wars or even peaceful changes in government that legitamize or bring to power the very Islamist terrorist organizations that we are combatting.

And, last but not least (possibly not last if others have additional comments), something I've heard from both the left and the right, is the idea that we should make all attempts to quickly disengage physically, financially and politically from the Middle East, allowing the course to run and leaving ourselves in a stronger position. This would include developing some sort of energy replacement for oil and natural gas either through new technologies or from development of energy sources closer to home or in other regions that are less volatile. We would, in effect, leave this region to develop as it would or, at worst or best, become the province of other nations to attempt to influence as many would still need the resources from this region regardless of any advancement in new energy technology that the United States developed. Further, if the development of the region included Islamist organizations coming to power that decided to act against the United States or other allied powers, then we would have actual states with which to interact and conduct state on state war which the United States excels at (as opposed to long term guerilla wars that are less successful based on the Vietnam model).

I've tried to present these concepts with little or no bias on my part (though I can't guarantee the subconscious since I disagree with some of these views) in order to take a look at them in the cold light of day with calmness and reasoning as some of the ideas are not exactly outside of the strategies that we are employing now and have some possible legitimate applications in the future.

As of today, the legitimate opposition (when flame throwing partisanship is less involved and not including the insane leftist conspiracies for beginning the war) generally has disisted in questioning the validity of starting the war and has moved on to arguments and ideas for leaving the current strategy and going forward with a new strategy that would, for the most part, resemble most of the concepts that the opposition considers appropriate for prosecuting action against terrorists.

One of the reasons that those who support the war and those that do not have such divergent concepts about prosecuting the greater war on terror is basically how each side views the enemy as represented in items 2 through 6. It is a question of whether one sees these multiple organizations as part of a greater movement that together threatens the United States and the World in general or whether they are individual organizations that should be considered and handled differently in each separate region or state.

Al Qaida and the Islamist movement's organizational structures, loose, informal cooperation with disseminated leadership that is not easily identified or defined, is the major factor in the divergent concepts of fighting a war on terror. It does not lend itself easily to a label or a box or even simple concepts that could be easily explained to a general populace that does not follow the war and terrorism as closely as others. The fact that major terrorist activities do not occur with large scale armies or on a regular basis within Western countries or the United States specifically ("regular" meaning daily, weekly, monthly or even once a year) serves to confuse the question of how great a threat a single or even multi layered organization could actually pose to the United States, engendering the idea that an actual "war" is not necessary and may even be a sign of hubris and hegemony.

In the next posting, we will look at how Al Qaida may be structured, how this fits in with affiliate organizations with some additional commentary on the points above opposed to the "pro-Iraq War" concepts. I believe that the first thing one should look at is this circular structure graph of terrorist organizations within Iraq.

This graph should give you an idea how the larger Al Qaida structure is set up and how the affiliate organizations around the globe fit in or belong to the cooperative that is the Islamist movement.


Norm said...

Good post. But I do not agree at
all. Firstly, #7 is totally wrong.
Al Qaeda never dreamt of provoking
the US into a overreaction. They
thought we would throw a few cruise
missiles at them and do a lot of
talking. What America actually did
is their worst nightmare come true..they woke the sleeping giant.
No. 10 is ...forget it. Now the
funniest is the one about using the
international community...oh, that will work...what happened to the tribunal that was supposed to try almost 50,000 people in Rwanda for
crimes?..at the rate they are going
most of the prisoners will be dead
from old age. And the eternal trial against Milosevic...going on
since February of 2002. He has turned that one into a joke. Good
Grief! Lastly, open your eyes...Iraq IS the strategic center of the mideast...and they are creating a wonderful democracy
right in front of your face. Help

Tom said...

Actually, Norm, Kat is correct. They did hope that we'd invade them. Their strategy was to "draw us in" like they did the Soviets (damn, I can't find the link just now. Strategypage.com has an article on just this). They hoped that our reaction would result in a recruiting boon for them. Which it did, sort of.

What they did not count on is that our attack would be successful.
They could not imagine that we would not make the mistakes the Russians made.

They also did not count on a few other things, that we would deprive them of an ally in Saddam's Iraq, and that the Iraqi people would reject them in favor of democracy.

Anonymous said...

Good post Kat! Far more objective than I could be. One thing which doesn't seem to be addressed however, is the potential change in the nature of the terrorist threat. At some point in time, we are not just going to be worried about a handful of terrorists flying planes into buildings and killing a few thousand innocent civilians. A "Dirty" bomb, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists would have the potential to impose enormous casualties and long term havoc on our economy. Waiting for this threat to develop could be fatal, on a national scale. If 9/11 taught us anything, it should be that terrorists with a global reach would have no inhibitions, in terms of needing provocation to attack this country and destroy a world superpower. IF we are going to err on this, it needs to be on the side of caution (read "be proactive not reactive"), and that always has adverse consequences of it's own. The question is "Are these consequences worth it?" I'm thinking they are.


Janice said...

Saddam and OBL were never allies. The Iraqis are rejecting the Occupation and consequent defilement of their nation.

Tom said...

A day late and a dollar short, here is the link I promised