Should There be a 'War on Terror'?

por Reuel Marc Gerecht, 22 de octubre de 2007

(From de book Winning the Right War: The Path to Security for America and the World by Philip H. Gordon. Times Books, New York, August 21, 2007. Published in American Enterprise Institute, September 27, 2007)
Dear Philip:
I've now read your book twice--it's a smooth, clean read. Even though Samantha Power is usually credited as the principle drafter behind Senator Barack Obama's defining counterterrorist speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in August, Winning the Right War seems the blueprint for this oration (if we subtract the bit about bombing Al Qaeda encampments in Pakistan, which doesn't work well with your more concerned and sympathetic treatment of General Pervez Musharraf). I wouldn't be surprised to see WRW become a reference point for Democrats as they struggle to define themselves sans George W. Bush. Democrats who believe in a muscular foreign policy in the tradition of Hubert Humphrey, or in the international democratic aspirations of Woodrow Wilson, should definitely peruse your book since it's a nearly A-to-Z rejection of their creed. These ever-shrinking groups may not, however, make your book a bestseller.
As you know, I had trouble with Senator Obama's speech. I have even more difficulty with your book. You seem to be galloping away from the use of force in foreign affairs, elevating soft power--indeed, the softest side of soft power, that is, the appreciation by others of our national virtue--as our most lethal weapon to use against terrorism-loving Islamic extremists and rogue states. Although we have often traveled together in Europe--and you have always been flawlessly fair in presenting the views of more hawkish Americans and patient in explaining the real 'Mars-Venus' differences between Americans and Europeans--your book surprised me. The extent to which you downplay force as an often necessary, morally essential element in the conduct of foreign policy puts WRW more at home in Berlin colloquies than in Washington, where the policy of rendition was born under President Bill Clinton, and most Democratic senators, who'd seen President Clinton and his senior advisors regularly issue warnings about the weapons-of-mass-destruction menace of Saddam Hussein, voted to down this relentlessly aggressive totalitarian.
Since you've read The Threatening Storm, the seminal, pro-war book by Ken Pollack, your Brookings colleague and a former Clinton NSCer, I don't think we need to spend much time on why people who didn't put 'too much emphasis on military force, tough talk, and unilateral action' could see the second Iraq campaign as a necessary war and a legitimate part of the 'war on terror.' And another colleague at Brookings, Peter Rodman, might strongly dissent from your Islamic-radicalism- is- the- new- Cold- War analysis that belittles the many battlefields where the Soviet empire was strained and demoralized, if not broken. Rodman's More Precious than Peace, a history of the Cold War in the Third World--which I think is more pertinent to our current struggle with Islamic militancy than your use of European Cold War history to teach us how to confront Islamic holy warriors--is an excellent guide to why force mattered a lot in America's victory in the Cold War. Islamic radicalism, like communism, may one day die from its internal contradictions and excesses, and I would definitely agree with you that there are some hopeful signs on the horizon (the Second Iraq War--where Sunni holy warriors and insurgents unleashed hell against Iraqi Shiites, and Shiite militias, after watching their community get pounded for nearly two years, struck back with an awful vengeance--has actually produced some soul-searching in the larger Sunni Arab world about jihadism, probably more, regrettably, than what has been produced by 9/11 and other recent terrorist atrocities in Europe and Israel).
Modernity is the cause and probably the cure for rabid Islamic militancy, and as it marches on one can hope that Muslims will develop (rediscover) the ethics and the political machinery that will allow them to extirpate holy warriors from their midst. However, in an age of WMD terrorism, and we have probably only just entered this era, the regular use of overt and covert force--a constant for the United States throughout the Cold War in the Third World--will likely be essential. The United States needs to be good--and ugly events like Abu Ghraib do scar (though I'm skeptical about the depth and lasting effect of such things among the denizens of the Middle East and Europeans who don't think we're damned from birth). But the United States needs to be strong and, yes, often quite tough. When your enemies believe in terrorism, then the United States may have to be considerably more aggressive than what you are obviously comfortable with. If the clerical regime in Tehran were to do a Khobar Towers II, which is not at all unthinkable (the people who authorized the first attack are still in power, and the Bush administration now may rival the Clinton administration in projecting an 'image' of weakness), how would you respond, Phil? Would you ignore it, as the Clinton administration did Khobar I in 1996, or as it ignored, most calamitously, Al Qaeda in Aden in 2000 when the USS Cole almost sank? You seem to suggest in WRW that not militarily responding to terrorism might be a good thing since we might not want to deal with the consequences of an American reprisal.
It seems to me you are trying to take us back to a pre-9/11 world where we add up the body count from terrorist attacks and if the death toll is lower than, say, the number of people who die from 'lightning, or by accident-causing deer, or by severe allergic reactions to peanuts,' then we should just calm down and avoid the use of force since we never know what the baleful collateral effects might be. Do you remember the famous Larry Johnson op-ed in the New York Times the summer before 9/11 that used such reasoning? Take a look at that astonishing op-ed and then go to page 81 of WRW where I found the above line. Dealing with terrorism--dealing with rogue states that use terrorism and are developing nuclear weapons --will surely require us in the future to prepare for war, and may actually require us to bomb, perhaps even invade another country. Obviously, no one should want to do this, but to walk away from the challenge of terrorism by downplaying its potential to wreak havoc and by playing up the fear of unforeseen consequences from American military action is to invite our enemies to escalate. If the ruling mullahs in Tehran know that we know that they allowed members of Al Qaeda to traverse their country before and after 9/11, and if they believe we are no longer willing to punish them militarily for doing so, do you think the mullahs will be more or less likely to again aid Sunni holy warriors? Do you think not responding again, or feebly responding to terrorism, as we did in 1996 after Khobar, in 1998 after the embassy bombings, and in 2000 after the Cole, makes America look in our enemies' eyes 'patient and restrained' or a 'paper tiger?' If you review Islamic radical literature, particularly the products coming from the holy-warrior set, it's America's defeats--especially the potential for one great and glorious defeat in Iraq--that whet the appetite the most, since they give the most hope. I don't know if it would have been possible to separate the Taliban's Mullah Omar from Osama bin Ladin, but it certainly would have been worth the effort to clusterbomb the Taliban's front lines against the Northern Alliance in 1998. We did not do so in part because of fear of the consequences of US military action.
You ask me whether I agree with the former Justice Department official John Yoo when he questions, 'What president would put America's image in the United Nations above the protection of innocent civilian lives?' Yoo is right, Phil. I don't think anyone who has imbibed the experience and writings of former Democratic senator and UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan could possibly pose that question any other way. I actually don't believe you or Senator Obama, or for that matter, Senator Hillary Clinton, her husband, Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, or even Anthony Lake believes that America's image in the United Nations is more important than the 'protection of innocent civilian lives.' I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here, and allow you to repose that question, that entire paragraph, in the second exchange.
Common ground: I certainly agree with you that our 'image' can both be a defensive shield and an offensive weapon. And that one should protect one's honor and dignity, without which it's difficult to wage successful foreign policy. Let me try to tackle what is, I think, your principal theme: that the Bush administration has 'squandered our moral authority' and through 'this underestimation of the importance of our moral standing has made America less safe and less strong.'
If I understand you correctly, if we'd been more 'moral'--no Abu Ghraib, no Guantanamo, no Patriot Act, no intercept within the United States outside of the espionage-centered Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, no rendition (Do you think rendition is unacceptable, Phil? I always ask Clinton NSC officials since your former boss, Sandy Berger, obviously thought it was a good idea, not at all morally beyond the pale?), no violation of the Geneva Conventions for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his friends, more consideration for the French and the Germans, and more censure of the Israelis for their bellicosity in Lebanon and intemperate behavior on the West Bank--the 'war on terror,' six years out, would be much more effective? If we'd been more 'moral,' the terrorist acts that have occurred outside of the United States since 9/11 probably would not have happened or, at least, would have been far fewer? With a greater regard for ethical behavior, we would have had Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri either behind bars or dead? Add up all your criticisms of the Bush administration and reverse them and we in six years time would have done much better in the 'war on terror'?
You need to help me here, Phil. I can understand virtually any criticism of Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks for their risk-averse approach to the invasion of Afghanistan. We could have placed paratroopers in Qandahar very quickly after 9/11. That was the moment to catch the Taliban and the senior ranks of Al Qaeda. Instead we had senior defense department officials telling us stories about special forces on horseback. (I always though the reason we had special forces and paratroopers was so that we didn't have to use horses.) But how in the world do the Bush administration's supposed moral transgressions come into play here? So, if we'd done what you wanted, General Musharraf would have been able to turn to the pro-Taliban Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) and say:
'Look, the Americans have great regard for Muslims, see the respect that they show, see what they have done (fill in as you wish, Phil), look how they came close to invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein, but then they didn't because they knew that would upset the (Sunni) Muslim umma, so let's do our part and go out there and get bin Laden and Mullah Omar. I know you guys have a long-standing relationship with both parties. Hell, I was instrumental in co-locating Kashmiri insurgent camps with Al Qaeda training camps. But we need to put this behind us. The Americans have shown us their best side (well, except for that brief, rude encounter with the bull-necked Armitage); we should reciprocate.' Okay, if you say so.
Do you really think King Abdullah of Jordan and his internal-security and intelligence services have had a harder time cooperating with us because of Abu Ghraib? The same folks who often had intimate dealings with the worst elements in the Iraqi Baathist elite? Somehow, I think they can get over the photos. American intelligence and military liaison relationships with the Middle East's 'pro-American' autocracies have a life of their own. This isn't often for the good. Indeed, Phil, I have to say your book is remarkably free of any criticism of the region's dictators and kings. You scorch the Bush administration for its supposedly bad behavior, and you make many slippery-slope, dark allusions to where the Bushies are leading American society ('a garrison state'), and constantly worry and assert that this immoral comportment and the Iraq war are creating a legion of anti-American Muslim holy warriors, and yet you remain virtually silent on our profound liaison and military relationships with many unsavory regimes in the Middle East. You are more worried about Israel and its holy-warrior causation than you are about the internal dynamics in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Yet it is surely the social and religious evolution inside of these societies, things which have little to nothing to do with Israel and a lot to do with increasing dysfunctional, autocratic, corrupt political systems, that contribute the lion's share of the component parts that make holy warriors.
If I read you correctly, you actually want to stay close, maybe even draw closer, to these regimes. I assume this is what you mean when you say that the 'struggle against Islamic terrorism. ... will require resolve, patience ... and sometimes uncomfortable moral compromises.' Okay, I used to work in the CIA. I can understand and appreciate moral compromises. However, since much of your book is premised on the assertion that America's immorality under President Bush is generating Islamic terrorists, losing our allies, and creating a bad taste in the mouth of millions of Muslims in the Middle East, I have a problem with you wanting to maintain close relationships with regimes who torture by reflex. You don't think average Middle Eastern Muslims--I won't even mention the fundamentalist set who are the most likely to mutate into holy warriors--are morally repelled by this, perhaps even more acutely than they are by Guantanamo Bay? If you are so concerned about our ethics and our 'image' (granted, being intimate with autocrats never hurts you at the United Nations), why don't you apply the same indignation and policy resolve to this issue as you do to whether the CIA 'water-boarded' Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a not-so-secret prison? This is a rather big incongruity in your book.
And one last incongruity closer to home: Do you really think the 'war on terror' and the Iraq campaign has damaged our security and intelligence relationships with the Europeans? Isn't it just the contrary? Our security and intelligence cooperation with the French, during Chirac and Villepin, blossomed. We didn't put headquarters for US-European counterterrorist intelligence cooperation in Paris because things were going poorly. My colleague at AEI, Gary Schmitt, and I have been meeting a wide variety of Western European security and intel types during the last year, and we certainly haven't been able to see growing distance between our oldest allies and us. The 'war on terror' is a European phenomenon, too, and many Europeans have responded with tactics and approaches more severe than ours. (Phil: Are the French, of whom you and I are both fond, slipping and sliding into the moral abyss since their counterterrorist prosecutorial practices are, to put it politely, intrusive?) The French and other Europeans may be concerned that the Second Iraq War has produced a 'third wave' of violently-inclined Islamic radicals, but they seem to have no paralyzing concerns at all about America's operational ethics. I might add that the two European officials whom I know who've participated in interrogations at Guantanamo found the American treatment of detainees to be humane; they questioned, however, the cultural competence and linguistic skills of some of the American interrogators. I live in Europe most of the time, and I don't find greater anti-Americanism now than when I lived here when Ronald Reagan was president. Less, actually. I just don't see the deterioration that you see.
This is certainly because I'm blind and biased. I await your illumination.