Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 8, 2005
WAR: Simpletons

Jeff Goldstein:

Atrios, Pandagon, Kos, and - more disturbingly, if it proves predictive of how the Democratic leadership will respond - at least one Democratic congresswoman I'm aware of, are all suggesting that today's London bombings prove that the "flypaper theory" is demonstrably false, this despite the documented fact of thousands upon thousands of jihadis pouring into Iraq each month, where many of them will be killed.

Which, for a group of people who claim to be so nuanced, things really are quite black and white in the reality-based community: if we can't take down every dictator simultaneously, we shouldn't take down even one; if a terror attack happens outside of Iraq, the thousands of terrorists we're killing inside Iraq are no longer part of the equation.

It is infantile to expect every terror attack outside of Iraq can be stopped; and it is ridiculous to extrapolate from a single terror attack the lesson that somehow our entire longterm strategy for defeating Islamic terrorism is faulty.

UPDATE: Two things. First, I should make clear that the post title, "Simpletons," refers to the people Goldstein is criticizing, not to the discussion that follows on Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum. Second, Kos' critique of the "flypaper" theory - that attracting terrorists to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the US military reduces the number of terrorists available elsewhere in the world - is actually disproven by data cited by Kos himself, as this Steve Verdon analysis makes clear (see the chart at the end showing trends in terror attacks outside the Middle East). Via Vodkapundit.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is taking the "Fortress America" view that this sort of thing can be stopped by better homeland security:

The immediate answer to this is to hunt down the people immediately responsible, root out the primarily-non-state terror networks that support, plan and make these attacks possible and start getting about serious homeland defense -- port security, rail security, nuclear power plant security.

On that last count, what we've accomplished in the US over the last few years has been painfully inadequate, largely because of our focus on nation-states that have only a tenuous connection to this threat . . .

Of course, everyone wants to hunt down the individual terrorists, not that Marshall has any special insight into how you do that, nor any explanation of how you do it when they can fall back into the territory of sympathetic states (ask yourself how Saddam would have responded to requests for help in tracking down the various terrorists who received refuge within his borders). But the insistence that the strategy can be limited to manhunts and securing targets (heck, Marshall doesn't even mention border security) is impossibly naive.

On the other hand, there's Kevin Drum, writing the day before the London attacks:

This is pretty much at the heart of the liberal/conservative divide over Iraq. Is our real battle with terrorists themselves? Or is it with the fact that far too many people are sympathetic with their aims?

George Bush and his advisors appear to believe the former. I believe the latter. Al-Qaeda itself, even if you count all its far flung and loosely affiliated partners, doesn't number more than a few thousand, most of them ill-trained and poorly educated zealots. It's foolish to underestimate them - they've proven over and again that they're a deadly enemy that needs to be extinguished - but it's equally foolish to compare them to fascism or communism as existential threats.

That might change in the future, but only if they retain the support of substantial segments of the Islamic population. It's popular support that's the real threat, but conservatives seem flatly unwilling to admit this publicly for fear of looking soft. That's squishy liberal pap! Conservatives prefer direct action!

But . . . military force can sometimes make the long term problem worse - and right now, that appears to be pretty much where we're headed. As long as 10-20% of the Islamic world is actively on the side of al-Qaeda, there's not much chance of ever truly defeating them. So far, though, most of our actions in the Middle East have just made this worse. When are we going to get serious about taking on the real enemy?

I take Drum at his word that he accurately states his own view. But as you can see, Marshall takes precisely the view Drum projects onto conservatives, i.e., viewing all this just as a manhunt. And it was repeatedly made apparent throughout last year's presidential campaign that John Kerry and Howard Dean took the same tack.

In fact, while it may be true tht Bush has sometimes been maddeningly vague in his talk of fighting "terrorists," it could not be clearer that the "forward strategy of freedom" espoused by Bush, his Administration and the great bulk of its supporters among conservative pundits and bloggers is aimed directly at the realization that you can't stop with the manhunts themselves, you have to change the conditions in the Muslim/Arab worlds, both by removing state sponsors of terror and by replacing them with states that are more responsive to their own peoples' needs, in ways that reduce the pressure that gets redirected against the United States and its allies (especially Israel). The focus on killing the hard-core jihadists in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan is only one piece of this broader strategy.

In other words, Drum's portrayal of his differences with conservatives is entirely incorrect - unless you correct it to state that it's really his beef with his own party and many of its leading lights. Instead, Drum is really disagreeing with the Right only as to means, i.e., his belief that military action is not useful in toppling tyrants, or at least is more trouble than it's worth. While that's a debate that's worth having (and that we have had, ad nauseum), it would be more useful to recognize that he has the philosophical battle lines drawn backwards.

UPDATE: Stephen Green has some additional thoughts on that Josh Marshall piece.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:36 AM | War 2005 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

A proiblem I have with blogs and bloggers is that they all too often lose sight of a big issue tospend their time tossing bricks back and forth at each other...sprinkled along with dumb remarks about The Left and The Right.

Were I to follow what you say about the Bush strategy and ask that every regime in the Middle East become democratic, what do you think would be the outcome? More nations with fewer despots and instead sharia law....Seems clear to some folks that the issue is a drive to establish a new caliphate, and that moderate muslims are fearful or sympathetic and hence very reluctant to speak out and demand an end to Arab terror (no: not militas, killers)...turn, for example, to CAIR or any Muslim group and note what they say the day after London: badbadbadBUT, HOEVER etc and then somehow manage to shift the blame and the fault.
It is not the Left that is at fault; it is not the Right that is at fault. 9/11 took place prior to Afghanistan and prior to our (dumb) invasion of Iraq. Why?

Posted by: freddie at July 8, 2005 1:29 PM

Freidman had another take on this today:

Because there is no obvious target to retaliate against, and because there are not enough police to police every opening in an open society, either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way - by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent.

And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst. If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village.

What do I mean? I mean that the greatest restraint on human behavior is never a policeman or a border guard. The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful. It is what the village and its religious and political elders say is wrong or not allowed. Many people said Palestinian suicide bombing was the spontaneous reaction of frustrated Palestinian youth. But when Palestinians decided that it was in their interest to have a cease-fire with Israel, those bombings stopped cold. The village said enough was enough.

I guess he's a simpleton too...

I have had my problems with Freidman over the last few years, he has been far too supportive of the War in Iraq for my taste, but he does raise valuable points often. This is one. Bush and his supporters will argue that his pursuit of a democratic Middle East is a means to this end. The problem is his bull-in-a-china shop approach. He is creating far more terrorists than he is extinguishing. That's the problem with the flypaper strategy (even it was working--I argue it's not), it assumes a finite supply of terrorists which will exhaust itself by throwing itself at our troops in Iraq.

Bullshit. If anything, Iraq is self-sustaining as far as terrorist-supplies go, and having no positive (for us) effect on the wider distribution of terrorists around the globe. Conditions in Iraq may actually be detrimental to this cause whether because of reality or perception.

It doesn't sound "tough" enough for many to concentrate on defending targets and taking a cooperative international law enforcement approach, but I'd submit that three-plus years of only the "tough-guy" approach hasn't produced results, only terrorists.

Posted by: Mr Furious at July 8, 2005 1:35 PM

To be clear here, I titled this post to refer to the people Goldstein was criticizing; I don't think Marshall and Drum are simpletons, although in Marshall's case he's just playing his party's tune.

Friedman, as usual, is at least partly right. What you miss is that things like democratization, "flypaper" and elimination of state sponsors of terrorism are all pieces of the same comprehensive strategy: kill their best troops, deny them safe havens and support networks, and at the same time change the underlying conditions that cause the breeding of more terrorists. You can't pick off one piece and complain that it doesn't do what the other piece does.

And in a war, success is never without setbacks. But to say there have been no results requires you to ignore an awful lot of things that have changed in three and a half years.

Posted by: The Crank at July 8, 2005 3:42 PM

"...success is never without setbacks. But to say there have been no results requires you to ignore an awful lot of things that have changed in three and a half years."

On the other side you on the Right constantly ignore the information that this ill-conveived war is a flipping disaster that has a) made things on the terrorism front far worse (for us) than better b) that it has been a financial sink hole of unprecedented proportions that continues to grow on a daily basis c) was brought about under circumstances that (are incresingly documented) had nothing to do with what was stated as policy.

Events like what happened in London should further show that our misguided efforts in Iraq have done, at best, nothing to curb terrorist activities.

You talk about this big comprehensive strategy that we have as if it is applied to the Middle East. It clearly is not. We have no policy of getting rid of state sponsered terrorism (Saudi Arabia, hello). We install puppet regiemes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and it simply stinks of profiteering. Good lord the "prime minister" of Afghanistan used to be the CEO (or whatever) of Unocal which built a big freaking pipeline in Afghanistan after 9/11. The longer this goes on the worse it looks and the worse it gets. You can argue it is roses and sunshine but the more you do the more you look like a mule for Neo-Con/GOP INC. bullshit.

Posted by: jim at July 8, 2005 5:55 PM

Was spending $200+billion in Iraq and seeing 1,700 soldiers die there the best use of our resources in fighting terrorism? Wouldn't we have been better off finishing the job in Afghanastan, hunting down Bin Ladan and investing in elite counter-terrorism efforts around the world? Did taking out a secular thug, evil as Saddam was, make us safer in anyway? Be honest.

Posted by: Pat Rick at July 8, 2005 11:05 PM

"Fortress America" always makes me think about the quote from Napoleon saying the the logical result of any defensive war is inevitable surrender.

Bringing the fight to the enemy is the only way to fight this war.

Posted by: chris at July 9, 2005 6:09 AM

Again, I was not under the impression given to us by this lovely administration that the Iraqi people were the enemy. We aren't really bringing the fight to the enemy. That is a big part of the problem sane people have with the war in Iraq.

Posted by: jim at July 11, 2005 11:12 AM
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