Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Strategy Requires Defining the Enemy

Oliver Kamm:

The most fundamental decision in western security policy in the past seven years has not been the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It has been the recognition that the most voluble adversaries of western society are not merely a criminal subculture, and still less an incipient liberation movement. Rather, they are a reactionary, millenarian and atavistic force with whom accommodation is impossible as well as intensely undesirable.
I agree the "voluble adversaries of western society" should not be confused with an "incipient liberation movement." But beyond that, this seems to suggest that "criminal subculture" and "millenarian and atavistic force" are mutually exclusive, but I see no basis for this. Al Qaida and similar groups are precisely all of the above: sprawling, stateless, criminal organizations consisting of reactionary religious zealots with whom compromise is both impossible and undesirable.

The point is important because the strategic approach to combatting terrorism hinges on it. Kamm reveals which kind of war on terror he'd like to see continued:
The grand strategy pursued by the US under Bush has overestimated the plasticity of the international order, but it has got one big thing right. There is an integral connection between the terrorism that targets western societies and the autocratic states in which Islamist fanaticism is incubated.
Kamm wants to target the autocratic states that incubate Islamist movements. But this is an odd statement given that Kamm just told us that "the most fundamental decision in western security policy in the past seven years has not been the overthrow of Saddam Hussein," which sounds like a concession that terminating one of the "autocratic states" has done little to roll back the efforts of the "reactionary, millenarian and atavistic" forces with which Kamm is rightly concerned. And indeed it has not, as even its current champion, General Petraeus, has had to concede.

Bush has not gotten "one big thing" right. His strategy of throwing thoughtless military might into Iraq has been akin to a man holding a hammer who goes in search of a nail. When it comes to fighting terrorism, there are better ideas attached to clearer visions available.

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