Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Futility of Force Alone

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

A belated Independence Day to all. In honor of our nation's 229th birthday, I was working on a post on what it means to be "American." But first, breaking news today merits comment, so I'll post my star-spangled post later.

As I recently visited London and rode on one of the Tube lines targeted in this morning’s attacks, it really hits home. Just as it was blatantly obvious on 9/11 who was responsible, so today the attacks are virtually certain to have been carried out by Al-Qaida sleeper cell in Britain.

It was inevitable, really. The immediate cause for the attacks was in retribution for Britain’s role in the occupation of Iraq. You might notice that these attacks tend to happen in Western countries that gave military support to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq (Britain, Spain) and not in nations that have stayed out of Mesopotamia (France, Germany). Some might think that the prudent thing to do to prevent future terrorist attacks is to withdraw from Iraq, if not the entire Middle East. But that would be a tragic mistake and it wouldn’t stop the terrorist attacks against the West.

If that advise was heeded, it would not be long before the nations of the West would again fall under attack. The Islamic fundamentalists seek not just the withdrawal of the West from the region, but the submission of all countries to the rule of a world-wide Taliban-style caliphate. The fact that it is impossible for them to realize their goal makes no difference for they are beyond reason. The terrorists do not distinguish between “friendly” infidels and “unfriendly” infidels, but only between those who will join them in their goal or at least submit to it, and those who won’t. There is a great exchange from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith that rings true:

Anakin: "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy!"
Obi-Wan: "Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes.”

The great conflict in which we are engaged in is a war of the Islamic fundamentalists versus everyone else because the terrorists have declared war on everyone else. No matter how much we may disagree about every other issue, all of us, in every nation, who oppose the terrorists are nothing but a target in their eyes. Kinda puts everything else in perspective, doesn’t it?

The British have known that this could happen—indeed, almost certainly would happen—when they cast their lot with all of civilized mankind in opposing the terrorists. The British have been through some tough scrapes in their long history. If the mighty Spanish Armada and Hitler’s great Luftwaffe could not defeat England, the British people will not be intimidated by these third-rate Third-World thugs.

The Futility of Force Alone

President Bush often justifies the Iraq war by repeating the mantra, “We’re fighting and killing the terrorists over there in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them here.” First off, terrorists don’t fight. If they had a chance of winning militarily, they wouldn’t be forced to resort to cowardly attacks on civilians like they did today in London.

Second, the only way his argument makes sense is if there are a fixed number of terrorists (let’s say 1000) and none to take their place. In this scenario, if our soldiers kill all 1000 of these terrorists in Iraq, there won’t be any more terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, every terrorist has a family, and often, in the Middle East, a rather large extended family. If one family member is killed, expect a whole bunch of sons, nephews, uncles, stepsons, and the in-laws of second-cousins twice removed to join the terrorist’s ranks. The tribal nature of society in much of the region means that for every one terrorist you kill, you now have dozens or hundreds of terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Not to mention the fact that there are often civilian casualties as a result of coalition offensives. To root out insurgents from Falluja, the whole city was pretty much razed to the ground.

Imagine you are a Sunni Iraqi; people you know have been killed by coalition soldiers; you’re unemployed because no one will hire a former Ba’ath party member; the electricity in the house is on an average of less than 4 hours a day (the average in Baghdad) and never the same 4 hours from day to day; the Shiites and Kurds form a government that allows both groups to keep their militias but forces the Sunni fighters to disarm; your son was killed in a suicide car bombing while training to join the new Iraqi army; you can’t let your wife shop in the market for fear of losing her too, not that there’s much produce at the market anyway due to the coalition forces having blockaded your town to force the insurgents out; you have a decent car but no gas because insurgent attacks on oil pipelines have caused shortages in a country with the second largest oil reserves in the world; and to top it all off, the U.S. Army demolishes your home. Under those circumstances, wouldn’t you at least contemplate the use of force? I’m not trying to justify the insurgency, just pointing out some of the many reasons an Iraqi might join it.

Or imagine that you are a Syrian or a Jordanian or a Saudi watching the news at home and all you see and hear on Al-Jazeera and the state-run networks is Americans killing and torturing Iraqi civilians, desecrating Muslim mosques, flushing Qu’rans down the toilet, [insert whatever atrocity you want, real or imagined, here]. Then you go to your Friday prayer services and the imam tells you he can hook you up with some people who can help you get back the infidels oppressing your Muslim brothers in Iraq. Did I mention you’re also unemployed as there’s only one game in town, oil, and only so many spots available in that field? Or that you’ve been schooled since you were 4 or 5 in religious schools called madrassas, where every day, instead of learning "readin’, ‘rightin, and ‘rithmatic", you learned about how all the problems of the Arab world are due to the Westerners and Jews and how the Jews celebrate Passover by drinking the blood of small Arab children? I’m not making this stuff up, I only wish I was.

Cenk Uygur sarcastically concludes, “It turns out shockingly enough the terrorists can multitask. Anyone with half a mind could have told you that al-Qaeda wouldn’t pull sleeper cells from their Western targets to go fight in Iraq. Today those sleeper cells, who it turns out had not bought their tickets for Baghdad after all, hit us right at the center of one of our largest and most important cities. As CIA and US military reports indicate, the war in Iraq has only helped to recruit more terrorists to the cause of al-Qaeda. This allows them to fight us more effectively over there AND over here.”

So, far from every militant we kill being one fewer we have to face in the West, the opposite seems to be true: for every militant we kill, we raise up more than enough to replace him. We have to face the fact that we are creating enemies faster than we can kill them. It should obvious by now to the Bush administration that their focus on winning the conflict by meeting force with force has failed.

As I wrote here last September 11, "Iraq is in crisis as Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists travel to Iraq to fight jihad--against us. No matter how many terrorists we kill or capture, more will always take their place until we win the real war: the battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. The war in Iraq has turned the minds of the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East against us--perhaps for good. Meanwhile, in a cave somewhere, bin Ladin laughs maniacally. For we have done what he could not: convince the Muslim world that America is waging war against Islam itself."

Regardless of how many terrorists we kill in Iraq, we are no safer, indeed less safe now, than we were before we invaded Iraq. Our focus in this “War on Terrorism” must shift from merely dropping bombs to encouraging Muslims in the region to reject the Zarqawis and Bin Ladins in their midst. So far, we have given them precious little reason to do so. But that is the only way to make America—and the world—truly secure.

I’ll give Uygur the last word on this subject: "They want us to answer violence with more violence. There is a time for war, as in Afghanistan, and there is a time for a smarter and more comprehensive strategy. War and violence are the only answers al-Qaeda has. They shouldn’t be the only answers we have. We should be smarter than them, we should be better than them."

The Importance of the Status Quo

This is really just a clarification of my last post on the kind of justice Bush should appoint in case of a vacancy: This just in, sources say Rehnquist will announce his own retirement tomorrow. This is a godsend for America. All along, people had expected Rehnquist to retire this year, so Bush probably wouldn't face much opposition to choosing one conservative to replace another. When O'Connor announced her retirement last week, conservative activist groups started clamoring for Bush to name a far-right conservative. As that would replace a more moderate justice with a more conservative one, it could shift the balance on the Court. Now that Bush has two vacancies to fill, (if, indeed, the news is accurate) then he could choose two conservatives and change the composition of the court for a generation. Roe v. Wade would likely be overturned, as would a number of other issues important to social conservatives such as gay marriage and the role of religion in government.

Let's take abortion as an example: If the court overturned Roe and turned the matter back to the states (a lot more likely than ruling abortion unconstitutional), special interest groups would fight in each state in battles that would make the current controversy over abortion look like a minor squabble. Pro-lifers would win in some states, pro-choicers in others. America would be left a divided patchwork of states, much like antebellum America.

Just as slaves fled to free states, women in states where abortion was criminalized would drive to states where abortion was legal, then drive home. This would outrage social conservatives, who would try to get Congress to pass a federal law making it a crime to cross a state line to get an abortion (they already tried making it a crime to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion) or making the woman criminally-liable upon her return. This situation would lead to intense acrimony between states that, combined with other social values issues that would also be relegated to the states, could conceivably lead to a break-up of the United States. Even if it did not, it would make America a "house divided," one that would sorely test Lincoln's famous proposition. Is the kind of America anyone really wants?

There is an alternative. Currently, these divisive hot-button issues are resolved in the Supreme Court, not the individual states. Thus the radioactive fallout from these decisions is mostly contained to Washington. The status quo allows for people upset over these issues to blame the Supreme Court, rather than turn on their neighbors for their views and local politics tends to be relatively free of the poison of these issues.

In the interest of national unity and stability as well as general harmony among citizens and states, these issues should be left roughly as they are. Since the 1970s, there haven't any major changes on any of these issues, mostly due to the moderation and pragmatism of Justice O'Connor. To preserve the status quo, a moderate must replace her, yet Bush has to throw some red meat to his base.

Enter the "Bartlett Solution." The Barlett in question is Jedediah Bartlett, the fictional president on "The West Wing." In an episode last year, Bartlett was confronted with two Supreme Court vacancies. He wanted to appoint two liberals, but the Republican-led Senate wouldn't confirm them. He eventually decided to nominate one liberal and one far-right conservative he respected. Bush now has the same opportunity. He can choose to bring this country together and spare it greater future polarization by maintaining the status quo and appointing both a moderate conservative (Alberto Gonzales, say) and a far-right conservative (Luttig, Alito, Garza, or Janice Rogers Brown perhaps) if he can resist the temptation to remake the Supreme Court in his image. Knowing Bush, that's a mighty big if.