Monday, May 28, 2007

Where Clausewitz Fails and Seraphs Fear to Tread

Housekeeping Mea Culpa: Sorry for the long delay in posting; been quite busy at work lately; sorry also for those comments who have been in my inbox; I just went thru it and got them all published on the appropriate posts. Hope the below piece is worth the wait

They say those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But perhaps we are too bound by the truisms of the past: the guiding principle of many of our best thinkers and strategists has been Clausewitz’ chestnut: “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” But our Islamist enemies have, along with numerous other advances in asymmetric warfare, turned that on its head: politics is merely continuation of war by other means.

The privatization of violence achieved by the Islamic radicals – al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Sadrism, - has enabled a colossal evasion of responsibility: peoples and countries are no longer responsible for the murderers they create, countenance, harbor, and finance. The old mold of deterrence requires a return address for sure retaliation, and the old paradigm enshrined by the Treaty of Westphalia and centuries of diplomacy guaranteed that nation-states held a monopoly of legitimate violence for which their rulers and societies at large were responsible. The deterrence model worked generally well during the Cold War and face-offs between Israel and the Arab states, India vs. Pakistan, and other long-term rivalries. Yet the success of the old ways has bred complacency in the winners of the 20th century, and a diabolical genius in the losers.

The events of the last decade wherein private groups have launched and successfully bloodied advanced countries begs a question which is oft-overlooked: is the conventional wisdom that al Qaeda and friends want to overthrow the Middle East governments just a charade? It is easily arguable that al Qaeda is financed and nourished by significant parts of the governments of our nominal allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Sadrists of course receive aid from not only Iran but Saudi Arabia and some of the prosperous Gulf States. The current state of affairs where terrorist groups attack the world's democracies while the autocratic governments they hide behind deny responsibility and play the "if you get rid of me, what comes will be worse" game suits both the terrorists and the dictators very well. The terrorists get to kill people and the dictators get to milk the situation for all its worth. The conventional wisdom that the Middle East governments are the targets of al Qaeda and company may be nothing more than a wool of lies over our eyes.

If this is indeed the correct diagnosis, what is the prescription? Iraq has put an end to any desire for direct regime change and occupation. Coming up with alternatives is of course much harder than staying in the peanut gallery. But I would come up with a few suggestions:

- stop playing their game: we continue to finance Pakistan directly, as well as Egypt and Jordan, as well as provide military protection for Saudi Arabia. In medicine, Medicare has now implemented "pay-for-performance" for physician fees. It is time we implemented something similar in our foreign aid packages - withdraw aid from these countries unless they meet specific benchmarks, including cessation of anti-American propaganda, massive educational reform, terrorist hunting & turnover, economic liberalization, education of women, building of civil institutions, etc. This would be much like the process the West undertook in the 1970s and 1980s which linked economic interactions to the USSR to specific reforms.

- institute a new game: we (the West) have become very predictable. The terrorists strike, we speak some harsh words, may or may not actually do something, and then falter in the follow-through. The harder the terrorists strike, the higher our degree of response. This is the standard strategy of proportionate escalation - worked pretty well as a Cold War strategy. But the Islamazoids are not necessarily rational in our sense of the term (certainly not chess-players like the Russians) and so mirror-imaging is not the way to go. They are quite adept in playing our strings and so their strategy of steady escalation desensitizes us to their violence, much like how lobsters are desensitized while slowly being boiled alive. We have to consider throwing out the proportionality rulebook. More importantly, we have to figure out how to threaten what is valuable to them. You may ask, they are willing to blow themselves up, live miserably, even blow their children up. Indeed, what is valuable to them? The only thing I know of that is valuable to them is their civilizational symbols and capitals & cities - Mecca, Medina, the Dome of the Rock, Damascus, Islamabad, Tehran etc. This is dangerous territory - before I get accused of being racist or crazy, let's recall that in the Cold War, both sides knew the other's target lists. If Washington goes, so does Moscow. If New York goes, so would Leningrad. We can no longer fear to tread the cold geometry of twilight choices of the 21st century, lest we fail as guardian seraphs of our civilization. Perhaps we need to figure out how to communicate to everyone, diplomatically/tactfully, (both the terrorists and the partly supportive host governments) that any future 9/11 type attacks or worse will be answered not by regime change but annihilation of cherished symbols and cities. The responsibility is then shifted onto those governments (i.e., Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria, Iran) for not letting anything bad happen on US or Western soil. Together with the next proposal, this would force the rational actors in Iran/Saudi/Pakistan to stop double-dealing

- Make a national commitment to end reliance on foreign (specifically Middle Eastern) oil. While our imports of oil equal 60% of our consumption, only about 15% actually comes from the Middle East. A grand bargain by the Republicans and Democrats to develop our own energy sources, a carbon tax, incentives for efficiency and alternative energy, expanded nuclear power, and so on would go a long way towards this goal which is more important than the ongoing posturing in Washington. This would truly threaten the livelihood and comfort of the financiers and enablers of terror.

- This still leaves the problem of sub-9/11 attacks. The death of a thousand cuts that India faces, the isolated suicide bombings and kidnappings inflicted on Israel - we are buffered by 2 great oceans but that happy protection is thin armor as 9/11 showed. We need to do lots of things - really get some start people thinking about how to better defend our targets here at home. Not enough people are strategizing like Stephen Flynn - red-teaming and gaming out possible scenarios are critical. We also need to consider that proportionate escalation may not be as good a response strategy as random shocks (credit here goes to a fellow scientist). Pardon the analogy, but lab mice get used to predictable electric shocks and can deal with them well whereas in the presence of random shocks they give up and become, well, depressed. Rather than respond to every provocation in a predictable fashion whether from some group or from Iran/North Korea, perhaps we need to respond pseudo-randomly to select provocations with unpredictable consequences - say for the kidnapping of a few US citizens, we sink the entire Iranian Navy.

We still need to figure out our national and international responses to the age we live in. I am glad to see that at least a former civil official has proposed the universal civil service program with option for military service ; I have fleshed out a similar proposal here. Building a team of the core democracies would also be great ; now that Sarkozy and Merkel have replaced Chirac and Schroder, the timing couldn't be better.

I have not addressed Iraq - I really have no new ideas besides what I have proposed in earlier posts - dealing with Iran/Syria, flooding the country with personnel, having the neighbors monitor Iraq's borders with the opposing countries (e.g., Iran's people monitor the Iraq-Saudi, etc.). At this point, I rest my hope on Gen. Petraeus, who seems to be the most capable commander the US has deployed to Iraq.

We are dealing with a multidimensional chessboard with implacable and irredeemable enemies as well rational psychopaths and opportunistic goons. Developing a good strategy will take time, patience, a national coming-together at both idea and policy levels, and perseverance. We have to figure out how to link together economic and political advancement again - since the Cold War ended, we have offered countless dictatorships access to our markets and economic development without political reform. This has been in the hope that prosperity fosters peace. At some level, it gives people a stake in the status quo. But it allows governments off the hook too.

Multi-D chess will also require how to figure out how to deal with those who in their love of the 7th century would usher in the evening of mankind without a new morning. It will require how to figure out how to split the bizarre alliance between the the Islamazoids who long for the past and the fringe leftists who feel so superior to and hate the past of the West, who together threaten to unmake logic, reason, truth, and the desire to exist and move forward. It will require a spine of steel and a subtle sense of smarts. Hopefully one of the candidates for 2008 will step up to the plate.