Saturday, September 02, 2006

James Fallows: Declaring Victory (and More)

The Atlantic has a great article by James Fallows on the "war on terror": "Declaring Victory."

Fallows argues, persuasively because of the sources he cites, that we have effectively won the war on terror and that most of what we now see as the war on terror is actually the Iraq War and the fallout from that horrible tactical mistake.

He shows in the article that al-Qaeda has been rendered incapable of launching a serious attack anymore -- that its sole power now derives from our reactions to its existence. Al-Qaeda cannot hit the US with any real attack to rival the 9/11 attack, but it can goad us into acting in ways that give it continued stature in the Arab world.

From the article:
There is only one thing keeping them going now," [Caleb Carr] added, "That is our incredible mistakes." The biggest series of mistakes all of these experts have in mind is Iraq.
Fallows argues that bin Laden had always intended to bleed the US financially as his greatest effort in "defeating" the "Great Satan." Our response to the 9/11 attack has given him exactly what he sought. We have spent willy-nilly on the wrong war, on "homeland security" that is largely symbolic in the ways it impacts our lives and largely futile in that it leaves thousands of targets vulnerable, and in losing our moral authority around the world.

The Iraq War is the greatest source of al-Qaeda's current strength:
So far the war in Iraq has advanced the jihadist cause because it generates a steady supply of Islamic victims, or martyrs; because it seems to prove Osama bin Laden's contention that America lusts to occupy Islam's sacred sites, abuse Muslim people, and steal Muslim resources; and because it raises the tantalizing possibility that humble Muslim insurgents, with cheap, primitive weapons, can once more hobble and ultimately destroy a superpower, as they believe they did to the Soviet Union and Afghanistan twenty years ago.
The solution to this whole mess, argues Fallows, is to declare victory in the "war on terror" and completely reframe the debate on the world stage. As long as the US continues to respond to every threat and every taped message from al-Qaeda with increased security and increased paranoia, al-Qaeda will be achieving its goal of disrupting American life.

If we move from a war footing to a diplomatic footing we can still make inroads into the "hearts and minds" of the Arab people. According to polls Fallows cites, Muslims do not support the Taliban as much as they support attacks on America, which they view as oppressing Islamic people. They point out, as bin Laden has, that al-Qaeda does not attack Finland -- it attacks the US, Great Britain, and Germany (which is seen as aiding the US).

Fallows does not offer a solution for the Iraq mess, which is a serious flaw in an otherwise brilliant article. But he is clear in separating the "war on terror" from the Iraq War.

Let me float an idea here:

We cannot "cut and run" in Iraq, but we also cannot continue to make the same mistakes over and over. We need a new strategy. [Warning: SDi/Gravesian approach to follow.]

What if we take the same approach in Iraq that Iran has taken in Lebanon? What if we begin to identify and support Islamic clerics who are progressive, who do not hate economic freedom, and who do not think that the West is essentially evil? These men are more common than are the radicals who want to wage war on the US.

What if we find these clerics and give them the resources to meet the basic needs of Iraqi citizens who are disaffected by the occupation and their ineffectual government? They could create the same kind of loyalty that Hezbollah has created in Lebanon. They could essentially provide a container for egoic, tribal Islam that is friendly to the goals of democracy and capitalism.

This is how we can solve the Iraqi quagmire. No one else is floating a reasonable solution at this point that allows the Iraqi people to retain their dignity and allows the US to extricate itself -- over time -- without the failure that seems inevitable under the current approach.

Not to mention the lives that will not be wasted, both Iraqi and American.

This is not the only element of a successful strategy, but it seems to me to be essential to creating a peaceful resolution.


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3 comments:

Tom said...

While Fallow's cover article can be read online only by subscribers to Atlantic, an excellent follow-up he wrote, after the Brits foiled the conspiracy to blow up airliners over the ocean, is online which anyone can read. Readers of your post, likely, will find it of interest:

Follow up: Can We Still Declare Victory? Yes. James Fallows explains why the foiled airline bombing plot actually strengthens the argument for declaring victory in the war on terror

timbomb said...

Hey Bill,

I like your tactical suggestion. I had an additional wrinkle... I've been wondering for a while how much traction we ("we" in an expansive sense of the connected, global polity, The Core in Tom Barnett's thinking, you know: you and me and the people of Denmark and Singapore - that "we") give the traditionalists by being so relentlessly anti-religious.

I know there's not really a shortage of religion or spirituality in any of our countries, but that's not really evident when looking this way from there - via TV and movies.

So... what if the people sharing the support with the pro-modern clerics were themselves Islamic religious folk from The Core? What if it began that way and then slowly began to include networks with other religious folk from other traditions (Christian, Buddhist and so on).

Financial and physical support is a fine thing, but I think part of this battle might be to expose people to a wider embrace of the Divine, rather than a retreat from It.

Tom said...

Speaking to your solution to the quagmire in Iraq: I don't think that America has any credibility such that it could come out in support of one Arab element in Iraq [the Shiite clerics] and achieve anything good.

The major problem now is the Sunnis having no stake in a continuing nation of Iraq. It seems to me that Joe Biden's idea of easing into a fragmentation of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite nations is the means to achieving an outcome that might result in the least butchery. How events might spin thereafter is anybody's guess.

Iraq is devolving into a tribal state. Its "democracy" is just a creature used to fight for tribal goals. A just form of capitalism is a pipedream, as it is throughout the Arab world, most of a century away from being realized.

In a Yugoslavia-like solution, America would come away with an alliance it already has with the Kurds and some respect from the Shiites who, hopefully, would resist being tied too closely to Iran. The angry Sunnis would be the losers here, trying to find an economic future in the middle of a desert without the benefit of income from oil. One might suppose that theirs would be a nation in the model of Syria.