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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