Posted: September 9, 2002
n three articles over the past year amounting to some 15,000 words, I applied the classical notion of victory—is there any other that fits the word?—to the "War on Terrorism." The gist of the articles is that victory means having your own kind of peace, that in our case it means not having to worry about terrorist attacks or suffering "security measures"; that we can achieve this only by undoing the regimes that embody terrorist causes; and that the Bush team, rhetoric aside, is longer on domestic police measures than on countering hostile regimes.
The Claremont Review of Books asked five prominent persons to correct and amplify both the concept and my application of it. None of the brief comments claims that we have victory, or that it is in sight, or says anything about what it would look like. Three try to square their "support of the president" with lack of victory by expressing confidence, to one degree or another, that Mr. Bush will somehow produce victory in the future. One is wroth that I think ill of official policy, indeed that I dare to think of victory at all. Another regrets the lack of intellectual focus that is a precondition of victory. Nevertheless, each points to some substantive issues concerning the "war," on which I will remark.
Norman Podhoretz admits in principle the validity of my criticisms of the post-September 11 U.S. policy, and then asks whether maybe the fact that certain events have not yet happened means that my criticisms may be invalid. If Podhoretz, a master of argument, thought it possible to make a stronger attack on criticisms he would prefer were invalid, he would have made it. And in fact Podhoretz disagrees with me forthrightly on the important issue of whether the U.S. government ought to take responsibility for the internal affairs of defeated enemies.
Frank Gaffney admits the validity of my criticisms and then argues that since my articles were written, President Bush has begun to do the things that I consider necessary for victory. He concludes with a list of other things that the president must do, lest my criticisms be restored to full validity. This is good Washington hortatory form. Gaffney does not mistake words, or even beginnings, for real policy—much less results. He is less sure that the president will carry through with what he has begun, much less with what he has not begun, than that he had better do as Codevilla and Gaffney prescribe. But does victory amount to following a set of policy prescriptions?
Mackubin Owens, however, seems to mistake rhetoric for policy. Whereas Frank Gaffney says that the president must mean what he says, Owens seems to believe that what the President says amounts to actions already successfully carried to term. For him, the fact that the Bush team has not yet done the things that bring victory is a sign of moderation and prudence. Hence, Owens raises a question worth pondering: In war, what is prudence?
David Tucker is outraged that anyone should think that such a victory, a life as safe as that before September 11, were possible. There are too many enemies, we are too vulnerable, and too many people at home and abroad ("the domestic and international politics in which we must operate") don't want it. Yes, we must oppose our foreign enemies, but moderately—meaning that we should not think of eliminating them. And we must "think seriously about the changes we must make," presumably to our own way of life. Recall that I began my first essay by invoking Phil Gramm's practical definition of victory and defeat: "I don't want to change the way I live. I want to change the way they live." Tucker disagrees diametrically. He directs animus against those who would challenge the wisdom of "responsible officials" who share his views. He specifically associates his judgment with those of the U.S. intelligence services. Instructive choice.
William F. Buckley, Jr. has been more correct about more things than any person alive. His minor point, that I predict gloomy doom, is half correct. I have written that the Bush Administration's current "war" policies naturally lead to bad results. Mismanaged wars usually do. In the 1960s, not even the gloomiest analyses of U.S. policy in Vietnam forecasted the changes in American society that it would engender. And at the time, no one was proposing the kinds of across-the-board degradations of American life that today are the alternative to victory. Buckley's major point--entirely correct--is that this war, like all wars, requires choosing a military target such that killing it yields the war's aims. That is my point as well. But Buckley adds that the time for such "strategic marksmanship" is past. He's gloomier. But who's right?
Norman Podhoretz's comment continues a conversation begun a decade ago on the first anniversary of the Gulf War when, as editor of Commentary, he published a controversial article of mine, "Magnificent, But Was It War?" Podhoretz—barely—let me argue that although U.S. troops had won the battle of Kuwait, the U.S. government had lost the Gulf War. Expelling Saddam from Kuwait, I argued, had been the wrong objective. Because Saddam's presence in Kuwait was but a symptom of the problem—a successful anti-American regime—getting him out of Kuwait would give us brief symptomatic relief only. Podhoretz disagreed. Substitute "terrorist" for "Iraqi regime," and his comment now is his argument a decade ago: "perhaps this campaign actually has disrupted the [Iraqi regime,] and perhaps those daisy cutters have sufficiently frightened [the Iraqi regime] to induce second thoughts about the desirability of other operations that were in the offing." By weakening Saddam's regime, Bush the Elder had effectively fixed the problem itself. I argued that weakened though Saddam was, he would parlay his natural geographic advantage and the fact of his very survival into a strategy for the deliberate, long-term propagation of anti-American causes in the region. Those causes now dominate the region.
So, protestations of faith in official policy aside, Podhoretz now agrees with me that we ought to kill the regimes that embody those causes—more regimes than I proposed. He notes Bush the Younger's "great speech of September 20, 2001," and that, "taken seriously," this and other speeches undermine my criticism of the war. Podhoretz would prefer to take the speeches seriously. But he does not take them much more seriously than I do.
Podhoretz wants to go further than Bush, and further than I proposed or propose to go. Forthrightly, he argues for establishing in Iraq (and, logically, elsewhere as well) "temporary imperial control that would clear enough political space for sprouting of indigenous alternatives." And he hopes that those alternatives would involve "democracy and economic health." In this he joins a respectable group ranging from historian Paul Johnson to The Washington Post who recognize now that the U.S. decision in the 1950s to chase Franco-British imperialism from the Middle East opened Pandora's box. They agree with me that "the West, not Allah," thus created today's Middle East and put it in the hands of "a bunch of murderers." They recognize that, left to themselves, the locals are not likely to be decent, prosperous, peaceful, or friendly. In this they are admirably ahead of the State Department and CIA, who continue to be blinded by the mirages that they themselves conjured up three generations ago.
But we cannot undo that wrong. Thanks in part to America, Europe so changed character that it is now part of the problem rather than the solution. Imperialism is a difficult, un-American art. Neither Podhoretz nor I know of any Americans fit for or inclined to imperial service. We are also without any compelling set of teachings to impart that would cancel out the massive damage to local cultures that the "best and the brightest" from our universities wrought when they sold these peoples secular socialism. The rebirth of Germany and Japan occurred because the remnants of Christian Democratic and Taisho democratic culture, respectively, were strong enough. Nevertheless, the Americans almost managed to make Adenauer and Yoshida into discredited puppets. Which is what the next generation of Americans succeeded in doing to Thieu and Ky in Saigon. Today, the fact that Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai lives surrounded by a praetorian guard of American troops augurs badly for "nation-building" there.
So if we cannot take responsibility for making the peoples of the Middle East into other than what they are, if we cannot make them like us, what can we do? We can earn their respect by killing our enemies. Though we cannot make good regimes, we can kill harmful ones. Distinguishing between the relatively harmful and harmless, between the more and less friendly, is the simple beginning of wisdom. Plato grounds the argument of his Republic on the observation that dogs do this well. So far however, the U.S. government has killed lots of people whose deaths have not made us safe, and spared the regimes that hate us.
I suggest, and prefer to believe that Podhoretz agrees, that our own intellectual and moral insufficiencies are our main problem in this war. Is it not interesting that the kind of Americans who used to urge deference to the Soviet Union now urge deference to the Islamic world?
What Will It Take?
Frank Gaffney proposes an impressive list of prescriptions for victory, with which I agree entirely. Some, the Bush team has promised to buy. Others it has not—yet inshallah, as they say. But before considering whether victory is the sum of these or any prescriptions, we should note and how difficult they are to implement in the teeth of the elite culture shared by the Bush team.
Regime change. Recall that during the Cold War only discredited right-wingers such as Ronald Reagan and a minority of his advisers braved the scorn of "the best and the brightest" (including most of the two Bush teams) by suggesting that the Soviet regime could not be housebroken, much less reformed, and that U.S. policy should aim at its death. Indeed, few in Washington or academe even know what the word "regime" means. After September 11, I called attention to the fact that terrorism is not the aberration of individuals but the product of regimes when I wrote, "It's the regime, stupid!" But when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said that our war should aim at undoing several regimes, the Bush team publicly disowned him.
Think of the policies and practices, and of the people who embody them, that would have to be changed to focus on regimes. "Dual Containment" of Iraq and Iran has been in place for a decade. "Peace Processes" vis-á -vis the Arab-Israeli conflict—paying the nastiest Arabs not to be so nasty—have been the staple of U.S. policy since before 1967. When we speak of states that finance terrorism, we must include the United States, which funnels millions (while the European Union funnels billions) to the PLO.
Think of the disastrous ideas and of the people who have made careers pushing them. Sure, some officials will deny that they ever espoused them, and climb higher yet on the new wave. Hence it is amusing to see Richard Haver, who in the 1980s, as Bobby Ray Inman's protégé, championed Saddam Hussein's moderation and malleability, now touted as the Defense Intelligence Czar in the "war on terrorism." Had the Inman-Haver line prevailed in U.S. foreign policy, it would have been impossible for Israel to destroy Saddam's reactor, and Iraq would have become a nuclear power. Such flip-flops can work. But the Bush team's addiction to people with bad records is a mortgage on good policy.
The Arab bait and switch. Back in 1953, Gamal Abdul Nasser told his officers that he had discovered the secret of success against the West: Don't attack in uniform with flags flying. Rather, send irregulars. Hail the cause for which they fight—your cause—but disavow any involvement with them. Nasser did not imagine that Western statesmen lacked the raw mental capacity to understand his ploy. Rather, he figured that they were so morally undermined by their commitment to the ideal of the equality of peoples, so morally incapable of fighting for their own interests, that they would go along with the game.
And for half a century, they have. Thus, after Arabs bloodied America on September 11 in behalf of causes supported by all Arab governments, the U.S. has taken no action against any Arab government. Gaffney rightly notes it as news that President Bush, after supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, after crediting the patently fraudulent "Saudi peace initiative," after massively restraining Israel, has verbally conditioned the continuation of this attitude on "numerous systemic, political, and leadership changes" in the Palestinian Authority, if not in Saudi Arabia itself. President Bush may have seen through the "bait and switch" intellectually. But the "bait and switch" was never an intellectual problem.
The privileged status of Saudi Arabia. There are signs, writes Gaffney, that the Saudi royal family may be losing its privileged status in Washington, and that it should no longer be confident of exercising vetoes over U.S. policy. Good. Whence came that status and that veto power? From two of the American elite's moral shortcomings.
The first is straightforward: Lots of Americans are eager to be bought. By guaranteeing seven-figure incomes to former U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, the royal family assures itself that current U.S. ambassadors will do what it takes to earn a pension that dwarfs what the U.S. taxpayer will provide. By favorable treatment of oil executives who put pressure on politicians on their behalf, the royal family buys itself a potent lobby. Awareness that the average American might begin paying attention to such routine corruption accounts for the signs that Gaffney mentions.
The second is less evident, more significant, and more difficult to eradicate. How did the Saudi royal family get the money with which it propitiates so many Americans? Lots of oil comes from Saudi Arabia. But is it written in the stars that the oil money should go to the royal family? If the money were to go exclusively to those who found the oil, who provide the expertise, the labor, and the equipment to get it out of the ground and into the world's gas tanks, or who defend the fields, very few Arabs—and no Saudi royals at all—would get anything. They get what they get because Western elites think they have a right to it, because the elites believe that all peoples are naturally sovereign over the ground they occupy, and because Westerners know no grounds for distinguishing legitimate regimes from robber bands. This peculiar ideology is neither self-evident nor compelled by intellectual rigor. Until 1973, Westerners, not Arabs, decided what "royalties" the royals should get. Having less lucre, these Arabs were unable to finance the terrorism and corruption that have fouled our lives since the 1970s. Paying such sums is symptomatic of the same moral confusion and corruption that made it okay to be bought.
Finally, Gaffney's premise is that President Bush must live up to his words. Richard Perle recently mused for the record that President Bush, having spoken as he did on September 20 and in his 2002 State of the Union Address, cannot mount the podium of the House of Representatives in 2003 without having begun at least to dismantle the "Axis of Evil." But taking such actions will not be easy. It will be tempting, certainly to many in his administration, for Bush to announce instead: "No war against Iraq. Long live Saudi stability. Homeland Security forever!"
We can see, then, that victory is more than the sum of the parts that Frank Gaffney has assembled so well. These policies are indeed the body of victory. But to live, that body must have a mind and soul capable of sustaining its parts. Good policies are necessary, but not sufficient. At countless points in any struggle, there must arise temptations to misinterpret or to deviate. One must know why the policies are correct, and have cultivated shame of doing the wrong thing.
Prudence and the Pill
Aristotle defines prudence as the application of means most apt to achieve the good end. I'm sure Mackubin Owens agrees with that. All human actions, indeed, all processes of nature—so teaches Aristotle—are ordered each to its peculiar end. The natural end of war is victory, just as the natural end of farming is produce. Prudence is essential to farming, not for its own sake but so that we may eat the fruits of the field. Prudence is essential in war so that we may live in the safety that is the fruit of victory. Just as we cannot eat prudence instead of corn, prudence cannot shield us from our enemies. The proof of prudence or lack thereof is neither in rushing forward nor in holding back, but in good results.
Owens praises Bush for not having done certain things—yet. But according to the dictionary, and even more according to Aristotle, it makes no sense to pin the label prudence on speaking rather than acting, or for that matter on acting instead of speaking. Prudence involves good deliberation that leads to good actions. The two must go together, which is why it makes little sense to use the term prudence prospectively.
Much of Owens's comments consist of truisms, e.g., "prudence dictates when and how the policy is implemented, which in turn depends on the circumstances." He applies them to concrete circumstances only once: an invasion of Iraq after September 11, he claims, would have been impractical (and is now impractical) because of "weather, climate, and the 'tyranny of distance.'" Prudently, we must ask: Compared to what? Afghanistan?
Last time I looked, Afghanistan was almost as inaccessible as Mongolia or Tibet, whereas Iraq had a sea coast. I am confident that the Naval War College's maps, like mine, show that no point in Afghanistan is closer to any part of the United States or Europe, never mind to our fleet bases, than the farthest point of Iraq is. Iraq is largely flat, whereas Afghanistan is one mountain range after another. As for "weather and climate," the U.S. invaded Afghanistan rather than Iraq precisely at the time when the weather was nicest in Iraq and getting worse in Afghanistan.
Above all, from the standpoint of prudence—remember, it points to results, not action or inaction—invading Afghanistan proved to be imprudent because Afghanistan proved not to be the enemy's "center of gravity" (see Clausewitz). The proof? Even though the military operation was successful, the Bush team (rightly) acted as if the threat of terrorism to Americans was undiminished.
The Best and the Brightest
Whereas Owens defends the Bush Administration's hesitancy as part of what he believes is the optimal pursuit of victory, David Tucker praises it because he believes that the pursuit of victory itself is a terrible thing.
Tucker calls my proposals for victory "bombast" and "tough-guy posturing." Does he claim that I would not intend to do the things I propose? Only in that case would the terms apply. Or does Tucker fault me for truly intending to do them? Note that President Bush has endorsed much the same things in his speech of September 20, 2001, and in his State of the Union Address of 2002, but repeatedly makes it clear that he has no plans to do them. Why does Tucker not apply the dictionary definition of "bombast" and "posturing" to that? Answer: Tucker does not object to speaking loudly and carrying a small stick. He really does believe that destroying one's enemies is a bad thing.
This of course was the position of the best and the brightest. Tucker's arguments against trying for victory recall those of 40 years ago: Osgood and Schelling and McGeorge Bundy and McNamara, not to mention those of the Henry Kissinger of the late 1960s and '70s, and later, Strobe Talbott. "Enemies are endless," and the attempt to secure ourselves through victory means endless war. If we succeed in defeating one set, "others will still seek to exploit our vulnerabilities at home." Besides, peace and security are "unattainable." The real danger to America is "extremist" Americans who are "shorn of the restraint that comes from responsibility" and "epitomize the worst in narrow military thinking." Straight out of McNamara's In Retrospect. All this talk of victory is an excuse for avoiding "thinking seriously about changes we might make" in our own way of life. Straight out of the fountainhead of 1960s anti-Americanism, William Appleman Williams's The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.
Tucker also has the U.S. intelligence community on his side. Full disclosure on my part: Between 1977 and 1985, my job was to oversee the budget and quality of operations of the U.S. intelligence community on behalf of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. During painfully detailed reviews of operations, analyses, post-mortems, proposals, and even more painful involvement in internal controversies at the highest levels, after having written volumes of classified documents, including (largely) the 1980 transition report for William Casey and Ronald Reagan, I came to highly critical conclusions about the agencies' understanding of their craft. In the open literature, I published Informing Statecraft (McMillan, 1992). I am the principal author of the eight-volume series Intelligence Requirements of the 1980s (R. Godson, editor) as well as of many articles. Two directors of Central Intelligence have asked me to help senior officials think through their problems, and I have taught courses in intelligence classified at the Codeword level.
Tucker accuses me of "saying they are no good because they are not perfect." In fact, I think U.S. human intelligence is almost perfectly incompetent. What other term should we apply to the following record? Whenever we have gotten windfalls of information about our agent networks in key countries, it has turned out that all or nearly all were actually working for hostile intelligence services and feeding us information cooked to their masters' tastes. In the case of Cuba, it was 100%. In the case of East Germany, it was all but three. In the case of the Soviet Union, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansson turned over the names of all Russians who were working for us and, since they were in charge of vetting all new recruits, made sure that we accepted as real agents every single courier of disinformation that the KGB sent our way.
The causes of this gullibility are less the occasional traitor than faults of the system. First, neither in the CIA nor in the FBI is the quality control function of counter-intelligence independent. It's as if Arthur Andersen were actually a subsidiary of Enron. Second, CIA and FBI officials have too often been rewarded for telling higher-ups what they want to hear.
The agencies' performance in the war on terrorism has been all too predictable. Lacking sources of their own, they depend on Arab liaison sevices. CIA sources boasted to Time magazine that America now gets much of its strategic information about "al-Qaeda" and the September 11 conspiracy from one Muhammed Haymar Zammar, who, the Syrian General Security directorate tells us, it has in prison. We do not know the relationship between Syria and Mr. Zammar, because Americans are not allowed to see him. CIA submits written questions to the Syrian government, which then gives us what it claims are Mr. Zammar's answers. CIA expresses satisfaction because the Syrians may be torturing those answers out of Zammar. What reason does the CIA have to believe that those answers are coming from Zammar at all, rather than from meetings of Syrian and other Arab officials who bat around the question: What do we want the Americans to think today?
2002, when, after an Egyptian carried out a suicide mass shooting of Israelis and Americans at Los Angeles International airport, the FBI spokesman declared: "There is nothing to indicate terrorism."
Our intelligence agencies love "Homeland Defense." Under its umbrella, they get budgets, promotions, and, so far, a free pass not to worry about how they treat ordinary Americans. There is no reason, however, for the rest of us to agree.
William F. Buckley, Jr. elsewhere has written wisely and passionately on the stupidity of the U.S. government reacting to terrorism by Arabs for Arab causes by acting as if each and every human being was as likely to be a terrorist as any other human being. Buckley knows that this kind of "Homeland Security" is the alternative to victory, and that it is a ruinous alternative. Also, more clearly than professional students of war, Buckley absorbed the common sense of Clausewitz's insight that seriousness in war—or more correctly, war as opposed to mere violence—means striking at the enemy's "center of gravity," that set of persons or things that, if knocked over, will rid you of your problem. Thus do ordinary soldiers shoot at the other side's officers.
Herein, Buckley writes that, for the reasons I have explained, Iraq's Ba'athist regime is the center of gravity of terrorism. But why is it too late to generate strategic marksmanship? Granted, such things are better done sooner than later, but why not later rather than not at all? The choice is perpetual.
The opposite of strategic marksmanship, the opposite of targeting the leaders of foreign governments, is for the U.S. government to make life harder, less full of confidence, for Americans at home and ultimately to discredit itself as well as those who support it.
Only the dullest believe that the "security measures" that now inconvenience and humiliate grandmothers, Medal of Honor winners, and Al Gore (he was searched at an airport recently) reflect the capacity of the U.S. government to protect us. People know in their bones that they reflect incompetence. Buckley, along with Podhoretz, thinks it significant that no major terrorist blow has struck us since the anthrax attacks that shut down the Capitol in October—only the suicide shooting at LAX on July 4. But clearly the only reason why not worse has happened is that no one has tried. If they had, none of the security measures would have stopped them. As I pointed out in my original article, Israel's pervasive security measures had only the tiniest effect on the suicide bombing campaign. But the cost of failed security measures—in Israel, America, or anywhere else—goes far beyond lives lost and property damaged.
Insecurity, lack of confidence in those in charge—these are poison for economic life. Economies run on confidence. The economic boom that ended the Great Depression began only after it became clear that the Axis was going to be defeated. Ronald Reagan built the U.S. economy quite as much by giving the impression that America could not be messed with as he did with his tax cuts. The boom of the '90s followed the impression—bolstered by the Gulf War—that the demise of the Soviet Union meant free rein for the global economy. Such golden dreams are out of the question so long as executives are subjected to identity checks on their way to meetings, investors fear the next news shock, and consumers, whenever they fly, have to walk past troops armed with automatic weapons.
Confidence is even more essential to polities than to economies. Nothing destroys a people's confidence in its way of life more surely than the impression that the people-in-charge are incompetent, and nothing earns that impression more surely than a government's failure to provide safety. That is why the U.S. government's failure to win (in the true sense of the word) the war on terrorism, failure to restore "a quiet and peaceable life," would have consequences for America far worse than the ones that befell when "the best and the brightest" botched the Vietnam War.
Bad as that war's consequences were for America as a whole, however, they were worse for American conservatives. The war was not their doing. This was a Liberals' war, run by Liberals, who regarded Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, Jr., as more reprehensible than Ho Chi Minh. Moreover, those who ran the war engendered changes in American society that were anathema to conservatives. Nevertheless, a misguided patriotism moved conservatives to "support the president" when others abandoned him. Thus conservatives were left holding the bag for the defeat. Successive generations learn that the whole mess was due, as Jimmy Carter put it, to an "inordinate fear of Communism," and that "through defeat we found our way back to our own values."
The "war on terrorism" is not the doing of conservatives. Its causes—indulgence of Third Worldism in general and of Arab tyrannies in particular, and most particularly the failure to finish the Gulf War—are things that conservatives from Buckley to Robert Bartley unanimously inveighed against. Nor is the "war on terrorism" being waged as conservatives would like. It would be a raw deal if conservatives, following their natural inclination to "support the president," were left holding the bag for yet another botched war.