Posted: April 13, 2007
Socrates: [The guardians of the state] ought to be dangerous to their enemies, and gentle to their friends.
Glaucon: And where do you find them?
Socrates: …our friend the dog is a very good example…perfectly gentle to friends, and the reverse to strangers…why, a dog whenever he sees his friends is happy, and when he sees an enemy is angry, even though the one has never done him any good or the other any harm….He distinguishes friend and enemy by knowing and not knowing.
And they began to deal with one another as foreigners.
The Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline
You can do anything with bayonets, except sit on them.
nowing and not knowing about friends and enemies is the key to using force unto victory rather than being hoisted on one's own bayonets. It is essential to the survival of any organism. George W. Bush's statement on May 30 that the war "will not be endless" had been the only hint since September 11 that his administration might had thought of ending the War on Terror more or less in accordance with former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm's common sense definition of victory: "I don't want to change the way I live." By summer 2003, however, it seemed that in Iraq, on the diplomatic front, and above all in America itself, the Bush team had deployed massive power without that definition of ends, that discernment between friends and enemies, which along makes means meaningful.
In Iraq, having stepped into the void of a regime that had purposely dissolved itself, the Bush team tried to remake the country while making as little distinction as possible between America's Ba'athist enemies and their enemies. As in Vietnam, American officials touted improvements in socio-economic conditions—except that the "security situation" continued to claim American lives. Any connection between the American governance of Iraq and the destruction of America's enemies was speculative. In relation to the other matrices of terrorism—Syria, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia, the Bush team followed Secretary Powell in continually lowering the criteria for qualifying them as friends and helping them against our friend, Israel. Rewarding these regimes ensured a continuing supply of terror and threats thereof. Also, two years after September 11, American forces were seriously involved in places like Colombia, Yemen, Liberia, and the Philippines, with no prospect that success in any or all would return the American people to the easier way of life they had enjoyed before the War on Terror.
Indeed, the Bush team avoided questions concerning whether it intended ever to rescind the increase in the national government's police functions. Much of the government enjoyed the new powers for their own sake; interest groups including the Democratic Party profited from them and asked for more; the polls said women voters equated more "homeland security" with safety; and conservative commentators by and large treated as unpatriotic any criticism of security measures. Talk of an end to the war, much less of "victory," had become embarrassing.
Victory—the peace we want—comes when enemies are identified correctly, then killed or cowed. For this, one must draw a razor sharp, bloody distinction between enemies and friends. The practical definition of friendship regarding foreigners is: their clear and present enmity towards our enemies of the moment. As George W. Bush once put it: "Those who are not with us are against us." The practical definition of "us," is the sentiment that our own fellow citizens are our kin. Victory in war requires—absolutely—the constant pursuit of these distinctions.
For the Bush Administration, however, these distinctions proved to be mere rhetoric. It proved more willing to change America than to abandon its own progressive dream of creating a world order in which the issues of war, rather than enemies, would disappear. This turned the War on Terror into a waste of power abroad and perpetual "homeland security" at home.
Distinguishing between friends and enemies as well as dogs do is especially important when fighting terrorists, because terrorist warfare aims precisely at confusing the distinction. Here is how Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser instructed his senior officers a half-century ago:
The great advantage of indirect warfare is that our enemies cannot answer back. If we ordered our armies to capture the oil pumping stations…this would unite the entire world against us; but if we sent a commando unit to blow up those pumping stations, we would achieve the same result and the Great Powers would watch us with their hands tied….Irregular warfare costs us little and costs our enemies dear.
This formula works only to the extent that the victims are willing to play along; to believe the inciters' crocodile tears when they deplore the terrorists' methods while feeling sympathy for their ends; to agree that perhaps if the targets were to make some concessions to the likes of Nasser, or his many successors, they might help with the terrorists. The formula works best of all if the target governments take less interest in doing away with their enemies than in pursuing schemes irrelevant to the war, and may even befoul themselves by confusing enemies and fellow citizens. Let us see how.
The Bush team was never clear why Iraq's Ba'athist regime was dangerous to America. Who or what was the enemy, the problem, in Iraq? Once before, in 1991, its principles—Powell and Cheney—had judged that the danger had been Saddam's military power. Then, after a decade during which Saddam's regime, shorn of most of its military, had become the palimpsest of anti-Americanism, had supplied at least the documents by which the commanders of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing traveled, and after Iraq's intelligence service (in the person of Mohammed al Ani) had dealt with the commander of the September 11 hijackers, one of those principals, Colin Powell, convinced President Bush to agree that the problem in Iraq was its "weapons of mass destruction." If those were done away with, the regime thereby would change character, posing no threat to America. Cleverly, Bush justified the 2003 invasion of Iraq in terms of disarming it of WMDs. If it turned out that Saddam had indeed disarmed himself, Bush compounded his error, pretending that his judgment had been correct. One cannot blame his political enemies too much for asking malevolently why Bush invaded Iraq.
How indeed did Iraq's regime threaten America? It did so politically because it had successfully defied it, and because Saddam used this success as well as the non-Iraqi Arabs his regime trained at its base at Salman Pak, as well as its many terrorist connections, to terrorize Americans and anyone who would stand with them, encouraging others to do so. The problem was a whole regime's anti-American identity. The deadly political threat that such regimes pose can be done away with only by the frightful demise of their cadres.
The U.S. forces that invaded Iraq carried a cleverish deck of 55 cards with the pictures of some of the regime's most infamous members. Capturing or killing them would go some way toward killing the regime. In the case of Saddam and his two sons, a long way. But American authorities did not know, and did not want to do away with the two thousand or so cadres who embodied the regime's anti-Americanism. Of course, these cadres' Iraqi enemies knew them and wanted to do away with them. Of course, there is no surer way to eliminate our own enemies anywhere than to empower their domestic enemies. Indeed, that is really the only way. But the Bush team feared that were the Ba'ath's domestic enemies to take over, they would massacre their former tormentors with perhaps even more fervor than the Lebanese militias who took power after Israel's successful 1982 invasion of Beirut massacred their enemies in the Sabra and Shatila camps. Unwisely, the Bush team decided to treat Iraqis evenhandedly—to disarm the enemies of America's enemies, along with the few enemies of America that they could find by themselves, and to wield power through an American viceroy.
In fact, prompted by the State Department and CIA, the Bush team tried to work with as many of these cadres as possible. Most of all, it did not want to empower the Ba'ath Party's domestic enemies because these agencies had long, friendly relations with the Ba'ath. Inexorably, Iraqis learned that whereas no one would kill them for being anti-American, some people would kill them for not being anti-American, and that the Americans could not protect them. American troops went from a springtime combat romp to occupation duty in the desert summer, either as sitting ducks or barging about the country on "search and arrest" missions that parodied Vietnam's "search and destroy" campaigns against insignificant persons in the Mekong swamps and the central highlands.
All this amounted to going through the motions of war while avoiding war's central purpose: the frightful demise of enemies whose deaths would end the war.
Just as in Vietnam, the main thrust of U.S. policy aimed at reforming local society: improving schools and hospitals, and reducing the space for what the Americans judged religious extremism. One could almost hear Lyndon Johnson's definition of the enemy: "ignorance, disease, poverty…." U.S. policy assumed that once the socio-economic situation improved, attacks on Americans and those working with them would diminish. Washington had learned nothing since Vietnam. As in Vietnam, the real war was supposed to won by the civilian administrators working for the American viceroy. Few if any spoke Arabic, and they had to rule from behind barricades because the "security situation" for Americans and locals working with them was far worse than it had been in Vietnam.
But U.S. policy had only bad guesses about the sources of those attacks. Indeed, four months after the Ba'athist regime deliberately had dissolved itself, and a dozen years after the Gulf War, U.S. intelligence had no idea what calculations had underlain the enemy's actions. Nevertheless, the Bush team proceeded as if its own ignorance did not matter.
By mid-summer the American viceroy, scrambling to put an Iraqi face on the American occupation, appointed a 25-member governing council. But since ultimate authority—above all for dealing with America's enemies and their own—remained with the Americans, it was by no means clear whether its members had done themselves or America a favor by accepting the roles and restrictions (dare we call it friendship?) the Bush team offered. It was all too easy to imagine Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress facing the deadly choices of Ngo Dihn Diem in 1963: succumb to the enemies that the Americans refuse to let you kill; or be thrown to the wolves by the Americans for insufficient dedication to their apolitical agenda; or maybe join America's enemies.
The consequences for America's terrorist enemies were mixed. On the one hand, the sight of Saddam Hussein's sons torn apart by American bullets, the fact that American forces proved they could go anywhere and displace any regime, could only give such people pause. On the other hand, the fact that the Americans spared the cadres of such a horribly brutal regime the massacres at the hands of their domestic enemies that they had richly earned, could only give terrorists the sense that the Americans will never empower their enemies, and hence that they are playing with a safety net. As Henry Kissinger once put it, while being America's enemy is sometimes inconvenient, being America's friend is invariably fatal.
Of Dodges and Wastes
Cultivated obtuseness is needed to wonder who America's terrorist enemies in the rest of the Middle East are, and who their enemies in the region are who might rid us of them with ease and delight. Plato's dog would rightly be satisfied to note who danced in the streets as Americans were burned and crushed on September 11, as well as who had violently supported the causes on behalf of which September 11 was perpetrated: the PLO/PLA, the originator of anti-Western terrorism, murderer of American citizens and officials, bomber of buses and hijacker of airplanes; Saudi Arabia, source of most of the 9/11 hijackers, source of most of the money for the world's terrorists, symbiotic patron of the Wahabi heresy that justifies it all and spawns anti-American terrorism in U.S. prisons, mosques, and even in the armed forces; and Syria, the jackal state headquarters to most of the world's terrorist groups. That simple dog would know that Syria's fragile regime lives at the mercy of Turkey and Israel, that every cadre of the PLO/PLA lives under Israel's guns, that the Israelis also control that criminal gang's electricity and livelihood, and that only America's patronage prevents the Saudi regime's internal divisions from tearing it apart.
"Victory Watch" has already dealt with U.S. policy toward these regimes and foolishness of restraining Israel's efforts to secure itself, and us, against them. The point here is to make clear that this policy flows from the wish that these regimes were something other than then irredeemable sources of evil that they are, and that this fathers the will to fall for the dodge at the heart of terrorist warfare: to take a terrorist chieftain's word that not he and entourage, but only "renegade" groups, are responsible for the carnage. When the Clinton Administration in 1993 chose to act as if the terrorist organization PLO were a legitimate regime, it allowed a terrorist group the dodge that the U.S. government had continually granted to terrorist regimes since the days of Nasser. Thenceforth, America would exonerate the PLO's criminals as "mainstream," and blame only "splinter" groups like Hamas.
The Bush policy on Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority, after September 11 as before, accepted the dodge. Then, in July 2003, Secretary Powell took the dodge to its ultimate conclusion, offering to consider Hamas mainstream, a neutral if not a friend in the War on Terror, if it performed the same verbal rituals that had already satisfied the Bush team as to the non enmity of the PLO/PLA, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Clearly, there is no end to this confusion about enemies, because there is no end to the will to disregard reality.
Further evidence of the forcefulness of this disregard came in August, when the Bush team refused to release to the American people a list of the main sources of financing for terrorist activities, because all sides agreed that it showed vast involvement by leading personages of the Saudi regime. The Bush team did not want to expose the Saudis to the ire of persons it trusted less than the Saudis: the American people. Nasser's many successors could only congratulate themselves on the accuracy of his insight.
We can mention here only one example of how bad judgment about friends, enemies, and war was vitiating the efforts of U.S. troops in the far corners of the globe. In Colombia, U.S. were deeply engaged in a fight against the FARC, an old Soviet-line guerrilla group that had grown rich and powerful by trafficking in cocaine, which the U.S. government had opposed as part of its "war on drugs," and that, after September 11, it had relabeled "narco-terrorists." The Colombia operation was transferred over to the War on Terror. There had never been any doubt that the FARC were bad people, bad for a country to which America wished well. The U.S government, however, could not show that defeat of the FARC would diminish terrorism in America. Sure, the drug traffic contributed heavily to violence in America. But that could be ended with a stroke of the pen, just as repeal of Prohibition cut off much of the violence of the 1920s and '30s. More important, calling any given problem "terrorism" was becoming a convenient, bad habit.
Just as important, the U.S. government proved as unserious about fighting the FARC as it was about fighting terrorists in the Middle East, and for the same reasons. The FARC, you see, had plenty of powerful enemies in Columbia. Foremost among these, various "right-wing paramilitaries" had successfully pressured the government to fight the FARC more energetically, and themselves had cut the FARC down to size. The U.S. government's confusion about friends, enemies, and war made a bad situation worse. The Clinton Administration had foisted onto willing Colombian politicians a "Peace Process" that strengthened the FARC while suppressing the efforts of those fighting it (just as earlier it had foisted the identical item onto likeminded Israeli politicians). When the Colombians revolted against this and elected a President, Alvaro Uribe, committed to undoing the FARC, the Bush team conditioned its aid on fighting also the FARC's most effective enemies, the "paramilitaries." Not unlike in the Middle East, not unlike in Vietnam, American administrations of both parties fought in Colombia with willful, deadly, apolitical disregard of the distinction between friends and enemies.
The consequences of confusion about friends and enemies at home are more serious.
President Bush's hint on April 30 that the War on Terror "will not be endless" is contrary to his administration's actual policy. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's statement of its mission, signed by President Bush, states unmistakably that it is not about a war with an end, much less an end in which Americans will be free of the threat of terror. U.S. policy, President Bush says here at length, is all about changing the way Americans live, adapting to the inevitable.
"The terrorist threat to America," says the statement, "is an unavoidable byproduct of the technological, educational, economic, and social progress" that produces the good life. "Terrorism is an inescapable reality of life in the 21st century. It is a permanent condition to which America and the entire world must adjust. The need for homeland security, therefore, is not tied to any specific terrorist threat." Any notion that we may rid ourselves of it is unrealistic because terrorism "takes many forms…is often invisible." Homeland Security does not ask politicians and intelligence services to identify enemies. It assumes that enemies are ubiquitous and indistinguishable. Because we can never know them—note well the basic premise of Homeland Security—"[w]e can never be sure that we have defeated all of our terrorist enemies." Hence September 11 was not the beginning of a war that must end, but rather "a wake-up call," even a welcome one, about a reality that many are too happy to accept. The document does not attempt to argue any of this. It just states the government's position, and its plans for changing America.
Those plans are all about giving the U.S. government powers and discretion, without any substantive direction regarding how those powers are to be exercised. Homeland security is to be aimed, like de Gaulle's Force de Frappe, at everybody and nobody, "tous azimuts." Of course, de Gaulle's profession of ignorance about friends and enemies was not dangerous because he was kidding. He knew perfectly well at whom his missiles were aimed, who France's enemies were, how little and how much France could count on her friends. Alas, the U.S. government's profession of ignorance on this matter, its preference for power without direction, is for real, and has a long history.
From the onset of terrorism in the 1960s, the government's approach has been to mistrust the American people; to assume that only law enforcement, preferably federal and massively armed, could provide security. Although in the 1960s, more hijacking attempts were foiled by passengers (often with guns) than by law enforcement, the government in 1972 decided to disarm all passengers. Thus it made sure that only hijackers would be armed. In 1975 it went further, making it a violation of federal regulations for private individuals to resist aircraft hijackers. Beginning in the same year, the Texas University shootings, as well as the Israeli military's heroic hostage rescue at Entebbe Uganda, prompted American law enforcement agencies, federal, state, and local, to set up Special Weapons and Tactics Teams (SWAT).
Prior to expansion under the War on Terror, massive funding for the War on Drugs had provided every significant federal agency, as well as some 500 localities, with paramilitary capabilities. Tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery of various kinds, machine guns, laser listening devices, body armor, masks, goggles, and sexy black uniforms that conceal the wearer's identity had become the marks of elite units around the country. For their members, SWAT teams were more thrilling than paintball wars, and safer than the armed forces, since they involved manhandling and shooting at people with only a remote possibility of being shot at themselves. Washington Post critic Stephen Hunter put it well:
You might have policy differences with the SWAT concept, as I do, and feel it's not necessarily a good thing to turn police units into highly militarized, heavily armed commando squads, and therefore it's not necessarily a good thing to glamorize that phenomenon. Put young men in black jumpsuits and Kevlar body armor and festoon them with every cool gun known to man, and pretty soon they'll see themselves not as police officers but as gunfighters and they'llwant to pull the trigger.
The militarization of police went hand in hand with what might be called the securitization of America, and the near outlawing of guns in the hands of private individuals. People younger than 40 have no memory of an America in which anyone could enter and roam public buildings at will, where security codes and badges were unknown, and no distinction was made between government employees and the general public. In the last quarter of the 20th century, America's public places were redesigned to eliminate places unobserved by security cameras. The nightly news and the movies inured a generation of Americans to squads of fatigue-clad masked men sporting the word "Police" or "Federal Agent" on their backs, shouting, "go, go, go!" to one another as they rushed into "situations." It has become routine, and almost acceptable, for such people to shoot unarmed citizens because "I thought he might have a gun." Being in the way of "security" became, effectively, a crime punishable summarily.
None of this had made America safer. In some televised cases, notably the deadly 1999 rampage by two Colorado students against their classmates, the SWAT team huddled safely behind its barricades for two hours, preventing anyone from helping bleeding victims, and then roughly handling the survivors. And why not? The SWATs did not know who was who, and would not expose themselves to danger. They would treat any parent who rushed into the school to help his child as a terrorist, and they treated the victims as potential terrorists. After all, how did they know? Indeed, the federal instructions to passengers in hijacked airliners say "Expect to be handled roughly" by the legal authorities. The same instructions, not to our knowledge rescinded after September 11, still require passengers to follow the orders of hijackers. Security is the business of "security."
The Bush team's response to September 11 was not to question the trends of the previous quarter century, but to accentuate them. Some 8,000 national guardsmen with automatic weapons were put into airports, as if terrorists were about to rush the gates. (Actually, if they did, they would don jackets identifying them as Federal Agents, would shout "go, go, go!" and the guardsmen would help get people out of their way.) The government hired 50,000 screeners to make sure that Grandma's shoes were not packed with plastic explosives. How could anyone know whether Grandma was or was not a terrorist? President Bush's Homeland Security budget simply granted the Securitycrats' requests for more. The biggest chunk, $4.6 billion, went to the physical security of…government employees. Border patrols were increased, and the growth industries of computer security and "bioterrorism preparedness" were doubled or tripled in size.
Homeland Security, however, is congenitally dumb, in principle unable to distinguish between the citizens it is supposed to protect, and the terrorists it is to protect them against. Whereas at the time of World Wars I and II American society, with the government's help, required the German American community to cleanse itself of sympathizers with Germany, a fortiori to be inhospitable to German agents, the Bush team has gone out of its way to make sure that no pressures are placed on Muslims, and especially Arabs, in America to distance themselves from terrorist causes. Focusing on such people is politically incorrect. What is the worth of adding some 430 FBI agents and doubling the budget to fight biological terrorism when, in 2001, the government confined its vast, utterly fruitless effort to find the source of weapons-grade anthrax in the postal system to a hypothetical American "mad right-wing scientist"? At the time, evidence that the September 11 hijackers, and ultimately Iraq, were the source was politically incorrect. What was the good of the government's vast 2002 search for the Washington-area sniper when political correctness dictated that he be an anti-government white man, and not the Black Muslim who was stopped and released several times during the search? Again, more harm than good.
The most awesome aspect of Homeland Security is the discretion, untrammeled by fact or reason, with which it wields its vast, permanent powers. President Bush's statement underlines that the Patriot Act of 2001 penalizes giving aid and comfort to terrorist organizations, but it does not mention that the law also empowers the U.S government to designate any organization or association as "terrorist." The law gives no guidelines, and the government does not have to justify its designation to anyone.
The U.S. government has never had a firm grip on the concept of terrorism. For years, the reigning definition was CIA's: "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." After September 11, the working definition got looser and now approaches something like "anything we say it is, or that gets in the way of what we call anti-terrorism." The temptation arbitrarily to "round up the usual suspects," to convince inconvenient persons by somehow labeling them as terrorists, to manage the distinction between friend and enemy for one's own short-term convenience, must prove easier than making war on real terrorists—especially when one believes that one is managing a permanent condition rather than fighting a war with an end.
The Bush team is composed of the best and brightest of its generation. Perhaps, then, anything like victory must await a time when America is governed by simpler creatures.