Posted: November 26, 2003
"I fear that we shall crawl out on a limb to reap the odium and practical disadvantages of our course, from which all countries will then hasten to profit. Such is internationalism today. Why, oh why do we disregard the experience and facts of history which stare us in the face?"
—Joseph C. Grew,
U.S. Ambassador to Japan, 1937
n October 2003, having occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, imprisoned some 2,000 foreigners, refocused U.S. law enforcement, reorganized the U.S. government, and made "security specialist" the biggest new endeavor in America, President Bush claimed that "the world is more peaceful and more free under my leadership and America more secure."
In 1966, Daniel Boorstin's The Image: A Guide To The Pseudo Event In America, showed that advertising by government as well as business aims to counter reality. If the toilet tissue really were "soft," there would be no need for an ad campaign to persuade us that it is. Russians knew when their government trumpeted good harvests that they had better hoard potatoes. By the same token, if contemporary Americans felt victorious and at peace, claiming credit for that feeling would be superfluous. Since reality tells us otherwise, such claims recall Groucho Marx's story of the husband caught in flagrante: "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" In short, as 2004 loomed, there was no peace from terror, and no prospect of any, because there was no victory.
On October 16, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld secretly asked his top lieutenants to think about why. The questions were not well thought out. The most specific, how America could cause Islamic schools to turn out more moderates and fewer extremists, recalled the foolishness of the CIA's corrupt, counterproductive, covert cultural activities of the 1950s. No one could imagine why any Muslim should accept American atheists as arbiters of what is and is not properly Islamic. Rumsfeld's main request, for better "metrics" of success, was reminiscent of Robert McNamara's effort quantitatively to define victory in Vietnam in terms of operations successfully carried out. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld's questions properly pointed to the heart of the matter: Why have all our massive efforts not produced better results? What else can we do?
Why Isn't It Working?
The root of Rumsfeld's frustration was that the Bush team—though pulled in different directions by its principals' conflicting priorities—had ended up doing pretty much all the things that all its members had wanted.
The Doves, Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet, plus Tom Ridge and the FBI, had argued for waging "the war" with a combination of foreign diplomacy and domestic security. They got their way. Bush put his heart and soul not only into wooing the U.N. and "the Europeans" but also into securing help from Arab states such as Syria and Saudi Arabia. Bush even incurred serious political costs at home by publicly hiding information detrimental to the Saudis. He angered his own supporters by financing Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, while shielding it from Israel's wrath. Yet none of this brought solidarity with America. Syria mocked us, and ostentatiously helped Iraqi fellow-Ba'athists kill Americans. Saudi Arabia continued to be the mainstay of Arab anti-Americanism. The P.A. showed that all Bush's words and money were unable to shake its status as the focus of anti-Western jihad. As for the U.N. and "the Europeans," nothing dispelled the impression that they were circling the Bush team like vultures eager for it to stumble. Nor did the billions of dollars, the legislation and regulations devoted to "homeland security," the captives "brought to justice" for association with terrorists, bring any more solace. The Bush team knew that for every captive, many more enemies of America were laughing proudly at the fact that they were the reason why every day at airports, a million Americans were taking off their shoes and being frisked.
At the same time, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld himself, the advocates of offense, of "regime change," also had gotten their way. They had thought that rolling into Kabul and setting up command posts in Saddam Hussein's palaces would ignite a democratic revolution in the Middle East, which would make terrorism impossible. They turned out to be mistaken as well.
The reason why operations, each arguably successful in itself and all together covering much of the spectrum of the possible, had brought America no closer to peace is that war does not consist of operations any more than love consists of intercourse. In both cases, all depends on your intentions and on having the proper object. Always, the proper question is what ends do the means serve, and how appropriately do they serve them? What do your operations actually do? In war, the question that gives meaning to all operations is who is the enemy whose death gives us peace? Never, ever, had the Bush team dealt with this question. Here was the root of the Bush team's problems, the reason why it had done a lot, done it wrong, and wound up worse off than before.
Doing "the war" right would have meant not bothering much with al-Qaeda. Evidence of its central role in anti-American terror was always weak, and came from Arab sources that do not wish America well. Most of all, because neither it nor any other organization is the source of hate and contempt for America, wiping it out does America little good. What then is the source of anti-American terror, what leads people to think that fighting America is profitable and has a future? The answer, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman learned from this series of essays, and as the Bush team had yet to grasp fully, is that 98 percent of terrorism is what regimes want to happen or let happen.
It's The Regime, Stupid!
Regimes, as serious people know, are a lot more than governments. They are the priorities, standards, ways of life, embodied by the most prominent persons in the land, and very much by their henchmen. For our purposes, the question is: who makes anti- American violence the standard for others; who are the people whose deaths would diminish it?
By that standard, the Taliban regime was of scarce relevance. The Taliban, like other Afghans, know little and care less about what happens on the other side of the mountain, much less the ocean. Yet the Taliban had developed a symbiotic relationship with a group of Arabs who, with Saudi money, had partially financed them and helped them against their domestic enemies. In return, the Taliban provided these "Afghan Arabs" a base for intrigues they carried on with the regimes and intelligence services of their homelands. Only in this third-hand way were the Taliban part of America's terrorist problem. Once America helped other Afghans sweep the Taliban away, the Afghan tribes realigned with little bloodshed and virtually annihilated the "Afghan Arabs." Al-Qaeda then became scattered individuals, whose importance depended exclusively on the Arab regimes that continued to use them, and others.
These Arab regimes, and nothing else, are the entities that gave and give people the means and above all the hope of success that make anti-American terrorists.
That is why invading Iraq was, potentially, so very useful in convincing those inclined to fight America that there is no future in doing so. But what, in the way that the Bush team fought this battle, convinced America's enemies of the opposite? What did the Bush team do that made these regimes less afraid of us than before, that tilted the balance of fear against us more than ever?
In a nutshell, the Bush team mistook Saddam Hussein's top echelon for the regime itself. Second, it proved unwilling to help Iraqi enemies of the regime pull it up by the roots, or even to allow them to do it. Third, unpardonably, it placed the U.S. armed forces and America's Iraqi collaborators in the deadly position of static defense—sitting on bayonets pondering the Marine "Small Wars Manual" while being shot at. All this, combined with dovish diplomacy vis-Ã -vis the rest of the Arab world, told enemy regimes that, once again, America would let a battle won turn into a war lost.
As previously explained in these pages, the dictatorial regimes of the Arab world consist of some 2,000 men, while the Saudi regime is perhaps twice that size. In such places, where regimes exist by brutalizing opponents, changes in regime necessarily involve the bloody settling of bloody scores. Unless and until the "outs" brutalize at least this number of "ins," the regime has not really changed. In such places, "who rules" really means who brutalizes whom unto death or submission. Vengeance, a human drive everywhere, is especially compelling in the Arab world. The Eumenides is not part of Arab literature. Hence the dream of many Americans—Norman Podhoretz expressed it in the Fall 2002 issue of this publication—of a gentle imperialism that would hold Iraq together, spreading liberal democracy from it to the rest of the Middle East, is impossible. Most impossible was it in Iraq because its unusual racial and religious divisions further complicate the previous regime's unusual brutalities.
In sum, around the world, as in Iraq, being pro-American was likelier to get you killed than was being part of an anti-American network. Hence, in the third year of the War on Terrorism, America found itself on the short end of the balance of fear. Turning that balance to the enemy's disfavor is the primordial task of our war.
No one should declare war without being clear against whom it is being declared: who the enemy is whose demise will give us peace.
In October 2003, mortar shells fell into the Baghdad compound of the Coalition Provisional Authority, giving U.S. bureaucrats an epiphany. Reversing a decade's worth of CIA judgments, they concluded that elements of Saddam's regime were working together with religious extremists. That was equivalent in perspicacity to cruise ship passengers noticing humidity in the ocean. Saddam's political victory in the Gulf War had consisted precisely of using enmity to America to transcend the many divisions among Arabs, indeed Muslims, and of putting himself at the head of that enmity. Hence his regime, which lived by quotidian, bloody persecution of Islam, became the vanguard of what Saddam effectively defined as the new defining element of Islam: anti-American action.
The spreading sense throughout the Islamic world that anti-American action was good and safe, and that opposing it was bad and dangerous, became a mortal threat to America. This deadly phenomenon took on a life of its own. Like any disease not countered in its early stages, countering it would require ever more radical exertions.
Beginning right after the Gulf War, Saddam's intelligence service put him at the head of otherwise disparate elements. The Soviet Union had left behind a network of mostly secular, nationalist terrorist groups. Iraq's and Syria's Ba'ath parties were parts of that network, as were the P.A. and its various offshoots, e.g., the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. These were headquartered either in Damascus or Baghdad. But third-world nationalism made sympathy with all the above politically significant from Morocco to Pakistan. In most cases these elements were well-connected with the secular governments of the Islamic world. They had pressured those governments to support Saddam against America. On the religious side of the Islamic world's greatest divide were the Islamists—everywhere except in Iran (and for other reasons in Jordan and Morocco) enemies of their governments as well as of the West. The number of Islamist organizations was legion, including both Sunni and Shi'a. Then there was the divide between the groups that were sponsored by well-financed Saudi Wahabis and the rest of Islam.
The great event of the 1990s was that violence against Israel and America—correctly perceived as successful—went a long way toward effacing the differences amongst the Islamic world's activists. Daily veneration of the Palestinian struggle, daily rituals of hate against the West, Jews, Israel (and the American devils behind it), brightened millions of miserable lives. Images of Israel being bloodied, and of America being bloodied, and of Muslim potentates safely offering their observations on the carnage, became a paradigm for a generation of Muslims. Any regime that, assuming it had been inclined to do so, put restrictions on anti-American, or anti- Israeli speech or action did so at its own peril.
America's war would have to consist of reversing that paradigm. Victory for America would be on the way when Muslims around the world would see every evening on the news those to whom they had looked up being tried, discredited, and executed by Muslims for crimes against Muslims, when television audiences would gasp at crowds of Iraqis and Syrians physically dismembering the Ba'athist thugs who had slaughtered the party's political enemies, when Arab news magazines would detail the corrupt, un-Islamic lives of the entire Saudi royal family, when good Muslims, victims of the Wahabi heresy, would detail how the heretics had defiled Islam. What a paradigm-shift it would be were Palestinian members of families victimized by Arab thugs publicly to take vengeance on their tormentors. Such events would change the Muslim world's agenda and place regimes that advocated or allowed anti-American propaganda, the organizations or "charities" that have produced anti-American terrorism, at peril.
To produce such results, America's operations of war would have to destroy regimes—not build nations nor export democracy. Whereas doing away with Saddam Hussein in 1991 might well have convinced the Muslim world that anti-Americanism had no future, by 2003 evidence that worldwide Muslim elements were helping an Iraqi "resistance" to bleed America, even as the supposedly united efforts of Islam were bleeding Israel, was energizing terrorists. By this time, nothing less than the bloody demise of the most egregious anti-American regimes would convince the others not to foster or allow terrorism. Only this would give us peace.
What Is To Be Done?
In short, the regimes whose death would give us peace have enemies who are eager to kill them. U.S. forces cannot possibly police foreign lands, much less force gentler, kinder ways upon them. Experience in Iraq should have made this plain. Only locals, not foreigners, can do that. Their methods are unlikely to be kind and gentle. Democracy may not be part of their agenda, and liberalism surely will not be. That is their business. It is enough for our peace that there be people who have their own reasons for destroying the people and culture—the regimes—that are the effective causes of violence against us. U.S. military operations can and should make it possible for them to do it.
In Iraq, the U.S. government should do in 2003-'04 what it should have done in earlier years. Having destroyed Saddam's main armies, Americans should arm the 80% Shi'ite and Kurdish parts of the population, and wish them well. Most surely,they would destroy the remnants of the Ba'athist regimes. Though they have more detailed knowledge than we possibly could have of who is who, they would be far less careful than we of killing only the strictly guilty.
It is no business of America's whether the people who live between the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea decide that there shall be an Iraq or not. We should have learned from experience in Bosnia that crafting the fiction of a state that does not exist in the hearts and minds of its supposed members—who think themselves not Bosnians but rather Muslims, Croats, and Serbs—is an expensive way of gratifying folks in the State Department who should know better. Nor should Americans care that the Saudi royal family and Sunni Arabs in the Gulf would not like an independent or semi-independent group of 15 million Shi'ites near the head of the Gulf because they might ally with Shi'ite Iran. Being Arabs, they probably would not. But whether or not they did would be no problem of America's.
America's interest would be secured by the fact that the regime's anti-American priorities would die with its members. The foreign Islamic fighters would die in ways even more discouraging to anyone inclined to follow in their footsteps.
All too hazily, in 2003 the Bush team perceived that Yasser Arafat's P.A. somehow energized all Muslim terrorism. But Bush sought to remove this regime as a negative factor by negotiating some kind of accord between it and Israel. Wrong. The P.A. regime's interest is entirely incompatible with peace, because the regime lives not by serving its people but—on the contrary—by serving as a part of a broader Arab and Muslim anti-Westernism. The only way to remove it as a major energizer of that movement is to do away with it, as a way of crushing that movement.
Destroying the P.A. is easier done than said. The regime lives physically by daily infusions of cash from American and European sources that can be cut off in an instant, as well as by communications, electricity, and other utilities that Israel can cut off almost as quickly. Moreover, its leaders are mostly marked men under Israeli surveillance. Perhaps more important, they have lots of Arab enemies who have saved up much vengeance for them. If Americans and Israelis decide to eliminate the regime's main force, to make clear that death and destruction is to be the lot of anyone who even looks like he might follow the old regime, its enemies are more than likely to finish the job. This is not to say that a generation of Palestinian young people schooled in a culture of death would learn new ways instantly. But regimes are all about a complex of incentives—moral, social, and material. Surely, though liberal democracy would likely not reign among Palestinians any more than love for Jews, undoing the regime that waged the Arab-Israeli conflict would remove the drug that has done so much to stimulate a generation of anti-American terrorism.
The Saudi regime is the nursery of the Wahabi heresy that for two centuries has vied for leadership of Islam. It is also the source of the billions of dollars by which, since the 1970s, the Wahabis have spread their influence farther than ever before. Anti-American terror would hardly be conceivable without widespread Wahabi influence. The Bush team's belief that the Saudi regime is anything other than an enemy (indeed the reason why Bush excluded the Saudis from the list of those to whom he proposed freedom in lieu of stability) is based on the supposition that the regime can control Wahabism. But the regime is Wahabism's enabler and full partner. There is no way to stop anti-Western terror so long as Wahabism is prestigious, secure in its base, and wealthy. There is no way to make it otherwise except to undo the Saudi regime.
At the end of 2003, some kind of insurgency was under way in Saudi Arabia. The only certain things about it were that it involved some members of the regime against others, and that it involved Wahabism. It was also certain that there were countless Muslims, in and outside the Arabian Peninsula, who wished that at the end of the day the Saudi oil fields would no longer be providing the means by which the Wahabis had troubled the life of Islam, even more than that of America. All this is to say that the necessary undoing of the Saudi regime would not be difficult, and that there was no shortage of Muslims who would approach with alacrity cleansing the peninsula of the peculiarly Saudi combination of heresy and fraud. This cleansing was likely to happen without American involvement. Indeed, only the Bush team's illusion that it may be possible to save the regime as a vehicle for democracy was likely to stand in the way of this healthy development.
Americans, no less than foreigners, are the only ones who can determine the character of their regime, the way they live. Only we can determine what kind of peace will be ours—what we will put up with and what not.
The titles of America's first post-September 11 operation, "Enduring Freedom," as well as of its first major piece of legislation, the "Patriot Act," suggest Boorstin's The Image as well as any of George Bush's speeches. As I've argued previously, attacking Afghanistan was not calculated to preserve any of America's freedoms, while the Patriot Act's criminalization of association with any entity declared "terrorist" by executive action seems, on its face, not patriotism but rather a double-violation of the United States Constitution. Since the Act did not bite and the invasion of Afghanistan produced exciting TV images, and "the war" was at its beginning, the public found no reason to question the reality behind the titles.
That is, until after the invasion of Iraq. Then Americans there began dying in noticeable numbers without any prospect that the dying would stop. The ease with which irregulars carried out their attacks on Americans and their collaborators in Iraq reminded Americans of how easily terrorists could cause havoc on American streets, and of the fact that neither the Bush team's homeland security nor any number of "patriot acts" could stop it. Once again, it became clear that there is no such thing as a phony war, a war with limited liability. Once blood is spilled, the previously existing order, the previous peace, is broken forever. What peace will prevail in the end depends on who, by killing and willingness to be killed, can force the other to accept his version. And so, after the invasion of Iraq had raised the stakes, the American people were closer to realizing that what they wanted out of the war was a certain kind of peace, and that to get it they needed a certain kind of victory. This would involve identifying their enemies and doing away with them. Otherwise, there would never be peace.
Beginning just after September 11, I have sought to show that America's peace depends on America's victory, and to show that the path to victory is the destruction of the main regimes without which terrorism would not exist, pour encourager les autres. The obstacles to our peace, our victory, flow not from the strength or cleverness of our enemies, but rather from the tendency of America's leaders to deal with images rather than with reality.