Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Since 9-11 the debate over American strategy in fighting the War on Terror has revolved around the unresolved question of whether the primary threat of terrorism comes from Rogue states like Iraq and Iran or from non-state actors like al Qaida and Islamic Jihad.

Some voices, often neoconservative ones, point to state sponsored terrorism as the ultimate question to resolve and suggest that even al Qaida relies to some extent on states like Syria and Iran providing support or turning a blind eye to terrorists passing through their territory. This view has deeply influenced the Bush administration's prosecution of the war, being one reason for the invasion of Iraq and the continuing American pressure on the neighboring states of Iran and Syria. These two states have, like Iraq, long been in the business of sponsoring various terror groups, notably Lebanon's Hezbollah based in the Bekaa valley but also including various PLO factions.

The other view, often promoted by critics of the Iraq invasion, favor the non-state actor explanation that Osama bin Laden is a " super-empowered individual " with the technological means and the ideological motives to usurp the sovereign prerogative of a state to wage war. Advocates of this paradigm are split as to whether groups like al Qaida require a military solution or should be left primarily to intelligence agencies and law enforcement personnel to deal with but they tend to be united in the view that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake.

Of course, the possibility that these two types of terrorism bleed over in to one another is usually ignored for the sake of rhetorical clarity or is dismissed because one form of terror is presumed to be dominant. There is however another form of terrorism that has become evident in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan since 9/11 but has been seldom identified as distinct - " Socially Sponsored Terrorism " - when a society or at least a politically significant portion of one rather than the state itself becomes the motive force for supporting acts of terrorism. The state in turn is either unable or unwilling to bring the supporters of terror to heel but attempts to keep a lid on their most flagrant actions for appearances sake or for quid pro quo favors from states victimized by terrorists.

Socially Sponsored Terrorism represents a manifold problem for the United States Government which is why it has not been concretely acknowledged as a separate category of terror. Ominously, it suggests that the terrorist group, in this case al Qaida, is evolving into something more dangerous than a highly compartmentalized organization of terrorist cells- a true insurgency backed by a widespread political-ideological movement.

Except for being transnational, Socially Sponsored Terrorism begins to mirror in form and capabilities the older ideological guerilla movements like the Vietminh of Indochina, the Tamil Tigers and Sendero Luminoso, all of which rest or rested on a base of civilian support. It's a much bigger problem than quashing the Red Brigades and suggests the need for large-scale counterinsurgency operations not conventional occupation or law enforcement counter-terrorism task forces.

Secondly, it brings to the fore the question so far avoided by the Bush administration - what to do with states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that are too weak to control the powerful Islamist factions within their societies that sponsor terrorism or are schizophrenic in their political structure like Iran ?

I suggest that we view the solution from two possible directions " Hard " and " Soft".

The Hard Solution argues that the sovereign cannot escape accountability from actions emanating from their territory and the United States must, at an intelligently chosen moment, give these regimes an ultimatum to choose between brutally crushing the supporters of terror or being counted as an enemy state. This is a high risk " Perdicaris alive or Rasuli dead!" approach but it is a crossroad that we are likely to come to anyway. If the Social Sponsors of Terror within Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are left unmolested to grow more powerful they will ultimately threaten the security of these states as well as neighboring countries. As it is, Musharraf has nearly been assassinated twice and as he goes, so goes Pakistan.

While Musharraf and the House of Saudi have an evident self-interest in destroying their domestic lunatic fringe they are also restrained by two things fear and no small amount of sympathy with the ideas of the Islamist fringe, even if they view particular Islamists or groups as dangerous. If these malcontents were democratic activists or feminist engaging in terror neither Islamabad and Riyadh would not have spared the grapeshot by this point in time. A fair portion of the foot dragging is by choice, not circumstance. We have to view things realistically - most of the population of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are enthusiastically our enemies in a bloodthirsty way not seen since the Japanese Imperial Army ravaged the Pacific.

The Soft Solution lies in Dr. Barnett's PNM strategy, recognizing that a large part of the problem is the disconnectedness and isolation of these two Gap states, as in Afghanistan under the Taliban, helps make the festering ideological nightmare of a worldview that is Islamism not only possible but entirely plausible. Often times, the Islamists provide the only intellectually coherent and courageous opposition to corrupt Middle-Eastern tyrannies and these activists acquire merit in the eyes of fellow subjects for opposing both the " Great Satan" America ( which the regime also abuses and blames) but the corruption and misrule of the local despot. Opening these regimes up to outside influences, arguments, goods and supporting liberal elements the way we once supported Solidarity in Poland or glasnost era dissidents is a must.

It's a much slower road but this is a war that cannot be won simply by bullets and boots on the ground though we need to use the bullets with greater precision and ruthlessness and we desperately need more boots. Facing the global insurgency of al Qaida and Socially Sponsored Terrorism, we also need to use all the arrows in our quiver.

Even the more altruistic ones.

UPDATE: Having just read the recent opinion of Germany's intel chief that bin Laden is, as previous sources suggest, alive somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistani border it might also be high time to stop thinking about the Islamic world in terms of Mercator map nation-state borders.

The border region of those two Central Asian states is really Pushtunistan and to the Pashtun tribesmen the border is as meaningless a line to them today as it was in the days of the Raj. We need to begin looking at the Gap states and forming our strategy using ethnographic maps and not just ones with lines demarcated by 19th century European imperialists. Our foes think of themselves in terms of Ummah and tribe and we should pay heed.
What is a state? We're assuming Max Weber's notion of the state monopoly on the use of force, so the question is crucial in the discussion. I'd say that the proposition is commutative. The level of social organization at which force may legitimately be used is by definition the state.

An aside on this point is that nearly every Arab country acknowledges membership in the Arab maghreb (nation).

While it may (or may not) have been strategically sound for GWB to announce early on that we're not at war with Islam or with Arabs, I've always felt that we don't really know if we are or not, the jury is still out, and the burden of proof lies with the Arab countries. Previous to 9/11 I frequently said "The Israelis are not our friends; the Arabs are not our enemies". After 9/11 the Israelis still weren't our friends. The status of the Arab nations remains to be seen.
Dave, to a degree you anticipated ( or preceded) my update.

I trust Israel to follow their own self-interest which makes them a more reliable ally, given their difficult position, than many nations such as France who while being nominally allied are really a difficult neutral. I cannot trust most of the Arab regimes, given their extreme dysfunctionality, to even follow their self-interest. Sometimes I can even rely on them to do counterproductive, stupid and self-defeating things.

That being said, our relationship with Israel carries with it real costs. We are not often, parsimonious enough with our support to get the return our help is worth. On the other hand, at the end of the day, if we truly need something done Israel is likely to do it because she has nowhere else to turn.

If only the same could be said of the Europeans.........
The relationship between Israel and the United States that you describe is the relationship between client and patron. They are probably our most effective client in the region but our interests are too divergent for the Israelis to be considered allies.
A valid distinction my friend. Touche !

Unfortunately we must use the tools that are available to us. Most of NATO has chosen the role dependency rather than keep up their military capabilities. Other than Britain and the United States, I doubt the rest of NATO could muster, transport and field two combat ready divisions outside of their homelands without substantial American logistical assistance.

For direct combat, for all practical purposes the only players on a global level are us and the Brits. Russia, China, India, France, Israel and Australia and North Korea are regional powers. Japan is a potential great power but currently exists as a dependent.
True. I've long maintained that the only reason that Russia (or the USSR) was ever considered anything other than a regional power was nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, that's one of the reasons that nations pursue nuclear weapons. They're the key to the executive washroom.

BTW you might be interested in my latest post (a review of the paper Islamists in the Arab World).
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