Saturday, September 17, 2005

Parameters, the intellectually stimulating quarterly of the U.S. Army War College, has their newest issue available online and it is a good one.

" A Clash of Systems: An Analytical Framework to Demystify the Radical Islamist Threat" by Andrew Harvey, Ian Sullivan, and Ralph Groves.

An interesting piece as it puts the American war against Islamism and Islamist terror networks squarely within the context of globalization and its root nature of being a political conflict whose strategic dimensions are governed by ideoogical imperatives. Explicitly rejecting the " Clash of Civilizations" thesis of Dr. Samuel Huntington, the authors clearly align themselves with the ideas of Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett - who also rejects the " Clash of Civilizations" paradigm in Blueprint For Action ( somewhat ironically, Barnett is a former student of Huntington's). The authors also cite several other of the well known public intellectuals of globalization such as Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman in laying out their model of a " Clash of Systems" for the war on terror; where Islamism plays the role of violently proposing a radical alternative in terms of political economy to the liberal program of globalization and modernism:

"To Huntington’s disciples, al Qaeda’s strike on the economic and military power base of the United States clearly represents an attack by the Islamic civilization against that of the United States and the West. Such an argument is persuasive, particularly when one looks at the undercurrents of recent events in the Middle East: the ubiquitous Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the vicious campaign being conducted by foreign jihadists against US forces in Iraq, a resurgence of the Islamist ideology across Barnett’s non-integrating gap,17 enhanced violent activity perpetrated by radical Islamist groups across the region, the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the region, and cooperation between regional states and militant groups. Yet Huntington’s thesis fails to capture the true nature of the conflict that currently grips the Middle East. It is not simply a result of irreconcilable differences between Western and Islamic civilizations; it is instead a deeper clash of international systems of order—globalization vs. Islamism.

Under the current system of US-led globalization, a given state has two options—beating the system or joining it. In the Middle East, this debate is raging in an emotional and often violent manner, and it is fast becoming a battle for the soul of the Islamic world. This conflict pits two sides against each other: those who embrace the system—i.e., moderates who seek to reconcile the Islamic culture, religion, and worldview with the benefits of modernization and globalization—against those who would seek to destroy it, personified by Osama bin Laden and other extremists of his ilk, and who wish to replace it with an alternative system, in this case a world guided by the ideology of Islamism.

For Islamists, there are two main targets in their effort to bring about an Islamist system. The United States and its Western allies constitute one target. The other, perhaps more important, is the governments and elites of the states across the Middle East, who walk a narrow tightrope between accepting the dramatic benefits of the global system and heeding the wishes of the majority of the populace who receive little in the way of benefits from their own governments, let alone from the wider global system.

As a result, Islamists are fighting a two-pronged conflict. On the one hand, they have initiated a wide-reaching war against US interests and allies which includes not only direct combat against US military forces, but also attacks like those of 9/11 that target Americans and other Western civilians. Second, in the Middle East the Islamists view the acceptance of a corrupt, godless, immoral system by the civilian populace as being responsible for the Western system’s spread. Consequently Islamists are engaged in a comprehensive battle for hearts and minds."

If this critique sounds familiar, it is. Essentially it is the analytical argument once raised by revisionist historians like Walter LaFeber and Lloyd Gardner back in the 1970's and 1980's in support of 3rd world Marxist guerilla movements. Except this version of the argument has authors that- correctly in my view - favor capitalist globalization and oppose the attempt by Salafist terrorists to stop it. The authors turn the moral argument of the New Left revisionists on its head while accepting major parts of the economic analysis. From that point they proceed to argue that moving the tactical conflict on terror in the direction of Huntington's thesis, so that Muslims begin to perceive a clash of civilizations, plays to al Qaida's strategic strengths. 4th Generation warfare theory is not invoked at this point but it could easily have been.

The article is a good example of synthesis and if the authors do not exactly propose anything strikingly new they do weave an effective meta-analysis using a preexisting but current set of powerful themes.
I fail to see how a "clash of civilizations" is any different than globalization vs. Islam. The West in general and the U.S. specifically is seen as the agent (and beneficiary) of globalization. The end result is the same. The "beauty" (if I can use that word here) of bin Laden's attack was that he transformed what was a civil war into an "us vs. them." This makes it much easier for him to rally the troops.

I can't agree with the article, starting with the tile. What is being missed is that this is a multi-dimensional problem. Certain aspects of this *are* a clash of civilizations. Properly understood these levels of conflict are mystical, religious, and moral.

The problem of bin Laden is that he takes these elements and moves that paradigm from where they should be to where they shouldn't be, the realm of economics and politics. He launches aggressive war and misuses the battlefield. Both Core and Gap and Clash of Civilizations work as theories. The great mish-mash is in misapplying the CoC, something that this article furthers, and does not retard.
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