Tuesday, January 24, 2006

From Dr. Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, former head of the CIA Bin Laden Task Force writing in On Point:

"And there is much to be said for killing foreigners -- even in large numbers -- who are willing to host, hide, feed, fund, and pray for America’s enemies...

In a rational, historically aware country, U.S. leaders would have told Americans that the attack on Zawahiri was facilitated by U.S. intelligence officers and Special Forces who risked their lives to gather intelligence that seemed to fix Zawahiri in a specific place at a specific time. Because Washington’s most important duty is to protect Americans, they would have said, we acted on the best information available and, so to speak, let 'er rip. Unfortunately, we missed Zawahiri, but we killed four of his fighters and will keep trying to get him and bin Laden. As for the dead Pakistanis, they are foreigners not Americans and we have no responsibility to protect them. And, in any event, they were about to serve up sautéed goat steaks and curry to one of America’s most dangerous enemies. The lesson all Pakistanis should take from the incident is that we are not concerned with the lives of Zawahiri’s abettors, that they were lucky the village was not hit by B-52s, and that next time they may not be so fortunate.

Such a public articulation would have been neither callus nor irresponsible; it just would have been true. We are engaged in war against Islamic militants who fight as insurgents. These men wear no uniforms, and live -- and hide -- among a population in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan that overwhelmingly supports them because the insurgents are their coreligionists and because they are attacking the United States. The current problem for America is not last week’s near-miss on Zawahiri, but that there have been so few attacks on Zawahiri and bin Laden. Frankly, from an intelligence perspective, the more violence, the better chance to collect quality intelligence. Frequent, deadly bombings -- even if not always totally effective -- make the enemy nervous, force him to move about, and stimulate chattiness as he communicates electronically about his location and status. Our ability to collect intelligence pin-pointing the enemy increases exponentially when he is talking and moving. Thus, even a near-miss is a valuable stimulus to collection."

Read the whole thing.

One of the underutilized aspects of 4GW theory on moral conflict and violence is that while de-escalation is the preferred tactic of the State to accrue moral capital in the war with an insurgency, an abrupt use of extreme violence can also have a positive moral effect if the duration is very short with a particular lesson in mind rather than generalized mayhem. Wiliam Lind referred to the apocalyptic butchery unleashed by Hafez al-Assad against the Muslim Brotherhood at Hama for challenging the power of the Syrian Baath dictatorship as an example.
Such a public articulation would have been neither callus nor irresponsible; it just would have been true.

Since when did truth matter? Since when was it wise for government to be utterly truthful with the public on such matters? Has the good doctor forgotten Machiavelli? I know its true, but I also know that in this era (as in eras past), marketing of policies matters--not just to your own domestic audience but to international audiences as well. It provides flexibility. May it complicate matters a bit--yes. But that is the cost of doing business--that is politics. A little less idealism from Scheuer would be comforting...
Hi Bill,

Well, the problem is multiple audiences with different frames viewing the same event and the need to script a message for each. At some point you have to decide your cost-benefit ratio.

Personally, I would have had some factotum at State drone on about U.S.-Pakistani relations in a soothing way and have a tough-talking general give a backgrounder on how hosting al Qaida members makes you a target, period. That second part is a good realpolitik message to send though you have to find a way for Islamabad to save face as you give it as they don't really control the tribes up there, but claim to do so.

Most of the Pushtuns south of the Durand line are actively or passively our enemies and the only way the British, the Pakistani government or Kabul ever dealt with them was through a mixture of bribes, flattery and punitive expeditions. I don't imagine we'll be able to do much better.

I essentially agree with you. My problem (and maybe it was an early morning nasty reaction to the article you linked to) was with the notion that we should not be hiding our feelings publicly or worrying less about public perception. My disagreement isn't with the policy of trying to kill these actors (or to threaten to do so) but with the implication that we cannot do that and take care of the image we project to sensitive audiences at the same time (or that we shouldn't even try). Your approach sounds quite reasonable, in fact it is no doubt what we are doing, but Scheuer's tone in the piece seemed to deride this approach.
Hi Bill,

In fairness to Scheuer he has a Janus-faced philosophy on the terror war and that piece doesn't show the " other half" of his equation at all.

Side 1: Is accept the costs, political and moral, of waging a global counterinsurgency war, fight dirty (within reason) and get it over with.

Side 2: Is disengage from policies, allies and clients( Israel, Egypt, House of Saud)who enrage Muslims and drag us into needless conflicts. Wean ourselves off OPEC oil dependency and pursue a far less meddlesome, though at times more ruthlessly self-interested, foreign policy.

Scheuer tends to be *very* abrasive even when giving pragmatic advice - his interview with Die Zeit, was unsparing of the Europeans, particularly Germany, even though he bashes the Bush administration regularly.
Scheuer is very good, in what I have read, in understanding the internal logic of the organisations he's studied, and to a weaker extent, the thought structure of the Takfiri radicals (although he clealry has this second hand and is not capable of reading the original).

He is, however, a tactician.

His suggestions, as this The lesson all Pakistanis should take from the incident is that we are not concerned with the lives of Zawahiri’s abettors, that they were lucky the village was not hit by B-52s, and that next time they may not be so fortunate.

Such a public articulation would have been neither callus nor irresponsible; it just would have been true. We are engaged in war against Islamic militants who fight as insurgents
and the idea express in his works that it was foolish to build up diplomatic support for Afghanistan betray a man unaware of the strategic.

Rather like the French military in large part in Algeria, winning the battles, losing the war by obsessing over killing people in an organigram when the real problem is rendering that organigram irrelevant.
Scheuer's advice is bad from a moral and strategic viewpoint. Bombing innocent villagers based on sketchy intelligence will create a backlash that is worse than not capturing an aging and weak Zawahiri.

The Pakistani government, a crucial ally to America, has condemned the bombings. Musharraf is already very unpopular for his support of America. He can easily be replaced by an anti-America government. Considering that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and terrorist groups, it would be terrible to have political instability in that country.

If America does not try to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, the War on Terror is lost from the beginning. Also, America will remain unpopular in a new Iraq, as well as the entire Muslim world. American interests are not served by adding fuel to inflamed Muslims.

Considering how Scheuer has bad judgement, it's no wonder he did not even come close to capturing Bin Laden while in charge of doing that at the CIA.
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