Saturday, October 23, 2004

Bush's Incompetent Terror War

The Washington Post has an interesting article by Craig Whitlock which closely examines the strategies, tactics, and successes and failures of Bush's policy for combating global terrorism.

Bush has largely focused on a decapitation strategy that has generated diminishing returns. Bush's debate claim that 75% of known Al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured remains obdurate to any fact checking. It is becoming ever more clear that we are not dealing with a single modality of command and control, or a unique group of leaders, but rather a mindset, a grievance, and broad set of capabilities that the post-modern world makes widely available even to groups with comparatively modest resources. The global terrorist threat of the jihadi movement would not be possible without modern technology and globalism. As French Arabist Gilles Kepel said, "Without the Internet, Al-Qaeda would not exist. Without Arabic-language satellite television channels, Al-Qaeda would not exist either." And therein lies the rub, we have progressed to the point where we can no longer ignore the discontents of the vast numbers of mankind's poor; they can and will take out their anger and hopelessness on us. Currently, the problem seems largely confined to Muslims and animated by Islam, but that's not likely to last. Islam is just the fuse, not the explosive. The explosive is poverty, hopelessness, imperialism, and resentment. Any number of creeds, ideologies, or religions could serve as the fuse, and thus any population of poor and oppressed people could serve as a recruiting ground for global terrorism.

What this article makes obvious is that Bush's strategy cannot deal with the 'franchising' or 'metastasis' of jihadi terror. It over-relies on military options, has failed to properly prioritize theatres of combat because of domestic political considerations, and has failed to fully utilize the diplomatic, cultural, and financial power of America to remove the underlying causes and infrastructure of terrorism. Bush acts as though one can defeat terrorism like a conventional military threat, though his Freudian slip in admitting the war on terror is not winnable says he believes otherwise. Terrorism can only be managed; the explosives and the fuses kept separate by wise, forward-thinking policies which prevent under-developed populations from evolving sub-cultures supportive of terrorist attacks on the West. Nor is the war on terror a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam. That's an absurd view of the conflict, though a politically useful one for the GOP. This is a class conflict between the wealthy and powerful and the poor and powerless carried out by religious fanatics. The terrorists don't hate our freedoms, as Bush often claims; they hate their own lack of it, and our consequent power over them. A fundamental misunderstanding of the motives for global terrorism, its use as the weapon of the powerless, and it’s potential as a universal asymetric strategy, are what makes Bush's terrorism policy a failure.

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