Monday, January 19, 2004

Comments on Bounding the Global War on Terrorism

As Joe pointed out a week ago (see here), Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor at the Strategic Studies Institute (the think tank for the U.S. Army War College) published an criticism of President Bush's military policies. Record's piece is entitled, "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism," and may be found here.

Record conducts a review of several policy papers released by the Bush administration, including The National Security Strategy (released in September 2002), The National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (released in December 2002), and The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (released February 2003). Record identifies several flaws found in these documents, several of which I found very persuasive. First, he notes that the policies conflate the threat from rogue states and terrorist groups and that leads to unintended and potentially disastrous consequences, like the war on Iraq. Quoting from Record's article:

Both terrorist organizations and rogue states embrace violence and are hostile to the existing international order. Many share a common enemy in the United States and, for rogue states and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, a common enemy in Israel. As international pariahs they are often in contact with one another and at times even cooperate. But the scope and endurance of such cooperation is highly contingent on local circumstances. More to the point, rogue states and terrorist organizations are fundamentally different in character and vulnerability to U.S. military power. Terrorist organizations are secretive, elusive, nonstate entities that characteristically possess little in the way of assets that can be held hostage; as The National Security Strategy points out, a terrorist enemy's "most potent protection is statelessness." In contrast, rogue state are sovereign entities defined by specific territories, populations, governmental infrastructures, and other assets; as such, they are much more exposed to decisive military attack than terrorist organizations.

Or to put it another way, unlike terrorist organizations, rogue states, notwithstanding administration declamations to the contrary, are subject to effective deterrence and therefore do not warrant status as potential objects of preventive war and its associated costs and risks.
(Page 16-17.)

Record observes that a similar failure to discriminate was made during the 1950s when "Communism was held to be a centrally directed international conspiracy; a Communist anywhere was a Communist everywhere, and all posed an equal threat to America's security. A result of this inability to discriminate was disastrous U.S. military intervention in Vietnam against an enemy perceived to be little more than an extension of Kremlin designs in Southeast Asia and thus by definition completely lacking an historically comprehensible political agenda of its own." Record does not argue that rogue states are not a threat to American security, but rather any reliable strategy must properly distinguish between those states and non-state actors like al Queda.

Another problem that Record identifies (and "the chief problem," as he sees it) is that the goal "is not a proper noun." Records continues:

Like guerrilla warfare, it is a method of violence, a way of waging war. How do you defeat a technique, as opposed to a flesh-and-blood enemy? You can kill terrorists, infiltrate their organizations, shut down their sources of cash, wipe out their training bases, and attack their state sponsors, but how do you attack a method? (Page 25).

Record takes on several statements that Condoleezza Rice has made over the last few years, and successfully demonstrates that the policies outlined in the National Security Strategy are inconsistent and flawed. For instance, Rice published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2000 where she argued that, with respect to Iraq, "the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence--if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration." While it is true Rice made this statement before 9/11, it nonetheless seems to support a different strategic approach for rogue nations like Iraq from that appropriate for non-state terrorist groups. Yet that was not the course of action chosen by the administration.

Record takes issue with another Rice quote espousing the "domino theory" of democracy that seems to underly the current justification for the war. Rice stated in August 2003 that "Much as a democratic Germany became a linchpin of a new Europe that is today whole, free, and at peace, so a transformed Iraq can become a key element of a very different Middle East in which the ideologies of hate will not flourish." Record argues that in addition to conflating the threat from rogue states with terrorist organizations, as discussed above, this approach "also ignores the prospect of those opposed to democracy using the democratic process to seize power, as Hitler did in Germany in 1933." (Page 27.) Records asks, "Are U.S. strategic interests in the Muslim world really better served by hostile democracies than by friendly autocracies?"

I would like to highlight one last point that Record makes. One of the goals listed in the the National Security Strategy is to stop the proliferation of WMD and prevent their distribution to terrorist organizations. Again, Record contends that the strategy should be different from rogue states to terrorist groups. And he notes that the best strategy when facing rogue states is to deter the use of weapons, not their acquisition in peacetime. The threat of preventive war, he argues, "may actually encourage proliferation. Moreover, considerable disagreement surrounds the potential effectiveness of proposed new nuclear weapons designed to destroy subterranean nuclear weapons facilities. In any event, the development and certainly the use of such weapons could in the long run prove catastrophically counterproductive to the goal of halting proliferation by undermining or demolishing the [non-proliferation treaty] regime and the now universally respected moratorium on nuclear weapons testing." (Page 29.) He continues:

Paradoxically, explicit U.S. embrace of a forward-leaning doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" followed by invasion of Iraq may inflate the very threat that is the focus of U.S. policy. It is a mistake to assume that rogue states seek nuclear weapons solely for purposes of blackmail and aggression. Rogue states want such weapons for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is self-protection against enemies also armed or seeking to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. The United States is the greatest of those enemies. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that rogue states view acquisition of nuclear weapons as a means of raising the price of an American attack. Take Iran for example. Iranian interest in nuclear weapons began under the Shah and was stimulated by having a hostile nuclear superpower (the Soviet Union) to the north, an aspiring hostile nuclear power (Iraq) to the west, and yet another nuclear aspirant (Pakistan) to the east. Throw in a nuclear-armed Israel and a history of violence, instability, and war in the region, and later, a U.S. declaration of Iran as "evil," and you get a perfectly understandable explanation fo Iran's nuclear ambitions. (Page 33).

More than anything, Record's paper illustrates the need to have deliberative discourse in the formulation of policies as important as this nation's security strategy, but it appears the ideology of some make up the whole landscape of debate in this administration. The issues Record raises should be evaluated and our strategy modified if necessary. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen with this President.

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