Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Has Attacking Iraq Made Us Less Safe?

Jessica Stern, of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, argues that Richard Clarke was right -- and that "by attacking Iraq without sufficient preparations for creating a functioning state, we have created precisely what the Bush administration had identified as a major threat to world security: a weak state unable to police its borders or to maintain a monopoly on violence."

Her opinion piece, which appears today on Salon.com, deserves a full read. She capably dismantles the principal arguments for the war, and notably moves beyond criticism to offer serious alternatives:

If attacking Iraq made things worse, what would it take to prosecute a war on terrorism successfully? A better strategy might employ the following elements: First, where they exist, we need to destroy terrorist headquarters and, when necessary, kill the killers. This strategy must be employed carefully, however: Wherever possible, we should avoid creating martyrs or enhancing our enemies' mobilization strategies. In many cases, it is likely to be more useful to persuade terrorists to talk to us than to kill them; and, second, when we select military targets, it is probably better to focus on operatives rather than inspirational leaders such as bin Laden or Sheik Yassin. While the world is definitely better off without such evil men, their deaths could inspire their followers to kill many more innocent people.

Third, penetrating the various groups that are fighting us and turning them against one another is a critically important goal. The terrorists, Mao tells us, aim to create spiritual unity between the officers and their men and between themselves and the people. They also aim to destroy our alliances. Our goal must be the reverse: to create tensions between the leaders and their followers and among the various groups that compete for attention and funding. We also need to strengthen our alliances and make them robust enough to withstand the terrorists' attempts to split us from our allies. The al-Qaida movement has been cleverly exploiting tensions over the Iraq war to split us from our allies.

Related to this, fourth, we need to strengthen intelligence and law enforcement networks both within and among governments. This requires maintaining existing alliances and creating new ones -- sometimes with states that don't always live up to our expectations in all matters. Once we understand that terrorism is the most significant threat we face today, it becomes easier to order our preferences and demands.

Fifth, we need to strengthen weak states, which are, as the Bush administration itself pointed out in its national security strategy, terrorist breeding grounds. Sixth, we must avoid feeding into the distressingly widespread perception that the United States is out to humiliate the Islamic world. We need always to be mindful of Mao's explanation that terrorists are fish swimming in a sea of ordinary people, whose occasional support the terrorists' may require. We are competing with the terrorists for the hearts and minds of the ordinary people who make up that sea. Finally, we need to minimize the risk that terrorists or their sponsors will acquire powerful weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction.

Instead, our present strategy "has split the allies, not the terrorists:"

It has turned Iraq into a Mecca for international terrorists, and mobilized local Shiite and Salafi jihadist groups that had previously posed a minimal threat. It has facilitated connections between terrorists and those with formal military experience in Saddam's army, the lethal nightmare that the invasion was supposed to have thwarted.

Concluding, she notes that "The war in Iraq has not only been a distraction from the war on terrorism; it has strengthened our enemies in ways that continue to surprise and horrify us."

Indeed. Someone, at least, has been watching the news.


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