Small Wars Journal

Small Wars and Candor: The Gods of Appeasement

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 5:55am

“Mendacity is a system that we live in. Liquor is one way out and death's the other.”
                                                - Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams had a flair for skewering hypocrites and pompous elites who refuse to deal with unpleasant facts or ominous futures. But, truth telling in a theater is not necessarily dangerous. In contrast, candor in a theater of war or in military politics is kin to tinkering with an improvised explosive device. Take the recent incendiary essay, Truth, Lies, and Afghanistan, by Colonel Daniel L. Davis that appeared in the Armed Forces Journal earlier this year. The AFJ article is a summary of a longer report released to the press in January, 2012. Davis claims that the US military leadership, and the administration by extension, lied to taxpayers and the troops about our progress and prospects in Afghanistan. Surely, Vietnam veterans are having hot flashes of déjà vu - recalling the Westmoreland/Abrams’s rhapsodies about those elusive “lights” at the end of the Southeast Asia tunnel in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Candor about war, or lack of it, has a weathered lineage. US and allied troops have been at the ready, or engaged with one “ism” or other, for a hundred years or more. First there was German revanchism, then imperial Communism, followed by National Socialism and Fascism, and then a series of lesser wars with Communist regimes in Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam. And today there seems to be an endless string of small wars in the Muslim world. Combat has become a kind of permanent coda for American foreign policy, where all manner of euphemism is used to pretend we are not at war.

The abolition of the draft (1973) in America may have played a role too. Once an all-volunteer military had been established, there seemed to be less sensitivity to repeat deployments; an inconvenience which does not touch most Americans. Indeed, there may be less operational compassion for, or candor about, regulars today than there ever was for draftees. When the force is small, the “grunts” have to do more; and if they are volunteers, who cares? Not formally declaring a war is another part of the candor deficit.

Withal, the “war of necessity” today is not as imperative as it was yesterday - before the last American election. According to Colonel Davis, America is headed for the exits in South Asia under a smoke screen of optimism; in short, the longest war in American history is being lost in slow motion.

The military brass, it seems, going back to David Petraeus’s command, has been cooking the rhetorical books. Davis claims that the Hamid Karzai government is hopelessly corrupt; and the Afghan police and military have made little or no progress with drugs, al Qaeda terror, or the Taliban insurgency. These charges have been seconded by allied observers. Apparently, the decades old investment of lives and treasure in South Asia was for naught.

The Davis charges, however, may be too generous. While lying, at first glance seem to be a serious allegation to make against flag officers; the ground truth may be worse. Petraeus, now at CIA, and the incumbent ISAF commander, General John Allen, and the Joint Chiefs may actually believe what they say to each other and to the public.

Surely strategic illusions are more dangerous than lies. And killing Osama bin Laden may not have been a military capstone as advertised; it might just be a convenient point to declare victory and proceed with an orderly retreat. If all of this is true, a delusion of progress or success against Islamism may be more dangerous than any tactical defeat in the Afghan theater.

To be fair, flag officer spin might be rationalized as a survival skill; maybe a political necessity also - or even a tactic for creating a kind of useful ambiguity in the minds of the enemy. But, tactics are not strategy. In fact, strategic ambiguity may be the source of dithering and confusion since 9/11 and before. Nonetheless, Colonel Davis has started a conversation that has been wanting since the end of the Cold War. While America and Europe were preoccupied with Communism and the Soviets, political and military necrosis in the Muslim world flew in under the radar.

Even the fall of the Shah in Persia (1979) was never recognized for the bellwether event that it was; the first Shia theocracy. When Turkey fell to a religious party (2002), the event was pretty much ignored in NATO circles. When American troops reversed the sectarian poles in Iraq (2011), from Sunni to Shia, that seismic change hardly caused a ripple. And now after a series of viral regime changes in Arabia, the most important nations of the Arab world are tilting towards irredentist Islamic models.

So before a stealth retreat in Afghanistan turns into an indignity like the Russian rout of 1989, it may be useful to examine the origins and nature of, not just the Afghan campaign; but, the larger conflict with Islam; that war whose name we dare not speak, a conflict that now has unarguable global dimensions. As a cautionary tale, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the entire Soviet system were not unrelated to Russian foreign policy blunders in places like Afghanistan.

Caveats and Relevant History

This is not a discussion about theology or religious beliefs. There will be no quotes here from the Koran or the Hadith. If Muslims can not agree on church history or dogma, outsiders would hardly be useful referees. Infidels do not have a dog in any fight about the interpretation of scripture in any case.

What we can do is look at ground truth; facts, events, trends, and most important, Muslim behavior – praxis that may be the sources of western angst. The American tradition in these matters has been tried by fire and written into law. The Mormon wars of the 19th Century are the closest recent military/political precedent.

Those conflicts, albeit on a smaller scale, were resolved by boots on the ground, treaties, and court mandates. The penultimate decision came with Reynolds vs. United States (1878) where the US Supreme Court ruled that American legal tradition protected religious beliefs, not practices. The practices of polygamy, bigamy, and consanguinity were thus the great casualties of the Mormon wars. Precedent established with the Utah Territory could be the lens for examining the ongoing “clash of civilizations” between a largely secular West and the viral religious politics of the Muslim world.  

Literature on the sources of modern Muslim anger is both voluminous and contradictory. The schools of opinion might broadly be divided into two untidy camps; let’s call them Paradigm Alpha, a majority view; and Paradigm Baker, the minority opinion. Theory Alpha believes that Muslims are historical victims of colonialism, capitalism, cultural imperialism, and racism. This school is represented by scholars and statesmen such as Arnold Toynbe, Edward Said, Joseph Esposito, Sayyid Qutb, Tariq Ramadan, and Yusef Qaradawi.

Paradigm Baker adherents argue that the Muslim world is the source of its own problems, social and political pathology; most of which can be attributed to totalitarian politics and repressive religious dogma. In combination these two factors have inspired, at once, a kind of irredentist Islam that looks backwards; and a stimulus for imperial proselytizers and suicide bombers. Theory Baker advocates might include Elie Kedourie, Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis, Paul Berman, and the late Christophor Hitchens. Huntington is the author of The Clash of Civilizations, a provocative theory about culture clash whose title speaks for the argument.

At the end of the 20th Century, many scholars were anxious to celebrate the Russians retreat from Afghanistan and the subsequent Soviet collapse shortly thereafter under Mikhail Gorbachev. Indeed, Frank Fukuyama’s declaration of victory over the “isms” (Nazism, Fascism, and Communism) in The End of History (1989) was quickly embraced as bedrock political science. Social democracy was thought to be the logical outcome of 20th Century military and political dialectics.

Unfortunately, this Hegelian view of history did not account for events like 9/11 a decade latter - or irredentism; when history turns on itself and regresses. At the Millennium, war weary social democrats of Europe and America had little patience with yet another fight with yet another “ism,” another political pathology; especially a kind of politics that looked backwards to priestly tradition or religious law as touchstones. In the West, religion enjoys a protected, if not fenced, status; indeed, a veil that few chose to lift in the 20th Century. Thus, from the beginning, there was little political inclination or scholarly interest in examining Islamism, a metastasizing imperial political religiosity, with any kind of integrity.

Yet definitions and assumptions must be the beginning of any analysis. Thus we begin here with a definition of yet another “ism;” and the assumptions that underwrite what policymakers and generals appear to believe about the Islamism phenomenon, terror, and that multitude of regional Muslim wars.

What is Islamism?

Paradigm Alpha gurus on both sides of the American political spectrum are reluctant to associate Islam, or most Muslims, with terrorism or the ongoing irregular warfare in the Ummah. Indeed, such associations have been proscribed on White House stationary. Government sponsored researchers were quick to take the cue and many have underwritten an asserted, politically correct, view of terrorism as isolated criminal enterprises with local motives. The government sponsored RAND Corporation study and report, How Terorrist Groups End, is a prominent, if not notorious, example. The subtext of recent RAND research, and not a few PEW surveys, is that Islamist sentiment is not much of a problem.

Defining terrorists as criminals is indeed the tall pole in the Paradigm Alpha tent. Unfortunately, how the West defines terror is irrelevant. For too many Arabs and Muslims; the jihadist is a martyr, hero, or holy warrior. And global Muslim attitudes overwhelming support  the primacy of religious law.  Support for terror may be less than support for Sharia; but, if the terror number that is only 30%, potential belligerents number 500 million. Calling terror a crime allows the lazy analyst, with an agenda, to dismiss any wider political implications of Islamism.

Speculating about global phenomena like terror, insurgency, and revolutionary regime changes without examining Muslim religio-political motives is a little like studying West Nile Virus without considering corvines or mosquitoes. And if Islamic terror is really a criminal enterprise, as RAND and others suggest, and not a politically motivated act of war; we might have sent Arizona sheriffs instead of US Navy SEALs to arrest, not assassinate, Osama bin Laden. An inter-continental RPV is a blunt instrument, indeed, if the true problem is simply better international police work.

So in spite of White House and Pentagon evasions we must have a fairly precise definition of the threat. We must give a name to the enemy and the war. Euphemisms like “criminals,” radicals, extremists, or zealots will not do.

The enemy has a name and that name is Islamist. The enemy has an ideology and that ideology is Islamism. Surely not all Muslims are Islamists, but just as surely nearly all militant proselytizers and bomb makers believe that they are acting in the interests of an imperial Islam. Indeed, a literal translation of the word Islam is “submission,” a cognate that has both personal and martial significance.

If we can accept that a thing exists,  definition is less of a chore. Simply stated, Islamism is a belief in theocracy, the laws of which are defined by tradition, clerics, or religious scholars; however arbitrary those mandates might be. Theocracy is in no meaningful sense a democracy; the wisdom of crowds (or fellaheen) is a minor player in such political systems. There are advisory groups to be sure; capable of influence, but such groups are not legislators. Final authority in an Islamist state ultimately resides with clergy or religious scholars. Iran and Afghanistan (under the Taliban), are modern examples, if not models.

                                Assumptions about Islamism

Assumptions about Islamic militancy, Muslim imperialism to some, have been as troublesome as attempts to define the threat. When assumptions are miscast, then beliefs are fatally flawed. Beliefs about Muslims in general and Islamism in particular, seem to be predicated on three flawed assumptions, or asserted conclusions:

  • Israel is the root of Muslim angst,
  • the vast majority of Muslims are “moderates,”
  • the Islamic world is the moral equivalent of any other culture.

Such assertions might be made by any Paradigm Alpha advocate; and yet, they are mostly received wisdom, not the products of sober analysis or good science.  

Blame Israel?

The belief that some resolution of the Israel/Palestinian impasse is the key to assuaging Muslim hostility is a canard with a venerable pedigree.  A recent manifestation of this school of thought was contained in a CENTOM survey of Arab “opinion” that was commissioned when General David Petraeus held that command. Never mind that CENTCOM has no geographic responsibility for the Levant or Israel, the Petraeus brief made the rounds in Washington anyway, reaching the White House through the vice-president.

The blame Israel hypothesis reasons from a limited set of particulars to an implausible general conclusion. The Palestine question is, in fact, a regional problem that is commonly used as a rationalization for all manner of global mischief. Were it not, Israel might be flying airliners into skyscrapers to make their case also.

And the erosion of support for Tel Aviv, the blame Israel idiom, in Europe and America may serve as a disincentive for settlement and a stimulus for more terror. What kind of message do jihadists get from an American president who visits several Ummah capitals to reassure Muslims, but studiously avoids Israel? And why do Muslims need to be patronized by America about a threat that originates almost exclusively in global Muslim communities?

The international Jew is a shopworn historical scapegoat; and too many Muslims have embraced that idiom with a passion. In those Islamic countries where PEW surveys are possible, attitudes towards Jews and Israel are overwhelmingly (90% +) hostile. And the targets are Jews not Zionists - as if jihadists would know the difference. Depredations in places like Bali, Mumbai, Beslan, and French schoolyards have little or nothing to do with Palestinian real estate.

How does a Moroccan shooting a school girl in France advance a two-state solution? Indeed, many semi-literate Islamic fanatics outside of the Levant, couldn’t find the West Bank or Gaza on a map. The source of global Muslim angst or social pathology isn’t Palestine. Anti-Jewish sentiment is more likely to be cultural envy or just traditional, now, viral bigotry; both are too common on the internet – and at Friday prayers in mosques, or Islamic centers, worldwide.

Israel is a beacon of art, science, and democracy on a primitive frontier. The Jewish state is to contemporary civilization as Austria was to the beginnings of modern Europe. Just as the defense of Vienna broke the Ottoman advance in 1689, a successful defense of Israel today is surely one of the keys to stopping the advance of contemporary Islamism.  

The Alpha team is reluctant to assess the comparative merits of religion in western and Islamic cultures. Nonetheless, the differences are profound. For the West and Israel, religion is not an ideology of arbitrary control; but, faith that is value added. For too much of the Muslim world, and most Islamists, religion a heavy hand suppressing the arts, sciences, democratic politics – and progress.

A Moderate Muslim Majority?

Statistics on attitudes towards Israelis and Jews would not be the only evidence to disprove assertions about what the majority of Muslims think or believe. The “moderate” assertion has other dimensions.

Let’s assume for a moment, for the sake of argument, that Paradigm Alpha is correct; to wit, Islamism is a minority sentiment among Muslims in general. The next logical challenge would be to define, yea quantify, the boundaries of that threat. Indeed, out of 1.5 billion souls, how big is that necrotic minority? If it’s only 30 percent, then the number is 500 million! Keep in mind that we are not talking about predictable ideological conflicts with the West exclusively; the primary targets of the irredentist movement, albeit decentralized, are secular (nee apostate) Muslim governments.

And as evidence, if good data were available, the totality of Muslims with hostile or belligerent intentions might be irrelevant. The modern historical record on this matter is clear. Given sanctuary, a motivated minority often prevails. In short, ideology and zeal may triumph, no matter the numbers.

If the numbers argument has any validity; less may be more. The Marxist revolution in Russia, the National Socialist putsch in Germany, and more recently, the theocratic coup in Persia, the democratic coup in Turkey, and the political trends in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are all but a few cautionary tales. Zealots are seldom a majority, but they succeed nonetheless.  Majority apathy is ever the ally of minority activism.

And recall, an exiled ideological fanatic such as Ayatollah Khomeini, like Lenin, is often made possible by European indulgence. Or in America today, a Turkish imam with a global reach, once exiled by Ankara, finds refuge in the woods of Pennsylvania. Ideological tolerance, or apathy, is often more significant than numbers or demographics.

Any suggestion that Europeans or Americans will enlighten or reform Islam, or change it to some pyrrhic democratic model, is delusional. As Bernard Lewis and Paul Berman remind us; if the Muslim world has been impervious to meaningful religious reform for 1400 years, the prospects are even dimmer today. The same internet that is supposed to be spreading “jasmine” revolutions is also distributing hate, terror, and intolerance. Syria, the Sudan, Bahrain, Somalia, and Yemen, if not most of Arab Africa, are object lessons in progress.

Most declarations about Muslim moderation, or the space between Islam and politics, in the Ummah are projections or asserted conclusions, nothing more. Where there are no good measurements, there is no good science.

Political and social sciences are dicey enough in open societies; in closed societies, they amount to educated guesses or wishful thinking. And how do you account for the beliefs of the illiterate tribesmen under such conditions? The State Department and the Pentagon may get to know the truth of the likes of Mullah Omar for a second time when the Taliban is allowed back into the Loya Jirga. In spite of these facts, our political and military leaders may have been captured by Paradigm Alpha, the Muslim victim trope.

Surely the historical schism between Sunni and Shia is significant for Muslims; but, both sects have similar views of non-Muslims. And notions that any Islamic fissures might be exploited are illusory. Nothing unites apostates like guilt-ridden or apologetic infidels.

Iran set the theocratic standard for contemporary Islam. Now populous Sunni nations are tripping over each other in the race backwards. Since the fall of Tehran, almost every regime change in the Sunni world, starting with Tunisia, has irredentist overtones. The dominoes are indeed falling – backwards.

Moral Equivalency?

Moral equivalency is the third rail of international politics. And the modern incarnation of Islam has been granted equality by default. Here again we have a kind of unilateral disarmament in the world of progressive ideals. Surely none of the civil or human rights abuses extant in the Muslim world today would be tolerated in any western democracy.

The most difficult idea for Western observers to grasp is that there is no ideological schizophrenia for much of Islam. Politics and religion are increasingly joined.  This single distinction separates Islamic culture and politics from the democratic West. No amount of scholarly contortion, or digressions about poverty, colonialism, or criminality, are likely to alter that indigestible fact. When Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon agree that the West must learn to live with groups like the Taliban or al-Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), the earmarks of appeasement are apparent.

Do American diplomats and generals not recall the first incarnation of the Taliban where female adulterers and homosexuals were summarily executed in a soccer stadium (built with US funds, we could add)? Twentieth Century National Socialists were genocidal, but there is no evidence that Germans ever used atrocities as weekly public amusements. Nazis actually took great pains to hide the holocaust because they had a residue of moral probity - or knew a harsh judgment was imminent.

And the influence and hegemony of imperial Islam is a growth business by any measure. Islamists think they are winning and they may be correct. Most of the secular casualties to date are in the Muslim world. Developments in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Yemen, Somalia and others are symptoms of a kind of decentralized global theocratic coup.  Polite scholars rationalize the same demographic phenomenon, in America and Europe, as “browning;” but the quest of, and quarrel within Islam is religious and political, not racial or ethnic. 

Turkey, another erstwhile ally, represents a special hazard where elections might be confused with democracy. Kamal Attaturk separated church from state by force. And now religion comes back to Turkish politics through peaceful elections. No election is ever synonymous with democracy or progress. 

Ironically, Paradigm Alpha in the West is often on the same page as Islamists when it comes to rationalizing some of the more egregious civil and human rights depredations of Muslim culture. Just a few abuses would include: support (moral and financial) for terrorism, summary executions, amputations, beheadings, imprisonment without trial, polygamy, honor killings, consanguinity, slavery, religious intolerance, misogyny, child abuse, and lethal homophobia; just to name a few of the more obvious aberrations. We might also recall that Daniel Pearl, a Jewish American journalist, was literally decimated; cut into ten pieces.

And what difference does it make that genital mutilation of women might be a cultural practice? How does that help the majority of girls in Egypt so brutalized? And how is polygamy justified in societies that can’t provide potable water or a flush toilet? And how is any of this classified as moderation or moral equivalence?

As a general proposition, Islam is only moderate where it is a minority. Where Islam is a majority, religious and many other varieties of moderation are often the first casualties. Multi-culture does not become monoculture without absolutism and coercion.

Many observers rationalize the political and social pathologies of the Muslim world as the products of poverty, ignorance, or exploitation. The usual causes cited by Paradigm Alpha subscribers (and opportunistic Islamists) are: colonialism, secularism, capitalism, and cultural imperialism. If PEW surveys are correct, most Muslims agree, blaming backwardness on outsiders. The victim trope is cultivated by Islamic clerics and politicians for obvious reasons, but the analytical spin in the West has darker roots.

Surely, considerations like energy, debt, and migration patterns are relevant. Of these, demographic vectors like immigration and birth rates seem to be the most threatening. Terrorism gets more press, but military tactics do not represent the totality of the threat. The underlying factors, fears if you will, of the Islamist threat are political, cultural, and religious. And pathological policies or Muslim behaviors, justified in the name of all three, are the very evidence that undermines any argument for moral equivalence.

What is to be Done?

In many ways, Islamism is no different than any other totalitarian scheme of recent history; a quixotic, intolerant, oppressive quest for a kind of Utopian monoculture. If analysts could forego the usual immunities and deference granted religion, Islamism might be seen as another kind of political arrogance, a naïve ideology with global pretensions. Surely it represents a unique challenge; yet, Islamism is not just another variant of historical imperialism.  

The orthodox or militant imperial interpretation of Islam began with Mohammed and eventually hit the wall of Ottoman decay. Ottoman corruption was replaced by Turkish, Persian and then Arabic secular nationalism. These janissaries eventually fell to excess - and the bizarre junction of post-WWII oil wealth and martyr/philosophers like Sayyid Qutb, ideological godfather of the Muslim brotherhood. The union of new money and ancient religious passion was facilitated by the European colonial retreat. An explanation for the modern bloom of Muslim irredentism may be simple. Islamism was the best organized and best financed alternative to fill the post-colonial, post-fascist, political vacuum.  

Some scholars now argue that Muslim militancy is better seen as a traditional political, not a cultural clash. More than a few go on to argue that Islam is not a religion at all, but rather just another Luddite “ism;” hostile to creativity, democracy and science. Surely the Islam is not a religion that might be the equivalent of Anglicanism or Buddhism. And just as surely, IRA or FARC foot soldiers are not comparable to Islamist terrorists with a global reach.  

So how is the Islamist threat different - and what is to be done?

The appeal of Islamism may ebb or wane; but over time, religious or political missionary goals, like submission and Sharia (religious law), are remarkably constant for the militants of the two major sects.  Surely there are exceptions to xenophobia and pervasive hostility. Sufis and modern Kurds are numerically small examples. But, the vector of global Islamic politics is anything but secular, democratic, or progressive.

Modern Islamism is a unique threat because the potential base of operations now represents one fourth of the world’s population. Islamism is different also because the West has not engaged in religious wars since the Reformation. Islamism is unique today because western policymakers are willing to tolerate aberrant behaviors in the name of religious tolerance; immunities that would not be granted any other ideology.

If we just examine the status of two issues, religious freedom and women’s rights (in Turkey, Egypt, or Afghanistan to name just three), the vector of Islamic politics and the paucity of human rights is painfully obvious.

And the Islamist threat is also different because Europe and America have little to offer dar al Islam except submission. Surely at this point no serious political or social analyst believes that democratic capitalism, or anything remotely similar, is the future in Arabia or other Muslim states flirting with viral religious irredentism.

No wonder the fire breathers are optimistic. Muslim clerical assessments of American and European decline are very prescient. The West is not failing because it is over extended or spends more than it earns, the West is in a tailspin because it is corrupt; unwilling to defend the values that made commerce, creativity, and science possible. Yes, and European values, (like freedom, democracy, and tolerance) are at risk - on the theocratic block, if you will.

The great irony of Islamic fundamentalism is that it is protected by Muslim  and western traditions. Indeed, Paradigm Alpha analysts are reluctant to criticize a toxic polity that is inseparable from religion. The evolved democratic religious immunities of Europe and America protect a militant brand of political Islam which grants no quarter to the West. How such a clash ends should not be difficult to imagine.

Colonel Davis’s critique of Afghanistan was generous enough not to mention that bin Laden, an Arab export to Afghanistan, may have been as much of an outsider as NATO. He was also too polite to point out that the al Qaeda leader found refuge in Pakistan, our erstwhile ally, not Afghanistan. Nor did Davis mention that the original clandestine war, Charley Wilson’s War against the Soviets, helped to bring the Taliban to power in the first place. The enemy in South Asia, and elsewhere, has always been the Taliban and like-minded religious parties.  

Arab al Qaeda is a bit player in South Asia. And now after two decades, the Taliban may come back to power (like the Turkish AKP and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood) through the front door with a promise of US and European subsidies! It’s hard to believe that we think of any of this as a “clash of civilizations;” when a more accurate description might be “confederacy of dunces.”

Several years ago the Press ridiculed Donald Rumsfeld for his now infamous “we don’t know what we don’t know” soliloquy. What the former Secretary of Defense was trying to say, obviously to the wrong audience, was that ignorance is often more important than what we think we know.  Indeed, facts, or what we believe, often get in the way of study, analysis, or new truth. Such may be the case with Islamism; where truth is a received wisdom. The Alpha Paradigm may be another example. We think we know all we need to know about Islam and activist Muslims. Not much, but enough it seems; enough to stop any further questions.

So what now?

Islamism, and like minded religious parties, is a global threat that requires a global strategy. The threat is ideology and kinetics. Dogma sanctuaries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates, Pakistan, and now Indonesia need to clean house, starting with the pulpits. No society should tolerate religious hate mongers. The passive aggressor states either draw a bright line between church and state, clerics and the jihadists – or else. If the cities of Europe, America, and Israel are to be continually at risk, then maybe it’s time to reprogram the RPVs to put Islamist sanctuaries at risk

We might also break camp at all those city-sized embassies and over-priced “green zones” in the Levant and South Asia. The locals don’t want NATO soldiers in the Ummah anyway. Large permanent diplomatic “missions” and permanent military bases corrupt our “allies” and simplify the jihadist targeting problem.

And the so-called “war on terror” needs to be given to the 22 nations of the Arab League and the 57 some odd nations of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. For the most part, terror, with political or religious motives, originates in the Muslim world. The responsibility for solving that problem lies within the Ummah. NATO can not save Islam from itself. If the Islamists prevail in any Muslim state and hostilities are directed outward, so be it. Thus might the allied target set be simplified!

The West needs to be crystal clear with Muslim ex-patriots too; those who enjoy the largesse of democracies. Activists who support Islamism or any variety of terror should have their visas, green cards, passports, and even citizenship suspended or forfeited. Europe and America can not afford to grant a bill of personal rights to a fifth column that has no respect for human rights.

And finally, we return to the Davis essay and the issue of candor. How is it that an armor officer can write an insightful, honest assessment of a failed national strategy, when the entire 16 agency US Intelligence Community can not? National Intelligence Estimates have been an embarrassment for decades. What does it profit America to have the best collection and targeting systems in the world and the worst strategic analysis? Nation security analysts now resemble a cabal of very expensive, politically correct, underachievers. The Director of National Intelligence, General Jim Clapper, needs to reform strategic analysis - or privatize the national security estimative process.

No nation can afford to be delusional, incompetent, and broke at the same time for very long.

About the Author(s)

The author is a former USAF Intelligence officer, Vietnam veteran, a graduate of Iona College (BA), the University of Southern California (MS), the Defense Intelligence College, and the Air War College. He is a former Senior USAF Research Fellow at RAND Corporation, Santa Monica and the former Director of Research and Russian (nee Soviet) Studies, ACS Intelligence, HQ USAF, serving under General James Clapper. Colonel Donovan has served at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Central intelligence Agency.


Bill C.

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 10:15pm

In reply to by G. Murphy Donovan

Should the "clash of civilizations" be seen in the following light? As a conflict between:

a. The Western World, which believes that the idea of sovereignty DOES NOT include the right to deny the Western nations free and open access to and influence of foreign governments and foreign populations. And

b. The non/less-Western World, which believes that the idea of sovereignty DOES include the right -- and indeed the duty -- to protect one's government and one's population from the damaging and corrupting influences of the West.

Thus, while the Western World is allowed to act on its beliefs; the non/less-Western World is not.

G. Murphy Donovan

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 7:06pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Indeed! If we judge, that judgement should be based on what is done, not said. Cultural pathology in the name of religion is marginal up to the intersection with politics. What is wanting in the Muslim world is religious reform from which all manner of political progress might flow.

Unfortunately, such transformation only comes from within. We can not save Islamic nations, individually or collectively, from themselves. The clash of which Huntington, Berman, Lewis et al speak is likely to get worse before it gets better. Like all ideological clashes of history, some of the friction will be kinetic. Over time, irreconcilable differences are a zero-sum game. We need to have a global strategy and a plan for the long haul. Winning is still relevant if the outcome is to be secular and democratic.

G. Murphy Donovan

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 7:05pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Indeed! If we judge, that judgement should be based on what is done, not said. Cultural pathology in the name of religion is marginal up to the intersection with politics. What is wanting in the Muslim world is religious reform from which all manner of political progress might flow.

Unfortunately, such transformation only comes from within. We can not save Islamic nations, individually or collectively, from themselves. The clash of which Huntington, Berman, Lewis et al speak is likely to get worse before it gets better. Like all ideological clashes of history, some of the friction will be kinetic. Over time, irreconcilable differences are a zero-sum game. We need to have a global strategy and a plan for the long haul. Winning is still relevant if the outcome is to be secular and democratic.

"Today, the Nation remains engaged in an era of persistent conflict against enemies intent on limiting American access and influence." (2009; Janine Davidson, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans.)

Thus, should we see the enemies of the United States in much the same light that our government does -- not from the standpoint of their religiousness (ex: Islamism) or complete lack thereof (ex: Communism) -- but, rather, from the standpoint of whether their beliefs, character and practices (whether cloaked in religious, secular or some other garb) tend to limit American access and influence; which we consider to be THE cardinal "sin?"

G. Murphy Donovan

Sun, 07/29/2012 - 11:15am

Re the RAND Corporation comments; I don't recall raising the issue of "safety." But now that it's in the mix, we might say that lethal crime (non-terrorist)in the US is down by near 50 percent since the 70s. Further, the big contributors to mortality otherwise are self inflicted: drunk driving, substance abuse, obesity, suicide, and abortion. The number for the latter now stands at 55 million in America alone since 1973. Now that's a number with implications for safety in the West.


Tue, 07/24/2012 - 3:20pm

GMD you wrote,

“Indeed, out of 1.5 billion souls, how big is that necrotic minority? If it’s only 30 percent, then the number is 500 million!”

This Islamist horde of 500 million 'flesh-eaters' has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 10,000 Americans (incl. 9/11) both military and civilian over the last 12 years.

330 million Americans have been responsible for the murders of 157,000 Americans over the last 12 years.

I need to move to an Islamist neighbourhood where I can get some peace and quiet.




Tue, 07/24/2012 - 10:30am

Islam has 4 great enemies: SEX, and DRUGS, and ROCK & ROLL, and BACON.
Islam may stand against them for 2 or 3 generations, but It is already crumbling at the edges. What I am saying, really, is that the freedoms available to westerners have such a strong, nay universal, appeal that the young arab will be seduced. My Yemeni friends around Buffalo readily express the opinion that the jihadi are, "Crazy people."


Tue, 07/24/2012 - 9:45am

There are many points made in this article, so hopefully I will return to make my own. Meantime this interview maybe of interest:

'I see the Koran very much as an outsider. It stands in the great prophetic tradition of trying to return people to the basic principles of spirituality. Taken for its time, it was an extraordinarily progressive declaration of principle. It is also extraordinary for a Christian to read: for example, there are more references to Mary than in the Gospels. The tragedy is that it has been so warped and misapplied.’

After September 11, 2001, he underestimated the power of the bad ''narrative’’ of Islamist extremists. That narrative – that 'The West oppresses Islam – is still there. If anything, it has grown.’ It seeks 'supremacy not coexistence’. He fears that 'The West is asleep on this issue’, and yet it is the biggest challenge. In Africa, all the good things he sees through the Africa Governance Initiative face 'this threat above all others’. In 'Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, outbursts in Tanzania and Kenya’, sectarian Islamist extremism is the great and growing problem.

By implication, he seems to doubt President Obama’s outreach to Islam, because it tends to deal with the wrong people. Since Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009, 'the whole context has changed’. The Muslim Brotherhood is taking over large parts of the Arab world, and 'the people without the loudest voices are desperate for our leadership’.

'We must engage, but also challenge,’ he warns. The Middle East 'won’t achieve democracy unless it understands that democracy is a way of thinking as well as voting. The key question is how the majority treats the minority.’ The West, he says, has been too slow to help the people of Iran: 'It is a great civilisation. The people would undoubtedly boot their government out at the ballot box if they could. It is important they know we are prepared to help them. A Persian spring would be very welcome.’

But have you considered, I ask, that you might be wrong about Islam? What if it is not, at root, a religion of peace? He has thought about this but doesn’t accept it. He makes a comparison with Christianity. 'At Mass, at the end of the Bible readings, we say 'This is the word of the Lord’. We now take it as the spirit of Biblical teaching. We don’t take every element of it as literal. That process took us a long time.’ Islam is wrestling with the same process today.

Let’s bring the subject home: how does this apply to Muslims here? He regrets that the Prevent strategy which he devised became unfashionable. 'We mustn’t accept radicalism by accepting its narrative and disputing only its [violent] methods.’



Tue, 07/24/2012 - 11:42am

Just some observations;

1) Mr. Donovan points out that the true nature of events are often lost on those too close temporally to the events -- we can't see the forest for the trees. I would submit that Mr. Donovan is right and we are making the same mistake with our (Western) interpretations of the Arab Spring. We view it as a blossoming of democracy in an otherwise repressed part of the world. That is what we want to see. I think history may actually record it as an increase in Islamic influence as the Muslim world rediscovers their identity. Only time will tell. But this type of belief in our own convictions unconsciously makes us interpret what we are seeing in light of our own ideology and convictions. We see what we want to see and build our policy based on that delusion.

2) That same delusion that causes us to see what we want to see also causes a somewhat opposite effect -- if the result is not what we expect to see, then it is failure. Whether the level of corruption has increased or receded compared to what it was during the Taliban considering the increase in the funds available, or how much corruption (what we call patronage) is required to maintain a government operating in that social, cultural, and economic environment is not even considered. Donovan points out that many of the practices in Muslim cultures, like the genital mutilation of women, represent a different value system. Perhaps even modest changes to that system should be considered a success. But to Westerners, if it ain't us, it ain't right. So we again fail to see the forest for the trees.

3) We also tend to blame the military and the intelligence community for these failures, but I think that is missing the mark. By most military metrics we are doing fine in Afghanistan. We kill lots of them, they kill only a few of us. We control large compounds and major urban areas moving about largely unimpeded, they have to hide in the shadows. The problem is that we try to place numbers on things that are not that easy to objectify. So we are winning the fight, but losing the war. This is interpreted as the military deluding itself and lying to the public. It was a common error on the part of the American public during Vietnam to blame the Soldier for the war. This time I think large parts of the public and pundits blame the military/intelligence community for problem that is really part and parcel to the American and Western cultural identity.

This requires a change in policy but one we are unlikely to make. Donovan makes one observation that we keep missing. If the other side wins it is not because they represent a superior system, it is because we don't want to deal with our own failings. And so we keep making the same mistakes, seeing only what we want to see and learning the wrong lessons from these perceived failures.

InTheKnow - your first point is the best synopsis of the current state of the UK military that I have heard for a long time. It is depressing that the malaise appears to inflict both sides of the Atlantic.


Sat, 07/21/2012 - 11:51am

His assessment of our strategic capabilities are spot-on. Two points to add:

1) How long can our country afford a military that invests in questionable capabilities, is not objectively honest about itself- even internally, cannot think outside of certain paradigms, is driven more by interest group-type pressures than strategic capability improvement, and fails routinely at strategic analysis/plans/execution?

2) I'm not sure the reasoning for the "delusional, incompetent, and broke" label doesn't come from an emergent trend- in other words it has come from "the system" itself, and not from some sinister or even lazy centralized political entity. If the human dynamic is such that a certain level of progress begets internal decay and eventual collapse, only to be replaced by something else which advances the human condition (in ways we might not today define as "advancing"), then we may be barking up the wrong tree.

The solution implied here (and everywhere else): government (and thus top-down) action- would fail if this is something coming from the fabric of life. Instead maybe we should look to mimic nature more in order to adapt better to the coming inevitable changes. So, for instance, instead of creating more centralized and bureaucratic solutions/entities- maybe we need to be hyper de-centralizing ourselves. Instead, unfortunately- and against everyone's recognition of the negatives- the military is going in the opposite direction.

Bill C.

Tue, 07/24/2012 - 9:11am

In reply to by G. Murphy Donovan

Protection from and/or the elimination of western military, economic, political, social and/or cultural influences -- while being an Islamist objective, I believe -- would not seem to be a goal exclusive to Islamism.

Indeed, such a objective (protection from and/or the elimination of western influences) is/was the goal of many states and societies, yesterday and today. Examples from the past: Mid-19th Century China and Japan.

For modern times, let us consider this first sentence from the "Introduction," by Janine Davidson, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans, to FM 3-07, "The Stability Operations Field Manual" (2009; University of Michigan Press Edition):

"Today, the Nation remains engaged in an era of persistent conflict against enemies intent on limiting American access and influence throughout the world."

Thus, what we need is a "ruling" which outlaws -- not just religious entities and practices that work to roll back or deny the rapid introduction of western ideas, influences and enterprises into non/less-western nations -- but also which outlaws secular entities and practices having such hindering ideas and objectives.

This ruling would provide that, while foreign religious and/or secular citizens and leaders might be allowed to think or "believe" that it was in the best interest of their state and society to limit, eliminate or roll back the rapid influx of contemporary western ideas, influences and/or enterprises into their country, it would be absolutely unlawful for them to act on or "practice" these such beliefs.

G. Murphy Donovan

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 8:56am

In reply to by Bill C.

Interesting question here, Bill. Historians made the call on the Mormon "wars" and Joseph Smith was clearly the aggressor. He defied the law in several states and fielded a private militia. Ironically, the Mountain Meadows massacre was a prominent example of 19th Century religious (Mormon) terrorism.

Today, I would cast the Islamist as the aggressor; although, I realize that there are legions out there who like to think of attacks like 9/11 as isolated "criminal" acts. Since Korea, such rhetoric allows a CINC to call the use of troops whatever suits the agenda of the day. Remember Bush called 9/11 an "act of war," but his and the incumbent administration have been walking the war talk back ever since.

The notion of "jihad" might be spun a half dozen ways, but clearly one of the cognates is war. At the same time, I think the number of jihadists is strategically irrelevant. Our, and their, problem is religious and political intolerance. Revolution might change a regime, but only reform will correct these viral pathologies.

We change nothing by stabilizing hamlets in Kandahar while ignoring the cancer in Kabul. The real abuse originates in Tehran, Islamabad, Cairo, Riyadh, the West Bank and any number of toxic religio-political centers. The problem is global and the solution comes from within or not at all. I have no doubt the Islamism will be defeated, the question is how much damage is done before that comes to pass.

With regard to the question/issue that the author has put before us, his example/precedent of the Mormon Wars and the following from Phillip Bobbitt's "The Shield of Achilles:"

"War is the reaction of a state (and/or other entity?) that cannot acquiesce to the legal and strategic demands of the aggressor." (Items in parenthesis are mine.)

a. In the Mormon Wars, who was the aggressor and who was it that could not acquiesce to the aggressor's demands?

b. Again noting that the author uses the Mormon Wars as his example and precedent, who should be considered the aggressor today and who should be seen as the party that cannot acquiesce to today's aggressor's demands?

In the case of the Mormon Wars, the United States would seem to have established certain legal authority and jurisdiction; to deal with certain religious issues, practices and entities within its borders.

Looking to relations between peoples and states outside the borders of the United States, does the United States have similar authority and jurisdiction and, if not, do we think that it would be wise to attempt to obtain these? (Herein, considering that this type authority and jurisdiction, if extended to international affairs, might conceivably be used against the United States itself at some future date.)

Ken White

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 12:04pm

Accurate assessment. While to me it is not provocative, I'm quite sure the Politically Correct and the Commentariat will bridle at the essay. The overly defensive and entirely too political National Intelligence Establishment is likely to point out that Michael Ledeen is a not unbiased observer in critiquing their efforts -- that avoids the fact that the general incompetence too often exhibited and quite strange NIE efforts are pretty evident to most of us.

Mr. Donovan provides several common sense solutions to problems, not least a return to basic honesty, deliberate efforts to avoid delusional thinking and a development of a coherent strategy to counter a potential threat before it becomes far more significant than it is now presumed to be.

All that is good -- what's bad is the likelihood that in spite of his best efforts the folks who hew to the "<i>...if I can just avoid this on my watch and leave it for my replacement</i>" school of thought, the delusional and the Political Correctness uber alles crowds (not mutually exclusive) will continue to hold sway...