Monday, August 29, 2005

Darling Responds, 2.0

Dan Darling has written another response to my three part "Epilogue" series. In this piece, Darling focuses on the use of the military component in the counterterrorism effort. As with most parts of this discussion, I think that there is actually less disagreement than might come across due to the point/counterpoint structure. For instance, in the first couple of rounds, we mostly disagreed on the level to which the neo-con and interventionist camps want to continue "World War IV" - though it seems as though we both agree that the most strident versions of this doctrine would not be a wise course of action (ala the second part of Podhoretz's apparent "contradiction"). We both agree that the American people don't have much of a stomach for democracy promotion military campaigns (hence Podhoretz suggesting we use WMD as the proximate casus belli vis a vis Iran), and we both hope that the after-effects of Iraq do not cause the American people to eschew the use of force in all settings.

Similarly, we disagreed somewhat over the policymaking process in the Bush administration, but nothing major and my guess is that we might agree as to what type of dynamic would be most conducive to best practices even if we choose different ways to characterize the current operation of the Bush White House.

Again, in penning a response to my characterization of the use of the military, Darling clarifies many points that I don't really have an issue with - even though he does take issue with where I put my emphasis. In my post, I was emphasizing the use of intelligence and law enforcement because I believe that is where we need to shift our focus - this because of the amount of time, energy and resources devoured by our military campaign in Iraq. That being said, as I maintained all along, military options should not be ignored completely. They are just extremely problematic in a counter-insurgency setting and as such should be weighed with all appropriate factors.

Dan makes the point that military force is best suited for removing sanctuary to terrorists, whether such shelter is located in failed states or a compliant states. Law enforcement and intelligence, Darling states, are not tools that can achieve these ends. In this statement, I agree with him completely. The tricky part, of course, is determining at what point the provision of sanctuary is sufficient enough to warrant use of military assets. Further, whether such military force will succeed in truly disrupting the sanctuary, whether we can control the territory and deny the reemergence of such sanctuary and, relatedly, whether in the process we will be alienating such large segments of the target population that we will actually exacerbate the situation. To illustrate his point, Dan responds to this paragraph from my post:

Just fill in the blank in this sentence: "The War on Terror would be going so much better right now if we would only invade [insert country]." Is there such a country out there where invasion would not do more harm than good? The answer is no if you truly understand what counterinsurgency means, and what steps we must take to marginalize and isolate the violent extremists from the moderate majority.

Invasion is a means, not an end. In the case of the war on terrorism, it is a tool you use to deprive the enemy of its sanctuaries as well as to establish/expand secure areas, both of which are recommended by the CGSC document. If you want me to give you a list of countries that the war on terror would be better off if al-Qaeda didn't have a safe haven there, I can come up with quite a few for you. The counter-insurgency recommendations in the CGSC document are wonderful, but you cannot expect them to work by only carrying out some of them and not others.
I don't dispute that Dan, or anyone else for that matter, could come up with "a list of countries that the war on terror would be better off if al-Qaeda didn't have a safe haven there" - but that was not the question. The question was which country would we be better off if we would invade.

The example of sanctuary that Darling relies on most in this post are the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) training camps in Pakistan. The problem arises when you take Darling's abstraction into the real world. First, would an invasion of Pakistan, or other use of military assets, really uproot the terrorist training facilities? I'm not so sure. If you look at our current operations in Iraq, we have actually created more sanctuary for Salafist jihadists than existed before - at least so far. Unless we controlled the countryside and the local population in Pakistan, there would be little to forestall a mere relocation of assets and facilities. Intelligence on their locations would be difficult given the likely hostility of the local population (more below). Thus, while we would obviously like to "establish/expand secure areas" that is not always possible even using military force. You could even create fewer secure areas, as in Iraq.

For example, I'm not sure we could sweep into Pakistan and root out those camps using military force without creating a substantial backlash which would only increase sympathy and support for the people we would be trying to neutralize. In Iraq, we at least had the advantage of the good will we earned for removing the odious Saddam Hussein. In Pakistan, we would confront a population that would be considerably more hostile to our presence, at least and especially in the regions housing the LeT camps. The prospect for establishing and maintaining secure areas in such a nation would be remote at best. The more likely outcome would be more sanctuary to our enemies.

Consider also that Pakistan is more than six times the size of Iraq, population wise - which would make for a considerably more difficult peace-keeping operation. And then you have to consider the way this would play out in the Muslim world in general. The perception of the US/Christian crusader would be fortified, accruing to the benefit of propagandists like Zawahiri and Bin Laden. Not to mention the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons - though this part of the story is superfluous in a way because even if Pakistan did not have nukes, the above would still hold.

I don't doubt that Darling is well aware of these factors, and I don't mean this to sound as if he were disputing the above. But when you consider the real world effects, and prospects for success, the result of the use of military force in many settings becomes less than palatable. Even if, in the abstract, it would be great if these regions and nations did not provide sanctuary and solace to certain of our enemies. That is why, although imperfect, we need to focus on the use of intelligence assets and law enforcement - even if we have to expand the capacity of each. There might also be ways to use smaller special forces units to target specific facilities that would fall short of all out invasion - or other military assets less likely to provoke all out war. These types of measures should be considered on a case by case basis with a careful appraisal of risks and rewards. We also need to find creative ways to compel Musharraf (and other leaders in his position) to control his own country, while providing him with the various forms of support needed to achieve this - not an easy task for him considering the intractability of the Islamists in Pakistan. These solutions are not perfect, but this about picking the best of a bunch of options that are less than ideal.

By the way, given how difficult the process is to root out actual Al Qaeda and jihadist sanctuaries - so problematic that we actually tolerate their existence in some locales - can someone remind me again why we invaded Iraq - which had neither? I know Saddam supported Palestinian groups that committed terrorist attacks in Israel, but the connection to Al Qaeda and other international jihadists was so tenuous that the Iraq invasion seems to have capitalized on all the negative effects listed above without any of the benefits. In fact, using the Al Qaeda sanctuary test for military action, invading Iraq now makes a lot more sense than it did in March 2003.

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