Thursday, September 14, 2006
In the Summer of 2000, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin told me a story that I have been unable to get out of my mind. We were meeting in the Kremlin, and I raised the grave danger facing the world from the transfer of missile technology and nuclear material to the Iranians. In Putin's view, however, the real danger came not from an Iranian nuclear-tipped missile or, for that matter, from the lethal arsenal of any nation-state.
OK. Fair enough. I can dig it. There's more to fear from loose nuclear material ending up in the hands of non-state actors. Perhaps Putin is trying to solicit money to secure the former USSR's far flung and poorly secured nuclear material. Or maybe it's a warning about what might ensue if a state like Pakistan or North Korea suffers a meltdown and there is a subsequent power vacuum.
But Iranian nukes are not such a threat - nor "the lethal arsenal of any nation-state" per se - absent some intervening factors to remove the control exerted by that state. Probably has something to do with Mutually Assured Destruction or some such off-shoot. Got it. Sharansky continues:
The threat, Putin explained to me a year before 9/11, was not from this or that country but from their terrorist proxies — aided and supported quietly by a sovereign state that doesn't want to get its hands dirty — who will perpetrate their attacks without a return address.
Odd, that seems to directly contradict the previous paragraph in which it was explained that the lethal arsenals of intact nation-states were not a threat. I guess it all turns on the fact that nation-states can act through proxies that don't include a "return address" for the sponsors and thus their arsenals are in fact a threat. To bolster his point, Sharansky offers examples of nation states that have acted through proxies with impunity in the past, due to their ability to conceal their roles in the respective plots.
This scenario became real when Al Qaeda plotted its 9/11 attacks from within Afghanistan and received support from the Taliban government. Then it happened again this summer, when Iran was allowed to wage a proxy war through Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and northern Israel.
Yeah. There's no way we're ever going to figure out which nations were behind those proxy forces because of the lack of return addr...wait a minute! Sharansky just solved the confounding mystery of 9/11! He discovered the elusive "return addresses" in question. Someone alert the media. The President. Something must be done to these "Talibans" he talks of.
President Bush abandoned the conventional approach to fighting terror by vowing that the United States would henceforth make no distinction between terrorists and regimes that support them....Now the Taliban regime was being held accountable.
This was critically important for two reasons. First, it recognized that international terrorism relies on the support of sovereign states. It is regimes, after all, that give terror groups territory on which to train, arm and indoctrinate their members, and regimes that provide them critical financial, diplomatic, logistical and intelligence support.
This just gets it spectacularly wrong on so many levels. Terrorism - international or otherwise - does not rely on support from sovereign states. It doesn't hurt to have some, for sure, and many terrorist groups would rather get such assistance, but it is by no means necessary. That's what makes terrorism such a particularly problematic phenomenon: the costs are relatively low, manpower required limited and other barriers associated with force projection greatly mitigated. It's cheap, easy and you get a pretty big bang for your buck - pardon the pun.
Given this reality, terrorists can thrive without sovereign sponsorship in weak states, failed states and even strong states in Western Europe and North America. While ETA, Tamil Tigers, Timothy McVeigh and the IRA may count as "national" and not "international" terrorists, that has more to do with objectives than whether or not a sovereign state is/was sponsoring these groups. If ETA believed it could help secure a Basque homeland by bombing France and Portugal, you'd probably see some attacks across those borders. Besides, the model for "international" terrorism doesn't look much different.
For example, which sovereign state(s) supported the Madrid attacks? London? Bali? Morocco? Amman? Which sovereign state was/is supporting Zarqawi and the present cadre of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Should we accuse Prime Minister Maliki of collusion? Bomb Manchester or Barcelona? Further, did al-Qaeda cease being a threat after their state sponsors in Afghanistan were deposed? Which sovereign states sponsor Abu Sayyef or Jemaah Islamiyah?
Sharansky continues to spin in circles:
Second, although shadowy terror cells are difficult to eradicate fully and suicidal fanatics impossible to deter, the regimes that support terror groups do have a return address and are rarely suicidal. Thus, holding the Taliban responsible for the actions of Al Qaeda, and elevating the logic for doing so to a central principle in the war on terror, greatly enhanced deterrence. Every single regime was immediately put on notice.
For those following along now, the narrative goes something like this: the biggest fear is not from the arsenals of nation states, but it is. Nation states are not deterrable because they can use proxies and conceal their return addresses, except they are deterrable and can't really conceal their return addresses as the two examples used to illustrate this point show. Terrorists rely on state sponsors, except when they don't. Solid.
All of this confusing, meandering, self-contradiction ends in a predictable fashion: with a call to arms against Iran. The cherry on top comes with Sharansky's version of the increasingly popular scare tactic du jour prophesizing an Iranian nuclear attack on an American city - or two (ala Stanley Kurtz). This should be viewed separately from the Saddam suitcase bomb threat which was so five years ago.
He's got a point. If the world didn't react to the Hezbollah/Israeli fighting by attacking Iran, then Iran has probably concluded that they'd also get a free pass on nuking Tel Aviv, Paris or New York. Hell, probably all three. Same thing right? I mean, who would even know that Iran was behind Hezbollah's actions anyway? It's not like Hezbollah's gonna include a return address in Tehran. So sneaky those Hezbollahs.
Considering the apocalyptic fanaticism of Iran's leader, it is an open question whether the current regime in Tehran is capable of being deterred through the threat of mutually assured destruction. But given how the world has responded to Hezbollah, the point may be academic. For surely Iran would be better served by using proxies to wage a nuclear war against Israel. And if there is no accountability, why stop with Israel?
The road to a suitcase bomb in Tel Aviv, Paris or New York just got a whole lot shorter.