November 28, 2006

Michael Ledeen and permanent war

This post from the National Review deserves to be analysed and understood: I'm going to quote the whole post in order to let everyone see exactly what is said,

Thanks to Cliff, and to Dexter Filkins for getting someone to admit, once again, that Iran and Syria are all over Iraq.

Victor says we should first stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, but that's skipping a step. It is impossible so long as the mullahs rule in Tehran and Assad commands in Damascus. It is a regional war. If we continue to misunderstand it, if we remain locked in this fundamental error of strategic vision, we will endlessly respond to our enemies' initiatives, playing defense in one place after another. Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, tomorrow in Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopea and Eritrea (that is the mullahs' game plan), then in Israel and Europe, and finally here at home. We do not need intelligence agencies to know this, all we need to do is listen to our enemies, who announce it at the top of their lungs.

There is no escape from this war, and we haven't even begun to wage it. Once we do, we will find that we've got many political and economic weapons, most of them inside our enemies' lands. I entirely agree with Victor that Iran and Syria are fragile, brittle, and anxious. They know their people hate them, and they know that revolution could erupt if we supported it.

Of course, as Victor says, our leaders may be so demoralized that we could just surrender in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the realists and the antisemites desire. But that would only delay the reckoning, and ensure that the war will be far bloodier. Sigh.

What Ledeen is arguing for here is a defence that involves perpetual offence. Ledeen's argument is that if there ever is a threat to the West in the world, we need to smash that threat before it smashes us. In my view the view expressed here relies on a number of questionable assumptions,

a. that the enemy faced in Iraq is the same entity as the enemy faced in Afganistan
b. that the Middle Eastern states that oppose us have the same policy as regards the West
c. that the solution to the West's unpopularity lies in more invasions of other countries
d. that the Islamic fundamentalist threat in the West is driven by Middle Eastern regimes
e. that there is a single mind or minds at work behind a strategy of destroying Western civilisation.

All of those assumptions I regard as untrue- to take them one by one

a. the enemy in Iraq and Afganistan are not the same- in Afganistan there are people fighting against us because they are Pashtun, because we have destroyed the Opium crop, because they resent the imposition of central authority upon the country, because of local rivalries, because of fundamentalist Sunni Islam, because of friends and relatives killed by us in the invasion and because of straightforward hatred of foreigners. Only the fifth reason would lead one to suspect that the conflict would spill over the boundaries of Afganistan. In Iraq many of the same reasons apply though there are also Shia fundamentalists- who unsurprisingly won't join the Sunnis either.

b. That would require us to agree that Syria and Iran have had the same policy towards us. Well that consistently would be untrue. Syria and Iran have sought to ally but Syria is a Baathist regime, Iran a fundamentalist one. Syria is Allawite, Iran is Shia. They may be allied, they may grow closer together but at the moment they are not identical. Nor are their allies- Hizbollah, Hamas, the PLO and all the regiment of allies that Mr Ledeen would conjure up for them have all got different interests and different agendas.

c. There is an argument that if something like the Iraq war hasn't worked- it might not be wise to do the same thing the second time. There is always the Melchett argument from Blackadder to contend with, when the general endorses British policy at the front by saying that "Doing exactly what we did eighteen times before this, is precisely the last thing that they'll expect us to do now" or his other famous statement that everyone getting slaughtered in the first five minutes might "depress" the men in the trenches. Mr Ledeen seems to think that as we've started a civil war in Iraq, we should see what would happen in Syria if we invade.

d. The Islamic fundamentalist threat in the West seems to have very few connections to regimes in the Middle East. Yes there are some but not many. It seems to come out of free media like Al-Jazeera and a sense of Muslim greivance. (Oh and just to inform members of the rightwing American commentariate- Europe is not Saudi Arabia nor is it likely to become Saudi Arabia anytime soon.)

e. As far as I've seen all sources agree that Al Quaeda doesn't have a leadership structure but is a franchise used by terrorists. A strategic mind is hard to sense behind the whole insurgency in Iraq which pits Muslim against Muslim, nor behind the terrorist campaigns in the West, nor behind the events in Afganistan. What is happening is a series of local conflicts motivated partly out of a sense of Islamic greivance against the rest of the world particularly the west but in many situations having more localised causes.

Michael Ledeen needs to go back and rethink what he has written. In many ways the world is more dangerous than he beleives, there is no Hitler out there whose head on a platter will signal the end of terrorism from Muslim individuals. There is a civil war in Iraq which we are in the middle of. There is an insurgency in Afganistan which we are coping with but those are not neccessarily linked. There are various phenomena here, not just one phenomenon and to think otherwise is to be intellectually lazy. There maybe reasons to destabilise the Middle East- Iranian nuclear weapons- but the need to chop off the head of the Islamist Hydra isn't one of them.


Political Umpire said...

I think your analysis is very good. On the principle of pre-emptive justice, I am half way through a book on the subject by Alan Dershowitz. It is certainly worth reading, as he tries to come up with principles that might explain when, if ever, a pre-emptive war might be justified. I agree with you that the conditions are hardly met on the basis of the quoted extract.

Since we are dealing in hypotheticals, it seems to me almost impossible to think of situations when a pre-emptive strike might be justified. If we had done one against Germany in 1936, and the Germans put up a viscious resistance with Iraqesque consequences - or even if they hadn't - people would have banged on for years about the imperialistic venture against a country that was only grinding a legitimate axe about its treatment after WWII and the idea that it would have started a world war was just fantastic.

Either way, the conditions certainly were not met in Iraq 2003, as I've banged on about at some length in blogs past.

Gracchi said...

I've always struggled with preemptive war- the problem of nuclear weapons which threaten anialation seems to me to be an interesting one- I come out of reading Grotius who argued for war as defence- the question then becomes how do you respond when threatened by attack when attack means elimination- I haven't worked that out in my head.

I think the Iraq war case insofar as it depended on WMD and links to Bin Laden has collapsed.

Thanks for the compliment- the idea of perpetual war really does worry me as a concept and in many ways reflects back to my post about Lieven.