Friday, June 16, 2006

# Posted 10:58 AM by Patrick Porter  

GRAND STRATEGY (AND MY GOD ARGENTINA CAN PLAY FOOTBALL): Though Argentina's quite youthful side have only played two smaller teams so far, they are looking slick, menacing and confident. my early tip is look out for them in the later stages. they dismantled Serbia with some flowing football.

Grand Strategy: Global Gorillas, one of my favourite sites run by John Robb, has a challenging critique of America's overall approach to combating global terrorism. It defines America's stance as follows:
  • Rogue states are behind terrorism. Non-state threats do not exist.
  • Removal of these rogue states will diminish terrorism by eliminating its sponsors/havens.
  • Converting a rogue state into a democracy will completely eliminate them as a threat and change regional politics.
Before getting into his rebuttal, I'm not sure American strategic thinking is that 'Non-state threats do not exist.' America's 2006 Defence Quadrennial Review Report states that 'The enemies we face are not nation-states but rather dispersed non-state networks.'

Robb then makes several criticisms. Firstly, America's 'soft power' has been severely weakened, forcing it into a place of 'isolation,' or on a trajectory towards isolation. Its naturally hard to measure soft power, and no doubt Bush's forceful insistence on action against Saddam did alienate some opinion, as has torture etc.

But has America driven itself into 'isolation'? Germany, with admittedly a divided electorate, has just elected a Chancellor who is more sympathetic with the USA's agenda than her predecessor.

America's relations with India and China, whom this administration has cultivated, are probably better now than before the war on terror began. I remember the prehistoric, pre 9/11 tension between Bush and Beijing over a range of issues - Taiwan, the captured plane incident. And with India in March this year, the USA has just signed a pact of co-operation in the civilian nuclear field.

And 75 countries, despite frustrations with US unilateralism, are still participating in some degree or other in a global counter-terrorist coalition. To be sure, this may reflect the cold calculations of interest rather than affection, and may be accompanied by anxieties about the American superpower. But its not 'isolation', exactly.

Robb has some other criticisms which are worth considering:
Collapsing rogue states doesn't reduce the threat, it does exactly the opposite: it creates ungoverned spaces and failed states where non-state groups thrive.
Its hard to argue against the proposition that collapsing a rogue state and leaving a vortex of anarchy and ungoverned space will probably help non-state groups to thrive. But we aren't definitively there yet!

For example, this is slightly out of date, but in an opinion poll late last year, a considerable number of Afghans, despite poverty and continuing conflict, expressed overwhelming approval for the takedown of the Taleban, 75 % said that they are more secure from crime and violence, and most express support for the new government and parliament.

These opinions do not exactly represent an ocean in which the jihadist fish can easily swim, even though the terrain outside the governed space is still evidently abounding with the Taleban. As another expression of at least minimal acceptance of the country's direction, millions of refugees have returned.

And even though large parts of the Taleban frontier remain unsubdued, life is also considerably more dangerous for those jihadists who used to be harboured safely in that country. A violent ungoverned space of continual combat is also more dangerous for them as it is for American troops. I'm not declaring victory, merely saying that the ball game here isn't over yet.

One more of Robb's points:
It seeds the global development of non-state groups. As we have seen in London, Madrid, Toronto, and increasingly in the US (Reuters), new opponents will spontaneously emerge from nascent primary loyalties in response to these attacks. The more pressure applied, the greater the number of threats we face in our own back yard. Further, these groups are learning the lessons of guerrillas in Iraq -- the ultimate proving ground of advanced fourth generation warfare -- to become global guerrillas.
this comes down to a frequent theme on Oxblog - are these attacks primarily responses to America's invasions, or are they more self-directed, driven by their own internal dynamic? Do US attacks create them, or bring forward a conflict that must be had in any event?

I can't answer all of these perfectly, but US reactions to other terrorist attacks in the 1990's demonstrated that opposite response - to retreat or disengage, can embolden jihadist groups and encourage recruitment, since one of their premises is that the west is essentially soft, decadent and inclined to shrink back from aggression.

But Robb has a serious point about global guerillas - as a recent Atlantic article by Nadya Labi suggests, the loss of training camps in Afghanistan (and Iraq?) has turned jihadist groups increasingly to the internet as the new virtual training ground. Strategies for combating this new development?

UPDATE: In case there has been any confusion, and to reassure readers that I wasn't being naughty, Robb's initial post claimed that 'Non-state threats do not exist.' He subsequently edited this statement to 'Non-state threats are of little consequence without rogue state support.' Robb has clarified this in the comments section, cheers mate!
(17) opinions -- Add your opinion

Interesting that the point you definitively grant Robb--the global guerilla--comes about only because his largest point--that destroying rogue regimes creates opportunities for terrorists--is so wrong.

The terrorists are becoming more global precisely because they are losing their fixed bases. Fortunately, the logistics of being global creates more openings for anti-terror efforts to root them out.
"America's relations with India and China, whom this administration has cultivated, are probably better now than before the war on terror began." Not to forget Japan, just the second largest economy in the world, where relationships have never been better, and substantial progress has been made on the nature of the U.S.-Japan strategic alliance. Though I'm sure someone could produce a poll that said 55% of the population are against America this and America that. The fact that Koizumi was re-elected overwhelmingly seemingly besides the point. I'd also like to point out that journalists and academics and those depending on them for their opinions about how America is being perceived usually don't have a clue. President Bush was recently on the front page every newspaper in Japan and on the top story on all the newscasts for days. Why? Because he met Sakie Yokota in the Oval Office for thirty minutes and promised her he'd stand by her. Seehere
and here . Even the biggest Bush bashers were reduced to accolades. But to really understand this story you'd have to understand Japan very well and the whole issue of abductions and the moral standing of Mrs. Yokota, and on and on.... Which the press and most of the soft power voices don't. Sadly, especially the experts. Thus it flies under their radars. In sum, there is a lot of soft power going on in Japan and a lot of other places which all of those calling for more soft power and complaining about American unilateralism don't pick up. Why? Because it isn't "their guys" soft power or it isn't their preferred form or channel of soft power. I'd be so bold as to say Bush is doing a lot better job with soft power than his predecessors. How one would quantify this is beyond me (though anyone depending on polling is even more clueless), but lord knows he's spending the bucks. But perhaps the point to be made is that Bush's soft power and his multilateralism isn't about Davos and the UN and the like. Which is fine by me and by many others. I think the volume and tone of the complaints against America's unilateralims and lack of soft power has more to do with taking away the power of others who deem themselves the guardians of these things than any actual truth. Same is true domestically with the issues of school choice and providing money to faith based welfare programs. Of course "they" are loud and vocal and pissed and have great ability to shape perception.

Argentina was breathtaking--watched the first half only (Brisbane time) in awe.

Okay, I haven't read John Robb's critique, but on non-state players I agree with you re the QDR. OTOH, nation-states find it hard to deal with non-state actors--all their national security apparatus works best, and is geared towards, dealing with other nation-states, as nation-states. Those tools and methods--conventional militaries, state-to-state diplomacy--are well practiced, known and regulated. So while Robb's critique may counter policy statements such as the QDR, in practice we do find a lot of the tools and methods used are those oriented towards the level of nation-states. There's no easy means around this...and alternative methods are mired in grey legal areas and uncertainties of which every politician is wary. Paradoxically, in times of uncertainty, decision-makers will seek to establish some control and certainty through using tools they know. Unfortunately, many of those--evolved over the last, what, 300 or so years--are ill-suited to the types of non-state threats and globalised environment we find ourselves in.

Despite losing Afghanistan, jihadist groups haven't turned entirely virtual: they still need geographic space for training. The Philippines, Chenchenya and Somalia all leap to mind as obvious replacements, plus a myriad of possibilities for small, transient encampments. A focus on physical space and geographical remains warranted...but at the risk of playing 'whack a mole' to little positive effect.

The other difficulty turns on speed and responsiveness. The mechanisms of the nation-state are slow--except for the most well-oiled (and expensive) parts of the system. Jihadists--light, maneouverable, and unanswerable to large publics--move easily within the decision-loops of slower moving democracies.

I suppose I should go look at Robb's piece, now.
many thanks for the tone of this post. it's too bad that rampant BDS typically prevents the discussion from being maintained at this level.
Re the link between terrorism needing a "rougue" state.
No, terrorism doesn't need a rogue state. Plenty of places they can hide.

However, to develop weapons of Mass destruction that actually work, you need the backing/infrastructure of a rogue state.

Take biological weapons. Yes, you can get anthrax. But to process into a weapon instead of common barnyard spores takes specialized equipment and knowledge (if only to keep you from inhaling it) and to disperse it efficiently it needs specialized machinery (the post office anthrax cases were thanks to hard hitting machines that sorted mail, yet even then only a few were infected.).The major suspect in these case was a scientist who knew how to make spores, but didn't have expertise in dispersing it. For that you need expertise, money, and an organization. But the larger the organization, the higher the risk it will be infiltrated or discovered. So that means cooperation by local and state officials.

For radiation and chemical weapons, it's even more complicated.

And funding requires banks and contacts...again an infrastructure either thru a state or thru criminal gangs.

Since criminals need civilians to thrive, one cannot imagine them helping to kill their customers, so that leaves fanatical terrorist gangs. But many of these fanatics are infiltrated by local cops. So even then you need a government to look the other way.
The current "Weekly Standard" has an article citing links between the 17 terrorists just nabbed in Toronto and Egypt/Sawahiri or al-Quaeda. They also say the Madrid bombers and the London bombers were trained and financed by al-Quaeda. This is heartening news, because it makes it less likely we or our progeny will be blasted by home-grown terrorists. It also shows the U.S. was wise to move into the Middle East and attempt to drain the swamp with a major effort. You don't hear about these al-Quaeda connections in the liberal media because the more you know about them the more you support President George W. Bush.
Robb is mostly correct, and you have generated a few straw men in your critique of him. Where does he say, as you attribute to him, "'Non-state threats do not exist.'? He doesn't. What he actually says is that "Rogue states are behind terrorism. Non-state threats are of little consequence without rogue state support." There is a big difference between your sentence and his. Robb says that US policy has been to claim that non-state threats are only powerful when they get some sort of rogue state support. I think that has clearly been the US policy from 2001 on, as many Weekly Standard articles have approvingly noted. In fact, it was one of the central arguments for war against Saddam. Boinky is correct that WMD is hard to execute without state support. But terrorism is quite deadly without WMD. The 9/11 hijackers financed their operations through credit card fraud right here in America. They learned close-quarters combat in the US. And they learned to fly planes in the US. They needed no support from outside the US (though they certainly got some support anyway) to carry out the largest act of terrorism in history.

Your point about isolation completely ignores Robb's own link to an earlier definition of what he means by the "inexorable process of isolation." He means simply that the US has found itself with fewer and fewer allies in the fight against terrorists (especially in Iraq) than before. Witness Italy and Spain, for example. And Poland, Ukraine, Japan and the UK aren't exactly itching to ramp up their support for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Soft power is hard to gauge, but there have been several polls conducted around the world on opinions regarding the US. Almost everywhere support for the US is lower than it's ever been. And to attribute Merkel's victory to some sort of thawing in anti-US or anti-Bush sentiment in Germany is very naive. Merkel should have won handily given how awful Schroeder managed the country. Schroeder played the anti-Bush card to make it much closer than it should have been. Ever wonder why Blair is so unpopular in Britain right now? It's not the British economy.

And then you bring up Afghanistan as an example where we "aren't there yet," presumably referring to a vacuum in state authority. Well, that's all agreed, but what about Iraq where the American footprint is much greater than Afghanistan? It's hard to term Iraq anything other than a failed state, and a fertile ground for jihadism.

I think John Robb has made a very important point. Since 2001, Al Qaeda has become a brand of sorts. Tiny jihadist cells across the world align themselves with AQ's overall ideology, but they seek very little operational direction from the caves of Waziristan. And with a fine training ground in neighborhoods o Baghdad or the desert towns of Anbar, they are as deadly as ever.
The current "Weekly Standard" has an article citing links between the 17 terrorists just nabbed in Toronto and Egypt/Sawahiri or al-Quaeda. They also say the Madrid bombers and the London bombers were trained and financed by al-Quaeda. This is heartening news, because it makes it less likely we or our progeny will be blasted by home-grown terrorists. It also shows the U.S. was wise to move into the Middle East and attempt to drain the swamp with a major effort. You don't hear about these al-Quaeda connections in the liberal media because the more you know about them the more you support President George W. Bush.

The WEakly Nonstandard was pushing so many bogus reports of Saddam's links to Al Qaeda that one would hestitate to trust them if they said the sun would rise tomorrow.

And how creating 10s of thousands off new terrorists as a result of the war with Iraq has helped the US escapes me.

America's relations with India and China, whom this administration has cultivated, are probably better now than before the war on terror began. I remember the prehistoric, pre 9/11 tension between Bush and Beijing over a range of issues - Taiwan, the captured plane incident. And with India in March this year, the USA has just signed a pact of co-operation in the civilian nuclear fiel

About China, lets not forget that part of the reason for the bad relations was that the PNAC/Neocons say China as the biggest threat to the US and insisted on a hard line. Relations have improved since, largely because the US finds China too important an ally on North Korea and in general to antagonize in the WoT.

In terms of India, the Bush adminisrtration does deserve credit for managing to maintain good relations with India despite sending arms and aid to Pakistan. However, one should not downplay the role of Clinton, who was also very popular in India after his visits there.
"And how creating 10s of thousands off new terrorists as a result of the war with Iraq has helped the US escapes me."

I suppose you have some evidence to back this illogic up?
re: "I suppose you have some evidence to back this illogic up?"

"However, the facts are that since 1980, suicide terrorist attacks from around the world over half have been secular. What over 95 per cent of suicide attacks around the world [are about] is not religion, but a specific strategic purpose - to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly and this is in fact a centrepiece of Al Qaeda's strategic logic, which is to compel the United States and Western countries to abandon military commitments on the Arabian Peninsula." - Robert Pape - http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2005/s1418817.htm

many other experts agree with this as well.
dear Elrod,

I simply cut and paste Robb's three bullet points, and I believe the first bullet point on his post did originally say "non-state threats do no exist."

He may now have altered it to say "non-state threats are of little consequence without rogue state support."

Just to back this up, someone else also quoted Robb saying the same thing in his original post:

not a straw man.
on another point, Elrod, by "isolation" Robb doesn't just mean that the US has found fewer and fewer allies, but that the USA has become mentally, physically and morally isolated from many of its allies.

as I said, this is an overstatement. opinion polls may indicate that the USA is less popular, and it may not have achieved a coalition of the size it would like in Iraq.

But I think this falls short of isolation. It has a UN mandate for the post-Saddam occupation, and its relations with other major powers are actually in reasonably healthy shape.

In the case of Germany, you may be right that Schroeder's appeals to criticisms of America helped him. But this is not isolation! The new German government is closer to the US than their predecessor. Moreover, a large number of Germans who may be disposed to oppose the USA's foreign policies did not feel that this was such a priority as to dictate their vote.

what this boils down to is that, despite all of the frictions, most states in the world feel they have more in common with the USA than with Bin Ladenism, which also incidentally is much less popular in worldwide opinion polls than it used to be:


"Ever wonder why Blair is so unpopular in Britain right now? It's not the British economy."

You mean the guy who is head of the government that was re-elected for a third term last year?
sorry to be boring and not wishing to be pedantic, but just to clarify:

here is the cached version of Robb's original post, showing clearly his initial statement that "non-state threats do not exist":

I appreciate that Robb has modified his position, this is just to prove that I wasn't putting words in his mouth!

He runs a great blog and I'd recommend that Oxblog readers check it out.
Thanks for the follow-up, Patrick. Robb's second formulation (which I saw) makes quite a bit of sense with respect to US policy. His first - "non-state threats do not exist" - is an inaccurate portrayal of Bush policy.

As for isolation, I don't think Robb is arguing that America is all alone now. Just that the direction of things was/is toward more isolation and not less. Germany's new government may be more pro-US than the last one, but considering how much Merkel was supposed to trounce Schroeder, it may be an exception that proves the rule. Blair won in the UK last year with considerably less support than before. The writing is clearly on the wall that Blair's days are numbered as head of Labour and the Government. Relations with the US are not the only issue in the domestic politics of other nations. At times they take precedent - almost always with anti-American forces making relations with the US a primary issue - but they usually take a back seat. Are there any examples of politicians winning elections BECAUSE they promised closer ties to the US? The only example I can thinki might be Garcia's recent victory in Peru - but that was more because Humala was such an obvious Chavez-style dirtbag. Garcia wasn't exactly "pro-US."

So, yes, the world generally sides with the US and its ideals more than Bin Ladenism. But by God I should hope so! It's hardly a consolation that most people reject Bin Ladenism. What the US needs is the sort of admiration, if you will, from most people around the world that helped give us the moral and ultimately political authority to lead "the free world" against totalitarian communism. That doesn't mean the US can't make difficult decisions. Bush Snr. launched a major war against Iraq and only strengthened America's position vis-a-vis the world (for the first time since WWII the Soviet Union was a genuine ally of the US, for example.)
hey Elrod,

I guess its coming down to definitions. Any reasonable definition of the USA 'moving towards isolation' would present the USA becoming a pariah in the eyes of the world. (note that in my post, I agree that Robb was arguing for a movement towards isolation, even if the US had not become isolated yet).

You are absolutely right that support or sympathy for America's foreign policy usually hurts people in domestic politics. But despite that, I can't see the US on a course to pariahdom while sympathetic governments are being elected, or re-elected in Britain, Canada, Germany, Australia. No doubt these governments are being elected for many reasons other than foreign policy. But whatever motivates their vote, the stance of those they are electing doesn't support the argument that there is a slide to isolation underway.

I also think its valid to look not only at America's standing in opinion polls, but in its relationships with states. America (admittedly for many reasons) is forging improved relations with India, Japan and China. Despite widespread hostile opinion, many governments of non-trivial states still define their interests as necessitating a good relationship with the US. Again, an isolated state would not attract that pattern.

Its telling that in some parts of the world, even a candidate for election who exploits hostility to the US might feel compelled to sooth relations once in power – foreign policy and domestic politics run on different engines at times. There is too much at stake for some countries to treat the US as a pariah.

Your contrast with Bush the elder forming a global coalition against Saddam is an interesting one. Of course, in 1991 he was summoning support for a less controversial war (one sovereign state invading another, with the US and its allies intervening after the fact).

On the other hand, the US has managed to get formal UN approval, if not for attacking Saddam, at least for reconstruction in Iraq.

Clearly, as you say, there is wide scope for improving America's stature. Clearly, there are problems with the perception (and misperception) of the US in Latin America and the Middle East. Some of this is doubtless convenient fodder to be exploited by demagogues (eg Chavez), and I have argued elsewhere that anti-Americanism is as much to do with the dynamics of authoritarian governments deliberately deflecting blame and frustration towards the US as a scapegoat for internal failures. Nevertheless, it is a problem.

But I think that underlying the tempting explanatory framework of Kagan et al (eg. "Americans are from Mars, its critics are from Venus") there is a more profound identification with the US and its core values.

I actually think this is a good argument for a new configuration in world politics, a global alliance of liberal democracies, so that commonalities are brought to the fore and reinforced.
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