Wednesday, August 01, 2007

# Posted 10:03 AM by Taylor Owen  

TOWARDS A PROGRESSIVE FP?: On a train from Rome to Venice, I just tucked into Samantha Power's review essay on the future of War on Terror in this Sunday's Times. Again, she shows why she a leading driver of an emerging liberal foreign policy position that deviates at once from the utopian militarism of neoconservationism, the isolationism of realism, and the dangerous reliance on Bush-bashing that dominates much of the left. Dare I say, she is working and thinking towards an emerging progressive foreign policy agenda.

The piece begins with a framing that is not always recognized. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Bush defined the War on Terror in srikingly broad terms. He did not confine the war to defeating Al Qaeda, but that it would begin with Al Qaeda, and “not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

The greater paradigmatic change, and the object of Power's ire, however, was not in this definition of the enemy, but rather in a redefinition of the mechanisms that should be used to defeat it. This redefinition, ostensibly designed to adapt to a new security environment, had four parts: the criminal justice approach to counterterrorism was being replaced by a military one; States were either with the US or against them; international institutions were seen as constraining factors that needed to be circumvented; and that the executive, in such a time of emergency, should be given the balance of power over the congressional and legislative branches of government.

So how has this worked out? By Power's assessment, rather poorly. Using Rumsfeld's metric for sucess ("Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?”), her conclusion is damning:
Leaked intelligence reports have shown that the answer is negative. The administration’s tactical and strategic blunders have crippled American military readiness; exposed vulnerabilities in training, equipment and force structure; and accelerated terrorist recruitment. In short, although the United States has not been directly hit since 9/11, we are less safe as a result of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, conduct and strategy.
But in her words, "criticizing the calamities of the last six years of American foreign policy has become all too easy. And it does not itself improve our approach to combating terrorist threats that do in fact loom large — larger, in fact, because of Bush’s mistakes."

I couldn't agree more, and therefore welcome what lies at the core of this piece - a broad stroke review of three texts that each in their own way help us begin to define this new toolbox:
We must urgently set about reversing the harm done to the nation’s standing and security by simultaneously reasserting the moral difference between the United States and Islamic terrorists and by developing a 21st-century toolbox to minimize actual terrorist threats. Several new books take up this
challenge, each addressing a different piece of the national security predicament. Together, they allow one to begin to define a new approach to counterterrorism.
The first book is the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, notably heavily influenced by David Patraeus. The manual is a response to the near complete lack of counterinsurgency capability in the US military following 9/11. What the manual suggests, is nothing short of revolutionary, and if implemented, I have no doubt would dramatically change the prospects for sucess certainly in Afghanistan, and possibly in Iraq. Powers aptly describes just why this manual is so dramatic:

The fundamental premise of the manual is that the key to successful counterinsurgency is protecting civilians. The manual notes: “An operation that kills five insurgents is counterproductive if collateral
damage leads to the recruitment of 50 more insurgents.” It suggests that force size be calculated in relation not to the enemy, but to inhabitants (a minimum of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents). It emphasizes the necessity of coordination with beefed-up civilian agencies, which are needed to take on reconstruction and development tasks.

The most counterintuitive, as well as the most politically difficult, premise of the manual is that the American military must assume greater risk in order to gather much-needed intelligence and, in the end, achieve greater safety. The emphasis of the 1990s on force protection is overturned by the assertion of several breathtaking paradoxes: “Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.” “Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is.” “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.”

Sarah Sewall, a former Pentagon official who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (and a close colleague of mine), has contributed an introduction that should be required reading for anybody who wants to understand the huge demands effective counterinsurgency will place on the military and the voting public. “Those who fail to see the manual as radical probably don’t understand it,” she writes, “or at least what it’s up against.”...

Military actions that cause civilian deaths, she argues, are not simply morally questionable; they are self-defeating.

The second book reviewed is Ian Shapiro's 'Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror', which urges for for a return to legitimacy as a central tenant of US foreign policy. Where as Patreaus sees local legitimacy as critical to mission success in counterinsurgency warfare, Shapiro sees international legitimacy as a required tool of the War on Terror. Both argue that sucess is nearly impossible without it.

While Powers is sympathetic to his position on the diffuse, as opposed to unified nature of the threat, (which he sees as a good thing), she is quick to highlight the gulf between the ability to actualize a new containment doctrine, and the aggressive position of the Bush Administration:
For containment to work, Washington needs to be able to deliver credible threats. The irony of Bush’s flawed approach is that it has exposed the limits of American enforcement tools, stretching military and financial resources beyond recognition. This has a doubly negative effect: it emboldens those who need to be contained, and it deters those we once might have counted on for help in doing the containing.
She also seems concerned that he is far too quick to dismiss, or at least minimise the threat of nuclear proliferation: "In fact, after six years of dishonesty and alarmism, it seems especially important — if challenging — to retain a capacity for grave, calibrated concern about the proliferation of nuclear aspirant states and their proud ties to terrorist networks."

If the new counterinsurgency doctrine strikes at the core of the identity, tactics and purpose of the US military, the third book reviewed, Talal Asad's 'On Suicide Bombing' challenges the core belief that there is a difference between the 'us' and 'them' cleanly delineated in Bush's post-9/11 world view.

Here Powers seems sympathetic to the call for greater cultural awareness, but falls short of endorsing Asad's moral equivalency. While she notes that "if you continue to believe (as I do) that there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective, you will indeed find “On Suicide Bombing” disturbing, if not always in the way he intends." Here, however, I don't think that recognizing the moral distinction oneself, and seeing that others do not, are mutually exclusive. The very fact that people who's families are killed by cluster bombs see no difference between them and suicide attacks, is highly relevant to the discussion of our counterterrorism tactics, whether we agree with it or not.

Finally, Powers looks to the US disaster preparedness status post 9/11 through a review of Stephen Flynn's 'The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation'. Here, she has little critique and seems as horrified as Flynn that so little has been done on this front:
By defining American security objectives in military terms, the Bush administration has failed to set achievable goals that could vastly decrease the human and financial damage from a large-scale attack at
home. While the United States military has done its best to adjust to the inadequacies recent conflicts have exposed, almost no meaningful midcourse corrections have been made on the homefront...not in educating the public, training emergency responders, fortifying “soft targets,” securing hazardous materials or strengthening critical infrastructure.
In Powers' somewhat schizophrenic assessment of these three works lies an encapsulation of the challenge facing liberals. She endorses the radical new counterinsurgency doctrine, but worries that it is simply too difficult to implement on the fly as it requires a complete institutional overhaul (it is one thing for Patreas to tell his commanders to take far greater risks, it is quite another for them and their soldiers to do so given the decentralized command structure.) She is sympathetic to Shapiro's breakdown of the terrorist threat, but seems to worry that a containment strategy marks a return to an isolationism she is loath to endorse. While she sees the relevance, and indeed necessity, of better cultural understanding, she is concerned with the end result of cultural relativism. In short, she lies in the middle on most of these debates. Her position is nuanced.

In these reviews, she is clearly articulating, if not explicitly, a moderate, and I would argue, progressive stance on US foreign policy.

Where she is undoubtedly correct, is that liberals and progressives cannot sit on the sidelines of these debates. Out of the criticisms of the Bush administration's counterterrorism record, a relatively large bulls-eye, MUST come a new strategy - both for Iraq and for the war on terror. I for one, think she is right.

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(15) opinions -- Add your opinion

Powers is the kind of liberal neocons like me can often agree with. Most of her observations are dead on, and her prescriptions, especially on the counter-insurgency end of things, couldn't be more convincing. But I find it deeply disturbing that she seems to embrace the 'blowback' theory of terrorism - that AQ, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad recruit because of a deep-seated resentment of past U.S. transgressions. In fact, most studies of actual suicide bombers themselves find that the ultimate motivating factors for recruitment lie in religious promises and a sense of life purpose not found anywhere else in their dysfunctional societies. Blowback is more aptly applied to insurgents, who are not the same as terrorists, and should be used to compliment Petraeus' counterinsurgency manual. It is true, then, that Sunni ex-Baathists and Shiite militias develop personal vendettas when collateral damage ensues. It is even more true that they go up in arms when a member of the opposing sect hurts their families. But Sunni and Shiite insurgents are not AQ operatives, and they do not have the same motivations.

The second point is about the Bush/Neocon approach to international institutions. It seems as if liberals like to take our "axis of evil" rhetoric and our violation of conventional UN protocol and conflate it into a cow-boy like anti-UN bravado. This is untrue. Neither neocons nor Bushies have been against working with the UN. We simply don't believe the UN, or multilateralism, or broad-based consensus, are ends in themselves. Rather, we see them as means to other ends. Bush demonstrated this by working through the UN first, going before the security council and making the case for war, all the while having observed a past 13-year precedent of kicked out inspectors, failed sanctions regime, and an oil-for-food imbroglio.
Mr. Owen,

You have hit the nail on the head on several points - risks of relativism/rationalization, schizophrenic policy, isolationism, etc.

Add to that a failure to recognize that public policy is a blunt instrument. Nuance can only go so far in directing the fall of the club. But you don't go the next step and acknowledge what the real world will do to such an approach.

A policy driven by such excessive analysis is almost certain to end up as paralysis - isolationism, relativism, and consequently passivity and an abandonment of the field to an energetic enemy.
Taylor, since you praise Ms. Powers' nuance, let me demand more of it from you. In your first paragraph, you refer to realists' isolationism. I'm no realist, but it is critical to recognize that realists believe strongly in international engagement while remaining skeptical of broad idealistic agendas.

I would also suggest that it doesn't accomplish much to refer to the "dangerous reliance on Bush-bashing" that supposedly preoccupies the left. But I'll let the liberals take you to task for that one.

Finally, equating neo-conservative policy with "utopian militarism" is a disservice to prominent neo-con intellectuals like Bob Kagan and many others.

When it comes to defining a new, progressive foreign policy, I've often found that progressives try to carve out a clear niche from themselves by reducing their competitors to simplistic caricatures. For example, Peter Beinart's book makes his centrism compelling by defining other schools of thought as extreme.

If progressive really want to break new ground, they have to see other schools of thoughts for what they are.

On a related note, the Army's new counterinsurgency manual is only revolutionary compared to the rather backward doctrine that has prevailed since Vietnam as a result of the American aversion to serious counterinsurgency. The content of the new manual is actually an application of classic principles of counterinsurgency to the American military's current situation.
The US did, actually, address the homeland security issue or issues in terms of securing vital assets.
However, by going through Congress, the entire thing turned to a pork train and little of use got done.

I am familiar with several important assets whose exteriors have been ramped up--with help from some first-rate landscapers you can't even tell--and have heard of others. What they've done inside or what they've done to crosslink with similar assets in case one goes down has not been released, so far as I know.
Problem is, as has often been said, harden one hundred targets and the terrs go after target one hundred and one. It's still a hit on us, an inconvenience ranging to a drop in GDP of some note, with casualties. But the major point is the terrs' proving they can do it whenever they want. Actually, they can only do it when they get lucky, but that's not how it's seen. The latter is the most important factor.
The fact is, we can not defend perfectly against terrs. Hardening targets is a good idea, but not a major metric. Given enough time, they can find something that hurts.
IMO, there should be some effort in educating the public that the terrs' occasional outrage doesn't mean the sky is falling. Convincing us it is is one of their goals.
"Neither neocons nor Bushies have been against working with the UN. We simply don't believe the UN, or multilateralism, or broad-based consensus, are ends in themselves."

Indeed. And further, we aren´t convinced that the UN should be seen as the sole source of legitimacy. Not with Robert Mugabe´s Zimbabwe on the Human Rights Committee and Tibet-occupying China wielding a veto.

Neoconservatism is criticised for being naively utopian. But there are few positions more naive or utopian than the strict attachment to multilateralism and unanimity, in a forum that treats brutal dictatorships as the sovereign equals of liberal democracies.
So, the fact that Al Qaeda doesn't care at all about civilian casualties and in fact maximizes them means they must be completely ineffective? After all, according to Powers' thinking, every civilian death they cause creates many counter-insurgents. Right?

Terror is not countered by niceness.
Robert. You've hit on an interesting issue.
If a crusader kills a terrorist, a couple of dozen friends and family are outraged and some even take action. That's the CW.

If, on the other hand, a terr kills a Muslim civilian----nobody's upset? That would have to be the corollary. It's such a stupid but necessary planted axiom that it has to be planted and not asserted where anybody might think about it.
I'm not sure whether it's your opinion or Power's, but you seem to say that the "with us or agin' us" policy toward states is a problem.

I disagree. Placing countries that support terrorists on notice that we're not going to pretend, is, on balance, a positive.

Libya is a good example of the effect of such a policy.
On realism: To a certain extent I agree. And I have often wrote that I am regularly nearly swayed by Walt's positions, on Iraq in particular. However, while realists obviously advocate for a degree of international engagement, they do so only in so far as it benefits US interests. It is also I believe fair to say that many, if not the majority of mainstream realists lean much further towards American isolationism that either liberal or neoconservatives who envision an activist role for the US in the world. Here I worry about an alliance of convenience between Republican realists and liberal Democracts coming out of the Iraq debacle. Both could be quite comfortable with period of American disengagement post-Bush.

On both the "dangerous reliance on Bush-bashing" and on neoconservatism as utopian militarism, I stand by both. On the former, I agree with much of what Nick Cohen argues. There is undoubtedly a widespread tendency on the left, particularly in continental Europe, to critique US foreign policy solely as a function of Bush. While I personally agree with much of this critique, I think many need to get over this anger and think towards the next administration. Regardless of how Iraq and Afghanistan have been managed to date, everyone needs to think seriously about how to do things differently, this in my mind should include liberals in Germany, France and California. If anyone feels this is unfair, liberals or otherwise, I would be please to debate further. Either way, I am not out on a particularly thin limb in pointing this out.

On the latter, if you can tell me how sending 150,000 ill trained and unprepared (for a decade-long nation building project) troops into the heart of the middle east with the long term ambition of democratizing an entire region through the use of force is not both utopian and militaristic, then I am all ears. While your choice of Kagan is interesting, yes, I would also include him in this group, if somewhat on the periphery.

On the radical nature of the US counterinsurgency manual, you may very well be right that many of these principles were around pre Vietnam, I would be interested to know if previous strategies went quite as far as this one, however, particularly in the area of civilian protection. Regardless, in contrast to the make-up, training, tactics and design of the current military, it is indeed a radical departure. One that I would question can be implemented mid-war.

ps. I have drafted a long-ish reply to your excellent three questions to my last post, which I will post asap.
Patreaus sees local legitimacy as critical to mission success in counterinsurgency warfare

I was under the impression that that theory was old in the time of Alexander the Great.

If this idea is new to us, it is a wonder we have not already lost.
"On the latter, if you can tell me how sending 150,000 ill trained and unprepared (for a decade-long nation building project) troops into the heart of the middle east with the long term ambition of democratizing an entire region through the use of force is not both utopian and militaristic, then I am all ears. While your choice of Kagan is interesting, yes, I would also include him in this group, if somewhat on the periphery."


What a reductionist caricature of neocons!
1. I'm glad you noted correctly that the hope for democracy was a long-term ambition. That makes all the difference, because long-term ambitions for a democratic middle east are not all that utopian, unless you want to take the eurocentric line that the Arab world is somehow unfit for democracy. "militaristic," however, is an improper adjective to describe the effort. There is nothing "militaristic" about the long-term effort as a whole when the entire purpose of the invasion was to set a model of emulation and inspiration for peaceful democratization. Never was there this intention of uprooting every dictatorship by force, one by one, with guns and missiles. And it is neither militaristic nor utopian to think that, had a stable fledgling democracy been achieved in Iraq, that there wouldn't be some significant movements within the Arab world, notably in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Shiite rival Iran, towards democratic reform.

2. On the 150,000: I'm not exactly what you mean by the exact numbers. Are you implying that they weren't enough for a 10-year project? If so, many neocons agreed with you. Neocons like the Kagans, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, and Richard Perle all called for a larger post-war force from the beginning. The Standard was calling for troop increases beginning in 2004, along with increased pressure to for Rumsfeld's head (and his "light footprint" strategy). Nor was this view utopian: the very generals who rebelled against Rumsfeld had all believed in a larger occupying force, and many military experts believe that if the surge fails today, it will be because we didn't implement it when we had the chance - notably 2004-2005.

3. The fundamental flaw you can ascribe to the neocons is perhaps their overinvested faith in the Bush administration. But in general, why do we view and judge an entire school of thought by the standard of Iraq? Is that fair? One can argue that the realists under Bush Pere got Gulf War I terribly wrong when they left a murderous and dangerous dictator back into power, and when they opposed many successful humanitarian interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo (just as the neocons, along with liberals, supported these efforts). And yet we don't measure realist success or failure as an ideology because of these blunders, nor do we dismiss their opinion leaders because of these past failures. Let's apply the same standard, then, to neocons.
Taylor Owen.

If I am following the thread correctly, you refer to the US military as 150,000 troops ill-trained to build democracy.

Who is well-trained to build democracy? Who is better trained? Where is the Academy for Building Democracy?

State? Nope. As one Saudi prince said, if we take care of our friends when they're retired, we'll have more friends who are working. I'd sure like to see some forensic accountants take after some high-ranking State retirees.

Building democracy requires a number of things, security first. It requires infrastructure to be built, maintained, and repaired.
Who, besides Halliburton supported by Blackwater, is going to do that?

AFAIK, nobody is trained to build democracy. But, of all our institutions, the military is best suited. And, given the difficulty of building democracy, it would be problematic to say the military isn't doing it better than any other institution can.

Fact is, when a lowly second lieutenant, I was required to take a course in hearts and minds which included low-level institution building. That meant helping the nearest ville get stable and supporting the power structure, and seeing that the Joe Shit the Ragpicker, and Mrs. Shit, and all the little Shits got their needs attended to, so far as the resources were available, and that the locals listened to them. It's a start.

The idea that the military isn't trained for this is probably the result of being confused by all the big booms the military makes.
Powers' piece turns out a rant. Pity she has done some homework. Trouble is she has not defined the enemy and its motives, techniques etc. She has told the story from only one side like Thanksgiving without the Indians.I wish Powers would go out on a night patrol and visit with the hostiles. That might add some realism to her fervor. David Kenney
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