Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Tables Are Turning

So says this Boston Globe thumbsucker by anti-militarist professor Andrew J. Bacevich.

Despite a massive American and Israeli technological edge, including nuclear arsenals, mounting evidence suggests that the age of Western military ascendancy is coming to an end. Muslim radicals have evolved an Islamist way of war that is as complex as it is cunning. As a consequence, in and around the Persian Gulf the military balance is shifting. The failures suffered by the United States in Iraq and by Israel in southern Lebanon may well signify a turning point in modern military history, comparable in significance to the development of blitzkrieg in the 1930s or of the atomic bomb a decade later.

I'm treating him seriously because he actually offers an alternative. But his five-point plan for an alternative to the "War on Terror" is oddly contradictory and incomplete.

First, terminate actions that are self-evidently counterproductive, above all by extricating ourselves in an orderly way from Iraq.

Ignores the enormous psychological boost that would give to the jihadis. Ignores the oil wealth and power they would derive from taking control of most of Iraq. Ignores the many friends and allies we still have there; people who have staked their lives and families on us meaning what we said and intending to deliver on our promises. Who ever would trust us again? The only thing worse for us than being stuck in Iraq now is getting out now.

Second, revive in modified form the Cold War principles of containment and deterrence, incorporating explicit security guarantees for Israel, much as the United States has long guaranteed the security of Europe, Japan, and South Korea.

Security guarantees against what? Containment of what? The Soviet Union was a geographically defined nation state, with a conservative leadership and a population that could be held hostage by nuclear terror. I've been to West Berlin. The Eastern Block had a "there" to it. On this side of the street, you're in it; on that side, you're not. Where's the "there" to Islamist jihad? It's in an apartment in Madrid or Paterson. It's not in the apartment next door. How do you "contain" something as fluid as air?

Bacevich seems to be guilty of the same offense he accuses the U.S. administration of committing: Failing to adjust its thinking to account for a new kind of enemy.

Third, initiate a new Manhattan Project to develop alternative sources of energy, thereby increasing US freedom of action and reducing the flow of wealth to the Persian Gulf, wealth that ends up subsidizing the Islamist cause.

How I wish. But we're not at the point where that would do any good. Science just doesn't work like that. Manhattan Project came along when the new energy source had been discovered and described and defined, and all that left was a massive motivation of money and manpower to bring it to fruition. That's the point at which a government push can be helpful. That's not where we stand with alternative energies.

Fourth, through police action, in collaboration with our allies, redouble efforts to dismantle the organizations comprising the radical Islamist network.

Hard to know what he means here. Does he mean international military "police actions," a la Afghanistan? Or Interpol type work? Either way, there are formidable unaddressed problems. Taking him to mean the second, there are vastly different rules of evidence and procedure between, say, Britain and America. And the inevitable entanglement of terror-prevention police work and civil liberties already is an open can of worms.

Fifth, patiently nurture liberalizing tendencies within the Islamic world, not by preaching or threats of regime change, but by demonstrating at home and inviting Muslims abroad to witness, the manifest advantages of freedom and democracy.

Ah, idealism! But the most bitter and committed Islamists, from Qutb to Atta, have been exactly those who lived and studied in the West and observed its triumphs and temptations up close.

Bacevich dodges the difficult problem of the role of mass-media in the terrorists' strategies. He gets as close to it as he dares when he writes, "But resistance also includes ... propaganda designed for internal consumption and propaganda intended for foreign audiences." And then at once veers away from this central component of the Islamist war against the West.

I agree with Bacevich that the water we're all in probably is a lot hotter than we realize. We've got what the Japanese of the 1940s later ruefully termed "Victory Disease." We might lose. And the consequences of that would be terrible. Anti-war people seem to think this push-back against Islamism all could be done better and smarter with less work, less sacrifice, less difficulty, fewer ugly pictures in the nightly news. Unfortunately, the opposite likely is more true.