Essentially, we are confronted with smaller scale version of the Cold War which went on for approximately a half century. The West faced a very real threat from the Soviet Union – I did not know a day of my life until 1989 which could not have brought a nuclear confrontation ending civilization as we know it. There were many battles in the larger Cold War fought throughout the world with a variety of different strategies – some very successful, some dismal failures and many were mixed bags of success and failures.
The Cold War also had no shortage of advocates of bad ideas. Our civil liberties were under constant threat not by Communists but by the leaders of our own country. There were advocates of first strikes against the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China with nuclear weapons. Many of the advocates of bad ideas were quite sincere people doing the best they could with their limited view of the world but others were political opportunists who used the situation for their own gain. There was no small amount of fear mongering by certain elements who accused those who questioned them as being naïve at best and traitors at worse. Any real threat that existed was not enough for these opportunists. If Communists did not exist, they would invent them.
You see. Nothing really has changed except the names of the players.
As the September 11th attacks and many incidents since then including a plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic tripped up by officials in the U.K. just a few days ago prove we do face very serious threats by individuals inspired by extremist movements emanating from the Middle East. But it is a mistake to see all these individuals and their organizations as one and the same as Al Qaeda. Success requires sophistication and multiple strategies using both hard power and soft power. Unfortunately, that is not what is coming from the Bush administration. No distinction is made between the multitudes of fighters in Iraq – they’re all terrorists and the only response is the military. There is no distinction made between Al Qaeda and Hezbollah that would help dealing with each. There is no distinction made between the former government of Iraq and the current governments of Iran and Syria and thus we are not on diplomatic speaking terms with them despite the important roles each, particularly Iran, play in Middle East politics.
It is as if there is a need to keep everything simple despite how destructive that is to American interests. A cynical person might wonder if this is why Osama Bin Laden has not been captured or killed yet.
Ernest Wilson believes the Bush administration thrives on the threat from Al Qaeda and for that reason presents an oversimplified interpretation of current events regardless of the evidence to the contrary. He wrote yesterday in TPM Café,
... Bush embraces Osama because it fits his broader policy purposes.He then makes the point for sensible policy recognizing the world as it is and using combinations of hard and soft power to engage in these different political struggles around the world.
The core policy prescription of this team is to build America’s power to project
its military, wherever and whenever the administration chooses to do so, in
order to be the world’s unmistakable superpower. In their universe, policy
success not only requires a strong military, but is virtually equivalent to a
strong military. The Law of the Hammer says ‘If all you want to use is a hammer,
then everything looks like a nail.” Al Qaeda fits the bill nicely as a handy
Invoking AQ also makes the Bush Team feel comfortable with a “One
Size Fits All” policy toward the world. They resist the necessary nuances of
differentiating among our many antagonists (and allies too, for that matter).
Lumping nationalist, anti-globalist, anti-Israeli, and anti-modernity forces
under one umbrella makes policy making a lot easier.
The better response is to recognize that terrorism and other anti-American
actions by non-state groups are rooted in a variety of local conditions and
local conflicts which intersect with global forces in a variety of ways. A more
sophisticated and effective foreign policy would do a better job of addressing
both the local conditions and their intersections with the global. A better
policy would draw on all the tools of statecraft, including international
institutions and allies, and rely less on the military. A better policy would
frame America’s current security dilemmas not just on the shaky cornerstone of
Al Qaeda and GWOT (i.e. the “Global War on Terror”) but would reframe our
national task as engaging in a global political struggle using all means at our
disposal against those forces who could do us harm, and to work with those
forces with whom we share interests and values.
You can read the entire article here.