Thursday, January 25, 2007

Caleb Carr on conflict analogy

military historian and novelist Caleb Carr writes to TMP:

Well, what we already know is that the Cold War is a bad one: Russia was an intensely centralized state, and the whole Reagan/Thatcher thing is, I fear, hogwash; the Soviets were absolutely imploding on their own, as evidenced by the fact that the people who thought we needed to do all those questionable things to bring them down still believed they had many years of fearsome strength left.
The problem is we really do have a slightly unique situation: you can't compare it to the uprising of a tribe or a group, because the connection among Islamic fundamentalists is religion -- but were not really fighting fundamentalism (if we were half the White House would be in Gitmo), what we're fighting is a BEHAVIOR, an aberrant belligerent tactic that has no precise precedents. What I suggested in my book were the examples of slavery, piracy, and genocide, all once staples of war, now considered either anachronisms or outright crimes and rarely seen. So we look to those examples and what do we get?
Here's the problem: we get tactics that CAN be fought militarily, that indeed MUST be, but that CANNOT be DEFEATED militarily -- because when you fight a behavior, the ultimate solution is not the defeat of its practitioners, it is convincing the world that the behavior itself is an abomination.
It is here that that Western Left, and now the Bush administration, have done so much damage: by trying to paint terrorism as the "force equalizer of the weak," the Left not only makes an absurd, self-defeating argument (for if it is the weapon of the weak, then the strong cannot by definition be terrorists, which the Left rightly claims they on occasion ARE), but makes it that much harder to rally public opposition by romanticizing it. And now Bush has played into this by failing to understand that the war against terror is, at heart, an ethical and not a moral struggle: that is, that what we are fighting is not "evil," are not the complaints of these people, but rather their methods. Even Osama has justifiable goals -- the removal of US troops from Saudi Arabia -- as do the Palestinians; but we now declare that we will not consider any such arguments until the terrorists change their behavior. But that will not happen, because their behavior is their existence, and the more you engage them militarily WITHOUT engaging them diplomatically (or rather engaging more responsible opposition groups) the more life you breathe into them, because LONG-TERM YOU WILL END UP DOING BAD THINGS, TOO. Al Qaeda's life blood is the struggle with the US; remove it, and they wither and die, and they know it; maintain it, and American forces will get so tired and furious that they will begin fucking up.
That's why Afghanistan was important: it was quick, it was in conjunction with indigenous groups on the ground, and it didn't give Al Qaeda time to redefine the conflict as they are trying (and to some extent succeeding) in doing in Iraq. We CANNOT have protracted campaigns in this war. We have to strike hard at those who strike at us, do what we can to help the friendlies, and get out; the democracy idea in Iraq was a disaster that will have no result any different from what the original RUMSFELD plan was (six weeks to handover), and had we been talking to the RIGHT people on the ground from the start -- i.e., Sistani -- we could have made it work. Bremer and Wolfowitz put the poison in Bush's ear, and the little man saw a path to greatness. He wanted to be Lincoln and free the slaves; and while there are similarities, as I say, to the fight against slavery, there aren't any exact parallels.
So where does that leave one? Searching in OTHER PLACES for answers. This is, unfortunately, the kind of war they understand in the East, the kind of war they've been fighting since ancient times. Machiavelli, as those who know KNOW, was a piker compared to Sun-tzu in the area of war, particularly when it came to understanding that war and diplomacy are inextricably interwoven: and Clausewitz, who is a God in America, was dead wrong, you don't stop negotiating and then start fighting, you MUST do both at once constantly. Doing so would have mitigated even the Second World War, or could have; but we never considered it.
We have to, now. Everyone's racing around trying to find "the War Model" that works for this situation, but my central point that there is NOT one -- not in the West, at any rate. Remember that the East has a good record of success against America: the only times we succeeded were when the enemy fought like us (Japan, Korea) or we fought like them -- in the Philippines, which MAY be one of the best hints we have to fighting this. (Certainly it is the unfortunate parallel in terms of what it did to American society.) The Vietnamese, on the other hand, as well as the Muslims thus far, have been able to put a modern spin on the ancient notion of how to deal with an enemy by reaching across his army and to his people, both with and without force; "the greatest general is he who wins wars without fighting battles"; and we don't have an answer, yet, because we're still violently searching for the Clausewitzian "center of gravity" in the enemy, without realizing that he has once again been clever enough to deposit that item within us.

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