Friday, September 22, 2006

The President is Losing the War on Terror - Singlehandedly

What did the Pentagon really think of the “War on Terror” as long ago as September 2004?  Were they in full agreement then with the Bush Administration and what has happened since?

Why speculate?  The following is an excerpt from the Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication” dated September 2004, from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Washington, D.C. 20301-3140 (

Our thorough inability to grasp the final dynamic changes that led to the end of the Cold War should be unsettling to us, but after all, the outcome was also a total victory.  So the Cold War template was almost mythically anointed in the decade before 9/11.  Thus, with the surprise announcement of a new struggle, the U.S. Government reflexively inclined toward Cold War-style responses to the new threat, without a thought or a care as to whether these were the best responses to a very different strategic situation…

But this is no Cold War.  We call it a war on terrorism¯ but Muslims in contrast see a history-shaking movement of Islamic restoration.  This is not simply a religious revival, however, but also a renewal of the Muslim World itself.  And it has taken form through many variant movements, both moderate and militant, with many millions of adherents of which radical fighters are only a small part.  Moreover, these movements for restoration also represent, in their variant visions, the reality of multiple identities within Islam.

If there is one overarching goal they share, it is the overthrow of what Islamists call the “apostate” regimes: the tyrannies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, and the Gulf states.  They are the main target of the broader Islamist movement, as well as the actual fighter groups.  The United States finds itself in the strategically awkward — and potentially dangerous — situation of being the longstanding prop and alliance partner of these authoritarian regimes.  Without the U.S. these regimes could notsurvive.  Thus the U.S. has strongly taken sides in a desperate struggle that is both broadly cast for all Muslims and country-specific.

This is the larger strategic context, and it is acutely uncomfortable: U.S. policies and actions are increasingly seen by the overwhelming majority of Muslims as a threat to the survival of Islam itself.  Three recent polls of Muslims show an overwhelming conviction that the U.S. seeks to “dominate” and “weaken” the Muslim World…

But if the strategic situation is wholly unlike the Cold War, our response nonetheless has tended to imitate the routines and bureaucratic responses and mindset that so characterized that era.  In terms of strategic communication especially, the Cold War emphasized:

• Dissemination of information to “huddled masses yearning to be free.”  Today we reflexively compare Muslim “masses” to those oppressed under Soviet rule.  This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies — except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends.

• An enduringly stable propaganda environment.  The Cold War was a status quo setting that emphasized routine message-packaging — and whose essential objective was the most efficient enactment of the routine.  In contrast the situation in Islam today is highly dynamic, and likely to move decisively in one direction or another.  The U.S. urgently needs to think in terms of promoting actual positive change.

• An acceptance of authoritarian regimes as long as they were anti-communist.  This could be glossed over in our message of freedom and democracy because it was the main adversary only that truly mattered.  Today, however, the perception of intimate U.S. support of tyrannies in the Muslim World is perhaps the critical vulnerability in American strategy.  It strongly undercuts our message, while strongly promoting that of the enemy.  (End excerpt.)

The above is as non-ideological a look at the “War on Terror” as is possible from a Pentagon group.  And indeed, it is hard to argue that the War on Terror” is seen quite differently by the Bush Administration and many if not most Muslims around the world.

The complexity is deep.  For example, it is absolutely true that US support helps keep such non-democratic and non-free governments as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, etc. in power.  Unfortunately it is also true that such Islamic states as Iran and Sudan and Somalia operate without US support and enslave their Muslim populations as badly as or worse than the US-supported ones.  Why then, is not Iran also a target of Muslim discontent in the same way that the US is?  The answer that is avoided is that religious bigotry is deeply ingrained.  This is characteristic of nearly all religious groups.  The US is not forgiven while Iran or Saddam Hussein of Iraq is – almost.

Almost?  Yes, there is dissent among moderate Muslims against Islamic governments such as the Ayatollah’s Iran and the House of Saud.  But radical Islamists use religion in much the same way the American politicians use it – to gain support while working against the interests of everyday people in the here and now.  If peace and stability and prosperity are what one wants, the answers do not lie in religious fundamentalism.  However if one wants to go to heaven or paradise, religious fundamentalism is exactly what one wants: The irrational want paradise.

This kind of understanding and analysis is not the strong point of the Bush Administration.  In fact, such analysis is eschewed to this day.  Instead simplistic answers are sought and if they’re not found, they’re created.

If the US does not behave as if it understands the problem, the chances of solving the problem decrease.  Muslims logically see support of non-democratic tyrannies as hypocritical.  They are correct in this view.  They see one-sided support of Israel over the interests of everyday Palestinians as an example of bias, and they’re probably correct again.  The lives of ordinary Palestinians are as important as anyone else’s lives.

But the final piece of the puzzle, overlooked or unstated even in the Pentagon report cited here is religious bigotry.  It’s not as if religious fundamentalists have a vision of freedom and democracy in their minds.  No, they seek the tyranny of their vision of God, one that usually hates women and infidels, and cannot compromise.  Any strategy that does not seek to promote the moderate voices of Islam, or foster an Islam Reformation or better yet, Enlightenment, will not do well.

Ultimately it seems that the worst thing that the US could have done in the “War on Terror” was to attack a basically unarmed country, Iraq, when the option of continued inspections was still available.  Infidels (e.g.: the U.S.) are given absolutely no slack in such a situation.  Perhaps President Bush was able to explain his way out of it to the American Voting Public, but he has failed miserably in changing the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world, and his war of words with Iran is going similarly poorly – witness the reaction of Iran’s President at the UN recently.

Winning hearts and minds: what other goal is there in the so-called “War on Terror?”  Obviously, Bush is losing this “war.”

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