Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Law Enforcement and the War on Terror

In off-blog conversations about the Bush administration, I've argued that this presidency has, more than any Democrat, viewed the war on terror through a pre-9/11 mentality that emphasizes the importance of states rather than the non-state actors (IE: Al-Qaeda) that actually threaten us. In both Sudan and Afghanistan, terrorist groups have shown that they can survive and thrive without a supporting state structure (both of those countries had, at best, anemic central governments not in control of the whole country). Hence, the policy of attacking states rather than attacking terrorists is counterproductive, as Al-Qaeda can just "stick and move," dodging recrimination as we get bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and whatever other states we decide to intervene in.

Now, Phillip Carter gives another area in which the Bush admin is looking at the war on terror through the pre-9/11 lens: It sees it as a law enforcement issue (Thanks to Kevin Drum). Obviously this is quite ironic, as one of the Bush campaign's key charges against Kerry was that he didn't see the war on terror as a war at all. But as Carter notes:
"I can't even count the times have we heard this administration said it was fighting a war against terrorism — not an intelligence and law enforcement endeavor. I think this critique hits the nail on the head. The Bush administration is waging a war on Al Qaeda. But it continues to use metrics better suited for law enforcement in measuring its success in that war. To date, the administration has not devised a grand strategy for measuring political, moral, economic or strategic progress against Al Qaeda, much less what victory might look like. And thus, we measure our success using crude metrics like the body count — something which is ananthema to most military planners today, but still used in the prosecutorial context by officials who measure their success by convictions and imprisonments."

Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's Bin Laden unit supports, remarking in The New York Times:
"I think Al Qaeda has suffered substantially since 9/11, and it may have slowed down its operations, but to take the two-thirds number as a yardstick is a fantasy.[...] To say that they have only one-third of their leadership left is a misunderstanding. That is looking at it from a law enforcement perspective. They pay a lot of attention to leadership succession, and so one of the main tenets of Al Qaeda is to train people to succeed leaders who are captured or killed."

I pointed out in reference to the Iraq insurgency that measures of success based solely on body count (either ours or theirs) are flawed and don't take into account the political realities of the ground situation. Unless we want to continue fighting this war into perpetuity, we need to win the war of ideas as well as the war on the ground. We could be killing 100 Al-Qaeda operatives a day, but if they can replace them as fast as we can kill them we aren't making progress. The Bush administration, by not creating a comprehensive strategy for winning the war (and by mucking up the closest thing they have to one: Democratizing Iraq and the Middle East), is making the world a more dangerous place and hampering the war on terror.

3 comments:

Randomscrub said...

While it does bother me that the administration has no defenition of what winning the war on terror actually means, I had always assumed that the entire point of attacking the states rather than the terrorists directly was so that they would run out of places to hide. Theses states harbored terrorists knowingly and willingly, and this administration has shown the world that doing so is not conducive to remaining in power. In addition to planting democracy in the middle east, we have shown other nations that if they do not try to root out their terrorists, eventually we will, and the government that allowed them to remain there will be toppled.

Jpnotnomoore said...

Please do not refer to them as insurgents. They are filthy terrorists! They are dogs.

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David Schraub said...

RS: The problem with that is twofold. 1) Terrorists have done a decent job hiding out even in countries we have a military presence in (Iraq and Afghanistan directly, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia indirectly). 2) We can't invade EVERYBODY. Unless we are willing to occupy the entire third world, there will always be places for which the terrorists to "hide," even if US presence is always enough to drive them out. I agree that democratization is a good longterm strategy (though not necessarily comprehensive), but the Bush administration is been mediocre, at best, in it's efforts to implement it in Iraq (we've done a surprisingly good job in Afghanistan, though that isn't complete either).

JP: Terrorists are a specific type of people who engage in tactics designed to, well, terrorize (suicide bombing, random attacks on civilians, etc). Not every insurgent is a terrorist, nor is every terrorist an insurgent. This isn't defending the insurgents actions by any means, but truth in rhetoric is important to me. I fail to see why the term "insurgent" is inaccurate. It's not like I'm calling them "freedom fighters" or anything.