Friday, November 28, 2008

How Mumbai Indicts Iraq (Again)

Obviously, the horrifying attacks in Mumbai, India, continue to be in everyone's thoughts. It seems like the violence is winding down, but the repercussions are likely just beginning. India has faced terrorist violence before. But for some reason, this feels different. It was more organized, more coordinated, and (by the use of gunmen rather than bombs) more visceral than ever before.

Reading USA Today this morning, though, I was struck by how this attack really undermines a central component of how we've been prosecuting our war on terror.
Though it was unclear exactly who orchestrated the attacks, they appear to provide further evidence that the main battleground for Islamist extremists is shifting from Iraq, where violence has fallen dramatically this year, to the democracies of South Asia. Militants are inflicting heavy casualties on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, seizing control of territory from a fragile government in Pakistan and proving they can strike just about anywhere in India.

Some would look at this and say, "victory in Iraq"! And perhaps it is indicative of the fruits of American blood and iron in that country. But if so, so what? If the tangible impact of the Iraq war is simply to have terrorists shift terrain from Iraq to India, we've spent the last five years going in neutral.

The problem is one I brought forward in the very early days of this blog: the overemphasis on sovereign states as the arena for combating terrorists. This, I held, was misplaced, since the very nature of terrorist groups makes them transnational and relatively untied to traditional geographic borders. If we view al-Qaeda as seeking to disrupt the hegemonic power of the Western world (ideally to bring up a new Islamic counterweight), it can accomplish that through operations nearly anywhere in the world. Al-Qaeda could flee the field entirely in Iraq tomorrow, and it wouldn't accomplish anything if they merely reconstituted themselves in South Asia.

The signal of the Mumbai attacks is that we've been looking at the problem all wrong. Cowboy rhetoric of "force being the only language evildoers understand" notwithstanding, it is becoming more apparent that while force is necessary to react to terrorist violence, it is a relatively ineffective weapon for creating an offensive posture. We need to start looking into alternative strategies for stopping terrorist activity before it starts. That's an intelligence issue, in part, but (as much as conservatives hate to admit it) it also is a question of greater engagement with countries and peoples worldwide, and (perhaps more importantly) a greater commitment to inclusion in the world's bounty.

Iraq was the last gasp of the belief that American muscle, alone, could solve any problem. We went into Iraq with the deliberate view that we didn't have to account for any other place or any other people. This was where the terrorists were, we go in, we take 'em out, mission accomplished, let's go home. That has proven to be a fatal error in judgment. And the longer way take to learn from it, the more Mumbai's the democratic world will have to suffer.


Nebula said...

I completely agree with this. I don't really much else to say, besides, lovely analysis.

Also, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. : )

The Gaucho Politico said...

You would think that the people in charge of fighting a transnational group would be more in tune with the idea that focusing on a state level strategy would be a failure.

There also seems to be a reluctance to move to the type of strategy needed because it represents such a clear break with the past. Some of the same tensions between a large state level view and the more messy transnational non state group focus is evident in the discussion of Bob Gates at Defense. Apparently he has been advocating a shift in the military's focus away from the WWII and Cold War style grand battle to the smaller localized guerrilla conflicts. The military appears reluctant to embrace this view because it means less money for the big impressive weapons systems and is generally a big change.

PG said...

Your overall point is correct, but I think some of your underlying claims are a bit inconsistent or unfair.

We went into Iraq with the deliberate view that we didn't have to account for any other place or any other people. This was where the terrorists were, we go in, we take 'em out, mission accomplished, let's go home.

But we didn't go into Iraq to fight Al Qaeda, despite the misdirection of the Bush Administration (particularly through Cheney's pronouncements) on this subject. We went in to overthrow the existing government, which actually had kept out AQ but was hostile to us as well.

The "sovereign states as arenas for fighting terrorism" is a misplaced emphasis not only because of AQ's (and its imitators') flexibility, but also because we perceive some sovereign states to be our enemies nearly as much as we perceive Al Qaeda to be. The "Axis of Evil" was not Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah (or, had the speech been from an Indian perspective, Pakistani-sponsored Kashmiri separatists, Marxist Naxalites and Tamil Tigers), but Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

In other words, there seems to be a muddle in Bush's mind between the multinationalist terrorists and the nation-states that are not friendly to the U.S., which leads to confusion over what to think about Pakistan, which was led by a government that at its head was U.S-friendly, but has a military and intelligence service that was not.

Cycle Cyril said...

You've missed the boat.

But don't worry you're on the same dock as George Bush on this issue.

Both you and Bush have not formulated the full case against terrorism. First and foremost is our definition of our opponents. It is not simply al-Qaeda, but the totalitarian version of Islam that has been mainstream in Islam for the past 1400 years. Without a working definition of Islamofascism, which has been active in all the borders of Islam and beyond, it is difficult if not impossible to focus on the continued fight against it.

Islamofascism is decentralized and it is deeply hateful of all that is non-Islamic and its adherents are willing to die for their beliefs. Because it is decentralized their activities are not on the order of "Iraq is not a good site for action so let's hit Mumbai." It is “let’s hit wherever and whenever we can” to strike fear in the infidels’ hearts.

They are bond together by their ideology, which originated and to this day emanates from Saudi Arabia and has taken root in Pakistan and elsewhere, including the UK and even this country. They are not seeking to be included in the bounty of the world; they are seeking control of the world and dhimmitude for the infidels of the world.

Because Bush never truly identified the terrorists as Islamofascists (I believe he is well aware of them as Islamofascists and the magnitude of the problem but decided not to name them as such in order to placate the Saudis so oil can continue to flow and maintain political correctness) he has failed in one of the most important roles of a presidency – to accurately set an agenda and explain what and why we are doing in the world. Iraq in an ideal sense would have been the second blow, after Afghanistan, against Islamofascism but instead has the potential to revert in a few years to an Iranian influenced theocracy because of the lack of definition.

But I believe that you do not recognize the magnitude of the problem or the motivation of Western civilization’s opponents. They do not want recognition of any injustice or lack of wealth but they seek supremacy for totalitarian Islam. Your line of “a greater commitment to inclusion [of Islamofascists] in the world’s bounty” clearly indicates that you think of them as victims, the result of an unjust and inequitable world economy, and that you believe negotiations with them can work. And if you think you can just work with the “moderate Moslems” to marginalize the Islamofascists you are blowing smoke because this has never worked in the long run without force to eliminate the Islamofascists.

Further you need to realize that large operations as just occurred in Mumbai are very difficult to do without the resources of a nation state that is actively given or at least the passive assistance of a nation state or portions of a nation state as implied by PG. Thus turning a state that coddles Islamofascists into one that conquers them is vital. But this requires identifying their ideology and formulating a counter-ideology.

David Schraub said... Let's say I concede you accurately identify the ideology motivating Islamic terrorists (and -- really straining here -- concede that countries like Hussein's Iraq are properly grouped in this metric -- despite the fact that Iraq was a secular state with a pan-Arabist Ba'athist vision strictly at odds with groups like al-Qaeda, who detest them). I'm not convinced you do, but let's grant it. It doesn't challenge a whit of my analysis, because the number of people who are ideologically committed to the vision you're laying out is quite small. Not nobody, but small.

What makes terrorist groups (of any ideological orientation) dangerous is two things: First, that they can do a lot of damage with relatively little resources or preparation, and second, that they can attract sympathy from groups who are not necessarily ideologically aligned but nonetheless have grievances against the prevailing order (see, e.g., the popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah that flows from their social service programs. If ideology was all that mattered, they could be politically secure simply by chanting "death to Israel" a lot. But they know that the average person -- even if they dislike Israel -- doesn't want to dedicate their life to apocalyptic war projects. You get them on-board by offering them something tangible. And when they lose that carrot -- as Hamas has in the wake of it turning Gaza into a civil war state -- the support dries up).

The "inclusion" argument helps fight against the second terrorist danger -- its appeal to peripheral populations who aren't ideologically committed to slaughtering the infidels, but see no future in buying into Western democratic capitalist norms. It isn't negotiation with terrorists, it's competition for the key population demographics that are ideologically apathetic to either side. We don't have to assert "terrorists are really victims" to admit that terrorism flows from a global order in which a significant chunk of the world's population is being victimized. And, contra your insinuations, it is not an aversion to calling terrorism evil that forestalls the sane amongst us from labeling the entire Muslim world as savage terror-mongers. It's a realistic notation of how people think and behave, namely, that the nature of radicalism means that few are radicals.

Choke off terrorist support to only the true believers, and suddenly the terrorist camp is a lot smaller. And terrorist attacks are only "cheap" so long as manpower is plentiful. You can't keep launching suicide attacks if you've only got 20 people in your camp. And even non-suicide attacks (bombings and the like) are much riskier the fewer expendable persons you have.

The difference between my vision and yours is that, while I analyze terrorist activity in a truly systematic fashion, recognizing that most people are relatively apolitical and not interested in massive apocalyptic combat, you're blinded by your need to see all brown Muslim people as essentially sub-human brutal others who lust for bloodshed, and thus primarily terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Since "they" (basically all Muslims, or really all non-Westerners) are impossible to reason with, they must be destroyed. I, not burdened with such unwarranted and racist presuppositions, can actually examine the problem root and branch.

PG said...

Cyril, I recommend that you learn a bit about the history of Islam in India before you make vast over-generalizations about the significance of the Mumbai attack.

In particular, you seem to have completely missed my point about the distinction between nation-states and multinational terrorist groups, and how the Iraq hawks did their best to muddle that distinction, as well as the difficulties created by a difference between the sentiments of the head of a nation and those of his underlings and voters.

Moreover, the "large operations" in Mumbai appear to be the work of an AQ imitator group, not one tied to Pakistani military/intelligence.
The attack was extremely low-tech and upon non-political, cultural targets. Contrast with the 2001 attack on Parliament, in which the terrorists obtained Parliament and Home Ministry security sticker for their cars in order to enter through the VIP gate and avoid the normal screening, with the Mumbai attacks in which the terrorists simply rushed the buildings with guns blasting.

The difference in targets also is significant, with the Chabad center the most notable. Muslim violence in India normally is politically driven and thus has had no reason to be directed toward Jews, who are politically irrelevant in India. By attacking Jews, these terrorists are signaling their ideological alliance with Middle East-based terrorism -- this is a break from the historical pattern of the local Hindu-Muslim feud. I think it's quite unlikely that these terrorists had assistance from anyone high up in any government.

It's also frankly annoying to see conservatives suddenly taking terrorism in India seriously now that it has an Al Qaeda resemblance and thus threatens people other than Indian Hindus. There were more casualties in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings, yet nothing like this level of interest, particularly from right wing bloggers. Ross Douthat at least has the grace to acknowledge this gap.

Cycle Cyril said...


I resent you calling me names; it indicates a closed mind unable to think and argue and I would never have thought you would sink to such a low level for nothing I’ve said is racist. But then again if you keep this up you would fit right in with academia.

Moslems do not constitute a race and my statements concerning them can and do apply to any race. My statements reflect their thinking, their ideology, their words currently as taught in their schools of learning and as practiced, when they could, over the past 1400 years. If you don’t like the words I used then direct your attention to those who formulated them and don’t attempt to minimize me.

Those who act on their Islamofascist beliefs are in the minority. But even one percent of 1.5 billion people is a huge number and surveys suggest a number in the range of 5 to 10 percent. But just as importantly are the supporters who provide moral, ideological and financial support which range upwards to over 50% as indicated in several surveys done in the UK.

Your desire to eliminate terrorism via “inclusion” in the bounty of the world is politically correct but fails in the real world. If “inclusion” is so important to eliminate terror then “exclusion” should be a factor in terrorism; and yet terrorism, for the most part, occurs on the borders of Islam and not elsewhere. You need to ask what is different about Islamic nations. You need to examine the roots of Islam to understand the branches of Islam.

And examining and understanding the “root and branch” of Islam is necessary to fight their ideological war. We have no countervailing ideology because we, as a nation and civilization, have not, on a political level, identified their ideology. This is and will be a major hindrance in fighting Islamofascists and moving those who could be moderate into a vocal moderate majority.


The Mumbai terrorists’ origins have yet to be determined let alone what if any assistance they received. While their attack did not require sophisticated arms it did require sophisticated planning. They initially attacked transportation hubs, medical centers and a police station in order to create chaos and slow response time. They then went to their primary targets. As always their targets are any and all infidels. Initial reports indicated they may have had a police vehicle to travel in an indication of very good planning or amazing luck on their part, though this report may possibly be a result of the “fog of war”.

And I am quite aware of Islamofascists attacking in much of the world including India and the fact that in separate incidences since the beginning of this year several hundred people have died in India due to terror attacks. And yes, those who do not see Islamofascism as a threat to the entire world and not just to the West need to open their eyes.

As for the Jews attacked at the Chabad house it is not a signal of an ideological alliance with Middle East based terrorism but in accordance with the precepts of Mohammed who cursed the Jews when they rejected his theology.

PG said...

As for the Jews attacked at the Chabad house it is not a signal of an ideological alliance with Middle East based terrorism but in accordance with the precepts of Mohammed who cursed the Jews when they rejected his theology.

Sigh. This is why I doubt that you've actually taken much interest in the terrorism affecting India up until now. You seem to believe this attack is typical of prior attacks -- IT ISN'T. Can you find me a single instance of a prior attack by Muslims in India that targeted Jews? Your insistence that all attacks by Muslims are just some form of following Islam makes you sound very ignorant. Prior attacks have been essentially political. India's Parliament, though it might disturb you to hear of it, includes Muslims (as well as Sikhs and other members of religious minorities, despite the fact that Sikhs assassinated Indira Gandhi). An attack on Parliament would endanger and kill Muslims as well. The point of that terrorism was not to attack on the basis of religion, but on politics. Your desire to see only a Muslims-versus-the-world battle doesn't fit with how terrorism has occurred in India.

PG said...


that in separate incidences since the beginning of this year several hundred people have died in India due to terror attacks

When those numbers are calculated, they aren't solely based on attacks by "Islamofascists." You simply don't seem to grasp the variety of terrorists India has. In Andhra Pradesh, for example, you're much more likely to be victimized by Naxalite terrorism than by Islamic terrorism. In other parts of the country, the Tamil Tigers are the most likely threat. Robert Pape even pointed this out to Westerners several years ago, but conservatives antagonistic to Muslims find it convenient to ignore such nuances (as usual).

JohnKanaka said...

Terrorism is a cancer on society- and the problem is, we essentially resected more healthy tissue than cancerous- it has gone lymphatic and we need to approach it over all rather than microtargeting.