Yesterday, Condoleeza Rice was on Fox News Sunday, followed by Howard Dean. It was an opportunity to see and hear two diametrically opposing views on where we are five years into the War on Terror and to get a sense of how the Republicans and Democrats view the issues that 9/11 brought to our attention in such an unmistakable and undeniable way.
In watching Dr. Rice, a very bright woman who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, I was struck by how poorly she was able to articulate our current dilemmas. Almost immediately thereafter, watching Dr. Dean, a very bright man who I think has done a fair amount to degrade the level of discourse in our political life, I was struck by how incoherent his positions seemed to be.
I have been quite open about my disenchantment with the Democrats. I have been less critical of the Republicans, in part because I think they are more aware of the dangers we face. However, I think there is a problem plaguing both sides of the debate, which is difficult to engage and even more difficult to articulate.
We know now that since at least 1979, the world of Islamic radicalism, or Islamic fascism, or Islamic expansionism, or whatever we choose to call it, has been at war with the West, and most specifically with the Little Satan (Israel) and the Great Satan (America). We also know that since 9/11/01 we have been aware of this war and have begun to fight back.
I would suggest that if, after 5 years of being at war, we still cannot fully name our enemies, this likely represents a particular problem that has less to do with our ability to be clear and precise and more to do with the nature of our enemies, and therein lies a problem.
Looking around the blogopshere and the MSM, there are several different ways people conceptualize this war.
There are those who atomize the problem into a number of discrete elements that can be dealt with in conventional and time tested manners. They believe that al Qaeda is essentially a criminal organization with a religious patina which can be addressed by international coordination and policing.
Another way to imagine the enemy is as an inevitable outgrowth of Islam, based on the Koran; like the scorpion of the story who stings the frog and kills them both, it is in the nature of Islam to be violent. Certainly, Islam's "bloody borders" and lack of "moderate" center, offers an abundance of evidence to support this position, though I think it is an oversimplification.
Despite protestations from both sides, the Bush administration has attempted to act on a more nuanced model, in which we attempt to wage the war of ideas on the battlefield in Iraq. The belief is that if Iraq can be established as a functioning Democracy, with its government responsible to its people, Islam will be forced to encounter its own internal contradictions and will need to reform (or, to at least adhere to the Quietest school of Islam exemplified by Sistani.)
More sophisticated analyses point out that a major part of the conflict has to do with the emergence of relatively primitive cultures into contact with the modern world. The dislocation and humiliation created by the collision of primitive cultures with modernity engenders regression and chaos, and the violent externalization of the conflict via terrorism is an inevitable part of the process of acculturating one quarter of the world's population to the modern world. Since most indicators show that globalization is irreversible and continuing to increase despite 9/11 and subsequent terrorist acts, one can, in this view, feel relatively sanguine that the modern world will ultimately triumph over the 7th century.
I think that to a certain extent, none of the usual ways of thinking about terrorism, and Islamic terrorism in particular, can explain the particular existential dread that terrorism evokes. Whether we think of the war as a series of Small Wars (a la Max Boot), or an attempt to deny sanctuaries and the resources of nation states, or as merely police actions, there are several fundamental ways in which the current war differs from every other war we have been involved in; furthermore, these aspects will only get worse, possibly far worse, before things gets better.
The Modern World demands a very high level of cognitive ability in order to become a full participant. Modern economies are so wealthy that even the most limited people, with the most minimal skills and advantages, are able to live relatively well (fantastically well, in comparison to poor people throughout human history.) This means that if you are a young man with a limited education living in a developing country, even if you are literate and intelligent, you have almost no chance to join in the modern global economy. The most successful developing countries, like South Korea and Taiwan, had populations willing to work hard for their children's sake, accepting their own limitations, in order to ensure their sons and daughters the opportunity to go to school and become successful members of the burgeoning global economy. America has been particularly adept at accepting such "strivers" as new members and accepting their children as Americans. Too many other nations have been unable to accept the implicit trade-off of current status and deprivation for the adults in the interest of their children's future. There remains a very significant portion of the Islamic world that has clearly not yet accepted this trade-off, and is in denial that the trade-off is unavoidable.
A society with such a large population of young men who have almost no opportunity to obtain status in the global economy (which mean they can have only very limited opportunities for marriage, family, and children) but have the promise of high status in the present and future worlds through "Jihad" will find the option of religiously sanctioned violence hard to resist.
When you add into the mix that modernization, even the peripheral modernity found in the underdeveloped world (there are now ~2.5 billion cell phones on the planet), now offers the individual powers of destruction that dwarf what was available to armies in the past, the problem begins to come into focus. It is not only the US Army that promises to make you an "Army of One" but now Islamic Jihad offers the possibility of becoming a "Jihadi Army of One."
[Perhaps, more properly, we should recognize the enemy as "Jihadi Armies of One or A Few" but in the interest of brevity I will stick with "Jihadi Army of One" as the name of the enemy.]
During WWII, we had to defeat armies, and did. In the Cold War, we had to defeat Nation states espousing an antithetical ideology, and we were able to defeat Communism by showing that it doesn't work. In the current war, we need to defeat not only Nation states, but a "million armies of one", possibly 100 million "Jihadi Armies of One."
This is why the two sides of the debate at home are so confused. The Left and the Democrats are correct that by fighting back we risk changing a million "Jihadi Armies of One" into 100 million "Jihadi Armies of One." Yet if we don't fight back, we run the same risk! The alternatives for those 100 million young men is not between a job and family in a modern economy, but between high status and enhanced self regard versus humiliation and despair. In such a case, almost all are potential recruits for violent Jihad. We have already seen, on numerous occasions, young men, who would be derisively labeled as losers by most of their contemporaries, decide to form their own "Jihadi Army of One" to commit Jihadi acts of terror (Seattle's attack being the most recent.) Small Jihadi Armies are busy all over the world. Jeffrey Imm at the Counterterrorism blog reports on 9/11 and News Reporting on Jihadist Terrorism:
I have been collecting news on Jihadist terrorism every day for the past 4 years on a series of websites, but mostly on a news group for UnitedStatesAction.com, and for Counterterrorism Blog for the past year - scanning an average of 30 news sources per day for reports of Jihadist terrorism. When I first got started in September 2002, I found around 2000 stories per year by September 2003. By September 2004, this increased to 6400 stories per year, and by September 2005, this was 5460 stories per year. By September 2006, this is well over 7000 stories per year. Look for yourself on the website with these stories.
For the past year, September 2005 to September 2006, for the 7000 Jihadist terrorist stories, the titles, weblinks, and few word description alone for the stories on Jihadist terrorism represent nearly 900 pages - it is highly improbable that most Americans have seen or heard even 10% of these stories.
Here is the crux of the problem. There are approximately 1.3 billion Muslims on the planet, most of them members of third world societies that have failed in almost every way. They are colliding with the modern world in ways which enhance their marginalization and their feelings of humiliation. We desperately do not want the entire Muslim World to be our enemies, yet there is very little we can offer by way of inducement for them to join the modern world. Look at how this must sound to a young Muslim man:
Come join the modern world! You will lose your privileged position, lose your feelings of superiority over your women and the infidels who are so much more successful than you, and have to give up your belief that your religion is the only possible way to salvation. In return we will give you the crumbs that fall off our table and if you are very lucky, a job at McDonald's or Nike, so you can raise a family of children who will one day soon know more than you, stop listening to you, and will be embarrassed by you.
I am afraid the only way out for those young men is for their countries to become accountable. Yet the risk is that once they have the power, they will turn to the easy promise of Islam (which works so well in Iran) and we will have new enemies in possession of Nation states, to deal with. This is why we must stay in Iraq, no matter what, while at the same time recognizing that we could yet lose. It may be that Islam is incompatible with democracy. The increasing lethality of the individual means we do not have unlimited time to find out.