Friday, August 11, 2006

Police Success vs Military Failure

According to Simon Reeve, "al-Qaida has moved far beyond being a terrorist organization to being almost a state of mind." Inspired by the al-Qaeda state of mind, the British plane plotters moved forward on a major plot to bomb airlines without orders, assistance, or perhaps even meaningful contact with the al-Qaeda organization.

How does the U. S. and Western Europe combat the al-Qaeda state of mind? Is the war on terror a military war? A police war? A cultural war? A combination of all of these and more?

Currently, policing is the best thing that the Americans and British do. Airport security systems have to be given a lot of credit. Although airport security is far from impregable, it takes a significant effort on the part of occasional terrorist groups to breach airport security. Learning about explosives, acquiring the right kinds of explosives, figuring out how to get explosives through airport security, recruiting men and women for the operation and training them takes a great deal of time, energy, and coordination. The British terrorist plotters took over a year to get their plot together. Part of the reason that a couple of American groups have been arrested in the initial exploration stages, is that the initial exploration needed for terrorist attacks is pretty extensive.

American military initiatives have been counter-productive. The American military was well-equipped and trained to defeat Saddam Hussein's army. However, American politicians, administrators, and military forces were extremely ill-equipped to conduct a successful occupation and the results have been disastrous. Iraq's elected government is immobilized, the economy is almost prostrate, Sunnis and Shiites are in a protracted state of civil war, and Western Iraq has become a haven for global terrorists. The American occupation of Iraq has also further inflamed Muslim opinion throughout the Middle East and made the "al-Qaeda state of mind" worse rather than better.

Criticism from the left in the United States has focused on the blundering incompetence of the Bush administration and certainly the Bush administration has been systematically, even willfully, ineffective. At the same time, it is very doubtful that any part of the American political establishment is prepared to deploy American military, economic assistance, propoganda skills, and intelligence assets effectively as an instrument in the war on terror. Most American politicians, bureaucrats, and foreign policy specialists began their careers during the Cold War and have to devote much of their current energy to fighting partisan battles in the U. S. As a result, the American political establishment has a long way to go before it gets any kind of feel for the struggle with global terror.

The same is the case with the American military and intelligence apparatus. American military history, doctrine, and training has focused for the last fifty years on preparing for tank battles and dog fights with advanced enemy fighters. As a result, American armed forces were simply unprepared for defining and carrying out successful large-scale, anti-terror missions.

I don't believe that the situation in Iraq can be retrieved right now. However, the U. S. might begin to derive something positive from the Iraq misadventure if we came to realize how completely unprepared our political establishment is to combat the "al-Qaeda state of mind." Right now, the relative effectiveness of our policing is buying us time to figure out military, economic, and cultural approaches to fighting global terror that are not as counter-productive as the invasion of Iraq or blank-check support for the Israelis. We need to use that time effectively.

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