by Mike McGlothlin firstname.lastname@example.org
The human guided missiles that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were, contrary to many confusing comments, military attacks on the United States. These attacks were also very effective. And despite the refrain that "everything is different now," in significant ways things are not different, they have just been rudely and expansively clarified. One of the most overlooked aspects is that the actions on September 11 were not the opening attacks, as in Pearl Harbor, only the latest and the most lethal in an ongoing war against the United States, stretching back to at least 1979. What is different now is that America has been rudely awakened (again) to the existence of this war, and confronted with the reality that action must be taken to win it, since it will not just "go away."
The people of the United States probably now realize that it must win the war that the terrorists have long been waging against them. And the recent rude consciousness of this reality has unfortunately, but typically, engendered many comments regarding the nature of the conflict, particularly that it is a totally "new" war or a "different kind of" war "unlike any other" that the United States has fought. And while this is superficially correct in some obvious ways, it is essentially incorrect in its most fundamental sense: it is a war.
When George W. Bush, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld advise the public that there are no easily identifiable states (supposedly) or enemy orders of battle (armies, navies, air forces, military bases, arms factories, etc.), they inevitably do so in order to make known the difficulty of grappling with the enemy that "lurks in the shadows." This is what they mean by fighting "a new kind" or "different kind" of war. Rumsfeld wrote (supposedly) in an op-ed piece to the New York Times shortly after the attacks that:
…the truth is, this will be a war like none other our nation has faced…this war will not be waged by a grand alliance united for the single purpose of defeating an axis of hostile powers…instead, it will involve floating coalitions of countries, which may change and evolve…countries will have different roles and contribute in different ways…some will provide diplomatic support, others financial, still others logistical or military…some will help us publicly, while others, because of their circumstances, may help us privately and secretly…in this war, the mission will define the coalition -- not the other way around…this war will not necessarily be one in which we pore over military targets and mass forces to seize those targets…instead, military force will likely be one of many tools we use to stop individuals, groups and countries that engage in terrorism…the uniforms of this conflict will be bankers' pinstripes and programmers' grunge just as assuredly as desert camouflage.
This is probably a precise description of how the administration sees the outlines of this new war. The problem is that while this superficial description is accurate, it ignores the underlying fact that "war is a continuation of policy by other means."
Yes, old Carl von Clausewitz. No doubt the reader is already sick to death of reading that phrase, jammed in wherever punditry rears its head, too often without rhyme or reason. Yet rather than now move on (and jam in a quote by Sun Tzu), it is necessary to examine not just the meaning of that over-quoted phrase, but to see if the foremost philosopher of war can provide a more accurate intellectual framework for understanding what kind of situation the United States finds itself in, and more particularly, if its leaders understand that situation. So, just as the careful reader might turn to Susan Sontag to gain knowledge about the nature of art and criticism, or Noam Chomsky to understand language, Clausewitz can clarify and expand the reader's knowledge about a most significant collective activity—war.
Clausewitz's philosophical tome On War is the standard of thought about war. Unfortunately, even though it is a much clearer philosophical work to understand than say, Kant's works, it is more complex than most of its audience can muster, due mainly to the fact that most of its audience has usually been made up of soldiers, who are generally unused to wading through philosophical works, through both training and inclination. And very few others read Clausewitz. For the careful reader of philosophy, On War should not present many difficulties.
The Nature of War
As the quote above indicates, Clausewitz defines war as "policy by other means," but that is not the only understanding or definition of war that he makes. Clausewitz, like any good philosopher, starts off by defining his terms, and then expanding them. Hence, the basic definition is that "war is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will." And the nature of it is such that since "war is an act of force, the emotions cannot fail to be involved." These emotions lead to "the impulse to destroy the enemy, which is central to the very idea of war." Therefore, "there is no logical limit to the application of…force." He calls this "the first extreme." And since war is an act of force to overcome our enemy, it is a match of "effort against his [the enemy's] power of resistance, which [is] the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will.
However, this philosophical description is a little abstract from the "real world," and Clausewitz realizes this. He understands that "war is never an isolated act," that is to say, it does not follow the strictly logical course of his abstract theory, because real war is constrained by myriad factors; "the probabilities of real life replace the extreme and the absolute required by theory."
The Political Object of War
Clausewitz's most enduring and most important contribution to political philosophy is his clarification that wars are fought for political purposes. "Force—that is physical force, for moral force has no existence save as expressed in the state and the law—is thus the means of war; to impose our will on the enemy is its object." So while most of his philosophy is concerned with the nature and means of force, absolutely the most important aspect of war is to determine the political object, what is it "our will" would impose on the enemy. From that determination, all else flows.
Clausewitz describes many aspects to understanding the political object. "The political object—the original motive of the war—will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires," (this certainly must be kept in mind and its implications will be examined, in the context of this "new" war). And while "sometimes the political and military objective is the same…in other cases the political object will not provide a suitable military objective." Additionally, "the same political object can elicit differing reactions from different peoples, and even from the same people at different times." Clausewitz warns that "the more modest your own political aim, the less importance you attach to it and the less reluctantly you will abandon it if you must…this is another reason why your effort will be modified."
War is a Serious Means to a Serious End
After outlining his theory, Clausewitz warns that war "is no pastime" or "place for irresponsible enthusiasts," but rather "it is a serious means to a serious ends." The reader cannot quibble with this, and this reality perhaps leaves a metallic taste in the mouth when considering U.S. national leadership. Clausewitz notes that "when whole communities go to war—whole people, and especially civilized peoples—the reason always lies in some political situation, and the occasion is always due to some political object…war, therefore, is an act of policy." He goes on to say that if war were "a complete, untrammeled, absolute manifestation of violence (as the pure concept would require); it would drive policy out of office and rule by the laws of its own nature, very much like a mine [exploding]…". And so while "war is a pulsation of violence," it "does not imply that the political aim is a tyrant…it must adapt itself to its chosen means, a process which can radically change it [the political object itself]; yet the political aim remains the first consideration." In short, war is no place for neophytes or shallow pates, it is often modified both by the political end to which it strives, and the means used to achieve those ends. These two factors work in conjunction, and react with each other. But in the beginning, and in the end, it is the political objective that is the most important factor.
War is Merely The Continuation of Policy by Other Means
The reader can "…see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means…what remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means." In summation, "the political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose." Politics exists on a continuum of intercourse, and war is a means (violence) on that continuum. War, due to its nature, however, has its own characteristics, that can modify the ends of politics, frequently in unpredictable ways.
What is The Political Objective of This "New" and "Different" Kind of War?
Now that it is clear that war is a means to achieve a political end, the reader must examine perhaps the most important statement that Clausewitz makes about this: "No one starts a war—or rather on one in his senses ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it." In the light of this statement, which in commonsense language reiterates the most important features of Clausewitzian theory, the shallowly explained but repetitiously asserted "new" and "different" war does not seem to stack up so well. The United States did not start the current "new" and "different" kind of war, but it is engaged in it. The question remains, what is the political objective?
Examined through the Clausewitzian lens, it is clear that the terrorists have been at war with the United States, but the United States has not been at war with the terrorists, other than with cheap and now nauseous words, prior to September 11. The failure is profound and has a long bipartisan pedigree. Every presidential administration has failed to deal with it since Jimmy Carter. Every Congress has failed to give it the proper gravity. The historians will more easily than at other times be able to track the genesis of this ignorance and lack of concern. It is, at the moment, largely irrelevant to the current discussion, which seems to boil down to three Clausewitzian questions: (1) What is the actual political situation the United States is in, (2) what is the political outcome (objective) the United States wants ("wills"), and (3) what "force" is required?
The Actual Political Situation of the United States
"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking: neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature…this is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive." And Clausewitz may have added, the most difficult.
The actual political situation, or more correctly, the geopolitical situation, that the United States finds itself in is one that deals with its relationship to the Islamic world. As will be seen by the statements of the "National Command Authority," (i.e.-the President, Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the JCS)," the United States is engaged in a "war" against "terrorism with a global reach" and not in a "war against Islam." And in this, most of the world agrees, excepting, unsurprisingly, the Islamic world itself.
The September 11 attacks have generally aligned the nations of the world, and to a lesser extent, their peoples, (in more or less proportion to those nations with real democracy), along two lines in regard to the U.S. and its military effort to destroy the "al-Qaeda" terrorists and their Taliban supporters in Afghanistan. Most of the world outside the Islamic countries support the U.S. either concretely (i.e., with actual military support) or rhetorically. Inside the Islamic world, only Turkey is assisting with concrete support, and is making preparations to deploy its own troops to Afghanistan, in support of the war effort. Turkey is the only actual democracy in the Islamic world. Throughout the rest of the Islamic world, a plethora of conflicting opinions and lukewarm to hostile official and unofficial political positions abound. Few Islamic states except have given even their rhetorical support to the U.S. military effort. Nations with vital military installations, like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have denied their use. Concrete military support has been unsurprisingly lacking. Only Oman and Pakistan, under extreme pressure, has allowed the use of its airfields to launch or support the U.S. military attacks.
Yet this only describes the reaction of the U.S. and the world to the September 11 attacks. The real question is whether the United States and its political leadership rightly grasp the geopolitical situation that exists. And the key to understanding this is that the September 11 attacks, while similar to Pearl Harbor in their breathtaking scope and shocking ness, were unlike Pearl Harbor in that they were only the latest in an ongoing war of terror against the United States that has emanated from the Islamic world since 1979, and, unfortunately, not always from the same sources. Even with the increasingly likely probability that the current operations to destroy "al-Qaeda" and its supporters will succeed, it is very unlikely to eliminate the terror threat. That the United States has been attacked by various Islamic terrorists for over twenty years is strong evidence that a widely separate and long-term war has existed and does exist, the root cause or causes which have not been well identified. The following list of the major attacks, primarily against the United States, but some against France, are evidence of this global terrorist war:
the 1979 hostage taking of the American Embassy in Tehran,
the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut,
the 1983 bombing of 241 Marines in Lebanon,
the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847,
the 1985 car bombing of a US military facility in Frankfurt, FGR.,
the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro,
the 1985 hijacking of Egypt Air Flight 648,
the 1985 attack in the Rome and Vienna airports,
the 1986 Berlin disco bombing,
the 1986 TWA Flight 840 bombed over Athens,
the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103,
the 1989 bombing of French UTA Flight 772 over Africa, 171 killed,
the 1990 murder of Marine LTC. William Higgins in Lebanon,
the 1993 murder of two CIA personnel in Langley, Va.,
the first 1993 WTC bombing,
the 1993 foiled NYC bomb plot,
the 1994 attack on Hasidic students in NYC,
the 1995 French Air Bus hijacking in Marseille,
the 1995 bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing,
the 1996 foiled NYC suicide bombings,
the 1997 terrorist murders of tourists at the Empire State Building,
the 1998 rocket propelled grenade attack on the US Embassy in Beirut,
the 1998 Africa Embassy bombings,
the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and yes,
the 2001 two WTC bombings, the Pentagon bombing and the failed Washington bombing; the latest attacks in this reign of Islamic terror.
These terrorist attacks are not unlike the patterns of aggression set by the Nazi's in their run up period from 1935 to September, 1939, or the Japanese in their run up period from 1932 until December, 1941. Without a readily identifiable and obvious enemy state with which to physically counter-attack, but more particularly, with the friendly targets being outside the confines of the continental United States, the American government, the media, and the public have simply endured each attack as it occurred, and did not observe the pattern nor weight with proper gravity the attacks. This was partly because of the existence of the Cold War and the focus of Americans on its anti-Soviet "containment" policy.
The long litany of terrorist attacks on the United States since 1979 can be compared to the symptoms of a disease. Eliminating the disease itself requires identifying the disease (the actual geopolitical situation), and implementing a sufficient treatment protocol (politics/war). The identification of this geopolitical disease has been roiled by a longstanding, contentious and confusing debate.
"The Clash of Civilizations?"
The debate over the geopolitical situation has tended to divide into roughly three diagnoses. The first diagnosis might be called the "clash of civilizations" thesis, proposed by Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. Generally speaking, this thesis states that the life of civilizations has various ups and downs, but that every civilization inevitably declines. That civilization that is now called "The West," is in its decline, similar to Rome's or more accurately, Byzantium's decadent demise. The challenger civilizations, the new Vandals, so to speak, are the "Confucian" civilizations, (in another cyclic upswing), and the Islamic civilization. And while Huntington spends far more time discussing the Confucian/Western conflict, which he sees at the true long- term conflict and threat to the West, it has been his analysis of the Islamic/Western conflict that has generated the most controversy, and which to many, seems so accurate given the events of the last half century.
Huntington, in his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations, makes several interlocking points to support his thesis that the conflict between America and Islam is a "clash of civilizations" rather than a more focused, more narrowly defined, and purely "political" conflict. He first describes what he calls "Islamic Resurgence," of which "Fundamentalism" is a component. The next factor is that Islam has "consciousness without cohesion" because it lacks a "core state." His third point, as has been now made obvious, America and Islam have been engaged in what he calls a "quasi-war," for sometime now. Huntington's fourth and most critical point is that history shows that Islam has been an expansionist civilization. Two additional points that support the "clash" thesis include the intellectual provenance of Islam that generates the expansionist worldview, and the current ideological climate in the Islamic world that promotes that worldview, which is unfortunately, combined with an almost neo-Nazi fascistic and racist propaganda.
Huntington describes "Islamic Resurgence" as providing to:
Muslims in massive numbers…a source of identity, meaning, stability, legitimacy, development, power, and hope, hope epitomized in the slogan "Islam is the answer"…this Islamic Resurgence in its extent and profundity is the latest phase in the adjustment of Islamic civilization to the West, an effort to find the "solution" not in Western ideologies but in Islam…it embodies acceptance of modernity [science and technology], rejection of Western culture, and recommitment to Islam as the guide to life in the modern world…a top Saudi official explained in 1994, " 'Foreign imports' are nice as shiny or high-tech 'things'…but intangible social and political institutions imported from elsewhere can be deadly…Islam for us is not just a religion but a way of life…we Saudis want to modernize, but not necessarily Westernize' "…the Islamic Resurgence is the effort by Muslims to achieve this goal…it is a broad, intellectual, cultural, social, and political movement prevalent throughout the Islamic world… "fundamentalism," commonly conceived as political Islam, is only one component in the much more extensive revival of Islamic ideas, practices, and rhetoric and the rededication to Islam by Muslim populations.
It is difficult to disregard the phenomenon of formally secular "nations" who have contended with the desire by substantial numbers of their populations to discard impositions of colonialism like westernized political and legal concepts and readopt "Shari'ah," which according to Islamic historian Marshall G. S. Hodgson are "the whole body of rules guiding the life of a Muslim, in law, ethics and etiquette; sometimes called Sacred Law." And adding to Huntington's arguments and even more disturbing are the actual numbers or states that have discarded their western imposed political models and adopted strictly Islamic—or pseudo Islamic—forms, such as Afghanistan's Taliban, Iran's Islamic "Republic," and the Sudan's Islamic regime. And in virtually every Muslim nation, the spreading "Resurgence" with its fundamentalist component advocates a "return to Islam," the overthrow of the corrupt government, and the reconnection to other Muslims in the ummah, the transnational community of all Muslims. A contributing factor to this "Islamic Resurgence" is the disillusionment felt as a result of the lack of power and success that Islamic elites and the wider polity beneath them assumed would flow from their impulse to "Westernize" after the collapse of the post World War II colonial political order.
Huntington warns that:
The Resurgence will leave a network of Islamist social, cultural, economic, and political organizations within societies and transcending societies. The Resurgence will also have shown the "Islam is the answer" to the problems of morality, identity, meaning, and faith, but not to the problems of social injustice, political repression, economic backwardness, and military weakness…even more intensely anti-Western nationalisms could emerge, blaming the West for the failures of Islam.
And because most of the Islamic world has experienced a huge growth spurt, "…Muslim population growth will be a destabilizing force for both Muslim societies and their neighbors" and "will continue to power the Islamic Resurgence and promote Muslim militancy, militarism, and migration." Islamic Resurgence presents a frightening picture of today's geopolitical reality.
Another difficulty that Huntington claims confronts Muslims in their conflict with the West, and particularly, with America, is that while Muslims possess a very defined "consciousness" of their solidarity, they do not possess it with "cohesion." This is because they currently lack a "core state," which historically has not always been the case.
Huntington defines "an Islamic core state" as one that "has to possess the economic resources, military power, organizational competence, and Islamic identity and commitment to provide both political and religious leadership to the ummah." He lists "six states" that "are from time to time mentioned as possible leaders of Islam," but which suffer from grave disabilities. In the end, Huntington seems to land on either Saudi Arabia or Turkey as being the most likely in the near future to provide that core state necessary to establish pan-Islamic "cohesion."
Both Arabia and Turkey have in the past been Islam's core state. Saudi Arabia was the original core state of Islam, and Turkey was the last core state of Islam, the Ottoman Empire. Only the corrupt and tottering House of Sa'ud prevents an unfriendly Islamist takeover of Arabia. However, Turkey's extreme secularism and the entrenched interests of the military and the bourgeois can probably rule out any real chance of Islamist revolution there, despite the real but relatively small increase of Islamist sentiment. Huntington warns "consciousness without cohesion is a source of weakness to Islam and a source of threat to other civilizations." And the chilling truth is that it is the corrupt House of Sa'ud that most animates the vile hatred of the terrorist bin Laden. His view is that they have allowed the holy land of Arabia to be "desecrated" by "infidel" American military forces, and that therefore they should, the Sa'ud's and the infidels, both be purged. After this has been done, and Arabia restored to its primacy, Islam, (probably under the religious and political megalomania of bin Laden), can restore the power of the ummah, and restore Allah's divine and pure religion to the pinnacle of world power.
Huntington's third major point is that despite its lack of comprehension and consciousness in the Western and particularly American mind prior to September 11, "…that following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an intercivilizational quasi war developed between Islam and the West." He states three qualities of the quasi war:
First, all of Islam has not been fighting all of the West. Two fundamentalist states (Iran, Sudan), three nonfundamentalist states (Iraq, Libya, Syria), plus a wide range of Islamist organizations, with financial support from other Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, have been fighting the United States and at times, Britain, France, and other Western states and groups, as well as Israel and Jews generally. Second, it is a quasi war because, apart from the Gulf War of 1990-1991, it has been fought with limited means: terrorism on one side and air power, covert action, and economic sanctions on the other. Third, it is a quasi war because while the violence has been continuing, it has also not been continuous…even excluding the tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed by Western bombing in…[the Gulf War], the deaths and other casualities number well into the thousands, and they occurred in virtually every year after 1979. Many more Westerners have been killed in this quasi war than were killed in the "real" war in the Gulf.
Both sides, have, moreover, recognized this conflict to be a war. Early on Khomeini declared, quite accurately, that "Iran is effectively at war with America," and Qadhafi regularly proclaims holy war against the West…if Muslims allege that the West wars on Islam and if Westerners allege that Islamic groups war on the West, it seems reasonable to conclude that something very much like a war is underway.
And of course, Huntington wrote this in 1996, before the emergence of the terrorist bin Laden, and well before the human guided missiles struck New York City and Washington, D.C., announcing the arrival of the already existing war to America's shores. Huntington is incorrect about one thing: this war has not been quasi at all. It just hasn't been fully realized by American political leaders, the media, and the public, to be a war being waged by Islam(ists) against the West.
This myopia, which is still fogging the lenses of American perception, Huntington notes, has been expressed by:
American leaders [who] allege that the Muslims involved in the quasi war are a small minority whose use of violence is rejected by the great majority of moderate Muslims. This may be true, but evidence to support it is lacking. Protests against anti-Western violence [terrorism] have been totally absent in Muslim countries. Muslim governments, even the bunker governments friendly to and dependent on the West, have been strikingly reticent when it comes to condemning terrorist's acts against the West.
Finally, starkly, Huntington concludes that:
The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world. These are the basic ingredients that fuel the conflict between Islam and the West.
Perhaps the most important fact given to support Huntington's claim is Islam's history, and not even its ancient history at that. Huntington reports the fact that virtually everywhere on the edges of the Muslim world, where it comes into contact with another civilization that it does not dominate, violent conflict has raged, and does now rage. From Chad, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Sudan, encircled Israel, the former Soviet Central Asian "republics," Chechnya, Pakistan and India, the Kashmir conflict, Xinjiang province in China, the southern Philippines, Kosovo/Macedonia, to the island of Timor, Islamic peoples are unable to tolerate their culturally different neighbors. Huntington calls this "Islam's bloody borders."
In addition to Huntington's arguments, there is the intellectual provenance of Islam itself. While many claim Islam is a "religion of peace," recently an all too common refrain, the Qur'an itself is filled with intolerant language, and its premises taken logically and without reflection, without a more widespread knowledge, and without a dose of reality or tolerance, would eliminate anyone except Muslims and second tier "people of the book," (i.e., Jews and Christians- "dhimmi") from existence. Marshall G.S. Hodgson notes in his book The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, of the sixteenth century Timuri Empire in India that "the Muslim consciousness of a social mission to rule the world on the basis of God's law persisted, if not always differentiated from a conviction of the sovereign dignity of Turks as privileged fighting men, as well as of the Iranian culture they protected." And here is this blood chilling description:
Late in the fifteenth century, under the Lodi rulers, the demands for an Islamic social order were uncompromisingly set forth by Sayyid Muhammad of Jaunpur, who claimed to be the promised Mahdi [the first of several blood drenched Madhi's]…taking his cue from Qur'anic passages, he taught that among the Muslims a special band should be dedicated actively to upholding the Shari'ah law, not as ordinary amirs, nor even as regular muftis and qadis, but as preachers—and, in the view of some of his followers, also as a sort of vigilante body, prepared to intervene whenever justice was miscarrying. To be free to fill this function, the elite should be bound to absolute poverty—trusting (like some Sufis) absolutely to God and to the current and purely spontaneous gifts of the pious for their sustenance; whatever they received above their barest needs on a given day was to be passed to the poor. From this detached perspective they could look on the amir and the humblest Muslim soldier or craftsman as equals, to be addressed with the simple civility, and to be assured the same Shari'ah-fixed rights. Property that had originated in ways illegal according to the Shari'ah was regarded as illegitimate; family distinctions based not on piety but on worldly prestige were to be ignored; hence most current social privilege, whether in rights to income or in prestige, was condemned. By such standards, not only the received Sunni establishment, both amir and 'ulama' must be eliminated piecemeal if not more rapidly, but even the more established Shi'i families must come under the same ban. All society must be reordered.
What is blood chilling about this description is that it is virtually indistinguishable from the statements of bin Laden, or the reality of the Taliban. Those who claim "Islam is peace" have some explaining to do here, because this historical fact combined with bin Laden's various communications and Taliban reality displays a pretty consistent and virulently intolerant version of a single Islamic worldview, through history. Christians, Jews, qgnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Zorastrians, B'ahai's, Confucians, and assorted other "unbelievers" and "infidels" are essentially given the option in Islamic historical tradition to "don the turban," pay the exorbitant taxes of the politically excluded "dhimmi," be expelled or be killed. The history of this religious logic has been exactly that, and of course it fills Khomeini's and bin Laden's "fatwa's" and other fascist and racist communications. As the respected Mid-East historian Bernard Lewis, who may have coined the phrase "clash of civilizations," recently commented, perplexed Americans would be wise to take the Khomeini's and bin Laden's at their word.
The final evidence for this diagnosis of a "clash of civilizations" are the "reasons" that are given for the terror attacks on the United States since 1979. An examination of the current list of "grievances," largely fails to correspond with the "reasons" given for past terrorist attacks, and more importantly, fails to explain the bitter hatred that is so evident in the Islamic world for America. And while a detailed examination of this current list of "grievances" is necessary for a full understanding of the geopolitical situation, this examination cannot take place in this article in the depth it requires, and will be examined at another time. It is sufficient for the purposes here to say that the list of "grievances" against America are a series of canards that do not stand up to analysis nor to political reality. The full implication of the explosion of these canards is that there are simply political realities in the Islamic world that are in severe and violent conflict with the values and policies of the people of the United States. If the "grievances" are specious, the source of the terrorist attacks must come from some other motivation. Attempts by Islamic malcontents to resolve these conflicts with terrorism have now led to open war.
The "clash of civilizations" thesis is that an historic and inexorable conflict of violent and world geopolitical changing proportions is taking place, and that peace is unlikely. It either will be the "Fall of Western Civilization" (or something like it) or the "forced assimilation of the Islamic World" into modernity (as the West defines it) that prevails.
"Terrorist Groups of Global Reach"
This thesis, articulated by George W. Bush during his address to the Congress on September 20, 2001, is that:
Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them…our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there…it will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated…they want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan…they want to drive Israel out of the Middle East…they want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa…these terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life…with every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends…they stand against us, because we stand in their way.
This analysis opines that it is "terrorists" who are the problem, that Islam "is peace," and that if the "terrorists of global reach" were destroyed, then the end of the war will be at hand, and peace restored. And while the war will be long, hard, and costly, victory is inevitable. The only questions are who are they and where are they. Essentially this view of the geopolitical problem is that there are a certain number of terrorist enemies and their supporters who have to killed or otherwise neutralized. In this official view of the United States government, there is no "clash of civilizations," only a clash of "evil doers" and the "evil ones" with the forces of goodness and light.
This thesis, not adequately articulated by any single person, or point of view, can be described as a combination of the two previous positions, with some aspects of each. The geopolitical situation of America's relationship to the Islamic world is not a "clash of civilizations," not just because "Islam means peace", but because history has shown that Islam and the West can co-exist. Terrorism, and political instability in the Islamic world is the result of the phenomenon of radical Islamic Fundamentalist ideology. This Islamic Fundamentalist ideology claims that the problems of the Islamic world are the result of the ummah's inadequate adherence to the divine teachings of the Prophet (as interpreted by various cliques of clerics, ayatollah's, imam's, and even lay persons like the terrorist bin Laden). It preaches that the invasion of the "Great Satan," (in the words of Bernard Lewis, "the Temptor"), into the Islamic world is corrupting the pure holy godliness of the Islamic people with Baywatch, blue jeans, and razor blades. Only a return to the strict words of the Holy Qur'an (again, as interpreted by those who would exercise political/religious power), can save the Islamic world. Islamic Fundamentalism utterly rejects the "Great Satan" and all his devilish works, including especially the blood-drinking Jew-Zionists in Israel, and the "hidden hand" of their Jewish-Zionist power that operates across the globe to suppress all Muslims. In order to prevail in this eternal and divinely mandated struggle against the "Great Satan," requires jihad, and jihad requires terrorism. The minions of the "Great Satan" are merely tools, and what appear to be innocent stockbrokers and hot dog vendors in the World Trade Center, are literally tools of the devil who must be killed in order to restore the ummah and its holiness to its rightful and powerful place in the world.
Those who cite this phenomenon, while they do not believe the ideology themselves, (usually), often note that existing regional political factions use fundamentalism to their own advantage. Arafat's terrorist directors may not believe this bilge themselves, but they pay lip service to it because it provides gullible recruits for the ever depleted ranks of the suicide bombers. The Iranian mullah's may not believe this (totally that is), but it permits them to create cadres of children to throw at their enemies in battle in "human wave" attacks, as repeatedly occurred in the 8 year Iran-Iraq War. And many other political leaders permit this ideology to spread in order to deflect the anger generated by the pitiful conditions they are responsible for towards the "Great Satan," as Saddam Hussein, "King" Fahd of "Saudi" Arabia, the Sudanese dictator al-Bashir, "President" Mubarak, "King" Abdullah of Jordan, the newly crowned Syrian dictator Assad, and others have repeatedly done. As a result of this Islamic Fundamentalist ideology, the purveyors have created a climate of hate and vituperation, unseen in the modern consciousness of the world since the Nazis. And in accordance with this violent hate, the terrorists strike at the "Great Satan," for which they have contempt, not respect and certainly not fear. They are able to continue to strike, because a long history of flaccid political decisions, impotent military posturing, and diverting domestic rhetoric within the United States has convinced the terrorists that America is actually, "a paper tiger," as the terrorist bin Laden has supposedly opined.
For those factions agitating this ideology, every strike at America, is not a strike at their own regime. In this way, Mubarak, Abdullah, Fahd, and Arafat can say they "sympathize," with America, but they know that as long as the "Great Satan" remains Target One, they are far down the list of targets, although they are not immune as the assassination of Sadat and the attempted assassination of Mubarak show. Therefore, as long as the terrorists remain alive, the hate propaganda will go one, and should America actually eliminate the terrorists (which has the added benefit of being done only with American blood and American treasure), then the "allies" will themselves be much safer. As King Fahd supposedly said, "America is his favorite slave" and favorite scapegoat as well. Therefore his refusal to recognize the State of Israel, or to assist the military effort. Kings do not obey their slaves.
The Correct American/Islamic Geopolitical Situation
All three analysis' suffer from egregious defects. And all three contain overlaps, because they all describe some of the same factual phenomenon, while ignoring others. And none of them completely explain or describe all the basic "root" causes. However, of the three, the one that most represents the actual geopolitical situation is, unsurprisingly, the "clash of civilizations" theory.
Earlier, the comparison was made between the increasing terrorist violence, in frequency and lethality, and the aggression perpetuated by the Axis powers in the 1930's. There is another dreaded similarity.
Extremist political movements, almost always flourish in the atmosphere of social despair and political repression. Their siren call is the false hope of the dispossessed and the weak. The propaganda, believed or not believed by its propagators, excuses the failures of the society and scapegoats some dreaded and dissimilar Other, either internal or external, while at the same time emphasizing the solidarity of the ethnic/racial/religious/political group. The feckless, ill-educated, racist, and ruthless can become a Fuehrer, Duce, or Chairman of the Party. This was the road to power for the Nazi's, the Fascists, and the Communists. Divine destiny always establishes its own sanctified norms of violence, separate and more powerful than those shared by the bulk of humanity and of the Others, or that of opponents. Divine and inevitable destiny, whether to create the pure Aryan Thousand Year Reich, the pure social equality of the Communist proletariat, or the holy sanctity of the ummah, provides the solidarity, commitment, and absolute certainty of "justice" of The Cause.
But these hideous and hateful worldviews cannot triumph without the widespread acceptance of their message among the masses. Without the German people, Hitler would have been just another violent crank. Without the Italians, seduced by his lies of a renewed Roman glory, Mussolini would have remained the cowardly blowhard he was. And without the intellectual coherence and material promises of Marx, and the dreams of a new, equal and just world, the Leninists and Stalinists would have been what they finally were revealed to be, mere gangs of violent gangsters fighting over the decaying dachas of the Romanovs. And without the widespread support of the ummah, the vile and evil Islamic terrorist, whose signature is the death of innocent civilians, would not and could not be the worldwide scourge that they have been and are today.
The World War II historian, Cornelius Ryan, wrote in his book, The Last Battle, of a British commando officer, briefing Americans on the type of fighting they might encounter in German cities. This experienced officer, a veteran of many missions behind German lines, advised that German soldiers would fight competently and tenaciously to the last bullet, throw down their weapons, come out with their hands up, and blame it all on Hitler. In this, the reader can see exactly the problem: people in societies will do what they are told by Authority, especially totalitarian ones. As far as World War II was concerned, or the Cold War, it did not matter that the vast bulk of Germans and Russians were not members of the Nazi or Communist Parties, it is sufficient that they did not oppose them, and acquiesced in their activities. It has become irrelevant today that most Muslims are not Islamists or fundamentalists; it is merely sufficient that they do not oppose them, acquiesce, and permit the growth of the hate and the terrorists' acts. This "silent majority," unfortunately, like their German, Italian, and Russian predecessors, have set the stage for World War III.
Total War is required, limited war is being waged.
If the United States, and indeed the West, is now involved in a "clash of civilizations," then that is a total war. Total war can be described as something approaching the level of commitment of World War II, a conflict in which to lose means to be eliminated. To be eliminated does not mean genocide (necessarily), but it certainly means a complete defeat and restructuring of political society in accordance with the desires of the victor. It is the ultimate in "compel[ling] our enemy to do our will." In this conflict, regardless of the preferred root cause, this is the terrorists aim, but it certainly is not the aim of the American government.
This is not the aim of the American government because the war leaders have, either through ignorance, or more probably, through sheer fear of the implications, fatally blundered in the first strategic requirement: they have in "the first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment" mistaken the conflict for a limited war and are "trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature."
As this is being written [October 24, 2001], the current commentary is that the campaign in Afghanistan is outstripping the "political objective." That political objective has now been taken to mean, some type of multi- representational government for Afghanistan, under the auspices of the U.N. Such an arrangement involves "nation building," something the isolationist Republicans and George W. Bush have viscerally objected to. Bush dismissed such notions just three weeks ago, but has now come to realize that preventing Afghanistan from returning to the lawlessness and control of fanatical enemies would just facilitate a new crop of bin Ladens. Consequently, he has been forced to recant his ill-advised and reactionary words. But of course, the difficulty is that the entire question of what to do about Afghanistan is merely part and parcel of the entire geopolitical conflict, which transcends Central Asia, and indeed is world wide. What happens if, as the New Republic has pointed out, bin Laden absconds to Somalia? Presumably, the military "whack-a- mole" campaign would shift to there.
The problem is a severe lack, at the highest levels of the government, of that precious political and military commodity called "judgment." In deciding that the continuing terrorist attacks on America have not really breached a certain level of lethality (no real nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks with ten or hundreds of thousands or millions of mass casualties), the administration has concluded, with soothing and mistaken words from Colin Powell, and relying on the honest patriotism of the American people, that the war is really "manageable," particularly with coalition "partners" in the region—i.e. those whose people hate America. Simply eliminating, in Bush's words, "terrorist groups of global reach" it is desperately hoped, will restore the status quo ante. Peace and light would return. This appeals to the moderation of the American psyche and the leaders fearfulness of confronting true evil and geopolitical challenges of immense and incalculable scale. In short, the latest Bush/Powell solution, like the previous 1991 Bush/Powell solution, which allowed Saddam Hussein to survive to destroy additional thousands of his own people and to menace countless others for the last ten years, is actually the Neville Chamberlain solution. Don't confront the reality of the evils that face you, pretend you have allies where you don't, let words replace action, conduct a visual spectacle that replaces war on the ground, blunder your way through the tough decisions, don't take real action (the reader should realize that the National Guardsmen mobilized and on duty in the airports are carrying weapons without ammunition, simply in the words of the administration to restore "feelings of security," not actual security), and hope beyond hope that the terrorists don't expand the war with true weapons of mass destruction, such as a small nuclear device riding in a container through the west coast, on a train, picked up by a terrorist, and detonated in the center of Washington, D.C. Of course, the problem is that everyone realizes that the terrorists, when they get their hands on nuclear munitions, will use them. They are fighting a total war, and they are being helped by many in the region, who chant and pray weekly, "Death to America, the Great Satan."
The reader can see that since the first Clausewitzian question (what is the actual political situation the United States is in) has been erroneously answered by the Administration, the other two questions have also been wrongly answered.
The political outcome the United States wants (wills) is the end of "terrorism with a global reach." In this, they link the third question, "what amount of force is required?" By destroying bin Laden and the Taliban (which, must be pointed out, is not occurring), the administration is desperately hoping for a return to the status quo ante prior to September 11 and a "glorious" victory parade through Washington, as in 1991. The administration has promised to conduct this campaign worldwide, and to destroy these terrorists, to eliminate them from the earth. Instead, in fear of the "Arab street," they threaten Israel because the Israeli's kill terrorists. When Israel kills terrorists, it "offends" the "coalition." Instead of getting tough with the Malaysian's and Indonesians, the Administration waffles with diplomatic words of "understanding."
Without correctly ascertaining the actual geopolitical situation, the administration, run by some of the same geopolitical incompetents that left Saddam Hussein in power, have blundered the opening stages of this immense conflict. They all claim that they are fighting a "new" and "different" kind of war, meanwhile they—quite conventionally and feebly—deploy a few aircraft carriers, virginal special operations forces, and intercontinental bombers. The attacks started on Afghanistan, a nation with an identifiable military structure—the Taliban militia and "al Qaeda"—and it opened with conventional cruise missile attacks. This is exactly what the discredited Clinton, in his "feckless" manner did, only more of it. So far, there are no plans to deploy the required forces, which are infantry and lots of it. No 18 Airborne Corps, and no 10th Mountain Division (especially trained to fight in snowy mountain terrain, as are the elite NATO Alpine regiments of the Bundeswehr and the Italian Army). The enemy is clearly known in Afghanistan, but the effort is supine. So far, the "new" and "different" kind of war looks exactly like the old and failed kind of limited wars by half- measures, which will inevitably result in "incrementalism," the discredited Vietnam War recipe for tactical failure.
The Armchair Strategist will examine the campaign in Afghanistan next month.
The Armchair Strategist: "A New and Different Kind of War" 1