Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The War College Paper

The main thesis of Jeffrey Record's Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, an Army War College monograph criticizing the strategy of the Global War on Terror is that terrorism and rogue states are two separate phenomena; the first to be dealt with by police methods and the second by the classic tools of statecraft. Once this premise is accepted, it follows that Operation Iraqi Freedom suffers from the twin defects of being irrelevant insofar as the prosecution of Al Qaeda is concerned, and improper, inasmuch as other policy instruments, such as deterrence and nonproliferation treaties, are available to contain states like Iraq and North Korea.

Record's own recommendations follow directly from his premises:

  1. Deconflate the threat. That is to say, treat rogue states separately from terrorist organizations.
  2. Substitute credible deterrence for preventive war as the primary policy for dealing with rogue states seeking to acquire WMD.
  3. Wage the GWOT first and foremost on al-Qaeda, its allies, and boost homeland security.
  4. Seek rogue-state regime change via measures short of war.

It would not be untruthful to remark that Record is essentially calling for a reversion to the policies of former President Clinton. It might almost describe the kind of policy that Albert Gore and Wesley Clark would have been tempted to pursue in response to September 11. There is an element of realpolitik in Record's analysis. The world, he seems to say, still consists of states which can be dealt with by traditional methods. It is a world where multilateralism is important and such grand notions as bringing freedom to the Islamic World are both naive and infeasible.

Building on this notion, he makes certain definite predictions. For example, he argues that the doctrine of pre-emptive attack will encourage, rather than discourage, rogue states from acquiring WMDs. He also maintains that the cost of occupying Iraq is likely to rise and become untenable. By inference, his argument suggests that terrorism, far from withering, will persist and grow, since the strategy employed against it is misguided.

A critique of Record's thesis can be mounted from two directions. At the most basic level, one may question his assertion that terrorism and rogue states are essentially separable phenomena. Can there be a Hezbollah without Syria, an Al-Aqsa without the PLA, an Al Qaeda without Saudi Arabia? Surely the answer must be 'yes' if Record is right. Conceptually, the most glaring omission from his premises is the dismissal of the notion that terrorism may be a form of proxy warfare by rogue states, a way of undermining the very deterrence Record puts such stock in. For if terrorism and rogue states are truly separable, it necessarily follows that states need fear no consequences for any terrorist act, be it the demolition of two skyscrapers in Manhattan or worse, even though they may be the secret masterminds or facilitators. It will be nobody's fault but a few madmen. The other line of inquiry would be to check whether his empirical predictions bear up. If pre-emptive attacks tend to encourage the acquisition of WMDs, the phenomenon of Mohammar Khadaffy's unilateral offer of disarmament awaits an explanation. One would also expect to see an intensification, rather than a decline in insurgent activity in Iraq. At last count, they were down by 60 percent. Although this is does not conclusively prove that matters will not get worse in succeeding months, the empirical record till now provides scant evidence for Record's predictions. Finally, the terrorist attacks that didn't happen over the Holiday Orange alert raises the question of why, faced with a such a supposedly inept strategy, the enemy did not prove more active.

There is in addition, the question of control cases. It is not as if Record's recommendations have not been implemented before. They are a perfect description of Amrican policies in the decades before September 11, including President Clinton's. No more need be added.  The current European experience, which accurately simulates the outcomes of countries which have substantially eschewed preemptive action and democratic prosletyzation, is not very encouraging. They have described themselves as now being on the frontline of terrorism, which is in its own way, the sincerest form of endorsement for American policy.

Yet if Record supplies the wrong answer, he raises a real question. His error was to argue correctly from the wrong premises. President Bush's problem may be that he has argued incorrectly from the correct premises. Terrorism and rogue states are related. The threats to global security do arise from the international tolerance of tyranny, the so-called realpolitik. But from those givens America should have invaded Saudi Arabia first, rather than Iraq, or perhaps the both together. That is the point that both the Republicans and Democrats, each in their own way, seem determined to miss.