Posted by: bklunk | May 31, 2007

A Different Kind of War

It was a little less than two years ago that President Bush said this:

Yet this is a different kind of war. Our enemies are not organized into battalions, or commanded by governments. They hide in shadowy networks and retreat after they strike.

So why, then, is he relying on analogical thinking. What is different about the challenge of terrorism is that it is not inherently territorial, nor is the key to dealing with terrorism essentially military.

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Illustrating his long-term intentions regarding the U.S. presence in Iraq, President Bush called yesterday for a U.S. occupation similar to that in South Korea. While he merely intended to convey the idea that the United States will be engaged there for a very long time, his choice of analogies gives me a headache. The two occupations are completely different. In Korea, U.S. forces safeguard a clearly defined demilitarized zone, where their purpose is to deter a North Korean invasion. In Iraq, the occupation is not even close to being that straightforward. The front lines are everywhere, and even the Green Zone is becoming dangerous. There’s no real threat of invasion, but there’s also no single entity with whom the United States can negotiate. Also worth noting: There never was a Korean insurgency. Even U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates exhibited similar delusions about the nature of this conflict earlier this month, when he said: It’s important to defend this country on the extremists’ 10-yard line and not on our 10-yard line. American football is about equally crude an analogy as the Korean peninsula. Once again, a U.S. official sees the conflict in terms of old-fashioned interstate war, in which the enemy must be confronted abroad, lest we be forced to battle him at home. Sorry, Bob, it’s not that simple. Keeping up the fight in Iraq isn’t likely to stop any potential terrorists—by all accounts, it’s creating more of them.

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  1. I totally agree. In this day and age of multi-national organizations and interest groups whose views are not necessarily the same as the state’s, you can’t stop nations by occupying states. I think the idea of the nation-state is becoming LESS solid than it was 50 to 100 years ago. There are multinational states with shrinking majorities, like the US. There are also nations that span across many states, like the Arab nation, or the Chinese and Jewish Diasporas. I think a better analogy than stopping the terrorists at their own “10-yard line” would be following the hornets back to the nest and then beating it with a stick. We all know how that works out.

  2. I agree. It seems to me, in terms of Foreign Policy decision making at least, that while the goal throughout the years has remained the same (protecting the United States from percieved threats and defeating or containing the “bad guys”), the intruments to do so should have shifted, but have not. Policy makers still use the same techniques that worked years ago. I know that, for better or for worse, Iraq has often been compared to the Vietnam War. While the situations are still very different, I think the comparison there is more valid there that a comparison to a football game. In both situations, the United States knew who they wanted ot go after, but still fought an enemy using guerilla tactics the same way we fought every other war. And Vietnam didn’t exactly end in our favor. I think its time to rethink what exactly our purpose is in Iraq and how we are going to continue fighting there.

  3. I would be lying if I said I disagree. It is a very difficult position to fight an ideology, especially this one. It is born out of a hate for people who are different and in power, and they can focus on a single territory.

    I think that is the allure to fighting terrorism like it were a conventional war, we believe that your ideology is tied to your state, just as the terrorist think our ideology is tied to our state. In today’s world it is simply more complicated than that.

    I think the scariest scenario is the thought of what would happen if a transnational non-state actor, like a religious organization ever got organized enough to have a really army. Terrorism spreads terror and kills lots of people, but a full blown war will always kill more and will cause as much, if not more, terror. But this army would have the same insidious nature, where you could never really locate it, and fighting it only strengthened its resolve. If that were the case, how would you fight it?

  4. I think that Matt is 100% right about the difficulty of fighting an ideology. Ideologies are not bound by one territory or state, they’re fluid. Ideologies can cross boundaries and inspire people to do good/terrible acts all over the world. An example would be the terrorist attacks in Spain on 3/11. The idea of that direct al-Qaeda involvement has been discarded; instead authorities believe that the people who carried out the attacks were inspired by al-Qaeda.

    I agree with Matt that the scariest scenario would be if a “transnational non-state actor, like a religious organization ever got organized enough to have a really army”. However, I think this kind of exists. Al-Qaeda has been really effective to use globalization, in the sense of the increasing interconnectedness of the world through trade and communication, in its advantage. Al-Qaeda has been able to use the internet to finance their operations and to recruite members into their group. They have been really effective to use the internet to inspire a worldwide network of support. Some call the al-Qaeda network as “locally rooted, globally inspired.”

    So the question is: how do you fight an idea that “inspires” people all over the world?

  5. I agree with Matt & Anthony on how hard it is to fight ideology, but the ways in which the United States is going about fighting in Iraq is the wrong way. Terrorists keep inventing new ways to attack others whether the United States, or any other state, disagrees with them. The life they are following can not be changed easily, and especially not with hard power when they are going to fight untill the end. It is time for the United States to realize what is really important and what solutions we want to make from this war in Iraq. I think with the upcoming elections changes will be made in Iraq and new ways of dealing with terrorists conflicts will be introduced into our society. Untill then I think Bush will keep going with the tactics that he knows the American people do not completely support anymore.

  6. I’m too depressed to add much here. I suspect that there is a military role in combating terrorism, but other tools are probably more critical.

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