Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reuel Gerecht on GWOT & Its Nay-sayers

Reuel Gerecht was National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East while I was working for an intelligence firm named Jefferson-Waterman International back in the day. Charlie Waterman & I had lunch with RG and he was a supremely articulate intelligent expositor of American interests in the region. Here are a couple of excerpts from his response to Philip Gordon, author of Winning the Right War. Read the whole link above for a terrific analysis of the overarching strategic & tactical importance of what we are doing in Iraq:
Since you've read The Threatening Storm, the seminal, pro-war book by Ken Pollack, your Brookings colleague and a former Clinton NSCer, I don't think we need to spend much time on why people who didn't put "too much emphasis on military force, tough talk, and unilateral action" could see the second Iraq campaign as a necessary war and a legitimate part of the "war on terror." And another colleague at Brookings, Peter Rodman, might strongly dissent from your Islamic-radicalism-is-the-new-Cold-War analysis that belittles the many battlefields where the Soviet empire was strained and demoralized, if not broken. Rodman's More Precious than Peace, a history of the Cold War in the Third World--which I think is more pertinent to our current struggle with Islamic militancy than your use of European Cold War history to teach us how to confront Islamic holy warriors--is an excellent guide to why force mattered a lot in America's victory in the Cold War. Islamic radicalism, like communism, may one day die from its internal contradictions and excesses, and I would definitely agree with you that there are some hopeful signs on the horizon (the Second Iraq War--where Sunni holy warriors and insurgents unleashed hell against Iraqi Shiites, and Shiite militias, after watching their community get pounded for nearly two years, struck back with an awful vengeance--has actually produced some soul-searching in the larger Sunni Arab world about jihadism, probably more, regrettably, than what has been produced by 9/11 and other recent terrorist atrocities in Europe and Israel).

Modernity is the cause and probably the cure for rabid Islamic militancy, and as it marches on one can hope that Muslims will develop (rediscover) the ethics and the political machinery that will allow them to extirpate holy warriors from their midst. However, in an age of WMD terrorism, and we have probably only just entered this era, the regular use of overt and covert force--a constant for the United States throughout the Cold War in the Third World--will likely be essential. The United States needs to be good--and ugly events like Abu Ghraib do scar (though I'm skeptical about the depth and lasting effect of such things among the denizens of the Middle East and Europeans who don't think we're damned from birth). But the United States needs to be strong and, yes, often quite tough. When your enemies believe in terrorism, then the United States may have to be considerably more aggressive than what you are obviously comfortable with. If the clerical regime in Tehran were to do a Khobar Towers II, which is not at all unthinkable (the people who authorized the first attack are still in power, and the Bush administration now may rival the Clinton administration in projecting an "image" of weakness), how would you respond, Phil? Would you ignore it, as the Clinton administration did Khobar I in 1996, or as it ignored, most calamitously, Al Qaeda in Aden in 2000 when the USS Cole almost sank? You seem to suggest in WRW that not militarily responding to terrorism might be a good thing since we might not want to deal with the consequences of an American reprisal.

It seems to me you are trying to take us back to a pre-9/11 world where we add up the body count from terrorist attacks and if the death toll is lower than, say, the number of people who die from "lightning, or by accident-causing deer, or by severe allergic reactions to peanuts," then we should just calm down and avoid the use of force since we never know what the baleful collateral effects might be. Do you remember the famous Larry Johnson op-ed in The New York Times the summer before 9/11 that used such reasoning? Take a look at that astonishing op-ed and then go to page 81 of WRW where I found the above line. Dealing with terrorism--dealing with rogue states that use terrorism and are developing nuclear weapons --will surely require us in the future to prepare for war, and may actually require us to bomb, perhaps even invade another country. Obviously, no one should want to do this, but to walk away from the challenge of terrorism by downplaying its potential to wreak havoc and by playing up the fear of unforeseen consequences from American military action is to invite our enemies to escalate. If the ruling mullahs in Tehran know that we know that they allowed members of Al Qaeda to traverse their country before and after 9/11, and if they believe we are no longer willing to punish them militarily for doing so, do you think the mullahs will be more or less likely to again aid Sunni holy warriors? Do you think not responding again, or feebly responding to terrorism, as we did in 1996 after Khobar, in 1998 after the embassy bombings, and in 2000 after the Cole, makes America look in our enemies' eyes "patient and restrained" or a "paper tiger?" If you review Islamic radical literature, particularly the products coming from the holy-warrior set, it's America's defeats--especially the potential for one great and glorious defeat in Iraq--that whet the appetite the most, since they give the most hope. I don't know if it would have been possible to separate the Taliban's Mullah Omar from Osama bin Ladin, but it certainly would have been worth the effort to clusterbomb the Taliban's front lines against the Northern Alliance in 1998. We did not do so in part because of fear of the consequences of US military action.

You ask me whether I agree with the former Justice Department official John Yoo when he questions, "What president would put America's image in the United Nations above the protection of innocent civilian lives?" Yoo is right, Phil. I don't think anyone who has imbibed the experience and writings of former Democratic senator and UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan could possibly pose that question any other way. I actually don't believe you or Senator Obama, or for that matter, Senator Hillary Clinton, her husband, Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, or even Anthony Lake believes that America's image in the United Nations is more important than the "protection of innocent civilian lives." I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here, and allow you to repose that question, that entire paragraph, in the second exchange.

Of course, appeasers and multiculturalists like Gordon will continue to insist that all we need to do is demonstrate more kumbayeh-style understanding. Then the rabid violent reactionaries will be soothed out of their hostility and the lion will lie down with the lamb. Reuel Gerecht has his doubts:
If I understand you correctly, if we'd been more "moral"--no Abu Ghraib, no Guantanamo, no Patriot Act, no intercept within the United States outside of the espionage-centered Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, no rendition (Do you think rendition is unacceptable, Phil? I always ask Clinton NSC officials since your former boss, Sandy Berger, obviously thought it was a good idea, not at all morally beyond the pale?), no violation of the Geneva Conventions for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his friends, more consideration for the French and the Germans, and more censure of the Israelis for their bellicosity in Lebanon and intemperate behavior on the West Bank--the "war on terror," six years out, would be much more effective? If we'd been more "moral," the terrorist acts that have occurred outside of the United States since 9/11 probably would not have happened or, at least, would have been far fewer? With a greater regard for ethical behavior, we would have had Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri either behind bars or dead? Add up all your criticisms of the Bush administration and reverse them and we in six years time would have done much better in the "war on terror"?

Perhaps we judge the Islamist Jihadists harshly and our distaste for their public hanging of homosexuals and 16-year old feminists and self-exploding in pizza parlors filled with teenagers are hurtful and judgmental western bigotry against foibles indigenous to a society where honor-killing girls who date bad companions outside the approved circle of extended family are perfectly acceptable. Gerecht has other questions he wants to ask Mr. Gordon:
Do you really think King Abdullah of Jordan and his internal-security and intelligence services have had a harder time cooperating with us because of Abu Ghraib? The same folks who often had intimate dealings with the worst elements in the Iraqi Baathist elite? Somehow, I think they can get over the photos. American intelligence and military liaison relationships with the Middle East's "pro-American" autocracies have a life of their own. This isn't often for the good. Indeed, Phil, I have to say your book is remarkably free of any criticism of the region's dictators and kings. You scorch the Bush administration for its supposedly bad behavior, and you make many slippery-slope, dark allusions to where the Bushies are leading American society ("a garrison state"), and constantly worry and assert that this immoral comportment and the Iraq war are creating a legion of anti-American Muslim holy warriors, and yet you remain virtually silent on our profound liaison and military relationships with many unsavory regimes in the Middle East. You are more worried about Israel and its holy-warrior causation than you are about the internal dynamics in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Yet it is surely the social and religious evolution inside of these societies, things which have little to nothing to do with Israel and a lot to do with increasing dysfunctional, autocratic, corrupt political systems, that contribute the lion's share of the component parts that make holy warriors.

If I read you correctly, you actually want to stay close, maybe even draw closer, to these regimes. I assume this is what you mean when you say that the "struggle against Islamic terrorism. ... will require resolve, patience ... and sometimes uncomfortable moral compromises." Okay, I used to work in the CIA. I can understand and appreciate moral compromises. However, since much of your book is premised on the assertion that America's immorality under President Bush is generating Islamic terrorists, losing our allies, and creating a bad taste in the mouth of millions of Muslims in the Middle East, I have a problem with you wanting to maintain close relationships with regimes who torture by reflex. You don't think average Middle Eastern Muslims--I won't even mention the fundamentalist set who are the most likely to mutate into holy warriors--are morally repelled by this, perhaps even more acutely than they are by Guantanamo Bay? If you are so concerned about our ethics and our "image" (granted, being intimate with autocrats never hurts you at the United Nations), why don't you apply the same indignation and policy resolve to this issue as you do to whether the CIA "water-boarded" Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a not-so-secret prison? This is a rather big incongruity in your book.

Methinks Gordon might skitter sideways and elide over those slight incongruities in his response which predictably will blame the US & Israel for prodding Muslim terrorists into a holy froth-mouthed frenzy. Gerecht has more questions about the strange mutation of Western Europeans into a more enthusiastic approach to confronting terror [France & Germany come to mind]:
And one last incongruity closer to home: Do you really think the "war on terror" and the Iraq campaign has damaged our security and intelligence relationships with the Europeans? Isn't it just the contrary? Our security and intelligence cooperation with the French, during Chirac and Villepin, blossomed. We didn't put headquarters for US-European counterterrorist intelligence cooperation in Paris because things were going poorly. My colleague at AEI, Gary Schmitt, and I have been meeting a wide variety of Western European security and intel types during the last year, and we certainly haven't been able to see growing distance between our oldest allies and us. The "war on terror" is a European phenomenon, too, and many Europeans have responded with tactics and approaches more severe than ours. (Phil: Are the French, of whom you and I are both fond, slipping and sliding into the moral abyss since their counterterrorist prosecutorial practices are, to put it politely, intrusive?) The French and other Europeans may be concerned that the Second Iraq War has produced a "third wave" of violently-inclined Islamic radicals, but they seem to have no paralyzing concerns at all about America's operational ethics. I might add that the two European officials whom I know who've participated in interrogations at Guantanamo found the American treatment of detainees to be humane; they questioned, however, the cultural competence and linguistic skills of some of the American interrogators. I live in Europe most of the time, and I don't find greater anti-Americanism now than when I lived here when Ronald Reagan was president. Less, actually. I just don't see the deterioration that you see.

Gerecht lives in Paris, I believe, and the French are more sophisticated and more brutal in the application of extreme prejudice toward enemies of their state. Back when De Gaulle was swanning about leaving NATO, the French kept their top-secret codes unchanged---Le Grand Charles was showboating without real side-switching. Ditto Chiraq/Villepin when it came down to real national security issues.

Don't pay attention to that man behind the curtain. He's simply doing what Phil Gordon and appeasers hate so much---opposing a real threat to innocent civilians and while Phil responds to the klieg lights & fancy two-steps, the real dance takes place backstage.

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