Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Best Way to Fight Islamist Terrorism - Stop Fighting

Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, just look how well all our high-tech Western military muscle has done in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We're actually creating our own enemies and we're doing it faster than we're killing off the existing foe. Do the math.

Wired editor, Nicholas Thompson, believes we have the means to defeat Islamist extremism in the proven wisdom of one George Keenan who gave birth to the strategy known as "containment":

In the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, Kennan, who was then the State Department’s policy planning chief, gave American strategy a name, but not much else. He argued that we didn’t have to actively defeat the Soviet Union, only outlast it. Communism held inside itself “the seeds of its own decay.” The United States should refrain from provoking Moscow, whether through confrontation or histrionics. Patience would lead to success.

Kennan explained that he didn’t mean containment with guns. He didn’t want American armed forces to intervene in countries where the Soviets were mucking around but hadn’t gained control, like Greece, Iran and Turkey.

The Soviets are making “first and foremost a political attack,” Kennan wrote. “Their spearheads are the local communists. And the counter-weapon that can beat them is the vigor and soundness of political life in the victim countries.”

Kennan’s insight was that a long-term, complex struggle wasn’t best judged in terms of winning or losing. Communism wasn’t something we could immediately conquer. The same holds true for Al Qaeda, a movement that, like Soviet communism, offers its subjects oppression and poverty. Time is on our side — particularly if we act in a way that doesn’t inflame our enemies’ pride and anger and win them new recruits.

Kennan’s insistence on a political strategy, rather than a military one, makes more sense now than it did when he published his essay. Applied today, that advice would entail spending more time and money building up our Muslim allies. The Center for Strategic and International Studies reports that only about $900 million of the $10 billion we’ve given Pakistan since 2002 has gone to health, education and democracy promotion. Most of the rest has gone to the military. The Bush administration has recently taken steps to change this ratio. But Kennan, one of the authors of the Marshall Plan, would have wanted the numbers to be closer to the reverse.

“Let us find health and vigor and hope, and the diseased portion of the earth will fall behind of its own doing. For that we need no aggressive strategic plans, no provocation of military hostilities, no showdowns.”


Mike said...


Anonymous said...

You make the assumption that Islamic extremism is what was actually being faught. Russia for example was being faught when the US armed the Taliban. Oil interests were being controlled when the US armed Sadam.

I don't think the US or any other western power has ever actually fought islamic extremism. If they had they would have sent all of their efforts into Afghanistan not Iraq.

Western powers have actually encouraged Islamic extremism to control regions and peoples and to fight wars for them.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, despite the way we've botched it up with a blatantly incoherent policy, we do have to find a means to deal with Islamist extremism. Part of that requires us to recognize the Islamist movement encompasses a lot more than al-Qaeda. There are moderate Islamists who are motivated not by hatred of the West but by legitimate nationalist aspirations. These are people we can work with and should engage. It should be relatively easy to drive a wedge between moderate and extremist Islamists - dividing the nationalists from the terrorists and thereby making containment much more practical.