Barry Eisler

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Iraq War Increases Terror Threat

A leaked National Intelligence Estimate, which represents the consensus of the sixteen US spy services, concludes that the war in Iraq is fueling Islamic terrorism.

The logical possibilities:

1. The NIE is wrong. The war in Iraq is beating back Islamic radicals and we should "stay the course" there.

2. The NIE is right, but the war's strengthening of Islamic radicals is an unavoidable consequence of a larger, long term strategy that will eventually weaken Islamic radicalism to below pre-war levels. IOW, some medicines make you feel sicker before they start to improve your health, and the war in Iraq is one of them.

3. The NIE is right, and if we maintain our current approach in Iraq Islamic radicalism will continue to benefit. We must therefore change our approach.

I don't see any other high level logical possibilities -- am I missing any?

Democrats have predictably (and, in my view, rightly) seized on possibility #3. It'll be interesting to see what Republicans have to say. What I've seen so far, from John McCain and Bill Frist, are variations of #2. Despite the obvious temptations, I don't see how the administration can suggest that the answer is #1; if it did, people might start asking why we're spending so much on all these intelligence services (and do we really need sixteen of them? Couldn't policymakers just read The Economist instead?). The closest the White House can reasonably come to a #1 strategy is to say that excerpts have been taken out of context -- which it has done, declaring that the New York Times report is "not representative of the complete document."

The always superb Tom Barnett has a somewhat contrary take on the import of the report. To oversimplify a bit, Dr. Barnett's argument boils down to "terrorists are going to get angry no matter what we do." This is a fair point, but if the war is indeed fueling Islamic radicalism, I think we need to measure that cost against the war's benefits, and also ask whether there are alternatives that offer a better cost/benefit ratio. You don't have to be a naysayer to ask whether there's a better way.

In related news, Iraqi political leaders have agreed to discuss a bill that would turn Iraq into three largely autonomous countries. The Kurds and Shiites want the autonomy option; the Sunnis have been blocking it. I know I'm a broken record on this, but... how are we going to keep these people married when 80% of them want a divorce?

The legislation won't take effect for 18 months after it is approved. If it's approved six months from now, it'll take effect just in time for the 2008 US presidential election. At that point, I expect both nominees will be talking about "respecting the will of the Iraqi people" and similar such rhetoric, and using the Iraqi parliament's vote for tripartite autonomy as the fig leaf we need to substantially reduce our military presence there.

So -- no surprise -- we'll be "staying the course" for as long as the war's architects are in office. We'll be changing course immediately afterward. This has nothing to do with politics and egos, of course, and is all carefully calibrated to do what's best to protect America and reduce the threat of Islamofascism.
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19 Comments:

Blogger JA Konrath said...

While I'm sure that not all people who follow Islam are radicals, are there any peaceful Islamic nations? Any that treat women equally, tolerate other religions, contribute philosophy, art, science, and commodities (other than oil) to the rest of the world?

Are "Islam" and "Islamofascism" interchangable?

There are Christian radicals. They protest abortion, and dance around with snakes, and in severe cases burn crosses. But they also are the first to send aid and charity when there is some sort of disaster, and they don't pray for the deaths of their enemies, and they don't strap bombs to their children.

Would Islamofascists still be fascists without Islam?

Sunday, September 24, 2006 8:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Doug P said...

Barry

This is a bit of an aside, but what do you think about the fact of the leak itself?

Politically motivated or not, the information leaked is classified. It could indeed reveal (or nearly so) sources and methods.

The leaking of information in, around and from Washington has a long and storied past. Obviously the discussion around Ms. Plame was one of the more recent instances of direct importance to the IC. And whatever your view on that case, is this occurrence of greater or lesser import?

Does the leak, and most specifically its reportage in the media, weaken US efforts in the battle against Islamofascism? Does it encourage our opponents? Does it give pause to those around the world who are already working with our IC, or have been considering working with them?

On balance, I think it does more harm than good.

Monday, September 25, 2006 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

Option 3 is the one that strikes me as most realistic as well.

I suppose that there is some slim chance that Option 1 is true, but there is nothing with which to replace the NIE. In other words it's the only thing we have that looks anything like real data. (That said, Option 1 is a scenario likely to gain a certain amount of purchase among those who, like the current administration, see the world as they want it to be rather than as it is.)

Option 2 is also possible, I suppose, but again there is no data whatsoever to indicate that things will get better after they get worse. Absent said data, or a reasonable proxy to which we can point as a basis for this conclusion, it is nothing more than wishful thinking.

In short, we have what we know and what we (or some) believe. Based on what we know, our course of action needs to change, but belief seems to trump knowledge an awful lot these days, so I'm not holding my breath. Any bets on whether the NIE will be releaed to the public before or after the mid-term elections? Mine is that, if it contains what the Times says it does, it will be after. Claims by the White House that the Times excerpts do not represent the entire document ring hollow to me, based on past experience, and it would seem to take an awful lot to overpower - or even balance out - the declarative statements that the war is making jihadist terrorism worse.

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Monday, September 25, 2006 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger spy scribbler said...

Thanks for the link on the three state solution. I'm still skeptical. When one people is forced to do something against their will, there's always trouble ahead.

I think that's a great point, JA Konrath. I have a friend (and there are many more like her) who feels more 'holy' and more like a Christian when she's suffering and thanking God for her trials. I know plenty of people who feel at their best as Christians when they're burning Harry Potter books and telling people that Halloween is the devil's day.

The trials and the fighting is part of their spiritual identity.

Fighting, terrorism, hatred towards America and Israel is part of the Islamofascist identity.

To turn your question around, would Islamofascists still be Islamic without their fascism?

Monday, September 25, 2006 2:03:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

My biggest misgiving about the "three state solution" is this: as I understand it, there are Sunnis living in predominantly Shi'ite areas, Shi'ites living in Kurdish areas, etc. etc. If, say, a mixed Sunni/Kurdish area becomes part of the "Sunni state," don't we risk Yugoslav style "ethnic cleansing" with Sunnis moving to expel Kurds and take their property? Likewise, aren't Sunnis in a Shi'ite area that becomes part of the "Shi'ite state" at the same risk?

Monday, September 25, 2006 8:20:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

are there any peaceful Islamic nations? Any that treat women equally, tolerate other religions, contribute philosophy, art, science, and commodities (other than oil) to the rest of the world?

Turkey?

Monday, September 25, 2006 8:22:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua James said...

Three generals now weigh in on Rumsfield http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/25/AR2006092500731.html

Monday, September 25, 2006 8:33:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

J.A. and spy scribbler,

No offense, but your recent posts on Islam and extremism and what you seem to be implying about their equivalence seems more than a little myopic.

Having noted yourselves that there are Christian extremists - and let's throw in the Jewish extremists, too (e.g. the guy that assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, Meier Kahane, etc.) - I think the answer to your question can be answered with another: Would Christian extremists be extreme without their Christianity? Or would Christian extremists be Christian without their extremism?

If you're rolling your eyes about these questions, you've answered your own queries as well.

Yes, there are plenty of peaceful Islamic countries, and there Islamic countries that treat women well, offer tolerance, and contribute more than oil. (Turkey springs readily to mind, as does, ironically Lebanon, and there are certainly others.) And on the flip side, what about intolerant, backward and mysoginistic "Christian" countries? (e.g. Most of Central America and a lot of South America, not to mention swathes of Europe, like the former East Germany and Northern Ireland.) It seems to me that you ought to be covering those topics as well if you're going to take pokes at the Muslims.

Muslims are people, just like you and me, whose primary concerns are feeding their families, staying alive, and leaving a better life for their kids. Yes, there are extremists, just like there are extremists from pretty much every other faith on the planet, but even they aren't boogie men. Sweeping generalizations with an ironic metaphorical wink strike me as cheap shots.

My own personal experience with people of the Muslim faith has been almost uniformly positive; maybe yours will be, too, if you take the time to meet some.

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Monday, September 25, 2006 8:36:00 PM  
Anonymous tlr said...

I agree with Paul on the religion front. Although religion is certainly an element (in that any entirely faith-based belief that encourages superiority and promises an afterlife is potentially a dangerous weapon), that attitude is certainly not limited to Islamic terrorists. To think of this being 'about Islam' is to reinforce an uncomfortable division. Most Muslims I know abhor terrorist activities as much as anyone, but at the same time feel an empathy with the religious communities in nations where, correctly or not, the West is seen not to be helping very much. The whole 'is it Islam's fault?' thing only reinforces that 'us against them' mindset.

As to whether the war in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism ... is that entirely relevant? I appreciate it's a complex situation: normally I would say that simply because a policy or action might increase terrorism, that's no reason not to do it. To tailor your actions on that basis is effectively allowing terrorism to be successful as a political activity. However, since this is a 'war on terror', I can see that it's obviously a factor, which creates a problem, and perhaps indicates the folly of declaring war on, as they say, an abstract noun.

One thing that does interest me is the way the same argument is used by both sides of the debate. Some pro-war types argue "we must commence/continue the war to eradicate the threat of terrorism", whereas some anti-war people say "we must stop the war because it is increasing the threat of terrorism". It's all based on the threat we're supposedly facing, and manipulating people's fears to influence policy. And I think, used in that way, that threat can obscure the rights and wrongs of the different courses of action. Having pre-emptively attacked a nation on the basis of either a lie or false intelligence, for example, should the discussion of what we do next be framed in terms of "what's best for us"?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 12:44:00 AM  
Blogger spy scribbler said...

Paul,

I didn't roll my eyes at your questions; they're easy. To number one: Yes; Christian extremists would still be extremists without their Christianity. To number two: No; Christian extremists would not be (although my point was that they would not feel) Christian without their extremism.

I'm sorry that I gave the impression that I was speaking of all Muslims or all Christians. That's not at all what I meant. I completely understand that the overwhelming majority of Muslims and Christians are normal people, whose faith makes them a little more charitable and a little more loving than myself.

No, I wasn't at all making sweeping generalities. I'm very specifically speaking of the Islamic terrorists. Nothing I say has to do with the majority of Muslims in the world who live their faith peacefully.

If every single demand of al Qaeda was met, if the Israeli land was given back to the Palestines, and if the whole world converted to Islam, do you really think all of the men and boys in the terrorist cells and training camps would lay down their arms with a smile and go off to live peaceful lives?

I'm saying that their terrorism is part of their spiritual identity--not at all a part of the Islamic faith--but part of their particular and specific spiritual identity. If you take away their terrorist interpretation of Jihad, and you take away their reasons for Jihad, they are going to need to find something else to subsitute into their spiritual identity.

Even in that impossible hypothetical which will never happen, the Islamic terrorists would find another battle or another reason to declare their non-traditional Jihad. Their personal identity is radical Islam, and their spiritual identity is practically the same as their personal identity.

So back to question number two. We can't expect Islamic terrorists to give up their faith, and terrorism and fighting is so much ingrained into their spiritual identity, that I don't see how they're going to give up their terrorism and fighting, any more than they're going to give up their faith.

Do you? I would absolutely love to hear how, I really honestly would!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous brooklynsax said...

PBI said:

"Yes, there are plenty of peaceful Islamic countries, and there Islamic countries that treat women well, offer tolerance, and contribute more than oil. (Turkey springs readily to mind, as does, ironically Lebanon, and there are certainly others.)"

Lebanon is not an Islamic country.

Civil rights abuses against secular Christians by Islamists in Lebanon, with the backing of Syria, is a huge problem with a bloody history. The country is virtually divided along sectarian lines, containing a Muslim state within a state, and could very well slip back into civil war. Many Christians have left for this reason.

Turkey has traditionally been secularist as well, not Islamic. Hence, the problems today, which see growing tension between the secular and Muslim population.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 2:10:00 PM  
Anonymous mike said...

JA,

It seems that everyone is wishing death upon their enemies now, even us. The term "killing Bin Laden" is very in vogue.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 2:21:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Spy Sribbler said: If every single demand of al Qaeda was met, if the Israeli land was given back to the Palestines, and if the whole world converted to Islam, do you really think all of the men and boys in the terrorist cells and training camps would lay down their arms with a smile and go off to live peaceful lives?

AND

Spy Sribbler said: So back to question number two. We can't expect Islamic terrorists to give up their faith, and terrorism and fighting is so much ingrained into their spiritual identity, that I don't see how they're going to give up their terrorism and fighting, any more than they're going to give up their faith.

Your points makes more sense to me explained in this manner, but I'm still not sure I fully agree. (Although I definitely agree more than I thought I did initially!) I do concur that if all demands were met, etc., etc., it would not bring instant peace. I believe however, that if underlying causes - for instance some of the ones Barry enumerated in one of his "Causes of Muslim Sickness" posts - can begin to be addressed, we might see gradual progress. Given that the alternatives to gradual progress are giving up or wholesale nuclear slaughter of our adversaries, it seems like the only path to choose. (That said, I'm all for carrying a big stick while we work to move things forward!)

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 8:15:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

brooklynsax said: Lebanon is not an Islamic country.
AND
brooklynsax said: Turkey has traditionally been secularist as well, not Islamic.

Respectfully, this is news to me.

Google "muslim country" and the results produce numerous lists, which all include Lebanon, as well as Turkey. The CIA Fact Book page for Lebanon (see here) lists Lebanon as 59.7% Muslim and 39% Christian, which means there are half again as many Muslims as Christians. Also according to the CIA Fact Book, Turkey is 99.8% Muslim. (See here.) While the Turkish military has jealously protected the secular nature of the national government, the country is about as Islamic as it gets.

So, I'm not sure what criteria you're using, but I would define both Lebanon and Turkey as predominately Muslim, just as I would define the U.S. to be predominately Christian. If "Islamic" is supposed to be interchangeable with "Islamofascist" or "Jihadist" or "Islamist," then you're right, neither Turkey nor Lebanon fit the bill, but I didn't think the question was framed in that manner. If the question was framed that way, then I have to say I don't beleive there are any Christian nations either, other than the Vatican.

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 8:30:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

JA and Spy Scribbler, if you want to understand the connection between fanaticism and specific ideologies, there's no better source than a short book written half a century ago called "The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements," by Eric Hoffer.

Doug P, the fact of the leak itself... my take on the sensitivity of NIEs is that they're a fantastically expensive, slowly produced, less insightful version of an Economist survey. As the administration has just demonstrated, very little, if anything at all, in an NIE needs to be classified to protect sources and methods; the classification (and, as we've seen, the declassification) is driven much more by politics.

Still, once individuals in the government start deciding which classified material they can unilaterally declassify by leaking it, we're on a slippery slope. Probably the most salutary means of avoiding that slope would be for the government to stop classifying information for political reasons. The government sets the tone here: if information is obviously classified only for political reasons, then in the mind of the leaker leaking becomes a purely political act. Also, if the government abuses its classification powers, it's wrongfooted when it tries to prosecute a leak because the principle it's trying to protect (individuals can't unilaterally declassify information) is obscured by the specifics of the case (no actual harm was done in this instance; it's pure politics).

In other words, if the government abuses its power to classify, it ought to expect abuses on the other end. Every administration, Democrat or Republican, goes on about the wrongness and danger of leaks without accepting responsibility for its own role in the erosion of respect for secrecy.

JD, agreed, there's only more bloodshed on the horizon. What we're looking for at this point is the least worst solution. And TLR, I think "least worst" in this instance means "least worst for the US." We didn't go into Iraq to rescue Iraqis from Saddam, except incidentally in the service of our other, self-interested objectives. I don't want altruism driving our military decisions; I don't think altruism is a smart, realistic, or sustainable basis for policy. We (mistakenly, I believe) went into Iraq in our own interest; if changing course is in our interest, we ought to do so.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous brooklynsax said...

Paul said:

"I'm not sure what criteria you're using"

We are talking about two different things, I think.

You have a good point if you are talking about census figures. But in the instance of Turkey, many people are not practicing Muslims, and the tensions in that between secularists and muslims are growing by the day. It is the forced secularism that has protected women's rights, etc., not institutionalized Islamic doctrine.

As for Lebanon, it was rife with horrific civil war for decades, and could very well be on the verge of another. The Islamic population is a virtual state within a state with its own rules. Thousands of Christians have been slaughtered over the years (a friend of mine fled the country for this reason). Again, if you want to classify it as a Muslim country, based on census figures, that's fine. Regardless, it's really not a good example of a peaceful place with full women's rights for all.

I think this conversation goes back to Barry's original post about a problem with Islam, which I agree with.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 5:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick Pricken said...

Well, if you don't count Turkey as islamic state, then where's the peaceful Christian country, then?

One problem with most muslim nations is that they're not secular, and that religious figures – almost by definition conservative – have more power than religious leaders have, say, in the US. But if the guys who want the Ten Commandments in their jurisdiction had the power (and I don't mean democratic power riddled with compromise), would women have equal rights in the US?

Another problem is that muslim behaviour in the middle east is suffused by culture of the middle east. There are catholic families in Syria who are just as patriarchic, who kill disobedient women for family honor, etc. But these symptoms have become synonymous with Islam, when it's more a cultural facet (bad, nonetheless).

Iran, for example, was on a very good way of secularization, and western music as well as liberated women were no uncommon sight on Teheran's streets. Now, the mullah's are back. And current developments don't help.

I don't know about the "Information Clearing House" and its bias, but in a recent article about threatening Iran War (I found it via a German newspaper's link), it says,

---
It is worth noting, that Iran has committed no violations and that Bush’s war plans are just another example of unprovoked aggression on a peaceful nation. Iran poses no national security threat to America, it has not attacked its neighbors, and, despite claims by the Bush administration, has not been involved in any (provable) acts of international terrorism. They are the simply the victims of a strident militarist doctrine that conceals flagrant acts of aggression behind the feeble ideology of “preemption”; a policy which allows the United States to attack whoever it chooses on the mere presumption that they may pose a potential threat to their continued global supremacy.

Iran has no nuclear weapons, no nuclear weapons programs, and has complied with every requirement of its treaty obligations under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for the last 3 years. At the same time it has undergone the most extensive inspection-regime in the history of the IAEA, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency. The agency has been given a free-hand to “go anywhere and see anything” in Iran’s nuclear facilities and has consistently stated that it has found Iran “in compliance” with its requirements.

Never the less, the wrangling of the Bush administration, aided by a well-crafted propaganda campaign in the media, has created a furor at the UN and a split in public opinion. The public is unaware that Germany just sold Israel two nuclear submarines which will carry nuclear-tipped weapons, or that Brazil is at the same stage of the enrichment-process as Iran, or that Russia just signed a deal with South Africa that will provide them with nuclear fuel, or that the US just brushed aside its treaty obligations under the NPT to provide sensitive nuclear technology to India.

---

Now, perhaps this is a libellian site written by marxist revolutionaries, but if not: Is that still a matter of preventing islamic terrorism? Or is it Imperialism, pure and simple?

I don't say you can't, or shouldn't do something about human rights offenses in other countries (preferably also in those were you profit from these offenses, e.g. China). But I'd prefer if there was at least an honest attempt at peaceful intervention – and such an attempt is not done by simple talking and a loaded gun behind your back. That might lead to more countries coming to their own and becoming independent of western help/control, though, and I'm not sure it's what we (the western world) want, because that wouldn't be in our own best interests.

Thursday, September 28, 2006 4:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Patrick Pricken said...

As to Fundamentalism, the American Philosophical Society has done what they called "The Fundamentalism Project", a five-year analysis by about 200 international scientists about fundamentalisms.

While the project spans several books, two reports are concise, and online:
The Future of World Fundamentalism
Too Bad we're so relevant

I find that's a very insightful report into the minds of fundamentalists. The fundamentalist "agenda", as declared by that project, I only found in a biased article, but the bias, to me, doesn't extend to the paraphrased elements of said agenda:
UUWorld.org

Thursday, September 28, 2006 4:42:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

brooklynsax said: We are talking about two different things, I think.
OK, but I'm still not quite clear on how you're defining a "Muslim country." I'm certainly open to using something other than census figures.

brooklynsax said: But in the instance of Turkey, many people are not practicing Muslims, and the tensions in that between secularists and muslims are growing by the day. It is the forced secularism that has protected women's rights, etc., not institutionalized Islamic doctrine.
How is this different from any nation in which there is an activist religious population? In the U.S. for example, there is a significant - and sometimes violent - group of people who take all manner of action based on religious beliefs. Doesn't forced secularism protect women's rights in any couuntry that has the potential for religious dominance?

brooklynsax said: As for Lebanon, it was rife with horrific civil war for decades...
True - and I should have been more clear in my original post - Lebanon is no longer the country it once was. (Back when Beirut could legitimately called "the Paris of the Middle East.) No argument on current marginalization of Christians, but I'm not sure how that makes Lebanon anything but an increasingly Muslim country.

Thursday, September 28, 2006 9:42:00 AM  

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