Decide for yourself into which of those categories falls the following blog-gem by Francis Fukuyama, Nine Things We Have Learned Since September 11, 2001, which you can read here, or, in a version annotated by me, below:
1. “Terrorism” is the wrong term to describe the problem we face. Terrorism is a tactic used by the weak; we are not fighting the tactic but a group of violent Islamists and insurgents. It makes no sense to lump together someone willing to fly a plane into a skyscraper in New York with an ex-Baathist attacking American soldiers on Iraqi territory, odious as both may be. While people in these categories may be temporary allies, their motivations and the threat they pose to the United States are very different.
I remember people making this point a few years back; I think it just fizzled in a nationwide “so what?” moment. Truth is, It does make sense to lump al Qaeda and the ex-Saddamists together because they are fighting side-by-side, often cooperate, and indeed often overlap.
2. “War” is also the wrong term to describe the struggle we are in. Wars are fought with overwhelming force against nation-states, and have clear beginnings and endings. Many of our most dangerous enemies are citizens of friendly countries like Britain, France, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The struggle in which we are engaged is more like a counterinsurgency campaign fought on a global scale. As in all counterinsurgency campaigns, the use of overwhelming force to destroy your enemies will almost always be counterproductive. You need to separate and isolate the hard core fighters from the surrounding populations, meaning that military operations have to be strictly subordinated to the political goal of winning hearts and minds of the less committed.
Actually, I can’t think of very many wars at all that were fought with “overwhelming force against nation-states.” None of the wars of classical or medieval history fit that description (obviously, since there were few if any real nation-states) and most wars of modern history were indeed irregular low-intensity conflicts, most of them essentially counter-insurgency campaigns such as the Boer War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Yugoslavia. As for the other points he makes here, Fukuyama is to be applauded for seeing the wisdom of Rumsfeld’s strategy in Iraq. Maybe he feels bad about the New York Times op-ed (subscription required) in which he reveals his taste for kicking administrations when they’re down.
3. We have three broad groups of opponents in this campaign: first, the Sunni Salafists originating in Saudi Arabia, who have found many adherents among aliented Muslims in Western Europe and elsewhere; second, pro-Iranian Islamists including the regime in Teheran, Hezbollah, and some of the Shiite parties in Iraq; and third, nationalists (who may or may not be secular) struggling for power in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are not dealing with a unified movement. In Iraq and Pakistan, these groups are actively fighting one another; we have indeed facilitated the rise to power of some of the Shiite parties.
And? Besides belaboring the obvious, what’s his point? In World War II, we also were not dealing with a unified movement. Japan had little in common with European fascism. We lumped them all together under the rubric “savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world” and kicked their asses all across the planet.
4. The Salafist branch is a very decentralized movement that does not depend heavily on hierarchical control or funding. This particular snake cannot be killed simply by cutting off the head. The Shiite branch is rapidly developing and does have a head in Teheran, but the degree to which the Iranian regime can control local parties around the Gulf remains to be seen. One of the most important unintended consequences of the Iraq war was to empower pro-Iranian Shiites in a major Arab country in a manner that will have consequences all over the region.
But democracy means majority rule. How can he possibly think that empowering the majority Shia in Iraq was unintended consequence of bringing democracy to Iraq? It was on the contrary among the most important of the intended consequences. Also, the Iraqi Shiites are quite decentralized and if they have a head, it is not in Tehran, but rather within the government in Baghdad. Iran is more pro-Iraqi Shia than the other way around, a fact which is not well understood even among experts.
5. We have tended to overstate the threat that any of these groups poses to the United States by carelessly lumping together under the general category of “terrorism” (1) car and attempted airplane bombings; (2) the counterinsurgency campaigns being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; (3) nation-states possessing WMD; and (4) mass casualty terrorism using WMD. The first three threats are real and ongoing, but when Americans are reminded of September 11, they tend to think about #4. It is much easier to justify extreme and costly responses like preventive wars and torture if you think that we are constantly heading off nuclear attacks killing tens of thousands, rather than car bombs killing tens of people. #4 is possible and we need to work to prevent it, but it also very difficult for our enemies to achieve. Our real problems, serious enough, are #1-3.
So Fukuyama thinks that “we have tended to overstate the threat” posed by “our real problems,” which are “serious enough.” I see.
6. Conventional military power continues to be useful against nation-states, but it is much less useful against networked, transnational movements that are deeply embedded in local populations. The United States, which spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, has not been able to pacify a small country of some 24 million people after 3½ years of effort, nor was Israel able to militarily disarm Hezbollah. This is due both to the nature of the enemy, and to constraints on the use of force to which all democracies are and will continue to be subject.
Fukuyama’s basic observation here is straight out of the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2001, which was essentially completed by the time of the World Trade Center attacks, so actually this is something that we already knew and were planning for before September 11, 2001.
7. The converse side of the previous proposition is that conventional military power, including nuclear deterrence, should continue to be effective against nation-states like Iran. Anyone who believes that Iran’s Islamist ideology is so extreme that it will be willing to in effect commit national suicide to achieve its ideological goals needs to defend that argument explicitly. It is possibly true, but far from obvious either from the history of earlier ideological regimes, or from Iran’s own behavior since 1978.
Fukuyama here is making the argument that containment and deterrence against Iran’s nuclear weapons should work. Well, to use his own rhetorical device, whoever says that deterrence will be effective against the threat of anonymous nuclear terrorism “needs to defend that argument explicitly.” Besides, the real problems will inhere in Iran’s nuclear counter-deterrent to our conventional deterrent against the myriad acts of conventional aggression and terrorist activity that Iran could unleash in coming years.
8. Comparing our current struggle to those with Hitler or Stalin is useful in mobilizing domestic US support for staying the course in Iraq, but is not a helpful way of understanding the situation that has developed since Sept. 11, 2001. Hitler and Stalin were leaders of centralized and powerful nation-states. Our Islamist foes by contrast are a complex and shifting lot, some more dangerous than others, with only two developing though oil-rich nation-states under their control. We will have to play on their internal divisions and make deals with a number of them (we have in fact already done this in Iraq and Saudi Arabia) if we are not to eventually find ourselves at war with roughly 20 percent of mankind.
Comparing the current struggle to that of the 1930s is on the contrary essential for understanding the situation that has developed since September 11, 2001, and especially for being able to recognize those situations that will now come up in which we will have to chose between risky preemption and reckless appeasement. The causes of World War II are still but dimly understood and repay a lifetime of meditation. In its nuclear program Iran is about to seize a huge strategic advantage against which we arguably have no defense. The window for effective self-defense will open and close long before an attack is imminent, just as it did after Munich in 1938. Meanwhile, the West is again paralyzed by a morally confused political debate over whose fault it is that our enemies hate us so much and are growing stronger. Appeasement may have been structurally inevitable in the 1930s, and may be so today. The comparison between the two situations deserves a central place in the national dialogue.
9. The people who say that “everything changed” after September 11 are partly right, but not in the way that most believe. The stakes today remain lower than in the great conflicts of the 20th century, but the political terrain of a media-drenched world of weak states and transnational actors is far more treacherous.
So the stakes are lower, but the situation is more treacherous. Not sure I get this point. Well, at least the phrase “media-drenched world of weak states and transnational actors” gives some hope that Fukuyama hasn’t wandered far off the neoconservative reservation.
Fukuyama has done some brilliant work in his career, but when it comes to national security his notions are surprisingly simplistic and often marred by omissions of basic analysis. And it shows in this post; he would have been better off not writing it.
— Mario Loyola is a former assistant for communications and policy planning at the Department of Defense.