Monday, July 16, 2007

The End of the War on Terror

We're in the middle of an ideological war.

At least, some of us are.

The "War on Terror," in retrospect, was probably a bad policy name. "War on Al-Qaeda and its allies" would have probably been better. Really, we're not waging a war on Hamas, Hezbollah, the Basques (of Spain), Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, Indonesian who-knows-what-they-call-themselves, etc. I'm equally unconvinced that the War on Terror is secretly a "War on Radical Islam." We surely don't like Radical Islam... nor should we. But we shouldn't be out to militarily crush the ideology, and we haven't shown signs of trying to do that. We've stayed far away from many of the most radical Islamists-- Syria, southern Lebanon, Indonesia, Somalia. Iraq was probably the least of our Radical Islam worries in the Middle East... at least until we showed up. There's certainly been no tendency in the US "War on Terror" to unilaterally fight terrorists or Radical Islamists.

We're rather confident at this point that Bush was planning on taking out the Hussein regime even before 9/11, so let's not even consider the 2003 invasion as part of the War on Terror itself (regardless of what the President claimed at the time). Given that, we've had one major military operation against a terror operation, and this has been in Afghanistan.

Even our considerations of action (military and not) against Iran are unrelated to Terror or Islam. Iran's pressing need for nuclear weapons, suspiciously combined with a pressing need to wipe Israel off the map, should reasonably make any US foreign policymaker feel some hostility. But on top of it, evidence mounts that Iran is meddling in Iraq and making Coalition lives harder in creating security for the country. Given our desperation to fix up Iraq and go home, hostility in US foreign policymakers is understandable.

So it's clear that the "War on Terror" is poorly named. But why change it?

A few reasons. First, wars on concepts tend to do poorly, and help accentuate individual failures. The War on Drugs and War on Poverty are failed policies that we're hanging on to (and spending gobs of money on) regardless of performance. We don't need another one of these. Second, and more importantly, US foreign policy needs to be clear. We need to let our allies and enemies alike know where we draw the line between tolerable and unacceptable behavior. We need to let potential adversaries know what will cause us to go to war. The "War on Terror" is a war against a tactic. If we declare that we'll go to war against anyone who uses this tactic, then we either have to follow through with it and be consistent, or the sentiment will be lost, and none of our potential adversaries will know where our line is.

This clarity of communication was key to fighting the Cold War effectively, and will be key to fighting against potential terror enemies effectively. From here, I think we should replace the "War on Terror" with, indeed, a "War on Al-Qaeda and its allies." Many countries have interpreted the former as the latter, which is excellent: Al-Qaeda is a black name, and is not given haven in any country that wishes to avoid our wrath. Since our war began, they have lost ground in most states with strong security and administration (and have gained in Iraq and Northwestern Pakistan, where there is relatively little government influence). They've also lost ideological support overall:

Defeating Al-Qaeda, and making it clear that anyone who attacks us or our allies will fall onto our black list, should be a much more clear and effective line. Middle Eastern countries will have a strong incentive to crack down on potential radical groups that should wish us harm, so that we don't have to show up and do the cracking down ourselves.

Hopefully, a less ideological administration will be elected in 2008, and may take this more pragmatic approach to our fight against Al-Qaeda and its allies. Should that occur, I will be toasting, hopefully with many of you, to the End of the War on Terror.

Future Me

The future is looking up. And the engineering title's got to go-- at this point, it's a masquerade. I'm a political scientist. More accurately, I'm working on being a defence analyst.

There's a few ways I could take it. But it's almost certainly going to start with grad school. And if I play my cards right, MIT has a program that would let me become a grad student in my senior year, and work on my master's thesis for two years. But I have to apply this fall. That means GREs and letters of rec. The latter is mostly taken care of, the former will happen in fall. Admission probability is pretty good at this point.

Prof. Fravel and I are almost done with his book, and I'm hoping to get an acknowledgment out of it. He seems to like me, and has been happy to help jump-start my career. I think I may be getting some second-authorships on papers in the fall. He's going to work on getting me to China next summer.

And that means next summer this might turn into a sentimental travel blog, but that's okay. I've been studying Chinese all summer, and am close to ready for Chinese III in the fall. If all goes to plan, I'll get an internship at a Think Tank the Professor knows, and MIT will cover travel and board.

After grad school, I'm still looking at doing a stint with the CIA for a few years, then moving either to independent contracting, a think tank, or policy-making. But I've got plenty of time to make my mind up.

From here, I'm thinking about what presidential candidate I'll be voting for in the primaries. I'd like to say someone has a good foreign policy and grand strategy... but I really don't know myself where we go from here. We're in a pickle, it's true, and I'm wondering what Congress is going to do about this pull-out business... whether they'll jump on it, or wait until the September surge report.

The surge _has_ reduced civilian and American soldier deaths/day. Does that mean we've dealt a big blow to anti-Iraqi/American insurgents, or does it mean the bad guys are in hiding? The majority of insurgent attacks are still on American soldiers, which leads some to think that a pull-out will make Iraq more peaceful. But that's probably a bit naive--an American pull-out is not going to cause Iraqi sects to get along, and it's not going to stop Al-Qaeda in Iraq from trying to overthrow the secular government and establish an oppressive Islamic Republic. Iran--or at least Ahemenijad--is likely to feel emboldened about trying to create a Shiite-dominated neighbor if we pull out, but Ahemenijad is losing a lot of ground in popularity, and having enough forces to keep the Iranians under some sort of control (until Ahemenijad is voted out in 2009) may save us a lot of headaches in the future.

It's not that Iran is going to become the next Soviet Union, but until we achieve energy independence, we're going to have to continue to give a damn about the Middle East. Frankly, I'd like to stop caring about the whole region altogether, but until we start drilling in Alaska, building some nuclear power plants, driving electric cars, or developing atomic teleportation technology, we're going to have to keep putting up with it.

What about the Terrorists? They're really not the kind of problem the administration makes them out to be. If it's that important to preserve the lives of innocent Americans, we'd be pouring a lot more effort into public safety at home. At 2 million violent crimes per year, even sustained terror attacks would account for a small fraction of the violations of our Right to Life.

That said, we've had some pretty impressive crime reductions in the 90's:

Whether it was the Republicans or Clinton or Governors or some voodoo magic that caused the drop is beyond me, and frankly I don't care (what I do care about is my mother telling me that it's more dangerous now than it was when she was a kid. Now _that's_ media mayhem). But we should still work on it.

Heck, I'm not even convinced pulling out of the region completely would cause an increase in terror attacks in the US. How many times has Al-Qaeda attacked Sweden? But if anyone tells you they really know whether attacks on American soil are likely to increase or decrease if we pull out of the region, they're smoking something illegal.

But again, before I give you a "Middle East and World Foreign Policy '09" rant, I'm going to get a better idea of what we're doing with this Iraq thing. It seems to be the crux of such a future policy.

But really, I think the future's looking up.