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Sep 16, 2004 2:38 pm

Lacking Metrics

Here's a piece I had in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune last weekend on whether we're winning the war on terror. Registration's a pain, so I'll reproduce it here:

We're at war not with a state but an armed ideology

Gene Healy

September 12, 2004

Last October, in an internal Pentagon memo leaked to the press, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hit on the key question in assessing U.S. progress in the war on Al-Qaida:"Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

Three years after the destruction of the Twin Towers, that question is as vital as ever.

Rumsfeld's question is key because it recognizes the nature of the enemy: We're not at war with a state, but with an armed ideology with murderous adherents in more than 60 countries. Responses appropriate to a state-based threat will only rarely be effective against a private, self-organizing, adaptable enemy that can operate without state support or central direction. Indeed, such responses may exacerbate the problem, drawing new recruits to jihad.

Sept. 11, 2001, should have concentrated the mind wonderfully as to the type of enemy we're fighting. Too often, however, the administration has insisted on"fighting the last war." Having rightfully removed the one state that was directly related to the terror threat, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the administration continued on to Iraq, as if the war against terror was a war against states. But it's hard to understand how regime change in Iraq aided the war against anti-American terrorism. Iraq appears to have had few, if any, genuine Al-Qaida links and no WMD stockpiles to speak of, much less a plan to pass off weapons of mass destruction to anti-American terrorists.

"Anonymous," the author of"Imperial Hubris," a 22-year CIA veteran who ran the Counterterrorist Center's Bin Laden station from 1996 to 1999, is nobody's peacenik. But he says that"there is nothing Bin Laden could have hoped for more than the invasion and occupation of Iraq."

His assessment is echoed by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who says that the war on Iraq"delivered to Al-Qaida the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable."

Are they right? It's difficult to tell. As Rumsfeld put it in the October memo,"we lack metrics" to know whether the pool of anti-American jihadis is growing or shrinking.

But there are some indications that we are losing that battle of numbers.

On April 1, J. Cofer Black, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, testified before Congress that there are"growing indications that Al-Qaida's ideology is spreading well beyond the Middle East, particularly its virulent anti-American rhetoric. This has been picked up by a number of Islamic extremist movements which exist around the globe. This greatly complicates our task in stamping out Al-Qaida, and poses a threat in its own right for the foreseeable future."

A year after the start of the Iraq war, a Pew Research Center Poll revealed that"large majorities in Jordan (70%) and Morocco (66%) believe suicide bombings carried out against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable. Nearly half of those in Pakistan agree (46%)." Sixty-five percent of Pakistanis and 55 percent of Jordanians have a positive view of Bin Laden.

More recently, polls conducted by Zogby International show that the Iraq war has contributed to near-universal hostility toward the United States in the Arab world, with, for example, 98 percent of Egyptians holding negative views toward America. The"radical clerics" that Rumsfeld worries about now have an even more receptive audience.

That's not to suggest that the war on Al-Qaida should be run as a global popularity contest. Far from it: We need to kill or capture those who mean us harm, and should make no apologies about it. But anti-American sentiment is the lifeblood of jihad. Needlessly increasing it through unnecessary wars in the Middle East nourishes the enemy and swells its ranks.

With the wisdom of hindsight, does the Bush administration fully appreciate this? Perhaps not.

Time magazine has reported that during"a private Aug. 19 conference call with Capitol Hill aides from both parties ... senior Pentagon policy official William Luti said there are at least five or six foreign countries with traits that 'no responsible leader can allow.'" There may be more Iraqs in our future.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the periodic standoffs in Najaf, Sadr City, Fallujah and elsewhere put American servicemen in the untenable position of either having their hands tied in the face of aggression, or responding with overwhelming force, generating civilian casualties and film footage that will surely make its way into jihadist recruitment videos.

In the Defense Department memorandum leaked last October, Secretary Rumsfeld wondered,"Is our current situation such that 'the harder we work, the behinder we get'?"

Rumsfeld wasn't talking about Iraq specifically, but his words perfectly describe our current dilemma.

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More Comments:

Gene Healy - 9/17/2004

Yes, I said "from dominant to universal," then I gave you the link. I'm not trying to hide anything from you. My points were:

1. the number of people willing to kill themselves to kill us is the most important variable in the war on terror
2. anti-American hostility is one indicator of that underlying number
3. the Iraq war exacerbated anti-American hostility, making things worse for us.

I don't see anything you've written that casts much doubt on that. I don't know what can be done about state-owned media in the Arab world. I'm not sure Al-Jazeera contributes much to a more balanced view or that people who watch it are less hostile to American foreign policy. But I think it's reasonable to surmise that the number of people willing to blow themselves up to kill Americans would be smaller if their only complaints against us were that we were buying their oil and we're too stingy with foreign aid. Moreover, Bin Laden has been recruiting people for years by telling them there's a Crusader-Zionist alliance bent on taking over the Middle East and secularizing it. I'm fairly certain we didn't hurt his spring pledge drive by taking over a large country at the heart of the middle east and attempting to turn it into a liberal democracy.

Jason Pappas - 9/17/2004

I’m amused with your statements about causality. First with regard to the claims about increase in anti-Americanism, I notice you didn’t mention the numbers: from 75% to 100%. So the vast majority already had these views. Now, you failed to mention the state run propaganda machines that will spew anti-American conspiracies no matter what we do. Thus, the polls tell us what the governments want the people to think. You do need to do more work on this, Gene.

Now you mentioned that they want us out and they complain about sanctions. But sanctions mean we were out – we didn’t trade with or support Saddam’s Iraq. That’s not what they want and it not just that they want trade. (which I’ll get to below).

I saw Zogby in C-Span talking about the poll. He said something interesting which isn’t being reported in print except for a brief paragraph in his report (your link). He said that besides the scheduled questions he left room for general comments. Here he said he was surprised. The most common response was that we only loved them for their oil (I’m obviously paraphrasing him). And this response was more common the less a country had oil to offer. The idea of trade – we pay for the oil and they only give it to us for our money – isn’t good enough. (Often they add that we are stealing their oil.) Zogby didn’t pursue this lead. (He has an agenda.) If he did he’d find out something interesting. Yes, they don’t like the fact that we help Israel (as his survey shows) and they want us to stop helping Israel but they don’t want us to stop helping them. They just want everything on their terms and not just on a payment/trade basis.

I’ve often showed my Arab friends what a complete libertarian position implies in gory detail. I’ve found that Arabs don’t want this (we still should, of course). They want intervention on their side and on their terms. I can’t mention the details here. My point is we shouldn't expect the Arab state-controlled propaganda to disappear with a non-interventionist policy. And that shouldn’t deter us from a proper policy. I’m agreeing with your goals – just not your empirical-based arguments. Let's be more careful with the propaganda from foreign countries - it can be a double edge sword.


Gene Healy - 9/17/2004

The Zogby polls compare pre and post Iraq war. They show anti-American sentiment going from dominant to universal throughout the Arab world. They also make a good case for causation, given that they ask respondents about what they hate about the US and foreign policy is at the top of the list. So I think the point that the Iraq war is exacerbating hostility in the Arab world is pretty well established. Read about it here:

study here:

Yes they hate us for helping kill hundreds of thousands of people via sanctions. They hate us for killing 10,000 people in the war that ended the sanctions. I do see a pattern here. It tells me we should mind our own business and get out.

Jason Pappas - 9/17/2004

Gene, you didn’t show polls taken before the Iraq war. Why? How can we ascertain an increase? Secondly, Islamist support was growing before 9/11 and before the Iraq war. Is the growth accelerating or decelerating? Finally, correlation is no proof of causality. Thus, I agree that we really don’t have the metrics.

Now, prior to the invasion of Iraq, it was commonly said that there was considerable anti-American hate because of the starvation in Iraq during the years of sanctions. Add to that the anti-American hate that results from our dealing with fascists dictatorships like Mubarak and Saddam himself (during the 80s). Thus, roughly speaking, they hate us for supporting Saddam, hate us for refusing to trade with Saddam’s Iraq, and hate us for going in and removing Saddam. See a pattern here?

One final point. If this is an ideological war, where’s the war propaganda? Where’s the vilification of the enemies principles and ideology? I don’t see it and there’s a reason. Since the enemy’s ideology is religious in origin this poses a problem. We tend to promote religious toleration which holds back the ecumenical conservatives and many others. Since communism was a philosophical ideology, no such constraints were in place. The Left is held back by the multi-cultural taboo of singling out and vilifying a foreign culture. We are in grave need of some leaders who will lead an ideological war - a war which is far preferable to a military war if we can avoid the latter.