Jan 12, 2004 6:08 pm


Your Bush-Germany, or Bush-Hitler, comparison for the week -- or more likely the year -- does not come from me. No, no: it comes courtesy of a new report on the war on terror from the Army War College, the Army's"premier academic institution." And as noted in the Washington Post story about the report:

[Jeffrey Record's] essay, published by the Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, carries the standard disclaimer that its views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Army, the Pentagon or the U.S. government.

But retired Army Col. Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., director of the Strategic Studies Institute, whose Web site carries Record's 56-page monograph, hardly distanced himself from it."I think that the substance that Jeff brings out in the article really, really needs to be considered," he said.

Echoing a number of the themes that I discussed in this essay (and especially in the final part), Record says:
The global war on terrorism as presently defined and conducted is strategically unfocused, promises much more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military and other resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security. The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, al-Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil.
I've only skimmed the report so far, but here are a few excerpts that caught my attention (the complete report is here, in a PDF file). Record discusses the conceptual problems with regard to manner in which the Bush administration has framed the global war on terrorism:
Unfortunately, stapling together rogue states and terrorist organizations with different agendas and threat levels to the United States as an undifferentiated threat obscures critical differences among rogues states, among terrorist organizations, and between rogue states and terrorist groups. One is reminded of the postulation of an international Communist monolith in the 1950s which blinded American policymakers to the influence and uniqueness of local circumstances and to key national, historical, and cultural differences and antagonisms within the"Bloc." Communism was held to be a centrally directed international conspiracy; a Communist anywhere was a Communist everywhere, and all posed an equal threat to America’s security. A result of this inability to discriminate was disastrous U.S. military intervention in Vietnam against an enemy perceived to be little more than an extension of Kremlin designs in Southeast Asia and thus by definition completely lacking an historically comprehensible political agenda of its own.

Both terrorist organizations and rogue states embrace violence and are hostile to the existing international order. Many share a common enemy in the United States and, for rogue states and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, a common enemy in Israel. As international pariahs they are often in contact with one another and at times even cooperate. But the scope and endurance of such cooperation is highly contingent on local circumstances. More to the point, rogue states and terrorist organizations are fundamentally different in character and vulnerability to U.S. military power. Terrorist organizations are secretive, elusive, nonstate entities that characteristically possess little in the way of assets that can be held hostage; as The National Security Strategy points out, a terrorist enemy’s"most potent protection is statelessness."47 In contrast, rogue states are sovereign entities defined by specific territories, populations, governmental infrastructures, and other assets; as such, they are much more exposed to decisive military attack than terrorist organizations.

Or to put it another way, unlike terrorist organizations, rogue states, notwithstanding administration declamations to the contrary, are subject to effective deterrence and therefore do not warrant status as potential objects of preventive war and its associated costs and risks.

A bit later, Record notes:
Dr. Condoleezza Rice got it right in 2000:"[T]he first line of defense [in dealing with rogue states] should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence--if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration."
The Post sums up the report's theme in this way:"Record's core criticism is that the administration is biting off more than it can chew." And this problem is the direct result of the administration's failure to identify the differing natures and levels of threat represented by our various enemies and potential enemies -- and the Bush administration's oversimplification of these complexities leads to the comparison between our current strategy and the profound errors committed by Germany in the last century, not once but twice:
Insistence on moral clarity once again trumps strategic discrimination. Even if all terrorism is evil, most terrorist organizations do not threaten the United States. Many pursue local agendas that have little or no bearing on U.S. interests. Should the United States, in addition to fi ghting al-Qaeda, gratuitously pick fights with the Basque Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (E.T.A. [Fatherland and Liberty]), the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Sendero Luminoso, Hamas, and Hizbollah? Do we want to provoke national- and regional-level terrorist organizations that have stayed out of America’s way into targeting the U.S. interests and even the American homeland?

A cardinal rule of strategy is to keep your enemies to a manageable number. A strategy whose ambitions provoke the formation of an array of enemies whose defeat exceeds the resources available to that strategy is doomed to failure. The Germans were defeated in two world wars notwithstanding their superb performance at the operational and tactical levels of combat because their strategic ends outran their available means; their declared strategic ambitions provoked formation of an opposing coalition of states whose collective resources in the end overwhelmed those of Germany.

I look forward to reading the entire report when I have time, and I think you might find it of great interest as well.

(Cross-posted at The Light of Reason.)

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