Bacevich: A New Cold War?
Andrew Bacevich in an op-ed in the Washington Post proposes an alternative to conventional war or global counter-insurgency, an approach evocative of the Cold War policy of containment:
Containment implies turning to the old Cold War playbook. When confronting the Soviet threat, the United States and its allies erected robust defenses, such as NATO, and cooperated in denying the communist bloc anything that could make Soviet computers faster, Soviet submarines quieter or Soviet missiles more accurate.
Containing the threat posed by jihad should follow a similar strategy. Robust defenses are key — not mechanized units patrolling the Iron Curtain, but well-funded government agencies securing borders, controlling access to airports and seaports, and ensuring the integrity of electronic networks that have become essential to our way of life.
As during the Cold War, a strategy of containment should include comprehensive export controls and the monitoring of international financial transactions. Without money and access to weapons, the jihadist threat shrinks to insignificance: All that remains is hatred. Ideally, this approach should include strenuous efforts to reduce the West’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil, which serves to funnel many billions of dollars into the hands of people who may not wish us well.
In principle, Dr. Bacevich is quite right. If we deny them cell phones, computers, access to the Internet, the ability to travel back and forth freely to and from Western countries, purchase munitions, or move money through the international banking system we have little to fear from organized radical Islamist terrorism. Controlling the airwaves and the flow of information and capital can be as effective as controlling the sea was a century ago. Incidental terrorism we will always have with us whether practiced by domestic maniacs or the imported sort. But we can mitigate the risk of organized terrorism by limiting its ability to organize.
However, Dr. Bacevich’s proposal founders on a single two part question: whom are we to contain and how? Al Qaeda and takfiris, generally, do not carry passports or membership cards identifying themselves as such. They have Pakistani, Saudi, Yemeni, or Jordanian passports. Or French, German, British, or American ones. Theoretically, we could ban all travel and trade other than oil, food, and pharmaceuticals between North African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian countries and the rest of the world. I’m skeptical about pharmaceuticals because of their relative fungibility.
Would the Chinese go along? Would the Germans? I think the very limited effectiveness of our ability to limit trade with Iran so far is instructive in this context. Would we have greater success in containing a billion of the world’s people or more?
I think that containment could be an effective approach in dealing with Pakistan and I advocate it. Do we have the stomach to enforce the same policy on our trading partners without which the policy would be meaningless? I doubt it.