BOUNDING THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM

I started this post during lunch time yesterday and never got back to it because of the length of the piece in question, the difficulty of easily excerpting from a PDF document, and actually having something to do other than blogging last evening. I’ll just post the cursory analysis now rather than have it become irrelevant. [It’s a blog with 1000 readers a day, it’s already irrelevant.-ed. That’ll be enough out of you.]

WaPo has highlighted a recent paper of the above title by Jeffrey Record, an analyst with the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College. Record is a well-respected scholar on these matters–I assigned several of his articles on the Vietnam war as required readings when I taught International Conflict–and his criticism of Administration policy in the Global War on Terrorism should be taken seriously. It is worth noting, however, that Record is sort of the Christopher Hitchens of military analysis: he’s made his reputation by being a professional contrarian.

Record makes some useful points but I disagree with his fundamental premise:

Of particular concern has been the conflation of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat. This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action. The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al-Qaeda. The war against Iraq was not integral to the GWOT, but rather a detour from it.

Let’s take these individually:

the conflation of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat

I would argue that Record and others like him have a too-narrow view of the terrorist threat. To say that our only enemy is al Qaeda is rather like saying the Allies fought World War Two primarily to liberate Poland, since that was after all the proximate cause. Osama bin Laden had literally declared war against the US years before 9/11 but we–and that’s a bipartisan “we,” not “we” as in “that no good Bill Clinton”–failed to pay him sufficient heed. But al Qaeda isn’t a single target in the way that the Red Brigades or even the Irish Republican Army are; it’s essentially a franchise rather than a single entity.

This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action.

What evidence is there that we didn’t recognize the differences? We fought, for example, using almost entirely different tactics in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq

Whether the Iraq war was “necessary” is certainly debatable at this juncture. It, of course, had the wonderful side effect of liberating an oppressed people, but that wouldn’t in of itself justify it. But given that Saddam had been thumbing his nose at international sanctions for more than a decade, the extent that he was “deterred” is questionable.

that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism

Albeit one packed with American and other coalition soldiers in a place where they can be killed or captured.

and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al-Qaeda

Rather contradictory, no? To the extent that money is finite, it’s clear that any money spent in Iraq can’t be spent in, say, Detroit. But what is it that we would likely have allocated money for that we haven’t? And, if al Qaeda is undeterable, then almost by definition going out and hunting them down is the only alternative, no?

For other reactions, see Secular Blasphemy, Winds of Change, VodkaPundit.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Seismic says:

    One part of what the US is doing by invading Iraq is to attempt to install a democracy into a region dominated by totalitarianism. This is a much of a threat to OBL and the Islamist as anything else we can do to them.

    The other part of what our invasion did to Iraq was to send a message to that part of the world: you knock down a couple of our buildings and we will knock down a couple of your governments. Don’t think that this message hasn’t been heard loud and clear in that part of the world. Khadaffi would never have given up his WMDs before the Iraqi invasion.

    Remember the carrot doesn’t work without the stick.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Seismic: Your points are non-responsive to the argument at hand, though. I supported the war and still think, on balance, we’re ahead of the game. The question now is how to handle the restructuring, though.