ideas at warIn a speech given last month at the Naval War College, CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid warned about the intentions of our enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. A student in the audience took notes, which are now circulating informally throughout the Army with the encouragement of the chief of staff (I've seen the document printed out on several desks):
He said that we are focused on the things that we (Americans) have done wrong, like Abu Ghraib, and not talking about this enemy. We need to talk about this enemy. al Qaida is all over the world. Their goal is to get the US out of the region and come to power in the Islamic countries of the region. From there, their goal is to establish a Caliphate (under a single Islamic ruler) that goes from the Atlantic in North Africa to Indonesia in the Pacific. Fifty years after this happens, their goal is to rule the rest of the world.Okay, there's the premise: Our very way of life is threatened by an enemy that intends to take over the world. Very next note from the speech:
Since Desert Storm in 1991, US forces have not lost any combat engagement in the region at the platoon-level or above. al Qaida has no beliefs that they can defeat us militarily. They see our center of gravity as being the will of the American People. That is influenced by the media and they are playing to that. They don't need to win any battles. Their plan is keep the casualties in front of the American people in the media for long enough that we become convinced that we cannot win and leave the region. This would be tragic for our country.The enemy intends to take over the entire world, but has never won a battle, and so plan to establish their total global domination by the alternative means of manipulating the New York Times into manipulating the American people into giving up. Then time passes, and bang, global caliphate.
I've seen versions of this "global caliphate" argument on many, many blogs. Look at the final paragraphs of this very long blog essay, for example: "The wolf is not interested in what we do. He does not spare little lambs because they rub up against his leg and make cooing sounds. The wolf wants to swallow us whole. He wants the fight. He wants the war and the conflict. And he will keep on huffing and puffing until one of three things happen: We show him our throat, for him to rip out; or we convert to Islam and become part of his Caliphate; or we head out into the forest with a shotgun and blow his fucking head off. I made my decision by about 9:30 eastern on September 11th, 2001. I have never regretted it."
But no one ever quite manages to articulate how one gets from the Sept. 11 attacks to world domination; the argument is only that they want it, not that they might genuinely have a map to get there. ("Fifty years after this happens" -- blink, blink -- "their goal is to rule the rest of the world.)
And so I do wonder how much it's worth worrying about this global caliphate. The Germans sent 120 heavy divisions into the Soviet Union, and it didn't work; al Qaeda has tens of thousands of followers -- maybe hundreds of thousands of followers, with the recruiting assistance of a very large U.S. military presence in an Islamic country -- whose operational art peaks at car bombings and hijackings. They're a serious threat to human life, and worth engaging aggressively with a variety of approaches that include the measured use of military force; but they are not a threat to Western Civilization (cue trumpets), and would seem to be as likely to actually establish their global caliphate as I am to grow pumpkins out my ass. Nothing is accomplished from overstating the threat.
Still, the rest of Abizaid's speech is well worth noting. From the same notes:
The battle against al Qaida will not be primarily military. It will be political, economic, and ideological. It will require the international community to fight too. We must not let al Qaida get hold in any country.No place to put a military solution...maintain pressure with the international community. Certainly not the Malkin/Hanson view of the war.
It will result in our worst nightmare. Picture life in Afghanistan under the Taliban, that is what Al Qaida's ideology has as a goal.
If you look at the geography (of al Qaida), there is no place to put a military solution. They are networked and they are all over the world.
They are a virtual organization connected by the Internet. They use it to proselytize, recruit, raise money, educate and organize. They have many pieces that we must focus on: the propaganda battle in the media, safe houses, front companies, sympathetic members of legitimate governments, human capital, fighters and leaders, technical expertise, weapons suppliers, ideologically sympathetic non-government organizations (charities), financers, smugglers, and facilitators. A lot of their money comes from drugs.
We are winning but we have got to maintain constant pressure over time with the international community and across the US government agencies. No one is afraid that we can't defeat the enemy. Our troops have the confidence, the courage, and the competence.
Some very interesting rhetorical tensions at work in this speech. I would love to be a fly on the wall at CENTCOM.