On 13 May 2004, Doug Pensinger wrote,
... Terrorism and the war against it are not about convincing the terrorists that they are right or convincing those that fight terrorism that they are right its about convincing those people that aren't sure who to believe who is right. ...
Method of engaging is important. The means determine the outcome.
First, a question of military competence:
More than 20 years ago, a fellow in the US Army who engaged in interrogations told me that the kinds of torture permitted by the Geneva conventions were resisted by four-fifths of all his prisoners; but that from a military point of view, the information provided by the fewer than one-fifth who yielded was enough.
More recently, I read that as a practical matter, senior members of a military organization will resist conventional torture. Only lower level people will succumb.
I have been told, but I do not know how true this is, that as a consequence US intelligence agencies and the military developed new methods of interrogation to confuse high ranking prisoners and cause them to provide the US with useful strategic information. The drawback is that the new methods take 6 8 months.
From a military point of view, in Iraq the US should have followed the Geneva conventions. In April and May 2003, the US would have obtained tactical information from the one-fifth or fewer who yielded to interrogation within the bounds of the Geneva conventions.
Six months later, if the stories about the more effective methods are true, the US would have obtained strategic information from those who will resist conventional torture. That strategic information might have been enough to foretell the November attacks against the US. Perhaps the US would not have had to make what appears to be a deal with Iranian theocratic conservatives.
Second, the long term issue.
As I said elsewhere, I do not think that any of the arguments made publicly in favor of the US invasion of Iraq persuaded the US government as a whole or its military. Instead I think the government as a whole figured both that the US policy in the Middle East over the two generations has failed and that the dictatorships there survived within `failed countries'.
People in the US government, including its legislature and executive agencies, did not think that Iraq had anything, or much of anything, to do with the Al Qaeda attacks against the US. Instead, they viewed Iraq as a failed country in a strategic location. By occupying it, the US would intimidate the neighboring governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran in the short run, and in the long run ensure their collapse by creating a more successful country on their borders.
The long term goal was to change the political and economic culture in the one country: in particular, to encourage either oligopoly or competitive, free market capitalism.
Both oligopoly and competitive, free market capitalism require government regulations and the rule of law. Neither can flourish without a way to prevent one organization from beating the rest and without a way of settling disputes with strangers.
Consequently, the first military objective for the US in Iraq was to have brought security to the whole country. The phrase `law and order' means that without `order', you cannot have `law'. (Justice is the third in the sequence after order and law; a way to influence and change governments, democracy, is the fourth.) In that it failed to do this, the US has been defeated. It is losing its `war on terrorism'.
Third, the choice of notions.
Currently, the United States is waging a `war on terrorism'. Is the concept of `war' the best metaphor? One alternative is to tackle the whole effort with courts and police.
The advantage of the policing metaphor is that it becomes evident that policing fails whenever nail clippers are taken from an innocent air traveler: the false positive means that the methods of identification were wrong.
The disadvantage of this policy is that it requires a competent system of policing and courts. Few innocent should inadvertently be classified as guilty. Error rates of more than a few percent are not acceptable, not even in a dictatorship.
I agree that when individuals can be identified, a court is better. If police and a prosecutor think that an air traveler plans to use his nail clippers to kill some people on the airplane he boards airplane, kidnap the others, and then kill them and yet others, that traveler should be arrested and tried. However, it is often hard to identify enemy individuals ahead of time.
And when identified, it may not be possible to bring those identified to trial without a war. For example, under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the United States sought to extradite Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan, but the then government of Afghanistan refused.
Policing, courts, and justice are difficult. The notions associated with war confusion, waste, and injustice work better when a country is trying to replace a failed policy in the short run and to change an enemy culture in the long run.
At the same time, the policies associated with European war since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 will fail. The Geneva Conventions do not help. Nowadays, war is `assymetrical', to use military jargon. Many soldiers do not wear uniforms, but hide. They travel in commercial airplanes with accurate and valid identification. They have no military or criminal past. They commit no crimes, except to carry nail clippers in a manner that might well be innocent. They do not fight as agents of a state, but work for non-state organizations such as Al Qaeda.
But without an enemy army controlled by a state, a government has no counterpart with whom to sign a peace treaty. Without a land that can be fully occupied, a victor cannot simply say that the threat is over. A government has no obvious way to decide when it may release the prisoners it holds.
Neither the current war nor the policing ways of thinking help. The boundary between `domestic' and `international' has become too blurred. Another notion is needed.
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