Disagreeing with Arnold Kling
Via InstaPundit, I see Arnold Kling has a TCS column critiquing the 9-11 Commission’s recommendations on how to wage the war on terror. Here’s the gist of Kling’s critique: After articulating the threat in no uncertain terms, the Commission’s recommendations for dealing with militant Islam amount to proposals for the international equivalent of midnight basketball ...
Via InstaPundit, I see Arnold Kling has a TCS column critiquing the 9-11 Commission's recommendations on how to wage the war on terror. Here's the gist of Kling's critique:
Via InstaPundit, I see Arnold Kling has a TCS column critiquing the 9-11 Commission’s recommendations on how to wage the war on terror. Here’s the gist of Kling’s critique:
After articulating the threat in no uncertain terms, the Commission’s recommendations for dealing with militant Islam amount to proposals for the international equivalent of midnight basketball programs. These recommendations are contained in a section of the Report called “Preventing the Continued Growth of Islamist Terrorism,” on pages 391-400. The flavor of the proposals can be tasted from the following excerpt (p. 393):
“How can the United States and its friends help moderate Muslims combat the extremist ideas?…We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors.”
To see what is wrong with this approach to what the Commission calls “the struggle of ideas,” imagine if we had used it to fight World War II. Instead of bombing Tokyo or Berlin, we would have have tried to stop Japanese and German aggression by offering “an example of moral leadership.” In my view, moderate Muslims today are in a position that is analogous to that of ordinary Germans and Japanese in World War II. Although they may not be personally committed to the rabid ideology that is behind the behavior of the warmongers, they are in awe of it. For all practical purposes, most of the Muslim world is undecided between Islamism and America. If we adopt a more aggressive approach, some of these Muslims will jump off the fence and onto the other side. But passivity and weakness on our part would be even worse. To regain support of moderate Muslims in the long run, we will have to take steps in the short run that risk upsetting them. The Commission would like to see us win the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims. That is certainly a laudable objective, but it could easily become an excuse for pacifism and paralysis. We could not have won World War II with “soft power,” trying to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Germans as a way of defeating the Nazis. By 1945, we had in fact won the hearts and minds of ordinary Germans, to the point where very few of them admitted to ever having supported Hitler. But we achieved that result only after obliterating the Nazi military and, incidentally, killing a large number of ordinary Germans. The Commission rightly says, in the paragraph quoted at the beginning of this essay, that calling this a “war on terrorism” with no mention of Islamist ideology serves to blur our strategy. But it equally blurs our strategy to say that the way to stop the spread of Islamist ideology is to “be generous and caring to our neighbors.”
I read this same section of the report, and I think Kling is being a bit unfair in his interpretation of the Commission’s recommendations. To see why, you have to go back to the Commission’s diagnosis of the problem. Kling opens his essay with a quote to that effect, but it’s too truncated. Here’s what’s said on pages 362-3:
“[T]he enemy is not just “terrorism,” some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism—especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology…. It is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground—not even respect for life—on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated…. Our enemy is twofold: al Qaeda, a stateless network of terrorists that struck us on 9/11; and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world, inspired in part by al Qaeda, which has spawned terrorist groups and violence across the globe. The first enemy is weakened, but continues to pose a grave threat. The second enemy is gathering, and will menace Americans and American interests long after Usama Bin Ladin and his cohorts are killed or captured. Thus our strategy must match our means to two ends: dismantling the al Qaeda network and prevailing in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism. (emphasis added)
This is a useful distinction, but one that Koing blurs. Certainly the 9-11 Commission does not recommend passivity in the face of the Al Qaeda threat. On p. 364, it states quite clearly: “Certainly the strategy should include offensive operations to counter terrorism. Terrorists should no longer find safe haven where their organizations can grow and flourish.” The war against radical Islam, however, cannot be won quickly and cannot be won with force of arms alone. Kling’s metaphor here is World War II, but the better metaphor is the Cold War. Saying that one set of ideas is bad isn’t enough — a compelling alternative must be presented. On this front, the United States has done a piss-poor job at public dilpomacy — and the Commission is right to raise this as an issue. Kling worries that engaging in a hard-fought war of ideas could lead to passivity. Look, we’ve gone to war against two Muslim countries in the span of three years — compared to that, anything will look passive. These uses of force were necessary — the first to eject Al Qaeda from its base of operations, the second to inject the notion of democratic rule into the one region of the world where it has failed to emerge indigenously. Despite missteps, the public in both sets of countries seem increasingly receptive to western ideas of democratic representation. Iraq is moving towards a provisional assembly. Afghanistan has a constitution and a populace that’s enthusiastic about exercising their democratic rights (a fact I blogged about two weeks ago). Promote, that, consolidate that, and in a generation, radical Islam takes a dive. The popularity of Islamic fundamentalism fades very quickly in an open society. It’s the job of the United States to promote the virtues of such a society, and consolidate the regimes in the region receptive to such a message. In the war against radical Islam, Kling is correct that we need hard power. But we do need soft power as well.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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