Snapshot of Islam and Militarism
An eRiposte review of important findings in Samuel P.
classic "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of
With the news these last few days about Libya's
acceptance of unfettered international inspections of its WMD programs,
the Bush administration has been touting how this is the result of
their pre-emptive war doctrine and their attack on Iraq. I find this
argument less than convincing. I am certainly willing to give them
credit for getting Libya to this point, but there is a lot more than
meets the eye here.
First, let me cite a few commentators on the left,
with bold text being my emphasis. Following these, I have my
Cole (Informed Comment):
Hawks in Washington will attempt
to make the argument that Libya's sudden willingness to give up its
weapons of mass destruction programs is a dividend of the Iraq war.
For those who know anything at all about Libya, however, an
entirely different interpretation is obvious. Libya proves that
economic sanctions can work. Because of its involvement in the
1988 Lockerbie bombing and other acts of terrorism, Libya was
subjected to an international embargo in 1992. The embargo from all
accounts deeply hurt Libya's economy, and it produced a stark
pull-back from support of terrorism on Qadhafi's part. The Libyan
government estimated that the world boycott cost Libya $37 billion. The
economy remains small at about GDP $40 bn. despite an oil income,
but the potential
for wealth is vast. A $6 bn investment could increase Libya's
daily oil production from 1.2 million barrels a day to 2 million
barrels a day. (The population at 5.5 million is so small that this
increase would yield about $1600 per person per year, if the price
of oil were about $28/b.) Western investors have been skittish (and
US entrerpreneurs have severe legal limits on their Libyan
activities), and that would have to change for oil and gas
exploration to expand, e.g. There's black gold in them thar dunes.
(Again, the hawks have explained Qadhafi's abandonment of support
for terrorism with reference to Ronald Reagan's 1986 bombing of
Tripoli; not being good at math, they don't seem to realize that
1988 comes after 1986. One could more reasonably draw the conclusion
that the US aerial strike encouraged Libya to commit more terrorism.)
The UN sanctions, but not the US ones, were eased in 1999. In the
meantime, Qadhafi had become the target of the radical Islamist Anas
al-Libi, a top al-Qaeda operative suspected of involvement in
terrorism in East Africa, as well. After September 11, Qadhafi
associated himself with the US war on terror, in hopes of seeing al-Libi
killed and the Libyan branch of radical Islamism devastated.
Qadhafi brought Shukri Ghanem, a liberal economist, back from
OPEC to be minister of finance, and then in summer of 2003 appointed
him prime minister! Ghanem announced an extensive privatization
program, in which some 300 state-owned industries will be sold off
to entrepreneurs. The old mahdist socialist, Qadhafi, has begun
inveighing against "unqualified employees who do not care about
the interests of their country" (MEED, Aug. 29, 2003).
So, Qadhafi's regime had been brought to the brink of possible
extinction by the sanctions and by Soviet style economic sclerosis.
The stars had suddenly aligned him with the US in a desperate
struggle against radical Islamism and his old foe Anas al-Libi.
Qadhafi apologized for Lockerbie and reportedly offered the victims
$1.7 billion in compensation.
The one thing standing between Qadhafi and a return to stability for
his dictatorial regime (and efflorescence for his potentially rich
economy) was Washington's new campaign against weapons of mass
destruction. Libya didn't have much of that sort of thing, though it
had dabbled, and it wasn't important to Qadhafi any more. The
conflict in Chad (in which Libya is accused of using chemical
weapons) had died down. Washington was making it a quid pro quo that
Tripoli give these lackluster and small programs up in order for
Libya to reenter the world economic system on a favorable footing.
It was an easy decision.
So the real reason Qadhafi just folded is economic. And the
lesson to be drawn here is that under certain circumstances,
economic pressure can work, and remove the need for war.
The sanctions on Libya were very different from those on Iraq, and
peace thinkers need to study why the former worked but the latter
didn't. One thing is clear; the Iraq war has hindered, not helped,
US-Arab relations, and it is not the reason for which Qadhafi has
made up with the West, a process that began some time ago.
One caveat: Qadhafi hasn't offered to step down or become less
dictatorial. This isn't an advance for democracy. The Bush
administration, despite its rhetoric of democratization, still has
to choose in the Middle East between having malleable, known
strongmen in power, or having unpredictable democracies that might
elect radical Islamists or others odious to Washington...
Marshall (Talking Points Memo):
...First, this has only a
tenuous link to the Bush Doctrine, though the White House and some
of the more gullible columnists are going to great lengths to
portray it that way. Libya has been trying to get good with the US
and Europe for half a dozen years -- as signalled by the first
on-going and now just concluded negotiations over the Pan-Am bombing.
(The Libya deal looks like an especially good example of the Bush
Doctrine in action if you haven't been paying any attention to Libya
for the last dozen years. Along those lines, here's a good article
on that history, and a recent update
by the same author.)
Second, Libya's 'WMD' are awfully primitive compared to be the
big-boys of the rogue state universe. They have mustard gas, a
World War I era weapon, and some very preliminary nuclear stuff, not
even remotely close to having a serious facility let alone a bomb.
So that context is important.
Having said all this, some are pointing to this development as a
sign of the merits of talking versus fighting in turning back the
scourge of weapons proliferation.
But that won't do either.
Talking, in itself, means nothing. It's only a way of lubricating or
finessing the application of different kinds of force or pressure.
And the pressure applied to Libya has been fierce. Only it wasn't
principally military, but economic.
Libya has been under fierce UN-sanctions for a decade. And
the strangling pressure of those sanctions, combined with rising
internal political strains which magnified their effect, prompted
the shift of course...
The real story with the Libya development is the light it's
showing on where it likely got its nuclear starter kit: i.e., Pakistan.
New information from North Korea and particularly from Iran is
starting to show us that, in essence, there really is no global
weapons proliferation problem so much as there's a Pakistan
We now know enough to say with increasing confidence that every
state we're worrying about got either all of their help, or their
most significant help, from the Pakistanis...
Guardian (via Altercation):
...This is a seriously impressive
achievement which will distinguish Jack Straw's often difficult
tenure as foreign secretary. For the Foreign Office, it marks a
return to form after a sorry spell on the Iraq bench. Yet if
back-slapping is in order, congratulations should also go to Robin
Cook, the man who relaunched British relations with Libya in 1999
and on whose policy of critical engagement this success is founded.
Patient diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, clearly enunciated
principles and red lines, respect, mutual trust, and attractive
incentives - these are the civil tools that helped bring, at the
weekend, perhaps the most significant, tangible breakthrough in arms
control since the strategic weapons pacts of the later cold war era.
Libya has gone from 1986 target of Ronald Reagan's bombs, from
"rogue" sponsor of non-state, anti-western terrorism and,
as it now admits, from active pursuer of nuclear and chemical arms
to, if all sides honour the bargain, a prospectively valuable friend
This was not achieved by military power, by invasion, by
shredding inter national law, by enforced regime change or by
large-scale bloodshed. Nor, in fact, despite Mr Bush's eagerness for
plaudits, was it primarily achieved by his administration at all. It
was achieved by discussion - by endless talk, mostly in London,
latterly in Libya, and finally in a London gentlemen's club. Boring
perhaps, but effective; and here, with shock and awe, is a lesson
for the Pentagon to absorb. Here is a measure of the true worth of
the diplomacy espoused by Mr Cook and others. It bore fruit in Iran
last week, another country which Britain refuses to join the US in
ostracising. It could yet produce results in Syria, another
low-grade WMD state, and in North Korea, if only senior US officials
would stop threatening them.
What a great pity that Iraq's supposed WMD could not have been
handled in a similarly intelligent, non-violent fashion. Certain
ministers claim to find retrospective justification for the Iraq war
in Libya's action, suggesting it had somehow been scared into
compliance. This is sad, shabby stuff. Tripoli has powerful
economic and political reasons for acting as it has; and indeed, Col
Gadafy's own interests have been steadily converging with those of
the US "war of terror" and America's oil industry. This
slow process of rapprochement, including the ever painful Lockerbie
saga, was in train long before Mr Bush let rip over Baghdad. But it
took British diplomatic skills to draw in the WMD issue, make the
connections and clinch the elusive deal.
To this delicate process, Washington's bellicosity formed a worrying
backdrop, not a spur. As Libya has indicated, the Iraq war actually
made agreement more difficult; it was eventually reached despite,
not because of, Iraq. If anything, it now seems Mr Bush may have
inadvertently invaded the wrong country. The fabled WMD were in
Libya all along...
From the above
snippets from Josh Marshall, Juan Cole and the Guardian (also see here),
it should be fairly clear that the principal reason(s) for Libya's
actions had nothing really to do with the Bush administration's
doctrine of "pre-emption". (I am not saying that Libya was
not moved by the aggressive military posture of the Bush
administration, but rather that, what happened can much
more convincingly be attributed to the virtue of coercive yet patient,
and quiet diplomacy
(using economics in this case) - which has long been an option for the
U.S. (even before Bush Jr. came to power) instead of war. It is also
increasingly clear that Pakistan has
been the single-most deadly source of WMD proliferation and terrorism
in the world. As much as I have supported the Bush administration's
initial "alliance" with Pakistan during the attack on
Afghanistan after 9/11 - purely because it was in the temporary
self-interest of the U.S., I have been a critic of continuing this
alliance simply because it makes no sense for the U.S. to mollycoddle
Pakistan in the post-9/11 scenario. But, let's set aside the details
of the Pakistan issue for a future discussion.
The pertinent issue for us is to understand what the real
significance of the Bush "doctrine" of
"pre-emption" is - in the post-9/11 era. The purpose of
"pre-emption" obviously is to not merely discourage
WMD production but also get rid of WMDs held by OR potentially
accessible to those who pose real threats to the
U.S., and eliminate terrorists who want to use conventional or
unconventional weapons/approaches to kill tens or thousands. Keeping
these goals in mind let's evaluate the reality.
- Pakistan retains WMDs, has been a key source of
proliferation (especially of nuclear technology), and has been a
key source and protector of terrorists. Today, Pakistan is an
"ally" of the Bush administration and its President even
gets to visit Mr. Bush as an "ally". North Korea has
enough military power and WMDs to deter the U.S. from unilaterally
attacking it. The costs of military action against North Korea
will be significant for the U.S., making a pre-emptive attack not
significantly different from a real war. Thus,
"pre-emption" has made no difference to Pakistan or
North Korea - the two most significant threats (either directly or
indirectly) to the U.S. in the world today.
- The risk
of loose nukes in the countries formerly part of the Soviet Union
continues. "Pre-emptive war" (or the threat of one)
is not going to secure nuclear material (or for that matter other
conventional weapons or WMDs) in these states.
- Iraq has been shown to have no WMDs. A
"pre-emptive" war against Iraq (based on a
mountain of serial lying and fakery aka compassionate
conservatism) has been shown to have nothing whatsoever to do with
pre-emption, for what one is trying to pre-empt must actually
exist. Winning a battle (but not the war) with a
previously decimated country with no real military power shows
nothing about the merits of pre-emption. If anything, the
aftermath of the Iraq invasion has shown how poor the policy of
"pre-emption" is given that potential WMD and
conventional weapons sites were left unguarded and looted in the
rush to battle, and the lack of civil order and continued deaths
and injuries to American soldiers (and Iraqi civilians) have
demonstrated how tin pot guerillas and terrorists can easily
demoralize even the most powerful military power in the world. One
could reasonably argue that, sadly, one of the lessons learnt by
the world's dictators and terrorists from the botched planning by
the Bush administration is that, in fact, such hubris can actually
be countered. This is the exact opposite of the message one wants
to convey in a foreign policy doctrine. Some
may disagree with my assessment, by citing the arrest of Saddam
Hussein and perhaps claiming that he (and others like him) have
realized how they could be doomed if they did/do not accede to the
U.S.'s demands. However, my point is not that no
one will fear the U.S. My point is that those who really
need to fear the U.S. - which includes only those people who
hate the U.S. and are willing to do just about anything to kill
Americans - are not really afraid of the Bush
"doctrine". These are people who are not heads of
state and they are people who often, but not always, have overt or
tacit public support.
- 9/11 was caused by maniacal terrorists who
did not need nukes, guns, germs or chemicals. All they
required was an administration caught sleeping, focusing on
the wrong priorities and taking extra-long vacations or
private flights. As the Republican head of the 9/11 commission
"As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty
clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done...This
was not something that had to happen...There are people that,
if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position
they were in at that time because they failed. They simply
failed...". The "doctrine" or pre-emption"
as practiced so far by the Bush administration today
does not deter stateless terrorists; rather, in the last two
years, in the midst of historically unprecedented
worldwide cooperation with the U.S., it has provided Al Qaeda
more ammunition for recruiting more people to their ranks without
ultimately achieving the goal of eliminating them or at least
making them extremely weak so as to avoid the need for
statements like this from Secretary Tom Ridge on 12/21/03:
"...The U.S. intelligence
community has received a substantial increase in the volume of
threat-related intelligence reports. These credible sources
suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around
the holiday season and beyond. The strategic indicators,
including al-Qaida's continued desire to carry out attacks
against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any
point since September 11th, 2001...."
- Libya has shown a willingness for international
inspections but, as stated at the top of this post, these have
been motivated largely by economics. I concede that the
threat of war itself (as opposed to actual war) may have
been a minor factor in the decisions made by Libya; however, the
(also see posts cited at the top of this post) indicates clearly that the threat or reality of punishing economic
sanctions played the most significant role. But, most importantly,
let's not forget that
Libya has posed no threat to the U.S. for at least a decade now
and was in fact trying hard to get into our good books. So, a
doctrine of "pre-emption" is largely irrelevant in this
case. (It is largely irrelevant because our foreign
policy has to be successful in eliminating existing, real
threats, not eliminating non-threats!)
- For example, Libya's nuclear program was far
far away from producing any nuclear weapons and its program
was mostly dismantled.
- As an aside note these
comments from a Washington Post article by Robin Wright:
and British intelligence services in late September discovered
that a freighter bound for Libya was hauling thousands of
parts for centrifuges, a key component for producing nuclear
weapons, senior U.S. officials said Wednesday. Officials said
the interception of the cargo, worth tens of millions of
dollars, was a factor in squeezing Libya to give up its
deadliest weapons programs...
Although secret talks on Libya's weapons of mass destruction
programs had begun some six months earlier, the government of
Moammar Gaddafi had not yet given a date for U.S. and British
intelligence to visit Libyan weapons-development sites. After
the interdiction, U.S. and British inspectors were in Libya
within two weeks, U.S. officials said.
Other U.S. officials, however, said they were concerned at the
time that the seizure might undermine the attempt to win
Libya's cooperation. "Quite the contrary. It could have
derailed the effort," said a well-placed U.S. official
who spoke on condition of anonymity...
U.S. officials are not sure why Gaddafi was reaching out to
the international community and pledging privately to disarm
at the same time his government was acquiring a large shipment
of weapons-development equipment. U.S. officials speculate
that Libya was hedging its bets..."
- Iran has also not posed any direct threat to the
U.S. for a long time; so, while their willingness to let U.N.
inspectors in is a welcome development that reduces the risk of
WMD proliferation, it is not something that had anything directly
to do with pre-emption, as
much as it had to do with their own self-interest in nuclear
energy. Again, the use of an implicit military threat may have
played a minor role in Iran's decision - but the use of such a
threat does not require a policy of "pre-emption".
- If the policy of "pre-emption" makes no
difference in actually bringing civil order, peace, democracy and
harmony in the countries that are attacked, the lack of long term
stability can actually be much more detrimental to U.S security.
We live in an era where it is almost impossible for heads of state
to indirectly or directly support terrorism against the U.S.;
however, it is a lot easier for stateless individuals or groups to
do so (e.g., Osama bin Laden) especially in countries that form a
breeding ground for terrorism. In this sense, the Bush
administration's policy if Afghanistan has been disturbing, to say
the least. Certainly, maintaining troops there and providing some
aid somewhat reluctantly (as they did more recently) is helpful.
However, their policy has fallen far short of bringing democracy
and security, and failed to change the ground rules sufficiently
to dissuade terrorists or their supporters from becoming powerful
again. In the process, we
appear to be heading backwards to a fairly unstable Afghanistan which
could become a terrorist haven once again. Indeed, the Bush
administration's recent statements indicating an urgency to
transfer the job of securing Iraq to Iraqis is another policy that
is likely to have negative long-term effects in Iraq and the
middle-east - as I have discussed at some length here.
- If pre-emption makes no difference to
states which casually flout democracy and human rights but
strategically ally themselves with the Bush administration (Saudi
Arabia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, et al.), the policy does not really
solve the terrorism problem in the long term.
- Finally, as I have stated before, the U.S. is
really in no position to wage numerous wars and nation-building
exercises on its own (without significant international support).
See, for example, Lean
Left's comments after the Libya announcement:
"...Libya did not really have a weapons
of mass destruction program. Since the United States included
no conditions that would lead to the democratization of Libya,
Qaddafi essentially gave up nothing for lucrative economic
concessions. That is hardly a success.
More importantly, for
threats to be effective, they must be credible. I am surprised to
see that people think the United States is still in a position to
invade and occupy a rogue nation. Approximately
80% of the United States combat forces are already deployed in
Afghanistan and Iraq or refitting, with the rest mainly deployed
in Korea. Already, the Army is preventing
soldiers from leaving the service. Where, exactly, is the
threat of American military action going to come from? And if the
US is not, as it appears, capable of fighting and occupying
another nation, then why should anyone believe that the Bush
Doctrine has scared anyone into anything?
It is possible that Qaddafi simply panicked, but this is a man who
has survived fro more than thirty years - I doubt he is the
panicky type. It is more probable, given the United States lack of
ability to effectively threaten, that this is simply the
culmination of Qaddafi's twelve to fifteen year attempt to rejoin
the "civilized" nations of the world."
The goal of U.S foreign policy after
9/11 should be to eliminate REAL terrorists, and their access to weapons
that can kill tens to thousands of people. The Bush
"doctrine" has shown pretty meager success on both fronts.
The part of the doctrine that calls for the threat of military force
is useful when it comes to nations that are not really threats to the
United States. It is useless against the kind of enemies that caused
9/11. Being more effective against the Al Qaedas of the world requires
not just military action against terrorists, but winning the hearts
and minds of those who implicitly or explicitly consider such
terrorists their saviors. The administration's foreign policy
incompetence has so far precluded the United States from making any
gains on the latter front - let alone keeping the pre-9/11 status
quo. (Indeed, the situation in Iraq shows how this policy took a
country that was probably initially thankful to the U.S. for its
action in liberating them from Saddam Hussein and then made the
majority of its citizens unhappy with the U.S. presence.)
Finally, we should not forget what David Neiwert has pointed
out, namely, that the administration's underplaying of attempted terrorist acts by
Americans/domestic terrorists is quite worrisome.
North Korean saber-rattling
As North Korea threatens
to reactivate nuclear reactor and talks tough, the Russian Deputy
Foreign Minister blames
Mr. Bush for the resurgence of the North Korean problem.
in South America
Nicholas Kristof highlights growing unrest and instability in South
America that currently is not in the mainstream radar of the Press and
the American people. The negative impacts of this could be significant
to American economic ideals.
pressing Turkey's case with EU
This is a welcome development. See Fareed Zakaria's earlier
article on this.
Right-wing hatred for war dissenters
clarified: Only liberal or Democratic dissenters are committing
Joe Conason shows why with
ample evidence. And he has a follow-up
double standards on Islam and U.S. war on terror
Fareed Zakaria shows how, after lecturing the U.S. on the need to
engage more positively with the Islamic world, top European leaders
continue to reject Turkey from the EU on baseless
Korea admits nuclear program
states they have "nullified" their previous commitment
to an anti-nuclear-weapons tilt. It would be an understatement to say
this further complicates the global picture. Having pissed North Korea
off earlier this year with the "Axis of Evil" remark, and by walking
away from any commitments to nuclear arms destruction, we are
no moral position to ask North Korea to disengage from nuclear weapons
production. This is the how unilateralism can compound serious global
Clinton's speech at the British Labor Party conference
Former President Bill Clinton, the individual probably most reviled by
U.S. conservatives, gives an inspiring speech to the Labor Party in
Yes, we know he lied about Monica among other things, and yes, we also found his
pardon of Marc Rich despicable - but, it is also true that his mendacity and
despicable treatment of a rich fugitive is much less harmful
in degree and impact (to the U.S.) from an international relations perspective. We are willing today to forgive him for his
past actions if he continues to act in a manner befitting a statesman
(which he is showing himself to be on the world stage, especially of late). Although
some Conservatives here will continue to excoriate him, and indulge in
ruthless mendacity of their own to tarnish him further, the truth is
that at a time when unilateralism rules we need a leader like him, who
is actually respected worldwide, to soothe the world's fears and spread the
message of the kinder, gentler and humble side of the United States.
"spared" participation in the International Criminal Court
While we should presumably enjoy the fact that the U.S. should be
exempt from International Law, it doesn't feel too enjoyable when as the
most powerful nation on earth we have just squandered the ability to directly
influence international law. We have also made the world body more
effete when we could have made it stronger and try Saddam there as a
All we can say upon hearing this news is
our opinion stated early this year: "...Certainly,
it would be foolish to not acknowledge that the world is imperfect,
with some constituents (countries or groups) that will choose to defy
common world laws, even if we choose to abide by them. Such countries
may even endanger or take the lives of U.S. citizens in the future.
But we need to remember in our emotionally charged moments that such a
situation is no different than what law abiding individuals inside the
U.S. face from criminals and powerful, yet evil, individuals. Do we as
individuals go around as vigilantes, enacting revenge lawlessly every
time? We don't (most of the time), and that is why we call ourselves a
civil society. We live together fully acknowledging the imperfections
of our laws, our lives and our country, because of the belief that
ultimately more good comes out of it than harm, especially in contrast
to an uncivil lawless society. Let us not turn the world into
something that we would not let our country become and let us continue
to focus on our objective of common (international) good...."