A Snapshot of Islam and Militarism
An eRiposte review of important findings in Samuel P. Huntington's 
classic "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" 

12/23/03 <link> (UPDATED 1/1/04)
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 own comments.

Juan 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...

Josh 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 problem.
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

The 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 and partner.
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 said recently, "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 available evidence (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:
      U.S. 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 bottomline? 

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.

12/24/02 <link>
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. 

12/17/02 <link>
Unrest 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. 

12/3/02 <link>
U.S. pressing Turkey's case with EU
This is a welcome development. See Fareed Zakaria's earlier article on this.

11/21/02 <link>
Right-wing hatred for war dissenters clarified: Only liberal or Democratic dissenters are committing "treason"
Joe Conason shows why with ample evidence. And he has a follow-up as well.

11/20/02 <link>
Europe's 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 grounds.   

10/17/02 <link>
North Korea admits nuclear program
Pyongyang also 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 unfortunately in no moral position to ask North Korea to disengage from nuclear weapons production. This is the how unilateralism can compound serious global concerns. 

10/03/02 <link>
Bill 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 the U.K. 
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. 

10/01/02 <link>
U.S. "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 war criminal. 
All we can say upon hearing this news is to reiterate 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...."