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Wednesday, December 28th, 2005


Marc Shulman of The American Future has an excellent review up of Taming American Power by the eminent political scientist of the Neo-Realist school. Dr. Stephen M. Walt . Marc’s review has more range and depth than I am discussing here because I want to focus on one particular point of Marc’s critique:

In my view, Walt has considerable difficulty fitting al Qaeda and other Islamic terror organizations into his conceptual framework. This is probably true for most or all neo-realists. A school of thought that has the balance of power as its foundational principle is ill-equipped to understand a world in which the primary security threat is from transnational, religiously-inspired terrorist groups. For the U.S. or any other country to base a foreign policy on the assumption that al Qaeda will respond to carrots and sticks in the same manner as states would be the height of folly. “

Very well put. The dominant schools of thought in IR are Liberalism and Realism with Realism having more of an edge among practitioners in the diplomatic corps, intelligence services and staffers on the Hill ( among whom you also find idealists of various stripes). Neither Liberalism nor Realism/Neo- Realism have come to grips with Islamist terrorism or the broader phenomenona of the deterioration of the Westphalian state system, the rise of non-state actors or even, in my view, the implications of globalization. Both schools are simply too state-centric in their analytical orientation and are intellectually very, very, insular. They are not yet getting the context of everything else, nor do I think they will any time soon.

Abu Aardvark had a very interesting discussion recently on IR theory and al Qaida.

“Many more states are threatened by al Qaeda and/or al Qaeda-inspired terrorism than by aggression from another state. Given the nature of the threat and the unmatched strength of the U.S. military, balance of power theory, if it is to have any validity in the current era, would have to say that other states would have moved into ever-closer relationships with America in the years since 9/11. Except for heightened behind-the-scenes cooperation within the intelligence community, quite the reverse has happened. The counter-argument is that, as has been shown in several public opinion polls, many populations fear U.S. power more than terrorism — even if their governments do not. It would be absurd for America to assign a greater priority to appeasing foreign publics than to eliminating terrorists.”

To generalize and simplify Marc’s point, globalization has made it far easier for non-state and subnational actors to destabilize nation-states by striking at systemic ” choke points” and causing an enormous amount of economic and moral damage via ripple effects at a very low cost in terms of investing resources. Bin Laden spent pennies to cause millions of dollars of damage. On the flip side, state vs. state war between major powers has grown increasingly unlikely.

Hence the increasing popularity and traction in government circles of explanations by defense intellectuals like Dr. Barnett’s PNM theory, William Lind’s 4GW and John Robb’s Global Guerillaism, all of which begin with a strategic and systemic orientation.

If al Qaeda and the like were not part of the equation, Walt’s thesis — that the Bush Doctrine, because it has intensified anti-Americanism among peoples and governments, and allies and enemies — would have merit. But, not only is al Qaeda part of the equation, it is the most important part of the equation. Given that there is scant evidence that the policies of the Bush Administration has undermined relationships among intelligence organizations, it is far from clear that altering these policies in a manner that would lessen anti-Americanism would aid in the fight against al Qaeda. There may be — and, in my opinion, there is — a trade-off between improving our relations with foreign governments and our overseas approval ratings, and the efficacy of our efforts to defang the Islamic terrorists.”

Here I must disagree with my friend Marc.

Of course the Bush Doctrine intensified anti-Americanism – there were many statesmen who were quite content, privately, to see the United States under attack, despite their loud public declarations of sympathy just as there were some genuinely hostile statesmen who were quite alarmed at al Qaida’s brazen attack ( if Bin Laden can hit the U.S. then…) and gave the U.S. a surprising amount of sub rosa help. The intelligence information Teheran provided on the Taliban and Iraq was substantial – something neither Khameini nor President Bush are likely to shout from the rooftops.

The Bush Doctrine forced many players to put some cards on the diplomatic table that they would rather have kept in their hand. Regardless of their view of American policy on its merits, I think most foreign leaders would have preferred that we had pretended we were keeping to the status quo even as we toppled the Taliban and invaded Iraq. We denied a lot of important people a face-saving lie in front of their own people and forced them to take a position. Nor does a more assertive ” hyperpower” suit any of the would-be regional hegemons from Paris to Moscow to Beijing – their interest lies in a United States that is a passive and restrained stabilizer of the international system.

Now I think the old, Cold War status quo was as dead as Julius Caesar and admitting that the international system is totally broken, as Bush did, will be to the long-term good because eventually it will force the great powers to find a new consensus – but it is undeniable that the Bush Doctrine came with some sizable short term costs.

Read Marc’s review in full here.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005


Evo Morales, the leftist advocate of coca legalization and next president of Bolivia has been the subject of much speculation. Now the Power and Interest News Report is offering their analysis:

“Morales’ unexpected vote tally indicated that he had drawn support from groups outside his base, particularly the small business sector that had been economically hurt by the blockades and had calculated that it would be more advantageous to have Morales on the inside than in the opposition. He also attracted support from urban professionals and government workers who had become disaffected in response to the economic situation and corruption.

Although Morales has legitimacy, the announced loyalty of the military and the temporary acquiescence of the opposition, the path to reaching his goals is not clear. His highest card is the fear of the opposition that, if he is thwarted, he could unleash his energized base and move to authoritarian rule that could involve expropriation of land and resources, which — at the moment — he has promised not to do.

The opposition’s highest card is the threat to take the lowland provinces into secession if the economic interests of that region are severely damaged. Morales also faces the need for capital investment to develop the gas industry and Bolivia’s dependence on aid and trade preferences from Washington, the latter of which have been instrumental in developing the country’s textile and furniture industries.”

Historically, developmental alternatives to the capitalist market model are usually based on commodity exports, employment of forced labor or both. This is true as much for the antebellum South as it was for Stalinist or Fascist command economies. Not infrequently, ” land reform” based on breaking up large private landholdings and the distribution of small plots to impoverished peasants is tried in the early stages of an anticapitalist regime. This policy usually fails and is radically reversed because the objectives of the peasantry ( subsistence farming) and the regime ( commodity export for hard currency) are ultimately incompatible so reconcentration of land under state control to gain economies of scale is imposed. Sometimes bloodily.

Morales however may try to craft a ” hybrid ” political economy that reassures foreign capital while using commodity revenues to fund development projects and reward his political network, much the way Hugo Chavez is doing in Venezuela. This would be the smartest long-term move for Morales – given Bolivia’s dependence on foreign aid and need for investment capital – but the firebrands in his Movement Toward Socialism and those further to the Left ( Morales is not an extremist by Bolivian standards) may not permit a moderate course.

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005


According to the Jamestown Foundation, al Qaida is placing its hopes for a next generation of terrorists in a demographic Islamists call “Rakan bin Williams” – white, Western converts to radical Salafi Islam.

“According to the statement, recruiting Westerners is part of al-Qaeda’s strategy to respond to the “war on terrorism” and the resulting restrictions placed on its members. The statement indicates that following September 11, there was a special focus given to Saudi Arabia”or the Land of the Two Holy Mosques (as described by the statement)”in that most of the attackers originated from the kingdom. Later, however, al-Qaeda carried out its next attack in Indonesia by the hand of Indonesian nationals, and followed by a “strategic” threat to Europe by attacking its borders with the Islamic World in the east (Turkey) and west (Morocco). When Europe failed to recognize or react accordingly to the warning, al-Qaeda targeted Madrid”in an attack carried out by North Africans”shifting scrutiny to Arabs in Europe. Then, in what came as a surprise to many, London was targeted in an attack carried out by British-Pakistanis. This attack may well have resulted from Europe’s failure—in the eyes of bin Laden—to accept the truce offered in regard to Iraq. (Moreover, al-Qaeda misled Europe, and others, into believing that the next target would be Italy). The statement finishes by vowing that the next al-Qaeda recruits will be “Rakan Bin Williams,” which is the name it gives to white Europeans.”

While such a turn of events will result in greater security threats for the United States and Europe, it also represents some good news.

First, it means the al Qaida leadership are feeling frustrated by Western security policies that are preventing the terror group from mounting another spectacular act of catastrophic terror using Arab or Central Asian muslim adherents.

Secondly, opening their ranks to white Westerners is a two edged sword; the greatest problem American counterintelligence officials have faced is infiltrating al Qaida or even al Qaida’s ” gateway” groups, heavily based on national-tribal and madrassa ties, who use mosques, political groups, charitable and educational organizations as fronts to select recruits and raise funds.

Silver linings.

Monday, December 26th, 2005


It wasn’t a bad couple of days – driving out to Glenview and then north of Gurnee was probably more car time I’d have liked but the roads were snow free and we only saw one car burst into flames on the tollway this year.

On to today’s picks. No theme, just good posts:

From Amendment Nine – “ Here’s a Little Lemma” – some Constitutional political theory on the state of the Republic. Brings to mind the philosphical arguments between Adams and Jefferson.

From Dan of tdaxp his latest series on PNM Theory:

Embracing Defeat, Part I: Barnett’s Two Strategies
Embracing Defeat, Part II: Blood and Will
Embracing Defeat, Part III: The Born Gimp
Embracing Defeat, Part IV: Embracing Victory

From Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria, IIFourth Generation War and Other Myths“(PDF) – probably best described as a scholarly equivalent of a nuclear strike against the ideas of William Lind and Dr. Chet Richards as presented at DNI. It will be interesting to see their response and since I see that they too have posted a link.

That’s it !

Monday, December 26th, 2005


Bill Roggio, formerly of the The Fourth Rail and a founder of Threatswatch, is featured in a story by The Washington Post. Roggio was not only invited to blog from Iraq by the USMC but AEI saw fit to affiliate and extend journalistic accreditation to Roggio’s efforts.

It’s not how many readers Bill has ( though he has quite a few) – its who reads him in demographic terms that makes blogging an attractive form of media narrowcasting to would-be influencers.

(Hat tip: Memeorandum)

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