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More Bait

I should say that I think Bai nails it here:

This stands in significant contrast to the Bush doctrine, which holds that the war on terror, if not exactly a clash of civilizations, is nonetheless a struggle between those states that would promote terrorism and those that would exterminate it. Bush, like Kerry, accepts the premise that America is endangered mainly by a new kind of adversary that claims no state or political entity as its own. But he does not accept the idea that those adversaries can ultimately survive and operate independently of states; in fact, he asserts that terrorist groups are inevitably the subsidiaries of irresponsible regimes. ''We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients,'' the National Security Strategy said, in a typical passage, ''before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.''

By singling out three states in particular- Iraq, North Korea and Iran -- as an ''axis of evil,'' and by invading Iraq on the premise that it did (or at least might) sponsor terrorism, Bush cemented the idea that his war on terror is a war against those states that, in the president's words, are not with us but against us. Many of Bush's advisers spent their careers steeped in cold-war strategy, and their foreign policy is deeply rooted in the idea that states are the only consequential actors on the world stage, and that they can -- and should -- be forced to exercise control over the violent groups that take root within their borders.

That's just right. The Bush administration, in a curious way, doesn't really believe in the existence of terrorism or terrorist groups. They see terrorists as an extension of regimes, and terrorism as a policy instrument deployed by rogue states. And they're wrong.

October 10, 2004 | Permalink

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And they've been proven wrong so many times, and ignored the proof, that they probably never will learn. And there is a non-zero chance it will get one of us killed.

Before 9/11, they thought the best way to defend the U.S. was to get tough with China and pursue missile defense. After 9/11, a third of them wanted to attack Iraq because that's where the good targets were. They didn't win that debate, but they didn't lose it either--it now seems clear that by October or November they had agreed, Al Qaeda first, Iraq second. Then they got their wish, and they botched it completely, and they turned out to have fooled themselves and everyone else about the extent of the threat from Iraq. And STILL they ignore WMD proliferation, and non-state threats, and talk up the pre-emption doctrine.

I swear to God, sometimes I think our foreign policy is driven by what feels cool and righteous and what doesn't, because I cannot come up with a rational explanation for it.

Cool: War with Iraq!
Uncool: U.N. inspections, negotiations with countries that are actually much more of a threat but too hard to invade.
Cool: Shooting missiles down with space lasers!
Uncool: Negotiating treaties and buying up loose nuclear materials and weapons from other countries. "The Nunn Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative"? LAME.
Cool: Indefinite executive detention of suspects!
Uncool: Actually making the INS competent.
Cool: Throwing out the first pitch at Yankee stadium and visiting Ground Zero.
Uncool: Giving New York City adequate homeland security funds.

Posted by: Katherine | Oct 10, 2004 12:25:17 PM

Sometimes you get a conflict, of course:
Cool: Talking about how we will bring democracy to the Middle East, and no longer tolerate oppressive regimes that torture their own people
Also Cool: having the CIA fly terrorism suspects in a private jet to be tortured by Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

But wait! We can do both! awesome.

Posted by: Katherine | Oct 10, 2004 12:30:05 PM

I'm not sure I entirely agree. Richard Clarke says in his book that Bush wanted a chart with the names of Al-Qaeda members so that they could be crossed off as they were captured and killed. Bush didn't seem to get the idea that there were more than say, twenty guys in Al-Qaeda, and that new recruits were frequently being added -- but he did see it as a group, and not a state problem according to the Clarke story. In fact, Rummy himself was said to be against going into [the state of] Afghanistan "because there were no good targets there."

My unoriginal take on this is that this administration USES the threat of individual terrorists and groups to legitimize their obsessive need to go after states they don't like. It is, of course, the PNAC way. So they may SAY that all terrorism is state-sponsored, but I don't think for a minute they believe it. And when the facts corner them on this issue they tend to make the argument that while known terrorists may not have current connections to a "bad" state (as there were none in Iraq) what's to stop a bad state (Iran? N. Korea? France?) from supplying terrorists with weapons to hurt us in the future?

So any state that is not "with" us is against us by virtue of the fact that they may decide to support individual terrorist groups sometime in the distant future - QED.

Oh, and in these cases war is always a last resort, unless an evil dictator leaves us no choice...and since evil dictators NEVER leave us choices by definition, then war is something we're already starting in secret while saying we're not.

And terrorists, meanwhile, are forgotten and free to continue hatching their plans.

Posted by: Windhorse | Oct 10, 2004 12:35:23 PM

What regime was backing McVeigh?

Posted by: Michael7843853 | Oct 10, 2004 12:37:56 PM

Saddam orchestrated Oklahoma City. Virulent anti-governmentalism has been decisively discredited. Didn't you get the memo?

Posted by: fnook | Oct 10, 2004 12:43:20 PM

Well, it seems to have escaped them that terrorists could get WMD without a state's direct sponsorship.

It's odd. They see the problem as:
nuclear WalMart (or nuclear program employee acting without state authorization) to rogue state to terrorist.

and figure: let's go after the rogue state! And the rogue state doesn't need to actually have nuclear or bio weapons--they just need lousy battlefield chemical weapons or nonweaponized bio agents. Actually, scratch that, the rogue state doesn't need WMD at all, just WMD programs. Whoops, did we say WMD programs? We meant WMD related program activities! Whoops, none of those either? But he still WANTED WMD, we had to invade.

Ignoring the fact that you now have a dozen states that are closer to having nuclear weapons that terrorists could use. And completely ignoring this possibility:

nuclear WalMart (or nuclear program employee acting without state authorization) to terrorist.

It's idiotic, and it's extremely dangerous. For all of Bush's other flaws this is what makes me geniuinely afraid of his reelection.

Posted by: Katherine | Oct 10, 2004 1:01:28 PM

I liked Seymour Hersh's intervew in Salon where he said something to the like of "I wish it was about oil or world domination or something."

Stratfor's take is that it had nothing to do with democracy, freedom or WMDs - it was all about showing Saudi, Syria and Iran that we're serious and was also about bases in Iraq. Their take is more compicated than that, but its fucking Sunday.

Posted by: Jeff | Oct 10, 2004 1:12:01 PM

You nailed it Katherine.

As to Kerry, I'm telling my wingnut friends that since they're going to have a hard time getting up each day with Kerry as president, they can do a couple of things to make life easier. First, read Sirota's article in Washington Monthly called Follow The Money. (I'll even provide the copies.) The article details how Kerry almost single-handedly brought down the BCCI. Next, read Bai's NYT article titled Kerry's Undeclared War.

The two article give a strong sense of Kerry's strength and how America will be in good hands. This approach sets aside retrospective debates about the Iraq invasion, and ignores campaign slogans and other minutia, and instead demonstrates how President Kerry will fight terrorism in the years ahead. It's time the wingnuts start thinking of Life After Bush, and this simple step should help them develop a healthy respect for their new president.

Posted by: poputonian | Oct 10, 2004 1:16:02 PM

Bush sees the PATRIOT Act and the voter cleansing at his campaign rallies as a model for other states to use to destroy terrorists. If all other nations would adopt these policies, terror would end.

Of course this overlooks the failed states and criminal governments with legitimate opposition. In the Bush view, there is no such thing as an illigitimate government if it supports the US. Unfortunately, the Bush ideology is a great model for debating but a poor model for actually governing.

Posted by: bakho | Oct 10, 2004 1:28:09 PM

Couple points.

One, the axis of evil (originally hatred) was something David Frum just made up for the SOTU that originally referred to the nexus between WMDs and terrorism, and then it was adapted in the editing process to cover up the fact that we were going to invade Iraq.

Two, I think Kerry has a good point about lowering the profile of terrorism so that guys like Zarqawi don't become heroes. But I wouldn't call the war on drugs a successful model. Such is the pernicious influence of Rand Beers.

Posted by: praktike | Oct 10, 2004 1:31:27 PM

This, to me, is the most perplexing aspect of the Bush administration.

They approach the problem of terrorism by focusing exclusively on state actors.

Yet by all their domestic rhetoric, they believe "government" per se to be inefficient, ineffective, and inimical to the "natural" association of individuals within and under the "non-state actors" known as corporations.

I mean, come on: HALLIBURTON operates across national boundaries, independent of "state support" (although, ok, the issue of whether Halliburton is or is not "state-supported" is open to some question).

Actually, perhaps that right there is the answer: Dick Cheney sees al Qaida as being just like Halliburton; and in Cheney's experience, Halliburton very nearly ceases to exist without state support, because the bulk of Halliburton's revenues are dependent on government contracts.

Posted by: The Confidence Man | Oct 10, 2004 1:54:26 PM

To dissolve - even rhetorically - the role that regimes have in encouraging and protecting terrorist groups would be a colossal abrogation of responsibility for any US president.

This is basic. That the left does not see it is pretty frightening.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Oct 10, 2004 2:01:04 PM

To talk style here for a minute--rather than substance:
In an election year notable for its who’s up-who’s down horserace-style media coverage, and for its lack of coverage on substantive issues, I was disappointed with Bai's presentation. He spends the first half of the article talking about Kerry’s caution, lack of charisma and inapproachability. For those readers who haven’t quit reading by then, the last part of the story actually deals with Kerry’s foreign policy ideas and offers a context for them. Journalism 101 anybody? Is the substance supposed to come at the end—even in what is still considered America’s finest newspaper?

Posted by: Sylny | Oct 10, 2004 2:07:10 PM

Matthew writes: "The Bush administration, in a curious way, doesn't really believe in the existence of terrorism or terrorist states."

Look long and hard at the that statement.

Yes, Matthew said the Bush admininstration "doesn't really believe in terrorism or terrorist states." He really said it.

Matthew has joined the "Tin Foil Helment Brigade."

Posted by: Kevin Gregory | Oct 10, 2004 2:09:27 PM

Jonathan, take as an example a state like Indonesia, which clearly has terrorists operating within its borders. Everything I know about Indonesia suggests that it could be doing a lot more to suppress terrorism, yet I would be hard pressed to say that terrorism is an extension of the Indonesian government, or God forbid, that we would make a dent in terrorist activity being fomented there by invading the country. There are degrees of "support" or (non-interference) that a state can show to these groups, to be sure, and if, as in the case of Afghanistan, a state is actually co-opted by terrorists then invasion may be the only recourse. Iran, another example, isn't "controlled by" terrorists, but it funds them, but so by all available evidence do elements of the Saudi government. Still, I believe that the most vexing problem, and perhaps the greatest opportunity, is to determine what to do about the Indonesias of the world.

Posted by: Barbara | Oct 10, 2004 2:14:00 PM

Barbara, you fairly point out that there's no easily reproduceable solution to the problem, but to follow up on your example of Indonesia, I would assert that alleviating the Indonesian government of their responsibility in controlling extremist groups is precisely the wrong approach.

Groups may in fact be multinational, but everything from the source of their funding to the schools that indoctrinate them has an address. In the example of Indonesia, the essential refusal of the central government to deal impartially with ethnic disputes, and their propensity to encourage extremist factions to their short-term advantage, is part of what makes the country a threatening terrorist locus.

Everything must be done to impress upon the Indonesians that they cannot hide behind the "global" nature of terrorism. They must take every step neccessary to control extremism within their borders, and there must be concrete consequences for them if they don't.

Again, this is basic.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Oct 10, 2004 2:48:20 PM

To add:

I think the whole focus on nation-states as the major (almost to the exclusion of any other factors) protagonists in the world just misreads modern history - ie since the 1960s or so, which is where the neoconservative mentality is stuck. The whole movement is towards decentralization and fragmentation, towards "de-universalization" if you will. This is most obvious in third world countries where states are essentially irrelevant, constructs of a colonial past that have virtually no legitimacy or allegiance. But, in lesser form, it is true in places like Canada (Quebec separatism, Western Canadian alienation, etc.), Great Britain (devolution - ask someone from Scotland where their loyalty lies), and Spain, as well as event the United States (with the current red state/blue state thing). This point is made by numerous scholars across the political spectrum: two works in particular worth reading include David Harvey's "The Condition of Postmodernity" (left) and Philip Bobbitt's "The Shield of Achilles" (center right).

The irony of this is that the people on the right who seem so enamored of this whole nation-states as primary protagonists in history is that in many cases, the kinds of domestic policy they support work to deemphasize the very state they see as being almost "timeless." (which of course, it is not - merely a creation of a particular set of historic circumstances.) In other words, faith in the market means priveleging non-state, transnational actors and deemphasizing "the government" (which, I might add, I don't have that much a problem with - those on the left who support statism for the sake of statism are being silly).

Ben P

Posted by: Ben P | Oct 10, 2004 2:54:02 PM

No, Matthew. It is you who is wrong.

Bush views the actions of states as being the *solution* to the problems brought about by non-state actors. If those states are not sufficiently active against non-state actors then those states are part of the problem. This is correct, and is qualitatively different from your claims.


Go back and re-read the "if you're not with us you're with the terrorists" speech.

Posted by: am | Oct 10, 2004 3:05:21 PM

Ben P.'s remark on "devolution" leaves out the vivid Yugoslavian example. As I've been told, the productive Slovenes and Croats seceded because they were tired of subsidizing the more militarized Serbs, and the Bosnians and Kosovars ultimately paid the price.

Serbs = red state, Croats + Slovenes = blue state, Bush = Milosevic. I like the comparison, polemically speaking, but for me devolution is not really something to hope for.

Posted by: Zizka | Oct 10, 2004 3:18:03 PM

Except we are not actually going to invade states that are not fighting terrorism effectively, and cannot credibly threaten them. For one thing, there are too many of them. For another, they may not have the capacity to respond to our threats. (We ourselves are not fighting terrorism effectively in Iraq). For a third, some of the states are nuclear powers that know quite well we cannot invade. Russia is not fighting terrorism effectively in Chechnya, or doing an adequate job securing its nuclear materials. Pakistan has sponsored terrorism when it suits its purposes, and has been negligent at best about stopping its nuclear scientists with contacts with Islamists from running a black market. Russia knows very well that we are not going to invade them or nuke them under any circumstances, even if a Russian nuclear weapon ends up being stolen by Al Qaeda and detonated in Times Square. Pakistan knows very well that we are not going to invade them or nuke them except MAYBE if a Pakistani nuclear weapon ends up in the hands of Al Qaeda and detonated in the United States--but even if that happens, we certainly will not immediately know and may never know where the nuclear weapon came from.

Most of the left get that states CAN be the problem and military force CAN be the solution. Most of us supported the invasion of Afghanistan. Bush thinks the states MUST be the problem, and it MUST be best addressed by conventional military force. He also has focused, since Afghanistan, on only one state, which it was clear before the war was at best the fourth or fifth biggest threat to the United States, and which it is now clear was not in the top ten.

Posted by: Katherine | Oct 10, 2004 3:25:04 PM

It is a gross distortion of Bush's position to say they don't really believe in the existence of terrorism or terrorist groups. Obviously, they do.

The problem is that they don't believe these groups have little or nothing to do with presently recognized governments in terms of training and financing.

They are quite wrong, despite the fact that several factions within a government, eg the situation vis a vis Saudi Arabian princes and al Qaeda, may support terrorists.

Posted by: tristero | Oct 10, 2004 3:27:48 PM

Notice, by the way, that in four posts about how deeply lousy and dangerous Bush's foreign policy is, I have not ONE used the words "allies" or "alliances".

I think focusing only on how Bush has alienated our allies is a big tactical mistake for the Democrats. It's a problem, but there are other problems with his strategy on the war on terror--I would argue they are worse problems, and they are problems you can talk about without being accused of sucking up to the French.

Posted by: Katherine | Oct 10, 2004 3:29:33 PM

Nike is a transnational organization. There are shareholders in many countries, as well as business arrangements conducted accross countless borders.

Now say, hypothetically, it becomes obvious that Nike is involved in egregious child labor exploitation and borderline human rights abuses in its suppression of independent labor movements. (This example is of course purely hypothetical).

Would any of the clever shits on this thread, who are so enamoured with explanations of terrorism as a "stateless" and "post-modern" phenomenon, let the United States government off the hook for allowing that exploitation to continue unchecked?

Of course not. Nor should they. And the same principle should apply to terror organizations.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Oct 10, 2004 3:41:00 PM

Ten yard penalty for arguing against Democratic Strawman. See 3:25 post.

Posted by: Katherine | Oct 10, 2004 3:47:46 PM

It's really easy. One at a time, we just knock down the 20 or so states sponsoring or tolerating terrorism, like we did Iraq, until they're all pacified the way Iraq is. Bye-bye, terrorism. End of story.

You liberal shits just don't understand. Thank God, Dworkin was here to explain things to you.

Most of the "terrorist states" have enormous uncontrolled areas. Many "states" are hanging on by a fingernail.

When I read that we were planning on overthrowing the Somali government, I did a big double take. Somalia barely has any "controlled areas" at all. Is there a state there to overthrow?

Posted by: Zizka | Oct 10, 2004 4:04:39 PM

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