The Bush administration has now entered its second term in office. What strategies must it now renew -- or pursue -- to sow the seeds for victory in the War on Terror? Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distnguished all-star panel to discuss this question. Our guests today are:
Walter Laqueur, the former director of the Institute of Contemporary History in London. He is the author of some of the basic texts on terrorism, most recently Voices of Terror (Reed Publishing, 2004);
Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former acting chief of Communist Romania’s espionage service, whose book Red Horizons was republished in 24 countries. He is still sentenced to death in Romania;
Robert Leiken, the director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center and the author of Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security after 9/11;
Ralph Peters, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and the author, most recently, of “Beyond Baghdad: Postmodern War and Peace.”
FP: Gentlemen, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. It is an honor to be in the presence of such distinguished scholars and gentlemen.
We’re going to get to Bush’s election victory and what it means for the terror war, but first, let’s see if we are on the same page in terms of our definitions and assumptions on our Islamist enemy.
Let me give it a shot to stimulate the discussion:
The West is at war with Islamism, a modern day totalitarian ideology that is a close cousin of fascism and communism. Based on the worship of totality, Islamism, like its two 20th century despotic counterparts, yearns for mass death and suicide for no particular rational reason --although, yes, in part, it finds a surface inspiration in its Islamic component that promises other-worldly rewards for jihad, etc.
Islamism ferociously despises individual freedom and democracy -- because liberty poses a deadly threat to its own existence. It must, therefore, annihilate human freedom wherever it sees it. This explains why militant Islam must wage war on the two nations which most powerfully symbolize, buffer and protect human liberty: the United States and Israel.
Is this a solid start for our discussion? Or have I misdirected us?
Mr. Leiken, let’s start with you.
Leiken: Thanks Jamie. It is always a mistake to underestimate the enemy or its appeal. Yes we are at war vs. Islamist terrorism. But the basis of Islamism runs deeper than irrational animosity against the West and freedom. Islamism is a combination of an anti-imperialist and a revivalist movement. To take the latter first:: if it despises “human freedom,” that’s because Islamists believe Western freedom, which it would call license, destroys family, community and man’s proper relation with God and nature – a criticism not far removed from social conservatism. As an anti-imperialist movement, it arose after the great powers divided up the Middle East, despite their WWI promises of freedom. Then, like nationalism and communism, it sought to blame the underdevelopment of Arab and Muslim nations on Western influence.
It pursues suicide bombing and mass terror as tactics in an asymmetric war, in which Islamism faces a better-armed enemy. These tactics can work, having provoked the US to take necessary pre-emptive actions (of which some have proved counter-productive, as in Iraq), thus dividing it from important allies, and having thrust Israel into a state of siege. The task before us is how to unite the country and Israel with the West and mainstream traditional Islam as well as civilians the world over against a common threat.
FP: Thank you Mr. Leiken. To be sure, of course there are always some “deeper” reasons for hatred and the impulse to kill -- and your insights into Islamism in this context are instructive. But I stress irrationalism because it is crucial to emphasize that there isn’t always some explainable “reason” why tyranny-worshippers perpetrate the crimes that they do. This is what the Left loves to do -- rationalize evil -- and in so doing, it weakens our battle against our enemy.
For instance, right after 9/11, a former academic colleague of mine said to me, in an agonizing tone full of personal pain: “Imagine how hurt those poor men [the hijackers] were by America to have been driven to that.”
No. The hijackers blew themselves up alongside 3,000 innocent people because they sought to kill others and themselves for no particularly logical or explainable reason. Of course we can examine their rage over the supposed and delusional injustice they perceive in Palestine, or in Western women wearing bikinis on Arab territory somewhere, but the point here is that there are movements, like fascism and communism, that simply hate human life and existence and yearn to extinguish it. And Islamism, like fascism and communism, is one of those movements.
In recognizing that this modern ideology seeks to suffocate life, without and within, we won’t waste our time trying to figure out what rewards our enemies want to stop killing. We’ll just get down to the business of killing them before, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Khomeini, etc., they succeed in exterminating as many human beings as possible -- for its own sake.
Mr. Peters, go ahead. Share your wisdom with us.
Peters: I have no "wisdom" to offer. But I certainly have my views, formed by extensive travel, in uniform and in mufti, in the morbid ruins of the caliphate. First, although I use the term myself--one has no choice--I dislike calling the current conflict the "War On Terror." It's really the Islamic terrorists' war on us. I prefer "The Terror War." But the die is cast.
While I agree with much of what Mr. Leiken offered, I do not see al-Qaeda and its affiliates as anti-imperialist; on the contrary, I see them as Islamic imperialists--savage crusaders of their faith. They do not wish merely to repel interlopers, but to conquer. They do not wish simply to defeat the West, but to destroy it. And the caliphate they wish to restore--although they'll settle for apocalyptic destruction--once reached into southern Poland, into Ukraine, throughout Hungary and much of former Yugoslavia, throughout the Iberian Peninsula (and, briefly, as far north as the Loire), and it included Greece, Sicily and part of mainland southern Italy, and the Swahili Coast of Africa as far south as old Sofala in Mozambique--south of the Zambezi River. Their appetite for Allah's real estate on earth is second only to the hope of the inner circle to nudge their god toward an apocalypse (indeed, all monotheist religions have succumbed, at different times, to something equivalent to the Christian eschatology of the Book of Revelation).
In my view, the inner circle of terrorists about whom we must worry most consists of apocalyptic terrorists whose articulated goals are ephemeral and, at most, secondary. They are, above all, bent upon destruction, and their appetite for slaughter is and will remain insatiable. If Israel and the U.S. were destroyed, Europe would have to go, too (in fact, Europe is going to suffer far more in the coming decades than we are). Meanwhile, in Iraq and elsewhere, the terrorists are delighted to purge Islam of less-rigorous, less-doctrinally satisfactory Muslims by killing them. We are facing the psychotic progeny of a neurotic (at best) civilization.
Finally--for now--I was baffled a decade ago by the outrage over Samuel Huntington's concept of the "clash of civilizations." Clashing is what civilizations DO. It's their inherent mission. There is no example in history of adjacent civilizations cooperating constructively over an extended period. And we not only are experiencing a clash of civilizations, but a situation unprecedented in history: The crash of a major civilization, that of Middle Eastern Islam, before our eyes.
The struggle in which we Americans find ourselves today began in the seventh century A.D. (or C.E., if you prefer). As Islamic conquerors burst out of Arabia, a war began that has never ceased. Only Islam's weakness over the past few centuries has lulled us into a false sense of peace (the fighting never really stopped--we only pretended it did).
American carriers now cruise where once the Portuguese caravels sailed (although we're considerably better-behaved). Both sides remain crusaders of their kind. If we are able to find a means of consistent, productive cooperation between Islamic and Western civilization by the end of the 21st century, it will be a miraculous, unprecedented achievement.
Meanwhile, there's a war to fight.
FP: Mr. Laqueur?
Laqueur: I am also not happy with the term "War on Terror". War implies armies and navies and air forces and uniforms. And this of course is not the case at the present time. Nor do I think that the "war" against terror can be won, simply because it is one of the manifestations of human conflict in our time, perhaps the prevailing one in the years to come.
I find it difficult to envisage a world without conflict as far as one can look ahead. One can do a great deal to reduce the danger and the frequency of terrorism. Fanaticism, as historical experience shows, does not continue with equal intensity forever, in fact it is often a matter of a generation or two. But after relatively quiet periods it tends to reappear.
What can be done to reduce the dangers? Intelligence should be greatly improved, Western counter propaganda is virtually non-existent, political use should be made of the mistakes of the terrorists. But democracies will find it exceedingly difficult to act effectively for reasons which need not be elaborated in detail. This will change only following terrorist attacks in which weapons of mass destruction are used and it is probably unwise if governments are moving too far ahead of public opinion.
As for the ideology of radical Islamism, it is a mixture of a variety of motives, religious, nationalist etc,. but anti imperialism hardly figures. It is true that they may think of themselves as anti-imperialist, but I do not see any good reason to accept this self image. Iran and Turkey were never colonies and as for the Arabs they were indeed subjects of an empire throughout most of their history, but it was a Muslim empire.
FP: Mr. Laqueur, you never cease to amaze me. In four short paragraphs you say more than I have read in 300-page books on this subject.
Your words suggest that in the human condition there is a recurrent virus of fanaticism and hate that perpetually surfaces, always mutating into different forms. Human history has taught that this is, indeed, undeniable. So no, we are never going to “win” the war against evil, for it will always be with us in our human condition (in this phase of human history anyway), but we can, as you suggest, keep it at bay to our best ability.
Your comments regarding how we can best keep it at bay reveal the horror of our future. We live in a time when individuals such as al Zarqawi and bin Laden will eventually get their hands on WMDs. Only after they use these against our human populations will our democratic societies acquire the courage and will to defeat our current enemy effectively. But, thanks to the Michael Moores, Noam Chomskys, Teddy Kennedys and John Kerrys of this world – we do not yet have that courage and will.
Mr. Pacepa, it’s your turn.
Pacepa: Thanks Jamie. I believe that the most important thing in a war is to know your enemy. Today’s terrorism is a 21st century variation of the old anti-Semitism, that weapon of the emotions wielded by so many tyrants over the centuries.
History always repeats itself, and if you can live two lives, you have an even greater chance of seeing that repetition with your own eyes. During the last six years of my other life, as a Romanian intelligence general, the main task of the Soviet bloc espionage community was to transform Yasser Arafat’s war against Israel and its main supporter, the United States, into an armed doctrine of the whole Islamic world. America was our main enemy, and a billion adversaries could inflict far greater damage on it than could a mere one million. Islamic anti-Semitism ran deep. Our task was to convert its historical hatred of the Jews into a new hatred of the United States, by portraying this land of freedom as an “imperial Zionist country” financed by Jewish money and run by a rapacious “Council of the Elders of Zion,” the Kremlin’s epithet for the US Congress.
According to KGB theorists, the Islamic world was a petri dish in which we could nurture a virulent strain of America-hate. Islamic cultures had a taste for nationalism, jingoism and victimology. Their illiterate, oppressed mobs could be whipped up to a fever pitch. Terrorism and violence against America would flow naturally from their religious fervor. We had only to keep repeating, over and over, that the United States was a “Zionist country” bankrolled by rich Jews. Islam was obsessed with preventing the infidel’s occupation of its territory, and it would be highly receptive to our dogma that American imperialism wanted to transform the rest of the world into a Jewish fiefdom.
Before I left Romania for good, in 1978, the Soviet bloc intelligence community flooded the Islamic world with Arabic translations of an old Russian, forged, anti-Semitic tract entitled Protocols of the Elders of Zion, along with “documentary” materials, also in Arabic, “proving” that the United States was a Zionist country governed by Jewish money, whose aim was to extend its domination over the rest of the world. We also infiltrated the Islamic world with thousands of Soviet bloc Islamic citizens recruited as intelligence agents and tasked to implant there a rabid, demented hatred for American Zionism. They were to portray everybody and everything in America as being subordinated to Jewish interests: the leaders, the government, the political parties, the most prominent personalities—and even American history. Most of these agents were religious servants, engineers, medical doctors or teachers, and they had excellent credibility.
Although we now live in an age of technology, we still do not have an instrument that can scientifically measure the results of a sustained influence operation. Nevertheless, it is safe to presume that over the course of the further twenty-plus years—until the Soviet Union buckled—the combination between spreading hundreds of thousands of Protocols within the Islamic world and portraying the United States there as a criminal Zionist instrument should have left some trace. The hijacked airplane was launched into the world of contemporary terrorism by the KGB and its puppet Yasser Arafat, and it is significant that this became the weapon of choice for September 11, 2001.
The United States won the Cold War on the 9th of November in 1989, when the Berlin Wall collapsed and the downtrodden people kept hostage inside the Soviet bloc woke up to claim freedom as their own God-given right. We in the West succeeded, because we united the free world against evil, and because we ensured that our side was armed with overwhelming military potential.
We can conquer terrorism if we can make the people of the Islamic world realize that democracy, not anti-Semitism, will give them a better life. Re-civilizing Iraq will be crucial toward that.
FP: Thank you Mr. Pacepa. So democratizing Iraq is one of our most effective weapons in the terror war. . .
Mr. Leiken, back to you now.
Fell free to respond to the previous comments of the panel. But kindly include a comment on the strategies we must implement to fight this war. Mr. Pacepa affirms that civilizing Iraq is crucial. Mr. Laqueur makes three preliminary suggestions: (1) intelligence should be greatly improved, (2) Western counter-propaganda should at least begin to exist, (3) and political use should be made of the terrorists’ mistakes. Kindly build on these themes.
Leiken: “Anti-imperialism” constitutes no badge of honor. Nazism, Arabism Fidelismo, Sandinismo all began life as anti-imperialist movements. Khomeni was anti-imperialist, likewise the Afghan jihad. Some anti-imperialist movements are positive (George Washington, Ghandi, Resistance in WW2), many are or become “evil.” Some are or become imperialist as with fascism and Islamism.
Did David Horowitz yearn to “extinguish human life” when he was a communist and backed the terrorist Panthers? He like others of us in the “second thoughts” group cherished good intentions which paved the road Stalinism, Leninism, Maoism and anti-Americanism.
Czech dissident Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting notes that those who cheered the Communist takeover were “the more dynamic, the more intelligent, the better half.” A nuance of our world is that evil may spring from virtues like compassion or piety. Kundera also wrote that
Totalitarianism is not only hell but the dream of paradise – the age old dream where everyone would live in harmony, united by a single common will and faith… If totalitarianism did not exploit these archetypes, which are deep inside us all and rooted deep in all religions, it could never attract so many people.”
In Paradise Lost Satan, the brightest angel, led an anti-imperialist rebellion against God’s "empire," authority and sundry “abuses”(V: 771-802). Milton’s fallen angels joined the “glorious enterprise” from a “sense of injured merit”(I: 89, 98). The Islamist terrorists believe they are striding through holy war to holiness. Merely evil, they would not win adherents, would tire without a “higher” vision.
This not to apologize for September 11 pace Chomsky, or seek exculpatory “root causes” for terrorism. That leads straight to the gas chambers, to sacrificing Israel to appease Arab “humiliation.” No: we need knowledge to fight.
Not “war” but “terrorism” molests me about the phrase. We have been the object of war since Bin Laden declared it in 1996. The Clinton administration and the FBI saw counter-terrorism as police work. They segregated intelligence to “build cases.” In Afghanistan we did employ uniformed armed forces and do so today in Fallujah.
But Cheney's “war on terrorism” has presumed a union of terrorists, as if terrorism itself was an ideology or politics. That led us to suppose a collaborative relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda which two independent panels, chaired by Republicans (the 9-11 Commission and the Senate Select Committee) denied; cf. my The Truth about the Saddam - al Qaeda Connection” www.inthenationalinterest.com. Individuals become terrorists via ideologies and politics. That is why we’ve had anarchist, fascist, Bolshevik, Christian, narco, Palestinian and even a few Zionist terrorists. We are not equally at “war” against all these.
As for strategy: first we must define our enemy: “Islamist terrorism” as the 9-11 report concluded and “not generic terrorism.” Then define our allies: Israel, the West and all countries and individuals who oppose terrorism.
Democracy is not a panacea for several reasons:
· You needn’t be a democracy to oppose terrorism – e.g. Morocco, Jordan, China, Russia.
· In most Arab countries democracy will produce an Islamist state as it nearly did in Algeria.
· In the Islamist Middle East, absent a background of civil liberties and religious freedom, democracy is not in the cards. Religious freedom is what we should be championing in alliance with traditional quietists Muslims like Sistani. We should consider reviving USIA and giving it the mission of carrying out ideological war on behalf of religious toleration.
· But here prudence cautions that if there’s a deficiency of religious freedom in countries like Saudi Arabia, before 9-11, there was an excess of it in, say, German surveillance of the Hamburg cell. On similiar grounds the FBI was barred from surveilling mosques.
· We cannot wait for years while the CIA trains agents with language mastery to gather significant intelligence within Islamist movements. That means liaison with foreign intelligence (“outsourcing”), starting with Israel but including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both of which have deep -- all too deep -- ties with Islamists.
At home we need an agency whose forte is counter-terrorism. I doubt that the FBI will morph into it. And we need smart borders (cf. http://www.nixoncenter.org/publications/monographs/Leiken_Bearers_of_Global_Jihad.pdf)
Attacks may or may not activate anti-terrorism – e.g. the Madrid bombings. Thanks to 9-11 U.S. public opinion is far ahead of the politicians in anti-terrorist engagement, which is why the grass root reaction to the Report of the 9-11 Commission forced Congress to return. One object of public education should be to strengthen and not weaken the Patriot Act.
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