Frontpage Interview's guest today is John C. Wohlstetter, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and part of the Technology and Democracy Project. He is a Washington D.C. attorney with a career of more than 22 years working in the telecommunications sector at positions that include corporate law, communications law, national security and strategic assessment. An accomplished writer, He has written and published articles on telecommunications, national security and America's space policy for such notable publications as The American Spectator and The National Review. His blog, Letter From The Capitol, is sponsored by Discovery Institute; it covers a wide range of topics, including national security, and economic and cultural issues. He is the author of the new book, The Long War Ahead And The Short War Upon Us.
FP: John C. Wohlstetter, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Wohlstetter: Thank you, Jamie. And thanks also to Frontpage for inviting me.
FP: What made you write this book?
Wohlstetter: As the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks approached, I found myself becoming more concerned that America's efforts were flagging. Partly it was because we had not seen a terror strike since 9/11. Partly it was because we were floundering badly in Iraq, with defeat appearing nearly certain--a defeat that would clearly energize jihadists worldwide. And partly it was because there are so many facets to this conflict that developing an intellectually coherent view of the full set of wars we are engaged in is difficult. I wrote the book in order to present such a cohesive view, and thus enhance readers' understanding of the various wars we fight and what might improve our chances of prevailing. I also felt that unless we motivate ourselves to devote more human and material resources we may suffer one or more avoidable WMD catastrophes.
FP: What is the Long War and the Short War?
Wohlstetter: The Long War is a war against militant Islamofascist ideology in its several forms, one that it likely at minimum several decades in duration. It is a civilizational war of survival, but not Professor Huntington's famous "clash of civilizations," because our enemies stand only for death and destruction, while all civilizations, including the great Islamic ones, celebrate life and creation. It is, simply put, a war of survival between imperfect civilization and perfect barbarism. The Short War is a war of prevention, aimed at reducing to the smallest possible chance a successful WMD attack on American soil, or the soil of our allies.
FP: What is the main argument of your book?
Wohlstetter: My main argument is that while we are likely to prevail in the Long War, as militant Islam alienates too many of its enemies to likely win, because we are not investing enough human and material resources in the Short War we may well suffer one or more WMD attacks that will so scar free societies that eventual victory in the Long War may seem hollow.
FP: Who and what is our enemy? What is the psychology of our enemy?
Wohlstetter: Our enemies are votaries of various strains of militant Islam. Most prominent among these are the Saudi Arabian Wahabbi sect, which originated in 18th century Arabian peninsula, from Sunni Islam, which advocates a global Sunni caliphate, and the Iranian Twelver Shia, which originated in the late 9th century, and which believes that a child messiah will return after 11+ centuries and bring about a fiery judgment day. There are other militant sects, notably, the Sunni sect of Deoband, which originated in 19th century India, and strongly influenced the Taliban, and Egypt's 20th century vintage Muslim Brotherhood, which influenced al-Qaeda's top leaders. Copycat terrorist groups have spun off from al-Qaeda, or used the information from the Internet to independently emulate al-Qaeda.
FP: What do you make of how the war in Iraq is going now? What are the dangers of withdrawing prematurely as someone like Obama might do if he gets into the White House?
Wohlstetter: Iraq is fluid: the range of potential outcomes include premature withdrawal that snatches certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory, to perseverance, plus Iraqi political reform, that creates a reasonably stable, non-terror state Iraq, with US forces allowed friendly basing rights and a limited presence. Our presence did, of course, anger Islamists re Saudi Arabia. But presence is necessary to show, by example, the locals that Americans aren't like the caricatures in Arab media. The key is being close to the population, not being isolated as we were in Saudi. We make friends locally, as we are doing now in Iraq, by doing good deeds.
If a President promises rapid withdrawal, or sets an arbitrary deadline, this will undermine progress in a still fragile Iraq. The surge, by expanding hugely the secure terrain in Iraq, creates a stable political space, within which political progress is possible. The key is to build from the ground up, locally, which is why provincial election reform is essential, to jettison the top-down corporatist structure that the Coalition Provisional Authority and the UN sold the Iraqis.
FP: What are two or three realistic scenarios of a WMD catastrophe? What are the most effective ways we can try to prevent these?
Wohlstetter: (1) One scenario is the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack I describe in the prologue to my book. An Iranian missile is fired from a barge in international waters, and detonates over Kansas at 300 miles altitude. The resulting EMP burns circuits in America's electric and communication networks. Within milliseconds, at least 70 percent of America's twin electrical infrastructures are destroyed. America is plunged instantaneously into the year 1875. Recovery takes many months, perhaps more than a year. Thousands of lives are lost, but not instantaneously. Trillions of dollars in market value disappear. Iran threatens to destroy 5 Arab and 5 European capitals if the US retaliates.
(2) Nuclear weapons transferred to terrorists are placed in shipping containers. America's largest harbors are targeted (6 - 8 ports). The nukes destroy the ports, and America loses two-thirds of its ship import capacity. With 90 percent of imports coming by ship, the result, besides massive loss of life, is economic devastation for many years. A group doing this would have to conceal origin, if possible, to minimize retaliation concerns. If there is no clear return address--a country we can target--retaliation is politically almost impossible, for risk of killing innocent millions.
(3) A bio-terrorist Unabomber develops a lethal super-pathogen with long latency, extreme contagion and high lethality. The pathogen is dispensed in airports around the world, infecting millions of passengers. After the latency period--long enough to enable the bug to spread to many millions of non-fliers--a pandemic results. A pandemic as lethal as the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed 20 million, would kill over 100 million today, based upon equivalent population percentage fatalities in a vastly more populous world.
All of these scenarios presume terrorist actors whose motivations are not rational (economic or political), but instead are extreme fanaticism of one sort or another. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of such fanatics in today's world. They lack the full set of tools to carry out such attacks so far, but that situation can change dramatically in the future. We had better stop them.
FP: In 2009 a new President enters the Oval Office. He/She calls you on the phone and asks you your advice on fighting the war on terror. What do you tell him/her?
Wohlstetter: (1) Impose severe, broad economic sanctions on Iran, going outside the UN, where Russia and China will veto any strong sanctions, and engage with Iran's human rights movements; condition suspension of sanctions on Iran's verifiably ending uranium enrichment. Strongly support human rights groups in any event (as we did vis-à-vis the USSR during the Cold War).
(2) Wind down troop presence in Iraq only in accord with conditions on the ground.
(3) Apply sanctions against Syria until it stops trying to subvert Lebanon's Cedar Revolution.
(4) Broadly engage as many factions inside Pakistan as possible, so that America is not hostage to the fortunes of one party or leader; intensify Predator patrols over Waziristan, with delegated decision authority to take out senior al-Qaeda figures on sight or shortly after a sighting.
(5) Significantly expand and accelerate implementation of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, reducing US and Russia nuclear stockpiles.
(6) Significantly accelerate and expand defense spending across the board, increasing greatly both military manpower and modern equipment.
(7) Accelerate missile defense deployment and take measures to secure our military and commercial satellites, and accelerate hardening of infrastructures against terrorist attacks.
(8) Seek passage of federal legislation limiting the president to 30 days of plenary martial law authority after a WMD strike, renewable for 90-day periods upon Congressional approval.
(9) Begin public service ads informing Americans better on how to cope in the aftermath of WMD attacks, or "dirty bomb" attacks.
(10) Step up a non-apologetic public diplomacy that denies our adversaries free access to our media to propagandize, and covertly subsidizes moderate media organizations and leaders abroad (as we did during the Cold War).
FP: John C. Wohlstetter, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Wohlstetter: Thank you, editors of Frontpage, for the opportunity to share my views with your readers.