Ralph Peters: ‘Stupidity Isn’t a Strategy’ – Five War on Terror Lies
At the end of September, our special-operations forces and the CIA scored another big strategic win for the USA: They targeted and killed New-Mexico-born murder-mullah Anwar al-Aulaqi, al Qaeda’s most-effective English-language cheerleader and chieftain, along with his understudy, North-Carolina-spawned Samir Kahn, editor of the how-to terror webzine “Inspire.”
Immediately, the voices of appeasement rose in wails and lamentations. Setting aside the ludicrous claim that the United States Government has no right to target a known and active terrorist if he’s an American citizen, the remaining silliness won’t stop.
Whether the accusations and madcap slogans come from misguided men and women of conscience, or from the peculiar minority of Americans who loathe their own country, the fundamental problem is that this bumper-sticker approach to security challenges refuses to acknowledge historical facts—or today’s reality.
Consider these “big five” terror-age lies we hear repeated endlessly:
1. If we kill terrorist leaders, terrorists will take revenge. Well, they might like to, but capabilities have something to do with it. And killing al Qaeda’s “best and brightest” diminishes those capabilities. This is cause-and-effect at its cleanest and simplest. Yet, the loonier commentaries in the wake of the drone strike on Aulaqi and Company warned of dire consequences from terror attacks in response.
Wait a minute: What, exactly, do such “experts” think the terrorists have been trying to do all along? It’s not as though we poked a rattler peaceably sunning itself on a rock. Aulaqi, Kahn and their comrades have been doing all they could for years to incite and facilitate terror attacks against us. These murderers were the effective masterminds of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It defies all logic to suggest that eliminating Team Terror’s top players will make AQAP a more-dangerous opponent. While we may, indeed, see a few lone-wolf terrorists attempt to exact vengeance, killing top terrorists reduces the overall danger to our country, period.
We’ve heard the same nonsense many times before. When our forces in Iraq finally cornered and killed Abu Musab al Zarqawi—perhaps the cruelest terrorist of the decade—we were warned that the only result would be to make him a martyr and spark retaliation. Didn’t happen. When Osama bin Laden was finally killed last spring, the same voices warned that he’d become a martyr around whom the forces of terror would rally lethally. Hasn’t happened. There are no “Remember Zarqawi!” or “Osama Lives!” movements parading out of Friday mosques anywhere in the Islamic world. Al Qaeda continues to be a great slayer of its fellow Muslims, but the threat to the USA has collapsed down to schemes to fly model airplanes into the Pentagon—a long way downhill from 9/11’s complex aerial ballet of jetliners loaded with passengers and fuel.
On the other hand, review what happened when our generals heeded the voices of caution: In the spring and summer of 2004, our troops were being killed at the command of Shiite thug Moqtada al Sadr, who ran an Islamist mafia largely confined to the slums of eastern Baghdad and a few other cities in southern Iraq. We had the legal justification and the means to take out al Sadr. Timid leaders decided not to do it, since his death might have caused riots. Well, yes. There would have been several days of riots. Bloody ones, too. And then it would have been over. Instead, Moqtada al Sadr has gone on to build out his organization to become a crucial, ferociously anti-American power-broker in Iraq—and Iran’s most-important ally in the country (he still runs his mafia from his safe haven in Qom in Iran). Had we killed him when we had just cause to do it, Iraq would be a far different—and more hopeful—state today.
The bottom line? When you have the chance to kill a terrorist leader, do it.
2. We can’t kill our way out of this. We’ve even heard historically illiterate generals spout this nonsense in the interest of political correctness (and promotion). Yet, the recorded history of two thousand years of insurgencies led by religious fanatics shows that the only way out of them is to kill the hardcore believers in large numbers. Two millennia, no exceptions.
Fortunately, as our senior generals realized that their academic-thesis-driven counterinsurgency doctrine just doesn’t work, they turned to what does: Over the past four years we have increasingly focused on killing terrorists. By doing so, we have dramatically reduced the strategic threat of catastrophic attacks on our country. Employing a war-seasoned combination of intelligence assets, special-operations forces, CIA paramilitary elements and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), we decisively turned the tide against al Qaeda—an organization that, while still tactically deadly, lies in strategic ruins, decapitated, bankrupt and shorn of credibility even among Muslims. Killing terrorists works. All else is a waste of time, resources and lives.
That doesn’t mean that we’ll see an end to terror (see point five below). But we can reduce it to a statistical nuisance, rather than a cataclysmic danger. And whatever our political views, we should acknowledge President Obama’s willingness to unleash our special capabilities in our current campaign to kill terrorists leaders. He’s gotten this part right and deserves credit for it.
3. War doesn’t change anything. If you need any further proof of our society’s historical illiteracy, it’s this slogan—which just won’t go away. In fact, war has been humanity’s primary means of changing on-the-ground reality since the days of myth. Certainly, war hasn’t always changed things for the better, but it is willful stupidity to claim that it doesn’t change anything. To keep the argument close to home, didn’t the American Revolution change anything? How about our Civil War? World War II? Even the Mexican-American War, wrongly regarded as a minor affair, profoundly altered the strategic reality of an entire hemisphere. One can only suppose that the befuddled citizens with bumper stickers claiming that “War doesn’t change anything” regard the establishment of democracy, the abolition of slavery, the destruction of Hitler’s regime and the like as matters too trivial to acknowledge.
4. Only a negotiated peace has any chance of success. On the contrary, negotiations with Islamist terrorists or their surrogates have no chance of success. Religious-fanatic terrorists—who believe they’re on a mission from their god—will agree to negotiate under two sets of conditions: When their backs are against the wall and they need to buy time, or when they believe they can gain their intermediate objectives through agreements they’ll break as soon as it’s convenient. And, of course, the hardest of the hardcore—the al Qaeda types—simply won’t negotiate at all. In their view, their divine mission simply isn’t subject to the least compromise. Religious fanatics, with their eyes on a pampered afterlife, have no incentive to negotiate, unless it’s for the purpose of a temporary deceit. We’re dealing with enemies who regard death as a promotion and their god’s will as implacable. And we want to placate them with power-sharing agreements and monitored elections. Negotiations are the opium of the intellectuals.
5. It’s all our fault. This line of argument essentially blames the George W. Bush administration for seven centuries of Arab failure (beginning with their subjugation by their Seljuk and Ottoman fellow Muslims). Slightly more-sophisticated voices hold up our Cold War–era support for dictatorships in the Muslim world as the cause of every ill. While it’s undeniable that our policies have not always been far-sighted, “all politics are local.” The Arab world, especially, wallows in a crippling culture of blame, unable to accept responsibility for its own catastrophic deficiencies. The civilization, such as it is, of the Arab Middle East, and reaching beyond it through Pakistan, lies in self-wrought collapse, unable to compete in any significant sphere of human endeavor (despite the influx of trillions of dollars in oil wealth). And blaming Western colonialism for the Arab world’s plight fails to ask why it was so easy for middling European powers to roll over the Arabs, while ignoring that the only things that really work in today’s Middle East were designed—and usually built—by Westerners. This is a motley collection of backward cultures that, in the 21st century, not only cannot build a competitive automobile but can’t build a competitive bicycle.
The Islamist terrorism we see is born of the frustrations and humiliations of pervasive failure, of the Arabs’ (and other Islamic states’) inability to govern themselves decently or even deal with sewage in capital cities. Outraged at their own grotesque inadequacy, a minority of Middle-Eastern Muslims turned to violent fanaticism. This is about inchoate rage, not reason.
That’s why this year’s “Arab Awakening” is so important: The various revolutions we’ve seen are a last chance for the Humpty-Dumpty Arab world to begin to put itself back together. The process will be frustrating, disappointing, sometimes infuriating, and miserably slow. Turmoil will continue for years, perhaps decades. Islamists will enter some governments—and will have their chance to show what they can, or cannot, do for their people. Tribal rivalries and political differences will lead to civil strife. In some states, new strong men or authoritarian regimes may re-emerge. But for all that, the region has to undergo this painful process—or continue to stagnate, with enormous human wastage and increasing radicalization. For all the attendant dangers, we need to remember that a man who believes he has a voice in his own destiny is far less likely to become a fanatical terrorist.
It’s not about us. It’s about them. We’re collateral damage.
Meanwhile, our policy toward Islamist terror is finally on track: We’re killing terrorists wherever we find them, and killing them in large numbers.
Killing works. It’s almost worth a bumper sticker.
Ralph Peters is a longtime member of the Armchair General team, a former enlisted man and retired Army officer, Fox News Strategic Analyst, and the author of the new book LINES OF FIRE: A RENEGADE WRITES ON STRATEGY, INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY. His novel, CAIN AT GETTYSBURG, a historically accurate recounting of the battle, will be published on February 28, 2012.