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Posted by on Sep 27, 2009 in International, Politics, Religion, War | 4 comments

Andrew J. Bacevich: Turn the Hot War Into a Cold War

Having read two of Andrew J. Bacevich’s books now (The New American Militarism and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism) I know that he is always worth reading, even when you don’t agree with his conclusions (although I mostly do).

Today, he has an op-ed in the Washington Post, laying out his ideas for a new approach toward Afghanistan. Here are the first three paragraphs:

America’s long war, which began on Oct. 7, 2001, when U.S. bombs and missiles started falling on Afghanistan, has become the longest in this country’s history. The eighth anniversary of the conflict beckons, with no end in sight.

The counterinsurgency campaign proposed in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s strategic assessment will prolong the war for an additional five or 10 years. The war’s most ardent proponents insist that President Obama has no choice: It’s either fight on or invite another 9/11.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to a global counterinsurgency campaign. Instead of fighting an endless hot war in a vain effort to eliminate the jihadist threat, the United States should wage a cold war to keep the threat at bay. Such a strategy worked before. It can work again.

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  • Here is the money quote from Mr. Bacevich’s op-ed:

    The essential problem is a dispute about God’s relationship to politics. The proposition that the two occupy separate spheres finds particular favor among the democracies of the liberal, developed West. The proposition that God permeates politics finds particular favor in the Islamic world.

    How can you use military power all the time when belief in God is so all-encompassing? You can’t bomb the belief of God (and in the terrorists case, a warped view of God) out of the Islamic world. So I agree with Mr. Bacevich’s cold war philosophy of “decapitate, contain and compete”.

  • shannonlee

    So what do we do when the Taliban retake the country? Because that is exactly what will happen after we remove our military. We will go right back to a pre-911 situation where the Taliban will control most of Afghanistan and the bordering areas in Pakistan. We cannot switch to a cold war philosophy until we can create security in that country.

  • pacatrue

    I need to read the full opinion, but the other problem with a “Cold War” approach is the Cold War requires two organized, probably national, entities where it is to neither’s benefit to engage in full war. But the “other side” in this is not so organized and cannot be deterred in such a way.

  • I think the “cold war” approach may apply better to Iran than Afghanistan in the short term, but even with no “surge” or increase in troops, Al Qaeda appears to be imploding, and has been in decline for years.

    [S]ome government officials do take quiet, if wary, satisfaction in two developments that they say underlie the broad belief that Al Qaeda is on a downhill slope. One is the success of military Special Operations units, the C.I.A. and allies in killing prominent terrorists.

    In addition to thinning the ranks of potential plotters, the constant threat of attack from the air makes it far harder for terrorists to move, communicate, and plan, counterterrorism officials say. And while the officials say they worry about a public backlash in response to the civilians killed during the air attacks, those officials also say the strikes may be frightening away potential recruits for terrorism.
    The second trend is older and probably more critical. The celebration in many Muslim countries that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has given way to broad disillusionment with mass killing and the ideology behind it, according to a number of polls.Between 2002 and 2009, the view that suicide bombings are “often or sometimes justified” has declined, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, from 43 percent to 12 percent in Jordan; from 26 percent to 13 percent in Indonesia; and from 33 percent to 5 percent in Pakistan (excluding some sparsely populated, embattled areas). Positive ratings for Osama bin Laden have fallen by half or more in most of the countries Pew polled.

    Steve Benen comments on Political Animal,

    On that latter point, it seems many in the Middle East who may have initially been sympathetic to al Qaeda soon discovered the group had very little to offer in the way of practical solutions to everyday problems. And as terrorist attacks began killing civilians in counties like Jordan, regional support plummeted and al Qaeda appeared discredited. The “movement’s pronounced decline has continued apace in recent years.Emile Nakhleh, who headed the CIA’s strategic analysis program on political Islam until 2006, noted that al Qaeda is “finding it harder to recruit” and “harder to raise money.” Audrey Kurth Cronin, a professor at the National War College in Washington, added, “I think Al Qaeda is in the process of imploding. This is not necessarily the end. But the trends are in a good direction.”

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