The challenge of the Post-9/11 World for America is summed up in one word. Deterrence. America got to 9/11 by bits and pieces, all the way back to Richard Nixon’s decision not to retaliate for the Cold River assassination U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Cleo Noel Jr. and his charge d’affaires Curtis Moore, to the refusal of Bill Clinton to countenance punishing attacks on Afghanistan in retaliation for the 1998 Kenyan and Tanzanian US Embassy bombings by Al Qaeda. Both Paleocons such as Pat Buchanon, and Liberals and Democrats such as Michael Moore, and Howard Dean argue that isolationism, and variations of anti-Israeli/anti-Jewish actions, will achieve American security. But as we look back on 9/11, and recall that awful day, what stands out is the failure to create deterrence for attack, and the lessons of those nations that have responded to the changed security environment of the post-Cold War, nuclear proliferation world we inhabit today.
Above all else, 9/11 could have been, much, much worse.
During the Cold War, America’s security objectives were overwhelmingly to avoid escalation of the conflict with the Soviet Union, particularly through proxies, to the point where nuclear war became a reality. The awful conflict in Korea, taking roughly 36,000 dead, which threatened to involve nuclear war with the Soviet Union, was never far from policy makers thoughts. Thus the US restrained Britain, France, and Israel during the 1956 Suez Invasion after Soviet threats, and conducted a drastically limited proxy war in Vietnam. Nixon, seeking to peel off Arafat’s PLO, did not seek retaliation for Arafat’s execution orders for American diplomats held hostage in the Sudan. Neither did Carter retaliate against Iran for the taking of the US Embassy and the Iran Hostage Crisis, an overt act of war. Iran was still “useful” against the Soviet Union. Neither did Reagan retaliate against Iran for its proxy Hezbollah’s bombing of the US Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, indeed Reagan ordered the US shortly thereafter to leave. Nor did George Herbert Walker Bush remove Saddam Hussein when he could have easily done so. Governing Iraq was too messy, expensive, and besides Saddam was “useful” against Iran. Clinton responded to Saddam’s provocations, not the least of which was serial violation of the truce agreements, particularly with respect to ballistic missiles, by the impotent “Desert Fox” which had no material effect whatsoever on Saddam’s rule. Clinton also responded to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings by Iran with impotent threats of indictment, and responded to Al Qaeda terror attacks by similarly impotent indictments and limited, casualty avoiding missile strikes of Al Qaeda compounds in Afghanistan. Neither Clinton, nor George W. Bush after him, responded to Al Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole while in port in Yemen.
All the Presidents had good reasons to do nothing. Retaliation was expensive, politically. It would upset the press, Liberals and Democrats, the UN, various Human Rights groups, factions in the Saudi and other Gulf states, and gain little support at home. And so, as Andrew McCarthy in Willful Blindness, the Justice System was jury-rigged for a task it was inherently unable to complete combating mass-casualty terrorism through indictments instead of military deterrence.
McCarthy, the former US Attorney who convicted the “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman and his associates for planned follow-on attacks after the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, argues persuasively that the Justice System is unable to deal with international terrorists who are in fact, “semi-state” figures, beyond the reach of normal government actions, the extradition of common criminals, and that using the Justice System actually makes things worse. By revealing in open court the sources and methods used to track and discover terrorist networks, including informants and electronic surveillance methods. McCarthy argues that Obama’s return to using the Justice System to deal with terrorism, and Al Qaeda in particular, guarantees more attacks along the lines of 9/11, only with more casualties.
Lawrence Wright, who wrote The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 argues persuasively that Osama bin Laden’s goals, that of his lieutenant Ayman Al-Zawahari, and nearly all jihadi groups, is that of forming an exile army, and many wealthy followers, in order to overthrow their native governments and become rulers in their stead. For Osama, the target being the House of Saud. For Zawhari, becoming the replacement of Mubarak. Their strategy being to emulate Mohammed, who after being expelled from Mecca, sought refuge in Medina, and through raiding Caravans (not Mecca itself) amassed a following that allowed him to retake Mecca. Indonesian, Pakistani, Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan, and Uigher members of Al Qaeda all follow this script. Attacks on their homeland have been counter-productive. The secret police there are too skilled, powerful, and with many informants in the various jihadi networks, for any attempt at coups in their home nations to be successful. Not even Anwar Sadat’s assassination brought Jihadi victory, merely the successor regime of Mubarak.
In the meantime, organizations that carry off successful attacks on particularly, American targets, find much funding from wealthy would-be jihadi supporters in the Gulf, much like the OAS spectacular terrorist attacks during the infancy of the De Gaulle regime found wealthy industrial patrons willing to aid that organization’s coffers. Foot soldiers are plenty, among the alienated, unattached men caused by a tribal and polygamous system that denies a good number of men the ability to marry and form a family. Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammed, had famously 22 wives during his lifetime, and 57 children. When he would tire of a wife, he would “give her” to a subordinate in his billion dollar construction company, ranking higher or lower based on how well his wife had pleased him. This was in fact what happened to Osama bin Laden at age nine. When he mother was given to a subordinate who both hated and feared (Osama would one day inherit some of his father’s wealth) the spawn of the great man.
Parapundit estimates that 12% of Muslim marriages are polygamous, though I have seen other estimates that nearly 30% of Saudi marriages are polygamous, many of them with four wives. Enough then, to make significant amounts of men unable to find wives. It’s unlikely that all polygamous marriages consist of four wives, but even with most having only two, that would mean 30% of Saudi Men would not find wives. Yes, the Gulf states have much prostitution, as does Iran. But prostitutes are not substitutes for wives, and the frustration of jihadis denied family formation can lead them to willingly accept suicide for the promise of 72 virgins. Michael Yon reported that Saudi Men smuggled into Iraq for the purpose of becoming suicide bombers paid the astonishing sum of $1,100 dollars for that “privilege.”
The United States is capable of neither reforming polygamy, nor erasing the Koran (and Mohammed’s ability to construct an exile army, of which nearly every Muslim is as familiar with as every Christian is the broad outlines of the Crucifixion). The US cannot, with all the democracy promotion available, erase the raw hunger for power in men like bin Laden and Zawahari, nor their general knowledge of how to get it. The United States cannot ignore terrorist attacks, or do the minimum possible, because the history of the past forty plus years is that such ignoring only leads to ever-escalating attacks. The 1993 WTC plotters, for example, sought to kill 50,000 people by toppling one tower onto another. Their motive? Fame and fortune as successful jihadis, essentially.
What the US is capable of achieving, however, are limited objectives, namely the prevention of mass-casualty terror attacks on the US, particularly it’s cities, which are tempting targets. From this, objective, a careful study of real US political and military constraints, along with the experience of other countries, is useful.
First, Russia experienced, as Putin put it in his address to the nation, after Beslan, a loss of fear and respect. Putin said Russia became weak, and the weak get beaten. Thus, the Moscow Theater hostage crisis (and killings), the blowing up of Moscow apartment blocks, the blowing up of Russian airliners in flight, and of course, Beslan. The killing was not about changing Russian policy. No one among the Chechen and Al Qaeda hostage takers and plotters seriously expected a dramatic change in Russian policy in Chechnya. The objective of the plotters was merely to become more powerful and famous, with more money and men flowing in from the Gulf and elsewhere, and among the hostage takers, the nihilistic pleasures of murder and suicide.
Russia’s response was ruthlessly pursue the Chechen terrorists, with a proxy army of their ex-comrades, who were offered rule over Chechnya if they would only dispose of the plotters. Which was done in very short order, with much bloodshed. Russia also gained an ally, Iran, by becoming a patron and protector for its nuclear program, which conveniently posed a threat to the US. Russia’s actions do not provide perfect protection, as Iran has little influence on Sunni Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, neither of which have any love for Russia. However, Russia’s patronage position allows it access to Iranian intelligence on the activities of those factions and actors likely to pose a threat to Russia, and Iranian intelligence is reckoned to be quite good in identifying the players in the region.
China, for example, faces continuing unrest in XianXing province, with Uigher Muslims in conflict with the Han Chinese majority. Conflict severe enough to warrant firing the top Party official in the city of Urumqi, as well as the top police official in XianXing province. Uighers were represented in Al Qaeda, to the point where US officials held some captured in Afghanistan for years, before releasing them in Palau (no other nation would take them). Yet China has not faced airplanes flying into Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Beijing Skyscrapers, because jihadis and more importantly, their tribal hosts, fear concretely Chinese retaliation.
The principal aim of the United States in the post-9/11 world must be to prevent nuclear weapons, either “borrowed” from Pakistan (most likely through tribal leadership connivance, Pakistan being more of a tribe with flags and nukes than a unitary nation such as France) or “given” by Iran (or other nuclear proliferators), being used against US cities, with nukes forming a “super car bomb.”
Prevention will require two things. The first is intelligence, which can only be obtained through alliance (as with Russia and Iran) with important factions and groups that are likely to have a good idea of who is doing what, in Pakistan, Iran, and other places. This in effect means a continuing US presence, of some significant scope, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Only those two places contain tribal enemies, who bear little love for the regime in Tehran (the Azeris, Kurds, Kazakhs, and Turkmen minorities and the Baluchi separatists) and critical information about goings on in Pakistan, particularly tribal leadership and factions within tribes. India as well is likely to have critical intelligence with respect to Pakistan, though it would require naturally US help to be induced to share it.
The second is deterrence. Deterrence “pushed down” to the actual decision makers. In Pakistan, the new President Asif Ali Zardari, is lucky to have orders obeyed past the Presidential Palace gate, as was his predecessor, General Musharraf. The real decision makers are tribal and factional leaders, who control the tribal loyalty of clan and kin. Pakistan is a chaotic place, filled with corruption, so no one pays much heed to the government, not even the Army, which itself is riddled with conflicting religious, factional, and tribal loyalties. Among tribes and clans themselves, leaders can shift in influence and power, and often new leaders emerge as old ones lose influence or patronage. For Pakistan, the source of tribal leaders power, the tribes and the people of the tribes themselves, must see concrete demonstrations of US power and just as important, the will to use it.
Consistently, Osama bin Laden and other jihadi leaders have argued that the near forty year record of US non-response to jihad shows a fundamental lack of will to use power. That America, not the Soviet Union, is the “weak power” and can be attacked with near impunity. At worst, outlasted for a few years as Americans grow weak and weary, and simply give up. Whereas it was critical in the Cold War to avoid escalation with a power fully capable of wiping out the entire US population, i.e. the Soviet Union, it is just as critical to escalate conflicts with isolated (and therefore vulnerable) tribal populations, that have currently no deterrence in simply using borrowed or stolen nuclear weapons for what amounts to tribal counting of coup. Tribal people cannot respond they have far greater limits on their resources than the USSR. Moreover, examples made of certain tribal peoples, who cross clearly identified red lines, and have few friends, and many enemies, make deterrence real among other tribes. This was the strategy General Crook, and others, used to fight Geronimo. The Navajo hated the Apache more than the US Cavalry and White settlers. With a few variations, it was the strategy used by General Petraeus in the fight against Al Qaeda among the Sunnis in the West of Iraq (the so-called Al-Anbar Awakening). Just as Saddam’s capture (humiliating) and his execution showed US power, it also brought to mind the cost for tribal peoples allied to leaders who consistently anger the United States the rapid gain in power of traditional tribal enemies and their own loss.
The United States cannot create democracy as it is practiced in the West, or remake Islam to outlaw polygamy, or shatter age-old tribal loyalties, or remove the lust for power in the hearts of would be tribal leaders. The US certainly can create a system of deterrence based on real fear of crossing the US, deterrence acting upon tribal peoples. Recall that the Taliban accepted bin Laden’s assurances that the most that would result from 9/11 was an impotent invasion, soon to be wiped out, by victorious Muslim forces.
The United States is unlikely to ever again commit large amounts of ground troops in Muslim nations. An invasion of Iran, for example, is extremely unlikely, regardless of any provocation. The best that can be politically accomplished given elite opinions (that all war is bad, including the Afghanistan War, and that security is achieved by group hugs and kumbayah) and the public’s souring of the Iraq War, is maintaining adequate troop strength to project force and aid tribal allies across the Iranian and Pakistan borders, from Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. While this is not much, it is not nothing either. It has the advantage of replicating the proven Russian success. Although at much bloodshed, inevitably, some of it American. The strategy also creates a patronage network through which vital human intelligence that can be obtained in no other way (particularly with Obama’s War on the CIA) that can be used to stage Predator drone attacks on tribal enemies or support tribal allies. If nothing else, US support for Baluchi separatism, is a useful lever to induce Iranian nuclear cooperation. After all, if a “rogue” group inside Tehran decides to give Al Qaeda a spare nuke or two, the absolute guarantee of “Baluchi separatists” using some “anonymous nukes” of their own to level Tehran, Qom, and other major Iranian cities can be positively (and secretly) communicated.
What is most likely, however, is the continuation of the forty plus years of appeasement, dithering, doing nothing, and half-hearted political efforts to provide political cover, in reacting to the changed security threat. Obama and his liberal and Democratic allies want defeat in both Iraq and Afghanistan so badly they can taste it. Obama has declared war on the CIA, rendering it unable to provide any human intelligence (or likely, otherwise) about any prospective terror attacks. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is far away from India, in the mostly Pashtun areas controlled by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Iran almost certainly will have nukes soon, and might indeed already have them. Political costs for promoting a policy of deterrence is high, and the short term rewards for doing nothing as in the isolationism and pacifism of the 1930’s are immediate and popular.
What I fear most is a “Bombay World,” only one with nukes instead of AK-47s. Ambitious, and cruel jihadis have not ceased wanting power. Polygamy, and tribal loyalties, still roil Pakistan, and to a lesser extent, Iran. Saudi Arabia is still a powder keg of a corrupt royal family, polygamy induced single men with no hope of a family, next to obscene amounts of oil wealth. While every political force in the US pushes the current President no less than last seven Presidents to do nothing. In short, I fear a day when 9/11 is forgotten. Not because people have ceased to care, but because of a day of far greater horror.
And then, the US will not respond as it did on 9/11 with Special Forces, directing bombers to Al Qaeda and Taliban targets from horseback. No, then the response of an enraged and frightened American people will be to simply eliminate as a people any and all nations thought to be responsible, with our strategic nuclear arsenal. Out of anger, but most of all fear, fear for what could happen to other cities in the US.