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Sunday, May 07, 2006

The War on Terror and Logic

Originally Posted: July 24, 2005 -- 8:52pm
Fool Boards Link: http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=22793127

This is the first of several posts from the Fool that addressed some of the pretzel logic being used to justify Administration policies about security in the post- September 11, 2001 world.


Events over the past three weeks don't suggest any long term improvement in the results on the "war on terror." The details coming out about the flaws in US intelligence and outright efforts to twist what we had to fit preconceived policies make it clear that the war has really become a war on logic itself.

While trying to avoid setting up bogus strawmen then knocking them down, here's a breakdown of some of the logic still being used to support the original and still current tactics of the "war on terror."



Refuting the logic in these statements is as easy as listing them together. According to the Bush administration, the lack of any terrorist attacks would justify continuing the war on terror and an actual attack would also justify continuing with exactly the same strategy. This is patently illogical.

News reports the week prior to the G8 summit in Britain mentioned that while security would be tight for visiting leaders, intelligence sources were remarkably free of any "chatter" that had been seen before prior attacks. WE HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA HOW SAFE WE ARE. The Department of Homeland Security color-coded terrorism alert indicator is more like the thermostat in your office at work that isn't hooked up to anything. It's there to give you a false sense of precision and insight into something that is completely out of your control.

There are too many willing teenaged and 20-something "martyrs" stupid enough to be duped into conducting attacks, too many soft targets, and too many simple "technologies" for wreaking havoc for us to know when we've turned the corner on safety at a macro level, much less prevent every attack.

Finally, Iraq has probably averaged one suicide bombing per day with a death toll of 3-5 each for the past 600 days. Between 22 and 40 killed just today. Safer from terrorism? Not if you're unfortunate enough to live in Iraq.


If you take the Bush administration's motivations behind the Iraq war at face value, the decision to open up a war front on Iraq after 9/11 and the earlier terrorist actions was akin to the US Forest Service setting backfires in Kansas as a preventative measure when informed of raging forest fires in California. If the fire in California grew large enough, that might be an appropriate tactic at some point in the campaign. However, you're better off staying closer to the source of the current problem instead of widening the front and doubling the resources needed to battle the flames. Doing so reduces the work required to manage your supply lines and limits the chances of unforeseen outcomes of the "backfire" causing their own problems.

In reality, Iraq was NOT an active front in the "war on terror" until we invaded, failed to secure the borders, and produced a power vacuum that allowed foreign Jihadists to flow in and set up shop. Now it absolutely IS a front in the war on terror because we made it so.

I don't think anyone inside Iraq in either the Sunni or Shiite camp really believed Saddam had any goal of establishing an Islamic state of Iraq or a larger Islamic empire. Saddam used Islam when it suited his purposes to pit one enemy group against another but there was NOTHING fundamentally Islamic in any aspect of his 30+ years of brutal dictatorship. Instead, his megalomaniacal goal was the establishment of some grand, pan-Arab (not pan-Islamic) state with him at the helm.

In contrast, the principle goal of al Quieda is the elimination of "infidel" (non-Islamic) economic / cultural / political influences (which are one in the same to fundamentalist Muslims) from Arab lands and the establishment of an empire ruled by Islamic law. As proponents of strict Islamic rule, al Queida forces were nearly as much of a threat to Saddam's power structure as they are to those in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. The only circumstance that lessened the long term threat of al Quieda to Saddam was the fact that he clearly lacked an active political / economic relationship with the West after the Gulf War so Iraqi minds were not as fertile ground for the "infidels occupying our Holy Land" rhetoric as those in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt.

The only things common to these polar opposite but equally threatening forces are:

  1. they both clamor for the minds of people of Arab descent

  2. they both involve lands in the same geographic region

  3. the West is highly dependent upon the oil under the feet of the people / land involved

In the 80s, American policy towards Iraq made the mistake of assuming the enemy (Iraq) of my enemy (Iran) is my friend. After 9/11, at a minimum, the Bush administration made the mistake of assuming two of our enemies (Iraq and al Quiada) were by definition allies of each other instead of two scorpions who would equally prefer destroying the other as cooperating with them against some other enemy. By destroying one of the scorpions without a viable plan to fill the void that remained, we allowed the other to widen its influence by producing more of the chaos and fear on which it thrives.


One argument supporters of the war DO make now sounds somewhat legitimate at first glance. The argument is that the failure to "finish" the Gulf War by eliminating Saddam in 1991 forced us to maintain a presence in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to contain Saddam from afar which inflamed Islamic sentiment about "infidels" in the Holy Land. Therefore, eliminating Saddam now puts us on a path to eventually withdrawing our troops to eliminate the aggravation of local Holy Land sentiments.

Of course, this argument wasn't made in 2002 and 2003 because all of the dirty laundry about unfinished business involved the obvious father/son tie AND involved a VP who was Secretary of Defense and a Secretary of State who was Chairman of the JCOS at the time. If you believe this argument, it doesn't really help the case when two of the instigators of the current mess were instrumental in the mistakes that produced the original mess in the first place.

In reality, this argument is wishful thinking. The United States has virtually NEVER completely removed a troop presence from ANY region in which we've had significant military action in the past 60 years. Japan, The Philippines, Germany, Korea, Kuwait, Qatar, Bosnia, Kosovo. Vietnam is the only notable exception. Do you really think we EVER plan on removing all troops from Saudi Arabia? Not with 10 million SUVs that get 18mpg. We will ALWAYS have a presence in Saudi Arabia until the last drop of oil gets loaded on a supertanker and that will always be an excuse for Jihadists to attack the "infidels."


Donald Rumsfeld made the comment "You go to war with the Army you have." Maybe that's true but you shouldn't be content to REMAIN at war with the same Army you had when you started after finding it isn't equipped for the task at hand. Why are troops still having to scavenge steel plate from destroyed Iraqi tanks to harden their HumVees when GM, the maker of the HumVee, is laying off workers at 80% of pay? Why are troops having to use 2-way radios sent by mom and dad to communicate TWO YEARS after the start of the war when America seems to have no problem getting its hands on MILLIIONS of small, hand-held, battery powered MP3 players? If we can make an I-pod the size of a pack of Slim Jims and sell MILLIONS of them at $199 a piece, SURELY we can make 100,000 or 200,000 hand-held radios for any troops that need them so they can coordinate with each other.

How about imposing a special $20 income tax surcharge for the duration of the Iraq war on EVERY W-4 filed? With roughly 120 million tax payers, that would produce a fund of $2.4 billion per year. Proceeds would NOT go into the general revenue fund to be squandered by the Pentagon or Congress on Patriot missile systems that don't work or bloated, mis-managed outsourcing contracts that pay Halliburton $4.9 billion to slop chow. Instead, proceeds could only be spent on goods or services provided directly to individual soldiers on active duty for things such as:

  1. body armor

  2. night-vision goggles

  3. two-way radios

  4. calling cards to keep in touch with family / friends

  5. "up-armoring" of HumVees

To ensure spending of the money is prioritized correctly, only personnel ACTUALLY STATIONED IN IRAQ OR AFGHANISTAN would get to vote on how to allocate the funds. No state-side Pentagon brass, civilian staffers, or Congressmen would be involved.

Oh, a special bill to ensure proper funding of VA hospitals and rehabilitation / support services for veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq would be nice, too. Until recently, House and Senate Republicans have DEFEATED Democratic proposals to boost funding to cover VA shortfalls in the current budget year due to unexpectedly high demands for services from returning veterans:



None of the people I know who opposed the war in Iraq currently believe there is any moral or strategically safe strategy for immediately extricating the United States from Iraq. To paraphrase Colin Powell's comment to Bush prior to the war, "We broke it, we bought it." I firmly expect we will need to maintain a major troop presence (at least 75,000 to 100,000) in Iraq for another 5-7 years at a minimum.

In contrast, reports in the British press indicate the Bush Administration is making detailed plans for a major downsizing of the American forces in Iraq as early as Winter of 2006. So who's cutting and running? If we leave Iraq before stabilizing it, it will likely collapse into civil war overnight. Saudia Arabia and Egypt won't last more than 10 years with that kind of instability nearby.


Unlike the Bush administration, the rest of the planet seems to have some capacity to recognize possible mistakes and use that knowledge to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Even original supporters of the war are having doubts about its need and eventual outcome. They'd like to know how our planning and intelligence so poorly misjuged major aspects of the effort BY ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE. Things like:

  • residual resistance to a new Iraqi government

  • human / financial cost of fighting insurgents

  • cost / time to restore public infrastructure to a usable state

  • ability to restore oil production to allow the Iraqi government
    to function off oil revenues and reduce costs to American taxpayers

Opponents of the war have a growing trail of documents that confirm war was not the only viable option for the circumstances prior to 4/2003. Documents that indicate critical information was withheld or outright twisted to justify starting the war. Opponents are interested in

  1. identifying the legitimate mistakes in intelligence made prior to the war

  2. identifying deliberate distortions of information shared with Congress and the American public to bolster support for the war

  3. avoiding the legitimate mistakes if possible in the future

  4. punishing those involved in any deception to the maximum extent under the law as a disincentive to future leaders considering similar deception

These interests have NOTHING to do with getting even with those that made any mistakes just for the sake of getting even. Revenge doesn't even make the list of concerns. Instead, they are motivated by an understanding that we are battling an enemy that is using what amounts to judo (turning an opponent's strengths against them rather than combatting them directly) instead of traditional military force against us. Leaders of the Jihadist movement are not highly principled students of Islam with the courage to meet their "enemy" on a traditional battlefield to fight for their beliefs and potentially die for them. Instead, they are cowards who understand enough psychology to utilize a limitless supply of teenagers and 20-somethings with minds warped by years of violence, repressive regimes and twisted "theological" teachings in Madrassas who are willing to do the dying for them.

If a traditional, brute force military response would solve the problems we face, I'd be all for it. However, it is clear a brute force response to a judo based strategy of terrorism is a response we cannot sustain. It is CRUCIAL the United States thoroughly understand the logic that looked at the 9/11 intelligence failure, looked at the post-9/11 intelligence on terrorism and looked at the intelligence about WMD in Iraq and came to the conclusion of "Let's do Iraq next". The effort in Iraq has become a costly distraction in terms of lives, money and focus and we need to ensure we do not repeat it in another hot spot.


In public statements about "progress" in Iraq and the mid-east, Bush frequently states words to the effect of "I believe all people are entitled to democracy", attempting to imply his political opponents somehow DON'T want all people of the world to live in freedom and peace.

I'm a big fan of Jefferson and that whole "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" concept in the Declaration of Independence. I don't think TJ listed those inalienable rights in that order just because they rolled off the tongue better that way. You can't worry about people having the time to pursue happiness if they don't have the liberty to pursue it. You also can't worry about people having liberty if their life is at stake. Patrick Henry and others may be within their rights to state "Give me liberty or give me death" on an individual basis. However, it is fundamentally immoral to make that decision for someone else by trying to give them "liberty" then, in doing so, putting them in a position where they are no more able to assure their own life than they were under some other form of government.

If you still think "nation building" via externally imposed "democracy" is a viable geopolitical strategy for the United States to pursue, you might want to pick up a copy of "Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueuville and ACTUALLY READ IT. The concepts of democracy, federalism, individual rights and separation of powers we enjoy didn't happen because we got lucky one summer in 1776. They evolved over 170 years from within and weren't imposed by foreigners carrying M-16 rifles riding in Bradley tanks unable to speak the local language.

There's nothing "elitist" about this. It's simply a recognitiion that no society wants another society actively imposing ANYTHING on them. It's also a recognition of the fact that America did a far better job conquering harmful idealogies like Communism by doing what we do best -- putting food on tables, shoes on feet, children in classrooms and doing all of that in an environment that supported individual freedoms. No direct attack on Moscow was necessary. Just a credible defensive military force and film / music / TV images of a better life reaching those being lied to by their own governments.



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