Debate between American and Australian about Merits of War against Islamist Terrorists

American says,

For those who think we need to redouble our efforts to “win” the war in Afghanistan, I take it they mean we need to do whatever it takes, militarily and financially, to build a stable Afghan state run headed by a secure and US-friendly government. I have two problems with this idea. First, I tend to doubt that the US has the wherewithal to accomplish such a goal in such a rugged, decentralized and forbidding country – no matter how much our surge surges. The whole idea seems fantastical.

Second, I don’t see how even achieving this fantastical aim would really help with the Al Qaeda issue, since I find it hard to believe that any Afghan government that we can realistically imagine taking shape will have the capacity to prevent Al Qaeda elements from gathering in remote locations and forming bases. As a basis for comparison, can we realistically imagine an Afghan government with even half the capacity of a state like Pakistan? Hardly. And yet Pakistan itself is not in control of large swaths of its country. Pursuing the quixotic state-building plans of the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is a distraction from the methods that actually work.

My understanding is that we have been engaged in a global campaign against jihadist terrorism for several years now, and the main practical method is to rely on intelligence to stay one step ahead of the folks who actually pose a threat, and then disrupt their efforts, kill their leaders and interdict their operations. We’re probably going to have to keep doing that sort of thing for quite some time, just as the effort against organized crime in the US never really ends. If Al Qaeda cadres build some kind of training base in Afghanistan, we go in and blow it up. If they build another one, we blow that one up too. We use predators and covert methods. The same is true of al Qaeda redoubts in Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen, right? We are going to have to do this no matter what kind of government we get in Kabul.

I can’t believe that at this late date American political leaders and opinion leaders are still deluded by the theory that the chief enabling cause of terrorism is “state sponsorship”, and so that our aim is to manufacture strong states where none exist now. This seems wrong-headed to me. I’ve used this analogy before, but the militant jihadist movement seems something like the anarchist movement of a century ago. Parts of that movement were violent. Was the solution some sort of state-building process in Europe and the United States? No. There were already strong states in Europe and the US. But it is of the nature of terrorist groups to slip between the cracks in the sovereign power of states.

Anarchist terrorism was basically a law and order problem. The idea was just to stay ahead of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, and outlast the movement as its ideological fervor gradually dissipated and it burned itself out.

We should never have gotten involved in state building in Afghanistan. Now we have a generation of American leaders who are invested in that project, and see their personal honor and the national honor as riding on its very unlikely success. They need to get real.

Australian says,

Ben Katcher’s intellectually malodorous, and disingenuous, argument has reached the other shores of the Pacific. While he claims that “pouring more troops…into Afghanistan means fewer resources to pursue our other national security objectives across the globe,” he does not mention any of them by name other than the economic crisis mentioned by Dennis Blair. Hence his statement that “strategy is about priorities and trade-offs,” while true in general, is a contrived fiction when he applies it to international terrorism since these other priorities remain nameless. The reason why he does not name them is that if he had identified these priorities and contrasted them with the priority of global terror he would embarrass himself for being ludicrous.

Dan Kervick’s paragraph that contains “we use predators and covert methods,” which incidentally is an idea that I suggested myself too eight years ago, is very interesting although he contradicts himself further down on his post when he contrasts present terror with anarchist terror in the past and says for the latter that it “was basically a law and order problem,” which he first ventilated in a riposte to me on TWN three years ago. Surely, Kervick, who has learnt his logic by sitting in the spacious intellectual laps of Hume and Russel, could not cogently argue that “predators and covert methods” fall in the ambience of “law and order.”

American says,

Kotzabasis says:

“Surely, Kervick, who has learnt his logic by sitting in the spacious intellectual laps of Hume and Russel, could not cogently argue that “predators and covert methods” fall within the ambience of “law and order.””

I do. When I say that terrorism is a law and order problem, I don’t mean that the only tools to be used are the methods of the criminal justice system. Those latter tools have proven effective in many cases, including operations interdicted in the UK and Canada. But given the limits of applying these tools across borders and inside rugged countries, sometimes more aggressive means must be employed. What I mean is that terrorism is fundamentally a problem of a limited number of militant “outlaws”, and that the strategy for addressing it should focus on that fact, rather than be distracted by extravagant projects for state improvement and state overhaul.

What I am most skeptical of is the idea that the problem of terrorism is a conventional military problem that calls for the use of conventional military operations – in the form of armies, invasions and occupations – against either states or sub-national “armies”. And I am especially skeptical of the idea that the way to address the problem of terrorism is to launch massive – and generally very unrealistic – state-building operations in the hope that some day the dangerous backward parts of the world will be filled with well-functioning and capable states that will be able to suppress all of the militants operating inside their territories.

There are other means that need to be used as well, including denying the terrorists the ideological foothold that multiplies their influence and capability. That means not doing so many things that provide evidence of the very charges the terrorists make. To counter jihadist charges that the United States is hostile to the interests of Arabs and Muslims across the world the United States should stop behaving as if it is indeed universally hostile to the interests of Arabs and Muslims.

Australian says,

Kervick says:

“When I say that terrorism is a law and order problem, I don’t mean that the only tools to be used are the methods of the criminal justice system.”

Your quote states the obvious. Of course one does not fight terrorism only with police methods but the question is out of all the methods which are the most effective by which one can defeat the jihadists. And while your paragraph in your previous post that mentions “predators” and all the other ‘hard things’ that one has perforce to do against the jihadists is full of strategic clarity, by reverting back to your old argument of three years ago that the present terrorists are similar to the anarchist terrorists of the past and can be interdicted by ‘police’ methods, you unconsciously downgrade the seriousness of your ‘hard things’ position.

Moreover, you are locked in the fallacy of a rational person who premises his actions that his enemies that ‘round’ him up are also rational and if he shows by his actions, in our case America, that he is not against Arabs and Muslims this will bring a definitive change in the attitudes of the jihadists. This is a ‘straightjacket’ delusion that has lost all contact with reality. Islamic fanaticism will not be influenced, soothed, abated, or defeated by moral examples or olive branches but only in the field of battle and that is why a military deployment against it is a prerequisite. In short, it’s just another but more effective method in defeating the jihadists in a shorter span of time.

American says,

C-G Kotzabasis,

I’m talking about the hearts and minds issue. There is a hard core of dyed-in-the-wool militant jihadists with an uncompromising Salafist ideology. They are not going to be swayed by US public diplomacy, or by forseeable changes in US policy. They can only be dealt with forcibly. They must either be captured or killed, and their plans must be disrupted.

But the hard core is surrounded by concentric circles of people who are associated with the hard core by various degrees of fellow-travelling or sympathizing or onlooking. The extent to which the jihadists are able to expand their movement to get material or moral assistance from people in the out rings depends on how well their message resonates.

In my view, the jihadists have been the beneficiaries in recent years of a number of wrong-headed US policies that help their message resonate strongly. If hundreds of innocent people in Gaza have their lives snuffed out in an over-the-top Israeli attack, some as a result of deliberate crimes, with nary a peep from the US Congress, then when your friendly neighborhood jihadist says, “Muslims lives mean nothing to the Americans,” that message is going to get much more play on the street than it would if the US Congress had stepped up and condemned the excessive use of force.

Australian says,

Dan Kervick,

Certainly the “hearts and minds issue” is a core issue. But the “concentric circles of people,” will not be influenced by US Congress pronouncements and condemnations, in this case of Israeli actions, if they perceive, which they will, that this change of American policy arises from the weakness of the latter and from the strength of the “hard core” “militant jihadists” in their war with the US. The concentric circles of support for the militants will only disappear by depriving the latter of the ‘aura’ of being seen as the victors (The ethos of Arab pride trumps all.) against the American hegemon. And that entails the imminent and decisive defeat of the militants in the field of battle, as it happened in Iraq to the Sadrist militias and al Qaeda.

Furthermore, your concentrated reasoning loses its force if your policy contains these two incongruous parts: The first one will destroy by predators and covert operations (Which will be seen in the Muslim world as American excesses) the incubators of “Salafist ideology”, which are the madrassas, while the second, will denounce American and Israeli excesses. Do you seriously believe that such denunciation will have greater influence upon fellow-travellers and sympathisers, than the destruction of the madrassas in which many civilians will be killed, and will win their hearts and minds?

Join the debate

Liberals Call for Dismissal of ‘Politicized’ General

By Con George-Kotzabasis
WigWag surprisingly is on a fool’s errand. While he acknowledges the importance of victory in Afghanistan that could be delivered by the “proper course’ of McChrystal and the multi-dimensional effects such a victory would have on global jihadists, at the same time he would be willing to pull a “MacArthur” on a ‘politicized’ McChrystal and hence diminish the chances of the U.S. winning the war in Afghanistan. Alas, according to his ‘dismal’ logic, politics should trump military victory.

Moreover he unimaginatively disregards the totally negative political repercussions such an injudicious dismissal would have on Obama himself, in the current political climate in America that as Kervick notes, in an unusually correct insight, to make McChrystal a “martyr” would be a political calamity for Obama. And it would be the greatest of ironies if the ‘dismissed’ Commander-In-Chief himself by the world by its representative body the International Olympic Committee for sponsoring and promoting Chicago for the summer Olympics, which for a president to be involved directly in its bidding was politically most imprudent, will be dismissing his commander on the ground General McChrystal for his professional and prudent recommendation how to win the war in Afghanistan.

Posted by WigWag, Oct 02 2009, 9:33AM – Link

“WigWag surprisingly is on a fool’s errand”

Don’t be surprised Kotzabasis; I’m afraid that sometimes I think that fool’s errands are my specialty.


Posted by kotzabasis, Oct 02 2009, 10:48PM – Link


Only a ‘fool’ who has your strength of character can laugh at himself.


Putin’s Russia is to Weaken U.S. and Will not Support Sanctions against Iran

By Con George-Kotzabasis

Posted by kotzabasis, Sep 24 2009, 4:58AM – Link

Nadine, you are wasting your valuable time retorting to the political banalities of Norheim and his kindred spirits inundating The Washington Note.

Dmitry Medvedev’s “in some cases, sanctions are inevitable,” is the noose that the clever chess playing Russians are putting around the naive neck of the draught playing Obama. The operative words are “in some cases,” which the Russians alone will define and no one else. The political toddlers a la Norheim, enchanted under their inspirational wishful thinking, believe that the Russians will define these words positively in favour of sanctions, and like the stunted toddlers that they will always be they will be looking forward to Santa Klaus, Putin, on New Year’s Day to deliver to them their wishful ‘playful’ present.

Posted by Paul Norheim, Sep 24 2009, 5:33AM – Link

You`re distorting my words, Kotz.

I don`t “believe” anything on these matters yet. There are too many if`s and if-not`s here. If it goes to the Security Council and Russia votes for sanctions in the Security Council, I`ll “believe” so.

China delivered some critical statements on their part just hours ago. Time will tell.

My initial point was an attempt to formulate how Obama seemed to see the missile shield issue, the relationship to Russia, the Iran issue, and the Israel-Palestine conflict as a connected and complex whole, and that this way of thinking contained a lot of unpredictable factors, probably too many if he has built a strategy on this. Perhaps my guesses are wrong, perhaps they are correct. But I see no particular reason for optimism on Iran and Israel-Palestine in the coming months and years. Is that clear?

If you want to twist and bend this in any direction, go on.

Posted by kotzabasis, Sep 24 2009, 6:38AM – Link

Are you now repudiating all of your posts above your last one? “Russian Leader Opens Door to Tougher Iran Sanctions” and then you paste THE ASSOCIATED PRESS in all its positives on the issue with which you obviously agree. Then you follow this in your penultimate post with, “it now looks more like America is getting, than that it’s not getting something.” And only belatedly, after my own post, and after letting your guard down, you place your “if’s and if-not’s.”

 Paul Norheim says

For ad hominem “thinkers” and strategy geniuses like Kotz, this is an exercise beyond their capabilities, and just another opportunity to bash his opponents for their lack of strength and amour propre in their cul de sac.

But now that WigWag, whom Kotz sympathize with, actually agrees that possible sanctions were behind Obama`s decisions on the missile shield, and also seems to think that the likelihood of Russia getting on board on this might have increased a bit after Medvedev`s statement yesterday, I expect that Kotz will keep silent on this issue.

 WigWag says

There is an irony in all of this. Conservatives like Kotzabasis and Nadine are far more suspicious of the Russians than the Israeli Government is. They can speak for themselves about whether my surmise is right or not; but whether it’s a carryover from the Cold War days or something else, conservatives are suspicious any time the United States fails to “stand up” to Russia.

This is no longer true in Israel. Israel sees Russia as an increasingly important partner. A large portion of the Israeli population is Russian and has cultural ties to the “old country.” Russia and Israel have ever increasing commercial relations, especially in military equipment. Israel appreciates the fact that they never have to worry about criticism from the Russians on the human rights front (Russian behavior in Chechnya makes the War in Gaza look like a Girl Scout picnic). And Israel sees good relations with Russia (and China and India) as a counter balance to their overdependence on the United States. Israel also appreciates the fact that Russians don’t care about Palestinian aspirations.

This is actually one of the few examples where people who have the views of Nadine and Kotzabasis disagree with Israel. Israel wants better relations between Russia and the United States for many reasons, not the least of which is that it increases the likelihood that harsh sanctions on Iran will be enacted.

It’s conservatives who get nervous every time they see increased cooperation between Russia and the United States not Israelis.

 Kotzabasis says


Of course Obama’s naive decision “on the missile shield” was to entice the Russians to come “on board” on sanctions. I predicted he would do this four months ago. But WigWag is not inflicted by the illusion, like you are that the Russians will come along on sanctions. And as he correctly states, they will not do so unless they are offered much more such as “NATO expansion, support for Georgia and Ukraine, Kosovo and Bosnia/Republica Srpska.” Hence they will be putting a bigger noose around the neck of Obama’s diplomacy and will be pulling it so hard that there will be no flesh left on his neck, i.e., American power and prestige, other than the protruding bones of an anorexic superpower that would force America’s close allies to have second thoughts about the former’s reliability and resolution under President Obama. And the question then arises whether the Obama administration would go the whole hog, i.e., sacrifice all its allies on the altar of getting the by now out of the equation Russians, according to WigWag’s logic, since he believes that “harsh sanctions by the United States and Europe would still sting” without the Russians being on board.


I’m surprised that you seem to see the conservative ‘brand’ of politics only in its old form of rigidity and not see the ‘new brand’ whose strength lies in its fluidity. It’s far from being the rather very simplistic case of failing to “stand up” to Russia. Analytically that is a very hacked and shallow conclusion. And you extrapolate an avalanche of wrong deductions from a possible American agreement with Russia on sanctions, which I think is a will-o’-the-wisp, while you irretrievably contradict your own argument. Russia is not in the game of strengthening America but of weakening it. And they see in Obama in his elemental personal debility and idealistic respect all diplomacy, a perfect opportunity to achieve their great goal. It’s this that is of great concern to ‘fluid’ conservative realists and not because they carry some incurable virus from the “Cold War days.” It’s seen the Russian ‘Emperor’ with glee on his face dragging America’s benign power into the amphitheatre to be tangled in the net of the gladiator and slaughtered to the applause of the ignorant and ignoble crowd of anti-Americanism., that is the modern equivalent of panem et circenses.

And aren’t you contradicting your own argument when you say that “Russian acquiescence to harsh sanctions will be a real plus” (but at what a price) when you earlier stated that sanctions imposed by the US and Europe “will turn out to be more politically devastating” and at the same time taking the Russians out of the equation and hence making their “acquiescence” totally obsolete and thus saving the US from a politically and diplomatically ‘spending spree’ in ‘Russian malls’? In view of this why even the stolid administration of Obama would not prioritize the interest of its strong allies in Eastern and Southern Europe next to an obsolete Russian “acquiescence?”

You also totally disregard Iran’s libido dominandi for the region and for the Islamic world that can be achieved more effectively in the carapace of nuclear weapons. To say as you do, “but for the peace process, [Between Palestinians and Israelis] sanctions or military action against Iran would be far less likely,” is to be blind before the real aims of the theocratic regime and to assume that Western leadership will continue to be languidly supine before such a great threat. 

Lastly, it goes without saying that the smart Israelis would of course welcome a Russian agreement on sanctions even with the high probability that they will ultimately fail. But would they be happy to see this at the expense of a weakened America, especially against Iran as a staunch supporter of its terrorist ‘satrapies’ of Hamas and Hezbollah? And only one who has ‘rolling stones’ in his head would not see the great reasoning that lies in Israel’s good relationship with Russia. And how a brownie bird like you could have come to the conclusion that either Nadine or me disagree with Israel on this issue? I guess this could have only risen up from an errant nocturnal lucubration of yours.