July 6, 2008
The Struggle for CivilizationBy Jack Lott
The "War on Terror" is over, even as combat with terrorists continues. Like the "Wars" on Drugs and Poverty, it lingers on the back pages and the TV equivalent, the highbrow channels like Discovery and History. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense quietly gears up for the "long war" that is essential to countering the enemy. The gulf between public perception and the grim reality couldn't be greater or more important to bridge. Public boredom with the combat should not displace the importance of understanding and dealing with conflict within the Muslim world.
Seven years is a long time for the American public but a short time for the enemy. We need to explore the reality of the current conflict before the phrase "9/11" slips from our memory, like "Pearl Harbor," becoming something kids Googleâ for a school assignment in history. This war includes a major propaganda battle, which we are on the way to losing. Americans have trouble with ambiguity and complexity in public issues and an inherent skepticism of government statements. They have little interest in things foreign, especially if discussion requires some knowledge of another language. The domestic political wrangling over Iraq illustrates how far the public and much of the government and media elites are from understanding the real war.
The enemy in a slogan war is a condition, not an organization, so it cannot be defeated in the military sense. Warfare is the wrong metaphor for the sustained effort it takes to reduce recreational drug use, redistribute wealth or protect civilians from intentional combat injury. The confusion surrounding "The War on Terror" exists because the phrase was painted over a real war initiated by real enemies with real objectives. It took the 9/11 attacks to get America's fleeting attention to the real decades-old conflict within Islam. America has paid scant attention to terrorists killing modern people in Bali, England, and Spain, and even less attention to them killing developing people in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen, where control of these people is the enemy's objective.
To regain the initiative we've lost, we need to make this war real in the public arena by looking at the complex makeup of the enemies and the simplicity of their objectives. The conflict will not go away because we have tired of talking about it.
There are three things to understand before we get into the reasons for the 9/11 attacks.
First, in spite of the confusion and conflict over the term "War on Terror," our enemies started their War Against Civilization, in the 18th century, not the 21st century. It doesn't help our understanding that this war against civilization is so outside of our modern sensibilities. To make sense of it, we have to consider the enemies' world as "inside the looking glass" -- as puzzling to us as the Red Queen was to Lewis Carroll's Alice.
Second, the enemy is not the religion of Islam, but certain Muslims, like the team of Usama bin Laden and Mullah Omar of the Taliban, who follow the uncommon Wahhabi interpretation of Hanbali Islamic law. Laurent Murawiec's definition, from his book Princes of Darkness, is succinct and clear:
Thanks to Saudi money, Muslim disdain is fast becoming no longer the case.
The danger of cartooning the war in religious terms, such as calling the fighters jihadi (transliterated Arabic -- one who strives in the path of God), is that Al Qaeda gains undeserved status among Muslims because of our misuse of their language. Professor Douglas Streusand of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College addresses this problem by terming the terrorists hirabi (transliterated Arabic -- sinful warrior), in place of jihadi, which has positive connotations for most Muslims. Streusand also suggests that we use the Arabic word for terrorist (irhabi) when discussing those who attack civilians for political purposes. The poor choice of words, in Arabic or English, has more than a negative impact on our propaganda. It enhances the enemy view of us as easy prey -- not the formidable foe we have been to past totalitarians -- because it underscores the perception of us as ignorant of them.
Al Qaeda wants to resurrect the Caliphate (the office of the successor to the Prophet, ended by the Republic of Turkey in 1924). They want control of the 57 nations that make up the Organization of the Islamic Conference as a step to conquering the world. The Caliphate is the leadership of the "Ghost Country" that we are fighting; the term Ghost Country avoids getting sidetracked into discussion of Muslim religious politics. It is an accurate way to characterize the source of the Shadow Army, Al Qaeda, who initiated this war.
The Wahhabi camp within the twenty-thousand-member Saud family wants to reconstitute Islam, as it existed before 632, the year Muhammad died. They spent 140 years conquering most of Arabia and imposing their morality on it. The advent of effortless oil revenue in the 1930's gave them the aura of power and exponential growth. Some of the family is attracted to the modern world, and has less zeal for the imposition of Wahhabi practices within Islam. But the Wahhabi supporters still characterize the family and fund a significant missionary effort.
Al Qaeda feeds off this missionary effort. The Wahhabi Sauds are smart enough not to correct the Western misperception that Al Qaeda is the sole Muslim enemy of modern civilization. They want to continue quietly building a Muslim resistance to modern life without aggravating us to the point of open conflict.
The Al Qaeda camp is less patient than the Saud camp, and has different motives. They are not interested in promoting the Saud-Wahhab alliance as the path to Muslim virtue and power, but would supplant the Saud family as the leadership of the effort to restore a resurrected political Islam to world power. Western reaction to the 9/11attacks has masked this internal Arab struggle, amounting to a civil war for the leadership and allegiance of Muslims demoralized by modern life, into which we have been dragged because of our relationship with the Sauds and other traditional rulers.
Third, globalization is the setting for this war. The political world closed in 1959, when the last open land, Antarctica, was internationalized by treaty. Since then, a modern commercial civilization has ringed the world creating an attractive donut of prosperity surrounding a hole of scarcity. Thomas P.M. Barnett, describes this world in The Pentagon's New Map, calling civilization the "Core" states, and the states in need, the "Gap," which stretches from Afghanistan, through Africa to Central and northern South America in the West, and through Indonesia to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the East. General Zinni, in The Battle for Peace, terms the African-Asian portion of this Gap the "Arc of Instability." The Ghost Country's Shadow Army is based there.
With that background to focus our vision we can now peer into the looking glass to see the six reasons the Ghost Country attacked us on 9/11.
Reason One. The Ghost Country warriors practice the old saying: "The friend of my enemy is my enemy." The United States is the friend, and modern Muslims are the Al Qaeda enemy we befriend.
The Ghost Country traditionalists have a daunting strategic task. They have to win more than 57 campaigns just to end the beginning of the war against civilization. Nonetheless, they have been pursuing a "Near Enemy" strategy of fighting as many campaigns in the Gap as they could within their limited resources.
The growing dominance of Al Qaeda leadership within global terrorism has promoted pursuit of a "Far Enemy" strategy. Al Qaeda assumes that none of the target Muslim countries has the strength to stand on its own, and offers an attractive alternative to the Near Enemy approach; attack America at home and it will withdraw globally, as it did when attacked locally, from Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. Moderate Muslims will then fall under Shadow Army control as the emerging Ghost Country takes shape.
Reason Two. We ignored the earlier attacks on the World Trade Center (1993), Khobar Towers in the Kingdom (1996), east African embassies (1998) and the USS Cole in Yemen (2000). These attacks failed to hold our attention and did not change our ways.
At the risk of seeming callous, it is clear that the enemy values the symbolic damage from terror as more important than the substantive damage of any attack. Terror is the tool of the weak to communicate with us in the absence of formal paths of negotiation, which are closed to most terrorist organizations because they are covert and illegal in the countries they want to influence.
In a media-rich modern world, the "Most Law" applies: on most issues, most of the time most people -- don't care. The media definition of spectacular has to grow as the audience appreciation of the last event fades. The media and the enemy understand this law, which fuels their symbiotic relationship. The terrorists provide the riveting imagery that the media outlets need to compete for the attention of a jaded audience.
Reason Three. Al Qaeda wanted to advertise their ability to counter the pressures on Muslims to modernize their cultures that is inherent in globalization.
The enemy leadership has two audiences. The modern public in the Core countries is one; the Muslim male teenage public in the Gap countries is the other. These boys are underemployed, looking for a commitment that will improve their lot, and prone to blaming some "other" for their plight.
Al Qaeda's "Far Enemy" strategy feeds on these characteristics to provide the Shadow Army with the cannon fodder it needs to take on Muslim governments who are adept at survival, however ineffective they may be in serving their citizens. The argument is: what we, Al Qaeda, did in America, you young men can do in Muslim countries to rid yourselves of the evils of prosperity, including immoral entertainment and competition from unrestrained women. Just join us and we will make your world better, In'ch Allah (Arabic "God Willing"), the passive mindset of most of this audience.
Reason Four. Al Qaeda's first attack on the World Trade Center failed and they needed to regain prestige with their peers in the world of terror.
The Most Law leads the media to exaggerate any incident to maintain interest in the episodic nature of Ghost Country terror. Our interest quickly faded after 26 February 1993, when the images of the truck bomb attack were seen as no big deal. The low speed car chase of murder suspect and celebrity icon O. J. Simpson in 1994 drew more attention.
Not so in the Shadow Army leadership, who are constantly jockeying for power, and for whom charisma is the dominant leader characteristic. The truck bomb failure brought questioning of Al Qaeda's capability, if not the overall strategy. Survival of Al Qaeda in Ghost Country leadership required a more daring attack to reach the objective of American withdrawal from the Gap and incidentally, to maintain the strategic initiative in Al Qaeda's hands.
Reason Five. Al Qaeda and their allies don't have the direct power to conquer significant Muslim countries on their own. Modern Muslims, often religious moderates, are their enemy.
The Ghost Country warriors reached out to attack us at home in an attempt to overcome the inherent weaknesses they bring to the battlefield. They must contend for support in the face of significant losses in obscure campaigns that get little notice in the Core states.
While the American media focused on Afghanistan and Iraq, the Ghost Country suffered a defeat in Algeria. Frustrated when their election win was abrogated by the government in 1991, the Ghost Country party, the Armed Islamic Group, began a vicious civil war, escalating their terror campaign to an insurgency that they lost on the battlefield, a loss they acknowledged in 2000, while resuming a low level of terror. The lesson from this campaign was that the national government won without much aid from the former colonial power, France or from the "Great Satan" America.
The 9/11 Attack served to distract further the modern world from the problem-solving, promising strategy of closing the Gap. That strategy means overcoming the serious resistance of traditionalists through providing the benefits of modern civilization to the young, who, despite enemy propaganda, find our world attractive. Modern societies are more adept at nation building through a host of nongovernmental organizations, than our traditionalist enemies can ever be. Taliban Afghanistan is about the best that they can do.
Reason Six. The enemy is certain that they are right and we are wrong, just as we assert the opposite, reflecting the mutual ignorance between innovators and traditionalists.
It is ironic that civilized Americans and the Ghost Country warriors share a trait that explains why "The War on Terror" is so difficult to prosecute and has been so divisive throughout the modern world.
Both sides think that everything that goes wrong in their societies (however different those societies are) is their own fault. The two sides differ only in what that fault is.
The modern American attitude is demonstrated by the reaction to Hurricane Katrina damage. Americans castigated the governments involved for poor performance, in spite of the fact that the damage was the most widespread of any storm on the Gulf Coast -- ever. We believe that even natural disasters have to be somebody's fault, and that our society should be minimally affected by any disaster, no matter how severe the incident.
The Ghost Country warrior attitude is demonstrated by the Arab recriminations after their loss in the '67 Arab-Israeli war, an attitude that continues to make the appeal of the Wahhabi message attractive. The attitude is that it was not Arab military incompetence that lost the war; it was the backsliding of the nominal Muslims in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria from their religion. The argument goes: If only they had been more devout, then they would have prevailed.
Regardless of our modern sensibilities, traditionalists, even as adamant as those in the Ghost Country, are not crazy. They may be as unrealistic in their goals as Americans are in their expectations, but they are rational. We need to remember that whenever they gain a tactical surprise like 9/11.
Recall that our last world war began with a tactical surprise, Pearl Harbor. The enemies then are allies now, in part because our policy of unconditional surrender forced the zealots in both Germany and Japan to expire in a futile effort to defeat the "Arsenal of Democracy". We turned the people of the defeated nations into friends by helping them rebuild their countries as part of the world economy.
Today, we are trying to rebuild the nations in the Gap while the battle for their loyalty is still being fought. If we expect them to be friends, we need to defend them from Ghost Country totalitarianism as vigorously as we defended democracy from political totalitarianism in World War II.
Jack Lott teaches courses on intelligence, globalization, and terrorism for the Christopher Wren Association at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.