May 21, 2004,
Lying into the Mirror
Misunderstaning the war on terror.
We have adopted our enemies' view of the world
Shortly after moving to Washington from Rome we're talking late Seventies I did a long interview with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan about the Carter administration's foreign policy. At a certain point, Moynihan elegantly summarized what had happened to us: "being unable to distinguish between our friends and our enemies," he said, "Carter has adopted our enemies' view of the world." So, it seems have many of our policymakers in their panicky and incoherent decisions regarding Iraq.
First, the matter of the "abuses" of the prisoners. Maybe the temperature of the rhetoric has cooled enough for us to address the most important aspect of the debacle: Torture and abuse are not only wrong and disgusting. They are stupid and counterproductive. A person under torture will provide whatever statements he believes will end the pain. Therefore, the "information" he provides is fundamentally unreliable. He is not responding to questions; 99 percent of the time, he's just trying to figure out what he has to say in order to end his suffering. All those who approved these methods should be fired, above all because they are incompetent to collect intelligence.
Torture, and the belief in its efficacy, are the way our enemies think. And remember that our enemies, the tyrants of the 20th century, and the jihadis we are fighting now, are the representatives of failed cultures. Our greatness derives from the superiority of our culture, and we should, as the sports metaphor goes, stick with what got us here.
Second, our defeat in Fallujah. I had hoped that the tactic of enlisting Sunni leaders to assist in the defeat of the jihadis would accelerate the terrorists' defeat and enable us to round them up and clean out the city. But it turns out that it wasn't a tactic at all; it was a strategic retreat. Today, throughout the region, everybody knows that the bad guys outlasted us. We were forced out. The Sunni generals (the first of which, unforgivably, was one of Saddam's henchmen) just told everyone to cool it for a while, and the bad guys are now reorganizing for the next assault. Instead of smashing the terrorists, we set ourselves up for more casualties.
Worse yet, some of the crackpot realists in our military and their exhausted civilian commanders in State and Defense, have convinced themselves that this is the way to go, and they are now whispering to one another that we should adopt "the Fallujah model" in future engagements.
If that holds, then we have lost. Because it means that we have surrendered the initiative to the terrorists and will not destroy them in future engagements. That adds up to actively encouraging the enemy to attack us.
Third, is the decision to launch a preemptive strike against Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. Our enemies religious fanatics and other advocates of tyranny have long dreaded the emergence of an Iraqi leader with unquestioned democratic convictions, someone at once deeply religious and yet committed to the separation of mosque and state. Yet the State Department's and the CIA's Middle East gangs have hated him and fought him for more than a decade, because he is independent and while he is happy to work with them, he will not work for them. Moreover, he has often proved more knowledgeable, as when, in the mid-Nineties, he informed CIA that one of their fatuous little coup plots had been infiltrated by Saddam's agents. They laughed at him, but not for long. Soon thereafter an Iraqi intelligence officer called the CIA man in charge of the operation on his "secret" cell-phone number to say "listen carefully and you'll hear the final screams of your coup leader."
I am not sure if CPA including State and CIA officials has spent more man hours fighting Chalabi than fighting Moqtada al Sadr, but it's probably pretty close, and in any event somebody should ask Viceroy Bremer why he massed so much firepower to break into Chalabi's house and Kanan Makiya's house, and the offices of the INC, instead of doing the same to Moqtada, who at last account was still free to mobilize the masses of his faithful to kill us. Is this not proof positive of the total inversion of sound judgment of which Moynihan spoke so elegantly a quarter-century ago?
Now the usual unnamed intelligence sources are whispering to their favorite journalists that they have a "rock-solid case" showing that Chalabi was in cahoots with the Iranians. This, coming the same crowd that told President Bush they had a "slam-dunk case" on Iraqi WMDs, should arouse skepticism from any experienced journalist, but it doesn't (another grim sign that confusion reigns supreme in Washington these days). It's a truly paradoxically accusation, since the refusal of the American government to provide Chalabi with support and protection for the past decade is what drove him to find a modus vivendi with Tehran in the first place. And Chalabi is not alone in dealing with the Iranians and their representatives in Iraq; it is hard to find any serious organization or any serious leader of any stripe Kurdish, Shiite or Sunni, imam, mullah, or Ayatollah who doesn't work with the Iranians. How could it be otherwise? We have shown no capacity to defend them against Iranian-supported terrorists. And terror works. Finally, it's hilarious to see this crowd of diplomats and intelligence officers attacking an Iraqi for talking too much to Iranians, when Powell's State Department and Tenet's CIA has been meeting with Iranians for years.
As I once wrote, the war against Saddam is nothing compared to the war against Ahmed Chalabi.
All of this is the inevitable result of the fundamental misunderstanding of the war against the terror masters. It is a regional war, not a war limited to a single country. Since we refuse to admit this, we are unable to design an effective strategy to win. Deceiving ourselves, we lie to the mirror, saying that defeats are really victories, that Baathists are our friends and independent minded Shiites are our enemies, and that appeasement of the mullahs will end their long war against the United States.
Has anyone told the president?