Friday, September 23, 2011

Joseph Nye. on the "tactical error" of a "misunderstood" Global War on Terrorism

Along with sentimental reminiscences and factual recaps, the 9/11 anniversary this year did produce a lot of useful material.

Joseph Nye in Ten years after the mouse roared Al Jazeera English 09/07/2011 gives a critique of the Cheney-Bush Administration's response to 9/11, carefully couched in the conventional language of foreign policy intellectuals:

President George W Bush made a tactical error in declaring a "global war on terrorism". He would have done better to frame the response as a reply to al-Qaeda, which had declared war on the US. The global war on terror was misinterpreted to justify a wide variety of actions, including the misguided and expensive Iraq War, which damaged the United States' image. Moreover, many Muslims misread the term as an attack on Islam, which was not the US intent, but fit Bin Laden's efforts to tarnish perceptions of the US in key Muslim countries. [my emphasis]
That "was misinterpreted" is a classic use of the passive voice to avoid assigned responsibility. Above all, it was the same George W. Bush and his Administration that (mis?)interpreted their own Global War on Terror (GWOT) to invade Iraq and do a lot of other things they wanted to do.

It was a tactical error not to focus on Al Qa'ida, the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, according to Nye. Focus on Al Qa'ida vs. a massive, never-ending War on Terror. Sounds like a strategic blunder to me, if we assume, as the polite conventions of elevated foreign policy discourse require us to, that the Administration's action were motivated by disinterested concern for the welfare of the United States. Just the Iraq War alone that the Cheney-Bush Administration justified on the basis of the GWOT was a major strategic "blunder" from the perspective of the real foreign policy needs of the United States.

Did Muslims "misread" American intentions? Misread, because the polite convention require us to assume that American intentions were the highest and most noble. The still-declining image of the US in the Muslim world is certainly largely due to the permanent US wars in Muslim countries. I'm not sure the intentions matter nearly as much as the actions.

To the extent that the trillion or more dollars of unfunded war costs contributed to the budget deficit that plagues the US today, Bin Laden was able to damage American hard power. And the real price of 9/11 may be the opportunity costs: for most of the first decade of this century, as the world economy gradually shifted its centre of gravity toward Asia, the US was preoccupied with a mistaken war of choice in the Middle East. [my emphasis]
In these times of bipartisan Herbert Hoover austerity economics during a depression, citing the budget deficit as a way the wars damaged the United States is a fairly safe statement. But the budget deficits, despite the bipartisan shared delusion, are not a problem for the US and they haven't weakened American military power, which is what the euphemism "hard power" means, though the latter perhaps invokes more phallic associations.

Again, the invasion of Iraq was "mistaken" from the point of view of any realistic evaluation of American interests. But from the point of view of the Cheney-Bush Administration, they were doing just what they intended to do. The polite conventions suggest we shy away from also calling it a criminal action, even though it was. It was illegal in international law and a violation of even the October 2002 authorization for war that Congress irresponsibly passed.

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