Thursday, October 14, 2004

States and Terrorism

A very good post at Washington Monthly about the war on terror - about the differences between how conservatives and liberals see the war on terror. The former, Drum says, see it as being against states - rogue states; the latter against groups that mean to do us harm - oftren active in failed states. This arises from Bush's gaffe at the third debate, claiming never to have said he wasn't concerned about Osama Bin Laden. It is more specifically an analysis of his comments when he did utter that unforgettable (except by Bush) remark. What Bush said, at the time, was:

Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And again, I don't know where he is. I--I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.

This is a very clear statement of what Drum is talking about - Bush looked at even Bin Laden as dangerous because he was running a state. When he lost the state - Bush stopped caring. Drum makes the distinction that liberals indeed do tend to make:

But as dangerous as they [rogue states] are, they're still states, and they still have an interest in continuing to exist — which means they're unlikely to directly threaten the United States. What's more, since central governments dislike competing power centers, they have a fundamental interest in preventing terrorist groups from amassing too much influence within their borders.

Failed states, by contrast, don't, which is why terrorist groups seek them out. And since terrorist groups like al-Qaeda do directly threaten us, it's failed states and non-state terrorist groups themselves who pose a much greater danger to the security of the United States. John Kerry understands this. George Bush and his advisors don't.

This is right, I think. And it has been at the center of a lot of the disputes that have arisen over the last 3 years of foreign policy. The "law enforcement" model some leftists favor is based on the notion that terrorists (the ones we have to worry most about) do not operate through states. Opposition to the Iraq war obviously is built around this. I can speak for myself - when we were attacked, in the early days, when no one quite knew who had attacked us, and people wondered if it could be Saddam Hussein, I was convinced it was not. Because of this - Saddam had a country - he had a political entity that he could lose - that could be attacked and destroyed. To attack us would justify our attacking him and destroying him. He existed, in 2001, at our sufferance - and he had to know that anything that any direct move against us would result in getting him run out on a rail. And - again, speaking for myself - I am convinced that by attacking him we seriously weakened that very real deterrant on state villainy. Rogue states - (pre-conquest) Iraq, North Korea, whoever - had to know that if they messed around too much they could be taken out. But now - they have to think they can be taken out no matter what they do. So - clearly, this is not going to encourage better behavior. This encourages antinomian behavior!

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