Saturday, March 27, 2004

How and why the Neocons missed 9/11, and why they may still be clueless

Peter R. Neumann, NYT OpEd: Why Nobody Saw 9/11 Coming

I love it when someone like this lays it all out in a way that's clear and convincing. The author is a research fellow in international terrorism at the Department of War Studies, King's College London. He combines a military with the tradition of clear minded UK thinking. I'm sure he didn't write the title however -- it's clearly untrue and contradicts his writing. Shame on the NYT headline writers!

The only criticism I'd make of this article is that he fails to fully emphasize the critical role of technologic progress and the dissemination of education in the growth of non-state terrorism.
LONDON — Did the Bush administration, before the 9/11 attacks, fail to take terrorism seriously enough? At first the contention seems unlikely. Isn't this the most hawkish administration in living memory?...

... there is something to these accusations — although perhaps not in the sense that the people making them intend. The administration's early failures on terrorism cannot be pinned down to individual instances of "neglect." To understand what really went wrong, we need to go back to the last decades of the cold war, when people like Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Vice President Dick Cheney first started to make sense of terrorism.

In the 1970's and 80's, the predominant view among Washington hawks was that none of the various terrorist groups that operated in Western Europe and the Middle East was truly independent. They were all connected through a vast terrorist network, which was created and supported by the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. The Communists' aim, the hawks believed, was to destabilize the Western societies without being directly linked to violence.

It all seemed to make perfect sense, and books like "The Terror Network" by Claire Sterling [1981, she later followed up with a 1994 book on organized crime], which argued the network hypothesis with considerable force and conviction, became essential reading for anyone who wanted to make his way in the Reagan White House.

...According to the classically "realist" mindset, only states can pose a significant threat to the national security of other states, because lesser actors simply do not have the capacity, sophistication and resources to do so... it was only by tackling the state sponsors (in this case, the Soviet bloc), that you could root out the terrorists.

With the end of the cold war, however, things changed. While there was no longer a prime state sponsor for any "terror network," there was also no longer any need for one. It became easy to travel from one country to another. Money could be collected and transferred around the globe. Cell phones and the Internet made it possible to maintain tight control of an elusive group that could move its "headquarters" across continents. In fact, by the end of the decade, it seemed as if the model of state-sponsored terrorism had effectively been reversed: Al Qaeda was now in charge of a state — Afghanistan under the Taliban — rather than vice versa.

But the Washington hawks failed to see what was happening. The world around them had changed, but their paradigm hadn't. For them, states continued to be the only real movers and shakers in the international system, and any serious "strategic" threat to America's security could only come from an established nation.

Consider an article in the January/February 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine by Condoleezza Rice, titled "Campaign 2000 — Promoting the National Interest." Ms. Rice, spelling out the foreign policy priorities of a Bush White House, argued that after years of drift under the Clinton administration, United States foreign policy had to concentrate on the "real challenges" to American security. This included renewing "strong and intimate relationships" with allies, and focusing on "big powers, particularly Russia and China." In Ms. Rice's view, the threat of non-state terrorism was a secondary problem — in her to do list" it was under the category of "rogue regimes," to be tackled best by dealing "decisively with the threat of hostile powers."

...Sept. 11, 2001, brought about a quick re-orientation of foreign policy. What didn't change, however, was the state-centered mindset of the people who were in charge. According to Mr. Clarke, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld immediately suspected Saddam Hussein, and suggested military strikes against Iraq. While cooler heads prevailed at the time, and there was a real effort to track down and destroy the Qaeda network, there was also a reluctance to abandon the idea that terrorism had to be state-based. Hence the administration's insistence that there must be an "axis of evil" — a group of states critical in sustaining the terrorists. It was an attempt to reconcile the new, confusing reality with long-established paradigm of state sponsorship.

In the end, the 9/11 hearings are likely to find that the intelligence failure that led to the horrific attacks stemmed from the longstanding problems of wrongly placed agents, failed communications between government departments and lack of resources. But it was also a failure of vision — one for which the current administration must take responsibility.

There have been two consistent themes in analyses of the Bush administration thus far:

1. Bush likes simple answers. He's not stupid, but his reasoning is heavily faith-based. He has tremendous confidence in his intuition.

2. Rumsfeld, Cheney et al were mired in a world that had passed them by. Remember the missile defense initiative? Many editorials asked how this was supposed to protect us from backpack nukes.

The idea that only states could threaten states was true once. But the cost of weaponry falls much faster than the costs of defense. That trendline continues.

The Rice Foreign Affairs article validates Clarke's testimony. Rice is not stupid, but she was wrong. She knows better than to admit that, but she was simply wrong.

This isn't merely academic, or even about historical justice. The Bush administration STILL doesn't get it.

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