Commentary Magazine


Topic: Defense Department

We Need More Islamist Radicals in the Pentagon!

The United States has been fighting a global war on terror, or a crusade against man-made disasters, for almost 14 years, and it has been more than 17 years since Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States. (Perhaps President Bill Clinton could explain to President Barack Obama why it’s not wise to assume that declarations of death to America are not heartfelt). Alas, America’s strategy has not yet brought victory. Islamists are on the rampage across Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, the Gaza Strip, and the suburbs of Paris.

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The United States has been fighting a global war on terror, or a crusade against man-made disasters, for almost 14 years, and it has been more than 17 years since Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States. (Perhaps President Bill Clinton could explain to President Barack Obama why it’s not wise to assume that declarations of death to America are not heartfelt). Alas, America’s strategy has not yet brought victory. Islamists are on the rampage across Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, the Gaza Strip, and the suburbs of Paris.

Perhaps, rather than adopt a military strategy that takes the fight to the Islamist radicals, it’s time to have American forces follow the advice of American diplomats, politicians, and generals who have long involvement counseling our allies and partners about their own counter-terror strategies.

Take Iraq, which is now reeling from the capture of Ramadi by the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). A number of analysts have doubled down on the accusation that motivating ISIS is Baghdad’s sectarian refusal to work with its Sunni communities. If only Baghdad would include more Sunni tribesmen and ex-Baathists in government and the Iraqi army, then the problem would go away. There’s a certain comforting logic to this and so perhaps it should be replicated in Washington: If the problem is disillusionment among Islamists at lack of political power, essentially, an easily addressable grievance, why not bring more Islamists into the Pentagon? And if they don’t accept the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution in law, that’s no matter. After all, many Baathists don’t accept the legitimacy of the Iraqi constitution, but U.S. advice is that such trivial things don’t matter. And let’s ignore the fact that every time men like Gen. David Petraeus have forced the Iraqis to include Islamists and Baathists in their structures, the result has been Islamists and Baathists stabbing the Iraqi government in the back.

With tongue stuck even further in cheek, it’s important to understand that, even if Baghdad doesn’t have any clear Sunni partner—every Sunni delegation that meets with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has as their chief demand that he not listen to the other Sunni delegations which also claim to represent the same communities—how much outrage the supposed lack of Baghdad’s generosity sparks in the Sunni world. After all, if ISIS’ rampage in Iraq is the fault of the Iraqi government rather than ISIS’ religious and financial sponsors and furthermore, if ISIS’ misogynistic and murderous ideology really is not the motivating factor, then outrages at the Abadi government and, for that matter, Iran, surely explains why ISIS is all the rage in the Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, Libya, and increasingly Afghanistan as well. When Boko Haram seizes and enslaves Nigerian Christian girls, the logic of America’s approach to Iraq suggests that Boko Haram’s motivation is outrage at Baghdad rather than a twisted, religious interpretation that endorses murder, rape, and slavery.

Likewise, if inclusivity in government is paramount, perhaps what the United States needs is not more beer summits or Oval Office lectures, but an invitation from Obama to have Karl Rove and Valerie Jarrett share a desk. And I’m sure Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, won’t mind alternating months on duty with John Bolton. After all, a big tent always leads to happy, efficient government, right?

Or, rather than implement Washington’s advice to Baghdad, maybe it’s time to live our own advice to Jerusalem. Want peace between Israel and a radical group like Hamas that openly calls for genocide in its charter? More concessions are in order, the more unilateral, the better. So, perhaps, rather than fight the Islamic State, it’s time to offer a foothold. No one would really mind if Delaware disappeared, so perhaps it’s time to pull back from Dover Air Force Base and raise the black flag of ISIS over the Delaware Legislative Hall.

To be perfectly serious, there is no magic diplomatic or political formula to drain the swamp of Islamic radicalism. And while Iraqi governance leaves much to be desired, to attribute the rise of ISIS to Baghdad is essentially to blame the victim.

Can Iraq reform politically in a way that puts the onus of governance on local authorities, regardless of how and to whom they pray? Yes. Iraqis would accept administrative federalism, with certain caveats from the Kurds. Are the Iranians a panacea? No. To rely on Iran is like treating an ingrown toenail with a deadly dose of radiation. But are all the Shi’ites pro-Iranian puppets? No, although Americans treating them as such could result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact of the matter is that Sunni refugees from Al-Anbar and even Mosul prefer to be in Najaf and Karbala than in Kurdistan, because Shi’ite sectarian discrimination isn’t as ingrained as the ethnic discrimination practiced in Kurdistan. Tales of looting and lynching in Tikrit turned out to have been wildly exaggerated. As the Sunni government in Tikrit renewed its function after that city’s liberation, one of the first things they did was work to build a memorial to all of those Shi’ites massacred by the Islamic State at Camp Speicher.

When advising the Iraqi government, Israeli government or, for that matter, the Egyptian and Tunisian governments or any other state struggling against Islamist terrorism, it would behoove American policymakers, diplomats, and generals to consider a simple question: Would the same advice applied to the United States enhance the U.S. fight against terrorism, or would it at best miss the point and at worst exacerbate conflict? Because ideology and not grievance drives Islamist terrorism, the anecdote must address that ideology and not simply seek to paper over grievance. And if the fallacy of an ideology cannot be immediately exposed, then the only answer is to kill the ideologues rather than tilt at windmills.

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Technology is No Substitute for Troops: Donald Rumsfeld Replies

Last week, our Max Boot wrote to disagree with a New York Times column that supported Pentagon budget cuts and praised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on transformation of the military. Mr. Rumsfeld has written us to reply:

I was amazed to read in Max Boot’s blog post, “Technology is No Substitute for Troops,” that “Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War.” That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me. Nor have I ever uttered the words that “technology is a substitute for troops.”

When I arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, my focus was on increasing the budget for the Defense Department to undo the damage that cuts in the 1990s had inflicted on our Armed Forces. That included investing in technologies such as UAVs and precision guided munitions, and considerably strengthened our special forces—in numbers, equipment and authorities–but also increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.

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Last week, our Max Boot wrote to disagree with a New York Times column that supported Pentagon budget cuts and praised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on transformation of the military. Mr. Rumsfeld has written us to reply:

I was amazed to read in Max Boot’s blog post, “Technology is No Substitute for Troops,” that “Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War.” That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me. Nor have I ever uttered the words that “technology is a substitute for troops.”

When I arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, my focus was on increasing the budget for the Defense Department to undo the damage that cuts in the 1990s had inflicted on our Armed Forces. That included investing in technologies such as UAVs and precision guided munitions, and considerably strengthened our special forces—in numbers, equipment and authorities–but also increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.

Boot, apparently with no documentation to support his misguided allegations, then attributes a view to me that is preposterous: “Slash ground forces to the bone, they argue–we’ll never need to fight another major ground war again.” His assertion flies in the face of the facts. During my two tenures as secretary of defense, I never advocated reducing the size of ground forces, nor was I ever asked to approve a plan to do so. In the process of writing my memoir, I have scoured hundreds of thousands of documents, many of which have been made public at www.rumsfeld.com, and not one even hints at the idea that I favored cutting ground forces. 

Donald Rumsfeld

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