Conflating all our enemies into one
07.28.07 -- 3:25PM
By Steve Benen
In reviewing Ian Shapiro's new book, Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror, Samantha Powers emphasizes a point that has been completely lost on Republican presidential candidates (and the man they hope to replace):
Shapiro is at his most persuasive when he argues against lumping Islamic radical threats together. He points out that at the time of the cold war, George Kennan, the formulator of the containment policy, warned against treating Communism as a monolith. Policy makers, Kennan said, ought to emphasize the differences among and within Communist groups and "contribute to the widening of these rifts without assuming responsibility." The Bush administration, by contrast, has grouped together a hugely diverse band of violent actors as terrorists, failing to employ divide-and-conquer tactics.
Although it is tempting to feel overwhelmed by the diversity of the threats aligned against the United States, Shapiro says that very diversity presents us with opportunities, since it "creates tensions among our adversaries’ agendas, as well as openings for competition among them." To pry apart violent Islamic radicals, the United States has to become knowledgeable about internal cleavages and be patient in exploiting them. Arguably, this is what American forces in Iraq are doing belatedly -- and perilously -- as they undertake the high-risk approach of turning Sunni ex-Baathists against Qaeda forces.
Kevin Drum notes that this is "the serious side of dumb gaffes from people like Rudy Giuliani, who seem unable to distinguish between even simple divisions like Sunni and Shia." That's absolutely true, but it's not just Giuliani who's confused about the basics.
For example, in the first Republican presidential candidates' debate in May, Mitt Romney tried to explain how he perceives threats to the U.S. from the Middle East: "This is about Shi'a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate. They also probably want to bring down the United States of America."
It seemed to impress the Republican faithful, but it didn't make a lot of sense. Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, for example, have nothing to do with one another. The latter is a terrorist organization; the prior has renounced violent jihad and, in some countries, participated in elections.
At a subsequent debate, Wolf Blitzer asked Mike Huckabee whether he has confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Huckabee responded with a semi-coherent argument about the Taliban in Afghanistan. The connection to Maliki was unclear.
Giuliani, running on a foreign-policy platform, has been more confused than anyone, conflating every possible rival in the Middle East as one dangerous entity. At a recent debate, he connected Iran to the Fort Dix plot for no apparent reason. Around the same time, he gave up appreciating the nuances of Middle East politics altogether, concluding that the region is filled with those who "have a similar objective, in their anger at the modern world." In other words, Giuliani said, they all hate America.
Maybe we should chip in and buy a copy of Shapiro's book for the GOP candidates. It sounds like they could use a refresher.