First of all, as Jeffrey Gedmin is frequently known to say, “I’m overstating for effect.” I am going to debate some points that Gedmin raises in an interesting op-ed in today’s Financial Times, and I — in no way — mean to assert that Gedmin is stupid. He is a well-informed and capable public intellectual serving as Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin after serving as the founding director of the New Atlantic Initiative housed at the American Enterprise Institute. Gedmin has been important for Germany and Europe as he, like Robert Kagan, is an authentic neoconservative voice that they needed to hear to really understand the genuine direction of U.S. national security policy.
Jeffrey Gedmin was also a person I wrote about some time ago, as he was John Bolton’s choice to serve as one of his deputies, an Ambassadorial position, at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Although there were other reasons that this appointment did not go through, this blog’s exposure of that appointment created some push-back inside the State Department that contributed to squelching Gedmin’s U.N. appointment. I want to make clear that I think Gedmin would make valuable national contributions as a public servant in any arena of government where he was not coupled with his former AEI colleague, John Bolton.
Bolton — as one of the leading forces of revived Jesse Helms-ian pugnacious, flip-off-the-world nationalism — and Gedmin as one of the most capable and intelligent, if not the best known, neoconservatives, was too toxic a combination to inflict on the collective pool of envoys from the world’s roster of nations.
I go into such length about Gedmin here because I do consider my relationship with Gedmin as one of mutual respect. We are friendly, at least at last meeting, and my differences with Gedmin are entirely about policy and national security strategy. This preamble is designed in part to ameliorate the tensions that my and Gedmin’s mutual friends feel when I mention him on this blog. Some were not pleased when his appointment to the United Nations did not go through, and some of them wrongly hold The Washington Note responsible — when there were other reasons that the Gedmin nomination failed to move forward.
In Jeffrey Gedmin’s “The Lessons from London’s Terror Plot and Lebanon,” he makes a fundamental mistake in prescriptions against terrorism and sets up a false argument. He starts by dispelling the notion that the Bush administration “is to blame for terrorism.” Of course, he is right. There have been terrorist incidents for decades back. In fact, terrorism has always been a device of war, a tactic that groups have used against established power centers.
The issue that Gedmin fails to wrestle with is one that Donald Rumsfeld tried to on one occasion. Why has the Bush administration’s policy failed on all levels to ameliorate al Qaeda style terrorism — and why in the military response the administration has pursued should it not be held to account for igniting wide-spread, sectarian civil war in Iraq — which threatens to expand through the region?
These things [terrorist incidents in the 1990s] were happening back in the heady days of Oslo talks, when there seemed to be a real chance for peace in the Middle East, and a popular US president named Bill Clinton had sent American troops to stop the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia. It is worth noting that Americans and Europeans fought twice in the 1990s against Serb Christians in the Balkans to save Muslim lives, in a region with no oil, far from the state of Israel.
Before Mr. Clinton, George H.W. Bush had sent Americans to freed starving Muslims in Somalia. Again, no oil, no Israel. But none of this seemed to diminish the bloodlust of Islamist extremists.
I agree with Jeffrey Gedmin that the masterminds of terrorist groups — like Bin Laden and Zawahiri — are not driven by the failure of the U.S. to pressure Israel and its neighbors into a final, two-state deal between Israel and Palestine — even though that grievance is regularly waved in America’s face as the one that motivates these people.
I’m not sure what to think about bin Laden’s motivations. I think he may want to be a Muslim pope; that he may see himself as a modern-day version of the Mahdi who led Muslim resistance against British colonial control over Sudan; or that he wants to lay the groundwork for organizing the Middle East politically under his brand of extreme Islam.
What I do know about bin Laden is that he and other terror-masters exploit the perception of grievances among the citizens they are attempting to appeal to and eventually govern. Without grievances, terrorism is a pathetic act. With grievances, terrorism has fuel.
Gedmin asserts that there is ample evidence that American foreign policy efforts that had nothing to do with either oil or Israel nonetheless produced no diminishment in the determination of Islamic terrorists to cause harm. He is right to a point, but he is not being serious if he thinks that American efforts in Bosnia or Somalia were designed in any way to respond to broad Muslim grievances.
We have few tests of how significant resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem would be because we have never delivered, no matter how close resolution may have seemed in the past. We have not delivered — and we must. A majority of Israelis desire a negotiated, final status negotiation with the Palestinians, and Palestinians desire the same — according to numerous, credible polls.
In addition, the leadership of nearly all Arab Muslim “states” in the region have told America privately that peace with Israel is achievable if the land and border disputes are solved.
Israel’s, America’s, and the Arab Middle East’s problem is not so much with misbehaving states as it is with a growing population of fanatics that ebb and flow within and among Arab states and who are increasingly independent of state control. This is a true problem — and it needs to be contained — as this kind of power is one that is very hard to squelch.
Gedmin believes that the UN Resolution on Lebanon and the cease-fire are a bad turn. He writes:
. . .the emerging ceasefire in Lebanon may turn out to be a disaster, producing the worst of all possible policy outcomes. Hizbollah has not been disarmed. This will embolden the extremists. It will allow Iran, Hizbollah’s chief sponsor, to claim victory. Once again, America’s image has taken a blow.
There is good reason to believe the west has missed an opportunity to push through critical changes. Lebanese opinion, especially among non-Shia Muslims, was initially critical of Hizbollah. Other regional governments — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan — openly criticized Iran’s proxy. How different this ceasefire would have looked had Israel been willing from the beginning to send in the ground troops necessary to crush Hizbollah’s forces.
Gedmin points out that Israel had the moral high ground after Hezbollah’s incursion into Israel and the kidnapping and killing of IDF soldiers and that the U.S. and Israel had a moment to tie mutually shared concerns about Hezbollah with the leading states of the Arab region.
But just as the United States somehow lost the world’s outpouring of support and empathy after 9/11, the U.S. and Israel lost connection as well with this powerful opportunity to ally with Arab support.
Gedmin is wrong that a powerful ground force would have been acceptable to other Arab states — not unless it got some tacit permission from them to do so. If consulted, I think that the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians would have played along — as long as on the side, Olmert promised to open negotiations on with Mahmoud Abbas on Israel/Palestine at some agreed date in the future — not too far off but not so soon as to look linked to the permission to crush Hezbollah.
There is no doubt that Hezbollah had acquired sophisticated weapons and command and control systems that needed to be confronted. If anything, our collective intelligence in the region — American, Israeli, Saudi, Jordanian, and Egyptian — missed this build-up of capacity.
But the manner in which Israel challenged Hezbollah, turning its assault against Southern Lebanese armed militants into a real war against Lebanon proper, lionized Hizbollah — rather than delegitimating it.
Gedmin is right that bad guys need to be dealt with, often militarily, but he just gets the broader legitimacy challenges wrong — and his impulse to advocate military action while giving no space in his argument whatsoever to America’s and Israel’s “audience disconnect” in the broader Middle East helps rationalize bad policy.
Gedmin — according to this piece — would have been at personal odds with the Resolution that the UN Security Council passed unanimously on Friday. I have my own concern about the fragility of the terms of the Resolution and the willingness of all parties to abide, but it’s clear that Jeffrey Gedmin is not a fan of John Bolton’s official position.
One might assume that John Bolton himself is not a fan of the official John Bolton position.
But to suggest that the way forward is an escalation in the military response — while not robbing the “grievance agenda” from the ruthless thugs that are driving terrorist organizations — helps empower terrorists.
That’s right — when Joe Lieberman, Vice President Cheney, and Sean Hannity are out there suggesting that a vote for Ned Lamont helps support terrorists — they have it backwards.
The way to confront terrorism is not an abandonment of national security capacity or all military responses — but without solving fundamental grievances — while at the same time checking and pushing back the militants — America accomplishes precious little in its so-called “global war on terror”.
— Steve Clemons