Wednesday, January 19, 2005


In a reply to my most recent post, David Schraub at The Debate Link has come up with some critique of what I said. Although we seem to agree in general, David criticized me for being hard on the Left, whilst being too soft on the Right.

David’s criticism mainly concentrates on how Bush and the neocon camp around him are too eager to promote “state-centrism”, and that the Bush administration’s mind set is stuck in a pre-9/11 Cold War-mode.

Now, with all due respect, I don’t really see the problem with President Bush’s so called state-centric approach. In my view, Bush has been going in the right direction since 9/11. After this day, he changed from being an isolationist and protectionist (e.g. skeptical towards human intervention in Kosovo) to promoting the (neocon) idea of democratization of the Middle East and a global war on terror. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer a US President with the current attitude to one who refused to acknowledge that international terrorism poses a real and very dangerous threat to us all. And I’m quite sure that David shares this general viewpont with me.

However, David seems to think that what he calls state-centrism is somehow opposed to, or at least an ineffective way, to combat terrorist networks – quite simply because they operate in networks. David writes:

“the policy of attacking states rather than attacking terrorists is counterproductive, as Al-Qaeda can just "stick and move," dodging recrimination as we get bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and whatever other states we decide to intervene in.”

But it is important to understand, as Marc at American Future has pointed out, that these terrorist networks don’t exist in a stateless vacuum. They need states sympathetic towards their cause in order for them to be able to operate and gain momentum. This seems to me to be a crucial fact: if we deny terrorist groups access to a platform, we will be able to strongly diminish or annihilate them. And that platform is often a rogue state such as Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Another important objective is that by democratizing the Middle East (by military force if necessary), there is a great chance to also change the mindframe of the people living there. This can be made by focusing on the states -- their infrastructure and their culture. We need to hunt down the terrorist networks themselves, but also eradicate the very platform they’re standing on, i. e. rogue states sympathetic to their cause. This is something that the neocons have understood.

It is also important to understand that there is no clear-cut boundary between terrorist networks and states. The boundaries are blurred and often they interact. This is why you, in my opinion, cannot choose one strategy (going after terrorist networks) and discard the other (destroying the platform of terrorist networks, i.e. rogue states).

I also find that David contradicts himself. Whilst criticizing state-centrism, he at the same time says that:

“Conservative belief in free market principles and the inability of government to affect social change both hamper American efforts to defend our country and to defeat the root causes of terror, respectively.”

To criticize the Right for being too state-centric in one area (foreign policy/the war on terror), whilst at the same time criticizing them for their belief in free market principles (that is non-state intervention) and for the government to affect social change, seems rather inconsistent to me.

As for my being hard on the Left – they’ve earned that kind of criticism. It has been revolting to say the least to see people like George Galloway in Britain shaking hands with Saddam and co-operating with Islamofascist groups. Many within the Left have betrayed their own heritage of antifascism, feminism, human rights, liberty, equality and solidarity. Whilst showing solidarity to tyrants like Saddam and marching by the millions in protest of the war against his dictatorship, I have hardly heard one word of support for, say, the Iraqi Kurds struggling for independence and democracy. The revelation of the Taliban tyranny in 2001 didn’t provoke millions of Leftist activist out on the streets calling for the end of Taliban cruelty and the rights of Afghan women. Neither has the genocide in the Sudan generated any such reaction. Many within the Right did however react, and this should be duly noted, in my view.


At January 20, 2005 at 2:22 AM, Blogger David Schraub said...

The bigger, beefier version of my statecentrism critique is up. It should clarify the issue considerably, as well as answering most of your objections. The short version is: explain how we deter Somalia. The medium version I'll just sum up here (its a LONG post, and I don't want to retype it all), but I warn you they won't be as persuasive without the full long text on my blog to back it up.
1) Empirically, terrorists DON'T need "supportive states" to operate, in fact, they flourish in "failed state" environments where the state barely exists, let alone aids them (ex: Sudan, Somalia, and really Afghanistan too). So the argument that we can take down terror by threatening to destroy the states that sponser it misses the issue. Creating a "vacuum" will help the terrorists more than it helps us. You can't deter a failed state, because there isn't a government to deter. How exactly does statecentrism account for Somalia? What are we going to do, threaten the regime? They don't HAVE one.

2) Ideologically, statecentrism ignores real threats and exaggerates deterrable ones. As Mark notes, we can deter Iran rather easily: by making it known we'll blast them pieces if they act up. This doesn't mean that Iran isn't a threat, it just is a managable one. The A.Q. Khan network or Somali terror-warlords, by contrast, are minimized as threats because they don't represent states. However, unlike with Iran, we DON'T have any real way to deter these entities, so I'd say they are comparitively more of threat than Iran is because we don't have a plan to stop them. AQK nukes + terrorists in failed states = attack on US that can't be deterred via statecentrism. But you'll note that the Bush administration has paid virtually no attention to Somalia, Africa in generl, or other failed state locales, as terror threats.

3) Critiquing statecentrism doesn't mean we ignore states. It means we recast the focus from states to terror networks. At times both viewpoints will lead us to the same results, at times it will lead us to different results (and I give examples of both types on the post). This isn't a binary, it's a hierarchy. Do we look to states first, then see how they interact with terrorists? Or do we look to terrorists first, and then see how they interact with (among other things) states?So I'm not "discarding" going after states, per se, I'm just viewing the entire situation through a different lens which emphasizes or de-emphasizes the importance of states depending on particular sets of circumstances. This also takes out your accusation of hypocrisy: state intervention CAN be good (and often is), and I'm in no way disparging that. In fact, my paradigm doesn't advocate any less action conducted by the state, it just changes what the state focuses on: other states, or terror networks.

The problem was that I did a pretty poor job of defining statecentrism and proposing an alternative in previous posts. That's my fault, and that's why I wrote this latest post to rectify it. But having written it, I stand by my critique.

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