League of Demagoguery

League of Demagoguery

Mini Teaser: We live in a world where the failures of a botched freedom agenda are everpresent. Yet no one in the foreign-policy establishment of either party seems to understand the changing realities of international affairs—or articulate coherent policy alt

by Author(s): Anatol Lieven
resemble that of the 21st century multinational corporation or NGO rather than the twentieth century state in that it will outsource many functions, rely less on law and regulation and more on market incentives, and respond to ever-changing and constantly monitored consumer demand rather than to voter preferences expressed in relatively rare elections.

In an effort to extend this conflict not only to the entire present world and its issues but also back into history, he then colossally widens what he calls his "terrorism," thus calling the sack of Rome in 1527 a "terrorist" act. By this standard, the greater part of human political as well as military history could be portrayed in terms of terrorism, since some form of violence against civilians has often been present-though who the "antiterrorists" in those circumstances were, God alone knows.

More worrying is when Bobbitt tries to stuff everything of importance in the contemporary world into his analytical framework. He even tries to conflate both climate change, and the Western response to it, with the "war on terror," writing that "it hardly matters whether the forces of destruction arise from militant Islam, North Korean communism, or Caribbean hurricanes."

But neither hurricanes nor terrorists distinguish between states of consent and other states. In recent years, terrorists have directed their fury quite as much against authoritarian or semiauthoritarian states like Russia and Pakistan as against the United States and its democratic allies. Nor of course are most of America's key allies in the Muslim world in fact democratic. The wars now raging in Iraq and Afghanistan are about the survival of a more-or-less pro-Western state, not about democracy. As to climate change, it is absolutely clear both that attempts to reduce its extent will require close cooperation between democracies and authoritarian states and that, so far, U.S. democracy has no moral advantage in this regard. The resulting catastrophes will not discriminate between Indian democracy and Chinese dictatorship-nor U.S. democracy, if they are as great as the more pessimistic scenarios predict.


BOBBITT'S ENORMOUS tome makes very few concrete recommendations for actual policy. One of the few it does make concerns the need for the United States to create an "alliance of democracies," in order to conduct "preclusionary interventions" against the threat of terrorist attacks, ethnic cleansing, genocide and so on from or in other states. This idea has been taken up both by the McCain campaign and by the mostly Democratic-leaning leaders of the Princeton Project on National Security-who produced a document that has many good ideas, of which this, however, is not one.

Especially in the strong interventionist version espoused by Bobbitt, the idea of an alliance of democracies misses virtually every point of importance. India is crucial to the entire scheme, but like many other democracies in the developing world, pursues an entirely realist foreign policy where its own interests are at stake, for example with regard to Burma and Iran. So too does democratic South Africa. Like other former colonies, India absolutely detests the idea of international military intervention, fearing the effects on some of its own restive provinces. Given the rotten and fragile nature of many of the world's "democracies," who is to decide who should be in and who out, and, most importantly, who should be expelled from the alliance? And in any case, does Bobbitt actually think that Nigerian "democracy" today is really better governed or more truly consensual than Chinese dictatorship? Plus, what use would most of these democracies really be when it comes to military intervention? Is an alliance of democracies suddenly going to lead the countries of Europe to send serious numbers of their troops into another military intervention in the Muslim world?

And military intervention where exactly? As usual with those who talk big about future interventions, Bobbitt is studiously vague about where he would intervene, and what forces he would use to do so. The truth is-as emphasized by Admiral Mike Mullen's recent comments about the dangers of a war with Iran-that the only places the United States and its close allies can credibly threaten to intervene at present are some small countries in Africa. Intervention in the major problem countries in the Muslim world-notably Iran and Pakistan-would be appallingly costly disasters which would entail the really serious risk of al-Qaeda eventually achieving its minimal goal, namely U.S. military withdrawal from the Greater Middle East.

At the very least, a writer who advocates widespread intervention needs to say clearly how he or she proposes to raise and pay the vast numbers of additional U.S. troops that will be necessary. Bobbitt favors a minimalist market state with the lowest-possible levels of state activity. Is he then recommending that the United States become like Frederick the Great's Prussia, "not a state with an army but an army with a state," in which the only significant public spending is on the military? And could such a state conceivably be described as a "state of consent"?

One hardly needs to read much of Bobbitt's book however to understand its worthlessness as a guide to the "war on terror." In some ways, all you have to do is read the bibliography, which stretches to approximately two hundred eighty names. Of these, exactly four are Muslims, all of them U.S.-based-like Fareed Zakaria and Kenan Makiya. Even Bobbitt's citation of opinion surveys avoids those centered on the Muslim world.

Seven years have passed since 9/11; thousands of U.S. troops and tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been killed; more wars threaten; key states like Pakistan are in danger of collapsing or becoming enemies; all of this has to be managed somehow by Washington. And the author of a massive book offering advice for U.S. policy centered on the war on terror has not read a single work by a writer from the Muslim world. The result is that Bobbitt has absolutely no clue about the nature and motivations of our enemies, or in consequence about what we might do better to combat them, especially when it comes to splitting them up and draining their mass support in various countries. It is hard to describe adequately the narcissism of such an approach-autism might be a better word-or its irresponsibility toward the American, British and other soldiers who are fighting and dying in that region.


THIS PHENOMENON is endemic in the foreign-policy community as a whole, and various factors have contributed to the radical downgrading of regional studies, and regional experts, within the intellectual hierarchy. Beliefs in universal ideologies and intellectual models play a part; but at bottom I suspect lies the desire of too many of the policy elites to avoid at all costs travel to places where they might suffer discomfort, let alone danger-or, if they do visit such places, to step outside their international hotel or embassy compound. This in turn contributes to the intellectual isolation of the regional specialists and their understandable tendency to exaggerate U.S. interests in their own region, with no concern for U.S. strategy as a whole.

Meanwhile the anthropologists, whose insights are absolutely vital to an understanding of how society and politics work in many Muslim countries, have been banished from the policy world altogether, often languishing in small academic presses. So, the valuable anthropological literature on Afghanistan and Pakistan is never cited by the overwhelming majority of the "experts" and commentators who write and talk about these countries.

This absence, and the profound ignorance it engendered, contributed to the fatuous optimism with which not only the Bush administration but also sections of the think-tank and academic worlds approached the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The prattling in 2001-2003 about Afghanistan's strong traditions of democracy and nationalism, the talk of turning Afghanistan into a "beachhead of democracy and progress in the Muslim world"-as one Democratic U.S. senator put it to me-all helped the Bush administration make the argument that the war there was won, and they could move on to attack Iraq. Somalia was an earlier example of an intervention where abstract notions concerning a new world order simply drowned consideration of what turned out to be vital issues of local anthropology.

But our soldiers in the field need precisely this kind of information in order to win their fights. In consequence, the U.S. military has had to build up the knowledge itself in the countries where it is engaged, taking up years in the process, and an unnecessary cost in lives.

After very poor starts, the military has done a good job amassing this information. The success of the "surge" in the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq was mostly due to the way in which the U.S. military had learned to manage the local and tribal politics of the region and turn key forces against al-Qaeda and its allies. In Afghanistan, too, the U.S. military has put together an impressive body of ethnographic specialists to accompany the troops, one of whom was killed in action earlier this year. The counterinsurgency effort in the parts of Afghanistan where the U.S. military operates is also now going fairly well, though the role of the linked insurgency in Pakistan makes its future highly doubtful. All of this, however, has been achieved by the U.S. military itself, with virtually no input from those elements making up the policy debate in the United States.

Essay Types: Book Review