Pakistan’s Displaced

Among the many faults of Pakistan’s counterinsurgency pattern is its neglect of the displaced caused by the recent fighting between the Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban, Samina Ahmed argues in a Global Post op-ed:

“As hundreds of thousands of displaced persons flee fighting in Swat, Buner and Dir districts in Pakistan, this single truth should drive the response by the Pakistani state and the international community. In short, how those people are treated will decide if the insurgency-hit zones are saved or lost to the Taliban.

There is urgent need for international assistance. The numbers of displaced from these three areas of Malakand division, combined with others from the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, now total over a million. The government’s resources are severely strained. Without assistance, the Islamist groups will fill the gap, hoping to radicalize the disaffected, particularly the youth. There is some evidence this is already happening.”

Sadly, the refugees could be prove to be the next radicalization vector for the Pakistani Taliban, which lacks overall support from the Pakistani people.

COIN and Grand Strategy

Zenpundit throws down the gauntlet to COIN theorists:

"Operational doctrine is not enough. It is untethered. It will float like a balloon in a political wind. It is crisis management without a destination or sufficient justification for expenditure of blood and treasure. If these blanks are not filled in, they will be filled in by others."

Counterinsurgency isn't the only operational doctrine that has reached prominence. Counterterrorism, which has largely guided American grand strategy, is itself a kind of operational doctrine that was transmuted to the level of grand strategy. The larger issue, as Joseph Fouche suggests, is that America has never been very good at creating grand strategies. Grand strategies are abstract and complex, difficult things to be instrumentalized by a constitutionally divided government governing amid a chaotic landscape of various forms of interest politics. They also, as Fouche argues, tend to be produced by exemplary individuals rather than industrial bureaucracies.

What we as Americans excel at are technical solutions and innovations. Modern counterinsurgency doctrine is an brilliant technocratic solution, a factor that largely explains its bipartisan popularity. Abu Muquama, after all, regularly guests on Rachel Maddow. Modern counterinsurgency was instrumentalized as a solution to irregular conflict, drawn from British and French military intellectuals of the 60s and 70s and enhanced by modern social science and the bitter experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is, as Zenpundit noted, a purely operational doctrine and has never pretended otherwise.

The fact that counterinsurgency become so celebrated is a commentary on the American love of technocratic solutions and innovations and the problems we face in creating and implementing abstract and complex long-term visions. The American narrative is one of progressive innovation and triumph over adversity. This is a helpful narrative and we should celebrate our talent for innovation. But Zenpundit rightly argues that operational innovation isn't enough.

What's the solution? Lots of ink has been spilled about creating grand strategy based on both present and future geostrategic conditions. Thomas P.M. Barnett, on the other hand, is correct to look at American identity instead as the source of grand strategy. Ultimately a grand strategy is a shared vision that originates from a dream of a nation's place in the world–and a nation's vision of itself. Yet few are looking at identity as a source of strategy. We should expend more energy conducting this kind of analysis instead of purely geopolitical or threat-based analysis.

Neorealist Conspiracy Theory?

Eric Randolph has an interesting note on recent conspiracy theories that takes a fresh look at their intellectual origins. Interestingly enough, he argues that conspiracist rhetoric is inherently neorealist:

"In [the conspiracist] narrative, 9/11 can only be the work of Westerners – it is too complex, too devious, too well-executed for the humble, little Muslim. Muslims, as I was repeatedly told, are “peaceful people”. In this view, they are not political beings, they are not the agents of change, they are merely passive receptacles – a faceless group of victims. … Only the West are capable of acting rationally or purposefully when committing acts of violence. When a Muslim perpetrates an act of violence, he is a madman. …The theoretical underpinning of all this is a neorealist conception of international relations as state-centric and working according to rational strategy-based models of decision-making. No room here for ideologies, ethics or subjective notions of justice and victory that might be seen as motivating jihadist violence. "

While I agree with his main argument that most 9/11 conspiracy theories presuppose a certain amount of racism (hence Randolph's entry title "Conspiracy Theories: A New Orientalism") I disagree about the idea of this stemming from neorealism. His first explanation (racism) is much more compelling. Many conspiracy theories unwittingly reproduce racist ideas or use them to dismiss contrary narratives. Second, most conspiracy theories are inherently domestic in scope–they concern the effort of a (fill in the blank) all powerful conspiracy to dominate the given country in which the conspiracy theory originates. This is a point that Richard Hofstader makes in his classic work on American politics.

This is less neorealism than simply a pathological narcissism. The conspiracy theorist disregards the Islamist because the Islamist is fighting for reasons extraneous to the domestic drama that the conspiracy theorist has set up as ordering framework. If the Islamist is a part of it, he is a dupe or tool. Lastly, most conspiracy theories also presuppose a kind of omniscient transnationally linked actor (the Illuminati, the Trilaterals) that is not a state actor but is behind state action. Although there is some debate on the subject, it's safe to say that this doesn't exactly match up with Kenneth Waltz.

Why are conspiracies important? They simply refuse to die. Despite being nearly completely illogical explanations of events in global politics, huge masses of people continue to believe in them. And so it is worth trying, as Randolph does, to get to the bottom of what underpins the craziness. One last note on conspiracies: the most interesting research on conspiracy theories and domestic politics that has been done lately looks at conspiracy theory as populist or transgressive element of domestic politics or as an consequence of a postmodern media landscape.

Casting Aspersions

Agree with Abu Muquwama about the rather overheated “dirty war” meme being spread around about General Stanley McChrystal. In general, no one really wants to wait to hear McChrystal himself explain what kind of approach he is going to take. Instead, there’s just speculation from all corners about what McChyrstal just might do. It’s reverse Kremlinology and it probably won’t be that accurate.