Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Feigning a blind eye: Categorizing proxy wars and legitimizing the counterattack 

Proxy war is on my mind.

Glenn Reynolds points to a four-day old post at The Belmont Club that I had read but not absorbed. Now that I have absorbed it, I realize it merits close inspection, both for what it says and what it leaves unsaid.

Wretchard argues that the deniability of proxy war has led us to denying that there is a war. After relating an indirect warning from Vladimir Putin about the risk of "deniable" state-sponsored nuclear terrorism, Wretchard points out that that we seem to think that the counterattack must also be denied:

One consequence of the politics of the last five years will be to ensure that such warnings will on no account be taken seriously. 'A sovereign state attacking America through proxies? Don't be ridiculous. Those are stories that neoconservatives tell. If there were secret links between terrorist enabling states and terrorists we would have found out.' Now whether such accusations were ever true in the past is immaterial. They won't be considered true in the future. Not because there is some physical or factual bar to its existence but a political prohibition of its utterance.

But the really harmful consequence of not recognizing proxy warfare and addressing it openly is that it creates a subterranean world of countermeasures. A black market in defense. The present war is one no one wants to know anything about; that polite society wants to pretend doesn't exist. Viewed from one angle the history of Western counterterrorism is the history of concealment, with counterterrorism nearly as well hidden as their quarry. It is about faceless groups of men in pursuit of even shadowier figures across a secret landscape. By day we live in genteel world where we speak deferentially of other cultures; listen politely to Amnesty International; pretend we believe in the United Nations; are aghast at the suggestion of asking a prisoner for more than his name, rank and serial number. But by night we sleep in a decaying jungle of creeping horrors, one in which a suitcase nuclear weapon is simply another grotesque, a nightmare which intrudes upon the waking world only in the ghostly setting of the Kremlin, as between an ex-spymaster and a former Zek. There we can somehow speak its name.

But how if Sharansky told Putin. "Yes, Vladimir. Imagine a wonderful dusk in Moscow, or Teheran, or Damascus. The work of the day is done; and strong, capable men lock their safes and wait for the limousines to carry them to the secret policeman's ball. There will be women, wine! Especially in Teheran there will be wine! And somewhere on those darkened streets a man may take a suitcase from a car and sets it very carefully in a bus station locker. Quietly. As if he were afraid to awaken something sleeping. Not from my country, Vladimir. But from some other, lawless country, one that doesn't want to get its hands dirty — who will perpetrate their attacks without a return address. What should we do about that Vladimir?" (bold emphasis added)

Now let's go back and look at Putin's warning, which comes to us via no less than Nathan Sharansky:
In the summer of 2000, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin told me a story that I have been unable to get out of my mind. We were meeting in the Kremlin, and I raised the grave danger facing the world from the transfer of missile technology and nuclear material to the Iranians. In Putin's view, however, the real danger came not from an Iranian nuclear-tipped missile or, for that matter, from the lethal arsenal of any nation-state.

"Imagine a sunny and beautiful day in a suburb of Manhattan," he said. "An elderly man is tending to the roses in his small garden with his nephew visiting from Europe. Life seems perfectly normal. The following day, the nephew, carrying a suitcase, takes a train to Manhattan. Inside the suitcase is a nuclear bomb."

The threat, Putin explained to me a year before 9/11, was not from this or that country but from their terrorist proxies — aided and supported quietly by a sovereign state that doesn't want to get its hands dirty — who will perpetrate their attacks without a return address. This scenario became real when Al Qaeda plotted its 9/11 attacks from within Afghanistan and received support from the Taliban government. Then it happened again this summer, when Iran was allowed to wage a proxy war through Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

From the likes of Vladimir Putin, one is forced to wonder whether this was a cautionary tale, a threat, or even a promise. From his point of view, though, it might also be a history lesson -- according to one perspective no doubt popular in the halls of the KGB, state-sponsored "terrorists" drove the Soviets from Afghanistan. Whether the mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s were terrorists or not, they certainly were proxy warriors. One man's freedom fighter is another man's proxy warrior.

During the Cold War, we all -- and by this I mean everybody -- knew who was really fighting whom, even when proxies dominated the field. The United States and the Soviet Union fought each other all around the world, again and again, through proxies. Those proxies (the Chinese in the early days, Cuba, North Vietnam, North Korea, South Vietnam, South Korea, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Arabs, the Viet Cong, UNITA, South Africa, the contras, the mujahideen, and so on) were not mercenaries -- virtually all had their own motives -- but from the vantage point of Washington and Moscow they were a means to fight without risking direct combat, which everyone feared might escalate into a nuclear exchange.

Now, in the age before nuclear weapons it had been understood that if country "A" assists intermediary "B" in the waging of war on country "C," "C" has a just and lawful basis for attacking "A." Under this traditional understanding, the United States and the Soviet Union each had casus belli at various points during the Cold War era. Neither declared war or even fired a shot in retaliation, however, because they were afraid that a direct war, once ignited, would escalate into catastrophe. Indeed, it was not enough for the aggrieved party to decide against war; the requirements of status in international affairs dictated that neither side could be perceived as having backed down. The United States and the Soviet Union resolved this obvious tension by denying that they had been confonted in the first place. The enemy's proxy became the fiction behind which a superpower could back down without admitting that had done so.

At some point in the last sixty years, the world forgot that an act of war is an act of war, whether or not waged through a proxy, even if there is no looming danger of nuclear exchange. There is no doubt that Iran is waging proxy wars against both Israel (through Hezbollah) and the United States (in Iraq), yet there is no open acknowledgement that Iran has in fact gone to war against either country. While this may be for the same reasons that dominated Cold War confrontations -- neither the United States nor Israel want to go to war, and neither want to be seen as having backed down -- most observers would agree that in the eyes of most nations neither country has casus belli anyway. Is it that the world has forgotten that "C" is justified in retaliating against "A"? Or is it that now the world is ignoring the truth that "A" attacked "C" through "B" because it is far more afraid of an Israeli or American response than an Iranian proxy war?

The next question is whether al Qaeda is, as Sharansky suggests, a genuine "intermediary B," such as the Cubans in Angola or even Hezbollah in Lebanon, or is it in practice the primary actor? Was al Qaeda waging a proxy war for the Taliban, or were the Taliban involuntary, albeit figurative, passengers on those planes? (Of course, the Taliban became an accessory after the fact by stating their refusal to give up al Qaeda, a mistake Pakistan did not make, but suppose that the Taliban had expressed a willingness to arrest bin Laden and had simply failed to accomplish it.) It is one thing to claim that country "A" has induced or assisted intermediary "B," and quite another to say that "B" was able to coerce or cajole "A," or factions or agencies within "A," to turn a blind eye to its operation against "C." In that case, "C" might not have the clear legal case for war against "A" that, say, the Soviet Union had against the United States for supplying the mujahideen.

In any case, President Bush promised to resolve all of this ambiguity by, in effect, resuscitating the idea that it was just for "C" to counterattack "A" directly, notwithstanding "A" use of proxy "B" or "B"'s manipulation of "A." On September 20, 2001, in his famous speech to the Joint Session of the United States Congress, President Bush declared (to loud bipartisan applause):
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.

From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

In the context of an ultimatum delivered on the Taliban, this was in effect a declaration that the United States considered itself within its rights to attack "A" if "A" so much as provided shelter to "B." Bush had discarded the dominant fiction of the Cold War -- that "C" had no fight with "A". On September 20, 2001, nobody dared object.

Five years later, most of the world at least acts as though it is more concerned about America "provoking" its manifest enemies in the Muslim world than with the proxy wars waged by or through those enemies. This purported fear of America and its most powerful proxy is largely artificial, in that most people who claim to be afraid of us are in fact much more worried about the Muslim response to "provocation" than they are about the American retaliation, but there it is nonetheless. They therefore try to deny that "C" has any right to defend against "A," that its only recourse is against "B," and even then it must be "proportional."

Meanwhile, American Democrats, including many of those who loudly applauded the president's extremely clear speech on September 20, 2001 (which is worth reading again, lest you've forgotten it), have decided that they do not want to be burdened with either war against "A" or the decision not to deal with "A," so they've raised the political requirement for evidence that "A" induced, assisted or sheltered "B" to a standard never previously imposed on a great power.

Either way, the fictions of the Cold War are back. "A" now enjoys a certain immunity from overt consequences as long as it attacks through intermediary "B." That means that "C" -- at least if it is the United States -- will have to inflict consequences covertly, through its own intermediaries, or not at all. Since the American left and foreign transnational progressives are determine to weaken our covert response, we had better be loyal to our most powerful intermediaries.

There you have it: The realist case for American support of Israel.


By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Tue Sep 19, 12:08:00 AM:

"...because they were afraid that a direct war, once ignited, would escalate into catastrophe."

This is still a rational position today. As we've seen in Iraq, things that were sold as simple solutions to grevious problems (which weren't actually the problems our leaders claimed they were) can become chaotic quagmires before you can say Don Rumsfeld.

This administration is incapable of effectively managing any conflict as proven by the failure in Iraq and the unwillingness to secure the peace in Afghanistan.

If you're looking for an imminent threat, try global warming. The Iranians will still be there after we've solved that one. Keep your powder dry, warrior bloggers, and recognize that we have bigger fish to fry.  

By Anonymous Purple Avenger, at Tue Sep 19, 12:30:00 AM:

If you're looking for an imminent threat, try global warming

Dude, the whole solar system is warming. Its not just earth.

What's your plan to fix the sun? Man controlable greenhouse gasses constitute low single digit percentages to the greenhouse effect, and of that low single digit percentage, we can control only a small fraction of that.

I'm really quite distressed that you pseudo-scientific scare mongers want to spend trillions on a fraud.  

By Blogger Alexis, at Tue Sep 19, 01:38:00 AM:

Or is it that now the world is ignoring the truth that "A" attacked "C" through "B" because it is far more afraid of an Israeli or American response than an Iranian proxy war?


Here’s an excerpt from the South African Communist Party Statement For May Day, dated 29 April 2002.

In the wake of September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States we have seen the growing belligerence and arrogance of the United States. Whilst as the SACP we continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions of 11 September, but we are also strongly opposed to unilateral aggression by the United States outside of a common global struggles against terrorism and a global struggle to fight poverty, under the auspices of the United Nations.

Source: http://www.sacp.co.za

There is typically more concern on the Left about any American response to aggression than about the aggression itself. No change.  

By Blogger Catchy Pseudonym, at Tue Sep 19, 09:44:00 AM:

I don't want to get off topic of this post, but I had to give this link to Purple Avenger. Study acquits sun of climate change. It came out last week. I guess it's more of that pseudo-science.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Sep 19, 10:09:00 AM:

Screwy - I am wondering how you define "imminent" when you compare the Iranian threats (see their daily language on Great Satan, Little Satan and their artculated intention to destroy both) and that of global warming.  

By Blogger Fabio, at Tue Sep 19, 10:21:00 AM:

Welcome to a new age of chaos and war. Kindly brought to you by Islamists and tranzists together. The former willing and eager to wage war, the latter unwilling to do anything serious to stop them.

Screwy: During the Cold War, catastrophe was the nuclear holocaust. OIF doesn't even register on that scale.

Catchy: don't rely on the MSM renditions of actual research papers. That study's summary is available here; the full text requires subscription tho (which I have).  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Sep 19, 11:51:00 AM:

The realist case also for supporting Japanese rearmament, a strong relationship wiht India and a German Pope.  

By Anonymous Purple Avenger, at Tue Sep 19, 12:25:00 PM:

Study acquits sun of climate change. It came out last week. I guess it's more of that pseudo-science.

Probably, what's heating up the rest of the planets then? Heat rays from Zarkon?

If anyone makes this claim, they got some further explaining to do.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Tue Sep 19, 12:34:00 PM:

The first problem you hit is many Scientists that go out and make public predictions are a bit monomaniacal, focused on one theory or one point of view to the exclusion of all else. The second problem is many of them are Scientists in field A, who are commenting on field B where they have no real competence. Thirdly, they are all begging for money, and you don’t get grants and endowments by proclaiming that the world climate is stable and the sun is heating up. After all, how do you get a grant to turn down the solar thermostat?

By the way, I did read the summary of the linked article (ok, I admit, skimmed is a better word), it seems to say “Yes, the sun may be getting brighter over the past couple of hundred years, but it hasn’t been making the earth any warmer.” I tried to post on Purple’s site, but he’s using the beta version of Blogger and I had no luck.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Sep 19, 01:13:00 PM:

why allow screwy whatever to highjack the comment thread? This was a thought provoking post and clearly screwy hooley has no cogent response so he uses attack pattern alpha: change the subject (after hurling insults in the General direction of our president).

so much for open and intelligent debate. From proxy wars to global warming in one quick comment. Why?  

By Blogger Catchy Pseudonym, at Tue Sep 19, 01:50:00 PM:

Attack Pattern Alpha executed. Prepare now for Attack Pattern Zeta ... look at the shiny nickle. Look it's over here... now here... so pretty.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Tue Sep 19, 03:50:00 PM:

What of Sharansky's fictional retort to Putin's scenario?

"Yes, Vladimir. Imagine a wonderful dusk in Moscow, or Teheran, or Damascus. The work of the day is done; and strong, capable men lock their safes and wait for the limousines to carry them to the secret policeman's ball. There will be women, wine! Especially in Teheran there will be wine! And somewhere on those darkened streets a man may take a suitcase from a car and set it very carefully in a bus station locker.

And what if in addition to offering the requisite condolences there are whispers to the effect that, yes, we might know something about that unfortunate event, and we'd be only too happy to discuss it if only you were willing to talk instead of absurdly continuing down the road towards Armegeddan?  

By Anonymous Purple Avenger, at Tue Sep 19, 05:12:00 PM:

using the beta version of Blogger and I had no luck.

Should be able to comment using the "other" option George.

This beta thing really blows chunks BAD and if I could see a way to back it out I would. Looks like a roach motel though - you check in but you can't check out ;->

[I have to use the "other" choice when posting here BTW because of that Blogger beta attrocity]  

By Anonymous Dan-O, at Tue Sep 19, 06:56:00 PM:

Very nice post Tigerhawk, I enjoyed it.

It also makes you realize why the United States trusts very few countries in this world. The threat of double-dealing with intent to harm is just too great. See:France circa 2003....

So Great Britain and Australia (both Anglosphere) and thats about the short end of the list of nations we can truly trust. Israel to a large extant obviously too (because we know they absolutely depend on our support).


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Sep 19, 08:22:00 PM:

If our enemies were provoked, how different would it look, then? If they have to keep up the fiction of proxies, isn't that a potential advantage for us?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Sep 19, 08:55:00 PM:

We'll be playing an endless game of proxy whack a mole. If they're using proxies then we can't hit the player, only their puppets. To end the contest, we'd need to hit the master. All the while, they're hitting us, via their proxies.  

By Blogger Vigilante, at Wed Sep 20, 11:45:00 AM:

Is there anyone in the universe who agrees with my interpretation of George W. Bush's speech of 20 September 2001?  

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