Defense & National Security

The Rambo Solution to the War on Terror

An End to Evil by Richard Perle and David Frum reads more like an extremist political tract than sober advice on how to win the war on terrorism. More’s the pity. Why Perle, a highly respected foreign policy expert and Cold War hero, would put his name to such an undertaking is unclear. Frum is a bright fellow who wrote an insightful book about Bush, The Right Man, but he is more neocon polemicist than policy guru. The mudballs he hurled at Bob Novak and Pat Buchanan—he accused them of being “unpatriotic”—still stick in the craw of even those conservatives who don’t buy into the Novak-Buchanan line on the Middle East. (The charge was the height of impudence coming from the Canadian-born Frum, who has been a U.S. citizen for approximately two of his 43 years.) Perle’s choice of Frum as co-author is thus unlikely to enhance his well-deserved reputation as a brilliant foreign policy strategist and national security expert. More to the point, the book’s prescriptions for ending terrorism appear dangerously ambitious at best. The overall thrust of the book’s advice (although the authors, because of contradictory comments, may object) is: The United States government—without much need for allies or even the backing of American public opinion—should forthwith impose on foes, near-foes and possibly friends a laundry list of sometimes impossible demands. The U.S. should not only require that certain nations stop directly aiding terrorist groups—not a bad Perle-Frum recommendation, obviously—but also insist that these nations become democracies, free trade enthusiasts, women’s rights champions, practitioners of religious freedom, and so forth. And if these demands aren’t met in exquisite detail, the United States should be prepared to inflict serious harm upon the foot draggers. Diplomacy should not only be distrusted, but virtually discarded. Indeed, Colin Powell’s State Department, which should be reformed to mirror the superhawkish views of Perle and Frum, may be as dangerous to America as Al Qaeda. The trouble with their proposed remedies is not that all of them are wrong, but that they are tossed out with reckless abandon and with seemingly no concern for what might go haywire. The Sunni-run Saudis aren’t reforming quickly enough? Encourage the Shiites to secede, even though secession “would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state.” Don’t worry, catastrophe for them “might be a very good outcome” for us. (p.141.) Concerned that we can’t contain North Korea? Solution: Deploy a “comprehensive air and naval blockade,” cutting it off from “all sea borne traffic, all international aviation and all intercourse with the South.” Sure, South Korea might make a fuss, but trust us: Communist China, though not our friend, will, in its own interest, finally remove North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. (pp. 103-4.) Dozens of similarly breezy policy pronouncements skip lightly off the pages, while numerous other countries are also set in their sights. Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Sierra Leone, Venezuela, Paraguay, Nigeria, Libya, Zimbabwe—their potential targets appear almost endless. And the impression left is that we can bully them all at will and on the cheap. Not that a number of the countries they name aren’t worthy of serious concern and a policy of U.S. firmness, but the authors’ premise seems to be that we can—and should—use the mailed fist against any country we have a whim to go after, no matter how imminent the threat or how stretched our resources or how uncertain the eventual result. Oh, and by the way, we can patrol the world, overthrow various governments, impose blockades, swell the homeland security program and, generally, rule the earth for just a few extra dollars a day. Even more troubling is that one of their important rationales for American military intervention is based not on the terrorist threat to America, but on whether a nation is ruled democratically. In their view, the United States has a theoretical right to cleanse the earth of the world’s dictators, even those not especially unfriendly to the U.S. Here, for instance, (from p. 114) is what they say about our moral authority to force regime change world wide: “…[W]hen it is in our power and our interest, we should toss dictators aside with no more compunction than a police sharpshooter feels when he downs a hostage taker.” (Emphasis added.) Upon what meat do these would-be Caesars feed? The sweep of such a militant “defense” policy is absolutely breathtaking, making the doctrine of pre-emption seem almost benign by comparison. Dictatorships of various kinds festoon the globe and probably always will, but America has never assumed for itself the moral right to destroy such regimes solely because they are headed by undemocratic leaders. How can conservatives worthy of the name embrace such a radical defense formulation? How these fellows would deal with Syria is particularly instructive. The U.S., of course, “should be stern and uncompromising.” (Get that word: uncompromising.) They then lay down several conditions, many of which have nothing to do with anti-American terrorist activities. The most amazing is the last: “Finally: Syria must [yes, must] open its controlled economy and its authoritarian political system.” (p. 115.) Bashir Assad, they concede, is unlikely “to welcome these requests. Under the circumstances, though, it should not be impossible to convince him that the consequences of refusing them will be considerably graver for him than the consequences of acquiescing.” (p. 116.) But this is extremely dangerous nonsense. Let’s assume, for the moment, that Assad, under U.S. pressure, decides to toss in the towel on assisting terrorists and close Syria’s border to Islamist guerrillas—only two of Perle’s and Frum’s innumerable demands. Many conservative foreign policy analysts would think this an impressive achievement. But Perle and Frum would refuse to accept Assad’s concessions, no matter how sincere and verifiable, since Syria would still not have opened up its “controlled economy” or its “authoritarian political system!” And, of course, if Assad didn’t accept this final demand, we should have “no compunction” about bumping the Syrian leader off. This is Ramboism not serious policy. Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi has made an unprecedented bid to remove the “pariah” status from his nation. Within the last year, his country has taken responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and agreed to compensate the families of those downed in a French airliner in 1989. Newspapers across the country were recently ablaze with headlines that Gaddafi had agreed to allow, unhampered, international inspectors into his country to eliminate weapons of mass destruction programs and physically demolish the weapons themselves. President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have publicly exulted in this triumph, clearly brought about by international economic sanctions and the invasion of Iraq. Each hailed Gaddafi for taking a huge step toward bringing Libya back into the fold of civilized nations, with Bush taking a bow for this accomplishment in his State of the Union message. Even neoconservative commentator Charles Krauthammer—hardly a soft-liner when it comes to militant Islamist nations—claimed Libya had just retired from the field of battle and was now “suing for peace.” Perle and Frum, however, never saw the breakthrough coming, so steeped have they been in their take-no-concessions ideology. Despite all the signs in 2003 that Gaddafi was eager to make an important deal, they refused to see a glimmer of hope, insisting that every step Gaddafi was making was a trick. “The illusion that Muammar al-Qaddafi is ‘moderating’ should be treated as what it is, a symptom of the seemingly incurable wishful delusions that afflict the accommodationists in the foreign policy establishment,” they insist (p. 117). With a dead-wrong prediction on such a crucial matter of national security, why should we think they know what they’re doing elsewhere? Transforming dictatorships into democracies is not as easy as it is preached. China’s Mao Tse-tung, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Iran’s ayatollahs rose to power partly because American Presidents pressured their predecessors to “reform” and “democratize.” The world is not exactly a better place as a result. In Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, judging from the State Department’s latest human rights reports, many of the major “reformers” are the most militant Islamists, the ones most likely to seize power if the current leaders were removed and chaos ensued. But Perle and Frum seem totally unwilling to confront these potential pitfalls with convincing arguments to the contrary. The advice given in their book, in fact, often reads like the musings of a couple of fellows in a college dorm, spinning out theories with not even a pretense of solid grounding. Not all of what they have to say, it should be acknowledged, always sounds so extreme. The authors, for instance, make some valuable observations about the Patriot Act, the swelling dissent in Iran and how this country can help Pervez Musharraf cling to his precarious perch in Pakistan. But much too often the tenor of their comments is far from reassuring. Most Americans agree that the removal of Saddam Hussein appears to have improved this nation’s security and the security in the region. But Perle, Frum and other neocons also helped to sell the invasion partly on the grounds that in the post-Saddam era Iraq would become a thriving, civilized democracy, and thus, through example, compel the other Muslim regimes in the region to embrace this new governing model. Maybe their vision will some day materialize, maybe not. But the returns on this score are hardly in, and, even if Iraq becomes a working democracy, the journey, as we now know, will have been far from a walk in the park. Before we embark on similar adventures in the future, we should, at the very least, see how well the existing experiment turns out.

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To purchase An End to Evil, click here.

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