Normative Narratives

The (Real Beginning of the) End of Team America World Police Part 3(? 4? 5?, I’ve Lost Count…)


I started my narrative on this topic with a two-part political and economic analysis of current U.S. Defense Policy. I then wrote a piece on the true cost of the war on terror, and more recently a piece on how Europe’s shrinking military expenditure is hurting it’s credibility as a meaningful security partner to the United States. Current U.S. military policy has long been an issue affecting America’s fiscal space, constraining resources for social programs which compromise our future growth prospects and social mobility, thereby perpetuating rising inequality in America. At the heart of the matter is the uneven proportion of Global Security expenditure that America pays. Today, President Obama signaled he is of similar mind on the subject.

“Taken together, the president’s words and deeds added up to an effort to move the country away from the perpetual war on terrorism envisioned by his predecessor, George W. Bush, toward a more limited campaign against particular groups that would eventually be curtailed even if the threat of terrorism could never be eliminated.

‘Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.’

Mr. Obama rejected the notion of an expansive war on terrorism and instead articulated a narrower understanding of the mission for the United States. ‘Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,’ he said.

‘Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,’ Mr. Obama added. ‘We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.’”

“As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Mr. Obama said. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

“The changes reflect a conclusion by the White House that the core of Al Qaeda has been decimated by years of strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But in the speech, the president said that the threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”

As is to be expected, Republicans were critical of Obama’s realistic, transparent, straightforward and even-handed speech:

“Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued 10 questions to the president in reaction to previews of his speech. “Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat? Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, was sharper in reaction. ‘The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,’ he said. ‘Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.'”

First to address Senator Chambliss, are you sir a moron? how could the winding down of the war on terror have “no clear operational benefit”? Does making a military mission less costly both in dollar terms and American lives have no effect on the operational benefit of The War on Terror? Not to mention the impact on public opinion of the U.S. abroad (which is directly related to terrorism). Or do you not consider the costs of an operation unless the money is going to those lazy “takers”? (i.e. any social program the G.O.P. will fight tooth and nail). If anything, we should have much sooner reconsidered the operational benefit of the War on Terror in the first place (which has been marginal at best, as highlighted by recent sectarian violence in Iraq).

Speaker Boehner’s questions are more substantive; I have actually grown to like Senator Boehner, I almost pity him for the impossible job he has of trying to legitimize the current cluster-fuck of ridiculous soundbites and indefensible policy advocacy that has come to define the G.O.P. I’m sure Mr. Boehner did not imagine his constituents would be so unrealistic and uncompromising that his time as House Speaker would be marked as a period of historically low congressional approval ratings.

But back to Congressman Boehner’s Questions. Questions 1 and 2 (“Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat?”) were already addressed by President Obama in his speech:

“But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.”  

Obviously Al-Qaeda would be considered a “network that poses a direct danger to us”, probably the primary of such networks. One has to question whether John was not sleeping through the President’s speech with questions like those. And to expect a President to openly discuss his defense strategies, probably our most important national security secret, is not exactly proposing a reasonable question.

President Obama also alluded to the answer to Speaker Boehner’s 3rd question in that very same breath. Mr. Boehner asked, “Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

The answer to that is, of course not. The President stated he planned to “make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold”, but what exactly does that mean? It could only mean putting more resources into preventative peace-building and diplomacy efforts, as I have advocated for here at NN.

Conflict resolution theory tells us that the majority of todays armed conflicts are “Protracted Social Conflicts”. This means that their roots are in human rights violations, which almost always involve inadequate service delivery and security being provided by a country’s government. In situations like this, conflict is likely to break out. When conflicts break out, there is no military to keep terrorist activities at bay (assuming the regime in power is not allied with extremist groups to begin with).

Terrorist groups seize onto this absence of government human rights “duty bearers” and begin to provide services and security themselves. People on the ground, having no other option other than living in extreme poverty and extreme discomfort, welcome these terrorists in with open arms. Terrorists are able to buy goodwill, gain footholds for their operations, and attract a new generation of young Jihadists.

The only way the President can prevent new terrorist groups from forming is to scale up the capacity of strong, democratic governments in developing countries around the world (or factions within countries that do not have democratic governments). If America undertakes this much more noble pursuit, we can build sustainable relationships that foster greater economic and security alliances, rather than destroying nations and then attempting to build them back up from scratch, which is costly in money, time, and lives.

We must remember that building these relationships is not easy. Transitions to democracy and a higher standard of living take time, and the process is not always linear. Vested interests will never give up easily, as they have so much to lose as society reaps the benefits of modernization, and more resources are invested into basic infrastructure as well as physical and human capital.

Though we face an uphill battle, we must never falter in our fight to promote peace, security, and mutually beneficial and environmentally sustainable economic relationships. Only through cooperation and coordination can the global community confront and overcome the issues we collectively face in the 21st century and beyond.

And we must always remember we are not alone in this fight. Our Allies around the world remain committed to the same vision as us. Institutions such as the UN, NATO, WB, IMF, WHO and countless other international, national, and regoinal institutions, alongside non-governmental organizations, charities, and civil society organizations join our ranks. The day when extreme poverty and human rights violations are no longer a threat is just beyond the horizon, and I look forward doing whatever I can to work towards that future.


5 thoughts on “The (Real Beginning of the) End of Team America World Police Part 3(? 4? 5?, I’ve Lost Count…)

  1. This is reasoned and well thought out, but how do you explain the following. DPRK is widely considered the most oppressive regime on the planet with the highest rate of human rights abuses. I’ve never heard of a north Korean terrorist attacking the west though. based on your analysis of protracted social conflict being the root cause of most armed conflict, how do you explain this phenomenon? Taken to its logical extremity, it *could* be argued that extremely oppressive forms of government are also a path forward to reducing conflict and therefore opportunities for non-state actors to engage in terror training/plotting/etc.

    If anything, it could be similar to a laffer curve but fliped into a u-shaped parabola. “government oppression” on the x and “safety” as defined by lack of terror activity on the y. The only question that remains is wether the paraboloa opens up or down. Up, there are two paths that will lead to the same outcome, down there is a ‘sweet spot’ at which we are both safe and free. looking forward to hearing your thoughts.



  2. Good point, I certainly agree that there is a certain uniquely Jihadist element of Islamic Terrorist organizations that is specifically anti-American and Western values. When it comes to the PRNK, we really do not know what the people think because of how oppressive the government is. Being a peninsula country, in the shadow of China, has certainly helped the PRNK be much more secretive in their goals. The secrecy of NK gives it a “wild card” aspect that it uses to its advantage.

    It is not that anybody really thinks NK could hit America with nuclear weapons. It is about the billions of people in Asia, and the 80,000+ American military personnel in the region that could be impacted by a nuclear NK. Nobody wants NK to have nuclear capabilities, which is why we see a concerted effort to impose sanctions from both “Western Powers” and China and Russia (unlike in the Syria situation for example).

    Sometimes, the regime itself is perpetuating terrorist activities. It is notoriously difficult to find a single universal definition of “terrorism”. This is the best one I could find, from the National Institute of Justice: “The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

    While it is true that President Bush removed North Korea from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list in 2008, I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t considering threatening the use of nuclear strikes as terrorism (or someone that thinks because G.W. Bush did something, that thing was probably good foreign policy / economic / anything decision).

    You could certainly argue, rightfully so, that since NK does not pose an immediate threat to the U.S., it should not longer be targeted in Obama’s new agenda, But in reality the U.S. is not going to abandon its interests in the Asia-Pacific region anytime soon. If anything, the D.o.D. is likely trying to find ways to put more resources in that region, by scaling down activities in the Middle-East.

    You could argue that a more repressive government could have more control over its population. But it is becoming more and more commonly accepted in international governance that included in human rights are political and civil rights as well, that everyone has a right to a responsive and responsible democratic government. Human rights are not just economic and social, they also have to do with peoples relative freedoms to enjoy a life they want, and I can only assume that is next to impossible for the majority of people in the PRNK to live fulfilling lives.

    In this sense, the theory would assume that the more oppressive a government, the more likely the people would revolt (a somewhat linear upwards relationship), thus causing the conflict needed to create the power vacuum for terrorism to spread. It is true that the Kim family has proven to be incredibly resilient to any sort of challenge of their power, having now passed down the baton of power for 3 generations (again it’s geopolitical advantages have to come into play), even as the most entrenched autocratic regimes around the world have recently fallen (the “Arab Spring” revolutions).

    I guess I would say that the PRNK is the example that breaks the rule, not that sets it. There is an undeniable shift towards democratic governance around the world, and one can only assume at some point in the foreseeable future North Korea will become modernized.


  3. Pingback: Conflict Watch: Secretary of State Kerry Visits Sub-Saharan Africa; Talks Human Rights | Normative Narratives

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