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Masters Of Puppets

Things are getting a wee bit less simple in the War On Terror. And that is not necessarily a good thing.

(Author's note: this will not be a chronologically accurate accounting. I'm going to bounce around from topic to topic, and will not be following a strict timeline of events. Considering how many threads I'll be touching on, it seems the best way to construct the narrative I'm working on. For example, I might cite several events in one nation, then talk about events in another nation that happened concurrently or even before the first nation. Anyone who says "you mentioned Y before X, when X happened first" will be either ignored or mocked.)

In the old days, when it started, dealing with terrorists was easy. They were, essentially, criminal gangs with political motives and aspirations. And that kept things nice and simple. They might share goals with governments, and even draw support, but they were officially independent and the governments maintained plausible deniability.

It was the 80s, I think, that the terrorists started smartening up. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) started moving into politics. The IRA had long maintained a polite fiction of having separate, independent wings for its political and militant members, but it was a Western, more "civilized" type of terrorist that actually showed some consideration for innocents, but the PLO was the first to start trying to cast itself as more respectable and mainstream.

That led to the birth of Hamas, which from the outset was officially divided into what was to become the new paradigm of "militant" and "political" wings. This was intended to allow governments to talk with and negotiate with the terrorists -- by giving them the fiction that the folks they were talking with weren't the "real" terrorists, but were non-militants that could influence the scary ones.

And in Lebanon, they had a bunch of Shia Muslim terrorist groups (heavily backed by Iran) that coalesced in the 1980s into Hezbollah, or "Party Of Allah." They continued as a while as strictly a terrorist group intent on first removing Israel from Lebanon, and then Israel from the face of the earth. (Israel had invaded and occupied much of Lebanon after literally years of the PLO using southern Lebanon as a safe haven and launching point for countless terrorist raids.) Eventually, Hezbollah realized they would eventually be seen as a threat to the Lebanese government, so they set up their own "political wing" to gather public support and gain "legitimate" influence within the government. And that succeeded even better than conducting terrorist attacks against Israel -- not that they ever gave that up fully. Their Southern Lebanon actions were quite prolific -- in 1996, they provoked Israel into a massive retaliation; in 2000 they assassinated the Lebanese Army general nominally in command of the region; and in 2006, they triggered Israel's invasion.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Afghans finally managed to drive out the Soviets. In the struggle for supremacy afterwards, the winning faction was the Taliban -- which really wasn't interested in carrying out what is normally considered terrorism. Yeah, they were Islamist militants who imposed a particularly brutal form of Sharia law on the Afghan people ("brutal form of Sharia" is not redundant -- although I once thought it was, the Taliban proved me wrong), but they weren't overly interested in much outside their borders. But when Al Qaeda came calling, looking for a place to hang their turbans (and willing to offer money and support to the Taliban), they welcomed their Muslim brethren with open arms and gave them shelter and a safe base to operate from. That was a unique development -- a not-quite-legitimate government (de facto but not de jure -- the UN never recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government, bestowing that on the defeated Northern Alliance) in an explicit alliance with a purely terrorist group.

But back to Palestine. The PLO started learning to play the diplomatic game. They started making concessions, such as saying they would accept a "two-state" solution with Israel, but with some interesting caveats -- such as not bothering to repeat that in Arabic to their supporters, and insisting on concessions that would in all likelihood lead to the destruction of Israel. This was seen as moderation (as in, "OK, we'll give up saying we'll kill and eat you; we'll just kill you") and led to political rewards -- to the point where they (under the name "The Palestinian Authority") were recognized as the legitimate government of the Palestinian people.

That ran acropper in the second election among the Palestinians, when the Palestinian electorate expressed their disgust with the corrupt Palestinian Authority and turned instead to the Islamist radicals of Hamas. That ended up with Hamas -- still recognized as a terrorist organization, and rather proud of that status -- as the duly elected, legitimate government of the Gaza Strip.

This led to a dilemma for Westerners. Pretty much agrees that you don't deal with terrorists, but here the terrorists were also the legitimate government of a region (but not a state). Does an election widely seen as free and fair whitewash the history of the winning group? Does "elected fairly" trump "acknowledged terrorists?" Does pragmatism trump principle?

I say no. Terrorists that win elections are still terrorists. If an electorate chooses to ally themselves and choose terrorists as their duly elected leaders, then screw 'em. They chose to vote for terrorists; who are we to deprive them of the logical consequences of that decision?

Back to Afghanistan. (Dizzy yet? I am.) The Taliban-Al Qaeda alliance worked well for years, until Al Qaeda got a bit too ambitious and pulled off the greatest terrorist attack in history with 9/11. The Taliban then tried to cover for them, trying to play the international legalistic game with the US. They'd only surrender the Taliban if the US presented its evidence in an Afghani court, and the court ruled that the kafir US had indeed demonstrated that the noble Muslims of Al Qaeda had actually done what we said they did, then they'd cooperate. And remember -- hardly no one in the world, including the US and the UN, recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government.

President Bush's response? Roughly translated, "fuck that shit." He got Congress to authorize the invasion of Afghanistan, and then did just that, driving both Al Qaeda and the Taliban out of power in record time, with minimal US casualties.

That was a good lesson for the rest of the Muslim world. America's patience did have its limits, and the power of the US military was greater than ever before. To steal a metaphor from Tom Clancy, the US military was an incredibly ferocious dog held on a very short political leash. And 9/11 had shown that America was still willing and able to drop that leash and let that dog run free.

And then there was Iraq. Setting aside the arguments about the war there, it reinforced the Afghan lesson: the US once again invaded and toppled the existing government in record time, with minimal US casualties.

But once again we're seeing evolution in action with the terrorists. They're starting to see the limits in assimilating the legitimate governments. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is the deciding faction. They don't have the most votes, but they can get them quite readily, thanks to having demonstrated time and time again that if you get in their way, they'll kill you -- preferably in very public and spectacular fashion. And they've hand-picked the next Prime Minister.

Here's where they'er getting a bit clever. Instead of installing one of their own, they've chosen someone who has never been associated with them. This gives Najib Mikati a level of deniability when it comes to their actions, but he can never forget just who put him there -- and who can remove him at will (either from office or from the face of the earth). By accepting their backing, he's now owned by them.

And in Egypt, it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood (which spawned Hamas and Al Qaeda, among other terrorist groups) is learning from that example. They aren't openly involved in the current turmoil threatening the Mubarak regime, but they are quietly backing it -- and they are the single most powerful opposition group. Should Mubarak fall, they will be best positioned to take advantage and take power -- or, at least, a leading position -- in the new regime.

And they are doing so by offering their support to Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (where he was such a colossal failure at containing nuclear proliferation that he won a Nobel Peace Prize, putting him in such distinguished company as Barack Obama, Yassir Arafat, the child-raping UN Peacekeepers, and Jimmy Carter). ElBaradei has absolutely no history of associations with the Muslim Brotherhood, but they intend to treat him like Hezbollah intends to use Mikati -- a civilized, nominally-independent puppet whose strings they intend to pull.

From their perspective, it's a good tactic. And it will be a difficult one to counter. At this point, I'm not certain how best to deal with it.

But the first step is recognizing it.


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Comments (17)

From their perspec... (Below threshold)
From their perspective, it's a good tactic. And it will be a difficult one to counter. At this point, I'm not certain how best to deal with it.

I've heard it said that more often than not, what appears to be a difficult choice is actually an easy one that requires a strong will to see it through. So in that frame, I'll offer a couple of "easy" choices.

First, stop differentiating between puppet and puppetmaster - and instead judge the country by the actions of its government. If Lebanon (or Egypt) allows a government to lead it into actions that harm US interests in the region (read: Israel or anything that hinders trade), then hold the government of that country responsible. This action may include anything from sanctions to an outright declaration of war.

Second, there is a time and place for everything under the sun, as the saying goes, and this includes wet work. We know who the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah factions are. So does Israel. Both of those groups have sworn themselves to carry out the destruction of US interests in the region. So the choice here is simple: let the DoD spooks and Mossad off their leash. Quietly. Just as it was recently reported that drone attacks on al-Qaida have decimated its power and influence, targeted "liberations" of key leaders will do the same to reduce the threat posed by these other terrorist groups. And before too long, their state sponsors (read: Iran) will get the message.

We should not be afraid to prosecute our national interests in the region, quietly. All this would take is a few off the record phone calls to leaders in Lebanon and Egypt, reminding them that if they run afoul of US interests, they will be "liberated", with extreme prejudice.

Very, very interesting, wan... (Below threshold)

Very, very interesting, wander. Certainly worth considering.


Why no mention of the CIA's... (Below threshold)

Why no mention of the CIA's support that helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan? And how we dropped the ball afterwards by not helping in reconstruction efforts? http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/feb/11/ex-rep-wilson-foe-of-soviets-dies/

I agree Wander, but that wo... (Below threshold)

I agree Wander, but that would require our leaders to actually be pro-America.

Not that relevant, dsc. Unl... (Below threshold)

Not that relevant, dsc. Unless you want to hijack the discussion to "America is responsible for most everything bad that's ever happened," and I'm not overly interested in that.

So, no.


Given the current occupant ... (Below threshold)

Given the current occupant of the White House and his "Smart Diplomacy", don't look for any inspiring moves there.

Jay, I'll further argue tha... (Below threshold)

Jay, I'll further argue that the UN actually derives its power from inaction. Since it is not a government and has no resources of its own, it cannot act. Therefore it is only powerful insofar as its member governments choose to not act themselves.

This is why (IMHO) the UN pushes the current worldview that we shouldn't go after "innocent" leaders or "innocent" peoples. After all, it can't be their fault - they just happen to be in the way, or so the logic goes. Follow this logic and you discover that it conveniently hamstrings the US military and the Israeli military quite well. Of course it is aided and abetted by a leftist Press that has its own reasons for watching as violence spreads throughout the world - but I digress. The point I am making here is, the absolution of responsibility of citizens whose governments allow non-governmental groups to wield power results in a kind of enforced helplessness that the US and Israel are expected to respect but no one else is held to the same standard. It doesn't take much application of this view to get to the place where, say, Hamas members stage raids from schools and places of religious worship, knowing that they will be allowed to do so with impunity, even as they rain missiles down on schools on the other side.

If we are honest with ourselves as Americans, we must rouse ourselves and not allow this wholesale abdication of responsibility by puppet governments, as aided and abetted by the UN, to shield non-governmental groups behind women and children when US national security concerns are at risk. And the best way to prosecute our will in this case is to decapitate the beast by assassinating its leaders one by one. Once the people of these countries see that the leaders can no longer hide behind them, eventually I believe they will rise up on their own and throw the bastards out.

...stop differentiating ... (Below threshold)

...stop differentiating between puppet and puppetmaster... W tried this - this was the great 'you are either with us or against us' speach that made the liberals and most of europe wet their panties. Option 2 is the only thing the current admin would have the guts to do (maybe) because is demands plausible deniability.

Why no mention of ... (Below threshold)
Why no mention of the CIA's support that helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan? And how we dropped the ball afterwards by not helping in reconstruction efforts?
dsc, I believe your view is based on an Aaron Sorkin wet dream. The fact is, we went into Afghanistan because a lot of people, including President Reagan and Senator Helms, believed the doctrine of detente to be morally repugnant. So we helped the Afghanis drive out an invading army, then we left. To suggest it was our fault that the Taleban sprang up because we didn't reconstruct Afghanistan is to ignore the fact that we helped them repel an invasion by the Soviet Union. We weren't responsible for that invasion (well, unless you take into account that Carter's weakness precipitated it, but that's another story) so how can we be held responsible for "reconstruction"???
"First, stop differentia... (Below threshold)

"First, stop differentiating between puppet and puppetmaster - and instead judge the country by the actions of its government."

Exactly. If they're not taking decisive action against the terrorists in their midst then they're accomplices. They show one face to the west and another to the immediate region and we keep pretending we believe them when they act like victims.

Sadly I don't think anyone ... (Below threshold)
Tsar Nicholas II:

Sadly I don't think anyone got the Metallica reference.

As for how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, and given the strategic significance of Egypt (Suez Canal, anyone?) and the inevitable domino effect, it would appear that direct albeit covert military and intelligence/counterintelligence support of Mubarak's regime is necessary; although with this farce of an administration in charge obviously that's so far off the table it's not even part of the real-life discussion.

Wander, one couldn condense... (Below threshold)

Wander, one couldn condense your approach to the last line of the Heinlein novel:

"Puppet masters - the free men are coming to kill you! Death and Destruction!"

Leaving aside this Wanderlu... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Leaving aside this Wanderlust character's attempt to impress us all with his ice-water-in-his-veins advocacy of "wet work" as the solution to all our Middle East problems, I think you're missing something here, Jay Tea. And that's that the US is limited in its diplomatic options by its own history of its policy in the region.

For decades, beginning in the Cold war, US policy has been to support regimes that ruthlessly suppress secular reformist and leftist resistance movements. Beginning with Iran in 1953 and running all the way up to Mubarak and Ben Ali today, we've propped 'em up and taught them and financed them in how to suppress leftists and secular liberals. The Shah is but one example.

And in these repressive dictatorships, often the only place people could meet and organize was the mosque. Iran's Savak was great at murdering the left, so when the revolution that was bound to come finally arrived, who was there to lead it? Radical Islam.

And fear of the Soviets led to some unfortunate consequences, if you'll remember, in Afghanistan. Some of the mujahideen we financed and armed later became the Taliban. Some of the fanatical Arab and other foreign fighters we helped bring in later morphed into Al Qaida.

Hey, Israel does it, too. Guess where Hamas got its start. Yes, you guessed it - funded originally BY ISRAEL in an attempt to "divide and conquer" the leftists and secular nationalists in the PLO. How's that working out so far?

So, thanks to the success our clients have had suppressing and murdering secular liberals and leftist opposition, we are left with the spectre of Islamic fundamentalists as the leaders of any opposition.

Luckily the Muslim Brotherhood, so far at least, seems to realize that it is not particularly popular in Egypt. (It is the single largest and best organized group, but it's not a majority by any means.) The Egyptian people are not going to throw off Mubarak's yoke only to assume that of an Egyptian version of the Taliban. Egyptians are too sophisticated for that. They want freedom, not ideological purity. The Muslim Brotherhood may have to be accepted as a partner in a coalition government, similar to the Communists in late-1940s Italy, in the hopes that they will be slowly marginalized, as the Italian Communists were.

Posted by epador ... (Below threshold)
Posted by epador | February 1, 2011 12:46 PM

epador, I think we agree: when you hold the people of governments run by power brokers to account, eventually they will rise up and overthrow the power brokers.

Leaving aside this Wanderlust character's attempt to impress us all with his ice-water-in-his-veins advocacy of "wet work" as the solution to all our Middle East problems...

Posted by Bruce Henry | February 1, 2011 6:18 PM

"this Wanderlust character..."

Daddy like.

Hate to break it to ya, Brucie, but drone strikes are in fact wetwork. Assassinations. No different from what the US Navy did on 18 April 1943, or what it is doing now with al-Qaeda.

Like it or not, all wars are wars of attrition, whether someone actually took the time to formally declare a state of war or not. Regardless of how we got to this point, to ignore present reality on the basis of a "look, it must be our fault 'cause we did thus and so several years ago!" is to ignore brewing trouble to our own peril.

The US is unique in world history on the basis that it is a) not an empire; b) far and away the most powerful nation on the planet, with the largest economy on the planet; and c) its economic security interests are so far flung that these become national security interests: namely the protection of sea trade generally and maintenance of the stability of crude oil extraction (a unique function of our age in its own right, as to its enormous ramifications for modern society around the world). By the way, I hope you are smart enough to know that this is not a recent development in US history, because it is most assuredly not.

Therefore anything that causes unrest in the world which may affect either the safety and security of our allies, or the safety and security of the trade upon which our national security depends, is within our purview to influence if we so choose.

The beauty and terror of realpolitik is that it involves unpredictable humans. You simply don't get the option to do something that is entirely predictable, because paradoxically such choices entail the greatest risk to our national security (see also, William Jefferson Clinton). There are no safe options when choices must be made that involve national security issues. There are no clear "right" answers and no clear "wrong" ones; rather, there are answers that demonstrate strength or weakness, and that seek stability or allow chaos.

Now to your hand-wringing on US actions in the middle east: we simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and allow events to unfold that put our interests, or the interests of our allies, at risk. Never is it so obvious as here that the perfect is the enemy of the good. And I will argue that while yes, groups like Mujama Al-Islamiya and the mujahideen got their start from Western governments, the reason those groups were later turned by our enemies speaks more to the fact that we are so very restrained militarily as compared to our foes. And no, I am not suggesting we should become like our foes; instead, we should be much more willing to reinforce strength with strength, especially in the middle east, than we do now. Islamic peoples do not respect restraint at all. They do respect strength.

So where I am going with all this is, it is exactly a confluence of a position of strength and realpolitik to seek and maintain stability in the middle east to the degree that we are able to do so, because for reasons stated elsewhere we have a significant national security interest in keeping that region stable. The mechanism to do that includes the topics I discussed in my original post.

That Wanderlust Character

"The Egyptian people are... (Below threshold)

"The Egyptian people are not going to throw off Mubarak's yoke only to assume that of an Egyptian version of the Taliban."

Dude. You're welcome to create your own little dream world, but please don't confuse it with reality.

At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion. Majorities of Muslims in Jordan and Nigeria also favor these harsh punishments.
Please forgive the snark, W... (Below threshold)
Bruce Henry:

Please forgive the snark, Wanderlust. Habit.

I read your posts as being the ruminations of a wannabe Tom Clancy. I see now that you have a more fully developed view.

I am not advocating, by the way, that we "sit on our hands." But I did want to point out that our options in this situation are limited by our history. Anything we do in this wholly new wave of homegrown democratic uprisings will be seen by the Arabs in the light of the past. Don't know if you've noticed, but "The US - proudly propping up octogenarian authoritarians since 1953!" is NOT the mantra we've been repeating lately. On the other hand, the OTHER authoritarian dictators who are still our clients ain't gonna be happy if we abruptly pull the rug out from under Mubarak.

On the third hand, Mubarak, while an incredibly brutal tyrant to his own people, has been extremely helpful in not making matters worse re Palestine. So I don't envy Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama right now. If we misstep, we risk the very thing we seek to avoid - empowering Islamic extremists. And I would like to give a shoutout to Sen McConnell, a man I usually cordially despise, for the way he's handling the questions he's been asked.

I had hoped that Mubarak pledging not to run again in September would be enough to defuse the situation. That was apparently wishful thinking.

I just hope that, if things take a turn for the worse, the usual suspects in the Wizbang comment section can restrain their gleeful "It'sObama'sfault!"s. This thing has been 30 years in the making. There are no simple answers.

No worries, Bruce.... (Below threshold)

No worries, Bruce.

US policy in the middle east over the past 35 years has at best been schizophrenic. That being said, the problems we experience now, today, were most recently sown in early 2009 when Obambi went on a tear around the world to blame America for everything.

He projected weakness.

Our enemies listened, and listened well.

What we have now is a redux of 1979, with the difference being that instead of being stupidly naive (Carter), the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is dangerously naive. By all indications he believes in his unilateral disarmament shiite and uses it to consolidate his power domestically. But this reckless withdrawal of US hegemony in that part of the world is akin to withdrawing the cadmium rod from a nuclear reactor: it's gonna get hot very, very quickly.

And like it or not, Obama bears the blame because as Truman famously said about the Presidency, the buck stops [t]here...






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