Army War College Sponsored a Biased Report
The Strategic Studies Institute is a branch of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. It is a military version of a traditional academic think-tank. The most significant difference between the SSI and similar civilian institutes is that the SSI is publicly funded. As such, all of its unclassified findings, reports, and monographs are available to the public at the SSI website.
The SSI also distributes a monthly e-mail newsletter to the national security community that provides among other things a strategic commentary by an SSI research analyst. One of these analysts is Dr. Jeffrey Record, who joined SSI in late 2003 as a “Visiting Research Professor.”
Dr. Record has impressive credentials. He is a full professor at the U.S. Air Force’s Air War College in the Department of Strategy and International Security. He has authored six books and a dozen monographs on the subject of U.S. involvement in war. He was the Mekong Delta Assistant Province Advisor in Vietnam, a Rockefeller Younger Scholar on the Brookings Institution’s Defense Analysis Staff, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, the Hudson Institute, and the BDM International Corporation. He was the Legislative Assistant for National Security Affairs to Senators Sam Nunn and Lloyd Bentsen, and was a Professional Staff Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Dr. Record received his Doctorate at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
As I said, the professor has impressive credentials.
Record first appeared on my radar screen in mid January as the author of the most recent SSI analysis: Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, a 21,000-word academic monologue on the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Given the source of this document and the credentials of its author, it became “must reading” for anyone writing about the military, war, terrorism and the GWOT.
In my years as a seagoing enlisted technician and commissioned Navy officer, and later as a researcher, businessman, editor, and stockbroker, I learned that a person’s credentials say nothing about that person’s ability to think clearly, analyze logically, or write well. I also learned that a person’s path to impressive credentials – as opposed to impressive accomplishments – often leads to pedantic writing, or writing that is long on words and short on content.
With this in mind, I approached Record’s tome with a critical eye.
An eyebrow-raising introduction by SSI Director Prof. Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr. initially peaked my interest. At first glance, it appeared that we had a high-powered professor with the credentials to know whereof he writes saying that the GWOT may be ill-conceived, poorly-executed, with unanticipated consequences. So I girded my loins and waded straightaway into the 21,000 words.
Well, maybe not straightaway, since I kept being deflected by the good professor’s grandiose use of the language, and stumbling over his sly insider references to the intellectual left’s condescending perception of President George W. Bush’s presumed (by them) naïveté, lack of sophistication, and downright ignorance.
Here are two paragraphs extracted directly from Record’s summary introduction:
In the wake of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. Government declared a global war on terrorism (GWOT). The nature and parameters of that war, however, remain frustratingly unclear. The administration has postulated a multiplicity of enemies, including rogue states; weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferators; terrorist organizations of global, regional, and national scope; and terrorism itself. It also seems to have conflated them into a monolithic threat, and in so doing has subordinated strategic clarity to the moral clarity it strives for in foreign policy and may have set the United States on a course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat to the United States.
Of particular concern has been the conflation of al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat. This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action. The result has been an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq that has created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism and diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al Qaeda.
Bear in mind that this is only a summary. The main body is even more complex and convoluted. It relies heavily on the passive voice in the past or past perfect tense (“of particular concern has been … ”), and oblique references to obscure people coupled to empty modifiers such as “The great Prussian philosopher of war … ” [Clausewitz] or Callwell’s “classic 1896 work” [emphasis added].
But this is all cosmetic. You can charge it off to the professor’s academic upbringing. As with attorneys, when it comes to writing, these guys simply don’t know any better.
A much more serious problem pervades Record’s monograph. You can see hints of this in the two paragraphs from his summary. Since I don’t wish to quote the entire monograph, and you certainly don’t want to read it, I’m going to skip through the essay, feeding you snippets that illustrate what I mean.
Record first defines his terms, which any good writer should do. He writes that: “Sound strategy requires a clear definition of the enemy. The GWOT, however, is a war on something whose definition is mired in a semantic swamp.” Then he proceeds over several pages to tell us that “The U.S. firebombing of Japanese cities in 1945 certainly terrified their inhabitants … ”; that “the administration has cast terrorism and terrorists as always the evilest of evils … ” while implying that this may not always be the case, and stating with a literary sneer that “Palestinian terrorism is condemned while Ariel Sharon is hailed as a man of peace … ” by the Bush administration; after which he details “Jewish terrorism against British rule in Palestine …. ”
Having satisfied his academic requirement to define, Record commences a 10-page discussion of the “Threat Postulation,” wherein he goes to great lengths to show that the Bush administration formulated the terrorist threat in a purposefully self-serving manner. Within this section, he addresses the “Consequences of a Conflated Threat.” (I know, it’s another three-dollar word that means the same thing as the fifty-cent word consolidated.)
Record leads off with:
“Unfortunately, stapling together rogue states and terrorist organizations with different agendas and threat levels to the United States as an undifferentiated threat obscures critical differences among rogues states, among terrorist organizations, and between rogue states and terrorist groups. One is reminded of the postulation of an international Communist monolith in the 1950s …. ”
Then he diverts from his point about “conflation” to discuss one of the intellectual left’s favorite recurring mantras: There was no “International Communist threat;” our inability to understand the “facts” lead directly to our “disastrous … intervention in Vietnam,” and which has now been transferred to Muslims in general, and specifically to our characterization of the “[Islamist] terrorist threat.”
So far as I can tell after reviewing much of Record’s other writings, he has no apparent understanding of what the Cold War really was, and of the pivotal roles played by President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev in bringing it to an end. I suspect he does not agree that America “won” the Cold War.
Returning to his “conflation” discussion, Record opines that “unlike terrorist organizations, rogue states, notwithstanding administration declamations to the contrary, are subject to effective deterrence and therefore do not warrant status as potential objects of preventive war and its associated costs and risks” [emphasis his]. Record then says, “In conflating Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, the administration unnecessarily expanded the GWOT …. ” He goes on to say without presenting any argument or proof that “Operation IRAQI FREEDOM was not part of the GWOT; rather, it was a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al Qaeda.”
Having thoroughly “discredited” the Bush administration’s definition’s of terrorism and the administration’s underlying postulates for the GWOT, Record goes after the jugular: The Bush administration GWOT objectives. He writes: “[O]ne can speculate that the 9/11 attacks, which admittedly raised the specter of nuclear-armed terrorism, afforded an already predisposed administration the political opportunity to shift to a new counter-proliferation policy based on threatened and actual preventive military action … ” which, of course, Record opposes.
He “strengthens” his argument by claiming that “[The administration’s] insistence on moral clarity once again trumps strategic discrimination.” He asks if the U.S. should “gratuitously pick fights with the Basque Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA [Fatherland and Liberty]), the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Sendero Luminoso, Hamas, and Hizbollah? Do we want to provoke national- and regional-level terrorist organizations that have stayed out of America ’s way into targeting the U.S. interests and even the American homeland?”
And all the while, I thought the bad guys were picking fights with us. It just goes to show you what a superior education and impressive credentials can do for you.
Record goes on to tell us sympathetically that terrorists to not “regard terrorism as illegitimate … ”, and that they “perceive themselves as reluctant warriors, driven by desperation …. ” He acknowledges that “For the Hamas suicide bomber, no Israeli is innocent; all Israelis are enemies, and to blow them up in buses and discos is an heroic act of war against a hated oppressor.” He does not come right out and agree with this point of view, but his sympathies are crystal clear.
According to Record, “The most immediate obstacle to a successful democratic experiment in Iraq is, of course, the failure – so far – of the Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. occupation forces to provide the necessary foundation of public security and basic services.”
Time out! Let’s examine this statement. Notice his use of the phrase “of course.” I guess that from his intellectual height such things as this are pretty obvious, despite the fact that forces from several nations occupy Iraq, including the United States (of course – I guess this makes me an intellectual as well!), Great Britain, Australia, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and others. And as for public security and basic services, from my direct correspondence with folks having first-hand knowledge, Iraq is safer now for the average citizen than anytime in the past 25 years. For the first time in two decades, the electric power grid functions essentially everywhere, water flows clean from in-house plumbing, the sewer systems are on line and working, newspapers, radio, and television are free and running, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are cleaning themselves up.
But I guess that from the vaunted heights of the intellectual left, this is a failure, while on the other hand the fascist Ba’athists ran a successful government.
To fortify his arguments, Record scornfully revives a Cold War era concept. According to him, the original “domino theory” held that if Vietnam fell, then so would all the other regimes under Communist pressure. He scoffs at the Bush administration belief, which he calls the “new domino theory,” that if Iraq can demonstrate a successful run at democratic rule, then other oppressive states may follow.
As supporting evidence for his skepticism he cites North Korea and Iran as examples of oppressive countries that are not coming to heel, although he ignores recent overtures from North Korea regarding its nuclear weapons program and from Iran regarding many aspects of its stance in the world. Furthermore, he does not even mention Moammar Khadafy’s complete capitulation and his stated reasons, which were the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Having thoroughly exhausted his arguments about the “motives” of the Bush administration for going to war, Record finally raises the Issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), or in his words, the “failure to discover any Iraqi WMD.”
Once again, it seems that the good professor cannot integrate into his point of view factual information that counters his point of view. Simply stated, coalition forces have found ample evidence of Iraqi WMDs, including poison gas-filled warheads, mobile biological weapons labs, and very good evidence for an in-depth nuclear weapons research program.
In his reference section, Record cites many publications, but interestingly, a significant portion of these are well-known publications with a decided leftist perspective: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The New Republic, among others.
When Record is all said and done, he seems to be reflecting almost exactly what one hears in the periodic debates between the current crop of Democrat candidates for president. Is this coincidental?
Record is of no consequence in the greater scope of world reality. He can go on forever spouting his distortions and misunderstandings without seriously affecting what real people in the real world know and understand.
For me the real question is: Why is this kind of “intellectual” rubbish being paid for out of my hard-earned tax dollars, and why is the U.S. Army giving this foolishness its blessing?
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor