I’ve written on the importance of completing the COIN cycle in Iraq — of experience a counterinsurgency from initial response to final victory – as an important way to set the right lessons in the minds and institutions of the U.S. military. However, Iraq is not the only COIN (counter-insurgency) we are fighting. And some have even argued we are also fighting a “global insurgency” spread across the world.
If we are, we are winning:
The Simon Fraser study notes that the decline in terrorism appears to be caused by many factors, among them successful counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries and infighting among terror groups. But the most significant, in the study’s view, is the “extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years.” These are largely self-inflicted wounds. The more people are exposed to the jihadists’ tactics and world view, the less they support them. An ABC/BBC poll in Afghanistan in 2007 showed support for the jihadist militants in the country to be 1 percent. In Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province, where Al Qaeda has bases, support for Osama bin Laden plummeted from 70 percent in August 2007 to 4 percent in January 2008. That dramatic drop was probably a reaction to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but it points to a general trend in Pakistan over the past five years. With every new terrorist attack, public support for jihad falls. “This pattern is repeated in country after country in the Muslim world,” writes Mack. “Its strategic implications are critically important because historical evidence suggests that terrorist campaigns that lose public support will sooner or later be abandoned or defeated.”
The University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management (I wish academic centers would come up with shorter names!) has released another revealing study, documenting a 54 percent decline in the number of organizations using violence across the Middle East and North Africa between 1985 and 2004. The real rise, it points out, is in the number of groups employing nonviolent means of protest, which increased threefold during the same period.
Why have you not heard about studies like this or the one from Simon Fraser, which was done by highly regarded scholars, released at the United Nations and widely discussed in many countries around the worldâ€”from Canada to Australia? Because it does not fit into the narrative of fear that we have all accepted far too easily.
The Bush Administration has been a great complement to the Clinton Administration. While Clinton oversaw a build-out of our financial capacity, helping with everything from NAFTA to the WTO, Bush continued this work and oversaw a built-out of our COIN capacity. The great job that Bush has done is the natural follow-up to the great job that Clinton did.
Of course, there are specific points of criticism. It took Bush perhaps a year to recognize that his initial “Phase IV” plan in Iraq was not working, and to adjust course. Likewise, he did not “shoot the moon” through an alliance with Iran or a multilateral war against North Korea. These are fair criticisms, and it is valuable they are made.
Still, the Clinton and Bush administrations were creative and valuable in a way not seen since Roosevelt and Truman. Those wise old men were present at the creation of the “Post-War” (in the sense of Cold War) world. Now we stand at the beginning of the globalized world with its own post-war insurgencies. And with the capacities built up by Clinton and Bush, we are ready for the challenges ahead.