Category Archives: Terrorism

No One Has Read Huntington

The more I read people reference The Clash of Civilizations, the more I continue to believe that no one has read the actual book. In a recent New York Times article, journalists Scott Shane, Matthew Rosenberg, and Eric Lipton write that:

Mr. Trump was echoing a strain of anti-Islamic theorizing familiar to anyone who has been immersed in security and counterterrorism debates over the last 20 years. He has embraced a deeply suspicious view of Islam that several of his aides have promoted, notably retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, now his national security adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s top strategist.

This worldview borrows from the “clash of civilizations” thesis of the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, and combines straightforward warnings about extremist violence with broad-brush critiques of Islam.” [ NYT: “A Sinister Perception of Islam Steers the White House.”]

The article was about how President Trump and his team of Culture Warriors at the helm of his administration believe in a far-right notion of radical Islam and have an outsized fear of it. Yeah. Ok. I know.

To say that this worldview borrows from Huntington is akin to saying that because my co-worker said the words “I am Genghis Khan,” means he is Genghis Khan. I’m bad at comparisons, I know.

My point is that just because there is a cultural element to Trump’ grand strategy and that his chief strategist Steve Bannon believes in a clash of civilizations means that it is borrowing anything from a thesis that was trying to predict how conflicts in the future might look like. Huntington wasn’t endorsing clashes of civilization, he was simply arguing that culture – shared values, customs, language, and belief-systems – are likely to spark conflict in the future as opposed to any other possible reason for war, such as trade or land.

All three reporters are fantastic. Scott Shane’s book from two years ago about Anwar al-Awlaki was probably my favorite of 2015. This to me is sloppy, lazy and I don’t know what purpose it serves, to be honest.

The Brilliant Foresight of Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington’s seminal book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, is a foundational text for any student of international relations, globalization, and contemporary history. I have the fortune of hindsight and I have to say – this book might in fact be my favorite book I’ve ever read. It’s certainly one of the most important I’ve ever read re: my field of study, political science. It’s not that often that a book stands up like this one does. It’s not only useful as a period piece or a “hot take” but rather as a paradigm piece. My opinion is certainly twenty years late and most students do consider this a paradigm book; I’m simply expressing my gratitude that I experienced this read for myself. I can concur what others have said before.

Honestly, I can’t think of a more magisterial IR text that explains the current zeitgeist than this one. Jihad vs McWorld does a good job; not an IR text but Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature is great too; Joseph S. Nye’s work is, of course, canonical as well. For what it’s worth, however, this text is paradigm-capturing and worthy of Kissinger calling it “one of the most important books to have emerged since the end of the Cold War.” This is my favorite.

I will try and capture just why I think it predicted so much of what we are living through right now. Counting the essay, Huntington conceived of this understanding more than 23 years ago. It was the end of the Cold War, Fukuyama thought it was “The End of History”, and 9/11 and the Arab Spring were a decade, and two decades away, respectively. Yet, if I would have read this book before the turn of the century, I would have had a framework to understand it quicker than it has taken me.

Huntington Predicted the Russian annexation of Crimea
Just shortly into the first chapter and I was already enraptured by his definition of civilizations, for example, and then s.m.a.c.k – I thought, “what?! He basically just predicted Putin’s capture of Crimea. Damn.” In a paragraph where Huntington is testing the validity of statism, or neorealism, such as that exposed by John Mearsheimer, who foresaw a Russia-Ukraine “security competition,” he lays out precisely what happened 18 years later. “A civilizational approach emphasizes the close cultural, personal, and historical links between Russia and Ukraine and the intermingling of Russians and Ukrainians in both countries, and focuses instead of the civilizational fault line that divides Orthodox eastern Ukraine from Uniate western Ukraine, a central historical fact of long standing which, in keeping with the “realist” concept of states as unified and self-identified entities, Meirsheimer totally ignores.” He continues: “While a statist approach minimizes that and instead highlights the possibility of Ukraine splitting in half, a separation which cultural factors would lead one to predict might be more violent than that of Czechoslovakia but far less bloody than that of Yugoslavia.”

Huntington was sage-like here. Not only did he foreshadow the Russian annexation of Crimea, but he was correct regarding the comparisons as well. Casualties from the Ukrainian crisis are more than 9,000. The “Velvet Divorce” in 1993 of Czechoslovakia was bloodless; Slovakia has since become a quiet success of Europe. The breakup up of Yugoslavia was protracted, genocidal, and devastating.  Huntington was right: what was to transpire in Ukraine was somewhere in the middle, and it was about identity and culture, or to use his parlance, “civilizations.”

His framework based on understanding that culture is Real and that culture is tremendously powerful and binding, especially in a modernizing world that is cold, fast, and spiraling out of control, has predictive power. No good theory leaves home without predictive power. Ukraine effectively split, with 65% of Crimean’s being ethnically Russian. Under the civilizational paradigm, this break up makes since and those who studied this work, should have anticipated this. Huntington even argued that “contingency planning for the possible breakup of Ukraine,” should have been in the works.

“In the long run, Muhammed wins out”: Religious revivalism and Islamic Renewal
For those like myself who read science websites, and who know the ins-and-outs of and have read all of the New Atheist tracts published early in this new century, it’s easy to think that, or hope for depending on your worldview, religion is on the ropes. That, in fact, would be horribly wrong. Religion, a steady and reliable form of culture/identity like no other, is on the rise. Huntington really hammers the point home that the future of conflict will be about culture. And when wars are fought over cultures, culture loses. Huntington, again, was correct. “The Cold war division of humanity is over. The more fundamental divisions of humanity in terms of ethnicity, religions, and civilizations remain and spawn new conflicts. There is a subsection titled La Revanche De Dieu, or “The revenge of God” that I am jealous of. Great analysis with zero fluff or wasted words. If you have the book, this section starts at the middle of p.95 and ends at the end of p.97.

The Rise of the East, Latin America and Africa(?)
“The West is overwhelmingly dominant now and will remain number one in terms of power and influence well into the twenty-first century,” asserts the author. Although one can (and often does) split hairs regarding this statement, as of Dec. 2016 this is still true. In the context of this book, where Huntington paints the rise of the East, it’s particularly still relevant because he did predict what was on the horizon. This entire section is less spectacular than, in my opinion, his analysis about culture being central to our identities and the Islamic Resurgence, for example, this still is worth mentioning.

Latin America and Africa – sub-Saharan Africa – lack a “core” state that would allow them to rise to the level of say, the West (America is the core state), or the Sinic world (China, core), or the Orthodox world (Russia). The consequence isn’t necessarily given much thought but the analysis and prediction is true. Huntington puts a question mark after Africa (like he did at the end of the title when this was first published as an essay, which most people seemed to forget; “The Clash of Civilizations?,” is was the title of the essay iteration.) in this book since it was hard to envision a core emerging African power. The contenders were South Africa and Nigeria. Interesting. Latin America, Brazil and Argentina, and Mexico, also don’t seem to be likely leaders of a civilizational world. Mexico, has one foot in the West and one foot in Latin America. The future is up in the air and going to be determined by much contingency in the future. The reason: “Throughout history the expansion of the power of a civilization has usually occurred simultaneously with the flowering of its culture and has almost always involved its using that power to extend its values, practices, and institutions to other societies.” Pan-Africanism is a fiction that never materialized. Latin America is very diverse and just in the split of languages alone, makes it hard to foresee any one country becoming the “core” state of Latin America.

The rise of Asia, including India as the “core” state of the Hindu world, Japan (Japanese is  a civilization on it’s own according to Huntington’s paradigm), and China (the Sinic core) is an unstoppable historical force. The “blip” of Western dominance of 200 years will come to an end, and China, once again will be the leading power of the world by the middle of the next century. I can’t recall where I learned or who I learned this from, but a scholar has mapped the trend line of power and it is now sitting in Persia, working it’s way towards the East. 3 billion people all industrializing and modernizing is unstoppable. Well, at least by other people. Mother nature is a force to be reckoned with.

Conclusion
All-but-predicting the Crimea annexation by Russia; the rise of cultural and identity politics and the antidote of religion and community; and the likely power-shift from the West to Asia has come to pass, make The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of Global Order a must read. Impossibly relevant. Satisfying. Groundbreaking. The book, itself, is a paradigm. Huntington, in the last sentence, argues that a global order must be based on civilizations – regionalism (though he wouldn’t use that word), and bi- and tri-lateral regimes; globalization is only for the Davos World and global government seems like a 22-century utopian idea that we have yet to figure out. Until then: we must understand that culture and meaning and metaphysics matter tremendously.

Everyone should go out and pick up, and highlight, and annotate and devour this book. Certainly one of the best books I’ve ever read regarding international relations and the future of the global order.

*Bonus: Here’s a link to me reading this essay, basically, on my Foran Policy: Book Reviews & Miscellany podcast.*

This Time It’s Different

I noted in an earlier blog post that it’s quite evident to me that what is being called the French 9/11 will be a major geopolitical event that will shape how the next 10 years will play out. Here’s 3 possibilities of how these attacks in Paris could impact politics in the United States.

Fear Mongering is Back
Just kidding, it never went away. Fear, as a political and social and cultural phenomenon has always been a guiding light in American politics. However, we now have a newer half-generation of Americans who basically have not experience a terrorist attack conducted by an armed-group with long-term goals and plans. I streamed Morning Joe this morning, on MSNBC, and maaaaaannn….it’s like 9/11 never happened and good ‘ol American amnesia came back and everyone forgot just how we got to this place in the first place. Joe Scarborough was being all manic about Obama not calling Muslim terrorists….muslims. Obama, not long ago, said: “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” Whether you agree with this or not, if you don’t understand why Obama would say this then you don’t understand realpolitk, or even, domestic politics. It’s a tactic Joe; he’s not saying those words to you and to the media; this does not mean the Obama Administration does not understand the current situation. It does. President George W. Bush had similar remarks saying we are at war against evil, not Islam and not Muslims. Nonetheless, pundits are freaking out and telling everyone that we are in a Clash of Civilizations. This is not a clash of civilizations; this is a war where ISIS is targeting countries that are currently engaged in military attacks That’s kind of a big difference. This is not to say that ISIS isn’t engaged in what they think is a clash of civilizations; they, for all intents and purposes, do think that is what’s going on. It’s not.

This Changes the 2016 U.S. Pres Race; & It Helps Republican Chances
No really; look out for Mitt Romney getting into the race and winning the GOP nomination if he does get in. Regardless, foreign policy will now be a focus in 2016 in a way that wasn’t quite anticipated. In times when Americans are scared, they vote Republican. Americans think that Republicans tackle national security issues better; moreover, this is classic political psychology. Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist, has written about this and studied this extensively:

“People vote Republican because Republicans offer “moral clarity”—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.”

Whether its fear or a more ostensibly sanguine notion of clarity and group think, if we aren’t careful, we will let this brutalize us and make us more xenophobic and jingoistic. To reiterate, an America reminded of 9/11 and potential terrorist attacks is one that easily gives up rights. Due diligence is heeded; we must not buy into demagoguery when we need actual leadership and an actual strategy. This brings me to my final point.

Finally, this could actually push Obama to reiterate our strategy in the Middle East and regarding our position in the world, more generally.
Political scientist Ian Bremmer in his recent book Superpower: Three Choices For America’s Role in the World (2015) argues that the U.S. needs to choose a strategy and he lays out three distinct options. First, what Bremmer calls Independent America is one where we should nation build but that building should be done here; this isn’t isolationist so much as it’s a reaction to real foreign policy failure and real economic needs here at home. The second choice, Moneyball America, is basically the idea of crafting a strategy that is closer to what international affairs experts call Realism; a realist should ask: what is the alternative to the status-quo? Finally, the third possible strategy is titled Indispensable America. The anarchic world order needs a hegemonic force to help maintain the rule of law and the spread of democratic values and systems. You can’t choose all three; Bremmer wrote this book for the next president and urges them to choose a strategy and to stick with it.

Obama, today at the G-20 event in Antalya, Turkey, sounds like Obama of ‘ol. Obama articulated what amounts to a Realist understanding and a realist strategy with shades of idealism: we still must not work with Assad, argues Obama. The attacks of Paris could force the next presidential candidates to construct a strategy that deals with the reality of ISIS and the reality of the Middle East. Governments often govern from crisis to crisis; this tragic event could help focus the upcoming debates in a way that definitely is overdue: who are we?

What role will America take in this battle against ISIS? Will the U.S.A. accept refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia? Is America going to abandon the Middle East and “pivot” to China? All of these questions, and so many more, are important are are surely going to be asked, in some capacity at least, now after Paris.

France, Europe, and the Future

Some thoughts on #Paris and its implications for the world.

The worst has yet to come, says political analysts and spokesmen for ISIS alike. You can count on the fact that this is true.

The Schengen Agreement in Europe is in jeopardy; reading the words of European leaders after last night’s Paris attack, and you clearly get the feeling that this will be a turning point for geopolitics. Many of our borders will likely become more militarized. War is in the air. “France will be merciless towards these barbarians from ISIL,” remarked French President Hollande last night. Echos of George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11/2001. Orban and Hungary have already acted draconian and nationalistic regarding refugees and this event will surely rally more support for policies based on fear, worst possible outcomes, and xenophobia and intolerance. [Just look at how quickly U.S. politicians, on Twitter, used this event for domestic political purposes.] Now with reports that one of the commandos was from Syria and did migrate recently, expect horribleness all around. With so many places destabilized and on the brink of failing, such as Libya and Syria, there is now an even bigger incentive to make sure that Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, for example, do not become weakened. This means realpolitik and the stifling of any dissent: expect the U.S. to supply Saudi Arabia and Egypt with all of the weapons, intel, and support they need because the alternatives are unthinkable. In fact, if Saudi Arabia starts seeing signs of civil war, then we can start being scared about World War III. I’m serious: you do not want that country to have a power vacuum.

Political scientist Benjamin Barber wrote a prescient and gloomy book called Jihad vs McWorld released just prior to 9/11 actually, that rings in my mind after a night like last night. As observers have pointed out, these attackers targeted dense population cities rimmed with 21st century highlights and activities – globalized and cosmopolitan. There is a war against modernity and ISIS is proud of that war. France will remain a key target; especially factoring in Frances’ involvement in Mali, recently, and historically as a colonizing force as well. Jihad experts expect Italy to also be a likely target in the near future. Many people see ISIS as a new phenomenon when it’s been in the making for a long time. There is a war on modernity and its adherents are True Believers who welcome the apocalypse. (This is also a war on women; other Muslims; children; the West; each other; sex; lust; humanity; etc.)

This will likely go down as “the 9/11 of France” which has all kinds of implications. Observers thought the Charlie Hebdo attacks would be the spark that changed France; it was only the beginning. This time it feels different because…it is. One thing is certain: this event will have a geopolitical impact in a time of overwhelming crisis and in a time when leadership is desperately needed. Our institutions are not suited and built for the challenges of the 21st century. Until they are, expect chaos, anarchy, and contingent actions without strategy. Fear changes people, countries, and policies, to be sure. The War on Terror has entered a dangerous and potentially catastrophic period. Keep to this space for more frequent updates, analysis, and insights from someone who reads way to much about all of this for his own good. I’ll be more frequent – perhaps weekly – with these updates to flesh out what I have said here and to illuminate the bigger picture for folks who don’t stay abreast in all things national security and war.