Saturday, November 11, 2006

Perplexions and Perceptions

When discussing about US primacy and power, we often talk about the difference between "real" power - population, GDP, military strength, technology, etc. - and "soft" power - diplomacy, negotiations, exchange programs, etc. Concerning the U.S., there is also the perceived power of the government, ranging from conspiracy theories about how the Bush administration and Zionists engineered 9/11 to wage war on the Arabs, to what we now see in far-right and extremist Islamic groups' reactions to the Democratic victory and resignation of SecState Donald Rumsfeld.

We are only in the first few days after the election, and yet we have already seen some significant indications that the perception of the U.S., the war on terror, and the occupation in Iraq is changing. We have Iran's Khameni coming out with the following statement:
"This issue (the elections) is not a purely domestic issue for America, but it is the defeat of Bush's hawkish policies in the world," Khamenei said in remarks reported by Iran's student news agency ISNA on Friday.
Then we have Al-Qaeda's Abu Ayyub al-Masri identifying politics in the US with American cowardice and weakness:
"I tell the lame duck (U.S. administration) do not rush to escape as did your defense minister...stay on the battle ground," he said.
There is a growing concern, put forward in an article found here comparing the election to the Vietnam's Tet Offensive, that Al-Qaeda efforts to disrupt elections in the U.S. have been more successful than their attempts to disrupt elections in Iraq. This is not entirely true. Yet there is no denying that Al-Qaeda's activities - chronicled dutifully by the free press - strongly contributed the American electorate's dissatisfaction with the way the Iraq war has been proceeding.

It's probably no coincidence that the director-general of MI5 announces on November 11th that there are over 200 groups and 1600 individuals under observation.
There is a definite attempt to counter the image of a weakening Western resolve.

The image of terror groups has always been their strength, since it takes considerable motivation for a democratic nation to agree to contribute money, lives and resources to combating a transnational organization. Are they freedom fighters, opposing Western offenses to their sovereignty? Are they simply terrorist fanatics, dedicated to destroying all things Western? It can be argued that the success of the war on terror depends significantly on the perceived power of the actors fighting the war. It is essential that the U.S. appear resolved to commit the neccessary money, technology, time, lives and military strength - to track terrorist support groups, monitor cash and weapons transactions, to predict and prevent attacks, etc.

Does the perception of the election and Rumsfeld's resignation pose a problem for the war on terror? Can this lead to an increase in casualties in Iraq? Will this contribute to the likelihood of another bombing in Europe? And if this is a threat, how do we counter it? It perception is a weapon, how do we wield it?


Anonymous said...

From Strategy
"The Arab world sees the Democratic Party gains in the recent U.S. elections as a sign that Americans are getting tired of the violence in Iraq, and are ready to leave. The Arabs also see the Democrats are more pro-European, and thus more anti-Israel and more tolerant of Islamic terrorists and traditional forms of government (dictatorships and monarchies) in the Arab world. The elections also confirm, in the Arab mind, that the Americans cannot be trusted in the long run, have no stomach for bloodshed and can always be turned around by the more clever Arab tactics. For the Iraqi Shia Arabs, the departure of the Americans won't change anything. It was nice having them, their money, and their deadly soldiers around. But the Shia Arabs have enough guns, and people trained to use them, to deal with the Iraqi Sunni Arabs. The Americans have served their purpose, and it's time for them to go."

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