2003 November 03 Monday
Rumsfeld Sees Madrassah Schools As A Problem To Work On

Donald Rumsfeld on Tim Russert's TV show NBC Meet The Press:

Russert: Let me turn to your memo of October 16th which has been leaked and share it with our viewers and ask you to talk about it: "With respect to global terrorism, the record since September 11th seems to be: We are having mixed results with al Qaeda. Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas, the schools, and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us? It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog." Don't know if we are winning or losing?

Rumsfeld: Let me explain that. It's not that we don't know if we are winning or losing in Iraq or Afghanistan. We know what's happening there. The point I was making is this: if there are 90 nations engaged in the global war on terrorism, and if they are out arresting, capturing, killing terrorists, if they are out there putting pressure on their bank accounts, making it harder for them to raise money, making it harder for them to transfer money, making it harder for terrorists to move across borders, all of which is true, good progress is being made.

The question is that I posed -- and I don't know the answer -- is how many new terrorists are being made. How many of these schools are being led by radical clerics and are teaching people that they thing they should do with their lives is to go out and kill innocent men, women and children to stop progress, to torture people, to prevent women from being involved in their country's activities? How many schools are doing that, and how many people are being produced by that? And the question I posed was, you can't know in this battle of ideas how it is coming out unless you have some metric to judge that, and there isn't such a metric. It doesn't exist. Therefore my point was in the memo that I think we need -- the world needs to think about other things we can do to reduce the number of schools that teach terrorism, not just continue -- we certainly have to continue doing what we're doing and going after terrorists wherever they are, and capturing them and killing them. But I think we also have to think about how we the world, not just the United States -- this is something well beyond our country or the Department of Defense -- how we reduce the number of people who are becoming terrorists in the world.

We are in a fight whose progress we can not easily measure. That itself is cause for major concern. The US has a great conventional military but most of the major events in this fight do not involve conventional military fighting. All the other events are what are hard to measure. That there are debates in the United States and Europe over the best way to proceed and over how well we are doing should therefore not be too surprising.

Keep in mind that just because a metric for progress on a particular front is not available is not a reason to put little effort into that front. Most notably I see the inadequacy of US attempts to influence opinion in North Korea as a huge mistake because for one or two billion dollars a year we could get a great deal of information about the outside world into the minds of the most isolated people on the planet. Whether there would be any results in terms of helping to stop North Korea's nuclear arms development efforts is hard to say. But all the alternatives are unattractive and we ought to take a stab at it.

Note that Rumsfeld has also separately called for an agency to fight the war of ideas. Rumsfeld seems far more eager to take the fight into non-military dimensions that does the Bush Administration as a whole.

When Tim Russert pressed Rumsfeld on future projections of troop levels in Iraq here is what Rumsfeld had to say>

I made a conscious decision at the outset of these conflicts to not pretend I knew something I didn't know. And what I have said is just that. I have said it is not knowable.

Now, if you think about Bosnia, we were told by the administration back then that the American forces would be out by Christmas. That was six and a half years ago. They're not out yet. That was -- that -- the effect of that was not consciously misleading -- I'm sure they believed it. They were that wrong -- six and a half years wrong. I don't intend to be wrong six and a half years. I intend to have people understand the truth, and the truth is no one knows. But why is that question not answerable?

He is correct about the unknowable nature of the size and length of some of the commitments the United States has taken on. Consider an historical parallel. In 1945 the US military advanced across Western Europe and it is still there. The biggest reason for its remaining, the Soviet threat, did not come to an end until about 1990. Some conflicts take a long time to play out. Any conflict that is a product of a deep-seated conflict in values and beliefs which can not or should not be decided on a conventional battlefield will last for a long time.

Rumsfeld on ABC This Week:

Will: The president has been criticized, even ridiculed for saying that some of the attacks on us indicate that we're making progress and this is desperation on the part of the Ba'athist remnant. Is it a good thing to bring the terrorists in, as they're coming in, to a killing ground that might be favorable to us? It's not New York. We do have a lot of troops there. It's not a jungle. It's easier to find and fight there. Should we -- I mean, this is grim to say, but should we welcome this?

Rumsfeld: Well, of course, you never welcome war or conflict. You wish that there were ways to avoid it. It is -- the president's point was important. He said that the terrorists are targeting success and so what he meant was when they kill the woman on the Governing Council, they're trying to not have there be an Iraqi Governing Council working with the coalition. When they attack the police academy graduating Iraqis who are going to help provide for Iraqi security, that is targeting success. And I think his point is well taken.

You're right, to the extent foreign terrorists come into the country and we have forces there, and Iraqi forces, and coalition forces, and U.S. forces, and we're able to capture or kill them, that's a good thing. It's better doing it there than in Baltimore or in Boise, Idaho.

Our concern, however, is that what we need to do is to find ways to make sure we're winning the battle of ideas and that we reduce the number of terrorists that are being created in the world that are being taught to go out and murder and kill innocent men, women and children and cut off people's tongues and fingers.

Will: Is there any way to measure that, the supply?

Rumsfeld: There is no way to measure it because you don't know what's happening in each one of these radical cleric schools that are teaching people that. But we have to engage that battle of ideas, just as we have to engage terrorists where they are.

Rumsfeld is certainly arguing for applying more techniques to the battle againt fundamentalist Islam. Mind you, he's not going to say "fundamentalist Islam" and will try to define the nature of the enemy in the narrowest terms possible. The difficulty with naming and describing the nature of the enemy poses a major problem for the formulation of strategy for this conflict. The contrast with the Cold War is obvious: Communists were bad. Communism was bad. Communists were not allowed in the government or the military or to become citizens or to work in jobs that had national security implications.

This view of communists was of course a simplification but a necessary one. Some communists were no doubt pacifistic or incapable of being any kind of threat. Some were too afraid to want to fight. But the most prudent thing to do at the time was to treat them all as a threat. But there is a more nuanced way of looking at the effect of a belief system upon its believers. Think of the body of all believers as reacting in a range of ways to the same core teachings due to genetic and environmental factors that influence their ways of perceiving reality. Some may naturally be more hostile and given a religiously directed target for their hostility they will attempt to attack enemies. Others, due to innate personality differences, will learn the same beliefs but react in ways that leave them feeling less aggressive or less threatened.

In my view each religion and even each sect within a religion causes a unique distribution of beliefs and behaviors upon its believers. One religion might produce terrorists at the rate of one per billion believers. Another religion, given the same circumstances, might produce terrorists at the rate of one per thousand. In this view the terrorists are not anomalies. They are points on a continuous distribution of reactions to the same set of beliefs. But this is not a view that American or European leaders are going to embrace publically.

One interesting question about the US and Western reaction to Islamic terrorism is why was the definition of a communist enemy much more encompassing than the definition of an Islamist (and even that word has limited currency) enemy in the current conflict?

  • In part this is a reflection of the fact that the leaders of the Muslim nations are reluctant to openly challenge the United States. They do not have the cohesiveness and raw military power of the Soviet Union had at the end of WWII. In the absence of clear nation-state challengers the United States can not fight the conflict as a conventional military campaign.
  • Another reason is that it is acceptable in the United States to label a secular ideology as having no redeeming value but religious beliefs are viewed as fundamental rights and having inherent good due to their supernatural subject matter. There is, therefore, a great reluctance to label a religion as the enemy. This is in part due to a desire to avoid a repeat of the religious wars of the Protestant Reformation period of Europe.
  • Also, to legitimize the labelling of one religion as the enemy would open up the door for others to label other religions as enemies. Members of other religions would rather avoid getting into that territory.
  • To label a religion as an enemy would make the number of people who see themselves in conflict with the United States much larger. Quite reasonably, the US leaders don't want to see 1.3 or so billion Muslims become more motivated to feel hostility toward the United States.
  • Especially in Europe people from less developed countries are viewed as responding with hostility because of their role as victims of the history of Western imperialism. In a subtle form of racism they are not even granted the recognition of being able to be in conflict with the West due to a fundamental clash of values due to their embrace of a value system that is not Western.
  • A Western strain of thought in a belief in a kind of unversalism of values ("We are the world") contributes to the ability of Europeans to interpret the reaction of Muslim countries only thru the lens of the history of imperialism.

The upshot of all this is that it is difficult to formulate and sell to the public a strategy which is sufficiently effective to have a chance of succeeding. Should we keep all Muslims from immigrating to the United States in order to keep out the most threatening ones? Can't do that because we can't admit that being a Muslim makes one more likely to be a threat (even thought it is true). Should we engage in a massive research effort to obsolesce oil as an energy source in order to stop the flow of money from around the world to the Middle East where it funds Madrassahs and terrorist organizations? Makes sense to me. But the Bush Administration is at pains to avoid the inference that we are in some kind of Clash Of Civilizations.

The problem with the Bush Administration taking the position that we are fighting only a small number of terrorists is that support for the terrorists is found among large numbers of Muslims and many Muslims do believe they are in a Clash Of Civilizations. If the Bush Administration saw it necessary to maintain a large gap between public rhetoric and their substantive actions I could understand the necessity of doing so. Certainly a number of policies that would help us could be sold on grounds other than on the basis that Islam is an inherently dangerous religion to non-Muslims. But I see the Bush Administration response to date to be inadequate.

On the argument that the Bush Administration response is inadequate due inadequacies in strategy see Vladimir Dorta's post The War On Terror, A Double Mistake. My major point of disagreement with Vladimir is that I do not see how pressure on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia can help all that much and it might even backfire. I think our ability to apply pressure to cause Muslim governments to change is limited and the effect would tend toward delegitimizing those governments in the eyes of their publics. Being more an admirer of Sun Tzu than Clausewitz I favor more indirect approaches such as making it difficult for Muslims to travel to the United States, developing technologies that will reduce the world demand for Persian Gulf oil, and a much larger effort to influence Arab and other Muslim opinion in ways both direct and indirect. Vladimir and I have argued this out in email and he already agreed on the last point and agrees the other elements are worth doing.

Update: Paul Wolfowitz echoes Rumsfeld's call to deal with the madrassa school problem.

Wolfowitz picked up the same theme on Thursday in a speech at Georgetown University, where he described madrassas as "schools that teach hatred, schools that teach terrorism" while providing free, "theologically extremist" teachings to "millions" of Muslim children.

One way to counter those schools, Wolfowitz said, would be to cut off the funding that often comes from Saudis promoting Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam. But he suggested that a better way would be to channel support to people who oppose the schools, though he acknowledged that "we're not very good at doing that yet."

One problem: Most Al Qaeda terrorists have come from Saudi Arabia. They fund their own schools. The whole world buys their oil to give them the money to do this. What can we do about that short of invasion? Spend billions per year on research into newer sources of energy that could be made more cheaply.

George W. Bush is trying to influence Indonesia's schools with US aid.

Washington''s concerns about the spread of radical and anti-U.S. ideas in some Islamic school systems spurred a pledge to Indonesia this week for funding to help improve the quality of the country''s education system.

During President Bush''s brief stopover Wednesday in Bali, where he held talks with President Megawati Sukarnoputri and met with religious leaders, Bush announced a new six-year, $157 million program for this purpose.

But Indonesian religious leaders have already objected to the idea of American money influencing the curricula of Indonesian schools. Will the money end up significantly reducing the number of Indonesian children who are taught Islamic fundamentalism in school?

Another report on US funding for Indonesian schools:

President Bush has also promised $157 million to help improve education in the country's schools, including Islamic boarding schools called pesantrens. The funds are needed, especially as the Saudis are pumping in money to replace Indonesia's tolerant Islam with its own Salafist version. However, Indonesia has been reluctant to clamp down on existing extremist pesantrens that have been breeding grounds for terrorists, even those run by Jamaah Islamiya. Many of these schools are still functioning, including Al-Mukmin Ngruki, the largest source of Indonesian jihadists.

Rumsfeld even mentions US prisons as a terrorist recruiting ground.

Rumsfeld: And probably will always be lacking. In other words, it's probably not knowable how many people are being recruited. Somewhere in a jail in America, in a madrasa school that's taught by a radical cleric somewhere in one of 20 other countries of the world. We can't know how many there are, but what I do know, I think, is that we need to engage in that battle of ideas. We need to be out there encouraging people not to do that. Rather, they should be learning things like language or math or things that they can provide a living from.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 November 03 01:14 PM  Terrorists Western Response


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