On behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institute, Max Boot and Michael Doran are openly arguing for a return to the mafia-like political warfare of the Cold War era. “With the end of the Cold War,” they lament unironically, “America’s tradition of political warfare all but died.”
How sad. The statement is anything but true, but Boot and Doran want the U.S. to recommence its long tradition of overthrowing democratically elected governments, covertly supporting foreign miscreants, distributing mass international propaganda, and dishing out torture and death through covert or third-party means. Specifically, this intensified campaign of coercion and warfare ought to be directed at – of course – the Middle East.
Clearly, the president needs options between military intervention and complete nonintervention — ways to influence developments in the Middle East without deploying Reaper drones or sending U.S. ground forces. To give Obama the tools he needs, the U.S. government should reinvigorate its capacity to wage “political warfare,” defined in 1948 by George Kennan, then the State Department’s director of policy planning, as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives.” Such measures, Kennan noted, were “both overt and covert” and ranged from “political alliances, economic measures (as ERP — the Marshall Plan), and ‘white’ propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of ‘friendly’ foreign elements, ‘black’ psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.”
“At their worst,” they admit, “such policies propped up strongmen with scant legitimacy — think Cuban president Fulgencio Batista and the shah of Iran — and invited anti-American ‘blowback.’ But at their best, they enabled the United States to aid freedom fighters behind the Iron Curtain and beyond.”
I dare say they are drastically understating the “worst” effects and dramatically overstating the “best.”
If we don’t reinvigorate America’s political warfare in the Middle East, they advise, then we will “cede the Middle East to malign actors such as Iran, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood,” and “risk creating a situation that will require, at some point in the future another massive military intervention by the United States.”
Notice the wording: if we don’t rule the Middle East by force and coercion, we will “cede” it to others. This of course implies the Middle East belongs to us. And of course those other bad guys that we’ll “cede” the region to are all “malign actors.” Not us though: our policies of supporting dictatorship, engaging in illegal wars that kill hundreds of thousands, economic warfare, covert action, cyber-attacks, and aid to terrorist groups — those aren’t malignant. Those are just to save everyone from other malignants.