The Case for a Populace-Centric Engagement

Unfortunately we experienced a weird server glitch which forced us to remove the “anchor” article for the current biweekly WPR feature issue, The Al-Qaeda We Don’t Know. But I’d like to plug the articles again, in case you haven’t gotten to them yet:

Nathan Field’s The Limits of the Counterterrorism Approach, on how defining al-Qaida by its tactics exaggerates its prospects for strategic success.

Joe Kirschke’s AQIM, the North African Franchise, on the nature — and limits — of the threat posed by al-Qaida’s North African franchise.

Brian Glyn Williams’ The 055 Brigade, on al-Qaida’s little-known conventional fighting brigade in Afghanistan.

I also bring them up because I just got finished reading Robert Jones’ Small Wars Journal article (.pdf), Populace-Centric Engagement, which to my mind really validates Nathan Field’s piece in particular, but more generally the entire feature issue.

Jones essentially dismantles what he calls the threat-centric engagement of the Global War on Terror with a series of precise, economical arguments — an exaggerated focus on tactics over purpose, and on the enemy over the environment, for instance — that in many ways echo what Field argued in his essay. Meanwhile, Jones’ point about surrendering the initiative to the enemy and being forced to go where he goes brought Joe Kirschke’s piece to mind.

Jones then makes the most compelling case I’ve seen recently for effectively integrating values into American foreign policy, by engaging in favor of American ideals directly with the populace of strategically important nations, rather than with the governments that represent them. It’s a risky business he’s talking about, basically bypassing, rather than reinforcing, the Westphalian order, which he correctly argues is in a period of transition. But his argument is well-constructed, thought-provoking and well-articulated.

Perhaps most significantly, Jones points out that a populace-centric engagement would by definition put the State Department — although one adapted to a post-Westphalian approach — back in its leading role in implementing American foreign policy. Instead of the Defense Dept. waging the “Long War,” Jones argues that State should lead the “Long Peace.” Regular readers of the blog will not be surprised to find me welcome that proposal, since it’s a drum I’ve been beating for a while. Jones articulates, if not the formula, at least a formula to implement it that’s worth serious consideration.

According to Jones, the threat-centric engagement of the War on Terror is in fact an effort to maintain the status quo, while the emerging powers are seizing the future. But, he points out, the American ideology is perfectly suited to that future. All we have to do is “simply trust in [it], turn loose of the past, and jump.”

Which reminds me, did someone say there was an election going on Stateside?

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