There is an-all-too-common syndrome among policy experts in Washington, and especially among the ones who became famous while still very young: They often speak with exactly the same seriousness and authority the 80 percent of the time they know what they’re talking about as in the 20 percent of the time when they manifestly do not and would have been much wiser to remain silent. ~Mario Loyola

I suppose that would also apply to Mr. Loyola, he of the “Bush is wonderfully fantastic” paeans and the presumably small “I love the Second Republic” Catholic crowd, except that the percentages 80/20 would be reversed to more accurately reflect Mr. Loyola’s knowledge base.  This is not a defense of Francis Fukuyama per se, whom Mr. Loyola proposes to “fisk,” but an objection to Mr. Loyola’s presumption to “fisk” anyone on the basis of what any other person does not understand about national security questions and a defense of some of the claims that Fukuyama made here, which prompted Mr. Loyola’s wannabe fisking.  Fukuyama may be a batty ideologue with many bad ideas, as he surely is, but that is better than being simply batty with none.

Consider point 1 (first Fukuyama, then Loyola):

1. “Terrorism” is the wrong term to describe the problem we face. Terrorism is a tactic used by the weak; we are not fighting the tactic but a group of violent Islamists and insurgents. It makes no sense to lump together someone willing to fly a plane into a skyscraper in New York with an ex-Baathist attacking American soldiers on Iraqi territory, odious as both may be. While people in these categories may be temporary allies, their motivations and the threat they pose to the United States are very different.


I remember people making this point a few years back; I think it just fizzled in a nationwide “so what?” moment. Truth is, It does make sense to lump al Qaeda and the ex-Saddamists together because they are fighting side-by-side, often cooperate, and indeed often overlap.

Except that they aren’t necessarily “fighting side-by-side” at all and there are good reasons to believe that they aren’t, except perhaps as “temporary allies” as Fukuyama noted.  Fukuyama’s objection was to the common labeling of the 9/11 hijackers and ex-Baathists attacking our soldiers commonly as terrorists, because this points to a basic failure to distinguish between those who are actually engaged in terrorism and those who are attacking military forces as insurgent guerrillas.  There is terrorism in Iraq, often carried out against Iraqi civilians by the Al Qaeda and Salafist terrorists now in Iraq, and there is an insurgency–the one targets civilians in acts of terrorism and the other targets an occupying military as an insurgency.  They do have different motivations and pose different kinds of threats.  That Loyola would object to this, presumably to maintain the fiction that the Enemy is one unified, ideological whole–all of them motivated, no doubt, by a hatred of freedom or some such–demonstrates pretty clearly that he not only “does not understand” the nature of these threats but that he cannot make use of simple distinctions of terms.  Score: Fukuyama 1, Loyola 0.

What about point 2?  Perhaps Loyola will come back with a real zinger this time!  Alas, not really:

2. “War” is also the wrong term to describe the struggle we are in. Wars are fought with overwhelming force against nation-states, and have clear beginnings and endings. Many of our most dangerous enemies are citizens of friendly countries like Britain, France, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The struggle in which we are engaged is more like a counterinsurgency campaign fought on a global scale. As in all counterinsurgency campaigns, the use of overwhelming force to destroy your enemies will almost always be counterproductive. You need to separate and isolate the hard core fighters from the surrounding populations, meaning that military operations have to be strictly subordinated to the political goal of winning hearts and minds of the less committed.


Actually, I can’t think of very many wars at all that were fought with “overwhelming force against nation-states.” None of the wars of classical or medieval history fit that description (obviously, since there were few if any real nation-states) and most wars of modern history were indeed irregular low-intensity conflicts, most of them essentially counter-insurgency campaigns such as the Boer War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Yugoslavia. As for the other points he makes here, Fukuyama is to be applauded for seeing the wisdom of Rumsfeld’s strategy in Iraq. Maybe he feels bad about the New York Times op-ed (subscription required) in which he reveals his taste for kicking administrations when they’re down.

Loyola had something of a point here (i.e., counterinsurgency is a kind of war, which is true), but was then compelled to enter into rah-rah mode on behalf of the administration and managed to come off sounding even more preposterous.  One looks in vain to see how Fukuyama has hereby endorsed the strategy of a Defense Secretary who has overseen an occupation of Iraq that has been notorious for its slow, clumsy adaptation to the tactics of counterinsurgency, especially as Rumsfeld’s botched job of sending insufficient forces has made running a classic counterinsurgency campaign all but impossible.  Rumsfeld’s preference for Special Forces and high-tech gadgetry are well-known, but he prefers these things not because he has some keen eye for running counterinsurgency via Special Forces, but because he wants to fight light, conventional wars–get in quick, destroy the targets, get out quick–and not go through all of the long, grinding work of counterinsurgency which requires large numbers of soldiers living out among the people, winning them over to our side.  Special Forces are very good at conducting the kinds of operations necessary for counterinsurgency–but Rumsfeld has rarely seemed inclined to use them for this function.  If Mr. Loyola believes that conceiving of the war as a global counterinsurgency vindicates Rumsfeld’s strategy in Iraq, he either doesn’t understand what that strategy is or he does not know that we are not now fighting much of a counterinsurgency in a country where large numbers of our forces remain inside their fortified bases.  Either way, Loyola certainly doesn’t knock Fukuyama over on this one.  Another aspect to what Fukuyama may have been getting at, but did not say explicitly, was that you probably should not fight a global counterinsurgency by waging conventional wars against nation-states (as we did in Iraq) in the mistaken belief (see #1) that they represent the same kind of threat as the jihadi terrorists.  That would also mean that it is a profound conceptual mistake to lump together any and all threats under a generic label of Islamofascist or compare the enemy to other state-based enemies, such as the Axis Powers or the Soviet Union, as this sort of thinking will lead us to believe that we can win the conflict by the same sort of strategies oriented towards defeating state-based enemies.  Fukuyama 1.5, Loyola 0. 

But you have to know that Loyola will get his act together by Point 3, right?  Well, again, not really:

3. We have three broad groups of opponents in this campaign: first, the Sunni Salafists originating in Saudi Arabia, who have found many adherents among aliented Muslims in Western Europe and elsewhere; second, pro-Iranian Islamists including the regime in Teheran, Hezbollah, and some of the Shiite parties in Iraq; and third, nationalists (who may or may not be secular) struggling for power in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are not dealing with a unified movement. In Iraq and Pakistan, these groups are actively fighting one another; we have indeed facilitated the rise to power of some of the Shiite parties.


And? Besides belaboring the obvious, what’s his point? In World War II, we also were not dealing with a unified movement. Japan had little in common with European fascism. We lumped them all together under the rubric “savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world” and kicked their asses all across the planet.

I don’t really agree that Hizbullah and Iran have to be one of the main enemies in this war, but for the purposes of this post I will leave this aside for the moment.  The point, which Mr. Loyola apparently does not get (again), is that the administration and its supporters speak and act as if there were a unified movement binding all of these people together in common cause.  Hence the stupid references to Islamic fascism; hence the ridiculous claims that they all hate us for our freedom; hence the non-specific references to the enemy’s totalitarian ideology, when we are in fact confronted with numerous, very different kinds of adversaries who are not allied with one another in any significant respect.  Loyola’s lazy and tiresome Axis analogy (can’t these people come up with any new material?) shows once again how conceptually impoverished the hangers-on of the War Party have become and how they misunderstand the nature of the enemy (see #2).  It is not belabouring the obvious to point out something that Mr. Loyola and his confreres are constantly trying to obscure and ignore.  Fukuyama 2.5, Loyola 0.

But on point 4, you can bet that Loyola will start making a comeback.  After all, he’s arguing against Fukuyama, one of the most ludicrous men on the planet–you have to be able to score a few points on Fukuyama!  Actually, not this time, either:

4. The Salafist branch is a very decentralized movement that does not depend heavily on hierarchical control or funding. This particular snake cannot be killed simply by cutting off the head. The Shiite branch is rapidly developing and does have a head in Teheran, but the degree to which the Iranian regime can control local parties around the Gulf remains to be seen. One of the most important unintended consequences of the Iraq war was to empower pro-Iranian Shiites in a major Arab country in a manner that will have consequences all over the region.


But democracy means majority rule. How can he possibly think that empowering the majority Shia in Iraq was unintended consequence of bringing democracy to Iraq? It was on the contrary among the most important of the intended consequences. Also, the Iraqi Shiites are quite decentralized and if they have a head, it is not in Tehran, but rather within the government in Baghdad. Iran is more pro-Iraqi Shia than the other way around, a fact which is not well understood even among experts.

What experts don’t really understand, of course, Mr. Loyola knows.  Fukuyama does open himself up here to an easy shot by saying that empowering the Shi’ites was an unintended consequence of the war.  Of course, here Fukuyama does not appear to assume that the establishment of sect-based democracy was one of the reasons for the Iraq war, and he has good reasons for thinking that it was not, but if you believe that democratisation was always a high priority of post-war Iraq policy Fukuyama does come off sounding a bit silly.  But if a Shi’ite-dominated Iraq was really a goal of the invasion all along, it is surely one of the most foolish things that anyone could have hoped to create (see Maliki and Ahmadinejad’s beaming faces at their first meeting for a quick explanation why), especially if you consider Iran a significant threat and major adversary.  In not acknowledging the strategic significance of a Shi’ite-dominated Iraq, indeed going so far as to say that Tehran is more pro-Iraqi Shi’ite than vice versa, Loyola reveals the impressive depth of his ignorance and/or denial.  Tehran is the most prominent political center of the Shi’ite Islamic world, and Fukuyama himself allowed as how the extent of its influence among the Shia in the region was not yet clear.  One of the parties in the Iraqi government is directly tied into the Iranian government and has received support from them for decades.  It has become almost a commonplace to acknowledge that our policy has created a “Shi’ite Crescent,” and that this is not all together a happy development.  If anyone thought that invading Iraq was going to create a necessarily pro-Western government or that the invasion would humble and contain the Iranians–and a great many warmongers did think this–he was wrong.  Loyola does not even understand the point of Fukuyama’s observation, much less does he provide a sufficiently powerful rebuttal or response.  Fukuyama 3.5, Loyola 0.

Point 5 is something of a draw, since Fukuyama makes some commonplace observations about the different kinds of terrorist threats and Loyola responds with a couple lines of sarcasm.

On point 6, Fukuyama reiterates something that has also become something of a commonplace: the use of military force is not always effective against “networked, transnational movements that are deeply embedded in local populations” and cites difficulties in Iraq and Lebanon as evidence.  Loyola huffily responds with something to the effect of, “Well, oh yeah?”:

Fukuyama’s basic observation here is straight out of the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2001, which was essentially completed by the time of the World Trade Center attacks, so actually this is something that we already knew and were planning for before September 11, 2001.

That may well be, but Loyola seems to have missed the point (again): if this is something “we” have known for a long time, even before 9/11, why didn’t the administration make any use of what “we” knew when developing its plans (or, rather, not developing them, as it turns out) for Iraq or when Washington signed off on the unrealistic Israeli air campaign against Lebanon?  Fukuyama 4.5, Loyola 0.

In point 7, Fukuyama argues that conventional military containment of Iran will work because it is a nation-state, explicitly rejecting the “they’re crazy and bent on suicidal Armageddon” argument that quite a few NROniks have been peddling for months.  Here are the excerpts:

7. The converse side of the previous proposition is that conventional military power, including nuclear deterrence, should continue to be effective against nation-states like Iran. Anyone who believes that Iran’s Islamist ideology is so extreme that it will be willing to in effect commit national suicide to achieve its ideological goals needs to defend that argument explicitly. It is possibly true, but far from obvious either from the history of earlier ideological regimes, or from Iran’s own behavior since 1978.

Fukuyama here is making the argument that containment and deterrence against Iran’s nuclear weapons should work. Well, to use his own rhetorical device, whoever says that deterrence will be effective against the threat of anonymous nuclear terrorism “needs to defend that argument explicitly.” Besides, the real problems will inhere in Iran’s nuclear counter-deterrent to our conventional deterrent against the myriad acts of conventional aggression and terrorist activity that Iran could unleash in coming years.

But what on earth is Loyola talking about?  This is to hide behind the propaganda that Iran will give away one of its yet-to-be-made nukes to some third party (presumably Hizbullah)–something that no nuclear weapon state has ever done and which no remotely self-interested government ever would do.  In short, Loyola answers Fukuyama by answering the question with a (stupid) question.  Fukuyama 5.5, Loyola 0.

On point 8, Loyola embarrasses himself as only a War Party hack can.  You can tell that he is in dire earnest when he gives his answer:

8. Comparing our current struggle to those with Hitler or Stalin is useful in mobilizing domestic US support for staying the course in Iraq, but is not a helpful way of understanding the situation that has developed since Sept. 11, 2001. Hitler and Stalin were leaders of centralized and powerful nation-states. Our Islamist foes by contrast are a complex and shifting lot, some more dangerous than others, with only two developing though oil-rich nation-states under their control. We will have to play on their internal divisions and make deals with a number of them (we have in fact already done this in Iraq and Saudi Arabia) if we are not to eventually find ourselves at war with roughly 20 percent of mankind.


Comparing the current struggle to that of the 1930s is on the contrary essential for understanding the situation that has developed since September 11, 2001, and especially for being able to recognize those situations that will now come up in which we will have to chose between risky preemption and reckless appeasement. The causes of World War II are still but dimly understood and repay a lifetime of meditation. In its nuclear program Iran is about to seize a huge strategic advantage against which we arguably have no defense. The window for effective self-defense will open and close long before an attack is imminent, just as it did after Munich in 1938. Meanwhile, the West is again paralyzed by a morally confused political debate over whose fault it is that our enemies hate us so much and are growing stronger. Appeasement may have been structurally inevitable in the 1930s, and may be so today. The comparison between the two situations deserves a central place in the national dialogue.

Loyola confirms what was implicit in his response to #2–he is obsessed with the poor historical analogies that obsess about the 1930s and the Nazis, and almost guarantees that he thinks of the threat as being of the same kind.  When Mr. Loyola says that “the causes of WWII are still but dimly understood,” I assume he is speaking from personal experience.  Fukuyama here argues against misleading, debilitating and confusing analogies that lead us to develop the wrong strategies and the wrong methods to implement them.  There is no more lazy and inaccurate analogy for our own time than that of the 1930s and Germany, and the fact that Mr. Loyola believes such an analogy to be “central” and “essential” speaks volumes for what he does not understand.  Fukuyama 6.5, Loyola 0.

On point 9, Loyola finishes particularly weakly:

9. The people who say that “everything changed” after September 11 are partly right, but not in the way that most believe. The stakes today remain lower than in the great conflicts of the 20th century, but the political terrain of a media-drenched world of weak states and transnational actors is far more treacherous.


So the stakes are lower, but the situation is more treacherous. Not sure I get this point. Well, at least the phrase “media-drenched world of weak states and transnational actors” gives some hope that Fukuyama hasn’t wandered far off the neoconservative reservation.

The point, surely, is that the stakes are not nearly as great as those of the Cold War (potential nuclear annihilation) or even of WWII (German hegemony in much of Eurasia), but that the problems of this conflict are often more complicated and have fewer easy and straightforward solutions that a head-to-head Great Power conflict can have.  But Mr. Loyola sums up nicely when he says, “Not sure I get this point.”  Of course Loyola doesn’t get this point, since he has shown in most of the other eight points that he has not done very much thinking that takes him beyond the shallow, derivative concepts of everyone who believes that “it is like 1938″ and we are fighting the Nazis for what must now be the 8th time.  Fukuyama 7.5, Loyola 0.

His closing words are stunning in their arrogance, given the display he has just put on:

Fukuyama has done some brilliant work in his career, but when it comes to national security his notions are surprisingly simplistic and often marred by omissions of basic analysis. And it shows in this post; he would have been better off not writing it.

The man who thinks comparing our current threats to the 1930s confrontation with Germany, that paragon of oversimplifications, has the gall to accuse someone else of being “surprisingly simplistic”?  The man who suggests that Iran “is more pro-Iraqi Shia than the other way around” tells us that Fukuyama’s views are “marred by omissions of basic analysis”?  Please.  What then should we say about Loyola’s article?  That it it marred by a complete lack of basic analysis?  An absence of common sense?  A lack of the basic understanding of the need for correct definitions?  Loyola’s piece doesn’t deserve to be called a fisking; it might deserve the name of self-parody.