(Last May, I started a series called, “Intelligence is Evidence”, about my views on intelligence, punctuated by examples of “Intelligence Gone Bad”. However, I violated my own rule: I didn’t provide any solutions. This week I correct that mistake. Click here to read the rest of the series.)
In “The Biggest Problem with American Foreign Policy”, (from our “On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Event of the 2011” series) I wrote that, when it comes to the Middle East, the U.S. often fails to have a coherent long-term vision. America supports dictatorships--which costs it respect and cooperation in the long run--to capture terrorists. As a result, a short-term objective (remain safe from terrorism) defeats, in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, our long-term goal (spreading democracy around the world).
How does this relate to “Intelligence is Evidence” and terrorism? Well, we need to change how we use intelligence to prosecute terrorists. We need to acknowledge that we won every single battle in Vietnam, then lost the war. If we kill every terrorist we find, but kill ten innocents with him, the problem of Islamic extremism will continue. We need to think in the long-term: do we kill one terrorist now, or ten terrorists later?
My solution is a brand new, long-term strategy, or dare I say, a “new Obama doctrine.” (I’m not the first person to call for a “new Obama Doctrine”. A quick Google search reveals dozens of articles on this topic, and, Wikipedia has an entire article on it too.) The problem with all previous, so-called “Obama Doctrines” is they didn’t change much. President Obama stopped “enhanced interrogations”, but that was pretty much done away with anyways. If anything, he stepped up policies from the Bush administration, most specifically drone strikes and the war in Afghanistan.
My recommendations for a new “Obama Doctrine” boil down to a simple idea: the more accurately America prosecutes the war on terror--in other words, the less innocents our forces/proxies kill--the more likely we are to win that war. In other words, treat intelligence as evidence.
Step 1: Admit this war is a long war. And I don’t mean the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the issue of inter-state terrorism, promoted by extremists (of all stripes). The current administration, and any after it, must admit this fact. They must adopt strategies that present risk for America in the short-term--the way most good plans do--so that it can benefit in the long-term. In other words, admit that we will never actually “win” the war, so we need to adopt behaviors that will have long-term benefits. (Or just admit that it isn’t a war at all, but a criminal problem.)
Step 2: Eliminate policies that keep us safe, but alienate entire populations and radicalize terrorists.
- We need to stop drone strikes that risk any civilian casualties.
- We need to limit night raids to only confirmed enemy, not suspected enemy.
- We need to close Guantanamo Bay prison.
Step 3: Win the ideological war, the most important factor in our struggle against radicalism. Before we can implement all these ideas, we must first re-align our ideology. We must grab and hold the moral high ground. We must become the shining city on a hill our forefather’s believed in--where values always hold more power than our own lives.
Our government--and I will use President Obama--must first declare that killing innocents in war and in counter-terrorism, is always unacceptable. Then, as he has before, President Obama should reiterate that the values of the U.S. constitution are universal values. The founders believed that “all men were created equal”; that includes every citizen of the world. The founders also believed that every person on the globe deserved life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This doesn’t mean we have to give them liberty, but it does mean we cannot take their lives. Finally, President Obama should reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Geneva Conventions, any treaties on the Laws of War, and, most importantly, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
Step 4: Demand that intelligence use the strictest standards possible when it comes to terrorists. Which brings us back “intelligence”. Faulty intelligence is always at fault when the U.S. kills the wrong person/people. Tragedies occur because intelligence professionals overstate their case or fail to do their homework.
Of course, to implement steps one through four, we need one final, radical change. That will come tomorrow, in my favorite idea of this concluding series. If President Obama embraced it, then he would truly have a new Obama doctrine.