Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the Run

Strategy Page explains how one of the effects of the UAV effort against al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen has been to force them to seek refuge in Syria where they then busy themselves by fighting against the Assad regime:
In the southeast (Hadramout province) tribesmen complain that there have been so many UAV attacks on al Qaeda vehicles lately that civilians are reluctant to go to the hills for picnics. This was usually done in a convoy, full of armed men (for protection from bandits and hostile tribal factions) who could be misinterpreted as an al Qaeda convoy. This rarely happens, as the CIA demands a lot of intel before authorizing an attack. That's why there are so few civilian casualties.

The U.S. believes, based on intercepted communications, interrogations of captured terrorists and reports from informants on the ground that al Qaeda is sending more and more of its personnel to Syria. There it is safer (no American UAVs and missile attacks) and the terrorists expect the Assad dictatorship to fall and the new government to reward al Qaeda (who are doing a lot of the fighting) to be given a sanctuary in Syria.

Getting out of Yemen isn't easy for known al Qaeda members (who need false documents and such), and even those who can easily pass as just another Yemeni need money and coordination with al Qaeda groups in Syria. So not as many al Qaeda men can travel to Syria as quickly as they would like.

The American UAV campaign has been a huge success, killing dozens of key al Qaeda personnel and many lower ranking terrorists. In the last two weeks at least three dozen al Qaeda have been killed by these attacks and so far this year about 200 have died. Many more al Qaeda have been killed or captured by the army in the south, which is out there daily looking for groups of al Qaeda trying to hide while planning more terror attacks and an eventual comeback.
Remember when some critics of the drone campaign were telling us that by hunting down terrorists we were just creating more of them? Maybe so, but which is better: to have lots of terrorists living in constant fear, unable to settle in one area for long, and with no veteran leadership, or to have lots of terrorists living in safety planning attacks against the U.S. under the direction of highly experienced and competent leaders?

Although I think it's true that almost any American president would be doing precisely what President Obama is doing in conducting these drone strikes, he still deserves credit, in my opinion, for ordering them.

The Birth of Modernity

French political scientist Pierre Manent traces the history of the birth of modernity in an essay at City Journal. He opens with these graphs:
We have been modern for several centuries now. We are modern, and we want to be modern; it is a desire that guides the entire life of Western societies. That the will to be modern has been in force for centuries, though, suggests that we have not succeeded in being truly modern — that the end of the process that we thought we saw coming at various moments has always proved illusory, and that 1789, 1917, 1968, and 1989 were only disappointing steps along a road leading who knows where.

The Israelites were lucky: they wandered for only 40 years in the desert. If the will to be modern has ceaselessly overturned the conditions of our common life and brought one revolution after another—without achieving satisfaction or reaching a point where we might rest and say, “Here at last is the end of our enterprise”—just what does that mean? How have we been able to will something for such a long time and accept being so often disappointed? Could it be that we aren’t sure what we want?

Though the various signs of the modern are familiar, whether in architecture, art, science, or political organization, we do not know what these traits have in common and what justifies designating them with the same attribute. We find ourselves under the sway of something that seems evident yet defies explication.

Some are inclined to give up asking what we might call the question of the modern. They contend that we have left the modern age and entered the postmodern, renouncing all “grand narratives” of Western progress. I am not so sure, though, that we have renounced the grand modern narratives of science and democracy. We may be experiencing a certain fatigue with the modern after so many modern centuries, but the question of the modern remains, and its urgency does not depend on the disposition of the questioner.

So long as self-understanding matters to us, the question must be raised anew. Even if we do not claim to provide a new answer, we should at least have the ambition to bring the question back to life.

When unsure about the nature of something, we sometimes ask when and how it began. Such an approach is legitimate when investigating the question of the modern, but it immediately raises difficulties. Beginnings are, by definition, obscure. The first sprouts are difficult to discern. One can easily be mistaken. In what time period should we look for the beginnings of modernity? In the eighteenth century, the age of the American and French Revolutions? In the seventeenth century, when the notion of natural science was elaborated? In the sixteenth century, the era of religious reformation?

These diverse origins are not contradictory, since modernity surely includes a religious reformation, science in the modern sense, and political and democratic revolutions. But what is the relationship between the Lutheran faith and the science of Galileo? Is there a primary intellectual and moral disposition that defines modern man? Or must we resign ourselves to the dispersion of the elements of modernity, which we would then see as held together only by the magic of a word?
Manent goes on in the essay to describe how the tension between the city and the Church gave rise to the uniquely modern form of government - the secular, representative democracy of the modern nation state - and how the contemporaries Luther and Machiavelli, inter alia, helped lay the foundations for it.

If you're interested in history Manent's piece is worth the time it takes to read.