from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

You Might Have Missed: Islamic Violence, the Bush Legacy, and Rubio on Libya

May 15, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Michael Morell, with Bill Harlow, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from Al Qa’ida to ISIS (New York, NY: Twelve, 2015), p. 63.

[On September 15, 2001], a senior State Department official walked over and expressed the opinion to the president that it was critical that America’s first response to the [September 11] attack be diplomatic—that we should reason with the Taliban and ask them to turn over Bin Laden and his senior al Qa’ida leadership. As the official walked off, President Bush looked at Cofer and me and said, “Fuck diplomacy. We are going to war.”

(3PA: After thirteen and a half years, 2,215 U.S. servicemembers killed, far more than 20,000 civilian deaths, and $718 billion in direct costs to tax payers (so far), we are still at war.)

Michael Barbaro, “College Student to Jeb Bush: ‘Your Brother Created ISIS’,” New York Times, May 13, 2015.

“It was when 30,000 individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out—they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons,” Ms. Ziedrich said. She added: “Your brother created ISIS.”

Mr. Bush interjected. “All right. Is that a question?”

Ms. Ziedrich was not finished. “You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir.”

“Pedantic? Wow,” Mr. Bush replied.

Then Ms. Ziedrich asked: “Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?”

Mr. Bush replied: “We respectfully disagree. We have a disagreement. When we left Iraq, security had been arranged, Al Qaeda had been taken out. There was a fragile system that could have been brought up to eliminate the sectarian violence.”

A Conversation With Marco Rubio,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 13, 2015.

I thought the Libyan engagement that I just mentioned a moment ago was not handled appropriately. The United States intervened for a very short period of time militarily, I believe it was 72 hours, and then the rest of the operation was left to the Brits and the French, loyal allies who worked hard, but do not have our capabilities.

The result in Libya was a protracted conflict that killed people, destroyed infrastructure, left behind the conditions for the rise of multiple militias who refuse to lay down their arms. I actually traveled to Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, before he was captured, and came back and warned that if we did not get—we had allowed the conflict to go too long. If we didn’t now get engaged on the front end to prevent that from happening, not only would Libya become a failed state, but it would also become a haven for extremism to take root as it happened now.

(3PA: This is misleading on many fronts. The United States intervened with airstrikes throughout the entire conflict, including with drone strikes against Qaddafi’s personal convoy on the day of extrajudicial murder by Libyan rebels. Moreover, Rubio strongly endorsed the intervention on the logic that: “As long as Qaddafi remains in power, he will be in a position to terrorize his own people and potentially the rest of the world.” Now Libya is a terror state.)

Larry Lewis, “We Need an Independent Review of Drone Strikes,” War on the Rocks, May 6, 2015.

History is repeating itself. A similar situation arose in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2009. During this period, the U.S. military was causing an unacceptable number of civilian casualties. When an incident occurred, they investigated the incident, made changes to guidance, and promised to keep such an incident from happening again. But these incidents kept happening. So the military repeated this ineffective review process again and again. This “repeat” cycle was only broken when military leaders approved the Joint Civilian Casualty Study, a classified outside review requested by General Petraeus. This effort had two key differences from earlier efforts. First, it was independent, so it was able to overcome false assumptions held by operating forces that contributed to their challenges. And second, the study looked at all potential civilian casualty incidents over a period of years, not just the latest incident. This approach helped identify systemic issues with current tactics and policies as the analysis examined the forest and not just the nearest tree. This study also considered different sets of forces operating within Afghanistan and their relative propensity for causing civilian casualties.

The administration should heed past experience and conduct an independent review that looks more holistically at the issues involved, akin to the earlier Joint Civilian Casualty Study. This would help refine policy and tactics, provide a more solid foundation for future operations, inform policy decisions such as whether the military or the CIA should be conducting operations, and help the U.S. government to better live up to its policies and principles.

(3PA; Lewis coauthored the Joint Civilian Casualty Study and should be listened to.)

Süveyda Karakaya, “Religion and Conflict: Explaining the Puzzling Case of ‘Islamic Violence’,” International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations, May 1, 2015.

If we only look at the proportion of Muslim-plurality countries and the proportion of intra-state conflicts, Muslim-plurality states are indeed more conflict-prone. Sixty-two of 163 intra-state conflicts (38%) occurred in Muslim-plurality states, whereas 24.6% of all states have a Muslimplurality population. Six percent of Muslim-plurality states and 4% of all countries experienced intra-state conflict respectively. Yet, a closer look at some of the explanatory variables that increase the risk of domestic conflict suggest that Muslim-plurality countries are also associated with lower GDP per capita, oil-dependent economies, a higher proportion of young males, more state repression, and autocratic governments…Given the lower levels of GDP per capita, a lack of democracy, more repressive regimes, a higher proportion of young males, and oil or natural resource dependent economies, it is not surprising to find higher rates of domestic armed conflict in Muslim-plurality countries…(p. 20)

Islamic faith alone does not make countries more conflict prone once we control for even just one other variable that increases the risk of conflict. (p. 21)

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