Divide and Conquer

DIVIDE AND CONQUER….In a review/essay critiquing both the phraseology and the underlying reality of the “war on terror,” Samantha Powers notes the following from Ian Shapiro’s new book, Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror:

Shapiro is at his most persuasive when he argues against lumping Islamic radical threats together. He points out that at the time of the cold war, George Kennan, the formulator of the containment policy, warned against treating Communism as a monolith. Policy makers, Kennan said, ought to emphasize the differences among and within Communist groups and “contribute to the widening of these rifts without assuming responsibility.” The Bush administration, by contrast, has grouped together a hugely diverse band of violent actors as terrorists, failing to employ divide-and-conquer tactics.

Although it is tempting to feel overwhelmed by the diversity of the threats aligned against the United States, Shapiro says that very diversity presents us with opportunities, since it “creates tensions among our adversaries’ agendas, as well as openings for competition among them.” To pry apart violent Islamic radicals, the United States has to become knowledgeable about internal cleavages and be patient in exploiting them.

This is the serious side of dumb gaffes from people like Rudy Giuliani, who seem unable to distinguish between even simple divisions like Sunni and Shia. They’re not just demonstrating a willfull ignorance, they’re demonstrating an ignorance of one of the key levers we have for fighting violent jihadism. If you treat everyone who’s ever said a salaat as an enemy, you’ve lost the battle before it’s even started.