03 Sep Strategic Visions in Responding to Terror, and ‘Meta-Methodology’
I want to join the rest of Opinio Juris in welcoming Tom; I have read Confronting Global Terrorsm and American Neo-Conservatism with great interest and am looking forward to commenting on it. As befits someone who, on some definitions anyway, probably counts as a neo-con, I have some disagreements with the book – starting, unsurprisingly, with the definition of neoconservative and what it means (or meant). Before getting there, however, I want to start by praising what I think is a great strength of Tom’s book – and that is its willingness to take on a strategic vision, a vision that is both holistic about responding to terror as well as one that reaches back across a longer range of contemporary history in proposing a response. Although I have sharp disagreements with the nature of the strategic vision that the book offers, as well as disagreements as to the interpretation of the contemporary history (all of which I’ll hold until later posts), I am quite on board with Tom’s ‘meta-methodological’ view (my jargon, sorry!), a view that says, look, it is important to have some kind of strategic vision about what you’re doing in responding to terror.
Let me frame why this is so by putting Confronting Global Terrorism in the context of ‘meta-methodological’ alternatives. What are they? Well, the available positions on the issue of whether one can have, or even needs, a ‘grand’ strategy are three:
- You need a grand strategy if you plan to succeed, however you define that, over the long term, but of course we will have sharp disagreements over the content and orientation of that strategy;
- You don’t need, and shouldn’t seek to have, a grand strategy, but should instead proceed strictly at a ‘tactical’ level – aiming to prevent terrorist events; the fundamental reason for this is that we are unable to agree on grand strategy, the assumptions that would underlie any particular grand strategy – but we can at least agree on immediate, tactical level counterterrorist measures aimed at preventing particular events – the best we can hope for is a kind of ‘policy minimalism’; and
- You need a grand strategy, yes, but the nature of that grand strategy is one which focuses almost entirely on ‘tactical’ level considerations, because the nature of terrorism is that it is retail, dispersed, loosely networked, and so, while there is a place for large strategic thinking, in these strategic circumstances, strategy is actually set and controlled at the tactical level.