The Therapy Sessions
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Why this libertarian will
I recently recieved an e-mail from entitled "Why this Republican won't be voting for Bush."
It was heartbreaking story of the family of a reluctant soldier killed in Iraq.
Terrible stuff. I've seen a lot of such things lately.
But while reading it, I was reminded of Churchill:
"Many people think that the best way to escape war is to dwell upon its horror. They flaunt the grisly photographs before their eyes. They fill their ears with tales of carnage. They dilate upon the ineptitude of generals and admirals."
I am not indifferent to the suffering of war, and I would love nothing more than to live in a world where war was unneccesary and outdated. I have seen some of the suffering first hand. I witnessed a boy lose a finger when he picked up an artillery round he thought was a pen. I saw POWs being paraded through a town before they were executed, and it is a near certainty that many of my former students - the delightful children who I once joked and played with - were killed or mutilated in Sierra Leone's utterly pointless "civil war" in the '90's.
I would, given my experience, reject war altogether were it not for one uncomfortable thought: War works. It works when all other approaches fail. History screams it, though it is considered impolite to say it so bluntly. War works to end dictatorships, to repel invaders, to protect the innocent and secure the peace.
War is a tool without which there could be no freedom.
That last sentence is important because it cuts to the heart of our modern struggle: the struggle between the free world - which is creating the future - and a fanatical few traditionalists, larval dictators really - who would bomb the world back into enslavement, if only they could.
I take the threat they pose seriously. I read the papers:
"AFTER more than 24 hours in the sweltering heat of the school gymnasium in Beslan, one of the boys trapped inside could not take it any longer.
Summoning up his courage, he approached a hostage taker with a bayonet fixed to his assault rifle and asked him for a drink. It was probably the worst error that he could have made.
“Instead of giving him water, he drove his bayonet through the boy’s body,” said Stanislav Tsarakhov, 10, another captive standing nearby.
There is no force on Earth - no grievance or injustice - that could make me deliberately and so cruelly kill a child.
I wonder how such hatred can exist in a human soul.
And its worse than that: I know something that many Americans would rather forget. I dwell on it partly out of fear, and partly out of respect for the daunting task before us.It keeps me awake at night.
These people will one day possess nuclear weapons, possibly within the next ten years.
It is unavoidable.
The real problem in the War on Terror is simple:
Even if we captured bin Laden, killed his leadership, and got rid of the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terrorists would still prowl the Muslim world, signing up adherents who believe that killing Americans is a sacred oligation.
Fighting them directly is essential. But we also must fight them assymmetrically, by destroying support for their cause.
The most important question of our times is this: How do we defuse the hatred behind the terrorists?
I've given this a lot of thought. The Left is eager to save me the touble. A history of misdiagnosing problems in international relations has not deterred them from offering an answer that is so predictable and unsatisfying.
Terrorism, we are told, is the result of poverty - and anger at the world system which cultivates it. Their policy ideas call for more foreign aid, restrictions on trade (for some reason), increased fuel efficiency of our vehicles, less support for Israel and more US deference to the UN.
As with any policy prescription, there are kernals of truth in it (who could argue with increasing fuel efficiency?). But on balance, the Left's diagnosis is a sloppy postulate. It cannot withstand rigorous analysis, and it is unworthy of support.
And because it concerns national security, such nonsense is scandalous.
To begin with, let us discard the lightweight idea that poverty causes terrorism. Were this true, West Africa would be the world's prime incubator of terrorists, and we could end the scourge by attacking its poverty.
Moreover, the terrorists who carried out 9/11 were not poor; in fact, most came from wealth and privlege in moderately wealthy societies. Osama Bin Laden himself was heir to millions of dollars.
Because poverty doesn't cause terrorism, it is useless to attack poverty to alleviate terror (there may, however, be other reasons for attacking poverty). Foreign aid (which does little to end poverty anyway) won't do the trick. In fact, without regime changes in the Muslim world, foreign aid programs may actually make the threat more acute.
A case in point? Egypt.
No other country in the Arab world receives so much foreign aid ($2 billion a year) from the US, and few are as caustic in the hatred for the West. Its mosques laud the killings of Americans as divine will, its state media finances documentaries that inform the Arab world that Jews spill Arab blood for their religious rights, and its people seethe with hatred and repressed violence. They hate their government, and they hate America for giving it spending money. Egyptians like Mohammed Atta and Mohammed Atef readily join groups like Al Qaeda.
If increasing foreign aid is bad, increasing foreign trade may just be worse. In fact, in a Middle East where oil industries have been so thoroughly nationalized, any money that goes to the country goes to an unpopular - usually secular - government. (Still, the US deserves credit for paying the global price for this resource: Many countries today, and almost all countries historically, would have just pushed aside (or slaughtered) the locals to get at the resources they needed. The US, by contrast, has paid a fair price for every drop of crude it has taken.)
Could it be US policy toward Israel that really stokes the terrorists? The Arabs certainly hate the Jews, and a large part of this is just bigotry and can be ignored. I don't buy arguments about their empathy with displaced Palestinians. Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt all ran Palestianian refugee camps far worse than anything ever seen in Gaza or on the West Bank. In Arab eyes, the Palestinians are a trashy people, but serve as a means toward a pleasing end: the destruction of the Israeli state.
Israel biggest sin is that it is a success. All of the excuses for failure that Arabs have employed are present in Israel. Unforgiving land? They have plenty of it, but industrious Jews have turned the desert green. Poor, ethnically divided society? Israel is composed of the impoverished refugees of three dozen countries, sharing very different views of a (barely) common religion. Is dictatorship needed to keep things together? No, Israel is the region's only successful democracy and it is one of the world's freest societies. Hostile neighbors? Oh yeah, in spades. The first war Israel loses - really loses - will be the last the war it fights.
Despite this, Israel has become the dominant economic and military force in the region.
And the Arabs are furious. Instead of giving the Jews credit for Israel's success (and perhaps learning from it), they are eager to find someone to blame.
Should the US policy toward Israel change so that we show more favor to Yassir Arafat - a mafia chief gestating into an corrupt, old school Arab dictator?
So where do we go? How can we defuse terrorism, before it starts?
As we look around the world, it is clear that there are several Muslim states where terrorism has simply refused to take firm root.
Turkey is one such case. It has long been viewed as wimp in Muslim circles because it does not produce terrorists like its neighbors do. Turkish imans tend to be more moderate, and very few of the CIA's most wanted terrorists are Turks. To make matters worse, Turkey works closely with the US military and seems eager to do whatever it takes to enter a secular caucasian club - the European Union.
It is an important question to ask: what makes Turkey different from its neighbors: Iraq, Syria and Iran? The answer is, I believe, a degree of openness not found in other Muslim countries.
I have no illusions about Turkish democracy: Turkey is a basket case, and its economy has been in the crapper for decades now.
But compared to Saddam's Iraq, Assad's Syria or the Iran of the Mullahs, Turkey might as well Sweden. You can buy international newspapers on the streets. You can watch international TV without having to worry that the government might throw you into prison. And you can vote for your own leadership, albeit via decrepit process.
For radical Islamists, the openness has served the same function for them as it has for "born again" Christian nuts in the US: it has made them look like the crackpots they are.
In the repressive societies on the Arab landscape, the mosque is one of the few places where people can go to speak their minds. And as long as they only criticise filthy Jews or imperialist Americans (but definitely not their own governments), they are free from prosecution. Such relative freedom of speech has made the mosque an attractive place for fiery Arab youth.
But what of the anger? Where does that come from?
The anger comes from the fact that in every measurable aspect of life - health statistics, lifespan, freedom indexes, academic achievement, health, living standards, diet, happiness - the Arab countries do very poorly.
It is not just that the Western score is 10 and the Arab score is 6. It is more like a blowout: the Western score is 10 and the Arab score is zero.
And for the proud Arabs, with a rich history of academic and technological achievement, believing themselves possessed of a superior religion that requires piety and delivers earthly and heavenly rewards - this is a terrible blow. It causes the young to question the religion ("Dad, if we are so good, why are we poor? And if they are so bad, why are they so rich?") It is especially grating for the proud Arab to send his children off to school in the US so that they can get educations and jobs.
The anger of the Arabs comes from humiliation: the humiliation of repeated and pronounced defeat, time after time. And countries in the West are getting further and further ahead.
What is the proud Arab to do? Well - particularly if he is God-fearing, pious man - he feels that this must be the result of some huge swindle: the US, Satan and Israel all working together to defeat the work of God's people on Earth.
It is in this mindset that he can strike at the vile infidels - with such vengence and fury that he can bayonet an innocent little boy asking for a drink of water.
This is the only way I can explain such hatred.
But the most important question is: how can we defuse it?
Only by opening up the Arab world and making these crackpots look like the ridiculous vermin they are.
Such a process will be costly and painful, and it may not work. It may very well be that democracy is completely imcompatible with the Arab world.
But we have to try it to find out. And we should hurry: the age of nuclear terror is just around the corner.
I believe we massively underestimate the threat to our way of life. Two well-timed and well-placed nuclear detonations, with warheads not much larger than the ones that were routinely placed on artillery shells in the Cold War, could easily kill the president and the six people in line to succeed him, all of Congress, the Supreme Court, and destroy the FBI and the Department of the Treasury. Unlike our experience in the Cold War days, this attack could come completely without warning. In the virtual absence of th eUS government, the dollar might well become worthless, as might everything denoted in dollars. The world's stock markets would plunge, and the value of everything in the world would plummet.
It would be a catastrophe, a new Dark Ages. Exactly the outcome that Al Qaeda desires and tells its followers it give them.
What would our response be? Americians would never give up their way of life.
I believe our outlook would change from trying to avoid civilian casualities to trying to inflict them.
We have done it before, in an event that most people regard as a "good" war: in World War II, we killed two million civilians - elderly, women and children -with deliberate intent and without remorse.
Imagine Bomber Harris and Curtis LeMay armed with thousands of nuclear weapons and you have an idea of the scale of absolute carnage we could inflict.
The Arab World is oblivious to the danger. Large number of Arabs believe that Allah will prevent us from harming them even as they destroy our cities.
They could not be more mistaken.
I would do anything to avoid a slaughter like that - except submit to any government that the Islamists find acceptable. I will not convert to a hostile religion, I will not treat women as chattel, and will stone aldulterers and homosexuals, and I will not keep my mouth shut - not for the sake of a bunch of Arab tyrants.
For that is what these scum are: larval tyrants.
And like dictators everywhere, they are eager to stir things up, using the chaos to impose their will:
It is useful to remember Winston Churchill again, speaking in 1934:
Dictators always find a reason to make trouble, he said. "They will say: you are rich; we are poor. You seem well-fed; we are hungry. You have the past; let us have the future." And soon the day comes when they say: "You are weak; we are strong."
Like Churchill, we are at the beginning of a long and costly global war, and the war in Iraq is not a "distraction" from it.
It is integral to it.
Trying to build an Iraqi democracy in the light of the threat seems to be a small price to pay to avoid this calamity.
In fact, an Iraqi democracy as flawed as Turkey's would - in my eyes - be a triumph. It would serve to take the air out of Islamist bluster and it would work to avoid a global cataclysm. This is a problem that we cannot kick into the future for our children to deal with. The weaponry our enemies possess will get more powerful as time goes on.
But we have a potent weapon, a weapon that will allow us to win: Freedom. The political freedom that is democracy; the economic freedom that we know as capitalism. Freedom allows disparate groups to work together in a common government, and capitalism is the wealth creation that allows societies to be built on the rubble of past repression.
Abu Musab Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, put it quite well:
"Democracy is coming. There will be no excuse thereafter for terrorism in Iraq."
Yes, the crackpot terrorist got one right, for a change.
If we are lucky, so goes the world.
Maybe someday the college professors will tell us it was all unneccessary. The Arab world was never really hostile, was perfectly open to change and never meant us any harm! Just a wealthy, growing democracies, from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf!
What luck, to be misled in such a way.