Monday, September 18, 2006

Our Old Ideologies are Not Enough

Amba has an excellent post examining the seductiveness of the liberal view of Islamist terrorism. She quotes from a very well-written, thought-out piece by the left-of-center writer Jack Whelan of After the Future.

Whelan’s view is by no means “far left-wing.” It is a very mainstream view held by many, many Americans. Read Whelan’s and Amba’s posts to get the full sense of it. But, to boil the argument down, Whelan is contending that, yes, there is a threat but that threat is from a very small minority of crazies who can be stopped through solid intelligence and law enforcement work.

The larger problem of Islamic angst and anger can only be solved through ending our aggressive, colonialist-like relationship with the Middle East. Basically, if we stopped being such overbearing jerks, the vast majority of Muslims would stop hating us and the threat of terrorism would greatly subside.

This is, as Amba says, a seductive worldview. For one, it puts all the power in our hands and very little in our enemy's hands. It's a worldview where our own actions determine our fate completely. If we want to protect ourselves from terrorism, we need only change our actions towards the societies from which terrorists spring. Our enemy’s actions are merely subsets of our actions. If we change, they'll change.

This is, not surprisingly, just about the opposite of the neo-con worldview which believes that changing ourselves is unnecessary and even pointless. Neo-cons contend that we need to force or at least strongly encourage changes in the societies that breed terrorism.

And here’s why I so often get labeled right-of-center on this issue: when I read Whelan’s view, I react by thinking: Boy, it’d be pretty to think so. Because, unfortunately, this is about so much more than a standard colonialist conflict. This exists outside the Marxist paradigm of the oppressed rising up against the oppressed. Our actions are only a small part of the equation. Changing ourselves and even our actions would not do nearly enough to ensure changes in the Middle East.

The problem is, the alternative view, the neo-con view, has been misplayed and mishandled and now seems even more naïve than the standard liberal view. Key neo-cons like Rumsfeld and Cheney have too often minimized the consequences of our own actions while maximizing the villainy of our enemies. To make it worse, this administration chose a very military-centric path towards changing the Middle East. A path that has created a great deal of bloodshed and is still very far from success.

But just because the neo-cons seem to have been wrong does not mean the liberal view is correct. We simply cannot afford to lay back and avoid real confrontation with the forces of radical Islam. We cannot make this just about law enforcement and intelligence gathering. To win, to survive, we have to actively try to change Muslim society.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the consequences of our actions. We cannot create strife and anger and then just shrug and say, well, that’s their problem. We have to address the situation with a mature, multi-faceted approach that directly confronts the Islamists while not needlessly pissing off the average Muslim. We can neither excuse terrorism as a reaction to our misdeeds nor excuse our misdeeds as a necessary reaction to terrorism.

Easy to say, right? Well, I’ve always contended that this conflict is one of immense complication. But success will become far more likely when we adopt a more nuanced, less ideological view of the situation. If the left could lay down its Marxist reasoning and if the right could lay down its “might makes right” predilections, then maybe we can really get somewhere.


Anonymous Walrus said...

Nuanced? Less ideological? You mean, not resorting to simple either/or's between extremes?

That sounds way too much like adulthood and responsibility to be attractive.


2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your attacks on this particular left worldview is really just beating a straw man...there's nobody in America who is going to be elected today advancing that kind of position.

The choice in every national election will be between the loonies and the people who want pragmatic solutions (e.g. Gore,Kerry). The problem is that the loonies will successfully paint (e.g. swiftboat) the pragmatic people with a caricature of weak liberal...your high minded attempt to cast a "pox on both houses" is really irrelevent to the issues facing America today.

It sounds nice and reasonable and this kind of rhetoric is utilized by so called centrists like Lieberman and McCain while the savage butchery spawned by our invasion of Iraq will continue on.

WAKE UP and try to make a difference rather than feeling smug about how you're above the petty fights between the left and right.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Straw man, eh? Care to explain what you think causes Islamic terrorism and how you would solve it?

I love it when people on the left accuse me of not being centrist or of being smug as if the only REAL solutions are the ones advocated by the left. As if it is IMPOSSIBLE that the left just might not have all the answers. As if my unwillingness to buy into the all the left's theories is proof that I am blind or asleep. Is there no room for honest difference of opinion anymore? Or is all difference of opinion to be viewed as ignorance or villany?

The left talks down to me, the right calls me treasoness or worse. And you think that makes me feel I'm ABOVE the petty fights? Hardly, my anonymous friend. I'm smack-dab in the middle of these fights, getting petty thrown all over me. No one likes a guy who calls fouls on both teams.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous BrianinMA said...

I absolutely deplore people who sign in anonymously and start spouting crap from behind the shades of the internet. These people are cowards who are partisan (moreso then I am) but are too afraid to stand up by putting their name on their principles.

I still find the word "neo-con" to be most amusing a term since it comes part and parcel to labeling one as a "partisan hack", and thus ignoring the credence of any argument made.

That being said, the answer IS to crush the enemy mercillessly. Avowed "Centrists" like McCain hold the Geneva Conventions as a "gold standard", but when you quote that it only talks about enemies in uniform for a nation, and our enemies are dressed as civilians, use civilians as shield, and hide among civilians, and Bush calls for a clarification in regards to these loathsome scumbags, McCain suddenly says "No, no clarification is neccesary. Lets continue pretending that the men who would cut your throats in a crowd deserve the same protections as those who try to avoid civilian deaths."

Machiavelli argues that against noble enemies you can use noble tactics but against treacherous enemies you must be able to "enter into evil" and use treacherous tactics to save your own hide and the hides of your people. You can then exit from evil when your enemies are destroyed.

Unfortunetely, such a stance is too harsh for those on the left, who prefer to replay Neville Chamberlain expecting the next Hitler to accept appeasement and do evil no more. I am consistently amazed at how people can blame Bush for creating an "atmosphere of fear" when the Pope can't even Quote a Byzantine emporer who badmouthed Mohammad without there being burning effigies of him and calls for him to apologize (or DIE for insulting the Religion of PEACE!!!).

The fact is, Bush is not generating false fear, he's trying to legitimately take on a bunch of 7th Century throwbacks who toss Molotov Cocktails in response to cartoons and issue Fatwas against anyone who dare oppose the religion of Peace.

Just a few crazies you say? Well guess what, there may only be a few crazies, but "moderate" Muslims are quiet about the fanatiscism that has overtaken their religion, probably out of fear of being castigated and killed for not being "Muslim enough".

Whereas if Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson makes a dumb statement, most Christians have the sense to say "PR and JF are crazy, ignore them," no matter how many conversion pamphlets we get under our door and in our mailbox later.

The fact is, the response has to be nine parts extermination and one part diplomacy.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Brian, not sure I'd want to use Machiavelli as a moral compass.But your point is accurate concerning the Geneva Conventions and uniformed soldiers. I disagree that we should feel free to be merciless, but that's a whole other debate.

As for neo-cons, I try hard not to use the term as a pejorative and instead use it in its more correct definitions. I tend to agree with a fair amount of neo-con philosophy but not all of it.

11:10 PM  

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