Kennan, Realism, NPR and Iraq

This morning, we woke to NPR’s obituary and discussion of George Kennan, father of Cold War containment. This piece began by noting that Kennan regretted the costs of containment and establishes his genius by reviewing the Long Telegram and its place in history. NPR notes that this was a “relatively tough” policy against the Soviets, but that Kennan was against spreading American beliefs around the world. It was also argued that Americans, with a modest foreign policy, would understand why other countries did what they did, and would therefore be less likely to go to war. The clear implication is that Kennan — established as a tough wiseman of foreign policy — would be against the Iraq war and current American policies in the Middle East. I don’t doubt it.

David Adesnik in an Oxblog piece has a more detailed understanding of Kennan’s thinking. Fundamentally, Kennan was a realist, from the same school of thought as Kissinger and Morgenthau. Kennan would have been opposed to democracy promotion — he advocated that America embrace right-wing dictators because they were anti-communist and because their subjects were seen as unready for democracy — because the realist mental picture has states as billiard balls: the composition of the billiard balls matters less than their positions in relation to each other. Stability of the state system would have been paramount: sovereignty should be mutually respected to reduce the chances of violence:

Thus, no matter how cruel or authoritarian a government is, serious realists such as Kennan insist that the United States should not attempt to reform it. Certain idealists might respond to such an argument that it is immoral. And it is.

But the far greater flaw of this sort of realist analysis is its failure to recognize how often the United States can best enhance its national security by also promoting its values. Even though the occupations of Germany and Japan demonstrated that point quite conclusively in the 1940s, Kennan was unable to grasp this simple fact.

The events and analysis since 9/11 should have demonstrated that the peace of the Middle East state system was, as Gerald Baker put it, that of the mass grave; the calm before was the silence before the detonation of the suicide bomb. This state system — its illiberalism and backwardsness — is the “root cause” of Al Qaeda and its ilk. American policy is now geared to shaking this state system up: whatever falls out must be better in the long term than what we will have if we leave it alone.

So, what we have in this NPR obituary is the self-described liberal using the selected parts of the legacy of a realist — isn’t Kissinger anathema? — to cludgel America’s current efforts at democracy promotion. This is the questions I’ve asked before: what’s happened to American liberals that they oppose the spread of liberalism in the world? Would American liberals have backed Clinton or Gore if they had come to the same conclusions about the state of the world as the Bush Administration? What are the alternative polcies — real policies, not, “Let’s all try to get along and understand each other”? And there are many questions I have along these lines.

19 Responses to “Kennan, Realism, NPR and Iraq”

  1. Dan Says:

    I think the view that the illiberalism is the root cause of terrorism is flawed. There are many liberal societies that have had terrorism (e.g., Northern Ireland, Spain, West Germany’s Red Army Faction, etc.). There are also illiberal societies that do not have much terrorism (e.g., China or the old Soviet Union).

    I also think that the view that things cannot get worse is also flawed. Hitler’s Germany was worse than the Kaiser’s Germany. Stalin’s Russia was worse than the Czar’s. Khomenei’s Iran was worse than the Shah’s. Destabilizing the Middle East could make things worse by radicalizing the world Muslim population against the United States.

  2. Cheng Says:

    These are good points, though the examples you cite of terrorist organizations in liberal societies are those that have unresolved territorial claims (IRA, ETA) or were armed fringe groups supported by a rival superpower (Red Army Faction). None of these groups have approached the apocalyptic terrorism of Al Qaeda and similar groups, which have tended to feed off the pathologies of illiberal, unmodernized Middle Eastern societies. Liberalization of these societies will sharply cut down the support base of Al Qaeda and similar groups. They won’t go away, but they will make apocalyptic acts significantly less likely. At that point, presumably decades from now, they can be treated more as matters of policing rather than matters that more closely resemble war-making.

    It should be noted that the apparent American strategy of shaking up the Middle East is only possible and made relatively less risky because the United States has the big guns. This preponderance of power will help prevent radical regimes from emerging. It should also be noted that, in this analysis, the regimes of the Middle East are already teetering, and they’ve survived in part by redirecting the grievances of the local population to convenient enemies, such as Israel and the United States. The uncontrolled collapse of these brittle regimes probably will lead to something worse. American power, however, can be used to influence how these regimes dissolve and change, and we may have a better chance of seeing more stables states emerge.

    I think one thing you’re missing is that a significant portion of the Muslim world is already radicalized against the United States for any number of (mostly imagined) reasons. We cannot withdraw from the world, but we can take steps that make Muslim anti-Americanism more like French anti-Americanism rather than jihadi violence.

  3. Danny Says:

    I guess I have a different diagnosis of what is the source of Al Qaeda’s hatred toward the United States. I believe it is driven by American policies toward the Arab and Muslim world. I think there is a lot of resentment over our support of unpopular Arab governments, our support of Israel, and the presence of our military there. I don’t agree that their hatred of the U.S. is based on mostly imagined reasons but on real U.S. policies. Al Qaeda’s goals are political making them much more like the IRA and other Western terrorists with grievances. Imperial Hubris by Anonymous (Michael Scheuer) lays this thesis out very well.

    It is true that there will always be some fanatics who would not be placated if America changed its policies, but there would be fewer than today. They would also get less sympathy from their fellow Muslims if the US changed its behavior.

    I believe that the invasion and occupation of Iraq will only trigger more terrorism against the U.S. by inflaming more Muslims. 9/11 did not require WMD and I suspect we will get more 9/11’s in response to our Middle East policies.

    I also have very little confidence in our ability to make the Middle East more liberal. I doubt that Islam is compatible with an open society. There is no historical evidence that it is. And if Islam is compatible with an open society, the move towards an open society probably has to be an internal development. I do not think it can be imposed there by the U.S.

    I am worried about nukes getting in the hands of terrorists, but I do not think Bush’s strategy is working. The U.S. attacked a country that was not developing nuclear weapons (Iraq), ignored one that has (North Korea), aids one that has them (Pakistan), and threatened one so much that they probably will stop at nothing to get them (Iran).

  4. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    Danny, you should put your blog’s URL in the URI field. This will let Googlebots find your site, and give it a marginally higher pagerank because of my middling pagerank.

    Anyway, Al Qaeda’s goals have tended to be apocalyptic and do not seem to correspond that much with worldly goals except where there might be some opportunistic reason. Take a look at the more recent books by Bernard Lewis and the first half of Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism. Take a look at Al Qaeda’s mid-1990s statements. Basically, secularity is Al Qaeda’s big problem, and the United States is seen as the source fount of this sort of secularity. There are real reasons for their hatred of the US, but to resolve these reasons to Al Qaeda’s satisfaction basically means the extinction of the United States as a nation we would recognize as our own. There is no non-fantastical change of US policy that would stop Al Qaeda from attacking us in the long term, as the source of Al Qaeda’s grievances are with instrinsic US liberalism or with historical facts that we have no control over. (bin Laden kindly offered to call the jihad off if we converted to Wahhabi Islam. Clearly, a reasonable negotiatiable point.) Berman has a good, quick discussion on Sayyid Qutb, who’s basically the Karl Marx of Al Qaeda’s ideology. Take a look at that.

    And, agreed, this assessment of Al Qaeda and its ilk is the source of my disagreement with you. Al Qaeda can only be addressed in the long term by making liberalism and secularism no longer noxious to almost everyone that Al Qaeda would hope to recruit from. In the long term, this will mean more or less implanting these same notions of liberalism there. Again, this is a long term project, and I do not expect that we will see the end of it in our lifetimes.

    Yes, the development of a liberal society in the Middle East will be an internal matter, but in the Iraqi case the necessary first step was to remove the old regime. That regime would only have gone away with an armed intervention. Iraq wasn’t a distraction but something closer to the schwerpunkt of the long term conflict.

  5. Danny Says:

    While I agree that the U.S. will never be able to satisfy all of Bin Laden and Al Qadea’s wishes, we could avoid being number one on their hit list. If the U.S. stopped interfering in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Russian-Chechen conflict, the India-Kashmir conflict, Uighur-Chinese conflict, etc. may take priority for them. Al Qaeda may also turn their attention to the governments of the Middle East more than us.

    Also, if America is viewed more positively by the Muslim world, Al Qaeda would have more trouble recruiting people against us and we would have more Muslims cooperating with us. This would make the war on Al Qaeda easier.

    I also think that if America stopped trying to bully the Muslim world, we would also have an easier time to selling our way of life. America should try to set an example for them, not order them to change. The end of the Cold War came about not because NATO sent tanks into Warsaw to have a regime change but because too many people in the Soviet Bloc wanted their country to become more like the West and too few were willing to shoot people to prevent that.

    I think that Iraq becoming a model and a focal point for Islamic liberalism is interesting but not realistic. I think most of the Muslim world regards this Iraqi government as American stooges, not some great innovation in better government. I also fear that it is Iraq will fall apart and America will get blamed for what goes wrong there.

  6. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    But I don’t think it’s possible for the US to avoid being at the top of the hit list: we’re facing an ideology that sees modernity — capitalism, liberalism, secularism, etc. — as its enemy, and United States personifies all these qualities. There really is nothing we can do, because modernity is what we are, or how we’re seen. There is no particular set of policies that we can follow that in which Al Qaeda and its ilk would not find some cause for jihad. Where is their praise for our bombing the Serbs on behalf of their co-religionists? For humanitarian relief in Somalia? In fact, retreat has been interpreted by Al Qaeda as a sign of the weakness they believe is inherent in Western liberalism. Again, take a look at the first half of Berman’s book. It’s not what we do: it’s who we are or who we represent.

    As for how the rest of the Islamic world regards Iraq, it’s still fairly early, and opinions will change. The Iraqis were seen as voting freely, despite violence against them perpetrated by other Muslims. Consider also that Iraqis are blaming Al Zarqawi and bin Laden for a lot of the shit that’s been going on. Oh, and take a look at Chrenkoff’s stuff.

    Again, in the case of Iraq, there was a violent, totalitarian regime that had to be removed before anything positive could happen. The analogy with the end of the Cold War doesn’t hold here, in the sense that the US actually did have the power to remove that regime, whereas it did not beyond the Iron Curtain. Over time, yes, I think the Iraqi people would have been able to do the same thing as the East Germans, but that would have been some time in the future, and I don’t think we had that much time to wait. The hope is that a liberalizing Iraq will be the example to the Muslim world that the West was to the Warsaw Pact countries, and that enough Muslims will want to be more like the West and that there won’t be enough people willing to shoot people to prevent that. This is the same thing, Danny, but I think the example had to be create quickly, and it had to be close at hand, rather than far away and different. Note that the East Germans received West German TV broadcasts.

  7. Danny Says:

    I will try to take a look at the Berman book. However, I guess I disagree with the notion that America is hated because of who we are, not what we do. I believe that America’s political actions cause much of the resentment in the Middle East. Political resentment may not motivate Bin Laden, but I believe that he could not mobilize the numbers of people he does without it.

    I also do not see why America interference in Yugoslavia or Somalia should make Muslims like us. Those actions do not negate our support of Israel, Mubarak, the Saudi royalty, or any other group that Al Qaeda does not like.

    I also do not suspect that Iraq will turn out well and that failure there will not help America. I know that there is some good news from Iraq, but there is also plenty of bad news there.

    I also do not see why we did not have time to wait out Saddam Hussein. He was apparently not developing WMDs nor backing Al Qaeda. There seems to have been no harm in waiting longer. I see the war as a costly diversion from hunting down Al Qaeda.

  8. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    Oh, I don’t disagree that American political actions cause resentment in the Middle East. However, I also believe that America will get blamed for whatever policy courses we undertake: there’s just no winning. The resentment that feeds Al Qaeda and its ilk have more to do with longstanding issues with that part of the Muslim world and how it interacts with modernity, not with any specific US actions. Take a look at Bernard Lewis’s oeuvre, especially the books written just before and since 9/11. To a large extent, we’re going to be hated no matter what: actions that may be regarded as “positive” to Muslims will be cast through the filters of conspiracy theory; isolationism and withdrawal from the Middle East would be seen as an example of American weakness in the face of the invincible jihad. In this light, American actions might as well address the issues of Islam and modernity in a way that will benefit all of us in the long term.

    The war and counterinsurgency in Iraq is still closer to the beginning than the end, but the main positive signs go back to Mao’s statement that guerrillas are fish that swim in the sea of the people: that sea is drying up for Al Qaeda in Iraq (or whatever Zarqawi’s group is called). Iraqis, including Sunnis, are tipping off the government and US forces about insurgent activities, are shooting back at insurgents, are joining the Iraqi police and army despite highly publicized bombing attacks on recruiting stations, and so on. Zarqawi’s memo from last year on the suffocating effects of Iraqi sovereignty and the beginnings of democracy are coming to pass. There is still a long road ahead, no doubt, but we seem to be on the right road.

    Regarding how we could not wait out Saddam, look at the assessments prior to the war. Consider Kenneth Pollack’s The Threatening Storm, which probably distills the antebellum intelligence consensus and gives a timeline. These assessments were wrong, but they’re what we had at the time. You cannot use hindsight and postbellum assessments to attack the reasoning in that fashion.

    There is also the longer timeline that has to do with technological change and how this change reduces the cost of acquiring WMDs in general. Martin Shubik has noted that technological eras can be characterized by how many people ten determined men can kill before being stopped. Since the industrial revolution, this number has shot up exponentially. Nuclear weapons production, to take the most obvious case, was once the provence of the Great Powers, but that clearly is no longer the case. In a few decades, the limits on nuclear we
    apons production may fall within the capabilities of substate actors. In this sense, there is a timeline for the long-term project of liberalization and resolving the conflicts be
    tween Islam and modernity. Better to start now on this decades-long project than later.

    Further, the Iraq war can only be considered a distraction on hunting down the remnants of Al Qaeda if one misses that the center of gravity of this conflict lies in the Middle Eas
    t and its dysfunctional political culture. Afghanistan is on the periphery (leaving aside the question of whether it’s possible for Afghanistan to reasonable accomodate that much
    more American resources, given local logistical and cultural restraints) and this conflict will not be won or lost there. American efforts on the periphery are important and have to be undertaken, but this conflict won’t be won or lost anywhere but in the Middle East, and Iraq is at the center of the region: we have toppled a totalitarian regime antithetical to the long term project, we have begun the process of liberalization in the midst of other authoritarian regimes, and we have put an American army on the borders of Syria and Iran. That is the main reason we are there.

    Take a look at these pieces. There’s also the John Lewis G
    addis piece in Foreign Policy, but it seems to be in the pay-archive now. I believe Gaddis wrote a follow-up for Foreign Affairs, but I haven’t gone looking for it yet.

  9. Danny Says:

    I think the idea that one can never retreat because it is seen as weakness is a bad argument. Using that logic, Vietnam would have dragged on longer, the French would still be in Algeria etc. Sometimes, it is best to cut back committments when they do not make sense anymore.

    I agree that the antebellum consensus on intelligence was wrong, but I am believe that the intelligence was manipulated by people who wanted to invade Iraq. I do not think it was just a mistake.

    I don’t believe America can resolve Islam’s issues modernity.

    I think the idea that we were right to invade Iraq is so we could change Syria and Iran is flawed. Neither country threatens the United States. Neither harbored Al Qaeda or produced Al Qaeda. Rather, the US threatens those countries. It makes more sense to occupy Hamburg where Al Qaeda did its planning than Damascus or Tehran.

    I do not think the USS Clueless has his analysis right. He ignores that U.S. presence on the Arabian peninsula. That was the main issue for Al Qaeda. Reforming the Arab/Muslim world is a major project and probably an impossible project. It is not the responsibility of the U.S. to do this, nor should American blood or money be used support this enterprise.

    I also do not believe that Bush’s foreign policy is driven solely by this neoconservative strategy outlined in Clueless. I think that a desire to control oil, a desire to knock out Israel’s enemies, and the military-industrial complex’s desire for expansion all had an significant influence in the formulation of Bush’s policies.

  10. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    For a Buchanan-ish conservative, you sound remarkably like a far-left antiwar protester, but without the giant protest puppets or the mime. It’s perhaps interesting that the isolationist left and the isolationist right look alike, though I suppose from two different directions.

    Anyway, yes, credibility is a dangerous concept to toy with, but the pendulum had swung too far the other way. Going simply by Al Qaeda’s own statements, we see that one reason they attacked the United States was because they did not believe American use of force in way that would substantially affect them was not credible. This was after Beirut 1980, Somalia, the Cole, the embassy bombings, Anbar Towers, etc. Really, American retreat or waffling during those instances invited further, mroe devestating attacks. Yes, we should heed the warnings of Cold War credibility logic, but these are warnings and not religious cant.

    Look at Pollack’s book. This was written well before the invasion was on the horizon. That was the thinking of the time. Yes, intelligence reports were used by people wanting to invade Iraq, but there are a constellation of reasons for wanting to invade Iraq post-9/11, when the mere possibility of WMDs getting into the wrong hands invites great attention (For something that would minor pre-9/11, an old Boeing 707 freighter was stolen off the runway in Africa and no one could find it. Most likely, this was a dispute between creditors and their client, but this still drew US intelligence services to look for it as the 707 could be used in a 9/11 style attack. In the end, it was an unusually large repo, but before 9/11, something like this would have simply been ignored.)

    Again, take a look at Qutb’s writings, which were written in the 1950s and 1960s. The US presence in Arabia was just one more thing in the end. The USS Clueless piece was concentrating on the center of gravity for the conflict, which is the Islam and modernism problem.

    Actually, I think at this point, we’re at an impasse that we’ll probably be at for the next decade or so, as only time will give enough evidence on our different points of view: whether the US can’t help resolve the contradictions of modernity and Islam, and whether it should (and not out of some sense of moral obligation, btw, but from enlightened self-interest or self-defense). We can throw paragraphs around, but I don’t think we’re going to get around this difference for the time being.

    Your last paragraph is straight from the antiwar protests, invoking all the shibboleths.

  11. Danny Says:

    read Chalmers Johnson’s books recently on American foreign policy. He may be on the left, but I find his thoughts reasonable. I appreciate criticisms from the left as well as the right. I think that when talking about foreign policy, left and right are not the most meaningful terms.

    I do believe that the American foreign policy is driven to a large extent by special interests. You may think my last paragraph was shibboleths, but that is what I believe the evidence supports. I think that the neoconservative arguments are used by special interests to justify what they would like to do. I am not saying that no one believes in these arguments (I know you and many others do). I just find that it is too convenient that many of the supporters of the Bush foreign policy are getting what they want out of these policies.

    I suspect that the American presense in Iraq will prove to be too expensive for the American public to maintain. Whether or not America could really democratize the Middle East is an open question. But, I do not think Americans will be willing to spend the lives or money to accomplish it.

    You are right thoug that in the next decade or so, history will prove one or neither of us right.

  12. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    Yes, American policy in general is driven by special interests, but these are not necessarily the primary factors, nor do special interests necessarily misalign with general interests. Iraq is almost a special case where all sorts of reasons and rationales for invasion converged. It does not mean that the overall strategic outcome is particularly affected.

    It’s also far from clear that America cannot sustain its Middle Eastern commitments. Remember that America was attacked, by assailants that most Americans consider to be batshit crazy. Note also that Americans will recall the litany of attacks prior to 9/11, and how not dealing with Al Qaeda and the mindset it sprung from merely led to worse acts. When roused, the America’s Jacksonian instincts aren’t easily put away. Remember that we were willing to invade the Japanese main islands and suffer a million casualties doing so. In terms of long-term military commitments, take a look at Max Boot’s The Savage Wars of Peace.

    The other thing is that if America really isn’t willing to spend blood and treasure to accomplish it now, then it will be willing to spend blood and treasure to do it after the next act of apocalyptic terrorism. Al Qaeda and its successors won’t go away, and America will always be regarded as the “far enemy”, now shown to be weak and impatient. The problem with any sort of “next time” scenario is that America may take its gloves off for that fight.

  13. Danny Says:

    Americans certainly are willing to spend blood and treasure to fight Al Qaeda. I do not think that they will be willing to spend much more blood and treasure to establish democracy in Iraq or any other Middle Eastern country. You may believe that these are all part of the same strategy, but I do not think the average American is convinced.

    Given that the original reasons for going into Iraq proved false, if things get worse in Iraq, people will start questioning why we are still there.

    From what I have read from Max Boot, I do not think there is a war he didn’t want (someone else) to fight. My view is that wars tend to create more problems than they solve and only should be fought if absolutely necessary.

  14. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    Oh, I fully believe the Bush Administration has done a shitty job of explaining the war and overall strategic goals. That was a serious mistake.

    My point is that if Iraq fails, then we’ll have to fight another Middle Eastern war a decade or so afterwards, as an Iraqi failure will embolden Al Qaeda and its sympathisizers to strike cataclysmic blows against the “far enemy”, as we’ve been shown to be “ineffectual” in some measure. And if we fail in that war, the cycle will be repeated. I don’t believe any change in American foreign policy will appease the Islamists, and this cycle of apocalyptic terrorism will continue until the Islamists are extinguished, either with great collateral damage to everyone or because the society around the Islamists has changed so much that Islamist ideas are laughed out of the room when brought up.

    Yes, wars create problems different from the ones before the war and should only be fought as a last resort, but I believe we’d been at war for a decade before we realized that we’re at war. We haven’t chosen to be at war — far better for us to get fat playing PS2 games — but you can have a war if only one side wants one.

  15. Danny Says:

    Part of my disagreement with you is the idea that our enemy is Islamists as opposed to Al Qaeda. Hamas and some of the Chechen rebels might be considered Islamists, but their enemies are Israel and Russia respectively, not the United States. We are also fighting former Baathists in Iraq who may be our enemy but are not Islamists. I think America should fight Al Qaeda and our enemies, not Islamists in general.

    I think America has chosen to be in this war. America has chosen to be interventionist in the Middle East. A consequence of intervention is that we have enemies there. Canada and Switzerland do not. Neither does China and they are a big power, too. The Vietnamese no longer bother us since we left their part of the world. I believe the Muslims will be a lot less bothersome if we leave their part of the world.

  16. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    Yes, there are regional Islamists who we don’t come into direct conflict with such as the Chechens. The thing with fighting, Al Qaeda, though, is that the fight’s center of gravity is the ideological swamp from which Al Qaeda comes. Once that swamp is drained, Al Qaeda and similar groups more or less go away, or become isolated cranks that can’t really do much harm. Iraq lies in the geographical middle of this swamp. Fighting the war elsewhere is fighting on the periphery, without getting at the core of the problem itself. The problem itself will continue to fester (and there is a timeline for how long the problem can fester before it becomes catastrophic, if you bring Shubik’s technological curve to mind). Fighting in Iraq will necessarily bring us into conflict with regionally limited enemies, i.e., the Baathists, but we will need to fight these regionally limited enemies in order to get at the core of the problem of Al Qaeda.

    Note that the Vietnamese are primarily nationalists: yes, once we left them along, they didn’t bother us. But Al Qaeda and the like are neither nationalists nor geographically restricted.

    The war was chosen for us. The ideological roots of this war were drafted by Qutb in the late 1950s/early 1960s when he looked at Western liberalism and secularism and found that it would destroy the Islam that he and his followers were trying to pursue. This doesn’t really have to do with US policies — for that matter, America had just slapped down the UK, France and Israel in the Suez Crisis — but with the liberal ideas emanating from the United States through the marketplace, pop culture and so on, not through US policies. Canada and Switzerland are not seen at the forefront of liberalism and their cultural power is more or less irrelevant. China, similarly, doesn’t project cultural ideas very far beyond East Asia. The United States, however, does project its liberal culture and is seen as the epitome of liberal culture, in the eyes of Qutb and all that followed him. How do you stop that? How do you keep America from interacting in the world — through the marketplace, symbolism, culture — in a way that would not offend them in some fundamental way? Isolationism isn’t possible, and probably hasn’t been possible since before WW2.

    And we come back to Shubik’s technological curve again. We have a span of a few decades before Al Qaeda’s successors can ride this curve to launch repeated apocalyptic attacks on their “far enemy”. The liberalization project that we’re undertaking will take decades before the number of people who would give shelter to Al Qaeda, or aid, or sheild by silence — instead of turning them in or laughing them out of the room — dwindle to the point when Al Qaeda becomes a police matter. This is a race. It’ll take decades to run. But ignoring the problem, or “leaving their part of the world” (which is an impossibility as it’s not all about foreign policy specifics), won’t make this race not happen.

  17. Danny Says:

    I certainly understand that Al Qaeda and the Islamist who hate the U.S. are dangerous and will become more so over time because of technology. Nonetheless, I think our intervention in their part of the world strengthens them rather than weakens them.

    I think that letting Islamists take control over parts of the Middle East may not be such a bad thing in the long run. In Iran, Khomenei’s revolution is not as strong ideologically as it was 25 years ago. Letting Islamists rule a country means that they get blamed for anything that goes wrong. Iranians may ultimately reject the mullahs. But I think that the Iranians are more likely to if the U.S. stops threatening Iran than if we keep up what we are doing. Iranians are very nationalistsic and our meddling will make people rally around the government.

    In much of the West, I think that Al Qaeda and their ilk should be treated like a police matter. With better informers, surveillance, and border control, we could reduce their ability to strike significantly.

    America (and Europe) also needs to reconsider how we should handle the Muslims living in the West. These people are often the biggest threat. The 9-11 hijackers were living in Hamburg, not Kabul. This is the issue that most politicians do not want to deal with for politically correct reasons. It is easier for Western politicians to send troops to Iraq than to deal with enemies in our midsts. For Westerners to be safe, more needs to be done about the enemies closer to home.

  18. Cheng-Jih Chen Says:

    I think we’re circling back to the beginning of the comments again.

    I’m of the opinion that our Iraq intervention is more less neutral in terms of how most Muslims view us compared to antibellum opinion: in their eyes, we suck already, this makes us suck somewhat more but not much more to matter beyond getting a few excitable would-be jihadi to cross to border into Iraq to get killed. In the medium to long term, what will matter is how Iraq turns out, and I’m cautiously optimistic about this. We’re at the beginning of a long road, and liberalization is a process, but the process is now proceeding.

    The problem with Islamists getting control of countries is that they then acquire unmolested safe areas from which to plan strikes against the “far enemy”, i.e., make war on us. That was what happened in Afghanistan. One reason (among many) why there hasn’t been another 9/11 is that we got inside Al Qaeda’s decision loop and disrupted them: we struck faster, harder and more persistently than they planned for and had the capability to adapt to. The lack of safe havens with relatively easy contact to the outside world — what they had in Afghanistan — has hampered their operational capabilities. Yes, there have been strikes against near and easy targets, but a big blow against the far enemy has been made much less likely, though not impossible.

    In the West, yes, Al Qaeda resembles a police matter, but that only applies where law and police forces are at hand. Beyond the West, police strategies have failed. If Islamists control a state, then Al Qaeda activities within that state will be beyond the reach of police strategies.

    Agreed, America and Europe have to think about Muslims living in the West, but this seems to be more an issue with Europeans who have segregated Muslim immigrants in ghettos outside the bounds of the prevailing society. I’m sure you saw the Economist article a week or two ago about the Dutch rethink on these matters. I think American society puts more pressure on immigrants to adopt American ways and attitudes, even if there’s no deliberate policy to that effect.

  19. Danny Says:

    I think you are right that we are circling back to the beginning. Perhaps we can talk about this in Cleveland next month.