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A Cri de Coeur From the Principled Left

Posted: Tue May 23, 2006 11:42 pm
by Corlyss_D
The New Republic Online
The Good Fight
by Peter Beinart
Post date: 12.09.04
Issue date: 12.20.04

Last week, I wrote a cover story in The New Republic arguing that the struggle against Islamist totalitarianism should define contemporary liberalism, as the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism defined liberalism during the early cold war ("A Fighting Faith," December 13). This week, I waded through responses--some supportive, some critical, some both. The most surprising came from Kevin Drum, who writes the blog Political Animal at Drum said I never proved my key point--that I never explained why totalitarian Islam is so grave a threat that liberals should make it central to their worldview. He urged me to write another article, a "prequel."

In a way, the response confirmed my theory: that many contemporary liberals, including many smart ones, don't see defeating Al Qaeda as a paramount national challenge. And that's a political problem, since most Americans do. Throughout 2004, Americans consistently named terrorism as one of their top concerns and generally felt that President Bush could handle it better than John Kerry. And even those polls, I suspect, understate terrorism's political resonance--since, in both 2002 and 2004, roughly as many voters cited domestic issues, such as the economy, where Democrats enjoyed a big lead. And yet, in both elections, Republicans exceeded expectations.

But just because many Americans consider Al Qaeda a grave threat doesn't mean it is. Drum argues that, "compared to fascism and communism, Islamic totalitarianism seems like pretty thin beer to many. It's not fundamentally expansionist, and its power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league."

There are lots of problems with this statement. For starters, you don't have to believe Al Qaeda is as grave a threat as the ussr to believe it is the greatest threat to U.S. security and liberal values today. In 1954, segregation was probably the greatest domestic threat to liberal values. But that doesn't mean it was as great a threat as slavery.

If Islamist totalitarianism is less of a threat than Soviet totalitarianism, however, it is far graver than Drum suggests. To say that Al Qaeda's ideology is "not fundamentally expansionist" is wrong. It is true that, unlike communism, which aspired to guide every nation on Earth, totalitarian Islam only recommends itself to the Middle East. But, in Al Qaeda's definition, the Middle East includes every country with a substantial Muslim population or once under Muslim rule. In other words, it extends from Southeast Asia to Europe. In the mid-'90s, Al Qaeda went to war in Bosnia. In February 2003, Osama bin Laden cited Pakistan and Nigeria as ripe for Islamist takeover--although both are far from the Arab world, and Nigeria is only 50 percent Muslim. As University of Michigan professor and Informed Comment blogger Juan Cole has pointed out, bin Laden envisions a unified Muslim state, ruled, as it was in the heyday of Islamic power, by a caliphate. And, as bin Laden pointedly reminded listeners early this year, that caliphate includes "Al Andalus"--Spain.

Is Al Qaeda likely to take power in all the places bin Laden desires? Of course not. But it could do far less and still send the United States into deep crisis. By many accounts, Al Qaeda has long enjoyed substantial support in the Pakistani security services. Were Islamist fanatics to assassinate Pervez Musharraf and ally themselves with the general who succeeded him--in an echo of the military-Islamist alliance that ruled Sudan from 1989 to 1999--Al Qaeda would be within striking distance of a nuclear bomb. Or take Saudi Arabia, where bin Laden is wildly popular. If bin Laden, or his local associates, took control of the Saudi oil supply, the U.S. economy would plunge into depression.

But, even if Al Qaeda never seizes a single government, it still poses a grave threat. By suggesting that Islamist totalitarianism is "thin beer" because, unlike Soviet totalitarianism, it doesn't control states, Drum ironically echoes the neocons, who are so mired in a cold war mindset that they can't grasp terrorism except as an extension of state power.

Drum suggests that Al Qaeda's "power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league" as the ussr's. But, if you're talking about killing Americans--which Drum is--the fact that Al Qaeda controls no territory makes it more dangerous, as well as less. Yes, the ussr, with its massive nuclear arsenal, had the power to kill more Americans. But, as a government interested in self-preservation, it was also deterred by the threat of U.S. retaliation. And that threat made the ussr cautious about taking American lives.

As September 11 showed, Osama bin Laden is not cautious. The prospect of U.S. retaliation does not faze him--in fact, he welcomes it in the hope that it will spawn more Muslim anger and more recruits.

So, while bin Laden's capacity to kill Americans is clearly inferior to the ussr's, for Al Qaeda--unlike the Kremlin--capacity is the only limiting factor. And the spread of technical knowledge and materials makes the destructive capacity of a small terrorist band far greater than it was even a few years ago. This February, then-CIA Director George Tenet noted that Al Qaeda documents discussed how to assemble and use a chemical weapon or a dirty bomb. According to the 9/11 Commission, Al Qaeda has been trying to acquire a nuclear device for ten years--with the United States "a prime target." No one knows how close they are. But, in his book Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit, writes, "No one should be surprised when bin Laden and Al Qaeda detonate a weapon of mass destruction in the United States."

If Scheuer's prediction comes true, the consequences for individual rights will be terrifying. Which is to say this: The fight for national security is the fight for liberal values, not merely in the Muslim world, where fanaticism has already blighted countless lives, but also at home, where threats to American safety almost inevitably spawn threats to American freedom. Totalitarian Islam has already damaged both, and unless defeated, the damage could be exponentially worse. What more do liberals need to know before they make this fight their own?

Peter Beinart is editor-at-large at The New Republic.

Re: A Cri de Coeur From the Principled Left

Posted: Wed May 24, 2006 2:55 am
by pizza
Corlyss_D wrote:The New Republic Online

If Scheuer's prediction comes true, the consequences for individual rights will be terrifying. Which is to say this: The fight for national security is the fight for liberal values, not merely in the Muslim world, where fanaticism has already blighted countless lives, but also at home, where threats to American safety almost inevitably spawn threats to American freedom. Totalitarian Islam has already damaged both, and unless defeated, the damage could be exponentially worse. What more do liberals need to know before they make this fight their own?
They need to know that pragmatism must trump ideology if they want to survive.

Posted: Wed May 24, 2006 7:53 pm
by jack stowaway
In my view, at least five factors combine to make radical Islam an exponentially greater danger to liberal values than Communism:

Radical Islam is a faith-based ideology rooted in religious fervour. Its appeal is thus far deeper and more persuasive than that of Communism -- a secular and state-imposed social-economic ideology;

Communism was never able to overcome the abject failure of its thereoretical underpinnings when exposed to real-world economic conditions. Radical Islam faces no such restrictive test. The failure of just about every Islamic government to deliver material prosperity is beside the point. Triumph over the infidel is the sole raison d'etre.

Communism combined revolutionary zeal with pragmatic self-interest. By contrast, rational calculation has no place in an ideology whose ends are faith-based rather than material and whose adherents view death as a reward rather than failure;

The geographical dispersion of its followers and their assimilation into Western society offers Islamism a potentially world-wide base of operations while, at the same time, making conventional military counterstrikes extraordinarily difficult;

The mass migration of muslims to the West constitutes a demographic time-bomb for the propagation of anti-liberal Islamic values, including Sharia Law, via the ballot box;

The elephant in the corner that no one seems willing to mention in the debate over Islamist terror is the central role of the Koran in shaping the jihadist worldview. In this respect, one could argue that radical jihad is not a lunatic-fringe movement but an aspect of mainstream belief. And until Islamic reformers are courageous enough to question Koranic precepts and to reinterpret these for the modern world, Islamic totalitarianism will be with us for long into the forseeable future.

Finally, to return to the point made in the original article. I share the writer's exasperation at the proclivity of many liberals to subject every detail of American and Israeli policy to the most minute and critical scrutiny while at the same time exhibiting almost bland indifference to the threat posed by Islamic extremism. The obsessive conviction that the real threat to our liberties comes from Christians, Conservatives and/or Jews is a distraction from the world-wide struggle against Islamic aggression.

The prevailing Leftist insouciance in the face of Islamic facism mirrors the silence of pre-and post-war left-wingers when confronted with the stark realities of Soviet/Marxist practice.

Posted: Wed May 24, 2006 9:01 pm
by Corlyss_D
The Loneliness of the Liberal Hawk
Dems who understand war, pols who don't.
by Tom Donnelly
05/22/2006, Volume 011, Issue 34

IT'S TOUGH TO BE a moderate Democrat. Hatred of George Bush has changed the loyal opposition into the bitter opposition, less interested in policy than in punishing their bĂȘte noire. It's particularly tough for Democrats who supported the invasion of Iraq, the defining George Bush moment, and who oppose withdrawal. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the very model of a modern "defense Democrat"--not to mention the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee--now faces overwhelming votes of "no confidence" from Connecticut Democratic town councils.

The conundrum is acute for the rising generation of moderate Democrats who may run for president, if the performances last week by former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Sen. Evan Bayh at an event sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute are any indication. Speaking in support of PPI's new collection of essays, With All Our Might--a valiant attempt to define "a progressive strategy for defeating jihadism and defending liberty"--both Warner and Bayh clung safely to the anti-Bush orthodoxy. Neither rose to the occasion as laid out by PPI president Will Marshall: "It's really time to stop reacting to the administration and start defining what we're for on national security, to look beyond the fumbles in Iraq."

Warner approached the challenges as though he were still governor. "We're at our strongest when our institutions of government are run with competence and coordination. Our national security departments must work together to win this war, not simply compete against each other," he said. All true enough--it's hard to defend the Bush administration or the Rumsfeld Pentagon for competence and coordination--but Warner appeared unwilling to accept that winning the war demands, first and foremost, the use of military force. "We can't put the whole burden of fighting Islamic terrorism on our armed services," he said, a moment before parroting the very line of the Rumsfeld Pentagon: "As many of our generals themselves have said, Islamic terrorism cannot be defeated by military power alone."

Bayh sounded like nothing so much as a senator. His remarks were laced with cutting-edge rhetoric: "This is . . . our first post-nation-state war. . . . The second thing that characterizes this new phenomenon is . . . the asymmetry of the conflict." Bayh had given serious thought to these concepts, but, like Warner, he did not convey a sense of urgency about winning. "Number one," he said, "we can't define America's security only by the strength of our arms. It must also be defined by the strength of our economy, the strength of our finances, our energy independence."

At bottom, both men seem to see competence--in a kind of "good government" sense--as the true measure of a wartime president. Bayh put it most revealingly: "There's no greater test of a commander in chief than how [he] manages a war." It's not picking nits to emphasize the verb "to manage." It's the core idea for moderate Democrats, but a very different idea than "to lead," which is what matters in war.

If there's a big gap between these centrist politicians and the Nancy Pelosi wing in Congress or the wing at large, there's also a gap between the moderate politicians and those wonks-in-waiting who would likely build the policy factory in a future Democratic administration. PPI's book With All Our Might actually represents an impressive lineup of younger defense and security intellectuals, many of whom worked in the Clinton administration. And they're more hawkish, in general, than Warner or Bayh.

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, whose prewar The Threatening Storm made a forceful case for invading Iraq, still sounds like a closet neocon. His essay on "A Grand Strategy for the Middle East" argues that "whether you supported the war or not, it is all about Iraq now." Withdrawal is not an option: "We cannot simply walk away from Iraq without repercussions. In that sense, Iraq is decidedly not Vietnam." While offering a comprehensive critique of Bush administration failures in Iraq, he emphasizes the military and strategic shortcomings; Pollack sees clearly that the first order of business is to establish security, which means fighting.

PPI's own Jan Mazurek is even tougher on Middle East strategy than Pollack. Where Pollack imagines, in keeping with the elite conventional wisdom of both parties, that China can easily be made a partner for progress in the region, Mazurek sees that the People's Republic, by its own choices, is creating the conditions for an even greater challenge. "Beijing is striking up cordial relationships with a motley array of tyrants and rogue states with which the United States is at odds," he writes. "In fact, competition between China and the United States for oil and influence in oil-rich countries could become the 21st-century equivalent of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the cold war."

And there are two very fine essays on military matters. James Blaker and Steven Nider call for an expanded Army and commit the ultimate Democratic apostasy: "The military budget--which currently consumes a much smaller percentage of U.S. GDP than it did during the cold war, on average--will probably need to grow in the short term." Perhaps most surprising is Melissa Tryon's remarkably sensitive examination of current military culture, an essay that should be required reading for all post-Vietnam politicians. She understands that people in uniform "see the defense of our country as a calling, and one of the greatest forms of service." They also have a deep commitment to victory that "leads to anger at what is widely seen as 'defeatism' among those who declare that the Iraq war is 'unwinnable.' . . . What service members want most is to see America succeed in Iraq."

It's ironic that the current president, a Republican, is a visionary liberal, while those who seem to be his natural lieutenants are Democrats without the prospect of a commander in chief who shares their commitment. The ever-optimistic Will Marshall thinks the Democratic leadership, the "presidential party," will come around. Maybe. But the Warners and the Bayhs--to say nothing of the rest of the likely candidates--sure aren't there yet.

Tom Donnelly is a resident fellow at AEI and editor of Armed Forces Journal. ... 0ykclb.asp

Too bad the strong defense voices like Pollack and Mazurek are drowned out by the "let's form a committee to explore avenues of cooperation with our allies in defeating terrorism" noise from the likes of Kerry.

Posted: Wed May 24, 2006 10:42 pm
by Corlyss_D
A perfect example of the behavior condemned by Lizza . . .

Hmmm, Danny DeVito or Bob Hoskins?

Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone had to do some fancy footwork this week to squelch reports that he was directing a movie about the failed 2002 coup against Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Stone is known to be friendly with both Mr. Chavez and his ideological mentor Fidel Castro, about whom he made "Commandante," a controversial 2003 HBO documentary that was so laudatory that it had to be re-edited for "balance." Reports of his purported Chavez project surfaced last Sunday when Mr. Chavez told a national TV audience that Mr. Stone was making a film about the coup, which the leftist leader has long maintained was directed by the Bush Administration.

"So there will be a movie," Mr. Chavez said during his weekly marathon address to the country. "Could it be that the government of the empire will try to prevent the filming of a movie about a coup that they themselves planned and carried out? Let's see if they can."

Mr. Stone has been going to great lengths not to inject political themes into his next picture, "World Trade Center," a docudrama about the 9/11 attacks. He naturally claimed to be appalled at Mr. Chavez's remarks. "Rumors that I am directing a film about the 2002 coup in Venezuela are untrue and unfounded," he said in a statement. His denial, of course, will feed into Mr. Chavez's contention that the Stone film was planned but then killed by the U.S. government.

"It's dangerous to spend time with Fidel or Chavez," says one Hollywood friend of Mr. Stone's. "After cigars and much drinking, Oliver might have said it would be a good idea to make a film about the coup, and Chavez can cleverly twist words for purposes of his own conspiracy mongering."

Mr. Stone may be able to plead not guilty to trying to glorify Mr. Chavez, but he certainly has done enough damage to the image of the U.S. in Latin America. Last March, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa told the American Enterprise Institute in Washington of the difficulties he faces in explaining to Latin audiences that the U.S. is not a monster. "The problem for those of us who try to combat these stereotypes is that no country produces as much anti-U.S. artistic and intellectual material as the United States itself -- the native country, let us not forget, of Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, and Noam Chomsky," he said.

The director of "JFK," "Nixon" and "Wall Street" may have sworn off burnishing the epaulets of radical leftist strongmen for now, but his previous work has a long half-life overseas.

-- John Fund