September 22, 2002



I've read every word of Steven den Beste's pleas for a war on Iraq. And while I hold no brief for Saddam Hussein, I just don't see it playing out the way it hopes. Oh, I think the war itself will go reasonably well. Not a lot of Americans will die, Saddam won't use any of his (largely illusory, I suspect) "weapons of mass destruction" and he will either flee into exile or die, as Bin Laden likely did, in some unrecorded bomb blast that will bring little satisfaction to those who wanted him humbled. And then the Americans will have Baghdad. And that's where I think things will come apart.

Fifty years of scores to settle. A nation ruled for centuries by a Sunni minority, but largely composed of rebellious Kurds and Shiites. No history of democracy. And an American nation, satiated by its short-term success, as in 1991, as in Afghanistan, content to leave the scene to some pathetic peacekeeping force (less the bases it carves out for itself as the modern equivalent of Danegild, as they did at Kandahar and Bagram), because after all they're really not into nation-building. By hook or by crook, an American-supported strongman will take over, like Musharraf, like Mubarak. And Iraq will become just like Egypt. America's best Arab ally. And the oppressive, soul-destroying home of Mohammed Atta and Ayman al-Zuwahiri. And a decade or two from now, their successors will blow up something else dear to (the by then even more widely hated than now) America. And thousands more will die, and we'll look again to the "roots of Muslim rage." That's the most likely scenario. And I think everybody with sense knows it... if only because the more robust nation-building exercise Den Beste advocates would be a sacrifice, in terms of higher taxes, a broader military franchise, etc., that average Americans, even after Sept. 11, are clearly completely unwilling to undergo.

The only real argument (hope, really) that Den Beste has to counter that is that decade or two our actions buy now will allow Western culture (jeans and Barbies and consumerism) to so penetrate the Arab world that they'll have put away that childish terrorism thing and entered the 21st century finally. Well, we all have to believe in something I guess. Personally, I have trouble seeing how the recent tariff and farm bill decisions, and the general anti-trade line of America in general, do anything to make the Middle East producers, instead of just consumers, which will sort of be necessary for the rest of Den Beste's plan to happen. Me, I'll go with that Wright chap's prescriptions instead:

1) "Take your bitter medicine early." (ie, don't push off the crisis now in hopes it'll go away later, because it won't).
2) "The substance of policies should be subjected to a new kind of appraisal, one that explicitly accounts for the discontent and hatred the policies arouse." (ie, rein in John Ashcroft).
3) "The ultimate target is memes; killing or arresting people is useful only to the extent that it leads to a net reduction in terrorism memes."
4) "In a war on terrorism, applying force inconspicuously makes sense more often than in regular wars."
5) "Support free expression and, ultimately, democratization in authoritarian Arab and other Muslim states."
6) "Draw Islamic nations—and for that matter all nations—into the web of global capitalism."
7) "Emphasize trade at least as heavily as aid in fighting the kind of economic deprivation that breeds terrorism."
8) "To blunt some of globalization's sharper edges, carry political governance beyond the level of the nation-state, to the transnational level."
9) "Honor President Bush's pledge— make America a humble nation."
10) "Share the blame (with other countries)."
11) "Develop a serious international inspection system for biological weapons."
12) "Use the World Trade Organization as the fulcrum for ensuring compliance with international weapons-control law."
13) "Imagine how biotechnology would have to be policed in all nations for the United States to feel secure 20 years from now; implement and then continually refine that policing strategy in the United States, while beginning the long, laborious task of getting every other nation on the planet to eventually adopt a comparable system."

The Wright-Flit policy approach, if I read the fellow right, would be this: do everything one can do diplomatically to pursue the unconditional return of inspectors to Iraq. If, as one can safely assume, those are rebuffed, gain broad Western assent for an occupation of Iraq so that inspectors can work. But if that coalition is not at least as broad as that in 1991, LET IT GO. A unilateral U.S. action, given the likely outcome above, all but guarantees the decimation of a U.S. city of your choice within 20 years, as America becomes the one and only lightning rod for world terrorist anger.

Instead, say you accept the judgment of the world. Find other means to pursue your goals. I believe U.S. recognition of a sovereign, democratic Kurdistan would be a nice start, and would lead inevitably to the war Bush wants to save his re-election hopes, but in a way truer to both Wright's ideas and American ideals. Fight that war, and win. Then look for other democratic movements in the Muslim world to bolster. Put enough money into Afghanistan to make it the jewel of Central Asia. Give Iran a break, they haven't sent any terrorists your way recently. Keep the armed forces busy in the meantime, doing things like swooping down and forcibly repossessing that reactor in the Congo that can't seem to keep track of its fissile material. (Warn other nations you'll do the same if they don't start locking the gates at night, too.) Reverse Bush's decision to pull out of the Bioweapons Convention. Accept the results of the next legitimate Palestinian elections, whoever wins. Push Israel to stop building new settlements, and consider evacuating Gaza. Repeal that ludicrous farm bill, and the other punitive tariffs that are holding back the economies of Pakistan, among other places. Follow the rest of Wright's ideas, while you're at it. Anyway, that would be my 2 cents.

Posted by BruceR at 12:22 AM