April 16, 2004

It's Not Hopeless

Matthew Yglesias asks whether "it's hopeless". By this he means the war on terror and the remaking of the muslim world as tolerant, free nations that are at peace with modernity. He starts off by setting up the straw man of treason, that supporters of George W. Bush call any opposition to Bush administration policies treason and defeatism (being "with the terrorists"). I call this a straw man because you find criticism of Bush policies both from the left and the right and a certain type of criticism is never tagged as treason even by the biggest tinfoil hat types.

It's pretty obvious if you come at the question "can opposition be treasonous" objectively that certainly some of it can. Rolling grenades into your officers' and comrades' tents is many things, one of them being treasonous. Supporting treasonous actions in word and deed would also qualify though sometimes you wouldn't be able to get a formal conviction because of the high bar to treason prosecutions in the US. But aside from such obvious cases, treason is usually not used as a charge by serious people; stupid, counterproductive, and idiotic are much more appropriate labels. And it's up to the right wing to police our own misusers of the term.

It's also pretty clear that a huge chunk of the left simply has not gotten on side to the idea that we're at war. And until they are spanked soundly at the voting booth (possibly several times since 2002 clearly wasn't enough) they're not likely to do so. There is defeatism, there is an attempt to undermine morale on the part of some sections of the opposition, and there has been an appalling lack of effort on the part of too much of the responsible left to clean up after their own nutballs.

But what's really upsetting is Yglesias' second premise, the idea that public opinion in dictatorships is reliably measured by polling the people and that even where it's accurate, it means much. We've got a lot of experience with soviet bloc opinion measurements. It's unlikely that the arab dictatorships are any different in their attempts to manipulate public opinion. In fact, it's a central reality of the region that Israel is used as a whipping boy to distract the populace from focusing on their domestic leadership's culpability in the sorry state these countries find themselves in.

The opposition by the leadership of arab regimes to freedom and democracy in Iraq is palpable and completely understandable. They don't want to be shown up as the pathetic losers that they are. They wish to cling to their national myths that they are the necessary whip hand needed to keep their people in line. And the overwhelming weight of the state owned and controlled media in that part of the world is an active participant in this myth making.

But these are rotten, hollow governments, terrified of freedom in Iraq because they know that they could not stand the spectacle of day in, day out life in an Iraq that was free and progressed faster than they were. As Iraq stabilizes and Iraqis start learning the lessons and habits of free men, whether they agree with the US all the time or not, they will be a subversive force in the Middle East just by existing. And in a way Iraq will be worse than Israel because they are Sunni, they are Shiite, they are Christian, they are Arab, they are Kurd, they provide none of the excuses, the ability to demonize them as outsiders that Israel offers.

Can we do this? Sure we can. Will we do it? We will, despite the ankle biters in Europe and the ones at home. Fundamentally I think we've grown tired of cutting and running. The idea that a new face on the same old policy of liberation and democratization is going to get France et al to provide troops because of our new nuance is very much a non-starter. There is room for a loyal opposition to provide alternatives but they need to be realistic alternatives. Too much of what is coming out of the wall sounds and feels like advice to turn our face to the wall and die.

Posted by TMLutas at April 16, 2004 10:43 AM