Friday, September 20, 2002

While critical of the "protocols of the Elders of Zion" comparison Hesiod made (a critique which Atrios admits is valid), Charles Dodgson nonetheless wrote a rather brutal takedown of the SDB "American Man's Burden" essay that has raised rather a lot of blogger ire lately. It also happened to lead to my dismissal of SDB as a useful source of analysis and debate, but that's more because I've spent rather more time than most addressing his arguments in the past, and grew heartily sick of it when I realized that the whole enterprise was relatively meaningless and discovered both that he deliberately writes to a conclusion and that he refuses to do any real research on the political topics he writes about at such great length.

Dodgson makes a number of good points:

The striking thing to me about den Beste's essay is the lack of connection between the ends, elimination of the terrorist threat from Islamist radicals, and the means, a military attack on, and defeat of, the secular Baathist regime in Iraq --- a regime which the Wahhabi-inspired religious fanatics who drive al-Qaeda view as an ally of convenience at best. (If at all; Dubya's crowd is soft-pedaling the argument that Hussein has something to do with al-Qaeda, because they haven't been able to show convincing evidence).

So, suppose we fight what den Beste views as the battle of Iraq in the War on Islamia, or something like that, and suppose we win. Will that, in fact, refute any of the arguments of the Islamists? No. It will play into their hands. We will show them an Arab country which has adopted a secular regime, with no religious trappings, getting the pants beat off of it in a conflict with the actual West, which will only reinforce their argument that religious revival is a road to glory. And, as Demosthenes points out, it will play into their own "clash of civilizations" rhetoric. The mere fact of a military defeat, particularly of a secular regime, won't dampen their movement --- in fact, by den Beste's own argument, it is a sustained record of military defeats at the hands of the West, over hundreds of years, which has given rise to it.
The logical response to this is that Saudi Arabia will be next, but that opens up a whole host of other issues were that to happen. It is assuredly the case that if the U.S. decides to invade Saudi Arabia they will not only be going it alone but will be actively opposed by pretty much every other country on the planet, a position that no sane administration wants to be in. Besides, a logical counter-argument presents itself in the Iranian revolution, where a U.S. sponsored dictatorial regime was deposed and replaced by the current theocratic/quasi-democratic regime; while that latter regime isn't especially strong, it's proof positive that U.S. backed rulers are hardly invincible, even when opposed by those which SDB believes to be dangerous throwbacks.

This last paragraph was incisive and insightful too:

By the way, if the idea is to establish a "beacon of democracy" in the larger Muslim community --- well, there are other places we could try that. Indonesia, where we... umm... sponsored a coup. Iran where... umm... we put the Shah in power, displacing an elected prime minister who didn't like the way the West was running his oil industry. (That worked out great, huh?) Pakistan, where our current "bastard in the region" --- who's taking over that role from ummm... Saddam Hussein --- is rapidly converting himself into a military strongman. (By the by, he's also a former sponsor of Kashmiri terrorists whose disavowals of support for their current operations are less than completely convincing. And he certainly has WMD. I have a sick feeling we may be hearing more about that in the years to come). And of course, Afghanistan, where we have in the past supported, ummm... Islamic fanatics against the Soviets, and where the regime we installed just this year is hanging on by its fingernails...
Charles is right- the track record isn't that promising, and SDB's utterly consequentialist argument simply doesn't work if the consequences are even remotely in doubt.

It's somewhat disturbing that this sort of xenophobic nonsense is taking the place of real issues on the sites of people like Hesiod and Atrios, but at least it's laying bare the real argument for invasion of Iraq, and just how weak that argument is. I'm somewhat glad that Bush decided to go to the U.N. and consequently ensured that invasion would be difficult at best and most likely politically impossible, while at the same time (accidentally) prompting a new inspection regime. Now that the WMD fig leaf has been torn away, the real arguments for invasion are surfacing. With luck, they'll be seen as the ludicrous fantasies that they are, and be swept away by those sensible and realistic enough to not be caught up in them. That will be the first step towards truly insuring that Osama, dead or alive, doesn't get exactly what he wants.

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