Eric Langborgh over at the Borg Blog has provided a positive and stimulating challenge to my positions on Iraq and the use of American power. It has been a real pleasure to read his material and chew on his arguments. The purpose of this entry is to engage him on what America should be trying to accomplish in the Middle East in general, and in Iraq in particular.
Although our influence is limited, so it may not matter very much what conclusions we arrive at, perhaps our dialogue may serve to provide clarity to the issues.
Confusion about the Causes of Islamic Discontent
Eric and I differ on the primary cause of Islamic discontent. While I have argued that the spread of Islamic radicalism, or Islamism, is the result of a culture clash between formerly isolated civilizations that now threatens the survival of Muslim culture, Eric believes that American imperialism is the primary culprit. He writes,
[M]uch of the Islamic world’s current response to us has changed in the last fifty or sixty years or so in large part because of the imperialist threat they see from us. We have based our troops on their holy lands and our government has meddled with their own internal affairs... I do agree... that a large part of their response has been cultural, as they see their way of life threatened. But I contend that it is primarily what our government has done that has elicited the hateful response.
Because I am not a liberal (in the classical sense) and/or do not interpret history through a libertarian hermeneutic, I remain unpersuaded by this line of argumentation.
[NOTE: According to my understanding, classical laissez faire liberalism and libertarianism share the following orientations, (which also qualifies them as quasi-anarchist political philosophies):
- Government is the cause or a result of a fall from original innocence, being unnecessary when human beings were able to govern themselves in an original state of freedom.
- Because government itself is tainted by its association with the Fall, the exercise of authority must always be questioned and curtailed. Lord Acton's dictum that "Power tends to corrupt," is a favorite refrain.
- The stability and morality of society is ultimately determined by how well individuals govern themselves. The tendency is to think government is an impediment rather than an aid to virtue (and I think this arises in Christian circles from a faulty view of the Law).
- The essential problem in politics is that of how the individual can free himself from the tyrannical oppression of corrupt government so that he can live virtuously.
Remember, we are talking about primary causes here, not aggravating factors. I will concede that some of America's policies have exasperated things (as our involvement in Iraq seems to have done). The creation of the Israeli state and American interventionism may have precipitated certain responses, but they are not the primary cause of the radicalizing of Islam.
The European colonial powers, world communism, and America have all played at the game of interfering and "meddling" in the affairs of other nations. Why is it that only Muslims have only now resorted to international terrorism as a response? There must be some determining factor other than supposed American imperialism.
President Ahmadi-Nejad's recent statement at the UN that, "By causing war and conflict, some are fast expanding their domination, accumulating greater wealth and usurping all the resources, while others endure the resulting poverty, suffering and misery," is pure "blame America first" claptrap. These sentiments, lifted straight out of the leftist propaganda playbook, attribute nefarious motives to the Bush administration foreign policy.
How one judges the morality of America's actions depends on one's interpretation of America's intentions. There are no brute facts. A large percentage of Muslims have adopted the leftist posture of suspicion toward America, believing the worst about us. Historically, leftists and now Islamists look upon America as the incarnation of exploitive malevolence in the world.
This couldn't be further from the truth. The neoconservatives, who actually believe in democracy (unlike myself), intend to promote freedom (i.e., constitutional government and free market capitalism) as a way to bring prosperity and stability to the developing world. Their goal has not been to impose a foreign culture on the Middle East, but rather to provide Middle Easterners with political and economic mechanisms to enable them to be successful on their own. It has been my opinion that with enough support at home, this project would have a chance of being successful to a degree (though it cannot be the entire solution).
The neoconservatives are persuaded by Thomas Friedman's thesis that radicalism will decrease if economic stagnation is combated in the region. I believe Friedman is correct that any proactive strategy must include an economic aspect, though economics has only limited power to explain human action.
The Islamists have been heartened by our liberal left's opposition to this strategy. They our counting on causing enough murder and mayhem (under the pretense of "freedom fighters") to weaken the American will to carry this thing through. As Ahmadi-Nejad says, "There is no indication that the occupiers have the necessary political will to eliminate the sources of instability."
Furthermore, libertarians and isolationist conservatives have been distracted by thinking that Bush's preemptive strategy somehow tramples on the rights of "sovereign" peoples. If the Islamists didn't think they could work in tandem with liberal (and other) opposition to the war, their prospects for holding out would be much poorer. The Islamists have become adept at playing their enemies off against one another.
Indeed, France is currently discovering that mere opposition to American imperialism does not buy favor with Islamists. An average of 112 cars per day have been torched so far his year, and there is a daily average of 15 attacks on police and emergency services by rioting "youths," as the press calls them, or "spirited youth" as Ahmadi-Nejad calls them.
The Threat of Islam
Eric talks about the complicated nature of our enemy's hatred. I agree, they do not "hate freedom," a euphemism necessitated (?) by political correctness, they want to move into our countries and convert our governments into Islamic regimes. It's called Jihad.
Iraq is a mess. There's no way to deny it. Outright civil war is taking place between Sunnis and Shi'as. (Though I'm suspicious about the accuracy of the media coverage of the "war.") This sectarian violence is distinct from hostilities carried out against our troops, by the way. Perhaps it would have been wiser to leave Saddam in power. Perhaps.
On the other hand, we are seeing that former Baathists have become radicalized since losing power. Whatever their motivation, whether out of genuine idealistic commitment or gaining power, we see that secular Arabs are capable of conversion to Islamism.
As the tensions mounted between Saddam's Iraq and the U.S., Saddam began to position himself as pro-Islamist. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that in 2002 he increased his bounty for suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000. The family of each suicide bomber received this sum.
By attempting to acquire yellowcake uranium in Niger, remaining continually uncooperative with the UN inspectors, and defying UN resolution after UN resolution, Saddam positioned his regime to be the prime focus of the U.S.' attention after Afghanistan. Saddam was unfinished business that needed to be taken care of even after the first Gulf War
What should America do now? While it is politically not feasible to bring in the requisite troops needed to restore order, which would be full occupation with rule by martial law, it appears that we need to let the civil war take its natural course (which may be the better option anyway). Our main activity in the Iraqi interior would be to provide "advisors" for the infant Iraqi government. Perhaps our purpose there should now be merely to guard the Iraqi borders, protect the Kurds, and begin figuring out how to deal with Iran and Syria. More War!!!!
American Strategy: Defensive or Pre-emptive?
Eric and I differ on the nature our Middle East strategy should take. I favor taking proactive and pre-emptive measures. Eric favors a reactive strategy. He writes,
...I believe that this is not a war that can be fought with arms, outside of isolated defensive and occasional offensive actions in response to well-defined terrorist threats and actions taken against us.
I can agree that we need to respond to well-defined terrorist threats. However, I think we need to nip some things in the bud before they become imminent threats. And I agree with the underlying neocon intention to address the root of the problem, though I disagree with them on what the whole solution involves (i.e., I don't reduce the whole problem to a struggle between freedom and tyranny).
Realistic or not, Bush's strategy has been to use military force in a limited way in order to clear the way to implement political tolerance (through constitutional government) and economic growth in the region. He has not sought to occupy Iraq fully or permanently, however our opponents care to characterize our mission. Rather, Bush and the neocons were expecting the Iraqi people to respond favorably to this opportunity we provided and were surprised by the magnitude of the resultant insurgency.
They were mistaken.
Oh, well. It may be that a civil war in Iraq will result in a situation more agreeable to stability in the region. And, we can always depose the regime again if we don't like the outcome (I'm being somewhat flippant here). I just do not see any alternative to trying to police the political situation over there.
Bush's Orientation: Dispensational or Neo-conservative?
Eric has voiced a concern that dispensational eschatology is exercising an influence over Bush's policy. He writes,
I believe that dispensational eschatology is overly influencing our foreign policy. It would be nice if actual Christianity would hold that influence. For example, Bush’s refusal to meet with the Iranian president when he was on our own soil was beyond ridiculous and is self-defeating in my mind.
I may be reading into this too much, but is the thought that Bush won't dialogue because Ahmadi-Nejab has called for the dissolution of Israel? If so, this is simply incorrect. There has been no contact between Iran and the U.S. since 1980 (during the hostage crisis).
I know that dispensationalists support the state of Israel and also that they form a significant part of the Christian right. However, support for the nation of Israel does not come from them alone. Presumably, Jewish-Americans favor policies that support Israel. The neoconservatives also support Israel because they view it as their ally in the spread of "freedom & democracy."
Israel should be supported for the following reasons:
- "Palestine" is the ancestral homeland of the Jews. It is their God-given inheritance that they will securely dwell in after their conversion to Christ (NOTE: I am not a premillennialist!). No one else has a stronger claim to that land.
- No other sovereign nation has existed there for the last 2000 years. It has always been dominated by foreign powers.
- The Jews need a homeland for their continued survival. The Holocaust must never happen again.
- It is the only non-Muslim state in the region. (Reason enough!)
One may read Ahmadi-Nejad's 2006 letter to Bush and reports of recent statements he made about Israel's illegitimacy to understand that the Iranian President is not living in the same reality President Bush is. Consider the final words spoken by Ahmadi-Nejad at the UN:
Ahmadi-Nejad is not talking about the return of Jesus Christ here. He's talking about the coming of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam, who according to Shi'a Muslims, has been in "occultation" (hidden by God) since the 9th Century.
I emphatically declare that today's world, more than ever before, longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity; and above all longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet.
O, Almighty God, all men and women are Your creatures and You have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by You, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause.
Bush is a neoconservative, not a dispensationalist. He doesn't want to debate Mahdis vs. Messiahs. He doesn't want to draw comparisons between occultation and the secret Rapture, or the Muslim view of latter day calamities and the Great Tribulation. Bush has no desire to orchestrate end times scenarios. However, Ahmadi-Nejad does. He's a very dangerous man who employs high sounding rhetoric to posture himself as the true champion of human rights against the tyrannical United States, a.k.a., the Great Satan.
While allowing that there is a place for some critical self-evaluation, I reject the idea that American aggression is the primary cause of the rise of radical Islam. Islamism is the consequence of a certain way of looking at the world. Radicalized Muslims are going to interpret world events differently than Christians or humanists.
By arguing this way, I am not making a tautologous argument that radical Islam is the cause of radical Islam. Rather, new ideological factors have been assimilated into the Islamic worldview to radicalize Muslim culture as explained below. Thus, certain historical events have precipitated a negative Muslim reaction. The responsibility for atrocities committed by Muslims lies entirely on the shoulders of those who propagate Islamist ideology.
To date, America is the most benevolent and just nation that has ever existed. It isn't perfect, but its intentions have never been to exploit the poor of the world. This charge originated in the upside-down worldview of international Communism. There is no concord between a belief in America's essential goodness and the belief that she is the Great Satan. (Also, there can be no meaningful dialogue between civilized nations and those who refuse to recognize the sovereignty of Israel.) America is the flagship of Western Civilization, and hence, of Christendom.
Islam as the incarnation of Antichrist, the sum of all heresies, has assimilated fascistic anti-semitism and communistic elements, to become more dangerous than ever. Better than he knows, President Bush has correctly identified our enemies as evil doers.
The libertarians and leftist-liberals who join together to pressure the U.S. to quit Iraq and foreswear interference in Middle East politics think they can stop the speeding trains from colliding. However, the clash of civilizations has already commenced.
The conflict that lies ahead may be the most desperate Christendom has yet faced. The peril is great because we have forgotten--or no longer believe in--who we are.