July 19, 2005
As the horrific car bombings continue in Iraq, American people seem to be of two sharply different minds on what this means. Those on the Left believe that these attacks vindicate their argument that Iraq is a cesspool of violence that we should have just left alone. For example, Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury strip cynically portrayed Iraq as a lost cause that is being covered up by happy talk U.S. propaganda: "Rummyworld." Harping on that tired point for two straight weeks, as he did, amounts to satirical overkill that hints at possible doubt in Trudeau's mind; he "doth protest too much, methinks." I would agree that Cheney's "last throes" comment probably erred on the optimistic side. What I fail to understand is how anyone could see the barbaric murder of innocents in Musayyib and other towns as something we should just leave alone. Sure, we can't attend to atrocities in every corner of the earth, but if we can't help matters in a country where we have clear interests at stake, what would be left of our prestige or moral standing? Those qualities are markedly different from our "popularity," which the press focuses on, and which is beyond our control as a superpower. John Hawkins provides a noble public service by his piece "Debunking 8 Anti-War Myths About The Conflict In Iraq" at rightwingnews.com.
In today's Washington Post, former Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke, who makes John Bolton look like Mr. Rogers, stoutly defends the U.S.-led intervention in Bosnia ten years ago. He invokes the slaughter at Srebrenica, when Dutch peacekeepers failed to stop marauding Serb militias from rounding up and executing hundreds of Bosnian Muslim men. For him and many others, this tragedy was an occasion for pious breast-beating, lamenting the failure of the "international community," an entity whose existence has never been proven. I believed strongly then, and even more strongly now, that President Clinton's decision to send U.S. combat forces into the former Yugoslavia set a terrible precendent that basically let European nations off the hook for a crisis in their own back yard. France, Italy, and Germany had the troops and weapons; all they lacked was political will. U.S. forces paradoxically set the stage for anti-U.S. sentiment by making European countries think we would bail them out and do their bidding as the "police force" of the West. This false impression was reinforced in 1999 when Clinton bombed Serbia into submission in order to force the Serb army out of Kosovo. This was the first case of overt expansion by NATO into the sovereign territory of a nation outside its proper jurisdiction. Though motivated in part of noble sentiment, it constituted an act of imperialism that did nothing to resolve the underlying animosity between Serbs and Kosovars, and failed to impress Muslim nations that we would stand up for their peoples suffering oppression. It also set the stage for bitter disappointment in European capitals when a less solicitous administration came to power in Washington in 2001. We coddled them for far too long, and the sooner we withdraw our remaining land and air forces from the European continent, the better.
All indications are that the bomb attacks on London did not yield the psychological effect that the terrorists were hoping for, much less affect British policy. A new Web site, werenotafraid.com, expresses British defiance. (via Patrick Carne) On the other hand, there are signs that some people are interpreting the attacks in precisely the wrong way, that Blair's pro-U.S. policy made Britain vulnerable to terrorist attack; see Monday's Washington Post. In a related story, newly released documents show that Al Qaeda's central objective in the March 2004 Madrid attack was indeed to remove the pro-U.S. government of Aznar from power. See barcepundit. We have a long way to go...
Calling the terrorist attacks "barbaric" carries a risk of suggesting that the people on whose behalf the attacks are purportedly launched are themselves barbarian. Warfare does engender a "race to the bottom," as each side justifies cruelty and bigotry toward the enemy in retaliation for combat losses it has suffered. Thus, we must choose our words carefully, without retreating into timid politeness. Born-again hawk Christopher Hitchens wrote about the London attacks, "It is a big mistake to believe this is an assault on "our" values or 'our' way of life. It is, rather, an assault on all civilisation." Arnold Kling made a provocative analogy to the war between Americans and Indians in the Old West, drawing some "Terrorism Lessons From 1870" in techcentralstation.com; see (via Instapundit)
It is possible that the culture of the world Muslim community, including its religious and secular institutions, simply is not yet equipped to confront the radicals in the way that Thomas Friedman and the rest of us might wish. A lack of social capital, or what James Bennett calls "civil society," means that the Muslim community's circuits are overloaded. Like the Native Americans living in Montana in 1870, Muslims are confronted with too much change happening too quickly.
My "career" in journalism pretty much ended after high school, but I'm pretty sure I recall that reporters are not supposed to make things up when they write news stories. Last week the Washington Post tried to analyze the perpetrators of the suicide bombing attacks, and went a bit too far:
Still, the profile of the suspects suggested by investigators fit long-standing warnings by security experts that the greatest potential threat to Britain could come from second-generation Muslims, born here but alienated from British society and perhaps from their own families, and inflamed by Britain's participation in the Iraq war. [italics added]
As Hugh Hewitt notes, there is no such evidence that the four Muslim youths (including one Jamaican convert) were motivated in any way by British war policy. The reporter just made that up, making the news fit pre-conceived assumptions. (via Instapundit) Likewise, the issue of justifying the original decision to go to war is being twisted beyond any resemblance to reality, as exemplified by the hype-filled afterdowningstreet.org Web site. The actual Downing Street memo includes nothing more incriminating than a few cautionary sentences that have been public knowledge for many months. So what??? The standard leftist way of thinking holds that public support for U.S. military action and global capitalism is the result of orchestrated propaganda campaigns; Noam Chomsky popularized this notion of "manufacturing consent." Is it not possible that the overwhelmingly negative coverage of war news that we are witnessing amounts to manufacturing dissent? Which leads me to propose the following bumper sticker, borrowing from the familiar "Question authority" theme: