Thomas Friedman: Big Talk, Little Will

I plan to phase out the NYT columns, offerin gonly the ones I think are indispensable. Like this one.

Big Talk, Little Will

Published: August 16, 2006

The defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman by the upstart antiwar Democrat Ned Lamont has sparked a firestorm of debate about the direction of the Democratic Party. My own heart is with those Democrats who worry that just calling for a pullout from Iraq, while it may be necessary, is not a sufficient response to the biggest threat to open societies today – violent, radical Islam. Unless Democrats persuade voters – in the gut – that they understand this larger challenge, it’s going to be hard for them to win the presidency.

That said, though, the Democratic mainstream is nowhere near as dovish as critics depict. Truth be told, some of the most constructive, on-the-money criticism over the past three years about how to rescue Iraq or improve the broader ‘war on terrorism’ has come from Democrats, like Joe Biden, Carl Levin, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Bill Clinton.

But whatever you think of the Democrats, the important point is this: They are not the party in power today.

What should really worry the country is not whether the Democrats are being dragged to the left by antiwar activists who haven’t thought a whit about the larger struggle we’re in. What should worry the country is that the Bush team and the Republican Party, which control all the levers of power and claim to have thought only about this larger struggle, are in total denial about where their strategy has led.

Besides a few mavericks like Chuck Hagel and John McCain on Iraq and Dick Lugar and George Shultz on energy, how many Republicans have stood up and questioned the decision-making that has turned the Iraq war into a fiasco? Had more of them done so, instead of just mindlessly applauding the administration, the White House might have changed course when it had a chance.

Not only is there no honest self-criticism among Republicans, but – and this is truly contemptible – you have Dick Cheney & Friends focusing their public remarks on why Mr. Lamont’s defeat of Mr. Lieberman only proves that Democrats do not understand that we are in a titanic struggle with ‘Islamic fascists’ and are therefore unfit to lead.

Oh, really? Well, I just have one question for Mr. Cheney: If we’re in such a titanic struggle with radical Islam, and if getting Iraq right is at the center of that struggle, why did you ‘tough guys’ fight the Iraq war with the Rumsfeld Doctrine – just enough troops to lose – and not the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force to create the necessary foundation of any democracy-building project, which is security? How could you send so few troops to fight such an important war when it was obvious that without security Iraqis would fall back on their tribal militias?

Mr. Cheney, if we’re in a titanic struggle with Islamic fascists, why have you and President Bush resisted any serious effort to get Americans to conserve energy? Why do you refuse to push higher mileage standards for U.S. automakers or a gasoline tax that would curb our imports of oil? Here we are in the biggest struggle of our lives and we are funding both sides – the U.S. military with our tax dollars and the radical Islamists and the governments and charities that support them with our gasoline purchases – and you won’t lift a finger to change that. Why? Because it might impose pain on the oil companies and auto lobbies that fund the G.O.P., or require some sacrifice by Americans.

Mr. Cheney, if we’re in a titanic struggle with Islamic fascists, why do you constantly use the ‘war on terrorism’ as a wedge issue in domestic politics to frighten voters away from Democrats. How are we going to sustain such a large, long-term struggle if we are a divided country?

Please, Mr. Cheney, spare us your flag-waving rhetoric about the titanic struggle we are in and how Democrats just don’t understand it. It is just so phony – such a patent ploy to divert Americans from the fact that you have never risen to the challenge of this war. You will the ends, but you won’t will the means. What a fraud!

Friends, we are on a losing trajectory in Iraq, and, as the latest London plot underscores, the wider war with radical Islam is only getting wider. We need to reassess everything we are doing in this ‘war on terrorism’ and figure out what is worth continuing, what needs changing and what sacrifice we need to demand from every American to match our means with our ends. Yes, the Democrats could help by presenting a serious alternative. But unless the party in power for the next two and half years shakes free of its denial, we are in really, really big trouble.

The Discussion: 32 Comments

As always, Friedman has a keenly grasped the obvious long after everyone else.

August 16, 2006 @ 3:54 am | Comment

Friedman is spot on in his column. On a related note, I would submit that all of the columns by Krugman, Herbert, Dowd and Friedman are essential. You should continue to post all of them. Thank you.

August 16, 2006 @ 10:04 am | Comment

Please don’t phase out these: Paul Krugman, who’s one of the few who can hold Bush & the GOP to account; Frank Rich, who’s focused on their propagandizing; and Friedman, who can drive me crazy with his Pollyannaish optimism, but still has a lot of valuable things to say.

August 16, 2006 @ 11:23 am | Comment

Yes, please don’t phase these out …

Anyway Caius, you’re right that many have said this before. But many were saying it (or expressing similar doubts) before the war had even happened. A few were even saying it on September 12. I’m not impressed by this, because I think their doubts were manifestations of their own political biases more than anything else — it was not inevitable that Bush would screw the war up this bad.

But he has. And the fact that Friedman’s views have evolved this way, after clearly being more than willing to give the Administration an honest chance, is far more compelling and troubling to people who want the war to end well. I also think he’s right that the political left in this country needs to get serious about crafting a coherent strategy that battles Islamo-fascism in a more effective way than Bush has. I would be more than willing to vote for them if they did, but if all they offer is blanket criticism and the constant implication that we should just seek to avoid confrontation, well … not sure who I can vote for (if I can stomach voting at all).

August 16, 2006 @ 12:24 pm | Comment

Well, to begin with, the left needs to stop using Republican-coined neologisms such as “Islamofascism” (see Lakoff on the politics of language).

August 16, 2006 @ 1:11 pm | Comment

Call it what you like. I spent five years living in the Arab world (five more than Lakoff has, I’ll wager) and whatever you call it, it’s real, and I’m not going to vote for any party that doesn’t have a compelling strategy for defeating it. The Repubs are already off the list, but I haven’t seen much to give me faith in the left yet either.

August 16, 2006 @ 2:18 pm | Comment

Well, to begin with, the left needs to stop using Republican-coined neologisms such as “Islamofascism”

That’s right, continue using weasel words like misunderstood strugglers for martydom or Islamic Freedom fighters.

See my post
Translating the Truth into European Muslim-Speak

August 16, 2006 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

I would appreciate if you keep all the Friedman columns, I find him usually correct on the Middle East. That was how I found the pekingduck was by searching for his columns.

I agree with his idea of doing a total review of the war on terror. Right now we seem to be doing more of the same, and not making a whole lot of progress. Iran – close to Nukes. Iraq, closer, or in Civil War. Pakistan, one assasination from becoming a radical Islamic government with Nukes. Osama, still living the good life in Pakistan in the tribal areas. Madras, still producing anti-American Zealots. Progress is have not had any more 9-11’s, but pushing back Radical Islam, mixed results, mostly do to our enemy shooting themselves in the foot and fouling their own nest.

August 16, 2006 @ 10:47 pm | Comment

Keep the NY times columns…please? (I don’t know how exactly to denote abject begging with a keyboard – but trust me, I’m begging!)

August 17, 2006 @ 3:37 am | Comment

I think “radical Islam” or “Islamic extremism” is more on the mark than “Islamofascism”, personally. I am perfectly willing to accept (and condemn) that strain in ME culture. The difference being that I don’t think they are fighting us “because they hate our freedom” or because they want to see all American women in burkhas, and those are the sorts of psuedo-arguments generally employed by those who use “Islamofascism.”

I will agree that there is a war of ideas component, but for the most part, it’s about what we do, not “our freedom.” Look at what’s happened with Hezbollah in Lebanon. All sorts of moderate, non-religious Lebanese – cosmopolitan types fond of designer fashions and partying – now are giving Hezbollah at least some props because they stood up to Israel – and the US.

I also think that the US makes a convenient boogeyman for repressive ME regimes (regimes that our government often supports), and that’s another thing.

But I’m not special-ordering any burkhas in preparation for the Islamo-Nazi takeover.

August 17, 2006 @ 10:24 am | Comment

“Islamofascism” sounds a bit histrionic, and perhaps a little hard on the average muslim’s ears, which is I think why a lot of people don’t like it. But I think that as a matter of strict correctness, it’s more on the mark (even if it’s often mis-deployed in the ways OtherLisa mentions).

I mean, the phenomenon we’re fighting against has both a religious and a nationalistic component. It involves the belief that one religion is truer than all others (and is under threat from the less-true ones) and also that one culture/nationality is superior to all others (and is similarly under threat). Many Arab thinkers (virtually none of whom like the US much) acknowledge that the political Islamic movement adopted much of its rhetoric, as well as its popular support, from Nasser’s Arab nationalism before it. It combines an aggressive desire to return to an ancient order, both religiously and politically, in which the foreign influences are forcefully expelled and the true native character restored. These goals, and the extreme means used to pursue them, are the essence of fascism.

“Islamic extremism” and “radical Islam” are wrong in two ways. First, (although most Muslims would probably not agree with me), they are actually MORE insulting to Islam because they understand these violent political trends to simply be more extreme or more radical versions of Islam itself, as if all you have to do is turn up the volume and this is the way Islam must inevitably turn out. Second, these terms entirely miss the nationalistic element, and the obsessions with lost glory that is far more characteristic of fascism than it is of any particular religion.

Islamofascism captures both the essential elements without passing an implicit judgement on Islam itself.

But like I said, anyone can call it whatever they like, in my book. But I need to hear a compelling strategy for how to beat it — not just more reasons why Bush is an imbecile — before anyone is going to win my vote.

August 17, 2006 @ 2:23 pm | Comment

So what do we call the extremist Christians in the US, the “reconstructionists” I think they are sometimes labeled?

Can we have “Christianofascism” as well? Because there are plenty of people in this country whose goals match up pretty well with what you’ve stated here. And before someone objects that they aren’t blowing stuff up, I’d remind you of violence against abortion providers and Militia-types who have WMDs in their garages.

Re: what can we do? Practically, I’d say the US needs to take a more even-handed approach in the ME re: Israel/Palestinians, for one, and we sure as hell don’t stand back and supply weapons while an erstwhile ally smashes a nascent multi-cultural democracy into pieces. We need to stop unilaterally invading countries like Iraq for another. We need to develop a national energy policy that helps us to disengage from Saudi despots and the like – US rhetoric about “freedom” rings pretty hollow when we prop up nasty dictators and disavow the results of elections that we don’t like.

We can, subtley, fund opposition movements, but that has to be done with a great deal of care. I’ve read somewhere that it’s possible to encourage democratic movements in other countries, but only if such opposition is fairly unified. Doing it in a faction-ridden environment like Iraq is like trying to mend a vase after smashing it into pieces. We embark on out-and-out subversion in that region at our own peril (see definitions of: “blowback”). We use foreign aid in a genuinely humanitarian way and to encourage intellectual openness, not as a cudgel to force “free-market” ideologies that have proved ruinous to many developing economies.

Other than that? I’d say we accept that there are people out there who still wish us harm and that it is simply beyond our control to stop them from wishing so. We realize that a movement like Al Qaeda is a purely negative one and that it offers little in the way of a vision for the future of the region or its adherents. We focus on intelligence and police-work and on genuinely improving security here at home. Sensible stuff like protecting our ports, making sure all airline cargo is X-rayed, strengthening security of nuke and chemical plants, etc., rather than flashy nonsense like prohibiting mascara on airplanes.

That would be my approach.

August 17, 2006 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

One other thing I meant to say – I think it’s a mistake to conflate every resistance/terrorist/opposition movement in the ME into some kind of global “Islamofascism” because their motivations and make-up are really quite different. I don’t think you can equate Hezbollah with Al Qaeda, for example.

The LAT today has three articles that I think illustrate some of what we’re up against and what needs to be done:

british muslims

hezbollah rebuilding

death of a real American ambassador

August 17, 2006 @ 4:15 pm | Comment

I don’t want to get into the position of defending the religious right in the US. I think they are mostly idiots, but not mostly harmless, which is a bad combination.

However, the fascist label does not apply. Very few on the religious right — even on the furthest wings of it — are consumed by this need to purge any and all foreign influence from the US.

I think you’re confusing really bad tactics (like blowing stuff up and killing opponents) with fascism. While these types of tactics are often employed by fascists, it’s not fascism without that deep, aggressive cult of a primordial cultural purity that has been tainted by outsiders. If only because America is the one doing most of the tainting around the world, you are not going to find very many Americans, even stupid conservative ones, who build their entire politics on the idea that America is inherently great, but it is now a crippled giant because of the influence of foreigners and jews (Mel Gibson excluded).

That’s the difference between a fascist ass-hole and a regular ass-hole. Osama and the gang are pretty clearly the fascist type. They believe their culture is inherently better than everyone else’s, but that the pernicious influence of jews, Americans, and Ronald McDonald have forced them into a position where the only way they can return to the Golden Age of perfect society is to kill lots of people. There is a word for that type of thinking. The word is fascism.

Regarding your plan, a more equal approach to the Israel-Palestine problem would be a huge step forward, as would a new energy policy that protects the environment while taking a few dollars out of the Saudis’ overfat wallets. Police work and intelligence will also help.

But none of that will solve the problem. I find myself unimpressed by your suggestion that we just accept there are some people out there who mean us harm. I am unimpressed by this suggestion because the people who mean us harm also mean to establish a retrograde caliphate in their own countries. If they are allowed to do so in these early stages, just looking the other way will no longer be an option.

Think Munich, Rome, Madrid in the 1920s. The price of defeating fascism only gets higher the longer you wait.

August 17, 2006 @ 6:18 pm | Comment

And I agree with you that the term “Islamofascism” should not be understood to mean that all the militant groups in the Middle East are working together or can be “equated” with each other (whatever you mean by equate in this context). Rather, we should understand the term to mean that all these groups are driven by a similar hatred of minorities and outsiders and a (rather loopy) conviction that if they can just kill enough people then everything will magically be just as awesome as it was 1,000 years ago.

August 17, 2006 @ 6:36 pm | Comment

I’m at work and generally don’t comment much while I’m here but as it is must comment quickly.

Seems to me that the “Christian” reconstructionists are fascist by your definition – I really don’t see the difference.

It’s impossible to bomb an ideology out of existence, and I really don’t get inflating the threat of Islamo-whatever into a life-and-death struggle on par with defeating the Nazis – which though it was an ideology with the capacity to transcend Germany’s borders, was dangerous because it was in service of a state with considerable military power.

Ultimately these movements – those preaching hatred of minorities and outsiders and medievel thinking – end up hurting their own adherents and the countries in which such ideologies dominate, way more than they can and ever will be able to hurt us.

A UN study by a group of Arab scholars about the state of the Arab world concluded that the three reasons the ME was in such sad shape were:

1. Corrupt, unrepresentative governments

2. Status of women

3. Lack out outside intellectual stimulation, measured by, among other things, the number of books available in translation (compared to China, the difference is quite staggering).

What is it you’re advocating, if I might ask?

August 17, 2006 @ 6:51 pm | Comment

I guess I’m not sure exactly who you mean by Christian reconstructionists. But unless you mean people who are actively waging violent struggle to reinstate the political supremacy of the pope in Rome and unify the Western world under his banner, and who blame miscellaneous foreigners, jews, and other book-readin types for the fact that the pope is not the political leader of the world at present, well, I’m afraid they don’t have much in common with jihadists.

But like I said, I’m not here to defend American Christians. If you’d like to call them fascists, that’s fine with me. I don’t like them much myself. However, if you’d like to devote equal resources to combatting them as you would to combatting Islamofascists, I’m probably not likely to sign up for your agenda.

I think you are patently correct that people living in countries where Islamofascists (and other fascists) are in power end up having a much tougher go of it than people living in democracies. I am much more worried, for example, that my mother-in-law living in Cairo will be killed or beaten because some zealot thinks she was wrong to divorce her abusive husband than I am that the same zealot will crash a plane into the building where I work in California (thousands more real-life examples available on request).

That’s cold comfort to my mother-in-law though. In fact, I’m not sure why its any comfort to you either. I would prefer that we did whatever we could to prevent this kind of suffering, which is absolutely pervasive wherever Islamofascists have control. I find it, frankly, execrable that you seem to be unbothered by such people’s suffering and seem to think that as long as they are hurting worse than we are, there’s no reason we should help them. Shame on you. The world is an increasingly small, interconnected place, and in my view we owe it to those less fortunate to help them where we can.

I’m not actually sure you’re right that it’s impossible to bomb an ideology out of existence. But let’s just concede the point. It may still be perfectly possible to bomb an oppressive government out of existence and replace it with one that is better.

I am of course aware of the UN Human Development Report on the Arab World and have met some of the people who contributed research. I am advocating efforts to address the problems they mention through diplomacy and aid, to actively support a just settlement to Israel-Palestine, to support through bullets and aid the development of a true democracy in Iraq, active support for Lebanon, merciless beatings for the Taliban remnants in Afghanistan and for Hezbollah and Islamofascists in Anbar, undercutting the Saudis’ arrogance and terrorism-funding by going green, destroying Iranian reactors before they start up, and bombing the living shit out of any government (or janjaweed militia, or hamas, or whoever …) that terrorizes its people in the name of dragging them and us all back 1,000 years. I’m advocating treating the problem like it is a serious one. We need to fight where fighting will help, and give where giving will help. We need to change the nature of the Middle East because if we don’t, millions of innocent people will continue to suffer under progressively worse regimes and, eventually, even people like you who are apparently unmoved by third-world suffering may have to face it on your doorstep as well.

Anyway, since that is the way I feel, I won’t be voting for anyone who doesn’t take the issue seriously, as much as I am disgusted at the way the Administration has made such a hash of things.

August 18, 2006 @ 12:20 am | Comment

EXCUSE ME???? Where did I state or even imply that I was unaffected by people in the ME’s suffering. That is rank and utter bullshit. You completely distort what I was saying and are reading between lines that I didn’t even write.

What is the point of trying to engage with you when you start engaging in baseless attacks?

Particularly because we agree on some of the same approaches. I only am much more doubtful that the US has that much power to change cultures in the ME, and I am particularly doubtful that bombing people is going to affect some sort of positive cultural change and somehow motivate people to love us. How does that work, exactly? When has it ever? How are “we” going to “change the nature of the Middle East”? How incredibly arrogant a statement is that?!

Progressives and feminists were speaking out against the Taliban long before the Bush Adminstration decided to take them out (in fact the Bush Administration was seriously negotiating with the Taliban as late as April 2001 on a pipeline deal).

I am not opposed to all armed interventions. I supported Kosovo. In cases of failed states, particularly where genocides are taking place, the international community needs to intervene, and that often comes down to bombs and bullets. Dafur is a good example. I frankly don’t know what the answer to that wretched situation is, given that the “international community” can’t agree and doesn’t have the integrity to enforce its own resolutions. Maybe if the US hadn’t shot its wad and its international credibility we’d be in a better position to have some influence there.

But you tell me what our hamfisted, idiotic adventure in Iraq has accomplished for the Iraqi people. You want to talk about “third world suffering”? Let’s talk about 3000-4000 Iraqi civilians who are dying by violence every month in “Iraq, the Model.”

It’s not up to “us” to change the Middle East. We can support democratic movements and more open societies, we can use all the tools of diplomacy at our disposal, and very occasionally, we can resort to force when it’s absolutely necessary to protect ourselves and the broader global interest.

But ultimately, change in the Middle East has to come from the people who live there.

I’ll leave you with this quote from an article in today’s LAT:

“August 13, 2006

For six long years, Akbar Ganji wasted away in an Iranian jail, suffering torture and solitary confinement for promoting democracy and criticizing leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. An 80-day hunger strike badly weakened him.

President Bush hailed his valiance and called for his release, authorizing $75 million in funding this year to support Iran’s democratic opposition.

But Ganji, a former member of the Revolutionary Guards who is now regarded as one of Iran’s leading journalists and dissidents, has come to California to deliver what may seem a counterintuitive message: Leave Iran alone.

In interviews, talks with scholars and an appearance last week at a celebrity-studded gathering sponsored by actor Sean Penn and producer Mike Medavoy, Ganji pressed his view that U.S. military intervention and funding of dissidents would only give the Iranian regime an excuse for further crackdowns. Already, he said, the regime is trying to marginalize the opposition as “foreign agents” and has dramatically increased censorship and other oppressive measures.

The most promising path to democracy in the Middle East, he said, is to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and eliminate the poverty, desperation and despotic governments that he said have allowed extremism to flourish.

“We have to change the regime through our own challenges and struggles,” said Ganji, 46, a short, slight man who was released from prison five months ago. “The U.S. cannot do it for us.”

He added, however, that Americans can help their cause by promoting greater contacts with Iran through technological, cultural and educational exchanges.”

Oh, and as a p.s., look up the Christian Reconstructionist movement. They want Biblical law in place of the Constitution and anything that smacks of secularism. Sounds pretty similar to “Islamofascists” to me.

August 18, 2006 @ 1:41 am | Comment

I don’t believe any serious candidate running for national office does not take the threat of fanatical Islamic terrorists seriously, Democrat or Republican. Under a nation ruled by Republicans with majorities in both houses, we’ve only seen terrorism soar. No one who really does see terrorism as a serious problem could vote for Bush, who has done more to boost terrorist recruitment than anyone in history, and whose response to 911 was to go after Iraq, diluting our efforts against Bin Laden and generally making a huge mess of the Middle East. Iraq was ruled with a cruel and evil iron fist by Saddam, but it was free of terrorism. Look at it today. 3,000-plus innocents being killed each month. A new September 11 ever 30 days.

For all your pretentious talk, have you noticed that we’re losing? That what was supposed to take 6 months and turn into a celebration of democracy and stability has become a three-year fiasco and we cannot and will not win? I thought we could at first and now I know we can’t because we fucked it up at the most important moment when we really could have won hearts and minds. We were so close, but we can never go back – we are simply too despised, even (especially) by the elected iraqi government. With Abu Ghraib, I threw in the towel; we went from liberators to torturers. So please, cut the pompous BS – people were falling for it back in 2001, but now we know better. You fight terrorism with intelligence and international cooperation, and when you know where they are, you use bullets or whatever force is necessary. But your macho love of violence for the sake of violence fools no one – you’re just another high falutin’ but impotent fool who’s been snookered into believing Iraq is part of the war on terror, and that it’s a winnable war, even now, and that we can bomb Iran into submission. Indulge yourself in your right-wing fantasies, but maybe, just maye you should take a look at how this strategy has worked in Iraq. And look at how well it worked in Vietnam. Remember the past or be forced to relive it. Understand your enemy. Understand that the relationship of the man on the street in Lebanon to Hezbollah is a far cry from most Moslems’ relationship with Al Qaeda, and lumping them together as terrorist organizations displays vast ignorance, arrogance and hubris. Your lofty rhetoric belies your fundamental ignorance of the situation on the ground.

Just as a side note, never forget the second biggest terrorist attack against Americans on American soil was performed by a far-righter. I don’t think McVeigh was a Christianist, but many of his beliefs are espoused by them (a crazed belief in America’s invincibility and greatness, threatened by craven liberals and bureaucrats).

August 18, 2006 @ 1:52 am | Comment

For our friend Mobius, I’d like to steal some copy from another blogger. He writes this to Andrew Sullivan, who had just written that at least the Republicans were doing something about terrorism. (Never mind that that that something was asinine and self-destructive.) It’s long, but Mobius seems to like long posts and comments, and I hope he studies every word:

OK, here’s my strategy for defeating Islamic terror at its roots and democratizing the Arab Muslim world:

1. First, find an empty beer bottle.

2. Next, I want all Republicans and Republican media mouthpieces like yourself, Sully, to start telling everybody that this empty beer bottle is actually full of terror! When people question whether there is really any terror in the bottle, deride them as unserious, or as being terrorist sympathizers, traitors, anti-Semites, or whatever. When pressed to prove that the bottle is actually full of terror, admit that, well, maybe you can’t meet every nit-picky courtroom standard of proof on this, but terror can’t be defeated unless we understand about unknown unknowns and all that. I mean, maybe the bottle isn’t really 100% full of terror. But here’s the thing: CAN WE AFFORD TO TAKE THAT CHANCE!?!?!

3. Having identified where terror is, there is only one thing to do. Andrew Sullivan, I want you to eat that glass bottle.

4. Chew it up, real, real good. Shatter the glass with your teeth, and then grind the broken glass between your molars. Pay no mind to the pain as shards of glass tear open the soft tissues of your mouth – you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, after all. When people point and gasp at the blood and shredded flesh leaking from between your lips, explain (as best you can manage with your mangled tongue) that, no, it’s not as bad as he press makes out – in fact, it actually tastes really, really good, and in a little while you are going to eat a handful of rusty tacks (Syria) and that pile of red-hot coals (Iran). Because this is just the first step in a serious, brilliant, and amazingly far-sighted anti-terror, pro-democracy strategy.

5. Eventually, of course, people are going to realize that chewing on broken glass really isn’t particularly effective either as an anti-terror policy, or as a way of promoting democracy abroad. Actually, you’d have to be kind of a retard to think otherwise. So maybe you should stop now. But! you can point out To stop chewing this glass bottle would show weakness to the terrorists! It would send a signal that all the terrorists would have to do is stab our mouths with glass fragments and we would give into their demands! No, regardless of whether or not there was ever any terror in that bottle – and hindsight, I feel compelled to remind you, should not be mistaken for wisdom – it is now vitally important that you keep chewing until al-Qaeda disbands and every country in the world is peaceful and free. We must stay the course.

There. Now I’ve articulated a strategy every bit as coherent and likely to succeed as the Bush-Cheney-Sullivan strategy. (No accident: I admit that I found your work a source of great inspiration.) Also, it has the advantage of being orders of magnitude less expensive and less bloody than our current approach, and of having very little chance of backfiring, as the “create a beach-head for modernity and democracy in Iraq” is currently doing – and quite spectacularly, I might add. So, now I’ve put forth a completely facetious vision which – very conservatively – would be thousands of times more productive than yours. So I wonder: am I being serious enough for you yet?

So Mobius, what is it you like about what the current admiistration is doing? What are they doing that makes you trust them above the Democrats? Is “getting serious” in and of itself worth anything if the things you do in the name of seriousness self-destructing and insane? Think about it.

August 18, 2006 @ 3:51 am | Comment

No EXCUSE necessary (unless you meant to apologize because your caps lock key got stuck). Your statement I was referring to was when you argued that we should not be overly concerned about the dangers of Islamofascism because:

“an ideology with the capacity to transcend Germany’s borders, was dangerous because it was in service of a state with considerable military power.

“Ultimately these movements – those preaching hatred of minorities and outsiders and medievel thinking – end up hurting their own adherents and the countries in which such ideologies dominate, way more than they can and ever will be able to hurt us.”

If there is another way to interpret that statement — besides meaning that the lives thus affected are less valuable than our own — I’d be happy to hear it.

I agree that progressives and feminists, in general, had a great record on criticizing the Taliban. Right up until about October 2001.

I’m not sure I can agree with you that we’re losing, although I do agree that things are certainly not looking very good. I think it’s still a little early to say whether they just look this way because we are early in the struggle and the hard part never looks nice, or because things are actually as bad as they look. We’ll see. I’m hopeful, but I certainly acknowledge that a rational person must have doubts at this point.

I suppose the fact that I falut high was rather obvious, so I can’t give you any points for that. But I am impressed that you could discern from so far away that I am impotent. Cursed herbal Viagra!!! $19.95 for a bottle of 50?!?!? What a rip-off.

Well, at least no one can accuse you of taking the low road in argument.

Also, since you were such a supporter of the Kosovo intervention, I’m sure you remember that it did not have an international blessing, that a resolution was blocked in the Security Council, and that we ended up going with a coalition of the willing (NATO and a couple of other friends).

Anyway, back to the program …

I don’t expect people to enjoy getting bombed or to love us more for it. However, I think you may be underestimating how much they already hate us. And you’re also overestimating how much ceasing bombing would make them love us.

Now, I could make serious arguments here, which I know you would poo-poo, about targeting and so on. But it’s really not the point. When the conflict is on, nationalism will rise no matter how well you choose and hit the right targets. But what’s more relevant to me is what happens after the conflict.

And that’s where I am disgusted with Bush. It seems to me that they’ve only ever done almost enough to create a good, democratic outcome in Iraq, but never so much as to guarantee success. All the talk about “hard work” is empty — he wants it to be easy. They’ve been so shy about losing American soldiers that they end up keeping the soldiers on-base where they can do no good and leave the Iraqis to die (probably at a ration of 10-to-1). This, far more than the bombs that fell three years ago, is what turns the Iraqis against us. It is obvious that we consider our lives far more precious than theirs.

If we were active on the ground, and in sufficient numbers, I believe we would have won many more hearts and minds by now. But Bush would have needed the testicles to hold tight while the numbers of American dead went up a little faster. But since the American media doesn’t notice Iraqi casualties …

Anyway, I do think we should be much more active in Darfur.

Generally, as I said before, I think we need to intervene where it will be effective. I’m not moved by your argument that this is arrogant. To me, arrogance just is not as weighty a consideration as the suffering of millions of people around the world under tin-pot dictators and the rising tide of Islamofascist ideologues. I think we can make a difference, sometimes through bullets and sometimes through diplomacy, and I think we should.

I am not a fan of Bush. I have never voted for a Republican in my life. But the thing is, as stupid and (as you say) hamfisted as he has been about the whole thing, at least you get the feeling that he recognizes the seriousness of the problem the world is facing. Since 99% of leftish rhetoric is focused around arguing that he is overreacting, I find it difficult to trust that the Democrats would take the problem seriously, even though they are patently smarter people.

So that’s the dilemma. On the one hand we have a bunch of imbeciles who are smart enough to recognize the gravity of the problem we are facing but too stupid to handle it intelligently; and on the other side, we have might be smarter about the way they handle the problem, except that they don’t display much actual conviction that there is a problem.

August 18, 2006 @ 10:21 am | Comment

OtherLisa — I was responding to you in the above comment, but apparently got a little confused about who said what. It was Richard who called attention to my impotence, not you. Sorry for any confusion. And nice insight, bon Richard!

August 18, 2006 @ 10:27 am | Comment

It’s utterly absurd of you to interpret my comment as indicating a lack of concern for people suffering under medieval, Taliban-like regimes. I was responding to this constant fear-mongering we have lived under for the last six years, where I am supposed to willingly trash the Constitution and cower under my covers because the “Islamofascists” are coming to get me.

Sorry, we have much bigger problems than that. Global climate change, for one, which by the Pentagon’s own research has the potential to cause massive social and political disruptions. And if you really were so concerned about the plight of 3rd World peoples, you might address issues like: lack of potable water, which kills far more poor people every day than all the terrorists in the ME. But, I know, stuff like that isn’t as exciting or juicy as fighting “evil-doers,” is it?

What I interpreted as “arrogance” is certainly not your desire to do something, and something constructive. If I didn’t think we had the potential to make positive change, well, I probably would curl up under the covers and stay there. It was your statement that “we” can somehow “change the nature of the Middle East” that I call arrogant. It’s as if the actual people who live there should have no say over their own situation. We, the Great White Father, are going to come in and fix it all.

Yeah, right.

It’s possible that the Iraq war was “winnable.” Whether it was ever wise is another question entirely. How many experts, political, cultural and military, predicted exactly the situation we are seeing now would happen before a single bomb was dropped?

If we didn’t lose by going in in the first place, we lost the moment that there weren’t enough boots on the ground to prevent the looting of Baghdad right after the regime fell.

As for Kosovo, IIRC it had NATO backing, right (And isn’t the force there now the UN?)? What it didn’t have was any kind of support from Republicans in Congress, who loudly shrieked about the foolishness of “nation-building” and other such horribly “liberal” notions.”

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I and a lot of other liberal types supported the invasion of Afghanistan. It fits the “failed state” category where such interventions make sense. That and the fact that the people who attacked us are, you know, actually there as opposed to some Neocon fantasy of Iraq the Al Qaeda redoubt (and I won’t even get into how mishandled Afghanistan has been, post-Invasion). It’s utter BS to suggest that Democrats and liberals started supporting the Taliban post-9/11. In fact, I’d call that characterization, well, a big damned lie. Remember all that national unity? Congressmen on the steps of the Capital, singing “God Bless America,” or whatever it was?

You want to present an argument, try doing so without distorting basic facts. All of your falutin’ doesn’t begin to make up for it.

August 18, 2006 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

Too busy today to deal with this. I’ll just reiterate: You can be deeply concerned about terrorism without getting hysterical over a lady with some face cream on a jet. Deal with it responsibly, but don’t get hysterical. There’s a difference between being serious and being insane. That bottle analogy I posted above – that’s what “serious” Republicans are doing. They’re demonstrating seriousness and resolve by doing foolish and wasteful things, usually for the sake of political grandstanding. Yes, there’s a threat. Approach it with strategy. Not hysterics. Look at Kosovo: we mapped out a strategy, assembled ourt allies and the mission turly was accomplished – with very little pomp and pretensiousness. Then look at Iraq…No don’t, it’s too depressing. And your circular arguments aren’t getting anywhere so I suggest we draw it to a close.

August 18, 2006 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

Well, I’m not going to go through point-for-point this time, because this is getting a little boring and most of your points are just silly (read a history of Kosovo please and, more to the point, of NATO). However, there are a couple of things that deserve responses.

One, while I may have been wrong in my interpretation of your statement, I think it actually would have been more absurd to assume you were making some kind of point about protecting the Constitution when what we were talking about was whether Islamofascism was a serious problem. Given that was the topic of conversation, it seems perfectly natural to understand your statement as meaning that we should not be too concerned because it is not us who are affected the most. However, if I was wrong, I was wrong. If I was not wrong, I am at least gratified to see you backing away from such an abhorrent position.

Two, I find it amusing, and typical of liberals like you, that you assume I don’t do anything about the other problems you mention: supplying potable water to poor people, combatting global warming, etc. I think I mentioned before that I had spent several years living in the Arab world, but I didn’t say exactly what I was doing there. As it happens, I was working for an environmental group in Egypt that was seeking to protect the Red Sea coral reefs. Part of this work involved educating Egyptians about the impact of activities like diving, fishing, etc. and strategies for containing the damage while helping people to gain economic advantage from the reefs in a sustainable way. Following this, I moved to Jordan for a year, where I was working with the same environmental group on a new project that sought, among other things, to increase the supply of potable water to small-time farmers in the Jordan Valley (Jordan is one of the most water-poor countries in the world). On a voluntary basis, I wrote the text for the web site of a Pakistani woman who opened a school for poor rural girls after a horrific event that happened to her. I am currently helping a single Egyptian woman to start a business exporting cotton sheets to buyers in the US. I have many, many friends who are Arabs and Muslims (I am myself a convert, by the way, and am married to an Egyptian woman) – I have discussed my political views with many of them and found them much more open to new ideas than you are, to be quite frank.

What have you done to make the world a better place? I mean, aside from the tremendous favor to mankind that you daily perform by bitching about everyone else’s mistakes.

The thing is, believe it or not, it is possible for someone to sincerely believe that making the world a better place involves both helping those in need and physically fighting those who exploit them. That’s what I believe, and that’s what I act on. As I said in the beginning, I won’t be voting for any politician who does not take this issue as seriously as I do.

August 18, 2006 @ 10:26 pm | Comment

Mobius, while I’m very impressed with the work you’ve done to improve peoples’ lives, I’m not so impressed with your interpersonal skills and communication style. You insist on putting motivations into my head that aren’t there and engage in personal attacks. Then, you give yourself a little out by saying, “well, it’s possible that you didn’t mean that, but…” Next you attack my integrity.


You know, it’s only human to get pissed when attacked, which I did. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, which is why I phrased my comments about Kosovo in terms of questions. You admit to not knowing much about the Christianist movement but still refused to consider that it might be relevant to the topic. But I guess it’s different when you do it. For reasons which escape me at the moment.

If you read my comments, you’ll see that I agreed with you in many instances and that I agree the use of force is sometimes necessary. I just don’t think that force is some kind of panacea, and I don’t agree that “Islamofascism” is the number one problem in the world today. You want to see the world’s problems through that lens, go right ahead.

August 18, 2006 @ 10:43 pm | Comment

Don’t put words in my mouth, or Lisa’s. Your entire despicable comment is based on one assumption after another – an assumption that we believe you don’t help poor people, an assumption that we believe “Islamofacism” isn’t something to be very concerned about, an assumtion that we’ve never done anything to make the world better (while you, of course, have). You are a bullshitter, plain and simple. From the very start of this thread, you’ve displayed a pompous and snide superiority, . You go vote for whomever you want to. If you think a serious response to the threat of terrorism is to bog us down in a hopeless, terrorism-breeding war such as we have in Iraq, more power to you. Brilliant. Now fuck off – your last comment truly infuriated me with it’s facile assumptions, which you then built upon as though they were a matter of fact. Reprehensible and impermissible. Get out of here.

August 18, 2006 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

Huh, Richard, you really have a way with words! I have to work on my smack-downs.

August 18, 2006 @ 10:51 pm | Comment

Obviously Mobius got on my nerves, which I suspect was his goal from the start. There comes a point when you have to take off the kid gloves and smack away.

August 18, 2006 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

To be fair (lord, why do I have this compulsion to be fair?) I am the one who mentioned a concern for potable water as being more relevant to the well-being of poor people than “Islamofascism,” and I did use the phrase, “if you really cared about the plight of 3rd world people.” My bad. It was definitely an assumption on my part.

But you know, snide, pompous and condescending people who make belittling comments get on my nerves too. Especially when they use too many words to do so.

August 18, 2006 @ 11:05 pm | Comment

And you know, I’ll agree that “Islamofascism” could strengthen as a global movement, and that the United States has a great deal of influence over whether that happens or not.

We can start a few more wars a la Iraq and Lebanon and watch the Jihadi recruits grow.

August 18, 2006 @ 11:21 pm | Comment

You can tell he just loves the sound of his own voice….

August 18, 2006 @ 11:28 pm | Comment

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