Wednesday, September 27, 2006

John Judis and Me

I happened to discover a "letter to the editor" that I wrote way back in response to an article by John Judis entitled "Imperial Amnesia". I read through it and thought that its reasoning was still sound. (If I can't toot my horn in my own blog, where can I do it?) So herewith is my response:
Dear Sir or Madam:

I bring to this letter no special expertise in either Political Science or International Relations. I will accept at face value Judis’ account of our intervention in the Philippines and Mexico, and I share his skepticism of our ability to export democracy by force—or by any other method, for that matter. But Judis earnestly seeks to tag President Bush and the hated “neoconservatives” with the imperialist label and compare them unfavorably with Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton. I am fairly well acquainted with the historical events of my own lifetime, and I observe that he glosses over any number of facts inconvenient to his thesis. For instance:

1. “. . . the challenge concerned how the United States could actively exercise leadership—and further America's goals of a peaceful, democratic world—without reviving the perilous dialectic of imperialism and nationalism.” Fair enough: everybody in America wants peace and democracy. But, contra Judis, Gulf War I advanced neither of those objectives. Gulf War I accomplished only its narrow purpose of evicting Iraqi troops from Kuwait. It is easy to see how this purpose advanced the interests of so many key players: the Kuwaiti Emir could return and resume his more-or-less benevolent despotism where he left off; the Saudi royal family no longer worried about having to relocate to Switzerland; both could continue their lucrative oil business with the West; the credibility of the United Nations as a collective security apparatus was maintained. But the interest of democracy was hardly advanced, and neither was peace: the United States bought itself a 12-year police action patrolling the borders of Saudi Arabia and the “no-fly zones” as Saddam Hussein played cat-and-mouse with U.N. weapons inspectors.

2. This is not to condemn Gulf War I or even to argue that the first President Bush and his advisers, given the information available at the time, made poor decisions in its prosecution. But it must be pointed out that the extended presence of American troops on “Saudi sacred soil” figures prominently among the grievances of such as Osama bin Laden. In an effort to applaud Bush the Elder’s statecraft, Judis neatly glides over this grievance by referring only generically to “Western imperialism.” Judis would have us believe that the “galvanizing effect [of] the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is primarily responsible for our difficulties. In this he is half right: it was, in fact, the establishment of the state of Israel that galvanized the Arab world against the West, first under the banner of pan-Arabic National Socialism, then under the banner of Islam. By reducing this conflict to one between Israel and the Arab residents of the occupied territories, Judis neglects the cost, justified or no, of the West’s assistance at Israel’s birth and avoids admitting that our difficulties antedate Bush II and the neocons.

3. Moving forward to 2002 and the build-up to the invasion of Iraq: the alignment of interests is now radically different than what they were in 1990. The intervening twelve years saw much ink-stained hand-wringing about a “unipolar” world and the growth of the envy and resentment such a world excited. France was profiting from the “oil-for-food” scam and had no wish to lose its cash cow. The Saudi despots, meanwhile, had no desire to create a democracy in Iraq that would inspire democracy in Arabia. So Bush II faced a very different diplomatic challenge than did Bush I. Judis seems to argue that Bush pursued a course of “unilateralism” in a vacuum. But in fact, unilateralism was thrust upon him by a recalcitrant international community with interests very different from our own. Judis suggests a set of options—unilateralism or multilateralism—that did not exist; our actual options were to either invade with the allies we had or to leave the Baathists in power. Judis also seems to believe that Iraqi “nationalism” would have been neutralized by U.N. backing. It would be as if a Mexican invasion of the United States would be resisted, but an entire Latin American coalition would not. Why this should be so, Judis does not explain, but it seems to me unlikely.

4. Judis devotes the rest of his article to creating a parallel universe in which, for instance, Wilsonian internationalism “earned the support not only of Americans but of peoples around the world,” instead of collapsing in abject failure. Where the U.S. “rain[s] bombs and artillery shells on heavily populated cites” instead of engaging in the most discriminating use of armed force in the history of warfare. Where Iraq’s only reason for rejecting peace and democracy is because we offer it. Where nationalism, rather than religiously motivated fanaticism, is the primary source of the hostility we face.

Lest this seem like an apologia for the administration, let me reiterate my skepticism that the Islamic world is capable of humane and consensual government. I fear that the feelings of helplessness and resentment engendered by the bankruptcy of their civilization make Muslims all too ready to embrace the call to Jihad against “Zionists,” “Crusaders,” and modernity itself. Bernard Lewis, of all people, should understand this better than he evidently does. However, far from taking us “back to the dark days at the turn of the last century,” President Bush singularly broke with the West’s practice of supporting all manner of vile despots in the name of “stability.” He instead has given the Iraqis the opportunity to live under democracy. Time will tell whether or not they will succeed. Paul Bremer has left Iraq, and our troops will soon follow [sic]. But if Iraqi democracy fails, it will be in spite of, not because of, Bush’s efforts to effect it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Link Love 5

It is with regret that I note the passing of the Sixteen Volts blog, destroyed by political pressure in Canada. Fortunately, a math student at UC San Diego has archived all his work. Here is one of his translations of a Finnish writer named Tommi who writes on Christianity: the Religion to End All Religions.

Agnostic writes on the way the dating and marriage markets actually work.

From 1998, Osama bin Laden on how he hates the West.

Razib over at GNXP has an article that seeks to analyze the geopolitical circumstances in which Islam arose and spread, compared and contrasted with those in which Christianity spread, and how this possibly explains the different character of the religions.

Now Razib is a really smart guy. As the article and his subsequent comments show, his ability to wrap his mind around copious amounts of information vastly exceeds my own; hell, I have to get out my notes to remember how to solve a 2nd order D.E. Razib has written that the actual content of a religion at an elite or Platonic level is of minor value in predicting how the religion is actually lived out by its followers at any given time. (Razib: sorry if I didn't get that quite right, but I'm doing my best.) I'm not sure I entirely agree with him, but I give him credit for presenting a new way of thinking about the matter. But something in the comments struck me: Razib goes thermal on a poster for, as he put it, "spouting talking points from LGF". Now I haven't read Little Green Footballs in a while. I am vaguely aware that it is devoted to warning of the dangers posed by Islam, so its world view is likely the same as my own. I am also aware that it was desperately wrong, as so many of us were, as to the expected course of the Iraq war. Which is probably why I stopped reading it regularly. But I got to thinking: what is the point of all this analysis? Yes, information is a good thing. But information you can use is even better. There will always be more data out there, and I appreciate that Razib's mission is to gather it. But the quest for more data should not paralyze us in the face of the threats we face here and now. Whatever the limitations of LGF's analysis of the character of Islam, it is good enough for policy. Razib promised us that, eventually, we would get to "paint ourselves with the blood of our enemies." How long, o master, must we wait?

Update: Razib writes,
To be clear, my objection is more to the comments boards than the posts on LGF.

Yes, information is a good thing. But information you can use is even better. There will always be more data out there, and I appreciate that Razib's mission is to gather it.
Data leads to models. I'm not a gatherer, I'm a builder. The models can be interpreted in various ways, and those depend on your values. My own bias is to focus on the "war within" the West, and minimize involvement with a "clash of civilizations" and allow the house of Islam to be mired in its own squalor or evolve beyond it. Stop muslim immigration, rollback multiculturalism, etc. As it is, the focus on outside threats, from Iraq to Iran, is wrongheaded. We all work with data. There is good data, and bad data.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"We Will Annihilate You!"

The emerging Democrat line on foreign policy is that non-proliferation is dead. They don't put it quite that way, of course, but their response to the imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran and North Korea is to cheerfully embrace Cold-War era Mutually Assured Destruction as sufficient to deter them from actually using using their new toys. After all, it worked with the Soviets.

Let's pretend for the moment that these statements are anything more than electoral expediency. Very few political pros believe this, by the way. Most journalists, even liberal ones, simply assume that whatever the Democrats happen to say on foreign policy is an effort to "position" themselves in a electorally advantageous way. But let's take their statements at face value for the moment. The efficacy of deterrence requires our enemies to believe that we possess, not only the means to destroy them, but the will as well. This puts us already behind the curve. The Democrat proposition, put forward in the context of the debate on what to do about Iran and NK, is done so as an alternative to the call for military action. As such, it represents a failure of will. Democrats (and, according to their calculations, the American voting public) simply lack the resolve to undertake a raid on Iranian nuclear facilities, given our mess in Iraq. On the question of our resolve, the Democrats make the same calculation as the Iranians. So it becomes very difficult to have full confidence in our resolve to do a big thing (nuke somebody) if we can't demonstrate resolve to do a small thing (an F-117 raid on a reactor). But the Democrats assert that, after a nuclear attack on American soil, this resolve will materialize, and Iran and NK know it. Maybe. But two quick points. One, it may not be an attack on our soil. It may be an attack on, or blackmail of, an ally. This question will present a very different calculus to our decision makers: we might then be the ones being deterred.

The second point is that we may have great difficulty convincing the Iranians. After all, the invasion of Iraq didn't convince them. But I have a more profound question directed at the Democrats who give these assurances: when, in the last generation, have you ever demonstrated resolve in the face of America's enemies? Not in the hostage crisis. Not in Central America in the 80s. Not in Panama or Grenada. Not concerning missile defense. Not in Gulf War I. Not in response to the terror attacks of the 90s. Not in our domestic anti-terror intelligence, interrogation, and law enforcement actions since 9/11. Not once have you made a convincing display of the intestinal fortitude to defend our country in more than a generation. Sure, Senator Biden talks a good game, as you can read from the transcript linked in the title, but when the time for action comes, you and your party have always found a reason to do nothing.

I hereby propose a two-part test of the Democrats' resolve to make deterrence work:
  • Support the resumption of Tritium production; and
  • Support the resumption of underground nuclear testing.

  • Do these two things, and maybe we can believe you when you promise to annihilate Iran or North Korea.