Rhymes with Dubya: The President and His Critics
A good example of this type of thinking is on display in the current issue of The Atlantic (or at least, what is the current issue here in the Near Abroad). The issue features two lengthy pieces by prominent critics of the Iraq War and charter members of the "al-Qaeda is the real enemy" school of thought. The first piece, entitled "Ten Years Later," is a fictional look back at the policies of the Bush Administration from the perspective of a professor of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 2011. This essay about the second wave of al-Qaeda attacks to hit America is written by Richard A. Clarke, the national coordinator for security and counter-terrorism for Presidents Clinton and Bush. The second piece, entitled "Success Without Victory," outlines a very different strategy for the War on Terror, one that relies primarily on a policy of containment, written by James Fallows, the Atlantic's national correspondent.
The Most Famous I-Told-You-So Artist in History
When Clarke's essay hit the newsstands (and the websites) there was an immediate buzz. Clarke's prescriptions for fighting a successful War on Terror found an appreciative audience, not only among the usual suspects, but also at The Corner and other Internet citadels of the conservative Right. A number of commentators found the science fiction quality of the essay an interesting hook, chock full of shopping mall attacks and suicide bombers in Las Vegas, complete with elderly slot jockeys falling prey to heart attacks in the aftermath.
The fictional history format fits Clarke like a glove. Clarke sees himself as nothing more and nothing less than a modern-day Cassandra, one who constantly gave warnings of what would happen and one who constantly agonized over the lack of understanding of his urgent message by his political masters. As became painfully apparent during the 9/11 Commission hearings, Clarke believes (as did most of the so-called "9/11 families" who were, in fact, nothing more than a numerically small liberal activist wing of the thousands of victims of that horrific day) that the 9/11 attacks are the fault of the United States Government (USG); that is to say, the fault of President George Bush.
As the man who possessed all the information and who had, of course, a perfect course of action to defeat the terrorists (had he only been listened to), Clarke is the ultimate I-Told-You-So Artist. During his entire performance during the 9/11 hearings, one could not help but be struck by Clarke's demeanor; here was a wronged man, a man who had tried to serve the American people but could not due to the small-mindedness of this superiors. Mysteriously, although he worked many. many more weeks for President Clinton than for President Bush, Bush was always the superior he referred to when complaining of such small-mindedness. Thus, Clarke's sad and pathetic apology to the "9/11 Families" in attendance; in Clarke's world, USG is responsible for 9/11.
Of course this is so much nonsense. As Clarke's own testimony reluctantly revealed, even had President Bush followed all of Clarke's advice, all his plans as they existed prior to 9/11, the course of history would not have been significantly altered:
[Former Senator Slade ]GORTON: Now, since my yellow light is on, at this point my final question will be this: Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001, based on Delenda, based on Blue Sky, including aid to the Northern Alliance, which had been an agenda item at this point for two and a half years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted say on January 26th, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?
GORTON: It just would have allowed our response, after 9/11, to be perhaps a little bit faster?
CLARKE: Well, the response would have begun before 9/11.
GORTON: Yes, but there was no recommendation, on your part or anyone else's part, that we declare war and attempt to invade Afghanistan prior to 9/11?
CLARKE: That's right.
Since real, actual-existing history shows Clarke to have been a hyper-cautious functionary worried whether or not attacking this or that terrorist camp was "legal", for Mr. I-Told-You-So nothing could be better than a fictional account of the future. It allows him to fully explore the dreadful import of his warnings unheeded, and to revel in the carnage we suffer as a result. In Clarke's future (surprise!) everything goes exactly as Cassandra has warned, and the U.S. is undone. With the wisdom of hindsight, everyone it the U.S. now realizes how rash, how foolish President's Bush's silly Iraq War was, how it distracted us from the main task ahead.
Clarke's account of the future is an un-serious as the man who produced it. In one unintentionally hilarious passage, the perpetrators of suicide bombings in Florida, Texas, California and New Jersey foil our domestic security system because they are all Asian-looking and, thus, evade the pitiless racial profiling Bush had ordered and its subsequent obsession with Arabs. Hello? Have you even heard a Bush Administration official condone Arab racial profiling, let alone order it? Perhaps Clarke should call up Norman Mineta and they can have a talk.
And, of course, since Americans are all bigoted fascists waiting for the right opportunity, in Clarke's story the immediate aftermath of the second wave of al-Qaeda attacks, which killed a mere 1,032 people--less than half that of September 11--are marked by "armed gangs of local youths attack[ing] mosques and Islamic centers." Sure, Clarke. We all remember the roving armed gangs who attacked Muslims in the wake of 9/11. To the contrary, nothing remotely of sort happened, nor would it happen; it's just another example of Clarke's "blame America" mindset. If it wasn't for good, big-hearted responsible men like Clarke, the American people would just be a rampaging beast, bloodthirsty for revenge!
But that's not all. As everyone knows it did in 2001, the government again over-reacts and an ominously-named bill called the "Patriot Act II" is passed. Horrors abound. Illegal immigrants are detained! Foreign student enrollment drops by a third! Ethnically-based round-ups antagonize local communities and create racial tension! (We are grateful, however, that Clarke got the holding of Korematsu right; not even the brightest law students do that with regularity). All this is apparently a reasonable supposition given that USG completely over-reacted in 2001 when it basically tore up the First Amendment by giving the government the same power to fight terrorists it has had for years to fight the Mafia. It's a police state in Minnesota, I tell you, a police state! Ask anyone.
Clarke's hysterical (in both senses of the word) rantings only get better as his cute essay rolls on. Terrorists are able to kill Americans because they bought "all their guns illegally, in six different states across the Midwest" because "[a] year earlier Congress had failed to reauthorize the assault weapons ban." State governors disband their National Guard units because they no longer trust Washington. UAV Predators are deployed "to monitor Americans."
The thought that al-Qaeda's mission is made easier by the lack of liberal gun control prescriptions is laughable. All in all, the essay reads like something you would expect from an excited 22-year-old undergrad at San Francisco State who just discovered Noam Chomsky and Crass his sophomore year. It is laden with doom-mongering, sprinkled liberally with technical sounding footnotes that use a lot of "in the know" acronyms to make it sound wonky, none of which takes away from its patent silliness. Clarke concludes:
"If they [USG, meaning President Bush] had acted differently--sooner, smarter--we might have been able to contain what were at one time just a few radical jihadis, and raise our defenses more effectively. Instead our leaders made the clash of cultures a self-fulfilling prophecy, turning the first part of the twenty-first century into an ongoing low-grade war between religions that made America less wealthy, less confident, and certainly less free."
Clarke's conclusion is rampant with the kind of soft liberal racism always evident in liberal policy prescriptions. In Clarke's world, as in the world of academia at large, brown or black skinned people have no independent will, no ideas of their own. Instead, they are a curiously static people, whose actions (or lack thereof) always--always--stem from United States policy. To Clarke, if the Islamic world makes war on the West, it is because Western policy was not adequately calibrated. If the jihadis want us dead, it's because of something we did, probably to them. And only through our actions can we diffuse the "clash of civilizations" that Bush has caused.
The thought that there may be an ideology in Islamic Fascism that is independent of U.S. policy positions or actions is utterly foreign to Clarke. Had he undertaken a similar study of German National Socialism in the 1930's (to engage in our own fictional speculation) no doubt he would come away convinced that if only the U.S. and Britain had paid closer attention to German grievances and acted with understanding of the roots of German anger, World War II might well have been avoided.
To Clarke, and men like him, Washington runs the show. The idea that there may be people out there who wish to destroy it for what it is rather than what it has done simply never enters his head. One shudders to think how a man could spend so much time studying the enemy without ever coming close to understanding him. The barest readings of al-Qaeda texts or the speeches of Bin Laden or Zarqawi suffice to understand: they are the new masters, the master race with the master religion. They decide who lives and who dies; who learns to read and who does not; who may take a wife and who may not; who may speak and who may not. Like the Nazis before them, they have granted themselves license to murder to impose their romantic vision. Only the people they approve of deserve life.
All others must submit or die. And the latter is really preferable.
Fallows, like Clarke, shares this same worldview, as becomes painfully obvious by the second paragraph. Focusing on the policy prescriptions of a veteran terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, Fallows' point is basically this: we already know how to fight terrorism, and if we would only let the experts run the show we can reduce the threat, manage it, reduce it to the status of "nuisance." The thought that it can be eliminated is the thinking of a child, an unrealisticly dangerous crusade that only makes the problem worse.
It must be admitted that we cannot imagine a world completely free of terrorism directed at America and the West. But to think that is what President Bush is aiming at is to misread his fundamental message. The President has consciously taken the issue out of the hands of "experts" like Clarke and the scholars at RAND because he realizes that wonkish policy won't suffice to control what is at its root a political problem. Instead, he has embarked on a high-level, multi-pronged strategy encompassing everything from armed conflict in Iraq to USAID-funded civil society support programs in Morocco.
Fallows makes some good points, especially regarding the inherent uselessness of random searches and shoe x-raying by TSA when it lets unchecked cargo containers in the holds of passenger planes, not to mention the fact that almost all of TSA's budget is sucked up by air travel, leaving other modes of transportation woefully under-secured.
It's when he turns to the Iraq War that Fallows shows his cards. He informs us, for example, that Osama Bin Laden's favorable rating rose to 67% in Pakistan following the invasion of Iraq, while Bush's fell to 6%? (Conveniently, Fallows fails to mention where these ratings were pre-invasion.) The idea that the U.S. should make tactical and strategic decisions based on the response by the lads in a cafe in Karachi is ludicrous. We don't need better P.R., we need a better defense. No doubt the "Arab street" prefers an America that doesn't have the nerve--the damn nerve--to take the fight to Muslim nations. We knew that, Fallows.
As Eban once said, the Arabs can have peace or they can have war, but what they can't have is peace in their own nations and war in ours. We're ever so sorry that hurts our standing in Cairo, but there you have it. No doubt we weren't very damn popular in Tokyo circa 1943 as well.
Under Fallows' new containment policy, we would take care of the most urgent priorities while adjusting our policies to diffuse Muslim anger. Again, as with Clarke, Arabs have no minds of their own; if only we get a hold of the right CFR briefing paper, all will be well. Lest you think we exaggerate, here is Fallows' conclusion:
"Could today's leaders look like heroes in fifty years? Yes--if they similarly laid the groundwork for a long, principled, and sustainable struggle. A Truman would tell us that loose nuclear weapons are the real emergency of the moment, and that instead of pussyfooting around we should control them right away. A Kennan would explain the sources of Muslim extremist behavior and how our actions could encourage or retard it. A Marshall would point out have gravely we left ourselves exposed through our reliance on oil from the Persian Gulf." (Emphasis added).
Here we see the unreality of the realists exposed for the fantasy that it is. All that is needed to encourage or retard Muslim extremist behavior are "our actions." Again, the opponents of President Bush attribute too much power to the United States and, at the same time, not enough will to power in the hearts and minds of our enemies. As has become standard liberal boilerplate, the United States doesn't have enemies, just people it has wronged to whom it hasn't properly apologized.
What Bush Understands
The President takes a completely different approach, which goes a long way to explaining why he gets under the skin of experts like Clarke or MSM types like Fallows. Having dispensed with the old way of doing business, Bush has embarked upon a risky policy that relies on high-level political change in the Middle East to change the fundamental dynamic between the Islamic world and the West. With the change in Iraq, and pressure elsewhere for change in the Middle East, the President thinks that the answer to Islamic Fascism is Islamic Democracy.
This is not mere slogan-making. Ironically, while the President's critics harp upon his failure to "address the root causes" of terrorism, his strategy is in fact to deal with the root causes at their most basic level. The President understands that our actions can never change or reduce "Muslim extremist behavior." Instead, he has had the realization that the experts lack: the only real change that could bring about a sharp reduction in Islamic terror is wholesale change in the Muslim world that is the work of the Muslims themselves.
This is why Democratic carping about an "exit strategy" strikes us as foolish and quite beside the point. The whole of the President's strategy in Iraq and in the Greater Middle East is one big exit strategy; after giving the process a violent supporting push, our goal is to hand over the reins as soon as possible. We will then support local democratic movements wherever they are, however we can. In the President's eyes, Muslims aren't automatons awaiting Uncle Sam to press the "calm" button instead of the worn-out "anger" button we've been pushing for years; instead, they are people, with hopes, dreams and aspirations, who will--if given the chance--lead their countries to their rightful places in the community of nations.
It strikes us as highly ironic that those who scream the loudest about the President's lack of nuance themselves fail to recongize what is at heart a very nuanced policy. We war in Iraq, we talk in Saudi Arabia, we defer to the EU in Iran, we engage in civil-society building in Jordan, all in a coordinated effort to bring about a democratic reformation in the wider Islamic world.
Already, just 3 years into this strategy, we are seeing Bush's revolutionary boldness bear fruit. Elections, a new democratic government and female ministers in Afghanistan. Recognition, for the first time, in Saudi Arabia that some sort of representative body with real legitimacy needs to be created. A resounding victory for moderate parties in Indonesia. The hope for moderation in Malaysia. Democratic reform in Jordan. Pressure on Syria and Iran, support for their embattled populations. The break-up of Pakistan's nuclear technology proliferation. And the most democratically-elected government in the history of the Muslim world in Iraq. A wind of change is sweeping through the Middle East. Slowly now, but gaining speed and strength daily.
And then there is Libya.
When Libya gave up its WMD program voluntarily, agreed to take responsibility for Lockerbie and re-opened its markets to the U.S. and other Western nations, the pundit class immediately took to the air to explain how none of this was because of the Iraq War. However, in a little-noticed passage in Boris Johnson's famous 2003 interview with Italian PM Silvio Burlesconi, printed in the Spectator (sadly, the issue where the interview appears is not available on line), Burlesconi told a little anecdote that struck us as very interesting.
Burlesconi explained to his British guests that he had recently received a series of phone calls from the leader of a certain North African dictatorship regarding the leader's immediate prospects for survival. Said dictator, not named but said to be from a nation with close historical ties to Italy, asked for Burlesconi's advice on how to proceed and how to deal with the Americans. The dictator said that he was scared, that he "didn't want to end up like Saddam" and that, because of this, he was throwing in the towel on his WMD program.
Any guesses as to who that dictator could be?
Hint: his nation rhymes with "Dubya."