Wednesday, July 07, 2004

War on Terror or "Return to Normalcy"

Courtesy of Powerline, a sobering, thought provoking opinion piece by Matthew d'Ancona from the July 4 Sunday Telegraph. D'Ancona's purpose is to analyze why so many have embraced the infantile conspiracy theories and kindergarten worldview of Michael Moore. He makes a convincing case that the governments of George Bush and Tony Blair, as well as other supporters of the War on Radical Islamist Terror, have simply not made a convincing enough case to the public, leaving demagogues like Moore to fill the vacuum:

Moore is the most powerful spokesman of the myth that gripped the Spanish people when they elected Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as their Prime Minister in the wake of the Madrid bombing: namely, that if we oust specific politicians from office - replace Bush with Kerry, Blair with Brown - the Islamic fundamentalists will leave us alone. It is, of course, psychologically reassuring for voters to be told that they have this power, that there is something quick and clean they can do about their collective predicament. But it is also a fantasy. The theocratic guerrillas of al-Qaeda and its associates who, it emerged last week, were planning to bomb a British primary school in Madrid and, on Friday, promised fresh attacks in Europe, will not be appeased by any number of political scalps. Their ambitions for the world are much greater and more terrifying.

But who can blame Michael Moore for seizing his chance? No war in modern history has been as badly sold to the public as this one. In private, the Prime Minister admits to colleagues that, in this respect, "I have failed". No Western politician, including Mr Blair, has succesfully produced a political narrative which transcends the old methods of spin developed in the 1990s and explains why the war on terror is a completely new kind of struggle.


This is why it isn't enough to say that Moore manipulates the facts, or that he is a charlatan, or that his arguments are glib. The reality is that his methods are working, and working for a reason. He is the grizzled face of a culture in denial, the contrarian voice of the millions who would rather hate Dubya than confront the awesome threat that stalks our age. His success is an urgent warning to those who support the war, who grasp its importance, to raise their game, and fast. Nitpicking is not the answer. It's the big issues that count. And it's there that Michael Moore has no answers. If he is so visionary, why is his objective - to run Bush out of the White House - so parochial? What would he do about the new horrors of our time? Dude, where's your sense of history?

I enjoy dissecting Michael Moore's monuments of lies as much as anyone, but d'Ancona is right. Most of the people who buy into Moore's worldview simply don't care how many factual errors and distortions he makes, because he tells them exactly what they want to hear. As Paul Krugman recently put it in the New York Times, Moore tells "essential truths". To me and many others, that statement is laughable, but for Krugman, who has become a textbook case of what is known as Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS), Moore's work validates his fanatical Bush hatred.

The truth, of course, is that Moore and his followers don't have the slightest clue about the nature of the radical Islamist terror movement we are at war with. As someone once put it, they wouldn't know the difference between Sayyid Qutb and Sheikh Yerbouti. By pretending it's all Bush's fault, they can avoid having to deal with the grim reality that we are in a struggle for survival.

Sadly, even many normally responsible Democrats are embracing a somewhat similar worldview. The usually level-headed centrist Mickey Kaus endorses the following theme for the Kerry/Edwards campaign:

The message is that America wants a respite from all the headstrong history-making of the past four years. Bush isn't responsible for 9/11, but he's still responsible for a lot of the sense that history's being forced. Even before 9/11, as a second-place vote-getter aided by a questionable court decision, he somehow leveraged his weak victory into an unexpectedly uncompromised Republican tax cut. Post 9/11, he leveraged the country into the Iraq War--a war in which we'll prevail, if we do, by the skin of our teeth. Next he'll try to abolish the estate tax, with potentially dramatic consequences for the social structure. It's all too morally complicated, strained, force-fed, disruptive, overheated.

We need a break--to steady ourselves at home and rebuild our standing abroad, to calm down the Islamic world's seething resentment, to prevent the "global war on terror" from becoming an all-consuming lifelong West/East conflagration. To digest the history we've just made.

I must make it clear that Kaus is not a Bush hater, and he clearly recognizes that we are at war. However, you can detect some of the same sentiments that the Bush haters express. The shock that a duly elected president would have the gall to pursue his own agenda (yes, he WAS elected, get over it!). Then the implicit idea that the War on Terror should be confined to a glorified manhunt for al-Qaeda, while ignoring both the broader jihadist movement and the conditions that gave rise to it. This is all too much to deal with, so let's elect John Kerry and take a break from history.

Whether Kaus realizes it or not, what he is proposing is essentially a return to pre-9/11 business as usual. Instead of accepting the short-term risks necessary to pursue the long-term defeat of the jihadist movement, we would focus on minimizing short-term risks while leaving the long-term problems to fester. Under the vision he endorses, we would continue the manhunt against al-Qaeda and invest more in homeland security, but we would essentially be reduced to containing the jihadists, not defeating them. The same sense of complacency that led us to ignore one jihadist attack after another until the morning of September 11, 2001 would reemerge. Indeed, as d'Ancona points out, it already has. Less than three years after the most devastating attack on the United States in nearly 200 years awoke the sleeping giant, a large part of its population wants nothing more than to go back to sleep. Gradually, the War on Terror will evolve into just another metaphor, like the "war on drugs". The long-term result will be disastrous.

The problem that Kaus ignores is that in a war, there are two sides, and it isn't only up to us whether or not the War on Radical Islamist Terror becomes "an all-consuming lifelong West/East conflagration". For the enemy, it is already exactly that. Al-Qaeda and the jihadist movement have absolutely no intention of taking a break from history. They are damaged but far from defeated. Any perception on their part that we are losing our determination or resolve will only lead them to redouble their efforts. In the meantime, the Iranian mullahs will seek to bring their nuclear program to full fruition. The stark truth is that we are one WMD attack on a US city away from events that will make 9/11 and the Iraq campaign look like a holiday camp. Settling for containing the threat from behind a 21st century homeland security Maginot Line, as we pursue the fool's errand of persuading the French to like us, will only guarantee that such events come to pass.

Unfortunately, taking a break from history is simply not an option. History has a way of finding you, no matter how hard you try and hide from it. The Bush Administration, whatever mistakes it has made, has pursued the only viable long-term strategy for prosecuting the War on Terror, by seeking to deal decisively with the terrorists, states that support them, and the conditions in the Islamic world that have spawned them. If we don't continue to confront the danger, we will surely have to confront it later under even more dangerous circumstances, and at a far greater cost.


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