Friday, December 17, 2004

The Long Haul, Liberty, and Action

The folks over at Chronicles have been having a lively discussion on the nature of the left and liberty as it relates to the War on Terror. In particular I want to address a post by Steven in which he quotes a long passage from Mickey Kaus.

Kaus remarks:

"a) "Islamist totalitarianism" isn't a state phenomenon the way Communist totalitarianism was (which Beinart acknowledges in passing);

b) Angry Islamists in 2004, unlike angry Communists in 1947, are increasingly empowered by ever-more-available technologies of mass destruction (something Beinart doesn't acknowledge)"

In an excellent follow up to The Fighting Faith that outlines the threats of Islamic Fascism Beinart addresses both concerns:

Is Al Qaeda likely to take power in all the places bin Laden desires? Of course not. But it could do far less and still send the United States into deep crisis. By many accounts, Al Qaeda has long enjoyed substantial support in the Pakistani security services. Were Islamist fanatics to assassinate Pervez Musharraf and ally themselves with the general who succeeded him--in an echo of the military-Islamist alliance that ruled Sudan from 1989 to 1999--Al Qaeda would be within striking distance of a nuclear bomb. Or take Saudi Arabia, where bin Laden is wildly popular. If bin Laden, or his local associates, took control of the Saudi oil supply, the U.S. economy would plunge into depression.

But, even if Al Qaeda never seizes a single government, it still poses a grave threat. By suggesting that Islamist totalitarianism is "thin beer" because, unlike Soviet totalitarianism, it doesn't control states, Drum ironically echoes the neocons, who are so mired in a cold war mindset that they can't grasp terrorism except as an extension of state power.

Drum suggests that Al Qaeda's "power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league" as the ussr's. But, if you're talking about killing Americans--which Drum is--the fact that Al Qaeda controls no territory makes it more dangerous, as well as less. Yes, the ussr, with its massive nuclear arsenal, had the power to kill more Americans. But, as a government interested in self-preservation, it was also deterred by the threat of U.S. retaliation. And that threat made the ussr cautious about taking American lives.

As September 11 showed, Osama bin Laden is not cautious. The prospect of U.S. retaliation does not faze him--in fact, he welcomes it in the hope that it will spawn more Muslim anger and more recruits.

So, while bin Laden's capacity to kill Americans is clearly inferior to the ussr's, for Al Qaeda--unlike the Kremlin--capacity is the only limiting factor. And the spread of technical knowledge and materials makes the destructive capacity of a small terrorist band far greater than it was even a few years ago.

The fight for national security is the fight for liberal values, not merely in the Muslim world, where fanaticism has already blighted countless lives, but also at home, where threats to American safety almost inevitably spawn threats to American freedom. Totalitarian Islam has already damaged both, and unless defeated, the damage could be exponentially worse. What more do liberals need to know before they make this fight their own?

Kaus also claims:

d) We never did anything as aggressive, in the course of successfully containing communism, as what we've already done in the course of combating Islamic terror (i.e. invading Iraq).

This is historically incorrect. But first, the communist, even though they were extremely brutal to their own people, never did anything as aggressive toward us as the Islamic-fascists, who actually attacked the US, which changes the equation some.

In its fight against communism, the US mounted two large campaigns in Asia, Korea in 1950, and Vietnam in the 1960’s – 1970’s. Korea was loosely under UN authority, but was essentially a US war. And it was in response to North Korean aggression against a South Korea backed and armed by the US. That war resulted in 4,000,000 “military and civilian casualties including, 33,600 American, 16,000 UN allied, 415,000 South Korean, and 520,000 North Korean dead. There were also an estimated 900,000 Chinese casualties. Half of Korea's industry was destroyed and a third of all homes” (Total US dead was 53,000. There were 20,000 noncombat deaths, plus 157,000 wounded.) The result was at best a stalemate, leaving a divided Korea.

In Vietnam the US lost around 58,000 (47,000 in combat) and 307,000 wounded, the South Vietnamese lost 223,000 and suffered 1,169,000 wounded, the North Vietnamese and VC lost 1.1 million and 600,000 wounded, and this does not include civilian deaths, which have been estimated to be as high 4 million. And little or nothing was accomplished.

Clearly, in the fight against communism the US was extremely aggressive on two very bloody occasions, and much more so that in Iraq.

In Iraq, the US and UK have lost approximately 1500 with another 9500 wounded, and according to Iraq Body Count there are approximately 15,000 Iraqis dead. However, as AK has pointed out, this number is probably low. Lancet has estimated 100,000 Iraq dead, and some put the number closer to 300,000. However, compared to Korea and Vietnam at a similar stage, Iraq, despite major mistakes, has been somewhat successful: A brutal dictator has been removed from power, fighting is concentrated primarily in the Sunni Triangle, with much of the country now free of combat, and the first elections are being held soon.

Which brings me to the elections themselves, Dr. Emile at Chronicles has correctly pointed out elections are not equal to democracy. However, I view the elections as just one step in a longer process. And like Dr. Emile, I hope Bush doesn’t just declare victory on Jan. 30th, and walk away. That would be a major mistake.

I have always thought establishing democracy in Iraq would take a long time. Many supporters of the war, including some liberal hawks, were misguided in thinking this would be over quickly. This is partly Bush's fault; whether he truly believed this would be a short term venture or not, he sold it that way. Clearly a country that has never had true elections or a democracy, and that has been brutalized for some 20 years by Saddam’s reign would not be ready for democracy in a few months or even a couple of years. We occupied both Germany and Japan for several years after the WWII before we turned them over to self rule. I am not sure what troop levels will be after the elections. I suspect they will diminish some, but not disappear. And even after the initial elections it will take several years to to completely establish the intuitions and infrastructure of democracy.

Though I am passionate in me beliefs about democracy, freedom, and ending oppression where and when we can, and I not sure I am a believer in as Steven puts it “the radical transformative vision of millennial liberalism”, a process that he is very skeptical of. (I wonder if he is as skeptical of other radical transformative visions?) Primarily because I am not sure exactly what it is. My view was not that we would enter Iraq and democracy would suddenly spring up like some newly planted bluebonnets, but that with a brutal and oppressive dictator gone the Iraqi people themselves, with some assistance from the US and one would have hoped the UN and members of the EU (but they have put embarrassing the US ahead of helping the Iraqi people), would have an opportunity to eventually establish a freer society. The measure of success in Iraq should not be what it looks like on Feb. 1, 2005 but what it looks 5-10 years from now. That is one reasaon I am cautiously optimistic about Iraq. At this stage compared to similar conflicts, we have made a fair amount of progress.

My overall viewpoint is that Islamic-fascism is a real threat, a threat that espouses values antithetical to and seeks to destroy the pluralistic liberalism that we enjoy. Liberals need to embrace this struggle. Though this struggle will require some military action it will not always lead to military action, but unless liberals get on board and offer viable alternatives for countries like Iran, while at the same time doing what we can to help Iraq rebuild and to establish the necessary framework for democracy then failure and/or continued military action in the Middle East will become the norm. Liberals it is time to act, not only for the protection or our own ideas, but to act against totalitarianism and the oppression of other people. Dr. Emile, I know this may sound like the language of “mobilization,” but mobilization is exactly what is needed.


At 11:09 AM, Blogger Steven M. Levine said...

I should have been more clear about what was Kaus’s and what was mine. My comments are in the last paragraph.


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