response to The Strategic Overview: root causes

I'll go through Steven Den Beste's Strategic Overview of the War on Terror point by point. I agree with some, disagree with some. I ended up being against teh war, because I didn't believe that there was an imminent WMD threat (I feel vindicated on that score). I curently believe we need more troops in Iraq, because now that we are in the briar patch we are committed to success for our own security (greatly weakened by invading Iraq in the first place). Billmon describes how the inherent circular logic entombs us in Iraq for the forseeable future:

In the end, policy mistakes -- particularly big ones -- tend to produce a kind of circular reasoning -- in which those in charge try to justify the policy by citing the need to avoid, at all costs, the failure of the policy. So it was in Vietnam. So, too, with our latest misadventure in Iraq.

If Iraq is now the central battle in the war on terrorism, it's because America is there -- or rather, because Wolfowitz and his crew put it there, in pursuit of their dream of a domesticated Arab world, reconciled to Western hegemony and living in peace and harmony with Israel and its soon-to-be-born Palestinian bantustan.

And so the circle is closed: Because America in Iraq, it must fight the "terrorists." And because it must fight the terrorists, America has to be in Iraq.

The bottom line for me is that to suceed in Iraq, we need more troops, and the best way to do that is to get foreign help. It's obvious that the Bush Administration isn't going to be inspire our allies to help.

On to Steven Den Beste. Note that I will directly respond to first- (I) and second- (A) level points only. Trying to incorporate third- (1) level points would take too much time, I need to draw the line somewhere. I'll be happy to address third-level points separately, email me if you have a specific one you'd like to see addressed.

I. Root cause of the war

A. Collective failure of the nations and people in a large area which is predominately Arab and/or Islamic.

If SDB had phrased the root cause as "widespread tyranny and oppression of the people in the middle east by their rulers." then I would have absolutely no disagreement. However, SDB has explicitly laid te blame for this at the feet of the people of the Middle East themselves. This is like blaming the citizens of the colonies for King George's taxation.

The "root cause" of the Terror is indeed tyranny in the Middle East. But the "root cause" of teh Tyranny is the post-colonial and imperialist dissection of the region by the great powers after WWII - especially Britain and America. Every authoritarian nation in the region is the product of lines in the sand drawn to secure natural resources and strategic positioning for the victorious powers of WWII - the spoils of war.

In order to secure these spoils, the basic infrastructure of tyranny was installed and supported by the West. Saddam, Mubarak, Hussein, Assad, and the rest were all beneficiaries of this policy. The oppression of theor people became a means to justify the end. There was a notable lack of rhetoric about democracy, instead an emphasis on "stability" - the kind that an iron fist can provide.

B. Since this is a "face" culture, shame about this this has led to rising but unfocused discontent, anger and resentment.

This is nonsense. The Arab world is no more or less a "face" culture than any other human society. SDB and most of the others who detect a "shame" are speaking from zero experience with the actual Arab world - this is a convenient stereotype that has no basis in reality, but serves to rationalize the "blame the Arabs collectively" meme.

C. Some governments in the region have tried to focus it elsewhere so as to deflect it away from themselves. (The "Zionist Entity" is a favorite target.)

Completely agree. The oppression of the people by their leaders has of course led to discontent and the leaders of the Arab nations have used propaganda to deflect the public anger towards external threats. This is straight from the Orwell-1984 playbook. This is one of the tools in the dictator's toolbox.

D. Ambitious leaders of various kinds of tried to use it [collective failure of Arab world] for their own purposes.

The same could be said of ambitious leaders in the West - after all, Project for a New American Century has been advocating American military intervention in the Middle East since well before September 11th - in fact well before the present Bush Administration.

More importantly, this point again demonstrates a selective approach to history (and a sloppiness with regards to facts). SDB writes, "Khomeinei and the Taliban used it to support revolutions respectively in Iran and Afghanistan." But neither Iran nor Afghanistan are Arab or have anything to do with Arab culture. They are Persian (which has been an indepenedent civilization in its own right since well before the rise of Christ, let alone Islam), and Asian. Tying them into the "collective failure of Arab nations" imakes no factual sense (and none of SDB's third-level bullet points A1 - A5 apply).

And the historical background of the revolutions in Iran and Afghanistan have also been papered over. Iran had a democratically elected legislature, the Majlis, and a popular Prime Minister, Muhammad Musaddiq, in 1949. Musaddiq was the leader of the National Front party, whose platform was freedom of the press, free and honest elections, and the promotion of social justice. Musaddiq led the drive to nationalize the Iranian oil industry, which put him at odds with Britain and America and their Iranian proxy, the Shah. The result was a coup, partly funded by the CIA, which deposed Musaddiq and installed the Shah to power.

The Shah created the dreaded SAVAK (secret police) and ruled Iran with an iron fist (sound familiar?). Television was nationalized to become a state-controlled propaganda organ (sound familiar?). The Shah implemented a "land ownership reform" that undermined large landowners and resulted in declining agricultural output (sound familiar?). The old two-party system was replaced with a one-party system to which all peope were expected to register and support (sound familiar?). A radical Islamic party was founded in opposition to the Shah's regime (sound familiar?). And the Shah was finally overthrown by Khomeini, with vast popular support.

To characterize this recorded history as "Khomeini used the failure of Arab cilivlization to seize political power" approaches satire.

As for Afghanistan, it played out in a similar way, the root cause again being America, this time in the context of the Cold War. Afghanistan was the proxy battleground between the USSR and the US, with America funding the brutal mujahideen fighters against the Soviet military (without our support, the fabled mujahideen would have been crushed). Reagan publicly praised the mujahideen as freedom fighters.

Once the Soviets were driven out, America did not tarry in Afghanistan, leaving Kabuk and environs to the predation of the mujahideen, who renamed themselves the Northern Front. Their brutality was severe, and thus again the rise of a religious-based group, The Taliban, promising to restore justice and morality.

What strikes me most about this is how reapolitik , a foreign policy ideology that advocated a simple solution (proxy nations) to solve a large problem (Soviet threat), directly generated the problems of today. And in response, we have yet another foreign policy ideology (neo-conservatism). Steven has been routinely dismissive of the suggestion that today's actions might have similiar long-term inforseen consequences, but I for one disagree with the short-term-centric view that is en vogue with the current Bush Administration.

In summary, I disagree with Steven about his root cause for terror. I don't think it has anythin to do with collective failure of Arabs. It has everything to do with American foreign policy decisions, both as a post-WWII spoils, and as a strategic response to the threat of Soviet Russia. By our concious decision to support tyrants (the Shah, Saddam, Mubarak) and thugs (the mujahideen) instead of encouraging local democratic institutions, we planted the seeds for the tyranny in the middle east. And that tyranny which we sowed is the cause of Arab discontent, not any sense of cultural shame.

I'll have to tackle Section II and subsequent sections in later posts.

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