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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Is worse always worse?

David Ignatius has written an interesting op-ed on what he calls Our Worsening Terrorism Problem.:

Here's where the fundamental contradiction in Bush's strategy becomes clear. If Iraq has shown anything, it is that there's no easy equation between democratic government and success in containing terrorism. In the short run, prying the lid off a tightly controlled society such as Iraq may actually make the terrorism problem worse. The cruel instruments of repression are gone, while the constraints of an orderly, law-abiding, democratic society are not yet present. Bush's answer is that democracy, over time, will bring stability to the Middle East and contain the terrorism problem. I agree, but given the stakes for the United States and the world, the administration must examine the short-run consequences of political change, which is that it might lead to more terrorism, not less. That's why the proper goal in these changing societies isn't simply democracy but the rule of law.
This has been a critique against the Iraq war from the beginning, and one that I always thought was valid. Certainly no one can argue that our invasion of Iraq did inspire anti-American passions across the Arab world, and certainly terrorists are flocking to Iraq. I have always viewed this as sort of analogues to a vaccination program, you have to make things worse in the short term to develop immunity in the long term. There are non trivial benefits that have already manifest themselves in the war in Iraq. First off, because the Jihadist campaign has so often purposefully caused Iraq deaths, there is good evidence that the romance and heroism factor of Jihadists is fading in the minds of ordinary Iraqis. Certainly during the period that the Jihadists effectively ruled Fallujah there true nature was pretty manifest. The reported Red on Red actions are also a sign of growing dissolutionment with the Jihadists. There is reason to hope that this attitude will spread to other Arab and Muslim nations as well. This is a direct benefit of heating up the conflict. Secondly, while foreign Jihadists are receiving hardening and combat training in Iraq, the Iraqi armed forces are also receiving a great deal of training and combat experience in combating terrorists and insurgents. The long term benefits of an experienced and hardened Arab counter-terrorist force sponsored by a Democracy cannot be under estimated. While autocratic Arab regimes have been able to fairly successfully control domestic terrorism, it does appear in many cases they have done so by at least tacitly supporting non-domestic terrorism. A deal with the devil if you will. Certainly the best examples of this are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, but most of the Arab nations seems to do this to a greater or lesser degree. This tactic while it may well prove beneficial to those countries, represents a clear and continuing danger for us. On a larger scale, it is important to consider what sort of conflict we most desire, a hot, active struggle with active enemies or a slow, punctuated shadow war with enemies how only rarely, if spectacularly manifest themselves. It seems clear to me that our military and national character are far more suited to the former. Some would argue that this last isn't an either-or proposition though. That the hot active struggle will, upon our victory, morph into the slow shadow war. There is a certain degree of truth to that. If however, during the course of the active struggle we can also change the nature of Arab regimes that sponsor, encourage, or simply exacerbate terrorism, primarily through promoting political and economic freedom in autocratic nations, I am convinced that the shadow war will be much smaller and less dangerous.

3 Comments:

Anonymous tsykoduk said...

Helping others achieve freedom is a laudable goal. I think that, as you stated, in the long run that freedom and personal involvement in government will decrease the amount of unrest.

However.

In America we are free, right? However, we are getting to a point where our political process seems to be getting so divisive that I fear some sort of uprising. Terrorism is a good tool for social and political change right now.

Just to say that democracy is not a cure for extremism. It's a good start, but there are more underlying issues in our culture and basic thinking that need to be changed before we can aspire to be free from terrorists.

6/30/2005 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Why is it that there are so few supporters of the war that can truly hold this type of honest debate in their own mind? I love that you're able to do this, and while you may reach slightly different conclusions than I do, the debate is fantastic.

Don't get me wrong -- plenty of folks on the left can't at all fathom the thought on an internal debate on these issues either.

The one important difference to me is that one set of closed-minded people does not cause any (immediate) deaths among our people. On the other hand, the other group is pushing a plan that kills our people _today_.

Having a closed mind is not something to strive for, but if I had to pick one of the two camps, I guess I'd pick the "pacifist" approach. Anyway, I'm rambling -- I just wanted to say "thanks".

6/30/2005 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

tsyko: I do not expect any serious uprising. Pretty much, despite our partisan passions we are all pretty well off and more importantly, we have the capabilities to change our lot, individualy and collectively. Certainly a McVeigh type event is possible, we will always have that threat with us, but an organized uprising seems very unlikely to me.

patrick: Thanks for the kind words.

One thing to consider though is that in the long term, slow shadow war I am talking about the puctuations will be quite nasty. A nuclear event is not impossible. We can't rule that out anyway, but a longer shadow conflict, with periodic innattention as America becomes distracted makes that dramatically more likely.

This sort of long term periodic shadow war also presents a real danger of rousing genocidal impulses in the American people. We COULD solve the 'Arab Problem' today by simply nuking the place. Most of the oil is underground anyway and wouldn't be effected. I fear that outcome greatly, and keeping the conflict focused, and America continually involved seems the safest way to avoid it.

6/30/2005 01:36:00 PM  

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