May 15, 2002


On a pleasanter, though still contradictory, note, Christopher Badeaux (who we heartily congratulate on the birth of a son), of Lord Mage,takes exception to several points in the post AND A FRAT BOY SHALL LEAD THEM (Orrin C. Judd, May 05, 2002). Specifically, he thinks I went overboard in referring to the neocons as engaging in "doomsaying about an immediate threat to Israel's existence". He asks :
Was it carping and doomsaying to lament the rise of Soviet power and ideology, or a much-needed reminder of the mortal peril we faced? With Hitler? Maybe the worry over Israel's existence is overwrought; maybe it's a rarified moral certainty (if we can declare war on Islamist terrorism, why can't they?); maybe it's the sort of
mild hysteria partisan opinion tends to produce. However, it seems to me that if any (or all) of these are true, they are true only as a superficial matter; the heart of the "doomsaying" seems valid, to-wit: The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Israel is an island of liberty in a sea of tyranny. Vigilance can seem shrill, until it is ignored, and ultimately useless.

And, as regards my general opposition to immediately changing the regimes of our putative allies in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, etc.), he suggests that we'd be better served by having Hamas in charge in Palestine and al Qaeda in Arabia, apparently because this would bring moral clarity to the region, turning the war on terrorism more clearly into a war between the West and Islam.

Lastly, he propounds a domino scenario for our Middle East campaign :

I do not suggest going after everyone who menaces us all at once; I (and most "kill 'em alls") advocate prioritizing the bloodshed. Iraq first, because they're almost nuclear, and unstable; then maybe Syria, just to settle that front; then Iran, if need be. Leave the Sa'udis and Egyptians for later; maybe they'll learn to behave like grown-ups if they see someone else get a spanking first.

Now, I suspect we agree on most issues, particularly his commonsensical disdain for John McCain, so I'll not needlessly provoke an argument. But there are a couple points I think worth mentioning.

First, I don't think you can have it both ways, wanting on the one hand to destabilize every regime in the Middle East that bugs us and on the other wanting to roll them up one at a time. Sure, toppling regimes won't represent much of a threat to our security, but once the toppling starts it's likely to be widespread and it's likely to draw us into the region, regardless of whether it's a threat or not. The outcry from the Euros and the punditocracy and others about the necessity for us to restore order would probably be more than a modern president could withstand. The pictures on 24 hour news channels, of bloody chaos from Libya to Pakistan, would force any president into a hasty and ill-considered response. One need only recall our idiotic response to the film from Somalia and Bosnia to realize that we'd not be able to stay out of the Middle East once the sand hit the fan. So if we're going to get into the business of forcing change in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, etc., we'd better have some kind of coherent plan for what we do when the change a comes. We don't have one now.

Second, it's de rigeur on the Right these days to disavow McCarthyism and pat ourselves on the back for toppling the Soviet Union. I take the opposite tack. I don't believe Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union ever posed a threat to the United States (whereas domestic Communism did). I'd have been an Isolationist until Pearl Harbor and, once we didn't settle the USSR's hash in the immediate aftermath of defeating Hitler, I'd have stayed out of the Cold War. We should have just let these two evil empires juke it out on the Eastern Front. By the end, either both would have been too exhausted to threaten anyone, or one would have been so overextended as to be inherently unstable.

At any rate, neither ever could have mounted an invasion of the United States, much less subjugated our population. Nor does Islam, so long as it has neither a vast array of nuclear weapons nor the means to deliver them, represent a realistic threat to the security of United States. In fact, at the end of the day, it's probably not a serious military threat to Israel. It might be necessary for Israel to resort to nuclear weapons if all of Islam rose up against it at once--a thoroughly implausible scenario--but does anyone doubt they would use them? If the confrontation continues to be just between Israel and Palestinians, the conclusion is a given : Israel will win without much effort, though with an unacceptable loss of Israeli lives.

In the longer term, Islam, like those earlier forms of totalitarianism--Communism and Nazism--is its own worst enemy. Islam as a principle for organizing the State is doomed by its own inevitable inability to compete in the economic sphere with the West. Iran's present is likely to be Saudi Arabia and Egypt's future--fundamentalist revolution; twenty years of Islamicist misrule; then a gradual and difficult reform along more Western lines. The best thing we can do is try to stay as clear of this mess as possible. We should encourage the Turkeys, Bangladeshs, and Irans of the world, providing any assistance they may request, but not being seen to be interfering in their internal affairs. We should offer NAFTA membership and mutual defense pledges to any of the nations of the region that choose the path of reform. We should forge a very close alliance with the already Western countries--Israel, Russia, Turkey, India--that surround the Middle East, so that if the region does descend into suicidal confrontation with the West, we're prepared to deal with them. But as a general proposition, our own selfish interests are probably best served by not getting over-involved in the region.

Obviously, we have to root out as much of al Qaeda as we can and try to make sure we don't suffer another 9-11, but we're not going to get every radical Islamic terrorist nor make ourselves perfectly safe, and we've nearly completed the process of crippling al Qaeda which is likely as much as we're going to do for now. We're presumably going to move against Iraq next, sometime this Fall or early in the new year. They aren't a real threat to our security either, but we have unfinished business there. Meanwhile, we'll not let Israel fall, but we need not do particularly much to help them. Now, as Mr. Badeaux suggests, what is required is vigilance, but vigilance is a posture of watchfulness, not a mucking about in the details of every Middle Eastern nation's internal political situation. Let's see if they can work out their own problems rather than making their problems ours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 15, 2002 10:06 AM
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