The Scatterbrained Syncretist








Wednesday , March 10, 2003

David at The Art of Peace responded to a comment I made last week:

"Although looking at the life of Osama Bin Laden and why he does what he does is relevant (he started in Afghanistan with US and Saudi encouragement), the question of why a number of Arabs either agree with him or at least don't despise him is more important."

The key to the question of why (and how many) Arabs agree with bin Laden is in the beliefs themselves. If we intend to cause terrorists to change their destructive behavior, we will need to adjust their incentives. To do that, we must understand their goals.

David's reading of bin Laden's fatwa seems to focus on the political content. Of course his blog is it would be natural for his attention to focus on bin Laden's politics. To me, however, it seems that Islamist politics serves the apocalyptic narrative. And that narrative is the unifying core of Jihad.

"I don't think simply giving them charity would help - I think Steven Den Beste of USS Clueless has a good point here. Poverty alone isn't the problem. They need a working and productive economy that will give them purpose and a sense of accomplishment. He feels that first we must defeat them militarily then make major cultural changes by main force, and here I disagree."

David is correct to say that their are peaceful ways to advance Arab societies that don't entail the cruel psychic shock of humiliating defeat. When we are at peace we can use peaceful means.

We are nominally at peace with much of the Muslim world. We are working constructively (supporting democratic reform, opening up economies, urging human rights reform, investing in education) to help them. One could argue that we are not doing enough...and that is true...but alas, it always true...but is not enough.

But there are Muslim groups who are at war with us...and some nations support those groups. Warfare precludes the application of some peaceful means for several reasons.

1) Defeating enemies requires denying them know...starving them out. Our values insist that we deny access to military resources without harming innocent populations. The CNN effect ensures that we remember those values. It is unsurprising that the paradoxical sanctions regimes (in Iraq, Zimbabwe, North Korea for example) fail doubly. They first fail to deny resources, and second, fail to prevent harm to civilians. They lead to weapons proliferation (which we don't want) and misery (for which we are blamed).

2) Investing in a society requires access to its institutions and government. We have that access to countries like Turkey, Pakistan...and, to some degree, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We can work on reform and literacy programs with them. Maybe we should be doing more of this, but we're probably close to the limit of what they will allow.

Iraq and Iran (or North Korea for that matter) do not allow us the opportunity to...umm...contribute to their modernization. While there are some peaceful ways to influence them, conditions may require us to enforce change. Or conditions there may change and allow us access in the future...if we have the time and they have the inclination. But we don't have all the time in the world.

3) While important parts of this war are being fought by nonmilitary means (law enforcement, diplomacy, intelligence work, banking reform, propaganda etc) there will continue to be battles with soldiers. There will be times when it is impossible to help societies build working economies until their governments are removed. And there will be times when we can't afford to wait for regime change and must use our military to accelerate events. We face great dangers and don't always have the luxury of time.

4) Denying terrorists sanctuary is a necessary step in neutralizing their threat. In addition to depriving them of resources, it makes recruitment more unattractive. When governments protect terrorists, we can't afford to respect their sovereignty. A successful regime change in Iraq should highlight the choice countries have; they can choose to have their sovereignty respected, or they can harbor terrorists and engage in weapons proliferation. In Our World-Historical Gamble, Lee Harris considers this in some detail.

Steven Den Beste's contention that jihadists must be utterly stripped of their delusions before they will be able to reform and modernize, looks to the examples of Japan and Germany after W.W.II. While Iraq isn't Japan or Germany, our goals in Iraq are similar. David's counterexample of the Crusaders is less comparable. The societies that produced the Crusaders reformed themselves over a period of centuries through a process that was not imposed from the outside...but was a result of the realism that was inherent in the European experience. The oil wealth of the Arab world has insulated them from the need for realism...and this has weakened Arab societies. Our World-Historical Gamble illuminates this problem.

The Islamist apocalyptic goal of establishing a global caliphate, a totalitarian theocracy, is a demented fantasy. Insanity like this can't be cured by providing clean drinking water. Fantasy is abandoned when reality is ruthlessly disillusioning. American success in Iraq will begin to make the fantasy harder to support. Alas, it will require violence to wake the terrorists from their violent dreams.

"I'm not saying we would give them money and they would like us - real care would have to be taken to invest in the nations which have fought most seriously against terror, and make sure the money was used to build an economy."

American foreign aid has often had a corrupting effect on the recipients. It has also strengthened tyrants. These results have been unethical and deleterious to our national interest. Even actions with the most benign intentions can be irresponsible.

David's proposal that we administer our foreign aid programs more...umm...wisely is a proposal for radical change. It is interesting that the Bush administration is moving in this direction. I think this trend should be encouraged in the strongest way...even if it means agreeing with Bush. Hahaha.

"Of course not all Muslims will agree with Osama's interpretation, but as we kill many of those who do, the number is likely to increase rather than to decrease."

This is often stated but I've never seen it happen. It seems to be something that people sort of assume is true. One could as easily say the opposite. The factors that increase recruitment usually are either improved likelihood of victory or impending annihilation inspiring a final total defense. As long as we are visibly reducing the probability of Islamist victory and not threatening genocide, recruitment will become increasingly difficult. Especially if we continue to make life unpleasant for recruits.

"Illiteracy and the oppression of women are also associated with not necessarily poor societies, but societies which do not participate in the creation of wealth by their own efforts."

Again, I refer you to Our World-Historical Gamble for discussion of the importance of, "the creation of wealth by their own efforts."

Ralph Peters' Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States is a helpful analysis of the role of illiteracy and the oppression of women in the failure of societies.

David makes good points when he argues that peaceful means are often more effective (and more desirable) than military action. It is important that we commit ourselves to maximizing their benefits. But he has yet to offer convincing arguments that they, alone, are enough to reach our objectives in Iraq (and beyond). Likewise, his aversion to injuring the wounded dignity of our enemy is a fine sentiment...but one he may ultimately have to sacrifice to necessity. Today's terrible reality will ruthlessly tear away our delusions too.


Sunday, March 30, 2003

David responded to the above comments.

I answer him here.