Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Long, Hard Slog

The National Review's Stanley Kurtz has an outstanding analysis the West's current and upcoming struggle against militant Islam. This is the best summation I've read on what the West has been fighting the last fifteen years though most of us have only begun to realize it. Some key snippets:

...My concern is that our underlying foreign-policy dilemma calls for both hawkishness and gloom — and will for some time. The two worst-case scenarios are world-war abroad and nuclear terror at home. I fear we’re on a slow-motion track to both...That means we’re facing years — maybe decades — of inconclusive, on/off (mostly on) hot war, unless and until a nuclear terror strike, a major case of nuclear blackmail, or a nuclear clash among Middle Eastern states ushers in a radical new phase.

Let’s take a moment to think about Castro. Castro is the master and pioneer of ornery third-world defiance. We need to appreciate the immensity of Castro’s achievement in preserving Cuba’s Communist dictatorship for 17 years after the collapse of his chief patron, the Soviet Union. It’s remarkable that, absent any great-power protection, and even after becoming, without Soviet subsidies, a permanent economic basket-case, Castro’s regime has not collapsed.

Let that be a lesson to those who wait for the collapse of regimes in Iran, North Korea, or Palestine because of long-term economic failure and/or economic sanctions. Yes, popular uprisings happen (as in Iran against the Shah). Yet it’s also clear that a posture of anti-Western defiance, combined with nationalism, ideology, and dictatorial rule is perfectly capable of sustaining a miserable, poverty-stricken, failed system far, far beyond the point that Westerners would consider tolerable or believable.

...With military success (accurately) framed as the near-complete destruction of terrorist forces, decisive military victory is virtually defined out of existence...This is why the United States has turned to democratization. The stick of military force combined with the carrot of democracy was supposed to have provided a way out. Unfortunately, democratization of fundamentally illiberal societies cannot happen quickly. Real democratization requires a great deal of time and deep, painful, expensive underlying cultural change, almost impossible to bring about without an effectively permanent military occupation.

[And] even a long-term military occupation cannot promote democratization in the absence of social peace. The Iraqi resistance’s greatest victory came with the very start of their campaign. By creating sufficient insecurity to bar Western civilians from Iraq, the real key to democratic change was blocked from the start. If advising an Iraqi bureaucrat, working with an Iraqi entrepreneur, or teaching at an Iraqi college had become career-making occupations for an ambitious generation of young American civilians, we might have had a chance to build genuine democracy in Iraq. Once the rebellion made that sort of cultural exchange impossible, the democratization project was cut off before it could begin.
The depth of the Moslem world’s failure to adjust to modernity, the profundity of its need for scapegoats, the seeming boundlessness of its willingness to accept the death and destruction of its own in exchange for the “honor” of “revenge,” are difficult for Americans to acknowledge.
If liberals are lost in wishful thinking about the prospects of negotiated settlements and nuclear containment, conservatives are naive about the possibility of ending terror by a decisive military blow.

[T]he doves’ favorite point: bombing and war only breed more terrorists. True enough, but only because the underlying cultural dilemma of Muslim modernity has created a need for scapegoats. War ought to produce the realization that peaceful compromise is the way out. Instead it produces the opposite. Gestures for peace fare no better. Withdraw or attack, the results are the same: more hatred, more terror, more war. Compromise and settlement have been ruled out from the start by a pervasive ideology, an ideology that is a product of the underlying inability to reconcile Islam with modernity.
This means that the entire Western world now stands in a position roughly analogous to that of Israel: locked in an essentially permanent struggle with a foe it is impossible either to placate, or to entirely destroy — a foe who demands our own destruction, and whose problems are so deep they would not be solved even by victory.
Meanwhile, short of a preemptive war, Iran is bound to get the bomb. No grand bargain or set of economic sanctions can deter it — especially now that Iran is convinced of its success in creating havoc for the West, and in consolidating popular support through its proxy attacks on Western interests.
The West is on a collision course with Iran. There will either be a preemptive war against Iran’s nuclear program, or an endless series of hot-and-cold war crises following Iran’s acquisition of a bomb. And an Iranian bomb means further nuclear proliferation to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as a balancing move by the big Sunni states. With all those Islamic bombs floating around, what are the chances the U.S. will avoid a nuclear terrorist strike over the long-term?
A seemingly futile and endless occupation of Lebanon once split Israel down the middle, breeding an entire generation of Israeli doves. Now Israel is a united nation of gloomy hawks, transformed by the repeated failure of every gesture of peace, and by the reality of their implacable foe.

Whereas the 20th century was dominated by the struggle of liberal democracies vs. political totalitarianism in fascism and communism the 21st is shaping up to be liberal democracies vs. religious totalitarianism. In the last century at least we had clear targets at which to shoot. Does this generation have the spine to fight a long, ugly guerilla war? I fear not. Kurtz is too sanguine by half when he says Europe, led by the French, is falling into the American corner. I doubt anything less than a catastrophic attack in France could accomplish that.

With a handful of exceptions - primarily elements in the Anglophone countries - the West will retreat as long as there is space in the vain hope that if we let them be they will leave us alone. Why, they will bleat, would they attack us if we don't threaten them and leave them alone?

The answer is, it's not what the West DOES, it is what it IS.

Religious freedom, basic rights for women and some of our basic pursuits of happiness - music to take a mundane example - is perceived to be a pernicious threat. As long as liberal democracies exist they offer an alternate way. In that way militant Islam views us in a similar fashion to how the Stalinist did - long-term co-existence isn't possible - only one system can survive.

One key difference though, as voracious and evil the Communist threat was, its progenitors did not cleave to the worldview that Armageddon was acceptable much less to be welcomed. Deterrence worked. As we covered here, there is no guarantee it will again.

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