Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Real War on Terror

John Edwards was right to call the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror a “bumper sticker.” In the short run, what will best protect the “homeland” is good intelligence and competent police work, joined with scrupulous care for individuals’ rights – not a phony “war” that makes the problem worse. No surprise, though, that most Democrats are loath to call Bush on his war without end. Ever cowardly and ever the bad strategists, they can’t help but go along (see “Not Just Bad Strategy, June 7). Even so, on this count as on so many others, it will be better (less bad) when the Democrats regain (or, rather, the Republicans forfeit) the Presidency. However short run solutions, even when competently administered, only treat the symptoms. By not confronting the real issues, Democrats are helping to foster a situation that really does threaten “homeland security” in perpetuity.

The danger today comes from “extremists” within the islamist fold. In the future, it could come from other sources. But we have the most to fear from the God-fearing, since people with God on their side are especially prone to fanaticism and sadistic brutality. Political Islam draws on the theocratic, intolerant and delusional cast of mind that all the Abrahamic religions – not just Islam but Christianity and Judaism too – foster and feed upon. This is why to make terrorists or worse of the godly it takes only the right conditions and determined political entrepreneurs. In the case at hand, we know who the entrepreneurs were; it was us. By supporting islamist movements, the United States and, to a lesser extent, Israel (in the case of Hamas), played and lost what Robert Dreyfuss calls “the devil’s game” – conjuring up religious zealotry in order, first, to fight Soviet Communism and, later, secular, nationalist movements that challenge American dominance. [See The Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (2006).] It didn’t help either that, while this bit of strategic wizardry was unfolding, the Soviet Union fell or that the secular movements the theocrats opposed began to implode. Neither did it help that, with American encouragement and support, the Israeli occupation of Palestine became more transparently brutal and unjust.

Against these and other causes of the terror threat, “homeland security” can only do so much. What are needed are policy changes that address the underlying problems. These problems are rectifiable. What the U.S. hath (partly) wrought, the U.S. can (partly) undo. Indeed, it is fairly obvious what must be done: first, stop the Iraq war and occupation; second insure a measure of justice for Palestine; and third, deal with the Middle East and central Asia, in ways that a republic like the one our founders established, not an empire, would. None of these changes are beyond the capacity of our fundamental economic or political institutions. But the last two, and maybe even the first, seem well beyond the capacity of the Democratic Party to initiate or sustain.

1) Ending the war and occupation is, at this point, the most tractable step. All the Democratic candidates are officially in favor. So too, nominally, are almost all Democratic legislators, notwithstanding the fact that many of them voted to fund (and therefore to support) the war. [I speculate on why it is so hard for them actually to end the war by not funding it in “Pelosiism: the Highest Form of Clintonism,” May 28.] As it becomes increasingly clear to the interests they serve, not just to the voters, that the time is past due for the U.S. to cut its losses, it is likely, if the Republicans lose the next election, that this root cause of the terror threat will subside.

[Note, though, that we could be deceiving ourselves, especially if a full-fledged Clintonite Restoration comes to pass. In contrast to the linguistically “challenged” Bush family, the Clintons are adept at using language deceitfully by speaking literal truths (as in, for example, “I did not have sex with that woman.”) [Evidently, a Yale education is not entirely a waste, as one might conclude by only focusing on the Bushes.] In the second debate (held in New Hampshire on June 3,) Hillary Clinton won applause by saying that her first act as President, should she win and should the war not yet be over, would be to “bring our troops home.” Yesterday, in an NPR commentary, Ted Koppel pointed out that she did NOT say that she’d bring ALL our troops home. He pointed out too that she is on record, as are many Democrats, for supporting the idea of leaving tens of thousands of troops garrisoned in or near Iraq, just as we do in Korea. This seems to be the favored position of the military too, and of course of the Republicans. As the primary campaigns unfold, Clinton and the other candidates too should be asked about this relentlessly, and not allowed to get away with applause lines.]

2) Fairness for Palestinians is more problematic for two overlapping reasons: first because Israel remains America best off-shore military asset in the Middle East and, as in Central America in the 1980s, for covert military-political operations elsewhere; and, second, because the Democrats are in the thrall of the (allegedly non-existent) Israel lobby. With suicide bombings and incipient civil war, the Palestinians do not do much to help their cause, and the U.S. media shamelessly propagandize on Israel’s side. Nevertheless, as the occupation grinds on, American public opinion is gradually turning against what is increasingly seen not as an embattled beacon of democracy in the Middle East but as an Apartheid state. However the weight of public opinion is of little consequence; what counts more is organization and fervor. The Israel lobby is powerful for the reason that the NRA is – not because most people agree with it, but because most gun control supporters care less about the issue than gun control opponents do. Anti-Castro Cubans are influential beyond their numbers for much the same reason. [In their case, it also helps that they are concentrated in key “battleground states” – Florida, especially, but also New Jersey.] Not one of the candidates so far, with the partial exception of Dennis Kucinich, who advocates contact with the “Israeli left,” has stood up to the Israel lobby even minimally. [Kucinich also sent a message of solidarity to the June 10 Washington demonstration organized by the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, though he did not appear in person. For showing even this much courage, he deserves credit and praise.] But Kucinich is a rare bird. It would take a geo-political sea change, reflected in ruling class opinion, for a plausible Democratic candidate to deviate from the Democratic Party’s Israel First policy. In this respect, Hillary Clinton’s position is especially egregious and Joe Biden’s is, if anything, worse. Richardson, Obama and even Edwards and Dodd are not much better.

3) Treating the Middle East and Central Asia in ways that accord with genuine (small-r) republican norms is, by far, the greatest challenge. The problem is not exactly that U.S. economic elites want to plunder Middle Eastern and Central Asian oil, though the prospect surely tempts them. It’s that they want their state to control oil and other strategic resources – the better to dominate friend and foe alike. The consensus view, in ruling circles, is that the United States must call the shots. It can no longer do so economically. But it can militarily. Even the neo-conservatives know that this situation cannot last forever; that in time, as America’s economic significance declines, so will its political influence. That’s why the neo-cons were intent on taking advantage of American dominance while there is still time to reshape the world – not by making it more “democratic,” as they famously claim, but by making it safer for U.S. and, of course, Israeli interests, as they understand them. This is a very dangerous stance. It makes a “soft landing” less likely as the inevitability of a much-diminished role for the United States on the world scene comes to pass. But the problem will only become salient in a still distant future. Not looking much beyond 2008, no Democrat even mentions it. So long as their masters remain oblivious, no American leader will. With or without a permanent garrison in Iraq, the U.S. will continue to dominate the oil producing regions of Asia militarily. So long as they do, blowback is inevitable; the danger for us will only grow worse.

The prospects for putting the real terror threat to rest are therefore not good. It will help if the war ends; it will help if a Democrat like Edwards (Kucinich has no hope; and the others, probably including Obama, are hopeless) will stop the hype about a Global War on Terror. It will help too if “homeland security” is put in more competent hands, and if the rule of law is restored. But for the threat genuinely to subside, Israel must be forced to give up its occupation of Palestinian lands in favor of peace with justice, and the United States must set the temptations of empire aside. These are not impossible goals. If ours were a real democracy -- where opinions, not money, count – the necessary changes could be easily secured. But in this world of government of, by and for the Democratic and Republican parties and the interests they serve, they are almost impossible even to broach.

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