Sunday, March 06, 2005

What He Said

Michael J.Totten included one of my comments in his recent post "Catastrophe Theory and War":

"The weapon that will kill the mentality that has generated transnational terrorists/jihadis is not one that we can use. We can carve out a bloody breathing space, but the final act of victory will not be by our hand. I have never doubted this. The ultimate weapon is hope. In the end, victory will be bought ONLY with the sacrifices and efforts of the people who live in those countries."

I wrote the following excerpt in the comment thread of that same post as a reply to commenter novakant, a traditionalist in the "Everything is fucked up" school of anti-Bushism:

"Bush has been pretty clearly spoken on what our aims are; that the tide is rising in unexpected quarters without our direct influence should be counted as a blessing as far as I'm concerned.

Thousands of people are dying right now - dying in the friction of war against state or religious sanctioned terror. The Mideast, Africa, lately southern Europe and SE Asia... pick a spot on the map. Nobody today knows exactly where the trail will lead, true. But thousands have died in those places for years, for decades, and public opinion in the stable part of the world just assumed that was the way things were meant to be.

Until now.

The Bush Doctrine is not a cookie cutter reprise of the Marshall Plan. It was never intended to be such. In the first place, the Marshall Plan was implemented to hot start a devastated continent that already enjoyed a strong western tradition. The beneficiaries of the plan also had a clear and unpalatable option to the east to motivate them to participate in recovery and reconstruction efforts. I see more of the MacArthur model at work. In the absence of cogent direction from D.C. on exactly what he should do, MacArthur penned a constitution that the Japanese, in their crushed state and absent most of the democratic traditions we take for granted, could recognize as a just and even generous foundation for citizen sovereignty. We do not enjoy the key advantage that MacArthur exploited so well: today there is no emperor of Araby or Islam to facilitate the transition between the past and the future.

But the Afghanis, Iraqis, and now Lebanese do remember what their former options were limited to; they don't have a growling bear in the east, they have the experience of generations of living in despotism. The inmates of the remaining asylums are growling, too. The cries of "Imperialism!" and "War for Oil!" are sounding less and less convincing to the actual residents of the Mideast and beyond. Instead, they see Americans and their active coalition allies bleeding to enable elections and security behind a president who has violated all the conventional wisdom of past realpolitik and whose present rhetoric of supporting democracy is the most uncompromising yet.

Bush laid out the philosophy clearly. The following is from Fouad Ajami, writing in U.S. to weigh in on the tide of democratization in the mideast, quotes President Bush from November, 2003:

""Sixty years of western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run," he said, "stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export."

Ajami paints a thumbnail of current events in his next paragraph:

"Today the Arab world is beset by a mighty storm. For decades, the American choice in Arab-Islamic lands was stark. The "civil society" there was truculent and malignantly anti-American, while the rulers seemed like eminently reasonable men willing to strike bargains in the shadows. It was easy to accept their authoritarianism as the cultural practice of the Arabs: This was what Bush called the "soft bigotry of low expectations."

I agree with him. We had stability. And oil. And it wasn't at the expense of two dollar a gallon gasoline, but purchased instead with the hopes and dreams of millions upon millions of repressed people across scores of nations. But that is changing today. We no longer - well, most of us, and most importantly this administration - are not going to buy stability with other people's freedoms any more. We were wrong in the first place, and the present reality of the true cost of our cynical policies of the past has sunk in deep. Again, for most of us. The outcome depends on the inmates, though.

They see a chance. And they are beginning to recognize that democracy is not a commodity dispensed by, or purely for, nefarious American ambitions.

Near the end of his column Mr. Ajami says:

"We don't know for sure if the American public shares Bush's passion for the pursuit of freedom. We know that America has paid dearly for this democratic movement, in both blood and treasure, for this democratizing push was given force by Iraq's elections. But the outlines of a new Arab world may now be dimly seen. A brilliant American officer, Lt. Col. Mark Martins, whom I met in Baghdad, allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. "Democracy is not a luxury car," he E-mailed me last week. "It is an all-terrain vehicle and good for fighting insurgency.""

It's not about control. It's about support and with a clear objective. I believe we are on the right track to realize sweeping, positive, change.

Your mileage may vary.

(Update: The Ajami article I quoted is also on today's "Must Read" list at

No comments: