Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What To Do?

What we do about Islamic fundamentalism is a topic we must deal with. I suspect that it will take a global effort and a willingness to deal intelligently with the impending global oil crisis. There will be other challenges as well, including potential wars and regional strife and any of the other things that have marked civilization from the beginning. All peoples must deal with such things.

But there is no war on terrorism. The nation is less secure because of this false construct. We are spending money we need not spend, making enemies we need not make and wasting lives we need not waste in the name of something that doesn't exist. That is as politically incorrect a statement as can be made in America today. But it's true.
I think that's about right.

It's a hackenyed cliche, but the boy has cryed wolf. Unfortunately, this may well blind me and mine to the fact that there is an actual problem out there - consider this from Peter Beinart (sub only?):
But I would add, just by way of not being too light on the threat of jihadism, and because it is something that worries me a little bit, that there is a bit of a tendency sometimes amongst liberals to think that because George W. Bush has hyped this so much that it's mostly hype. If you look at the Lugar poll, which I cite in the book, Senator Richard Lugar, who is not an ideologue, gets together all these non-proliferation types and basically says what are the chances we're going to be hit with a weapon of mass destruction attack in the next ten years? They say 70 percent. He says what are the chances we are going to be hit with a nuclear attack? They say 30 percent. And 80 percent say it is most likely that one of those will come from a terrorist group. And these are not people who are on Karl Rove's payroll.
Sobering. (Incidentally, Beinart's new book looks interesting, as I tend to be perhaps overly dismissive of 'liberal hawks' such as most of the TNR braintrust.)

The difficulty is that many are so fed up with the bill of goods they've been sold, and by the manifest unseriousness of those in charge that they forget that these are real problems. I've said it before, but if this really was the massive threat that we've been warned about, perhaps tax cuts, school prayer and 'protection of marriage' could wait - the 'permanent majority' will still be here when you get back. Beinart, to his credit, seems to recognize this difficulty, and I think Kevin Drum identifies the quandry in which left-leaning folks such as myself find ourselves:
[W]hat is it that Beinart really wants from antiwar liberals? The obvious answer is found less in policy than in rhetoric: we need to engage more energetically with the war on terror and criticize illiberal regimes more harshly.

Maybe so. But this is something that's nagged at me for some time. On the one hand, I think Beinart is exactly right. For example, should I be more vocal in denouncing Iran? Sure. It's a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.

And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration's determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can't be trusted to act wisely.
Not to mention that my crticism of, for example, Iran is not likely to have any meaningful benefit - Iran will still be terrible. And, as Drum argues, any action my words may in any small way encourage is likely to be injudicious, hastily planned and poorly executed.

Smart people frequently remind me that focusing on the President's past failings is not especially helpful - he's still around for 2.5 more years. And buttoning up and 'riding it out' until then isn't much of a plan. But are the options on the table really do nothing or do something poorly? And, sadly, I don't necessarily have a lot of faith that 'my guys' will do much better. When do the grownups get home?

Update 6/1/06: Sully articulates the charge of 'unseriousness' more thouroughly than I was able to do.

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