Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Ran So Far Away

First, enjoy a light-hearted moment courtesy of SNL, before the copyright police make them take it down. Let it go, Richard D. James!

Next, a couple of random thoughts. KS is giving me a hard time about a previous post, so let me try to re-cast my thinking on this one:

In 2003, there were two trains of thought that I could follow on why it would make sense to invade Iraq. Again, let me iterate that I did not buy into either of these. But I could trace the arguments from end to end and understand how, for someone with a fundamentally different set of values and beliefs about how the world works (call it a more "optimistic" outlook), these arguments might lead you to believe that an invasion of Iraq was a viable enterprise which might achieve real strategic goals.

The first rationale was the Saddam is a Bad Man rationale - which bundled the threat of WMD, the state-sponsor of terrorism classification, and the Saddam is a murderer and a danger to his own people indictment into an argument that essentially boiled down to, Saddam is a Bad Man who may potentially be dangerous and we need to remove him at any cost. This argument half-embraced a moral/humanitarian-imperative for the war, and half a defensive/strategic rationale. Neither really stood up at the time (why not apply more diplomatic pressure? wasn't containment working?), but were arguments that could be embraced broadly, across party lines in the U.S., palatable by heads of states of foreign governments. It's the floppy rationale that Christopher Hitchens still so lamely props up.

The second rationale, which was rarely engaged at the level of public policy, was a new application of the Domino Theory. Basically, we had an opportunity to rationalize an invasion of Iraq, we believed it would be easy to win the invasion and maintain a peace. There was a willing population in Iraq who would work to build a stable, pluralistic state that would be enriched by oil revenues which would (conveniently) flow to the West. In essence, we were rolling the dice in hopes of achieving the dual strategic goals of securing access to one of our major energy sources and fundamentally changing the political dynamics of the Middle East. I think this approach was strategically flawed to begin with, but its a moot point, since we've undermined any strategic opportunity through botched tactics.

What concerns me about the recent posturing with respect to Iraq (by the current Bush administration, by the Republican front-runners, by the lack of ferocious disavowals by certain leading Democrats, by resonant comments by certain Western European leaders) is that neither of the rationales provided above, nor any other discernible rationale, warrants a military engagement with Iran (or anybody else). War has not been effective in disrupting terrorist activities, not from the perspective of diminishing the consequence of terrorism on Western lives (in the sense of dying), not from the perspective of making our lives less full of terror (in the sense of being paranoid), not in winning hearts and minds of future terrorists or non-terrorists, not even in disrupting the flow and organization of terrorist networks. War has not been effective in changing the short-term or long-term political dynamics in the Middle East. So what rationale could such a large collection of people have in posing such a fundamentally unsound strategy?

What I reject, and to short-circuit KS's reply, is that this is driven by the power and greed of a handful of cronies. I don't think this explains the behavior of such a wide swath of people engaging in this debate, and if it does, then either all people in power or corrupt, or the corrupt people have so much power that it makes any concern or action about the issue irrelevant. So we'll just walk past that particular argument.

What concerns me more is a deeper line of thinking that basically says the population growth of Islam, both in terms of international demographics, as well as within many western countries, is an alarming force that we (leaders of Western countries) are in no position to stop. There is nothing within the fundamentally pluralist/capitalist view of the world that would allow us to squelch this growth. Moreover, Islam is fundamentally incompatible with our pluralist/capitalist view of the world. This is why, even though we are worried about the demographic shifts posed by India, China, and Latin America, we are not worried as concerned about those trends -- India, China, and Latin America have proven that they can embrace a pluralist/capitalist view of the world. We can work with those people. We can compete with those people on common terms.

So the issue here isn't racism, per se, or even a religious conflict, in terms of Christianity vs. Islam. But what it also isn't is a narrow war on terrorism, or on radicalized Islam. It is an effort to fundamentally destabilize any strong or coherent Islamic identity -- because if we cannot slow the rate of growth of Islamic populations, perhaps we can weaken the influence of Islam over those populations.

That's my crack-pot theory.

But it maybe explains nutty commercials like this one from the Romney campaign, which purposefully and cravenly conflates varying aspects of Islam -- setting the table for a us vs. them conversation not far off in our political future.


karsten said...

First of all, I don't know who you think I am, but you spent way too much effort rebutting my comments. I haven't read a newspaper in about ten years, so you could've just made up some shit and saved yourself a lot of trouble.

You mention two rationales: Saddam is a dangerous asshole, and we have to spread pluralistic Western democracy. I think it's clear that the first rationale might be the one Bush believed, but no-one cares what he believes, so this second rationale is the only relevant one. You say that this serves a dual purpose of securing the oil and transforming the regional politics. It seems to me like the first purpose is the reason for the second purpose; no Western country goes to war to change the political dynamics in Africa, after all. Nope, just where there's oil.

Now, here's the way I see it. There are three rationales to the war. You've covered the first one pretty well: control the fuck out of the Middle East so you control the oil; control over oil will increasingly be equivalent to global power. As I understand it, a bunch of neo-cons were writing proposals to do this in the 90s and Iraq was a first step. For this purpose Saddamm is merely a convenient bad guy. You could just as well go directly at Iran, Saudi Arabia, or whatever, except they're bigger motherfuckers and the rationale sold the public would be thinner.

The second rationale is that certain industries, like arms, private security, and whatever it is that Halliburton thinks it does (do they build stuff? or just send bills?) like to expand, as is their nature. These are not just "a handful of cronies" in my estimation. I've seen movies indicating that they are legion and are connected to the legislative as well as the executive branch. For them as well Iraq is a thing of convenience.

The third rationale is racism and cultural aggression. This is the schlubs' rationale, resounding throughout New Jersey and the deep South, the fear of towel-heads and their many many children, the desire to "kick some ass over there" after 9/11 (which was an acceptable thing to say on TV shortly before I emigrated), you get the picture. These people don't care if you invade Iraq, Pakistan, or any nation that's spelled funny, honestly. You could announce an invasion of Fakestateistan and they'd cheer. Or at least they would've a few years ago. They are not the authors of the war, they flung themselves along for the ride.

We can call these three groups the imperialists, the professional war-mongers, and the tools. Now you say you cannot believe that the war was driven entirely by the war-mongers, who you call a "handful of people". "Driven" is ambiguous. Who authored the war? Its authors were few in number, I imagine. It could've been a lecture hall or a small boardroom full of war-mongers and imperialists. Perhaps largely or exclusively war-mongers, or perhaps there were some imperialistst thrown in for good measure. Perhaps some of them had a foot in both drawers, or perhaps some of the war-mongers talked like imperialists at Sunday dinner. Cheney strikes me as a war-monger pure and simple, but he seems to value his connections to imperialists. So I don't know.

Now the hordes that flung themselves into the back-seat of the war are a different matter. If we're talking about pundits -- since you mentioned "debate" -- then I imagine they're a healthy dose of both tool and imperialist. If you're talking about congressmen, I'd say they're all professional tools, some of them likely were war-mongers, and perhaps some of them were imperialists.

So all in all, I concede that imperialism and toolish racism are quite robust, but I don't see them as bearing so much responsibility for the authorship of the war. And anyway I bet you anything that the imperialists' think-tanks are bankrolled by war-mongers anyway, so whatever ideas they have are really just the icing on the war's material basis.

You didn't answer my question, which was a serious one. A lot of Europeans don't know what "causasian" is, and on reflection, I don't either. Are Arabs "caucasian"?

karsten said...

On reflection, it appears I was talking past your concern. You're not concerned with the authorship of the war but with the widespread cultural aggression against Islam, whether or not it has any executive power.

I wouldn't worry about this too much; Americans are more terrified of Mexicans than they are of Islam. The fear of Islamic birth rates is really a European scare, and Americans don't really fancy European ideas so much.

Stockton Hercules said...

It's worth pointing out that political action requires the mobilization of many motivations: if there were only one reason to invade Iraq/n, it wouldn't happen. You couldn't get enough people to agree.

I can think of a few reasons to invade Iran.

(1) Scowcroft: Having upset the balance of power in the Middle East by taking out Iran's major antagonist, we now have to debilitate Iran as much as Iraq to restore that balance (because of an inability to empower Iraq).

(2) Wolfowitz: Communism didn't fail, it was just tried in the wrong countries. Neoconservatism didn't fail, it was just tried in the wrong country. Iran was always perfect: Islamofascist government, democracy loving people. Having learned from Iraq, we'll get it done right this time.

(3) Oh, fuck, Iran's getting the bomb: Oh fuck, Iran's getting the bomb.

(4) Democrats: Invading Iran, invading Iran ... sounds bad, but I, I don't know. What if goes bad? Or what if it goes well? Little too scared to voice an opinion. Don't want to be called a wishy-washy sissy.

As for American Islamophobia, I agree with Karsten. American Moslems don't really bother anybody ; they seem to have adopted capitalism/pluralism without difficulty.

Ritik Dholakia said...

Well, I guess a couple of half-baked posts deserve half-baked responses. I won't go into much detail, but to make a couple of points in response.

First, KS, I spend way too much time (agreed) responding to your posts, because you're the only person who bothers to read my blog. Hell, pretty soon I'm going to stop writing about all of these other subjects and start writing directly to you: a month dedicated to chess, hip hop, and martial arts. Starting here: http://allhiphop.com/blogs/news/archive/2007/10/22/18771902.aspx

and here:

Next, yes, there is a lot of money tied up in what you're calling the "authorship" of the war, and a lot of it comes from the exact same folks who profit from the war. I'd link to, except I can't recall, wherever it was I read a profile about the building of AEI into a policy powerhouse through the 90s. And, yes, just like in Syriana or whatever, the cog-wheels of the war machine involve forces aligning well beyond our control. However, the underlying notion that a set of companies, run by a set of people, decide that they need to manufacture a war, motivated by their own profit/growth needs, and cause the U.S. into strategic entanglements that it may never back out of -- I simply don't buy it. Yes, the same people in power profit from the wars they create, but the reasons for these wars run deeper than profit. That's my opinion.

I believe that there is an "Arab/Middle East" designation on most census forms, although I don't know this for sure. I believe there is also an "Eskimo/Inuit" designation.

Ritik Dholakia said...

KS, on your follow-up point, I think you are quite wrong. I think what we're seeing is that Americans are, in fact, much less afraid of Mexicans than the looming, if abstract threat of Islam. I also think that both you and Stockton are underestimating the fear of a Muslim world - which is so much more foreign to Americans than the other major demographics-driven shifts that will change the world within our lifetime. India has become recognizable. Latin America is. China, while less so, has embraced entrepreneurial and cultural models that we understand.

Islam hasn't. True, the perceived threat in Europe is driven by a more real and pronounced change in demographics, and has been going on for over twenty years (I remember living in Oslo when I was 11 and the question of Pakistani migrant workers was a great concern), but the issue is becoming more relevant to Americans, too. Both at the main street level (walk down Atlantic Avenue or Church Avenue, in Brooklyn, or muslim neighborhoods springing up in many towns like Newark and Buffalo, around NYC, and you'll see active Muslim communities that aren't quietly and actively melting into the bland accoutrement of consumerism that binds us Americans). But I think what is likely more concerning would be for an American businessman walking through a place like the Dubai airport or in Lagos or in Jakarta, places that are growing in population, in wealth, relatively, and in relevance, and seeing how far, how pronounced, and how fundamentally strange the practice of mainstream Islam is to the practice of liberal/secular capitalism in the West.

Stockton, I agree that there are a multitude of motivations that underlie the war. All of that is besides my point. Also, of the four you mention, only the third is really being brought forward as a rationale in any of the commentary that I've seen (although I think what you attribute to Wolfowitz still underwrites a lot of the strategic thinking of the right -- however strained it has become, given the facts on the ground).

As mentioned, I think your characterization of American Islamaophobia, again, I don't think its focused on the spectre of American Islam, but global Islam. The key distinction here is that the threat is global Islam broadly, not simply militant, fundamental Islam, narrowly.

But enough on this topic. Time to move on.