The "real war on terror" ?

October 08, 2004

Again, I watched the debate on C-Span and again I have a few thoughts to get down before I turn to the spin. This is a long one, and gets written up separately.

I thought that both candidates presented wrong interpretations of the "real war on terror." Kerry condemned Bush for turning away from OBL and to Iraq, claiming that the "real war on terror" was against Bin Laden. Bush responded that no, the "war on terror is not OBL, it is an attempt to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terror organizations" - paraphrase, so expect a silent edit after I check the transcript.

I disagree. The real war on terror is to convince most moderate and semi-radical muslims around the world that the hatemongers like bin Laden and Zarqawi should be shunned and condemned, much as we in the US shun and condemn Christian identity and the American Nazi Party. Haters are always with us. The difference between a healthy and a failed society is that in one the haters are marginalized, ridiculed, or ignored. They may be able to engage in a few spectacular moments of hatred, Oklahoma City for example, but they can not create any sort of a mass movement or permanant change in power, culture, or society.

So Kerry's tight focus on OBL and nuclear proliferation, focused on the various successor states in the former Soviet Union, on North Korea, and on Iran, is a purely tactical and short term answer. It will be worthless if he loses the future political war, cultural war, around the world. His call for alliances and reaching out might help, but so far he has been longer on wishful thinking than on anything else.

Bush's invasion of Iraq might have served a valuable purpose in that larger war on terror. Instead it has to this point served to legitimize the arguments put forward by the haters. Look, they said, the West hates us, the West pushes us around, the West wants our oil, and we must rally against it and fight our way back to the worst possible combination of tribal custom and medeival theology. And now Bush talks of crusades - he stopped for a while but the word creeps back into his vocabulary. Bush supports a general who speaks about Islam as a "false religion" that must be combatted. Bush invades a nation claiming to be serving democracy, and then engages in activities that appear to be intended to put an American figurehead in charge. Even if that is not our goal, the ham-handed and incompetant actions in Iraq, and the way we got gamed by Chalabi, made it look that way. So while Bush has some good intentions in the larger war on terror - that democratization urge that Cheney was so eloquent about - his has screwed up the execution so badly that he has hurt rather than helped his purpose.

More, by arguing that the "real war on terror" is an attempt to keep WMD out of the hands of terror organizations, Bush signaled that he too is ignoring the larger intellectual and cultural struggle in favor of a strictly military and short term solution. He is focused on particular weapons, really on nuclear weapons, and on states who might spread these weapons to terror organizations. Let them hate us, this suggests, so long as they can't do much about it. It is also a short term approach, which should not be surprising given the short-term approach he and his crew have used for almost every problem they face, and Bush has not done a good job of figuring out who actually had nuclear capabilities.

Posted by Red Ted at October 8, 2004 11:12 PM | TrackBack


Bush not only "hasn't done a good job" of figuring out who the nuclear proliferators are, he has virtually handed them a blank check by failing to engage with PRNK and allowing Musharraf to broker a deal for A.Q. Khan. He doesn't give a good G**damn about security. Nothing in his actions demonstrate that he knows anything about it or cares.

Posted by: Melanie at October 9, 2004 06:32 PM

I was thinking in terms of Iraq - the main stated cause for the war was the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, and this is the point that they keep coming back to. They were wrong, or misguided, or incompetant, or picked the wrong nuclear proliferator - but I was thinking more about concept than about execution.

Posted by: Ted K at October 11, 2004 09:16 PM
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