Kevin Drum asks a serious question that we who support the war have to answer. He's wrestling with the issue of why Democrats do so badly on issues of defense, and responding to Peter Bienert's article that I praised so much.Kevin says:
That's the story I think Beinart needs to write. If he thinks too many liberals are squishy on terrorism, he needs to persuade us not just that Islamic totalitarianism is bad — of course it's bad — but that it's also an overwhelming danger to the security of the United States.and follows up in a later post (in which he responds to attacks from his left that he's a dupe for even considering this issue) saying this:
...and finally, when I suggested that I wanted Beinart to write an article spelling out the danger of Islamic totalitarianism, I wasn't taking sides. All I meant was that I'd really like him to write the article. Why? Because I'd really like to read it.
For what it's worth, I think any honest account needs to address at least the following four items:I'll skip the requirement for 'a credible liberal' to make the case, and suggest that as much as I'm willing to push for a Democratic Party that burns the phone numbers of the MoveOn folks, I'm also willing to face the legitimate question of 'why'?
- Nuclear terrorism. A terrorist group with a nuclear weapon poses an entirely different threat than one without, so this needs to be treated as a danger all its own. How likely is it that a terrorist group could really acquire a nuclear weapon? And deliver it? And what's the best way to stop it? The fact that the Bush administration has been so lackadaisical on this score is going to make this a hard argument to deliver convincingly. If they don't take it seriously, why should anyone else?
- Garden variety terrorism. Aside from the nuclear scenario, what's the actual danger from terrorist groups like al-Qaeda? 9/11 was due to luck and poor foresight, but now that we know the danger how much military harm can they really do to us? How much economic harm? And how likely is it?
- Expansionism. Do Islamic extremists really have much interest in anyplace outside the Middle East? To the best of my knowledge, no Islamic country in the greater Middle East has ever invaded or shown the slightest interest in invading a country that wasn't a neighbor. Is Islamic extremism fundamentally expansionist, like fascism and communism, or not?
- Oil. Nobody wants to talk honestly about this, but it's obviously the reason we care about the Middle East in the first place and don't care much about, say, sub-Saharan Africa — and therefore care about Islamic totalitarianism but not sub-Saharan totalitarianism. The problem here is shared by both liberals and conservatives.
On the left, "no blood for oil" is childishness. Economic interests are and always have been a legitimate concern of national governments, and a steady supply of oil is plainly vital to the industrialized world. If a Taliban-like regime deposed the House of Saud and took over Saudi Arabia, for example, they might decide to tighten the taps because they figure they only need half as much oil money as they currently receive — after all, most of it just went to those decadent westernized royal princes anyway. The resulting oil shock would almost certainly cause a global depression of enormous magnitude. This would be a disaster, and one that would hurt the poor far more than the rich.
On the right, conservatives hypocritically refuse to admit that oil has anything to do with anything. It's all about democracy promotion, you see — despite the fact that our national policies have virtually nothing to do with genuinely promoting democracy. What's more, conservatives make a bad problem worse by practically sneering at the idea that anyone should take seriously the idea of greater energy conservation or alternative energy sources. Squawking endlessly about ANWR — which contains a minute amount of oil — just trivializes the whole problem.You'll note that I've said nothing about the humanitarian case for intervening (or not intervening) in the Middle East. One thing at a time. I think the first step is for some credible liberal to construct the most compelling argument they can that an aggressive, militant policy toward Islamic totalitarianism is necessary simply because any other policy will end up with a lot of dead people. If that argument is successful, then we can argue about means and methods.
I've criticized Bush in the past for doing a bad job of articulating the 'why'.
So I decided to spend a couple of minutes and try and make an argument.
I wanted to start with the numbers, because I think they're significant, so I went to the Department of State, and looked up a page on 'Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961-2003: A Brief Chronology.' Then I loaded it into Excel and started to do some quick numbers. I removed all the incidents in Iraq - arguably those are part of an ongoing war.
Just for starters, from 1961 to 2003:
|Total Terrorist Incidents||229|
|Total Islamist-Sponsored Incidents||136|
|Total Islamist-Sponsored Deaths||5,921|
|Total Palestinian-Sponsored Incidents in Israel||49|
|Total Palestinian-Sponsored Deaths in Israel||381|
|Total Islamist-Sponsored Incidents Outside Israel||87|
|Total Islamist-Sponsored Deaths Outside Israel||5,540|
*edited 'Muslim' to 'Islamist' and 'Palestinian'; that was careless on my part - A.L.
I'm going to work up a time series, and obviously the numbers are rising. But - and it's an important one - as a public health issue, terrorism (as defined on this particular list) barely registers a blip. Worldwide, approximately 8,000,000 infants die before their first birthday.
So why is it, exactly, that terrorism deserves such an expensive (in blood, treasure, and goodwill) response?
I think it does, and will try and set out some arguments why. I think that our team - the 'pro-liberation', 'pro-intervention' team - needs to make these good arguments, and that we probably need to acknowledge - as I think the left needs to acknowledge it's flaws - that we haven't done a good enough job on this yet.
...to be continued...