Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Thoughts on the Bush speech, in order of importance:

1. Bush endorses the flypaper strategy:

Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of Coalition operations in Iraq — who is also senior commander at this base — General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said: "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."

The flypaper strategy is the idea that by invading Iraq, we've attracted jihadists to the fight in Iraq who would otherwise have attacked the United States. Read up on the flypaper strategy here, hat tip: Instapundit. It's been plugged by Andrew Sullivan, but Bush's endorsement is surely it's greatest success so far.

It's occurred to me a few times that the Iraq War is a bit like the Spanish Civil War. A mental war that grips the whole world (then: fascism vs. the general left; now: Islamofascism vs. liberal-democracy) is incarnated at one place and time in physical war, and becomes a cause celebre, closely-watched and symbolic. In the Spanish Civil War, the liberal cause was betrayed by the cynicism of the hard left and the fascists won; but the momentum of the fascists' victory carried them into a world war which they lost. (That could happen this time too, but surely a more positive outcome is possible?)

2. 9/11 and fighting terror were front and center in this speech, in contrast to the Second Inaugural, which was a step towards recasting the war as part of a quest for the global advance of liberty. I have a stake in this argument. I've supported the war strongly ever since April 9, 2003, when the Iraqis greeted us as liberators, and Iraqi freedom has been my chief motive for doing so. But even I thought Bush went a bit too far in his Second Inaugural. This time Bush defended the war in terms of American national security and national interest, which is probably good.

Should we fight for the freedom of others? I believe that imperialism and military occupation by democratic powers has done much to spread freedom and improve the lot of the occupied/imperialized. Witness contemporary Japan, under its American-imposed constitution, or Western Europe, where democratic capitalism was consolidated under American tutelage; witness India, still democratic on a foundation of the British common law and other British institutions (and even the English language!) or Singapore and Hong Kong, where British influence fueled prosperity rather than democracy. And yet we have been far less successful in the former Yugoslavia, where our mission was altruistic, nor does (explicitly altruistic) foreign aid have a very impressive record. The irony is that we do more good for the spread of freedom when our motives for doing so are self-interested rather than altruistic. So it's good that Bush is emphasizing the self-interested reasons for the war. Jesus once said that "when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth." By emphasizing national security, we help to hide the Iraq War's philanthropic side.

3. Do Democrats have to keep repeating this argument over and over again?:

Bush engaged in his own mendacities. Over and over, he linked the war in Iraq to the attacks of 9/11, despite the by-now-definitive discrediting of any connection.

Could they at least have the decency to write "discrediting of any direct connection?" No, Saddam didn't commission the 9/11 hijackers. But bin Laden was (justly!) outraged by the sanctions we imposed on Iraq, and that was part of the motive for the 9/11 attacks. That's a "connection," to begin with. Saddam and bin Laden agreed about Israel, too, and they both supported terror there. That's another connection of sorts. Or again, it's plausible to see Osama bin Laden as part of a broader Islamofascist cause.

It raises the question: do the Democrats have any interest in crafting a message with majority appeal? If the Democrats are too obtuse to entertain the possibility that the argument may be bigger than their myopic focus on the direct 9/11-Saddam connection or lack thereof, can't they at least be opportunist and take their cue from the polls? The idea that Iraq is, or ever was, irrelevant to the war on terror, has never appealed to a substantial majority of Americans. And it's been hashed out a million times by now! If half the country is still unconvinced, isn't it time to give up this line of argument and try another tack?

4. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to two of Bush's arguments against sending more troops:

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever — when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.

I can believe the second and third arguments. I don't buy the first one; I think commanders want more troops. And Bush left out the fourth and strongest argument against sending more troops: we can't afford to. We're straining the military's human-capital constraints already. Should Bush have acknowledged that? Hard to say. I'd have liked it if he did.

5. I like this:

We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity, and returns to strike us again.

I like this. It has a rhythm-of-history vibe to it. Fascism festered, grew stronger, until we confronted it, then it subsided. Communism grew stronger until we confronted it under Truman, then it stopped advancing; we retreated after Vietnam and it began advancing again; we confronted it under Reagan and it subsided. Islamism exploded in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and began spreading, until we confronted it in Afghanistan and Iraq; now it faces likely retreat and defeat.

6. Is this plea trite and surreal, or not?:

This Fourth of July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom — by flying the flag … sending letters to our troops in the field … or helping the military family down the street.

On the one hand, this is a way of dodging the call for sacrifice that Bush should really be making, but can't for political reasons: Asking more people to enlist. Flying flags and sending letters won't help us win in Iraq.

On the other hand, to be honored is really the most right and proper reward for soldiers. I welcome the moves towards paying them more. I was thinking about other incentives we could provide, better veterans' benefits and whatnot... But we shouldn't, can't and won't have an army that fights for money. More money for soldiers should be a means to increasing their prestige, and it should be used carefully because while it could have that effect, it could backfire. If paying soldiers better attracted a more talented class of people to join, this could lead to people to see a military uniform and assume that the person in it was really smart and special-- a good thing. But if high pay makes people think soldiers kill for money rather than for a just cause, that would make the profession less reputable. Spontaneous support from the community may be the best incentive for soldiers, but is it possible that Bush can actually spur this kind of grass-roots support. Not here in Washington, DC, that's for sure. But being a Republican in DC, I always have in mind the idea that there's a different world out there, a whole different America, the red states, where communities are organized on a different basis, where people have a value system that we don't understand, where people were sufficiently uncorrupted by urban cynicism to listen to Bush's idealism and embrace it... Who knows? In the red states, maybe Bush's call will actually have an effect.

To sum up, it seems like a good speech to me. I'd been turning away from the war just a bit. This shored up my support.


Post a Comment

<< Home