Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, September 01, 2006

BUSH -- RIGHT FOR THE WRONG REASON?

Fred Kaplan writes a smart, substantive essay on foreign policy, from the left. That's worth taking note of. But look at where he comes down:

President Bush is right about one thing: It would be a mistake to withdraw all our troops from Iraq—though, even here, he's right for the wrong reason. The danger is not, as he warns, that al-Qaida would take over Iraq...

The real danger is that Iraq might devolve into anarchy and total civil war, the likes of which would make the present turmoil seem placid by comparison. Killings could soar into the hundreds of thousands, even millions. Neighboring countries, whether for aggrandizement or security, would feel compelled to intervene—Iran siding with the Shiites, Saudi Arabia bolstering the Sunnis, Turkey suppressing the Kurds—and, from there, one good spark could set off a horrendous war across the whole region.


Okay, so what are we arguing about? There's a substantive issue here: should we stay in Iraq and keep fighting the terrorists and sectarian killers there, or not? Bush says yes, Fred Kaplan says yes. So should Kaplan really be arguing against Bush right now? Shouldn't he be taking Ned Lamont to the cleaners for advocating a course of action-- retreat-- that would lead to "killings... soar[ing] into the hundreds of thousands, even millions?" How can Kaplan sleep at night knowing that his attacks on Bush are likely to bring to power Democrats who will, if they can, pull the troops out of Iraq and blame Bush for whatever carnage follows?

I don't think the Bush/Rumsfeld World War II analogy is so terribly bad. "Islamic fascism" is a pretty good term for Saddam and Osama bin Laden and a lot of others-- not perfect, but pretty good. No, the threat is not as existential as Hitler in, say, 1941. It's maybe as existential as Hitler in about 1938 (when he could have been stopped fairly easily if the West had tried). But even if you disagree with Bush's arguments, if you want us to stay in Iraq, don't you have to recognize him as the lesser of two evils, vis-a-vis with withdrawal lobby on the Democratic left, and make common cause, of sorts?

UPDATE: Tom Reasoner, in the comments:

Um, Saddam wasn't even close to being an "Islamic Fascist". He was brutally secular, and way more like Stalin than Hitler (random trivia: Stalin was one of Saddam's heroes that he tried to emulate). Just ask any Muslim (or Christian, for that matter) that lived over there during his reign. Saddam didn't start making appeals to Islamsits until after the international sanctions set it, and that was more political than ideological.


We've heard this a million times. Well, maybe not quite like this. Saddam was a Baathist, i.e. an Arab socialist, i.e., a nationalist and a socialist. Hitler was a national socialist. Stalinism was the ideologue of "socialism in one country," as opposed to international socialism. Notice any common thread running through these ideologies?

That Saddam emulated Stalin is not any sort of proof that he wasn't a fascist. Hitler also emulated the socialists, consciously and deliberately, even though he hated them, but then, internecine hatreds are a characteristic of socialism. Stalin hated Trotsky too. Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam all preached totalitarian ideologies that fused nationalism and socialism. If there's any justification, other than the historical usage of terms, for not calling Stalin a "fascist," it's that despite Stalin's decision to build socialism in one country, and despite his appeal to Russian nationalism during World War II, the Marxist ideology of the Soviet state was pure enough that nationalism never became a core part of the ideology. But that's not true of Baathism at all: Arab nationalism was absolutely central to Baathism. So "fascist" is a very appropriate term for Saddam. I'm quite surprised that Tom is denying this. (Not that it would be a point in his favor if Saddam is called a "Stalinist" instead of a "fascist." But anyway.)

And Islamic? Saddam was not a militant atheist like Stalin, trying to stamp out religion. He was a Muslim, heading a Muslim country. So he was Islamic, and a fascist-- is that enough to justify calling him an "Islamic fascist?" Well, maybe, but you might say that Islam should be part of his ideology. At that point we can point to his decision to put "Allahu Akbar" on the Iraq flag on January 14, 1991. Yes, this was an effort to shore up his support at a time that he was weakened by the Gulf War. So what? It's still a sign of Islam being embraced as part of the state ideology. In any case, it's a bit hard to have a non-Islamic Arab nationalism, since Islam is the Arabs' big achievement and source of national pride.

We've heard this claim a million times: "Saddam was secular, so he couldn't have collaborated with al-Qaeda..." It's as unpersuasive as ever. First of all, Saddam and al-Qaeda easily could have, and in fact did, collaborate on the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" principle: both hated the US, why not team up? The idea that the two were too ideologically squeamish to do business together always seemed rather silly, and certainly the experience of the post-Saddam insurgency in Iraq has not borne it out: these groups have quarreled, to be sure, but they have also cooperated.

But look at the broader regional picture. All the Arab world is fervently pro-Palestinian. Generally they're supportive of Hamas's, and previously the PLO's, campaign of terror against Israel. The Arab street was thrilled by Hezbollah's defiance of Israel. Saddam gave support to suicide bombers' families. Are the Palestinians nationalists or Islamists, or both? If nationalists, why is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt so supportive of their cause, while the secular Egyptian government has made peace with Israel? The secular-nationalism/Islamism distinction is just not a very helpful guide to the Middle East, just as the church/state distinction is an artifact of Western civilization and is mis-applied to the Islamic world. The term "Islamic fascism" is not just a lazy conflation. On the contrary, the way this term bulldozes certain inapt distinctions is one of its virtues.

4 Comments:

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 12:35 AM  

  • Um, Saddam wasn't even close to being an "Islamic Fascist". He was brutally secular, and way more like Stalin than Hitler (random trivia: Stalin was one of Saddam's heroes that he tried to emulate). Just ask any Muslim (or Christian, for that matter) that lived over there during his reign. Saddam didn't start making appeals to Islamsits until after the international sanctions set it, and that was more political than ideological. Other than that, I'd say the doomsday scenario predicted by us leaving prematurely is way over-blown. Is it plausible? Sure. But it's just as plausible that our mere presence insites more violence than it prevents. I can't really go into a whole lot of detail about it, because I'm too closely involved. However, this and this are very accurate depictions of the current situation. Maybe one day I'll be able to tell my own stories about it in 20+ years.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 12:36 AM  

  • "Islamic fascism" is not a lazy conflation, no, but to call Saddam some sort of Islamist is to me bizarre.

    By Blogger Nato, at 9:52 AM  

  • At the risk of splitting hairs, I think I wrote "Islamic," not "Islamist." I think the first term, but not the second, is applicable to Saddam. But Saddam's Islamic-ness (not Islamism) was part of his appeal, at home (to just enough henchmen and true-believers to maintain power, even if most people hated him) and abroad.

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 11:35 AM  

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