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Arab Traditionalism threatens Western civilization
Steven Den Beste (www.denbeste.nu) wrote an incredible essay on how Arab Traditionalism threatens Western civilization and the war on Islamo-freak terrorism:
I can't explain the reasons for attacking Iraq in a vacuum because Iraq is part of a bigger picture, and the attack there will be one battle in a much longer war. Trying to understand one particular battle without the context of the larger war is an exercise in futility. (By analogy: what excuse is there in 1942 for the US to attack Vichy France in Morocco? Vichy France wasn't our enemy; Germany and Italy were. Taken out of the context of the larger war, the Torch landings in Africa make little sense. It's only when you look at the bigger picture of the whole war that you can understand them.)
I got the link to this excellent essay at www.sugar-n-spicy.com, she's got a great blog as well.
I copy the full essay below - it's well worth the read.
Steven Den Beste (Captain's log)
Aziz H. Poonawalla writes:
Your essays are probably the most exhaustively argued, for the pro-attack camp. But, they are spread out all over the place. Is it possible to simply list in 4 or 5 numbered points the reasons why you favor attack in Iraq? as best as I can tell, they seem to be:
And as I read this, yet another letter from Hesiod arrived, which made clear that a lot of my disagreement with him on strategy and tactics comes from a completely different perception of just what this war is about.
I can't explain the reasons for attacking Iraq in a vacuum because Iraq is part of a bigger picture, and the attack there will be one battle in a much longer war. Trying to understand one particular battle without the context of the larger war is an exercise in futility. (By analogy: what excuse is there in 1942 for the US to attack Vichy France in Morocco? Vichy France wasn't our enemy; Germany and Italy were. Taken out of the context of the larger war, the Torch landings in Africa make little sense. It's only when you look at the bigger picture of the whole war that you can understand them.)
We must attack Iraq. We must totally conquer the nation. Saddam must be removed from power, and killed if possible, and the Baath party must be shattered.
But Saddam isn't our enemy. bin Laden (may he burn in hell) is not our enemy. Iraq isn't our enemy. al Qaeda isn't our enemy. The Taliban weren't our enemies.
In most wars, there's a government or core organization which you can identify as the enemy. It isn't always a single person; in World War II it was Hitler and Mussolini in Europe, but it wasn't Tojo in Japan. Tojo was deposed in 1944, but the war went on. It also wasn't Hirohito; he mostly kept his hands off of policy. Still, it was the Japanese government, and that could still be understood.
But in this war there is no single government or small group of them, no man, no organization. Our enemy is a culture which is deeply diseased.
It's really difficult to exactly delineate who our enemies are, but they number in millions. They're Arab and Muslim, but not every Arab is among them, and most Muslims are not.
But even to discuss it in these terms is to cross the boundaries of political correctness. Not that I care, but it isn't politically possible for our leaders to say things like these, which makes the political wrangling all the more difficult. I think that they know what I'm about to say, and I at least am free to say what I believe whether others find it offensive or racist.
Islam is larger than greater Arabia, and the majority of Muslims are not Arab. But in the beginning, Islam was both a religion and a political movement. The Qur'an is a source of moral teachings for everyday life, telling people how to live and how to act towards one another. But it's also a manual for conquest, describing how to face enemies, how to fight, how to treat those who have been conquered, how to treat prisoners, how to treat enemy soldiers.
It lays a dual obligation on Muslims: to live a good life, and to spread Islam to the entire world, by any means necessary. All successful widespread religions are evangelistic to a greater or lesser extent (with Judaism being the notable exception), but I know of no other major religion whose holy teachings include instructions for how to go to war to spread the faith.
Until Mohammed, the Arab tribes were divided and spent most of their time fighting one another. The great achievement of Mohammed was to unite the Arabs and face them outwards, strengthened and given will by his new religion. And for two hundred years, nothing could stand in their way; they created one of the great empires in the history of the world which was bounded on the south by the Sahara, on the west by the Atlantic ocean, on the north by Christendom, and on the east by the Hindu nations. Extending from Spain to Iran, from Turkey to Egypt it was much larger and more powerful than was the Roman Empire before it, and it lasted longer. Within its borders art and science and poetry and architecture flourished.
But like all empires, it eventually fell. Unlike other empires, this was against the word of God, for the Qur'an says that Islam will eventually dominate the entire world. In reality, it's been in retreat for more than three hundred years, and its decline became far more precipitous with the collapse of the Ottomans. Once-great Arab nations became little more than colonies for heathen Europeans, or economic dependents of America.
Our enemy is those who inherit the culture and heritage of that empire. Not everyone within the empire's physical realm now partakes of that culture, but many do.
I am having a difficult time coming up with a pithy term for our enemy. It's hard. It isn't really greater Arabia. It certainly isn't Islam. Islamic fundamentalism is a symptom of it, not the core. Arab nationalism and imperialism is also a symptom of it, not the core. Each of those can and does exist without the other, but they're both expressions of the real enemy we face, something deeper than that.
To refer to it as Arab nostalgia is wrong, for many of those within the body of our enemy inherit the beliefs and dogma which make them our enemies without knowing where they came from. They aren't necessarily traditionalists, for the same reason, though that's perhaps closer.
I'm afraid I'm going to have to use the partly-fallacious term "Arab culture", accepting that not all Arab culture is our enemy and not all Arabs are among our enemies.
Our enemy holds to a traditional belief, a traditional culture. Islam is a core piece of that, but it isn't the whole thing, and not everyone who believes in Islam is part of the enemy. Our enemy is the majority of the people who live in what we think of as the large Arab nations, plus certain other groups. Our enemy is concentrated in Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, plus the Palestinians are part of it. There are lesser concentrations of our enemy in Morocco, Algeria, Yemen, Oman and (non-Arab) Pakistan.
And Iran is, as usual, a complicated aspect of it. While not being Arab, it is closer culturally to the Arabs, and to a great extent our enemy also hold sway there. The traditionalists and theocrats in Iran are part of our enemy, even though not being Arab, because Persian Iran was a key part of the original Arab/Islamic empire, and still retains much of that culture.
The problem with our enemy's culture is that in the 20th century it was revealed as being an abject failure. By any rational calculation, it could not compete, and not simply because the deck was stacked against it. The problem was more fundamental; the culture itself contained the elements of its own failure.
The only Arab nations which have prospered have done so entirely because of the accident of mineral wealth. Using money from export of oil, they imported a high tech infrastructure. They drive western cars. They use western cell phones. They built western high-rise steel frame buildings. They created superhighways and in every way implemented the trappings of western prosperity.
Or rather, they paid westerners to create all those things for them. They didn't build or create any of it themselves. It's all parasitic. And they also buy the technical skill to keep it running. The technological infrastructure of Saudi Arabia (to take an example) is run by a small army of western engineers and technicians and managers who are paid well, and who live in isolation, and who keep it all working. If they all leave, the infrastructure will collapse. Saudi Arabia does not have the technical skill to run it, or the ability to produce the replacement parts which would be needed. It's all a sham, and they know it. Everything they have which looks like modern culture was purchased. They themselves do not have the ability to produce, or even to operate, any of it.
The diseased culture of our enemy suffers from all seven of the deep flaws Ralph Peters identifies as condemning nations to failure in the modern world. Peters makes a convincing case that there is a correlation approaching unity between the extent to which a nation or culture suffers from these flaws and its inability to succeed in the 21st century.
He lists them as follows:
Restrictions on the free flow of information.
The nations and the peoples within the zone of our enemy's culture are complete failures. Their economies are disasters. They make no contribution to the advance of science or engineering. They make no contribution to art or culture. They have no important diplomatic power. They are not respected. Most of their people are impoverished and miserable and filled with resentment, and those who are not impoverished are living a lie.
They hate us. They hate us because our culture is everything theirs is not. Our culture is vibrant and fecund; our economies are successful. Our achievements are magnificent. Our engineering and science are advancing at breathtaking speed. Our people are fat and happy (relatively speaking). We are influential, we are powerful, we are wealthy. "We" are the western democracies, but in particular "we" are the United States, which is the most successful of the western democracies by a long margin. America is the most successful nation in the history of the world, economically and technologically and militarily and even culturally.
Our culture as exported is condemned as being lowbrow in many places, but it's hard to deny how pervasive and influential it is. Baywatch was total dreck, but it was also the most successful syndicated television program around the world in history, racking up truly massive audiences each week.
Our culture is seductive on every level; those elsewhere who are exposed to it find it attractive. It isn't always "high culture"; but some of it is, and with the world revolution in telecommunications it's impossible for anyone in the world to avoid seeing it and being exposed to it.
Nor can anyone ignore our technology, which is definitely not lowbrow, nor our scientific achievements.
We're everything that they think they should be, everything they once were, and by our power and success we throw their modern failure into stark contrast, especially because we've gotten to where we are by doing everything their religion says is wrong. We've deeply sinned, and yet we've won. They are forced to compare their own accomplishments to ours because we are the standard of success, and in every important way they come up badly short. In most of the contests it's not just that our score is higher, it's that their score is zero.
They have nothing whatever they can point to that can save face and preserve their egos. In every practical objective way we are better than they are, and they know it.
And since this is a "face" culture, one driven by pride and shame, that is intolerable. Nor is it something we can easily redress. The oft-proposed idea of increasing aid and attempting to eliminate poverty may well help in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, but it will not defuse the hatred of our Arab/Islamic enemies, for it is our success that they hate, not the fruits of that success.
It isn't that they also want to be rich. Indeed, the majority of the most militant members of al Qaeda came from Saudi Arabia, out of comfortable existence. What they want is to stay with their traditional culture and for it to be successful, and that isn't possible. We can make them rich through aid, but we can't make them successful because their failure is not caused by us, but by the deep flaws in their culture. Their culture cannot succeed. It is too deeply and fundamentally crippled.
Everything they think they know says that they should be successful. They once were successful, creating and ruling a great empire, with a rich culture. God says they will be successful; it's right there in the Qur'an. God lays on them the duty to dominate the world, but they can't even dominate their own lands any longer. They face a profound crisis of faith, and it can only resolve one of three ways.
First, the status quo can continue. They can continue to fail, sit in their nations, and accept their plight. By clinging to their culture and their religion they may be ideologically pure, but they will have to continue to live with the shame of being totally unable to compete. Solution one: they can stagnate.
The second thing they can do is to accept that their culture and their religion are actually the problem. They can recognize that they will have to liberalize their culture in order to begin to achieve. They can embrace the modern world, and embrace western ways at least in part. They can break the hold of Islamic teachings; discard Sharia; liberate their women; start to teach science and engineering in their schools instead of the study of the Qur'an; and secularize their societies. Solution two: they can reform.
Some Arab nations have begun to do this, and to the extent that they have they have also started to succeed. But this is unacceptable to the majority; it is literally sinful. It is heresy. What good does it do to succeed in the world if, by so doing, you condemn your soul to hell?
Which leaves only one other way: become relatively competitive by destroying all other cultures which are more capable. You level the playing field by tearing down all the mountains rather than filling in the valleys; you make yourself the tallest by shooting everyone taller than you are. Solution three: they can lash out, fight back.
It's vitally important to understand that this is the reason they're fighting back. It's not to gain revenge for some specific action in the past on our part. It isn't an attempt to influence our foreign policy. Their goal is our destruction, because they can't keep hold on what they have and still think of themselves as being successful as long as we exist and continue to outperform them.
al Qaeda grew out of this deepening resentment and frustration within the failed Arab culture. It is the first manifestation of solution three, but as long as the deep disease continues in the culture of our enemy, it won't be the last. Its initial demands to the US were a bit surprising, and not very well known. (And obscured by the fact that as their struggle continued recently, they kept changing their stated demands in hopes of attracting allies from elsewhere in the Arab sphere.)
The original demand was for a complete cessation of contact between America and Arabia. Not just a pullout of our soldiers from holy Arab soil, but total isolation so that the people of greater Arabia would no longer be exposed in any way to us or our culture or our values. No television, no radio, no music, no magazines and books, no movies. No internet. And that isn't possible; you can't go backward that way.
But it's interesting that this shows their real concern. If they're no longer exposed to us, they are no longer shamed by comparing their failure to our success, and no longer seduced by it and tempted to discard their own culture and adopt ours.
Solution three manifests, and will continue to manifest, in many ways. Another way it manifests is in a new Arab imperialism, an ambition in some quarters to recreate the Arab empire and by so doing to regain political greatness. Arab nationalism doesn't directly spring from Islam, but it does spring from this deep frustration and resentment caused by the abject failure of the enemy culture, and it's most prominent practitioner is Saddam Hussein.
Both al Qaeda's terrorist attacks, and Saddam's attempts to incorporate other Arab nations into Iraq, spring from the same deep cause. But when I say that al Qaeda and Saddam are not the real enemy, it's because they both arise due to a deeper cause which is the true enemy. If we were to stamp out al Qaeda as a viable organization and reduce it to an occasional annoyance, and remove Saddam's WMDs no matter how, by conquest or inspections, someone else somewhere else would spring up and we would again be in peril. We cannot end this war by only treating the symptoms of al Qaeda and Saddam, though they must be dealt with as part of that process. This war is actually a war between the modern age and traditional Arab culture, and as long as they stagnated and felt resentment quietly, it wasn't our war.
It became our war when al Qaeda started bringing it to our nation. With a series of successively more deadly attacks culminating in the attacks in NYC and Washington last year, it became clear that we in the United States could no longer ignore it, and had to start working actively to remove the danger to us. We didn't pick this war, it picked us, but we can't turn away from it. If we ignore it, it will keep happening.
But the danger isn't al Qaeda as such, though that's the short term manifestation of the danger. This war will continue until the traditional crippled Arab culture is shattered. It won't end until they embrace reform or have it forced on them. Until a year ago, we were willing to be patient and let them embrace it slowly. Now we have no choice: we have to force them to reform because we cannot be safe until they do.
And by reform I mean culturally and not politically. The reform isn't just abjuration of weapons of mass destruction. It isn't just promising not to attack any longer. What they're going to have to do is to fix all seven of Ralph Peters' problems, and once they've done so, their nations won't be recognizable.
First, they will seem much more western. Second, they'll start to succeed, for as Peters notes, nations which fix these problems do become competitive. What he's describing isn't symptoms, it's deep causes.
We're facing a 14th century culture engaged in a 14th century war against us. The problem is that they are armed with 20th century weapons, which may eventually include nuclear weapons. And they embrace a culture which honors dying in a good cause, which means that deterrence can't be relied on if they get nuclear weapons.
Why is it that the US is concerned about Iraq getting nukes when we don't seem to be as concerned about Pakistan or India or Israel? Why are we willing to invade Iraq to prevent it from getting nukes, but not Pakistan to seize the ones it developed? It's because those nations don't embrace a warrior culture where suicide in a good cause, even mass death in a good cause, is considered acceptable. (Those kinds of things are present in Pakistan but don't rule there as yet.)
It's certainly not the case that the majority of those in the culture which is our enemy would gladly die. But many of those who make the decisions would be willing to sacrifice millions of their own in exchange for millions of ours, especially the religious zealots. If such people get their hands on nuclear weapons, then our threat of retaliation won't prevent them from using them against us, or threatening to do so. Which is why we can't let it happen. The chance of Israeli or Pakistani or Indian nukes being used against us is acceptably small. If Arabs get them, then eventually one will be used against us. It's impossible to predict who will do it, or when, or where, or what the proximate reason will be, but it's inevitable that it will happen. The only way to prevent it is to keep Arabs from getting nukes, and that is why Iraq is now critically important and why time is running out.
It's wrong to say that this would be "irrational" on their part. It is a reasoned decision based on an entirely different set of axioms, leading to a result totally unacceptable to us. But they're not insane or irrational. Even though they're totally rational, deterrence ultimately can't stop them from using nuclear weapons against us.
All major wars started by someone else that you eventually come to win start with a phase where you try to consolidate the situation, to stop the enemy's advance. Then you go onto the offensive, take the war to him, and finish it.
Afghanistan and Iraq are the two parts of the consolidation phase of this war. al Qaeda had to be crippled and Saddam has to be destroyed in order to gain us time and adequate safety to go onto the offensive, and to begin the process which will truly end this war: to destroy Wahhabism, to shatter Islamic fundamentalism, to completely break the will of the Arabs and to totally shame them.
Because they are a shame/pride culture, that latter may seem paradoxical. But the reality is that we cannot win this by making them proud, for they are not a stupid people and they actually have nothing to be proud of. We can't make them proud because we can't give them anything to be proud of; they need accomplishments of their own for pride, and their culture prevents that. The only hope here is to make them so ashamed that they finally face and accept the thing they are trying to hide from in choosing to fight back: their culture is a failure, and the only way they can succeed is to discard it and change.
It may sound strange to say, but what we have to do is to take the 14th century culture of our enemies and bring it into the 17th century. Once we've done that, then we can work on bringing them into the 21st century, but that will be much easier.
But they've got to accept their own failure, personally and nationally and culturally. That is the essential first step. They've got to accept that the cause of their failure is their own culture, and that we're not. And they've got to accept that the only way to succeed is to change. That will be a difficult fight, and it's going to take decades. Along the way it's going to be necessary to remove many governments which come to power and yet again try to embrace the past and become militant, nationalistic, fundamentalist, or again attempt to try to develop nuclear weapons.
Saddam has to go not merely because of his programs for development of WMDs. He also has to go because he manifests Arab nationalism and imperialism. Even if he actually consents to disarm, he and the Baathist party must be destroyed. The reason that Iraq's nuclear weapon program is critical is that it means we have to do so immediately; it makes it urgent. But removing their program to develop nuclear weapons doesn't remove the deeper reason to destroy Saddam and the Baathists, for they are part of the deeper pathology which must be excised.
After the consolidation phase of this war is complete, with the destruction of the Taliban and occupation and reform of Iraq, then we will go onto the offensive and begin to strike at the deeper core of the problem. Part of that will be to force reform on Saudi Arabia, through a combination of diplomacy, persuasion, subversion, propaganda and possibly even military force.
What this shows is just how deeply I disagree with many who oppose this war. I am forthrightly proposing what some might call cultural genocide, for example, which instantly puts me on the Pomo/Tranzi blacklist. The existing Arab culture which is the source of this war is a total loss. It must be shattered, annihilated, leaving behind no more traces in the Arab lands than the Samurai left in Japan or the mounted knights left in Europe.
I am forthrightly stating that it will be necessary to destabilize the entire middle east, which puts me exactly counter to European foreign policy. No bandaid will do. It isn't possible to patch things up with diplomacy because the rot runs too deep. Diplomacy now would be treating the symptoms and not the true disease.
I am forthrightly stating that no amount of aid to the poor will stop the aggression against us, which will anger liberals everywhere. It isn't our wealth they hate, it's our accomplishments. The only way we can appease them is to ourselves become failures, and that is a price I'm not willing to pay.
And I claim that the US bears essentially no blame for the fundamental source of their anger towards us. They don't hate us because of our foreign policy. They don't ultimately hate us because of past mistakes. They don't hate what we do or what we have done. They hate what we are, and what we show them that they are not. They hate our accomplishments and our capabilities because we force them to see their own lack of accomplishments and their incompetence and impotence.
And I'm saying that the US must do this, with help or without, because the US will be the continuing target of Arab solution number 3 as long as this resentment continues to boil, which it will do as long as Arab culture is not shattered and reformed. We will accept help from others if it's truly helpful, but we'll do it alone if we have to. (Or we will try and fail.)
We will be the primary target because we're the most successful. It's as simple as that. And that means that this ultimately will be a unilateral war by us; we're the ones with the most on the line. If the Arabs eventually do get nukes, the first one they use will either be against Israel or against us. It won't be against Europe, and if more conventional terrorist attacks continue, the most damaging ones will be directed against us. We will pay most of the price for this war, in staggering amounts of money, in losses on the field of battle, and in death and destruction at home, and therefore any talk of unified multilateral international action by a coalition of equals is nonsense. The other nations won't risk as much and won't pay as much and won't contribute as much and therefore deserve less say in what will happen.
In the mean time, now that al Qaeda has broken the ice, there will be further terrorist attacks against us as long as this war continues. They may be made by al Qaeda itself, or they may be made by other groups who will spring up. We can't totally prevent that until we've removed the true cause of those attacks: Arab cultural failure. Nothing short of that will stop the attacks. They're part of the setbacks which always accompany any major war. We'll do our best to foil such attacks, but inevitably some will succeed.
And those who don't understand the true issues will inevitably point to such attacks as proof that our campaign is a failure, that by our aggressiveness we raised further terrorist groups against us, that we should abandon the war and try appeasement, concession, aid, humanistic solutions.
And they'll be wrong, because they don't understand the real reason why we're being attacked and therefore why such approaches won't truly remove the source of the grievance..
They won't stop hating us until they become successful and begin to achieve on their own. We can't make them successful with material gifts, including aid to their poor. We can only make them successful with cultural changes, and they will resist that. Now that we've been attacked, we are ourselves compelled to force them to accept those cultural changes, because that is the only way short of actual genocide to remove the danger to ourselves. This war will end when they change, but not before.
Update: Hesiod writes:
Sorry, I'm not impressed. If I convert this from "Arab" into "Jew", the result is a non sequiter. The Jews are not failures. They are not sullen and resentful. They are not crippled by their own culture. Their religion doesn't mandate conquest. Israel only suffers slightly from only one of Peters' failures (there's a single religion but it isn't restrictive). They are not launching highly deadly terrorist attacks against us.
And let's make something crystal clear: I completely and totally reject the pomo idea that "cultural genocide" is a crime, or that it is actually ethically the same as true genocide. Destruction of a culture doesn't have to require mass murder of most of those in the culture, because people can change. It's not something one does lightly (or easily) but I do not consider it a crime when it's the only solution to a bigger problem.
What I'm advocating is something this nation has done before: conquer, pacify, convert, rebuild, withdraw. We did it in Japan, and in nearly every way the Japanese are the better for it, and I doubt you could find many in Japan who wish it hadn't happened. Now we have to do the same for the Arabs, and they too will, in the long run, be the better for it.
This is not even remotely the same as building death camps, and I am not advocating that or anything remotely resembling that.
By the way, I don't think that "Listen to yourself!! Do you realize what you just said???" is a useful response. I know full well what I wrote; it took me four hours to write it. And I knew it was "politically incorrect" when I wrote it; I said so. If you think there's a problem with this, tell me what it is. Respond on the merits. Deal with the issues I discuss. If you don't like my solution, propose another and explain why it's better, in execution or result. If you think my identification of the problem is wrong, explain why.
But don't bother trying to shame me into retracting it. Don't bother delivering that here; addressee unknown. I don't subscribe to postmodernist or transnational progressivist standards about what is right and wrong.
Update: David Mercer suggests the term Imperialist Islam. I don't know; it still doesn't seem right, because a lot of those within the collective enemy are not imperialistic.
David Mercer comments further.
Update: Mathew Wilbert comments, and asks whether the process of converting Japan can actually map to Iraq and other parts of the Arab world. Not directly, but that's not the point. What we did in Japan would have to be done in Arabia, using approaches and tactics designed for the area.
With respect to the extent to which Japan suffered from Peters' failings in the 1920's before it began the war in China, it first has to be pointed out that Japan was by that point actually reasonably competitive, although its economy was a bit shallow and fragile. However, it suffered deeply from several of them. First, the "free flow of information" was severely impeded by goverment censorship, by secret police, and by political assassination of dissident politicians. It definitely subjugated its women. It had serious problems with collective acceptance of responsibility for failure. It was dominated by a restrictive religion, but it's an odd one: as part of the Meiji restoration, the position of the Emperor was raised to something of the level of living god, and everyone in the empire was taught that they lived only to serve the emperor and make him and his nation great. For purposes of Peters' analysis, that has the same effect. Of course, it had no problems with the issues of education and work; on the contrary.
Update: Demosthenes comments, or rather, refuses to comment. I'm beneath contempt.
Update: Mader comments.
Update: Hesiod apparently isn't familiar with Godwin's Law:
"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.
Here is Mike Godwin's article about it.
Update 20020919: Eric Raymond comments.
There have been a lot of other comments, by email and in various comment threads on other sites. Although this sucker was over 5000 words long, it apparently wasn't long enough, and I'm going to have to write some more on this to answer some of the questions and objections brought up by people like Aziz.
Update: Here is that followon article. I provide a lot more detail here about how I think we'll actually fight the long term war. (And also what our best weapon is going to be: the Barbie doll.)
(Captain's log): I am a bit stunned by both the kind of attention that yesterday's post has gotten, and by the kind of passion it seems to have excited. I suppose I shouldn't be, given what I said. Some have publicly or privately expressed strong support; some have disagreed with it and have tried to explain why, and some have recoiled in moral horror at the sheer inhumanity of what I say.
Much of the criticism of it seems to concentrate on details, showing places where I didn't fill in details (while in some cases simultaneously making comments about how long it was). And from some of the comments I've seen or received by email, it becomes clear that some may have misunderstood some of what I said, or made improper extrapolations from it to other things they think I believe.
It's not surprising that there should be some confusion. Aziz wrote his letter to me at about 9:00 AM PDT; I read it about a quarter after twelve, and then went out to get something to eat and my daily Starbucks. Sat around thinking and sipping coffee, and then returned and started writing at 1:29 PM. (Which I know, because the timestamp on a Citydesk article comes from when I first create the article, not from when I post it.) I wrote for a couple of hours, made an editing pass, and then posted the article about ten minutes after four. (And then made a couple of small revisions later to correct some clumsy prose and to make some things more clear.)
Something composed like that isn't going to have the rigor of a Ph.D thesis. Let's keep some perspective here: I'm just a guy sitting on the bridge of his starship, writing what he thinks about world events.
This post, then, will be an attempt to try to answer some of the questions which have arisen, and to correct some misapprehensions which I've seen, and to try to explain some things in greater depth. However, the response has been overwhelming, so it's inevitable that I won't mention everyone or link to every relevant post elsewhere.
I had intended to collect together all the different suggestions people have made for a term to describe what we're fighting against, but there have just been too many of them. "Traditional Evangelical Islam"; "Insecure Arab Supremacists"; "Arab Nationalism"; "Retrograde Islamism"; the suggestions just went on and on.
I've finally decided that the term I'm going to use for it is "Arab Traditionalism", partly because it isn't a loaded term, partly because it doesn't include any reference to Islam, and because it's perhaps a bit easier to use than some of the suggestions.
Of all the ways where I seem to have communicated badly, perhaps the greatest is in what I said about what we'd need to do. For instance, I said:
The existing Arab culture which is the source of this war is a total loss. It must be shattered, annihilated, leaving behind no more traces in the Arab lands than the Samurai left in Japan or the mounted knights left in Europe.
I also emphasized that we would have to impose change by force, and that it wasn't going to be possible to avoid the use of force. Some came away with the impression that I therefore believed that only force would be used and that it was my intention to totally annihilate Arab culture in all its manifestations, as well as annihilating Islam in all its manifestations, even to the point of seeking out and burning every copy of the Qur'an.
That's not what I was thinking. Part of the problem here is that my failure to actually choose a decent term (Arab traditionalism) forced me to use an inadequate one "Arab culture" which included too much. A typical example of this misunderstanding was posted by George Paine:
Den Beste ends up calling for what some call "cultural genocide" -- the complete destruction of Islamic culture. Think of Russia's occupation of Poland and the outlawing of all Polish culture and language. That's what Den Beste is talking about. He's talking about invading and occupying all of Arabia, outlawing Arabic and forbidding the studying of the Koran.
I regret giving that impression. That's not even close to what I'm proposing. I made reference to what we did in Japan after World War II, which is closer to what I was thinking of. That also caused enormous criticism by those looking for a reason to criticize me, since they tried to pretend that I thought that Arabs and Japanese were all alike and that we'd do exactly the same thing to the Arabs as we did with the Japanese.
Well, yes and now. I think part of the problem is that a lot of people don't actually know what happened in Japan after the war. We didn't make them "just like us". We just removed the most harmful influences from their society, leaving behind something less dangerous to the world. Before the war, Japan had a constitutional government and held real elections. The franchise was not broadly held, but it was certainly far more democratic than what you see in Iraq or Saudi Arabia or even Egypt. But the system had certain deep flaws, and by far the worst was the fact that the Constitution required that any government formed within the Japanese parliamentary system must include an actively serving Army officer and Navy officer. The effect of this was to give both the Army and Navy the ability to unilaterally bring down any government, and to prevent any government from being formed. The Navy never used this, but the Army used it heavily and the effect was that any government was forced to be seriously subservient to the desires of the unelected senior officers in the Army. Ultimately what happened was that the Army actually took over the government.
The new constitution formed under US supervision in Japan removed that weakness, and also contained guarantees of certain fundamental rights, but it wasn't dictated by America.
The Samurai and the formal caste system was broken by the Meiji restoration, but in practice the Samurai continued to rule in Japan and their ethos formed the basis for Japanese culture. it wasn't the Bushido, exactly; it was a new ethos in part based on the Bushido which was applied not just to Samurai but to everyone in Japan.
After the war, the political influence and power of the Samurai (who were no longer formally referred to as such) was broken, and the primary reform the US instituted was to give power instead to the merchant class, who have largely held it ever since.
But we did not, for example, try to kill the Japanese language. We didn't dictate the history books they used in their schools. And in fact, the degree of interference with Japanese culture was far smaller overall than most people realize.
Japan didn't become New America, it just ceased being Samurai Japan. But what it became was driven by forces already present in Japan. We didn't remake Japan in our own image. What we did was to find people and cultural influences already present in Japan which were more to our liking, and work to let them become the dominant strain in Japanese culture. And despite minor carping about the current Japanese economic difficulties, I consider the result to be a major success, in as much as Japanese militarism has never returned. (And despite Japan's economic woes, its people still have a higher standard of living than most of the people of the world, and even in recession Japan still has the second largest economy on Earth with a per-capita GDP higher than most of Europe. It's hard to call that a failure unless one assumes that anything short of absolutely perfect success must therefore be a total failure.)
The problem in Japan wasn't every single aspect of Japanese culture. It was the influence of the Samurai and their martial tradition. We didn't forbid the Shinto religion. We didn't force everyone to learn English and punish anyone who spoke Japanese. We didn't outlaw the kimono. That kind of thing would have been petty, but worse is that it would have been useless and counterproductive. We didn't do it in Japan and we equally won't do that in the Arab nations.
Nation building in Afghanistan is useful but not essential to us. We didn't fight in Afghanistan to create a new government there, we fought primarily to eliminate the Taliban and destroy the assets (human and otherwise) al Qaeda was keeping there under Taliban political protection.
However, once we've taken Iraq, it will be strategically necessary to "nation build" in Iraq, and I think we'll do so. But that doesn't mean forbidding the turban and burning every copy of the Qur'an.
Just as in Japan, there are segments of the Iraqi population who think more like us. Iraq was, before Baathist takeover, pretty industrialized and had a moderately decent capitalist economy and its government and university system were more secular than in other parts of the Arab world, and much of that still exists despite 20 years of Baathist misrule. Just as we were able to work with the Japanese merchant class, we'll be able to find groups within Iraq to work with afterwards.
We will have to impose martial law, initially. There will be real arms inspections, carried out by American soldiers. There's going to be a period where we'll be hunting for certain top officials.
But we'll also begin by straightening out their economy, and instituting something akin to a reasonable legal system and an honest court system, and in a few years when things are working more smoothly then people in Iraq will work on their own constitution, which will include more checks and balances, and also include guarantees of certain critical rights for individuals.
It's never possible to completely chart the course of a war from the beginning. All major wars involve a major element of improvisation. So I can't tell you precisely what will happen after that. What I can outline is the general shape of it, and I can tell you what our best weapon will be.
It's the Barbie Doll.
Barbie epitomizes much of what the Arab Traditionalists hate about us, because Barbie, and Nike, and Levis, and Rap Music, and a lot of other aspects of pop American culture, are irresistible to the majority of the people of the Arab world. The evidence of that is overwhelming. Part of why the Traditionalists hate us is because the infiltration of our culture into greater Arabia is seducing the people away from traditional attitudes and values, eating away at the roots of Arab Tradition like a million termites working on the foundation.
In the long run, we're going to win the hearts and minds of greater Arabia not just with Barbie, but also with the other things we do better than they do, like have fun. Like actually date who we want. Like making up our own minds about things, like going where we want, when we want, with whoever we want, without fear of being beaten by roving groups of thought police carrying canes. Like reading what we want, and saying what we feel like. These are yearnings all individuals feel, but they're violently repressed in the Arab nations. If we give young Arabs the chance to try these things, they're going to like them and not want to go back.
What we need is a lot more termites working on the foundation. That's how we're going to win, in the long run. That's the primary mechanism by which we'll destroy Arab Traditionalism. We'll steal their supporters, one at a time, and eventually they will be few and old, and marginalized, and unimportant. And the war will be over. But to do that, we'll need to make sure that the termites can actually get in, and for that we will require coercion and perhaps even force.
To that end, we will in part work in Iraq to create a cosmopolitan society because it will be impossible for all the people in neighboring nations to ignore. America will arrive, it will fight a war and win, and then the people in Iraq will be much better off. And all the nations around there where the Traditionalists still rule will face rising internal dissent. Instead of it being heathen half way around the world, they will see other Arabs succeeding right next door.
There are certain political changes which will be necessary which will have to be accomplished by strong coercion. Saudi Arabia's ruling elite will have to be forced to stop subsidizing militant Wahhabism and stop paying for Madrassas' around the world, and otherwise providing the hundreds of millions of dollars yearly that are financing much of the mischief and violence.
All the nations there will be forced to stop using thought police; there will be no tolerance for any "Committee for the promotion of virtue and suppression of vice". Vice is our greatest weapon, and we're going to have to work to maintain free access by the Arabs to it. (I'm speaking half facetiously there; I mean things that we consider normal that the Traditionalists think are vice, like Barbie dolls, and dating who you want, and fashionable clothing.)
Over the course of time, there will be cases when there will be crises. When a government arises in some nation which is heavily traditionalist, autocratic, and militant (i.e. the next Saddam), then after other approaches have been tried it may be necessary to use military force to depose it. As long as the governments in those nations are willing to accept some degree of openness and liberty for their people, we won't need to intervene in that way.
And over the course of about one generation, the grasp of the Traditionalists will be shattered, annihilated. But it won't be Arab Culture which will be shattered and annihilated, but the restrictive attitudes of the traditionalists. The healthy and praiseworthy and valuable aspects of the Arab and Islamic culture will be preserved, improved by the elimination of the most negative aspects which were holding the Arabs back. That's what happened in Japan.
They won't become American any more than the Japanese became American. They'll still be Arab, still be Muslim. But there will be changes.
Islam must go through its own version of the Reformation. That doesn't mean that Islam has to be destroyed; on the contrary. In many parts of the world it already has, in fact. Islam is a valuable part of the lives of millions of people who are not Arab Traditionalists.
Because of the Reformation, in Europe and the US only a small number of Christians are biblical literalists. Most Christians treat the Bible as a source of wisdom and spiritual guidance which also contains parts which are harmful, false, wrong, irrelevant, or otherwise useless. By the same token, for many Muslims in the world much of what is in the Qur'an is helpful and valuable. But parts of the teachings of Islam are harmful, and those parts will have to be defeated. We know it's possible because the majority of the world's Muslims have already done so.
But in the areas where the Arab traditionalists still hold sway, it is often the case that a particularly nasty version of Islam also are in force, and that's part of the problem, and some of that will have to be changed by coercion or force.
Among other things, that means Sharia. There will be no more stonings for adulterers, no more amputations for thieves. And the women of Arabia will be liberated, and they'll be far and away the most important force working for further reform, because they will have everything to lose from a resurgence of traditionalism. (And one of the things we'll require from a new Iraqi constitution will be voting rights for women.)
We don't have to go in and directly change everything, and we're not capable of doing so. But by forcing certain key changes, we can set a process going which will become unstoppable which will, by itself, driven by the Arabs themselves, move them to where we need them to be so that they'll stop attacking and killing us. They can keep being Arab and Muslim, but they'll have to become tolerant and cosmopolitan.
Islam as a religion is not a problem. Islam as a political movement and body of law and jurisprudence and as a governmental form can't be tolerated.
Will any more invasions be required beyond Iraq? Will we actually need to occupy and rule any other nations beyond it? I don't know; there's no way to predict that. I think there's a better than even chance that something like that will be required for Syria. But aside from that, I think most of the nations can be dealt with using less violent means.
But I can't emphasize enough that all wars involve a high degree of improvisation. It isn't possible to predict the entire course of the war ahead of time. It's entirely possible that Iraq will be the last major military operation in this one, though I think that is a less than even money chance.
My best guess is that after Iraq it will also be necessary to defeat and occupy Syria. But it's also my best guess that this will be the last major military operation, and that the rest of the war will consist primarily of using diplomatic pressure, threats of force and perhaps even occasional small raids to force all the other Arab nations to begin the process of opening their societies, after which the slow process of cultural seduction will finish the war. Barbie will fight most of it for us.
Even the kind of cultural change I'm proposing is still viewed by some as being a crime against humanity. One of my correspondents provided by far the best answer to that I've seen. Rob McGee wrote:
Wahhabism (and similar strains of Islam) are to cultural diversity what tsetse flies are to biodiversity; some things really aren't worth preserving if we can possibly get rid of them.
There is much in Arab culture and in Islam that are worth keeping. I do not believe that we should totally eliminate it, nor do I believe we are capable of doing so without the use of thermonuclear warheads. What we must do is to eliminate those aspects of their culture which are holding them back, making them resentful towards us, and making them attack us and kill us. Eric Raymond says that the process I'm describing isn't really "cultural genocide" but rather a new form of imperialism. I used the term "cultural genocide" in my original article, but I was using it as an example of the kind of accusations I thought others would make about my ideas, and indeed I was right. I do not embrace the term, and I absolutely reject any implication that the course I'm suggesting is in any way equivalent, legally or morally or practically, to true genocide.
Apparently there is a strange definition in the UN charter of what "genocide" is which, interpreted sufficiently broadly, can be used to conclude that making a significant alteration in some culture is genocide even if no one dies. All I can say is that I don't give a tinker's damn for the UN charter any longer, and that usage of the term does not correspond with the normal usage of "genocide" in the English language. And whether others are horrified about the idea or not, I do not think that what I'm proposing is a crime against humanity.
It's not something I think we should be doing routinely, however. It's not "America is superior so we're going to force everyone in the world to become American and live like we do." I was quite willing to live-and-let-live with the Arab Traditionalists until they started killing us in droves. Once that happened, live-and-let-live was no longer an option. But any culture out there which isn't threatening us I'm quite willing to leave alone, even if I think it's evil or wrong. (Such as, for instance, French socialism.)
Aziz H. Poonawalla, who wrote the original letter which inspired my article, was not satisfied with the result. He had demanded a short list of bullet points, and I didn't provide one. He's not satisfied with my description of the bigger picture and the reason why I think an invasion of Iraq is required and again demands a set of bullet points. Unfortunately, I still can't really give him one, but I'll at least try.
First, we are moved to urgency by the fact that Iraq may be close to developing nuclear weapons. We cannot permit that to happen because of the unacceptably high likelihood that such weapons will eventually be used against us, or that they will support a threat against us. If Iraq has nukes, it won't be possible for us to apply sufficient influence within that part of the world to begin the process of reform we require to be safe.
Second, we need to conquer Iraq so that we can rebuild it and make it more prosperous so that all the other Arabs around it will see that it isn't just heathen Americans who can become successful, and that Arabs can do it too. We need to make Iraq a better place, with people who are happier, more free, and more prosperous while still being Arab and Muslim. And in particular, we must free the women of Iraq, to show the women in neighboring nations that they don't have to be treated as animals.
Third, we need to conquer Iraq to put the "fear of God" (as it were) into governments of all the neighboring Arab nations where the traditionalists still hold sway, so that they will be much more likely to permit the few initial reforms we require from them which will start the process of cultural change moving. When we have substantial military forces right on their borders, it will be much harder for them to say "no" to our demands.
Fourth, we need to conquer Iraq because the "Arab Street" only respects power. We have to prove to them that we actually can do it and that we're willing to do so. That's their culture and it's different than ours, but that is how they think and we have to take it into account. (That, by the way, is the reason there was no rising of the "Arab Street" after Afghanistan; it's because we won convincingly.)
If any or all of these bullet points could be disproved, would it affect the calculation of whether this Battle is desirable or not?
Each of those alone is sufficient to justify conquering Iraq. Even if, for instance, it actually were proved that Iraq has no WMDs and was not developing nukes and had neither the ability to nor intention of doing so (which I don't happen to believe for an instant), we'd still need to take the place in order to start the overall process of cultural reform in the rest of greater Arabia.
And in fact, Iraq is the best place to start this precisely because it was a relatively cosmopolitan nation once, and because it is relatively secularized, with a university system that doesn't concentrate mainly on Qur'anic studies. The elements of a business class are there, waiting for us. Of all the Arab nations, Iraq is actually the one I think would be easiest to reform initially.
Which brings me to some of the less vituperative responses from those who hated my post, though it takes some digging to find any which actually contain halfway reasonable objections, rather than just statements about how evil I am and how I don't deserve my rep.
Some of the questions were less useful than others. Someone named Digby posted in this thread (#23):
How many deaths do you think would be a reasonable number? Just curious. Considering that the "arab culturists" are unlikely to just give up after a few precision bombings, how many do you think it will take?
That question is a trap. It isn't possible to set an exact number, because it isn't philosophically possible to justify a statement that 723 deaths is acceptable but 724 is not. Why 723 instead of 722 or 721 or five or none at all?
The only possible answer to this question is one Digby will not accept: we will kill as many as we must in order to win, but as few as possible. When we face a problem and have multiple approaches to solving it, we'll choose the one which involves the fewest casualties, but it won't be zero and that's how it goes.
Many of the comments I've seen, in emails and also online, say that what I presented was disturbing. I think so, too. I hate what I see coming. I wish there were another path we could take that I believed in.
What I'm proposing will involve pain and death and horror and evil, for the Arabs and for us.
But it is my considered opinion that all the other paths available to us will result in even more pain and death and horror and evil. I propose this path not because it's absolutely good, but because I think it is the one available to us which involves the least amount of those things.
It's bad, but it's the least bad of a bad lot. Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes there are no good solutions.
Of course, there's considerable dispute about how much pain and death would be involved, and on that. In several cases, in email and online, the comment was made that my analogy to Japan was troubling because though we were able to reform Japanese culture with little in the way of physical repression after we occupied the home islands, in order to do that we had to firebomb their cities and nuke two of them, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. There were then dire references to Santayana.
It's true that we need to study the past, most especially in war. But part of why is to learn which mistakes of the past we must avoid repeating, and part of that is to understand when circumstances have changed enough so that what may have been impossible before has become possible now.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and stayed for eight years before ignominiously retreating from a long stalemate. Before we went in last year, that was cited as one of the reasons why we would fail, as proof of the Afghan quagmire we would inevitably become entangled in.
In reality, from beginning of hostilities until beginning of mopup was just six weeks.
We're not the Soviets. Our capabilities are different. We don't fight like they did, we weren't using the weapons and tactics they did. The lesson of their failure had nothing to do with us, as proved by our success.
It's true that to conquer Japan and Germany we had to saturation bomb their cities and kill huge numbers of their civilians. But that was then; this is now. Our abilities have changed. It's important to learn from the lessons of the past, but it's also important to know when they no longer apply.
I do not believe it will be necessary to slaughter a hundred thousand Iraq civilians in order to invade. I don't think it's going to be anything like as difficult as some do to win, mostly because I think we're going to find that when the time comes most of the Iraqi military, even including the Republican Guard, won't fight, or if they do they won't fight well.
I'm well aware of the possibility that Iraq may take to street fighting to nullify many of our advantages. I wrote about that in February.
Since then I've given it a great deal of thought, and I'm much less afraid of it now than I was then. The main reason why is that for a force to be really effective at street fighting, it has to be loyal, have excellent morale, and be well trained.
And the Iraqi military is zero for three on that. If they try to fight within their cities using platoons and larger formations, then it is less of a problem; in that case what you're doing amounts to fighting in rough terrain. If they were to try to fight individually in houses and buildings it would be worse, but I do not believe that they will do so because I don't believe that their men would stand.
And there are ways of getting hostiles out of houses that don't require you to kill all the innocents which are also trapped in there. In the most extreme case you use nonlethal gas (e.g. CS) but another approach to area denial is very loud noise. 5 kilowatts of 6 kilohertz sound will make almost anyone move or surrender in minutes unless they're properly equipped to stand up to it, and they won't be.
The main point is that I don't think that the Iraqi military has either the discipline or training to actually do it.
And overall I do not believe it will be necessary for us to obliterate Baghdad in order to attack and win. Though it would be foolish to plan on that basis, what I suspect will happen is that once we actually begin to move, with our troops inside Iraq, the Iraqi government and military will collapse. Tommy Franks won't plan on that basis, and he'll be ready for a much worse fight, but I won't be surprised if victory in Iraq ends up being even easier than it was in Afghanistan.
But even if it isn't, it will not be necessary for us to slaughter vast numbers of Iraqi civilians in order to win.
Let's finish this, which has now become even longer than the previous article, with one rhetorical question from someone named "Lepus":
Do you think that Muslims around the world would sit quietly as the US, with military force, replaced the government of Saudi Arabia, protector of the holy cities? For that matter would Saudis themselves sit quietly? Do you think that Pakistan will meekly sit upon their hands, all the weapons they've amassed for an extended war with India rusting in their bunkers?
Yes. I expect exactly that. Oh, there may be demonstrations. Rock throwing. Perhaps a few snipers, possibly even a short term rise (a year or two) in terrorist attacks. But we will not see Malaysia and Indonesia arm for war to defend Saudi Arabia, and we will not see Pakistan do so either.
For the moment I don't think it's going to be necessary to invade Saudi Arabia. But if we have to do it, I fully expect that the Muslims around the world will sit quietly, that Saudi military resistance will be negligible, that the Saudi populace will not defend their nation, and that Pakistan will not get involved.
I no longer credit arguments about the "Arab Street" or the "Muslim Street". And Pakistan is neutral tending to our side in this. Musharraf is trying to eliminate the effects of Arab Traditionalism in his own nation; he wants to make Pakistan a secular nation along the lines of Turkey.
Update: Andrew Olmstead comments.
Update: Yet another in a long string of anti-war bloggers who fears to use his own name: "Contrariwise" comments. (At least I think it's supposed to be a comment.)
Update 20020920: George Paine responds. I guess all I can say is that I still disagree with him.
Update: Those who have been less than impressed with the rhetoric of my critics may find this amusing.
Update: Kathy Kinsley comments. She says that the term "Islamist" is better than the one I chose. The only problem with that is that some of the manifestations of our enemy are not obviously based on Islam. Saddam, in particular, was originally quite secular; he's only been publicly embracing Islam recently as a tactical measure to try to gain allies against us. Nonetheless, Saddam and bin Laden truly did spring from the same diseased seed.
Update: Via Bluestarblog, here is a superb article about the Arabs which provides some relevant cultural background.
Update: Dipnut comments.
Update 20020921: Eric Tam comments.
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