Defending "The World’s Most Dangerous Man"

My previous article against an attack on Michael Ledeen by The Rittenhouse Review has provoked a minor firestorm over at Demosthenes site. Since I accused TRR of being ad hominem in their attack, I’ll support that evidence by going through the post in more detail.

If there were any doubt before today, there can be no longer: Michael Ledeen is the most dangerous man in the world, or at the very least, the man with the most dangerous ideas in the world.

Just in time for the Cliff Notes types in Andrew Sullivan’s book club, The Wall Street Journal today carries an encapsulation of Ledeen’s latest work, The War Against the Terror Masters, entitled "The War on Terror Won’t End in Baghdad." [Subscription required.]

Ledeen says that the debate over invading or attacking Iraq, such as it is, is misplaced and misguided. The über-hawk advocates not just one war but four wars, or more accurately, one gigantic, almost simultaneous war against Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, in that order. (Not Libya?)

Not surprisingly, Ledeen’s contribution to the national debate includes some of the most dubious propositions and questionable assertions currently in circulation, all presented with an arrogant certaintude that displays a complete disregard for history, politics, religion, and, indeed, humanity.

These are all very serious charges made against Mr. Ledeen (with a few cheap shots thrown in at the intro, but I’m let those go on the theory that people in glass houses best not throw stones). If you’re going to accuse someone of generally being an idiot, you’d better back it up with some way of proving it so. So what does TRR come up with?

Take it away, Mike:

"We should instead be talking about using all our political, moral and military genius to support a vast democratic revolution to liberate all the peoples of the Middle East from tyranny. That is our real mission, the essence of the war in which we are engaged, and the proper subject of our national debate."

Personally, I feel this should be the crux of American foreign policy. We have always tried (sometimes more sucessfully than others) to be a force for democratic values and ideals in the world. That was the moral impetus behind the Cold War, and that must be what we strive for today.

If TRR thinks this is a dangerous view, then they should come out and say it directly. Personally, I believe that anyone who believes that an Islamic theocracy ruled by shari’a is morally superior to the American way of life jhas a few screws loose. Then again, I’ve been called "a democratic fundamentalist" for those views. (A title I view as a badge of honor…)

"Despite all the talk about growing anti-Americanism in the Middle East, we inspire their people."

Again, while the Middle East may not like our policies, they are rabid consumers of our culture, our media, and our way of life. Most Afghanis who watched us come to their countries saw us as liberators, not as conquerors. Those trapped in other despotic Middle Eastern regimes such as Iran would likely view us in the same light. For all the talk of the "Arab street", there are just as many, if not more, who see the US as a beacon of freedom.

"If we come to Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran as liberators, we can expect overwhelming popular support."

This statement could be argued, but I generally agree. If we show up with meal packs and school supplies, the children of Iraq aren’t going to give a rat’s ass about jihad and Saddam Hussein. As the great Bertoldt Brecht once quipped, "Grub first, then ethics."

"Of the four terrorist tyrannies, Iran seems the easiest to liberate. . . . We know how to do it: broadcasting the truth and funding others who do the same, denouncing the oppression, defending the political prisoners by name, encouraging private American and international organizations to provide money, communications and guidance to the people on the ground."

Again, TRR expects us to see this as a dangerous idea, as they said in their intro. How is this dangerous? Why is standing up for a liberated (and self-ruling Iran) a bad idea? Perhaps if Ledeen were calling for military strikes, I’d agree that would be an ill-advised course of action. But merely supporting the dissident movement is dangerous, it’s the morally correct choice.

"With a triumph in Iran, the democratic revolution would quickly gain allies in Syria and Iraq, and transform our war against Saddam Hussein from a primarily military operation to a war of national liberation against a hated regime."

This is probably an optimistic view, but a free Iran would certainly inspire more dissident movements across the Arab world. (Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall was a precursor to the fall of Communism in the former USSR.) Again, TRR seems to think that this is a bad idea prima facia without bothering to examine what would drive them to that conclusion.

"[A] successful democratic revolution in Iran would inspire the Iraqis to join us to remove Saddam, it is impossible to imagine that the Iranian people would tolerate tyranny in their own country once freedom had come to Iraq. Syria would follow in short order." [A similar argument follows with respect to Saudi Arabia.]

This argument may be a bit too utopian for my tastes, but it is true that there very well could be a "domino effect" if one theocracy falls. Again, the Cold War saw very much the same thing happen. I firmly believe that there is a kind of thermodynamics of freedom in which the will towards more and more personal freedom comes from countries that are more free to ones that are less free. All it takes is one free state in a region to start a transformative process that will remake the Middle East for the better.

"This war cannot be limited to national theaters; we face a regional challenge and must respond accordingly. But it is both a just war and one for which we are marvelously well suited."

Again, I fail to see how this is dangerous. One can make the case that it a bit naive, but that doesn’t mean that Ledeen is a raving radical. What TRR is essentially saying is that such an opinion is so radical as to be dangerous. This, as far as I’m concerned, is an opinion that requires explanation. There is room for debate on if this is a just cause for war, or if the military isn’t at all suited to the endeavor, but TRR does none of these things. Instead they demogogue Ledeen for saying them. If TRR wants to say that kind of American involvement in the region is dangerous, then the burden of explanation falls upon them. So far, all they’ve done is present the argument, with absolutely no counter argument against the position other than an ad hominem attack on Ledeen’s character. As a debate judge, I’d immediately drop their ballot, and as online discourse, it’s below their standards.

I’m not saying that there’s isn’t a case against the war in Iraq. There is. I’m not saying that anyone who opposes US military action in the Middle East is anti-American. Not all of them are. What I am saying is that if you’re going to state the case, then state it. Don’t simply accuse someone of being "the most dangerous man in the world" and expect the world to let that pass unchallenged.

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