George Soros has become the financial leader of the anti-Bush movement, giving millions of dollars to anti-Bush groups like MoveOn.org. His recent book "The Bubble of American Supremacy" is a hit piece on Bush’s foreign policy, and his recent statements have likened Bush to Hitler.
George Soros is a well-respected international businessman who has done much to increase civil society in Eastern Europe. He has a list of impressive accomplishments.
However, his latest piece on the war on terror (free LA Times registration required) shows that Soros’ ideas on the war against international terrorism show that Soros has precious little understanding of the situation.
The Bush administration is in the habit of waging personal vendettas against those who criticize its policies, but bit by bit the evidence is accumulating that the invasion of Iraq was among the worst blunders in U.S. history.
Now, as someone who’s studied rhetoric, this first graf stands out immediately. It’s a classic example of the argumentum ad misercordiam, and a common debating tactic for those on the left. It’s a rhetorical slight to increase the receptiveness of the audience to the message as well as an unfounded dig at the Bush Administration. The last time I checked, critics of the Bush Administration had been rewarded with book deals and television appearances. The White House has every right to set the record straight, and Soros immediately starts his argument on the wrong foot. If Soros is right, his message should stand on its own without the declaration of impending martyrdom.
If the administration cannot recognize and admit its mistakes, it cannot correct its policies.
War is a false and misleading metaphor in the context of combating terrorism. The metaphor suited the purposes of the administration because it invoked our military might. But military actions require an identifiable target, preferably a state. As a result, the war on terrorism has been directed primarily against states like Afghanistan that are harboring terrorists, not at pursuing the terrorists themselves.
Now this is a relatively common argument, but it holds little water. Terrorists need certain things in order to operate – they need money, manpower, weapons, and safe harbor. States are still one of the primary ways of supplying these things, either tacitly or directly. Already the Bush Administration has done an excellent job of silently seizing the assets of terrorist groups worldwide with the assistance of other nations. The result of this crackdown has been a remarkable reduction in terrorism across the world stage.
Without the support of states providing money, weapons, and most importantly safe harbor, terrorists cannot plan their attacks and cannot build bases for training and recruitment. The concept of using nothing but international police power to eliminate terrorism is like arguing that we can eliminate disease using drugs rather than surgery. Yes, like drugs, police actions can help stop the spread of terrorism, but when one has a massive tumor it has to be removed – simply treating terrorism symptomatically is an effort that will only kill thousands more and fail to eradicate terrorism.
We are at war, just as much as we were at war against the scourge of Naziism in the Second World War.
Imagine for a moment that Sept. 11 had been treated as a crime against humanity. We would have pursued Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (hopefully with more success), but we would not have invaded Iraq. Nor would we today have our military struggling to perform police work in full combat gear, getting soldiers killed in the process.
Imagine we had not gone after Iraq. The Iraqi people would still be under the bootheel of Ba’athist oppression. From Tehran to Tripoli terror-sponsoring regimes would know that they can continue to thwart their responsibilities to the world and develop weapons of mass destruction as they wish. Terrorists would have a place where they could plan and train free from interference. The US wold be continuing to fight al-Qaeda without ever doing anything of substance to alter the situation that created and sustains it.
The Middle East would remain in bondage to terrorism and oppression, and we would be engaged in a perpetual low-level war that would only be ended once the enemy had escalated the situation to such a level that we would be forced to act, and likely against forces armed with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The costs of waiting until that happened far outweigh the cost of preventative action in any reasonable calculus.
This does not mean that we should not use military means to capture and bring terrorists to justice when appropriate. But to protect ourselves against terrorism, we need precautionary measures, awareness and intelligence gathering — all of which ultimately depend on the support of the populations among which terrorists operate. Declaring war on the very people we need to enlist against terrorism is a huge mistake. We are bound to create some innocent victims, and the more of them there are, the greater the resentment and the better the chances that some victims will turn into the next perpetrators.
We are bound to create some innocent victims, and have in war. We were bound to create hundreds of thousands more through inaction. The Iraqi people may not like being occupied, but as an Oxford study noted, they all believe that the results have been worth it.
What would create more resentment? Acting to help someone, or seeing the hell they were living in and doing nothing? The people of the Middle East aren’t some alien species that regards cruelty, poverty, and oppression to be something worth fighting for. The vast majority of them have the same asperations and hopes as anyone else. The best way to ensure they resent us is to do nothing. The Arab world still sees the United States as a place of great freedom and hope, and rightly so. We carry the moral obligation to shine that light in all the dark places of the world. If we fail in this obligation, we allow the forces of hate, resentment, and oppression that have already spread so far across the Muslim world to shroud millions in darkness.
Soros assumes that all actions are equal in war, that collateral damage is the moral equivalent of a Ba’athist murdering an Iraqi civilian. Yet this is a completely false equivocation. One would not argue that a surgeon who loses a patient in trying to perform a difficult and dangerous operation that could save their life is a murderer. Yet that surgeon knew that the death of the patient was one of the potential results.
The same applies to our military. They know that dropping that bomb might kill innocent civilians. They also know that not dropping it could damn more. There is not a choice between war, in which people die, and no war in which no people die. It is a choice between war, in which people die, and no war, in which many more will. The left wilfully ignores this concept each and every time, and until they understand it they cannot speak about war with any intellectual honesty.
On Sept. 11, the United States was the victim of a heinous crime, and the whole world expressed spontaneous and genuine sympathy. Since then, though we Americans are loath to admit it, the war on terrorism has claimed more innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq than were lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The comparison is rarely made in the U.S.: American lives are valued differently from the lives of foreigners, but the distinction is less obvious to people abroad.
How many would have died through inaction, Mr. Soros? How many of the 50 million that have been liberated through our actions would you leave under the bootheel of tyranny? Again, we see this false dichotomy in play, showing that Mr. Soros’ moral universe is based on the assumption that all wars are equal when they are manifestly not.
The war on terrorism as pursued by the Bush administration is more likely to bring about a permanent state of war than an end to terrorism. Terrorists are invisible; therefore, they will never disappear. They will continue to provide a convenient pretext for the pursuit of American supremacy by military means. That, in turn, will continue to generate resistance, setting up a vicious circle of escalating violence.
Let’s change the context without the changing the argument:
The war on Japanese culture as pursued by the Roosevelt administration is more likely to bring about a permanent state of war than an end to Japanese aggression in the Pacific. Worshippers of Emperor Hirohito are invisible; therefore, they will never disappear. They will continue to provide a convenient pretext for the pursuit of American supremacy by military means. That, in turn, will continue to generate resistance, setting up a vicious circle of escalating violence.
Obviously that statement seems absurd with hindsight. Yet the arguments are identical.
Terrorists are not invisible. They can be stopped. Europe largely ended the threat of the Bader-Meinhof Gang and the Red Brigades. Turkey stopped the suicide bombings of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan that killed dozens of Turks in the late 1990s. The Barbary Pirates, the Assassins, the list could go on for pages. All of these groups no longer pose any significant threat because they were treated with the appropriate response of destroying their ability to wage terrorism. Terrorism isn’t some magic bugaboo that can never be stopped like a horror movie villain. It can and must be stopped.
Furthermore, if the US were truly interested in military hegemony as Soros claims, we wouldn’t be returning sovereignty to the Iraqis. We’d be installing a client government. We wouldn’t be trying to negotiate with Ayatollah Sistani, we’d be shooting him. We wouldn’t be repairing Iraq’s infrastructure at great expense of blood and treasure. Soros is spinning a conspiracy yarn here, a tale that ignores the fact that the United States has had numerous attempts to become a true empire yet has never done so. If we are an empire, we are like no other one in history.
The important thing to remember about terrorism is that it is a reflexive phenomenon. Its impact and development depend on the actions and reactions of the victims. If the victims react by turning into perpetrators, terrorism triumphs in the sense of engendering more and more violence. That is what the fanatically militant Islamists who perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks must have hoped to achieve. By allowing a “war” on terrorism to become our principal preoccupation, we are playing straight into the terrorists’ hands: They — not we — are setting our priorities.
This argument is again prima facie untenable. If Soros believes that al-Qaeda set down to plan the September 11 attacks and said “Let’s really piss off the Americans so they kill or capture 2/3rds of us, choke our funding, and hunt us all down like animals” he lives in a fantasy world. Moreover, bin Laden’s own statements show his true reasoning for September 11. He didn’t attack us thinking that we’d attack massively and undercut everything he had been working towards. He believed that we would launch another ineffective missile strike then back down. That was the modus operandi of the Clinton Administration for eight years, and he mistakenly assumed that Bush would be no different in his treatment.
All Soros would have had to do is read what al-Qaeda had said and done before September 11 to see where his conclusions were completely at odds with reality. Yet Soros continues to clutch on to a view that has little basis in fact.
The United States is the most powerful country on Earth. While it cannot impose its will on the world, nothing much can be done in the way of international cooperation without its leadership or at least active participation.
The United States has a greater degree of discretion in deciding the shape of the world than anybody else. Other countries don’t have a choice: They must respond to U.S. policy. This imposes a unique responsibility on the United States: Our nation must concern itself with the well-being of the world. The United States is the only country that can take the lead in addressing problems that require collective action: preserving peace, assuring economic progress, protecting the environment and so on. Fighting terrorism and controlling weapons of mass destruction also fall into this category.
Soros is indeed right. The rest of the world follows our lead. That is why it is absolutely imperative to ensure that the demands that rogue states disarm, that terrorists are not given safe harbor, and that we stand by our convictions are not subjects for negotiation. If we accept that democracy is a moral good, then we have the a priori obligation to ensure that the rest of the world becomes democratic. This means that tolerating states like Iraq, even if they do not provide a direct and immediate threat, must be part of our foreign policy. Democracy is not only just for the people of Eastern Europe, but must be supported for all individuals. It is not a Western conception, it is based in innate human values. Given those arguments, arguments Soros himself has supported his entire life, his opposition to the liberation of Iraq is entirely inconsistant.
By using the war on terror as a pretext for asserting our military supremacy, we are embarking on an escalating spiral of terrorist/ counterterrorist violence. If instead we were to set an example of cooperative behavior, we could not only alleviate poverty, misery and injustice in the world, but also gain support for defending ourselves against terrorism. We will be the greatest beneficiaries if we do so.
Soros reflexively jumps to the concept that our efforts in fighting terrorism are based entirely in “asserting our military supremacy” rather than protecting our citizens. It is a narrow view of power that has no basis in fact or evidence. The reasons we are fighting this war on terrorism have nothing to do with Soros’ view of American supremacy and everything to do with the necessity of preventing a holocaust that would make September 11 a footnote in history. The confluence of rogue states, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction would inevitably lead to such a horrible end.
If we are to win this war, we cannot win it by treating terrorism symptomatically. We must end the circumstances that support and breed terrorism. That means ended the oppression that has swept across the Muslim world. That means closing down the madrassa system that indoctrinates children into terrorism. That means supporting democracy in the Middle East and fighting tyranny and terrorism with every means at our disposal.
It is deeply saddening to hear someone who has been a great advocate of human rights and democracy in Eastern Europe suddenly turn his back on this principles in the Middle East. Soros’ worldview doesn’t match the facts, and his policy prescriptions would only lead to the very same ends he hopes to prevent.