A Question Of Alternatives

Charles Krauthammer goes after Francis Fukuyama for fabricating quotes in his new book. Fukuyama’s always been interesting, but consistently wrong. “The End of History” wasn’t – and now Fukuyama appears to be undermining his own prior thesis by arguing that maybe liberal democracy doesn’t work everywhere afterall. There’s something calculated about his rather sudden change of heart.

Krauthammer also notes something else of interest:

I made the point of repeating the problematic nature of the enterprise: “The undertaking is enormous, ambitious and arrogant. It may yet fail.”

For Fukuyama to assert that I characterized it as “a virtually unqualified success” is simply breathtaking. My argument then, as now, was the necessity of this undertaking, never its ensured success. And it was necessary because, as I said, there is not a single, remotely plausible, alternative strategy for attacking the root causes of Sept. 11: “The cauldron of political oppression, religious intolerance, and social ruin in the Arab-Islamic world — oppression transmuted and deflected by regimes with no legitimacy into virulent, murderous anti-Americanism.”

Fukuyama’s book is proof of this proposition about the lack of the plausible alternative. The alternative he proposes for the challenges of Sept. 11 — new international institutions, new forms of foreign aid and sundry other forms of “soft power” — is a mush of bureaucratic make-work in the face of a raging fire. Even Berman, his sympathetic reviewer, concludes that “neither his old arguments nor his new ones offer much insight into this, the most important problem of all — the problem of murderous ideologies and how to combat them.”

And that is precisely the problem. We face an enemy that has the avowed goal of obtaining nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and using them against us. Just one largescale attack with a WMD could have a profound effect on the US economy and our way of life. If New York City were rendered uninhabitable for decades by a nuclear blast, how would the US economy react? The world economy? Not only would tens of thousands be dead, but millions would feel the aftereffects.

The arguments that we can use “soft power” to deal with this threat are simply unrealistic and horrendously naïve. That is precisely the strategy we’re already pursuing with Iran, and it is quite clear that it simply is not working. The Iranians will likely have a working nuclear weapon within a year, and so far all diplomatic entreaties have achieved absolutely nothing. You can’t sweet-talk Osama bin Laden, and trying to use “soft power” to deal with the threat of Islamist terrorism is not only futile, but fatally so.

The reason I have supported the toppling of the Hussein regime and continue to do so is because the single greatest threat we face is a terrrorist group getting their hands on WMDs. We found nothing in Iraq, but the invasion of Iraq led directly to Qaddafi’s ending of his nuclear program and subsequent to that we were able to dismantle the A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network – one of the biggest wins in the Global War on Terrorism to date. Furthermore, al-Qaeda’s resources are not unlimited. Every resource they put into Iraq is a resource they can’t use elsewhere, and if a bunch of deluded Islamic radicals want to blow themselves up in Baghdad that’s better for us than if they decide to do so in London or New York. (Although the Iraqis are the ones who get caught in the crossfire, one of the reasons why we have the moral obligation to ensure they can defend themselves.)

But chief among all the rationales for the war in Iraq is the fact that it’s the only viable strategy for winning the larger war. The true root cause of terrorism is neither poverty nor the real and imagined sins of the US and Israel – the true root cause of terror is a disconnect between the ruled and the rulers in the Arab world. The autocracy of the Arab world ensures that the state is dominant everywhere – except in the mosque or madrassah. The only place where one can escape is through Islam. Even a tyrant like Hussein dared not challenge the supremacy of Islam. Is it any wonder that under those conditions that the banner of the Muslim Brotherhood that proclaims “Islam is the solution” would start sounding like the truth?

The only way to win this war over the long run is to introduce democratic concepts into the Middle East. They won’t take quickly, and this is an endeavor that will take generations, but already the idea of democratization is on the table in the Middle East in a way that it has never been before. We can’t expect Iraq to look like Iowa in the next 10 years, but we can and should expect it to start the transition from autocracy to democracy over the years.

The alternatives to that course of action involve either engaging in total war against all terrorist-sponsoring states, which is untenable, or sitting around and treating terrorism like a law enforcement problem, which is equally untenable. The threat of terrorism requires us to take a larger, more expansive view, and for all the Bush Administration’s many glaring flaws, they get that in a way that very few others do.

Fukuyama’s proposed alternatives don’t match the reality of the threat we face, and over the long term the invasion of Iraq may be seen as the watershed moment in the history of the modern Middle East. However, we cannot achieve that if we surrender Iraq to those who would tear it apart. Arguing the issues of 2003 doesn’t get us there, and Fukuyama, like many critics of this war, don’t seem to have many particularly good ideas for how to deal with the here and now.

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