Before the dawn
There's an ambitious article by JR Dunn at American Thinker which tries to sketch out where the long struggle with radical Islamism is headed. The excerpts below give a flavor of its principle argument.
The first campaigns of the Long War are drawing to a close. The Jihadis have lost the opening rounds. What next?
There’s an unconscious conviction that what happens next is… nothing. We go back to everyday life, the way things were before all that unpleasantness in lower Manhattan and Washington those long years ago. We shut out the harmful, hateful world once again, go our own way, and forget about jihads, and suicide belts, and dirty bombs, and beheadings, and all the other nightmares that have filled our days since 2001.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
What happened on 9/11 was not an earthquake, over and done quickly, but a long, slow and complete reshuffling of the tectonic plates that comprise human civilization; something comparable to the deaths of empires and the passing of eras. Such events are not over in a day, or a year, or a decade. They take their time. And when it ends at last the world will be a different place, in ways that we now have no way of knowing. But the part we have played in it will, in some shape or form, match our position when it’s all over, American or European or Arab, Muslim or Christian or Secular.
... The Jihadis have lost Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s true that fighting continues in both countries, but at this point it’s effectively theater. ... It’s doubtful that the Jihadis will fade out yet, not after spending over twenty years organizing and laying the groundwork. ... But if the Jihadis want to continue, they’ll need to adapt a strategy. Not modify the current one – they have never, up to this point, displayed the least signs of ever having one ...
This may change in the future. The intercepted letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi suggests that deep thinking has been going on concerning the trend of Islamist fortunes. Many of the movement’s wild men have been killed off by U.S. and Coalition action. The remainder will be more thoughtful, balanced, and cautious. Some will have had actual military training and experience. These last will be unwilling to take action only out of religious zeal, without a workable goal and a clear method of getting there – a strategy.
This is an interesting beginning. It suggests that the GWOT is the result of deep structural conflicts which gathered unnoticed in the late 20th century and whose resolution will be the principal business of the early 21st. It further suggests that in this conflict the Jihad has realized it is not going to win by force of arms in the way that it did against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; that Osama Bin Laden's judgement of America as weaker than the Soviet Union was flawed; and that it is already seeking an alternative route to world domination. The reader is left to wonder what exactly that new Jihadi strategy should be. But unfortunately the American Thinker article stops in a cliffhanger-like fashion until the sequel, Sidelining Europe, is published tomorrow.
Yet it's not just radical Islam that is consciously re-examining its strategy. Jed Babbin at the American Spectator is pondering the same question for the viewpoint of -- for want of a better term -- conservatives, casting it as a contest between Wilsonian and Jacksonian approaches. (Hat tip: Powerline) Babbin argues that President Bush has taken the Wilsonian approach to victory by "democratizing" the enemy to destroy its theocratic social base. Babbin argues for the Jacksonian stance, deriding the democratizing strategy as nonsense:
We didn't invade Afghanistan and Iraq because they weren't democracies. If the lack of democracy were a casus belli we'd be at war with about two-thirds of the world. We counterattacked the Taliban because with malice aforethought they provided the base from which Osama bin Laden organized an attack that killed three thousand Americans and then refused to turn him over to us when we gave them the choice between doing so and war. In Iraq we sincerely believed that the Saddam Hussein regime posed a threat to Americans and attacked only after the UN failed, as it always does, to deal with such a threat. The only goal of this war, which Lowry and the others lost track of, is to end the threat of radical Islam and the terrorism that is its chosen weapon against us.
Powerline sees a role for both the Wilsonian and Jacksonian approaches in strategy.
Babbin's critique of the Bush administration, then, is mainly that it's not being aggressive enough in attacking hostile regimes. To me, that matter is largely independent of the questions of (1)how concerned we should be about the political fate of the countries in which we topple regimes and (2) the extent to which we should embrace pro-democratic rhetoric. President Bush could adopt a more Jacksonian stance towards Iran, for example, and still act like a Wilsonian with respect to post-invasion Iraq.
And that, I think, is what he should do. It clearly matters what happens in a country after it has been "liberated." It mattered in Eastern Europe after World War II and it mattered in Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out. Even if one totally discounts as factually incorrect or immaterial the notion that more democratic outcomes will produce fewer terrorists over time (and I wouldn't), it still seems true that more democratic outcomes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan will produce states that cause us significantly less trouble.
The less dogmatic thinkers on the Left also see the need to redefine itself away from the vestigial anti-Americanism of the 20th century, a leftover habit from the Cold War. Alan Johnson, editor of Democratiya, a journal dedicated to "a renewal of the politics of democratic radicalism by providing a forum for serious analysis and debate" passionately argues that the Left has blinded itself to the obvious fact that radical Islamism is the chief totalitarian menace in the world today. By clinging to the outmoded reflexes of the past, it has surrendered its historic role and made itself an accomplish to radical Islam. He says the Left should step up to the plate and take up the resistance in a manifesto called How democracies can defeat Totalitarian Political Islam. In sections suggestively titled "The Crisis on the Left", and the "Democratic Alternative" Johnson makes the case for the formation of a Third Force led by the Left in order to:
- restore the doctrine of the international community and the partnership between the US and Europe
- respect our own constitutional identity by adhering to the rule of law, due process and human rights
- wage a cultural 'cold war' of ideas
- make urgent international solidarity with democrats in the Arab and Muslim world
- promote global economic development-as-freedom.
This belated flurry of strategic thinking means it is increasingly accepted that September 11 wasn't simply a gigantic crime -- an Oklahoma City bombing writ large. It was the end of an era and beginning of a new one. We are not, as JR Dunn so eloquently put it, about to "go back to everyday life, the way things were before all that unpleasantness in lower Manhattan and Washington those long years ago". That may be terrible news for those who believe the 1960s never ended, but there it is. We are adrift on a dark sea and the mariners are breaking out the compasses.
It's not surprising that thinkers all along the political spectrum are beginning to seriously consider what the new era portends and the strategies they should adopt to survive within it. Mainstream politicians have not as yet made the mental adjustment, but with any luck the 2008 Presidential campaign will be the first since September 11 to move beyond the "stolen election" of 2000 and openly debate what course we should follow in the long war ahead. It's a debate that will touch on everything: military preparedness, our core beliefs, demography and the structure of civilization itself because we have finally come to accept that in the end nothing will be the same in the way that it was. It's been a long time coming. It's going to be a long time gone.