Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Cops an d do-gooders

liberal hawks and the iraq war

This exchange took place in slate a while back and I enjoy Berman's thinking. I suppose I imagine myself a throwback to the days of the spanish civil war, when fascism was on the rise and people did something about it. The confusion in this day and age is understandable against the backdrop of Bush and American adventurism, but....

The language of WMD, Bad Guys, humanitarianism, and all the rest cannot describe these movements and their doctrines and their fanaticism. We know how to speak about member states of the United Nations. But totalitarian movements have always been international, with and without state support. We have lost the ability to speak about mass international movements of that sort.

Why is that? It is because most people have convinced themselves that modern totalitarianism no longer exists. The Bush administration has said so itself. Everybody remembers the notorious National Security statement of 2002—the statement that became infamous for declaring somewhat idiotically (because some things are better left unsaid) a policy of pre-emptive war. But the really scandalous part of that statement said: "For most of the 20th century, the world was divided by a great struggle over ideas: destructive totalitarian visions versus freedom and equality. That great struggle is over."

Wrong! The totalitarian visions live on. Only, instead of being called fascism or some other name from the past, the visions of the present are called radical Islamism and Baathism and suchlike, with doctrines duly descended from their European progenitors—the totalitarianism of the modern Muslim world. All the talk about WMD has been hugely misleading, in this respect. As the NRA likes to say, WMD don't kill people; mass totalitarian movements kill people (sometimes using WMD, but more often, not). But our mayor's language of foreign policy has prohibited us from saying so.

What was the reason for the war in Iraq? Sept. 11 was the reason. At least to my mind it was. Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies. The totalitarian manias were rising, and the United States itself was now in danger. A lot of people wanted to respond, as any mayor would do, by rounding up a single Bad Guy, Osama.

But Sept. 11 did not come from a single Bad Guy—it was a product of the larger totalitarian wave, and the only proper response was to comprehend the size and depth of that larger wave, and find ways to begin rolling it back, militarily and otherwise—mostly otherwise. To roll it back for our own sake, and everyone else's sake, Muslims' especially. Iraq, with its somewhat antique variation of the Muslim totalitarian idea, was merely a place to begin, after Afghanistan, with its more modern variation.


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