August 12, 2005

It's Not All About Us

My new Tech Central Station column is up:

Islamists have killed thousands of Westerners over the past couple of years -- thousands in New York City alone. But they have killed far more of their own fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, and too many other places to list. The Terror War, or whatever we ought to call it, is not about us. It's a war waged by totalitarian Islamists against the rest of the world. We aren't targets because of what we do or even because of who we are. We are targets because we are not them. They hate everybody and we're part of "everybody."
Read the rest...

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 12, 2005 12:17 PM

Comments

I think Liberals may be coming around, slowly. I heard a commentator on NPR a few weeks ago saying essentially the same thing. It's our "decadence" they're afraid of, he said, and our influence on their own cultures that they oppose. That's something we ARE, however, and can't change.

Incidentally, this goes to my comment a few threads down about our presence in their countries as bikini-clad, cocktail-sipping tourists. We don't put them at ease being who we ARE.

Posted by: spaniard at August 12, 2005 12:57 PM

spaniard,

We will have won the war when we see bikini's on the beaches outside Mecca (and sipping cocktails too!). I just hope to see the day.

Posted by: buffpilot at August 12, 2005 01:08 PM

buffpilot: "We will have won the war when we see bikini's on the beaches outside Mecca"

I would settle for this as a start:-)

Posted by: Caroline at August 12, 2005 03:55 PM

MJT,

Rock solid refutation of Pape (who put out a seemingly cohesive argument on the face of it). I had expected a good refutation of Pape to come from an "Tipping Point"-like counter analysis of his data. Your argument sweeps his away by calling attention to the larger picture. It has been quite interesting to watch your progress as a writer.

This piece was big league. I hope Friedman reads it.

Cheers,

Posted by: jdwill at August 12, 2005 04:10 PM

You are correct in that there are serious Islamists who are not motivated by anything that "we" or anybody else does. At the same time, there are an entirely different group of people who will join up with the Islamists if they become sufficiently upset with certain powers and see the Islamists fight against them as noble and worth joining. Clearly, Islamists will not simply disappear in the forseeable future. However, there are an entire class of, shall we say, persuadables, who are very much influenced by certain factors which we do have influence over. These persuadables mark the difference between isolated incidents and an actual movement. I think this is Pape's point. Without a significant following, Islamists become much less threatening. And our actions and the actions of our allies do contribute a great deal to them having a significant following.

Posted by: John at August 12, 2005 04:41 PM

This post reminds me of a previous thread in which the topic of Pape's position came up (can't find it now for reference - perhaps it was part of that wipe-out you experienced).

But yes, I most certainly agree with your basic premise re Pape but I also have a few sticking points (after pointing out that Tom Grey should have a big grin on his face about now due to the reference to "death squads" :-).

You say: “A certain kind of conservative believes any and all Muslims are ideologically wired for jihad against Western infidels”

Out of curiosity, what is a “certain kind of” conservative?

There is a difference between "any" and "all" actually. It reminds me rather unfortunately of a conversation I had with a liberal coworker this week in which I suggested that we needed to slow down Muslim immigration to the west and he flat out called me a Nazi. Note that I wasn't suggesting killing anyone, interning anyone or or even deporting anyone - merely "slowing down" and "limiting" Muslim immigration to the west, for now, while we're struggling to come to terms with what we're confronting. (i.e. is it a few radicals, a lot of radicals, is jihad a fairly mainstram Muslim tenet or not, and so on - and meanwhile, even MJT linked to a recent intelligence assessment that Britain could be facing a full-blown insurgency, even among 2nd and 3rd generation European Muslims.) Anyway, for that suggestion, I was flat-out called a Nazi.

It strikes me that claiming victim status must be the key to the western psyche. Maybe in the future, when my colleague calls me a Nazi, I'll simply yell louder about the fact that I'm a woman and that explains why Islam, and not merely "Islamofascism" causes me concern. "I'm a woman dammit! I am a victim dammit! How dare you talk to me that way!" Being a victim seems to be the only thing that gets their pathologically guilt-ridden attention and sympathy. Time to abuse the insight, if I may say so.

Then there's this, from the article you linked to re Abu Bakar Bashir: “The Islamic faithful in Australia must endeavour to bring about an Islamic state in Australia, even if it is 100 years from now," he told the gathering”

No threat of direct violence there. But clearly the intention to spread Islam, probably by demographic means. I wonder whether anyone has any concerns about demographic jihad? Not a particularly serious threat in the US at present, I admit, but a fairly serious threat to Europe within about 50 years or so. Well, most of us reading this now will be dead anyway, so what the hell. Why should I care? Especially when even bringing the topic up invites the worst kind of insults, that one is basically a Nazi. Umm, way to end a conversation, that's for sure.

In your comments you mention the Kurds as some of our closest allies. But then they blocked the Assyrian Christians from voting in Iraq. Why? If I were you and actually had the chance to sit down with Hitchens, i would ask him about that. Is this a pecking order I wonder? Is it possible that we have many allies among Muslims while fighting off the extremists, but then those same allies could possibly turn against us (infidels) in a pecking order mentality once the extremists are removed? Just wondering....

BTW - did you happen to catch Brigitte Gabriel's interview at FPM this morning? No doubt as you have said before, Lebanon has changed a great deal but this was an admittedly interesting passage:

"The Christians in Lebanon always had problems with the Moslems, but we never thought our neighbors would turn on us. That situation was aggravated by the influx of the Palestinians coming from Jordan after King Hussein kicked them out in Black September. That's what tipped the scale in Lebanon. Not only had Moslems become the majority but they now also felt empowered by the presence of the Palestinians and Yasser Arafat wanting to attack the Christians, take over Lebanon and use it as a base from which to attack Israel. When the Moslems and Palestinians declared Jihad on the Christians in 1975 we didn't even know what that word meant. We had taken them into our country, allowed them to study side by side with us, in our schools and universities. We gave them jobs, shared with them our way of life. We didn't realize the depth of their hatred to us as infidels. They looked at us as the enemy not as neighbors, friends, employers and colleagues."

Brigitte Gabriel

Posted by: Caroline at August 12, 2005 05:48 PM

It's all about the O

Posted by: overstock.neocom at August 12, 2005 08:08 PM

"I think Liberals may be coming around, slowly"

You are correct spaniard they are called Neo-Cons LOl
*************************************************
I would settle for this as a start:-)

Posted by Caroline at August 12, 2005 03:55 PM
*************************************************
No Caroline THIS is the REAL Start

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at August 12, 2005 09:01 PM

"It's about them and their totalitarian designs."

They are indeed totalitarian. However, that is not quite good enough. This is how I would put it:

It's about them and their nihilistic designs.

Our enemies are nihilists to the core. They subconsciously wish for the destruction of the world. They will not have any rest until they themselves are dead. Only death and destruction can satisfy their existential cravings.

Posted by: David Thomson at August 12, 2005 09:05 PM

Perhaps interestingly, Islamist terrorists' actions that continue to say 'you are with us or against us' are hardly ever scrutinized by those eager to do so when these attitudes are expressed in the US and other developed nations.

Posted by: Publius Rex at August 12, 2005 10:12 PM

Michael, great column!

Posted by: Asher Abrams - Dreams Into Lightning at August 12, 2005 11:19 PM

As is my wont, I'm going to criticism your simplifications of all Islamic terrorism to one big amorphic THEY - such as "They hate everybody and we're part of everybody."

There are important geographic and geopolitical distinctions between the various Islamic groups that you lump together - and by LIMITING your target to simply these groups, you ignore OTHER sources of terrorism - for example the Maoist rebels in Nepal to give just one example.

I'm actually a big fan of the concept of GSAVE - Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism - and if you would keep Liberals Against Terrorism on your radar, you would be aware that - factually - the approach currently embraced has been more in the GSAVE mode, then the WOT mode - See here.

As Praktike points out"

Still, I think it's worth pointing out that it serves little useful purpose for the President of the United States to continually elevate the status of an outlaw living in a cave somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border. It benefits Bin Laden more than it benefits the United States. To a certain extent, counterterrorism is best carried out in the shadows. And frankly, it's about time we tended to our relationships and broadened the focus of our foreign policy. So far, I've been relieved that Condi has steered a more moderate course, and I think our friends and allies are heartened as well (the Bolton nomination notwithstanding).

Listen - it's irresponsible not to pay attention to DISTINCTIONS THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE. And you are falling into that trap with this post.

Now, OF COURSE most of the examples you cite have to be fought - with cleverness, toughness, flexibility and a RESPECTFUL embrace of as many allies as possible.

This is going back to the idea of a 'liberal order' between nations - which is the idea that has worked greatly for the last 50 years.

And of course - you MISS AGAIN the elephant in the room - which at some point you must comment on.

The War In Iraq was NOT a war on Islamic Extremism. Yet that didn't stop you from supporting it.

Also a problem with this collapse of all players into one "THEY". The players in Iraq are not all one face. Make sure to read Anthony Cordesman's Iraq's Evolving Insurgency for a better understanding of this. (And if you HAVE read it, why do your posts always have this childish simplification of the facts? It is simply irresponsible to continue it).

Until you are utterly, completely, and openly finished with these absurd oversimplifications and generalizations - do you really expect anyone who is smart and serious about ending Islamic extremism to get anything from reading you?

Posted by: JC at August 13, 2005 12:53 AM

Why did all my links go to the same place?? Weird. I will fix...

Posted by: JC at August 13, 2005 12:54 AM

Ah, good - never mind, it's actually fine.

Posted by: JC at August 13, 2005 12:56 AM

It strikes me that claiming victim status must be the key to the western psyche. Maybe in the future, when my colleague calls me a Nazi, I'll simply yell louder about the fact that I'm a woman and that explains why Islam, and not merely "Islamofascism" causes me concern. "I'm a woman dammit! I am a victim dammit! How dare you talk to me that way!" Being a victim seems to be the only thing that gets their pathologically guilt-ridden attention and sympathy. Time to abuse the insight, if I may say so.

Yes, of course you've sussed them out. But PLEASE don't encourage that crap. Thinking about that sort of will to negativity makes me want to find another culture where people don't worship victimhood if I have to learn another language and move to do it.

Posted by: Joshua Scholar at August 13, 2005 12:58 AM

Boy, I wish I could write as well as this - truly great.

I was smiling a lot about the killing, killing, killing, but missed the death squad reference -- until I read it again and saw it at the beginnig:
"The overwhelming majority of Islamist killers aren't terrorists. They are soldiers and members of state-sanctioned death squads."

All dictatorships, including kingships, have been based on death squad enforcement.

In another longer post I'll try to expand on how Proportional Representation in Iraq may be leading to civil war, by an emphasis on Leaders. The Baghdad mayor coup is a big, early test; I'm afraid Bush-supported rule of law will fail.

It's about them. Modern, tolerant Islam vs. intolerant fundamentalist Islam.

In the US, there's an old tolerant secularism against an old intolerant Christianity -- but modern, tolerant Christianity has pretty much ended intolerance (civil unions are tolerant; abortion refuses fetal human rights). There's a new tolerant Christianity against an intolerant PC secularist fundamentalism. Both of these internal US / West issues get imposed on the internal Islamic struggles. All US sides want to use the Islamic issues for our own political purposes; this is a mistake.

Where are the headlines in the US when the Palestinian Authority, or Hamas, assassinates one of the other? The US needs to get better at supporting its friends -- and that's something too many Leftists can't accept unless the friends are "perfect."

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 13, 2005 01:06 AM

The best people to fight the nuttiness of the far left aligning with Islamist are members of the far left...

Thus David T of Harry's Place wrote This article at opendemocracy.net

We need a similar articles about American organizations.

Posted by: Joshua Scholar at August 13, 2005 01:32 AM

A damn brilliant piece, Michael. It reeks of truth (hey, what a concept). It ought to be required reading for every political science class in American colleges.

Posted by: kreiz at August 13, 2005 04:37 AM

Guess I'm not suprised that the most spoiled, selfish, self-centered generation in US (and Western European) history has a spoiled, selfish, self-centered view of the world.

Talking with a former prof, who was retiring to a foreign country, who acknowledged the country was sexist, xenophobic, and racist, but that it was not their country thus "I don't have to care." There you have it, a career in academe based on calls for social justice, and all it really was was a desire just not to have to pay attention.

Sad, but not surprising.

Keep up the good work, MJT.

lrb

Posted by: lancer at August 13, 2005 09:02 AM

So, Islam doesn't just have bloody borders; it has bloody centers, as well. And it appears that those bloody borders and centers are not about Islam itself so much as the ascendence and growth of its totalitarian, nihilist, fundamentalist sects.

Posted by: neo-neocon at August 13, 2005 10:44 AM

“So, Islam doesn't just have bloody borders”

Of course not. Islam is suppose to dominate every corner of the globe. This is why I ridicule those who claim that peace would result if only we left the Middle East. Today it is Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Tomorrow it will be Spain and France---and eventually it will also include Iceland and the Siberian wilderness. There is no middle ground. We either destroy the Islamic nihilists, or they will destroy us. This is a fight to the death.

Posted by: David Thomson at August 13, 2005 12:40 PM

It's a BIG fight until modern, tolerant Islam wins over intolerant, fundamentalist Islam.

While both Islams are fighting against too much secularism. And this is an additional problem.

How many non-Muslims will have to die, and even non-fundamentalist Muslims, and even fundie terrorists, before intolerant Islam loses?

They will lose, because if it looks they will win, the West will give up civil rights to murder them.
Especially France & Germany, but a more peaceful exile/ fundie-cleansing has already started in the UK.

If the terrorists get, and use, a WMD or two, then, all Islamic mullahs who have ever NOT condemned terrorism may be subject to immediate assassination, for instance. I don't think the CIA is heavy into Imman assassinations by paid Arab criminals, yet. I suspect there are plans that could be activated "in an emergency."

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 13, 2005 03:20 PM

Very good column, but I wonder the phrase "we won't end the threat from our enemies".

How do exactly western nations end the threat? Or "threat" as I see it. Putin is using mass deportations of in Chechnya, not unlike what Stalin did during the reign of SU.

Still the war rages on in there, while russians are much, much more ruthless than americans concerning radical islamists.

How could it be possible to end the "threat" or be sure terrorism doesn't crawl back?

Posted by: Pangolin at August 13, 2005 07:04 PM

Oh boy - hate to break it to you Michael, but it looks like

you're a Nazi too..

"Donklephant indirectly reminds me of one of my least favorite blog-related phenomena: the "I'm not really conservative" conservative blog....As I remarked, if LGF is the benchmark for conservatism, there are only about 10 conservative blogs on the internet, and most of them have the word "Aryan" in the title...
Glenn Reynolds pioneered it, but a whole host of other conservative bloggers (Hottentotten, Remainder L. Simon, etc.) have perfected it.."

Umm..I assume you must be "Hottentotten". Obviously the guy's a Wolcott wannabe...

Posted by: Caroline at August 13, 2005 07:16 PM

Huh? What say you, Caroline? I don't get you. Speak more slowly, in monosyllabic for me.

Posted by: Karol at August 13, 2005 09:03 PM

Sorry Karol. I wasn't trying to be cryptic. The blogger linked to says most of the high profile, what he calls "conservative" blogs, have the word "Aryan" in them. He includes MJT. He is also taking the same line of attack against certain bloggers that Wolcott did (see 3 threads down - Aug 10). I was being sarcastic of course when I wrote "you're a nazi too"; earlier in this thread I had commented on my colleague calling me a Nazi this week. Charles Johnson at LGF, however, has a good quip:

"In the future, everyone will be Hitler for 15 minutes".

Posted by: Caroline at August 14, 2005 06:41 AM

Lancer- I'd like to hear more about the former professor you described. Michael Reynolds (mightymiddle.com) describes his attitude as the "the amoral left".

Posted by: kreiz at August 14, 2005 09:02 AM

"So Pape thinks Islamic fundamentalism isn't the problem. Foreign occupation is. Therefore, no foreign occupation...no suicide terrorism. It's total nonsense."

A bizarre, out-of-context distortion of what Pape actually said.

And then what does Totten do? Does he take apart Pape's scholarship? No. After all, that would require an exercise of serious scholarship on his own part. And would entail the risk of coming up empty-handed.

Just to set people straight, here:

Pape doesn't say that the Tamil Tigers will suddenly stop resorting to suicide terrorism if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq. Nor will the Chechen rebels desist. Pape merely points out that military occupation of Iraq is pouring gasoline on the terrorist flames there. And who can argue with that? Nobody, at this point. Not even Totten .... no, after bashing Pape as full of "nonsense", he elects instead to talk about something entirely different. He changes the subject. He takes a page from the Bush administration -- that it's no longer "The War on Terror" but rather the New Coke: "The Campaign against Extremist Violence." Except that this campaign seems largely, and curiously, limited to an exceptionally oil-rich country

I'm against extremist violence. Who (but an extremist) wouldn't be? I'm also against all violence that isn't motivated by self-defense. Reasonable people might differ about this second position, I suppose. But if DO we have a moral imperative to deploy military force against violent extremists, why aren't our troops wading into Sri Lanka, to combat those crazed Marxist Tamils? Why this single-minded focus on Islamofascism?

What was the Bush administration's response to the recent slaughters in Uzbekistan, a country that (until recently) warmly hosted a U.S. airbase that was used in the invasion of Afghanistan? A "Tsk, tsk". Hardly even a wristslap. It's not totalitarians we have to fear, if I understand this line of argument correctly, but rather just those Islamofascist totalitarians. Anybody else who plays ball with us is OK, I guess.

Great post, Michael. Passion: 10. Moral outrage: 10. You're good at that sort of thing. Logic, lamentably (but predictably): zero. And to understand Pape's core argument -- that suicide bomber terrorism is a strategy used to compel liberal democracies to yield ground -- you need something like logic. Give logic a chance, why doncha? It'll only hurt for a minute, as you shed one cherished (but baseless) assumption after another.

Posted by: Mindless Moron at August 14, 2005 01:43 PM

Mindless Moron, the problem with the logic of Pape is that it seems to lead to a situation where any Liberal Democracy can be thwarted from any policy by any group that can muster up some suicide bombers.

In other words, yet another justification for narcicistic navel gazing (as if the West needed another one).

Sorry, not buying it. Just because we can't fix all the problems in the world doesn't mean we shouldn't solve any. (Nice little shell game there: "why do X when Y is just as deserving" when doing both X and Y simply isn't feasible). And if we're going to attempt to solve any, where is the sin in solving the ones that pose the most immediate threat?

Snuffing out Islamist Jihad against Western culture is going to be a generational task, if we can do it at all. Not one election cycle, and not two. Think Cold War duration. Unless an Islamic bomb destroys a Western city. Then unfortunately Middle East generations may become very short.

Posted by: Mark Poling at August 14, 2005 02:40 PM

Suicide bomber terrorism is a tactic of war, and like all tactics of war, we're finding ways to defeat it. Pape's 'run away!' chicken little tactics aren't much help to anyone.

Why this single-minded focus on Islamofascism?

A quote from the oral histories of 9/11:
Firefighter Maureen McArdle-Schulman recalled hearing someone yell before the collapses that something was falling from the towers.

"It turned out it was people coming out, and they started coming out one after the other," she said. "We didn't know what it was at first, but then the first body hit and then we knew what it was. ... I was getting sick. I felt like I was intruding on a sacrament. They were choosing to die and I was watching them and shouldn't have been. So me and another guy turned away and looked at a wall and we could still hear them hit."

Emergency medical technician John Felidi recalled that when the south tower fell, "We heard a rumble. I heard the rumble and looked — in the back of me all I seen was a monstrous — I can't even describe it. A cloud. Looked like debris, dust."

After thousands of Americans had died in the attacks, Rudy Giuliani said to the United Nations:
Let those who say that we must understand the reasons for terrorism, come with me to the thousands of funerals we're having in New York City--thousands--and explain those insane maniacal reasons to the children who will grow up without fathers and mothers and to the parents who have had their children ripped from them for no reason at all.

Like the hijackers on 9/11, most of the suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudi. Saudi Arabia is the most extreme Islamist states. Like Iran, Saudi Arabia is financing terrorist attacks around the world.

Why are we fighting the Islamofascists? Did you even read the article? We're fighting them because they're at war at with us.

Posted by: mary at August 14, 2005 05:00 PM

Why Iraq?
" Except that this campaign seems largely, and curiously, limited to an exceptionally oil-rich country"
Because Saddam was dumb enough to invade Kuwait, and UN SC resolution 643 (memory?) authorized/ "legalized" the use of force against Saddam.

He wasn't driven out of power, but put on "parole" -- a parole his actions violated to the extent of 16 additional UN SC resolutions condemning him.

Those resolutions are the reason the US liberating Iraqi people are NOT illegal.

If you can't point to a UN SC resolution authorizing force against another terrible regime, you're on the track of why the US doesn't do other liberations.

MM, I'd guess you've previously supported the view that Iraq was "illegal" too -- those who claim this, and also complain about the US not invading somewhere else are the worst kind of hypocrites. Using fake names allows avoiding a hyperlink trail .

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 14, 2005 06:02 PM

Buffpilot and Dan Kauffman -

Behold - the actual Saudi swimsuit! (via Roger Simon)

Posted by: Caroline at August 14, 2005 06:53 PM

"Mindless Moron, the problem with the logic of Pape is that it seems to lead to a situation where any Liberal Democracy can be thwarted from any policy by any group that can muster up some suicide bombers."

You don't follow the logic of Pape to its conclusion, because you don't even have his theory right. Pape says that suicide bomber terrorism is a strategy pursued in an attempt to thwart liberal democracies in their claims on territory, not in "any policy." In the case of 9/11, the territorial purpose of the attack was really pretty obvious: it put the U.S. on notice that the days were numbered for its Islamist extremist proxies on the Arabian peninsula, the Saudi royal family, soon to be replaced by a different sort of Islamic extremism.

A policy of independence from foreign oil sold by dictatorial petro-states (to give just one example) isn't one that can be thwarted by suicide bomber terrorism -- or if it is, I'd like you to explain to me just how.

"And if we're going to attempt to solve any, where is the sin in solving the ones that pose the most immediate threat?"

If we're going to solve any problem on the basis of the moral imperatives to which Totten apparently hews, why not solve the problems that pose those "most immediate threat" to innocent victims? Not to put too fine a point on it, but why wasn't our 9/11 response (post-Afghanistan invasion, anyway) primarily to put U.S. troops into Darfur? Or did you mean "most immediate threat" to our oil supplies? 9/11 was nothing if not an announcement of such a threat -- almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, after all.

Rudy Giuliani, like an presidential aspirant, can be stirringly illogical in speeches. Should we try to understand the supposedly 'insane maniacal reasons' behind these attacks."? Of course we should. To do otherwise is to underestimate Al Qaeda as a bunch of insane maniacs, which they are not. Insane maniacs don't last long, and these guys have been around for quite some time now. They may have uses for insane maniacs, but that doesn't mean that's what they are. They have uses for all kinds of foolishness -- not just the foolishness of those who would throw themselves bodily into the breach in the name of the cause, but the foolishness of those who interpret the entire enterprize as being one of insane maniacs. If I was in a war with someone, I'd love for them to think I was an insane maniac. It's always a great advantage in conflict to be underestimated.

They know what they want. They want state capture of Saudi Arabia, the home of the two holiest places in Sunni Islam, and with the world's largest treasure under its sands. What huge potential power base! If instigating a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq are a means to that end, they are only too happy to provide the pretexts.

And they will go further. Iraq's Zarqawi has declared war on Shi'a Islam, to no obvious complaint from Al Qaeda, unless I missed a memo. Does this silence indicate consent? The consequences are chilling, if so. Al Qaeda might see a war within Islam -- really, a resumption of the civil war within Islam that created the Sunni/Shi'a split--as furthering its goals, and if so, that would be a very deadly eventuality indeed.

These people will stop at nothing to reach their goal. However, if you see their goal as simply conquest of the West, our destruction, please help me out in aligning my perceptions. Please tell me where I've gone wrong. Please quote me where anyone in Al Qaeda has actually proposed this. "Defeat" (of our foreign policy) is not "conquest."

Pape's logic of terrorism stands. His conclusion for foreign policy leaves room for disagreement, I suppose. It depends on your moral stance about the uses of military adventures. I could be persuaded that armed intervention makes sense, wherever one can make a good case that it's better than doing nothing. Was it better in the case of Iraq? Well, none other than Condie Herself said recently that it might be 40 years before we know whether invading Iraq had a net benefit. Frankly, I don't like conflating moral crusades with high-stakes gambling.

In the meantime, let me offer a bet: by this time next year, Michael Totten will have refined his hairsplitting position by saying that the Real Enemy is Sunni Islamofascism. Whereas Shi'a Islamofascism emanating from southern Iraq, under the influence of Iran, will be, at worst, a temporary, but necessary evil, potentially reformable, we must offer them the benefit of the doubt, blah blah blah, because they pass the litmus test: they play ball with U.S foreign policy makers.

After all, it's not like we really have a choice there anymore. As Lawrence Kaplan concludes in his Baghdad Diarist column of Aug 1st, "Quiet American II",

"For all of his faith in the U.S. mission, [freelance Iraq policy operative Michael] Rubin is slowly, fitfully, but unmistakably coming to embody its diminished expectations. A champion of Iraqi liberalism who helped block Islamists from key positions in the interim government, Rubin tells me that he would prefer a cleric-backed slate to win the referendum. We argue the point, my view being that he has left behind a principled stance that he knew to be correct. To hear Rubin tell it, he's merely paying due respect to reality -- that the liberal moment has passed in Iraq. 'I filter what I filter through American policy,' he adds. I suspect, like [Vietnam advisor John Paul] Vann before him, he knows that the filter is broken."

Posted by: Mindless Moron at August 14, 2005 10:30 PM

Tom Grey, Father of Liberty, gibes away about my Mindless Moron nom de plume: "Using fake names allows avoiding a hyperlink trail."

Gee, Tom, didn't you just insult about half the people on this forum, including commenters you agree with most of the time? Caroline doesn't provide a link of any kind (see mine, from which my identity is easily inferred), so who knows if that's her real name? For all I know, "spaniard" and "buffpipe" supply e-mail addresses that don't work. Mine does, I assure you. It's a true ad hominem attack, isn't it? I.e., in picking on my choice of sig, you address the speaker, not what was said.

In any case, to the limited extent that you DO address my argument, I don't think you get your facts straight. It certainly wasn't UN SC resolution 643 (which was something about aid to Namibia as far as I can tell) that authorized invasion of Iraq in 2003. If not, which UN SC resolution was it? In fact, I can't find any UN SC resolution to that effect. If I recall correctly, despite Powell's getting duped into picture-perfect faux-Adlai Stevenson moment up there on the UN podium, the security council did NOT authorize an invasion.

Anyway, it's kind of a stupid argument in the face of Totten's argument. If invading another country is the moral thing to do, what's the UN got to do with it? Funny how even a UN-basher will try to use the UN as a source of legitimacy when it's convenient. And if you take the Bush administration's moral posturings at face value, invading Iraq anyway in face of the refusal of the UN SC to issue any such license to invade means that the international law argument didn't cut much ice with BushCo in the first place. We went in anyway, right?

Posted by: Mindless Moron at August 14, 2005 11:23 PM

We will have won the war when we see bikini's on the beaches outside Mecca (and sipping cocktails too!). I just hope to see the day.

Considering Mecca is landlocked and has no beaches, that could be tough. (Well, it could be tough for other reasons as well).

Posted by: Stephen Silver at August 15, 2005 07:01 AM

Caroline,

Great link! LOL! That's why I specify bikini!

As for mindless moron - we attacked Iraq becuase it was the easiest of the next. Most officers I knew thought we would hit Iraq in the spring of '02 (we knew that Iraq would be next in December of '01 - it was that obvious of a next move militarily). The idea that the status quo throughout the ME was a good thing ended on 9/11. The question was where to start. Iraq had the biggest potential plus a huge downside if left alone. And make no doubt about it, we will be there for decades, see Germany, Japan, Italy, Korea, Phillipines, etc.

As for legality - the congress authorized the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq (and does so again with each military appropriations budget). Really end of story.

As for the decision to invade - that is history, and the voters had the ability to vote Bush out of office if they wished. Bush and company had an accountability moment and the US population handed them a victory last November. The next moment will be in Nov '06. Please vote and encourage others to do so.

Otherwise live with it!

Posted by: buffpilot at August 15, 2005 07:30 AM

"A policy of independence from foreign oil sold by dictatorial petro-states (to give just one example) isn't one that can be thwarted by suicide bomber terrorism -- or if it is, I'd like you to explain to me just how."

Okay. The biggest potential (non nuclear) energy source in North America is the oil sands in Canada. Native North Americans start blowing themselves up to protest "foreign" despoilers of the native wilderness.

Or, ecco nuts blow themselves up outside of nuclear plants.

Or, anti-abortion activists start blowing themselves up outside abortion clinics. (I'm actually surprised this one hasn't happened).

No, Pape's logic is actually all too easy to extend. And of course, the more effective the old explosive underware tactic proves to be, the more it will be extended. (You know, that thing called positive reinforcement?)

As to immediate threats, I was actually talking about to my own precious torso. (Not to mention those of my friends' and loved ones.) Darfur sucks. The situation in Zimbabwe sucks. The situation in the Middle East sucks, and has produced attacks that have killed thousands of Americans. Pardon me, if I have to prioritize, as an American the Middle East needs to be made less suckfull soonest.

Posted by: Mark Poling at August 15, 2005 08:03 AM

"As for mindless moron - we attacked Iraq becuase it was the easiest of the next."

Oh really? What about Syria? Syria, with weapons programs that Israeli intelligence assessed as being a significant threat compared to Iraq's. Syria, with its smaller population. Syria, with its long history of substantial support of terrorism against Israel. Syria, ALSO a considerably secularized Ba'athist regime. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot: Syria, relatively oil-poor Middle East country. OK, scratch that.

Posted by: Mindless Moron at August 15, 2005 08:17 AM

Mindless, your living up to your moniker.

Iraq was easier on many levels. It has a port. A friendly country to stage into (Kuwait and Turkey). At least 1/3 (the Kurds) of the country could be considered 'friendly' going in. It sits a top a huge chunk of oil, a potential to be able to generate hard cash to boot-strap itself up. Eliminates Iraq has a potential problem (vs Syria which has not been one and would have a hostile Iraq). Iraq being controlled by Saddam would be a real threat on our flanks, especially if the internationally recogniized WMD threat had been as extensive as believed. Places a lot of pressure on Iran just by being there.

Bottom line: It is the easiest to take, with the best upside for the United States and our allies. So far, by any historical standard, this has been a bloodless cakewalk. We are doing this to preserve our way of life and our freedoms. That we are taking a very difficult route to do this to try to bring freedom and democracy to the ME (and it won't be perfect) should be supported by all liberals. We could have simply nuked them and solved the problem in the old-fashioned way.

I thought you lefties were all about freeing people from evil dictators? So why are you not onboard? Know one on the left can ever come up with an intelligent answer to that.

Oh, to head off some obvious retorts, I have 24 years in the USAF, and I suggest reading up on the Battle of the Somme during WW I. Or the Phillipine Insurection. Or for that matter, we lost more men in the Baatan Death march than we have in Iraq.

Posted by: buffpilot at August 15, 2005 08:53 AM

To Mark Poling: Eco-nuts blowing themselves up outside nuclear power plants isn't going to have much of an effect, since they'd be (at best) blowing holes in chain-link fences in relatively unpopulated areas. Likewise Native Americans blowing themselves up near tar-sands extraction operations. (Also, Canada is not a "dictatorial petro-state", but I quibble.)

It's not really suicide bomber terrorism unless you're taking other human targets down in the process of blowing yourself up -- specifically, human targets who are citizens or soldiers of the state whose policies you're trying to influence.

But let me allow you that you were at least trying to coherently present such a scenario. Would it be effective if such groups did that? Perhaps so. But before we ask that question, we have to ask a more relevant one: who among them is going to do that? After all, none of them have, to my knowledge. Even the more ridiculous animal rights activists (who on occasion have said that they'd rather see humans killed than animals) and the more ridiculous Deep Ecology maniacs (who have said, on occasion, that AIDS is a blessing in disguise, because it might depopulate the Earth) have apparently never felt that blowing themselves up and taking casualties in the process has been worth the sacrifice -- of their own lives, the lives of others, and the moral standing of their movements. Likewise the Native American movements, who have resorted to armed force at times (as in the heyday of AIM in the Sixties) never resorted to suicide bomber terrorism. When an Inuit blows himself up in a Macdonalds in Calgary, you might start to have a case -- but it would depend on whether the tactic was successful.

Would it "work" if they did? Maybe. But it's irrelevant. After all, where has it happened? Pape addresses an ongoing reality. You're saying you're right on the strength of what is, on the face of it, an extreme hypothetical.

And what Pape sees is something important: Territory is different. We have no shortage of suicide bombing in the name of territorial claims to real or imagined "homelands". We have vanishingly little suicide bomber terrorism related to any other sort of claim. Eric Hoffer, describing the True Believer mindset, says that the breeding ground of extremist mass movements is found in a large, concentrated body of folk who have come to believe that some pernicious force (sometimes within their own societies but more usually external) is at fault for wasting the potential of their lives and those of their children and grandchildren. While suicide bomber terrorists can't necessarily be counted as members of a mass movement per se, they seem clearly motivated by various mass movement ideals, and apparently blow themselves up out of sympathy with masses they see as oppressed, and out of outrage against those they see as oppressors. Pape's contribution was to show how almost all suicide bomber terrorism is related not only to ideologies, but to opposition to the claims of liberal democracies on territory identified as a homeland by mass movements who feel that they are being denied rightful sovereignty over that territory. As he points out, it matters little what the ideological pretext is -- it might be a universalist political tendency, such as Marxism, or a confessional one like Islamism, or it might be purely nationalistic. What matters is the populated turf and the resentment over external control of it.

Why would (1) territorial disputes with (2) liberal democracies be the key ingredients? I think it's because a dispersed mass is not a mass -- the resentment can't be true, self-reinforcing mass resentment -- and because police states are too well policed to be vulnerable targets. Liberal democracies are far more vulnerable than police states to terror attacks -- they feature freedom of movement, privacy rights, limits on detention without trial, limits on the use of torture, all of which give a would-be terror bombing conspiracy much more scope for operation. After all, the Chechen desire for independence long predates the breakup of the Soviet Union. But you didn't have Chechens striking in the heart of Moscow until a general loosening of society and a general liberalization made it possible.

Mark, if in fact it's your own skin you're worried about, you might take heart from Pape's analysis of the situation. When was the last time you worried about getting blown up by Tamil Tiger suicide bomber terrorists, currently the leading threat to the lives of innocents from this tactic? I can safely assert that this fear has never crossed your mind. Why don't you fear a Tamil Tiger attack? Because they don't see your government as a big part of their supposed problem. However, people throughout the Mideast do see your government as part of their problem.

Your most rational skin-saving position could very well be based on Pape's logic, if not on his foreign policy conclusion -- the U.S. could work toward having no stake whatsoever in the Middle East. It could cut Israel loose, get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, stop giving foreign aid to Egypt, and most important, stop importing oil from the region. Those aid cutoffs would perhaps be morally reprehensible (Totten would certainly agree), and ending those Mideast oil imports might be utterly impractical (I'm not so sure about that), but if Looking Out for His Own Skin is Mark Poling's major concern, if Mark Poling assesses the likelihood of getting incinerated in a suicide bombing attack on American soil as being dramatically greater than dying in a rollover accident in a friend's SUV (don't make me laugh), then Pape supplies a very useful analysis for framing a foreign policy that could, if enacted, save Mark Poling's precious skin from being shredded and blown all over the street by some Islamofascist wingnut in an explosive vest.

Some of us happen to have a different bottom line.

Posted by: Mindless Moron at August 15, 2005 09:13 AM

MM -

Another reason we invaded Iraq - Geography. The biggest/most immediate problems in the ME post-9/11 & pre-Iraq were Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Here's a question: which of the four problems named above is the only one that borders on the other three?

Posted by: Ben at August 15, 2005 09:13 AM

MM - Pape's thesis sees suicide bombers as an unstoppable weapon, and his advice is to run away!

We've seen the myth of the unstoppable weapon before. From the Belmont Club
In the 1930s the bomber airplane took the place of the U-boat as the unstoppable weapon in the public's imagination. Fired by the concepts of Italian airpower theorist Giulio Douhet, many interwar policymakers believed that bomber aircraft alone could bring a nation to its knees. The destructive capacity ascribed to the biplane bombers of the day approached that later attributed to nuclear weapons during the Cold War and so terrified politicians that it fueled the policy of appeasement. According to Wikipedia:

The calculations which were performed on the number of dead to the weight of bombs dropped would have a profound effect on the attitudes of the British authorities and population in the interwar years, because as bombers became larger it was fully expected that deaths from aerial bombardment would approach those anticipated in the Cold War from the use of nuclear weapons. The fear of aerial attack on such a scale was one of the fundamental driving forces of British appeasement in the 1930s.

Stanley Baldwin told the House of Commons in words calculated to convey the futility of war that "the bomber will always get through. The only defense is in offense, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves." From there, as with those who ascribe the same irresistibility to the suicide bomber, it was natural to turn to appeasement. And that was what Baldwin did.

Psychologists call men like Pape 'hysterics' and history calls them losers. Appeasement is the worst response to the myth of the unstoppable weapon.

Posted by: mary at August 15, 2005 09:45 AM

Mark Poling,
THere is also a huge amount of oil in the oil shale on the western slope of the Rockies. I would guess that that is being seriously considered again (as it was in the late-70's early-80's) if it looks like oil prices will remain as high as they are.

Posted by: exhelodrvr at August 15, 2005 09:53 AM

Mr. Moron, I'd just like to point out that (a) my original statement that you took umbrage with was that Pape's logic could be generalized (which you have yet to refute) and (b) that if we as a country want to do something to confront terror and oppression, it makes sense to do so in a way that makes our citizens safer in the process.

You don't find my reasons for wanting to make oppressed people safer from terror to be pure enough? Well, my preferred course of action might actually produce positive change for the oppressed, while yours seem most likely to leave those people oppressed (and of musn't discount the feeling of moral superiority). Which one is less moral, from a practical standpoint?

Pape supplies a very useful analysis for framing a foreign policy that could, if enacted, save Mark Poling's precious skin from being shredded and blown all over the street by some Islamofascist wingnut in an explosive vest.

That will teach me for trying to use humor with a certain time of earnest pseudo-intellectual. (Ten points to all who get the "precious torso" reference, BTW.)

My point was, rewarding any behavior is a good way of promoting said behavior; therefore, if we liberal democracies do in fact "frame foreign policy" based on Pape's analysis, we're going to find ourselves in full retreat from any group crazy enough to find suicide bombers.

I and my precious torso happen to think that's a bad idea. Especially since said torso lives in New York and flies a lot, including trips to the Middle East.

(BTW, at least in Kuwait "my government" isn't seen as part of the problem. For them, "my government" turned out to be very much the solution. Go figure.)

Posted by: Mark Poling at August 15, 2005 11:07 AM

Mindless Moron – what an odd view you seem to be arguing. To tell the truth I’m not completely sure where you’re coming from overall so I will merely try to address some of your statements that don’t make any sense to me. .

“Pape doesn't say that the Tamil Tigers will suddenly stop resorting to suicide terrorism if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq. Nor will the Chechen rebels desist.”

No but I assume he would claim that if Russia gets out of Chechnya and if the Tamil Tigers get what they want then those suicide bombers will stop. But what does that have to do with us? I don’t think Michael was claiming that all worldwide suicide bombing would stop if we got out of Iraq. Where did you get that idea?

“Pape merely points out that military occupation of Iraq is pouring gasoline on the terrorist flames there. And who can argue with that? Nobody, at this point.”

Of course the implication is that if we get out of Iraq the suicide bombers might stop. (And why the focus on suicide bombers anyway? Substitute plain old homicide bombers for “suicide bombers”. We couldn’t give a crap if they blow themselves up. It’s not their suicide we care about – it’s their homicide.) So take suicide out of the equation and the conclusion is that if we get out of Iraq they will stop trying to kill us in Iraq! Well yes. But that isn’t the issue that Michael is addressing. He is addressing the issue of whether the Islamofascist war against the west is caused by, and hence will cease, if we get out of Iraq. Obviously it is not so caused and will not so cease – if we get out of Iraq. That is the point of saying “It is not about us”. Meaning – our “occupation” of Iraq is not the cause of the Islamofascist war against the west, or the cause of the Islamofascist war against fellow Muslims. Of course we can get out of Iraq and that may stop the immediate attacks against us in Iraq, but it will certainly not stop the attacks against us in the west, nor stop the jihadist attacks against the Iraqis themselves.

“... no, after bashing Pape as full of "nonsense", he elects instead to talk about something entirely different. He changes the subject. He takes a page from the Bush administration -- that it's no longer "The War on Terror" but rather the New Coke: "The Campaign against Extremist Violence."”

Where is Michael defending that term? I think we all recognize that that is a euphemism – it’s a way of getting away from the silly idea that we are at war with a method (terrorism) and trying to inch towards the fact that we are war with an ideology – which happens to involve Islam but the reasons that Bush does not want to say that are rather obvious. But you shouldn’t take Bush’s new slogan literally and assume then that we are as concerned about the Tamil Tigers as we are about radical Muslims cause we’re not. Tamil Tigers aren’t trying to kill us. Radical Muslims are. You’re actually supposed to read between the lines.

“Except that this campaign seems largely, and curiously, limited to an exceptionally oil-rich country….But if DO we have a moral imperative to deploy military force against violent extremists, why aren't our troops wading into Sri Lanka, to combat those crazed Marxist Tamils? Why this single-minded focus on Islamofascism?”

First of all – what is wrong with enlightened self-interest? God knows there are already enough detractors screaming about the fact that we didn’t have sufficient self-interest in going into Iraq, claiming that Iraq wasn’t enough of a threat to justify the death of our soldiers. And now you want to sell the idea that our soldiers’ deaths would be justified in Sri Lanka, which represents no threat to us whatsoever?

“It's not totalitarians we have to fear, if I understand this line of argument correctly, but rather just those Islamofascist totalitarians. Anybody else who plays ball with us is OK, I guess.”

Well yes. I suppose the world will always be filled with totalitarians and assholes. What the hell is wrong with directing our attention to those totalitarians and assholes who just so happen have US on THEIR immediate shitlist?

“In the case of 9/11, the territorial purpose of the attack was really pretty obvious: it put the U.S. on notice that the days were numbered for its Islamist extremist proxies on the Arabian peninsula, the Saudi royal family, soon to be replaced by a different sort of Islamic extremism.”

So al Queda wants to replace the Saud’s with different extremist Islamists (namely themselves) and so they kill us. And so the obvious solution is to let al Quaeda take over Saudi Arabia and then al Quaeda would simply leave us and the rest of the west alone? Am I following your logic here? We should let them have the really big thing they want, which is control of Saudi Arabia (and Iraq too presumably) – i.e. control of the Middle East’s oil supplies. I see. Let al Queda take control of the ME oil so then they will leave us alone. Hmmm…let me think on that a moment. It is an interesting solution to our dilemma you propose. Hmmm…scratching my head here….

You reckon they would sell us any oil?? Or do you think they might just have in mind holding the entire world hostage to oil? And if they did the latter, why do you think they would want to do that when they would have a commodity that people all over the world would be willing to pay big bucks for? Yet I kind of suspect that they would withhold the oil. It’s just a vague suspicion though mind you. I really don’t know it for a fact.

You do raise an interesting point though when you say: “However, if you see their goal as simply conquest of the West, our destruction, please help me out in aligning my perceptions. Please tell me where I've gone wrong”

Well – it’s a distinct possibility that that is their goal given their actual rhetoric which largely consists of quotes from Islamic holy texts. Holding the west hostage to oil would certainly be an excellent way to destroy our economies and pave the way for the Islamic jihadic conquest of the west – which is actually already going pretty darned well, even considering how powerful the west is at present. Nevertheless, the general tone of your argument suggests that you find the west’s current state of dependence on oil to be immoral in a sense and so perhaps you wouldn’t find anything objectionable in AQ’s goals to seize control of the ME’s oil supplies in order to destroy our economy. You make a good point in suggesting that “A policy of independence from foreign oil sold by dictatorial petro-states (to give just one example) isn't one that can be thwarted by suicide bomber terrorism -- or if it is, I'd like you to explain to me just how.”

You might have a point that we could completely relinquish control of the ME oil to al Queda if we were completely energy independent, although it does raise the interesting moral question of what would happen to the millions of people in the ME if the west had absolutely no use for their oil anymore. Maybe they could just drive around in the desert a lot and enjoy the scenery or something.

Of course, we’re not independent of oil. But I still assume you wouldn’t have a problem with al Queda taking over the ME oil supply and cutting us off anyway. We’d probably have it coming. And, as you point out, our allowing it to happen would certainly demonstrate our moral superiority – being above such petty and immoral concerns. OK. I can sort of see that. Just – one little thought. Do you think that maybe if our economy collapsed it might have any impact anywhere else in the world? Some of those 3rd world developing economies for instance? I’m just sort of wondering about that little side effect of your proposal, from a moral point of view and all.

“If we're going to solve any problem on the basis of the moral imperatives to which Totten apparently hews, why not solve the problems that pose those "most immediate threat" to innocent victims? Not to put too fine a point on it, but why wasn't our 9/11 response (post-Afghanistan invasion, anyway) primarily to put U.S. troops into Darfur? Or did you mean "most immediate threat" to our oil supplies?”

Well Mindless Moron. Good point. You’ve given me alot to think about. I can sort of appreciate your logic that we should send our troops toute suite into Darfur , while letting al Queda assume control of the Middle east oil supplies. I’m sure they don’t really mean us or anyone else in the world any harm. They're probably just afflicted with a slight case of harmless nostalgia for the 7th century. And you know – it would feel really really good to take the moral high ground just for once….

Posted by: Caroline at August 15, 2005 04:06 PM

Thank god you're not a detective investigating murder, you'd never catch the murderers. Your basic belief about the murderer would be, 'they are evil bad bad' and there is nothing else that explains motives.

Posted by: ryoiko at August 15, 2005 06:04 PM

ryoiko: "Your basic belief about the murderer would be, 'they are evil bad bad' and there is nothing else that explains motives."

From MJT's article: "They not only want to see Western countries withdraw from Muslim lands. They want to Islamicize Europe and turn the West (along with the rest of the world) into a global Islamist theocracy."

There's your motive ryoiko. In fact, its the explanation the jihadists themselves give. If a man said that he killed his wife for the insurance policy would it be reasonable to accept him at his word and then make a judgement about whether his motives were good or bad, or is it necessary for us to first have a thorough understanding of his childhood traumas before passing judgement?

Posted by: Caroline at August 15, 2005 07:01 PM

Caroline -- I'm sure you're finding yourself very amusing, but let me ask you this: of all the lengthy speculation you do about my assumptions and my conclusions, which ones are you absolutely sure must follow automatically from what I've written?

Just to illustrate where you go wrong:

"I can sort of appreciate your logic that we should send our troops toute suite into Darfur , while letting al Queda assume control of the Middle east oil supplies."

I didn't say that we should send our troops into Darfur -- I said that if Totten's moral imperatives were guiding U.S. foreign policy about Islamofascism, we would have invaded Sudan (rather than, say, a secular Ba'ath nation with "links" to al Qaeda that were evanescent at best). I'm flattered to hear you say that you "sort of appreciate" my logic, but not very much, considering that you leave out major chunks of it, like the parts that are hypotheses, and the parts that are inferences. Maybe you need a refresher course in the subject?

Posted by: Mindless Moron at August 16, 2005 02:41 AM

MM: "I'm sure you're finding yourself very amusing"

No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I would very much like to hang around this morning and try to pass your logic challenge but unfortunately have to head off to work now. I would like to suggest that you change your moniker though. It's demeaning. It's rather unpleasant to have to address someone as 'Mindless Moron'.

Posted by: Caroline at August 16, 2005 05:57 AM

odd, they want to islamisize Europe, yet the primary victims of terror have been the americans. interesting 'theory' you have there.

Posted by: ryoiko at August 16, 2005 12:05 PM

Very good column Michael.
You are right. It is not only about us here in the West. I really worry about how much of this we are not seeing.
For instance, struggles like the Muslim separatist movement in Thailand (a country where I lived for 10 years) have been going on for a very long time.
Keep in mind, though, the problems in the south of Thailand are far worse today than they had been in the past when separatists engaged, at most, in low-level attacks, burning schools, blocking railway tracks and occasionally setting off bombs. Most of these incidents were provocative rather than deadly.
And without exception, all of the incidents were done by a small group of militants among the Thai Muslim population who were agitating for the right to govern their own southern state, those bordering the northern territories of Malaysia.
To achieve their goals, these gangs would harass the local non-Muslim populations hoping to drive them to the Buddhist north. But as long as their numbers remained small these gangs weren't seen as much of a threat to Thailand. More of a nuisance.
But things changed. The cumulative effects of southern poverty and hopelessness, ethnocentrism, the 9-11 attacks, U.S. counter strikes on Afghanistan and especially Iraq (remember Thailand was a coalition member) and an increasingly authoritarian government in Bangkok, rendered the southern problem unmanageable.
Thailand's prime minister, who had earlier characterized problems in the south as a result of poverty, followed the lead of Western allies by declaring all southern Thai separatists to be foreign-sponsored terrorists.
Troops poured into the south and a bloody crackdown ensued. And of course the violence escalated.
In 2004, the Thai military responded to a coordinated attack on police stations by a lightly armed group of Muslim teenagers by cornering the youths in a southern mosque. When the teens refused to surrender, security forces quickly stormed the mosque, shooting dead all of the youths inside. More 110 attackers died that day in what many observers saw as an avoidable tragedy. Think Waco.
Human rights organizations, who had been tracking the Thai government's extrajudicial killing of as many as 5,000 drug dealers during Thailand's brutal "War on Drugs" campaign in 2003, cried foul.
And predictably, the south of Thailand blew up. Maybe for good.
My point in all of this is that Thailand's Muslim problem largely followed its own path. Its leaders had different objectives to the ones that you have stated in your article here. They weren't looking to form a giant Islamic state, but they did want to break away from Thailand.
Also it is doubtful that the "them" you refer to, meaning Al Qaeda-style Islamofacists, existed in any significant numbers in Thailand prior to "The War on Terror". If they did, it's my guess that if they did so only in small bands who were treated like those too violent outcasts in the West, the neo-Nazis in America and Europe.
I’ve heard of the group called Jamaah Islamiya, which prior to this global struggle seem to have had little traction outside of its tiny base in Indonesia. Its fantasies of an Islamic superstate in Southeast Asia sound like a religious nerd's wet dream … unless its leaders could land several million recruits. Even now it can’t really be more than some distant fantasy like the Taliban's Pure Islamic State (tell it to the opium growers) in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda's so-called Caliphate.
You see, I believe that we invest power in these groups by seeing them as one giant coalition rather than looking for ideological seams between them that we can exploit ... just like we did during the cold war when the West saw falling dominoes in Southeast Asia.
It's a little reported fact that when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam all the members of the so-called "Red Horde" quickly attacked each other, with Vietnam "liberating" Cambodia from the Chinese-aligned Khmer Rouge and China invading Soviet-friendly Vietnam as part of it's own little cold war.
Shouldn't we have studied the differences between these groups closer, just as we should be studying the different Islamic groups, looking to drive wedges between them?

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James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


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Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn