Maybe I’m just too tired right now; it’s been a heckuva week, on many fronts. But when I was pointed to Jim Henley’s Grand Plan, I just lost the capacity for reasonable thought; it was so dumb, such a dorm-room, bong-hit driven idea of how the world ought to be that I almost left it alone. Then I got a link to it from a non-blog person, and realized that I had to Go Back In There and wrestle with it.
Because for many of the folks on my team – the left – this is what foreign policy ought to look like, and in a big way my fear is that this could become something actually thinkable. And I’m not sure if I’m more scared that Trent’s vision of the world or this one will come to pass. Actually, it’s because I believe that this one leads, almost inevitably, to Trent’s.
“A Grand Strategy for the Rest – The Unqualified Offerings Plan, not just for Iraq but for terrorism generally:
1) Stop borrowing trouble
OK, that makes sense. The problem of course is that – as in the oldest known form of drama, tragedy – the trouble we’re paying for was borrowed generations ago. There’s no ‘ollie ollie oxen free'; no Original Position. So as a game-theory concept, it makes lots of sense. As a basis for real-world policy, it makes very little.
2) “Wait” for the people behind the trouble we’ve already borrowed to get old and tired or die off outright.
Right. First Rawls, then Kuhn; a full plate of philosophy’s Greatest Hits. Sadly, the dynamics are little more complex than that. Yes, the changes are large largely generational, but – a big but – the dynamics making the new generation take positions can’t be reset to zero, there are consequences for disengagement, and so there’s little but hope that would lead one to believe that – absent some positive act – the next generations will be happier to coexist than the last.
No, they don’t “hate us because we’re free.” Or put it this way, they may hate us because we’re free, but very, very, very few people can get worked up enough about our freedom to dedicate themselves to ending it – absent concrete American interference in their business. There’s a big difference between hating someone and troubling to cross the world to try to kick their ass.
Well, there are two problems.
The first one is, yes, they do – they do, because they are a part of an expansionist (as are all evangelical) religion that sees a unified worldwide church as is goal, and more important, because one of the strongest strains in that church was raised from stock created here in the West, and defines itself, not only internally through the Quran, but externally, against the West (see Qutb).
The second problem is that even if we tried, we couldn’t cut the ties that are at the boundaries between our cultures. Trade, migration, media…the big three drivers that force their culture into contact with ours – even without the mechanisms of imperialism (stipulating for the moment that imperialism is as powerful as he suggests) force us to deal with each other. Does he somehow think that the Playboy Channel and MTV will somehow stop being watched in Riyadh? And that this itself won’t be a threat to the established order?
And while he doesn’t go so far as to suggest autarky, he seems to forget that in a progressive analysis of trade – the kind engaged in by people who see hegemony and fight it – the terms of trade are always slanted toward the developed world (the West) and the trade itself is thus a part of the problem.
I want to be perfectly clear that this policy does not instantly remove all dangers. The first law of organizations is self-perpetuation. The existing anti-American terrorist organizations, like Al Qaeda, are not going to call off their jihad just because we pull out of Iraq and Saudi Arabia and stop writing blank checks to the Likud. But absent fresh humiliations, fewer and fewer young Muslim men will find the tired old call to yet more jihad worth heeding.
What humiliations, exactly, did he have in mind? Because I think he’s forgetting that OBL is talking about ancient colonial history, and battles in Andalusia and at the gates of Vienna. These folks have a much better sense of history than we do.
“Wait” is in scare quotes because it sounds more passive than the policy I intend. For one thing, I would continue to harry the men and organization behind the September 2001 atrocities to the ends of the earth. “Don’t Tread on Me” is my policy, and that’s what Al Qaeda did. Bite back hard. At the same time, don’t pretend that everyone on earth doesn’t respond to the same impulse – go tromping in the dens of others and they will bite back too. This country’s conservatives of old were smarter about this kind of thing: they didn’t think they were the only conservatives in the world. They didn’t imagine that you could deploy trooin 150-odd countries without provoking a reaction. They wouldn’t imagine that the reaction was noble, but they respected the force of nature that is the essential conservatism of the planet.
How the hell do we do this, given that we’re supposed to leave the Arab countries alone? Sneak in and assassinate them? Use Predators and Hellfires? Does he think that the Arab world won’t freaking notice when these guys suddenly start turning up dead? How does he think the sovereign countries that we’re supposed to be so sensitive to will react when we kidnap or kill their citizens or guests without their consent?
More important, can I get some of what he’s smoking?
For another thing, I believe the American system, as conceived if not always as practiced, is deeply attractive. So let’s be American. Let’s be free, for one thing. Kill the excresences on the Constitution the current administration as brought forth – the PATRIOT Act, the evisceration of habeas corpus, the asserted power to unreviewably revoke citizenship and declare someone an enemy combatant. Let’s trade and travel and welcome visitors to our shores. Let us, in other words, have the faith that we are our own best advertisement. Thence comes your Muslim reformation.
Yes it is, and here for once we’re largely in agreement. We’re not selling what we’ve got, because in no small part, we’re not living it.
“About those visitors. An obvious trend presents itself: young Muslim students who come to the West for a specifically technical education, who become radicalized politically by a poisonous combination of culture shock, homesickness, youthful hormones and – ironically – insularity (isolating themselves among other young Muslim men). America’s university’s are the glory of our educational system. And from what I’ve read, our graduate technical departments depend on a steady stream of foreign students to keep afloat. But I’d make it a requirement of a student visa that recipients take a heavy dose of humanities, especially American studies courses. I’d also have the State Department screen applicants better, though this would probably be of limited use. (I think the salient problem is students who are moderate at home and become radicals here.) Will cramming humanistic education down the throats of engineering students do any good? The college I dropped out of thinks so. MIT always bragged that it had the toughest humanities requirements of any elite school, glossing over the fact that it had to: it’s the only way most of its students would take those courses. I don’t for a moment believe the humanities requirement would convince every foreign student to love the United States. But it will help engage them with American culture in an open, nonviolent way. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to let off steam.
Humanities like the Palestinian Studies courses they teach at Berkeley? Henley doesn’t realize or chooses not to see that it is a strong strain of self-hatred in the West that is reflected and amplified into Islamist hatred of the West. They’ve read Fanon, too. They took our own doubts and anger, planted them in much more fertile soil, and are growing the hate that we are dealing with now.
What about the oil? Buy it, same as we do now. Who’s not going to want to sell it to us? Saddam Hussein himself would have sold us all the oil we could use, absent sanctions. You can’t eat the stuff. It doesn’t even make a good salad dressing.
Right. But as noted, they think we’re screwing them by buying it, and we’re supporting a kleptocracy in so doing.
And let’s not forget that you can manipulate economies with it, and if you’re willing to accea little pain, you can shapolicy by paying brokers and thereby making friends. When you deal in hundreds of billions of dollars a year, a small taste will buy a large number of greedy and corrupeople.
What about Iraq? Bring the major players together in one room – anyone with a constituency. Tell them, “fellas, we’re out of here in time for Christmas. Start talking. You’ve got a chance to make your country something much better than you could have imagined. Or you can turn it into hell on earth. It’ll be your doing one way or another.” Stop paying non-Iraqis to do work Iraqis can do.
Right. You’re on your own kids! Have fun storming the castle!! Declare victory and leave. That’s a good plan. Our failure (of intention, planning, and execution) in Vietnam had significant negative consequences for our foreigh and domestic policies for decades.
Who will defend Iraq against its neighbors? Look at the place now. If you were the neighbors, would you want to bite that off? The real military estimated it would take a half-million US trooto secure the joint. You think Iran or Syria or Turkey dare to even try to scraup that kind of manpower?
What if Iraq becomes a weak state complete with Al Qaeda training camand weapons labs? See scare quotes around “wait” and the part about harrying the people behind the attacks on the US to the ends of the earth, above. If camset uwe pound hell out of them. It’s not like we don’t know how to bomb Iraq.
Hang on. Here we go again with the ‘please pound the hell out of them – but do it while you leave them alone’. I think he has a different meaning for ‘leave them alone’ than I do.
What About Israel and the Palestinians? Pull them in and tell them two things. 1) Israel will be paying its own way from now on. They can have what military equipment they can buy. 2) But we also will not be restraining them from any action they may wish to take to safeguard what they imagine to be their security. If they really want to kill Yasser Arafat, we’re not going to stop them. If they want to nuke Tehran, that’s Tehran’s lookout. Concentrates the mind. But Israel will have to stand on its own two feet, financially and politically. If Israel can’t survive as an independent country without ceaseless American financial aid and political backing, then Israel has failed as a refuge for the Jewish people – it’s simply a different version of the very dependence on powerful patrons that the early Zionists were trying to get beyond. I think Israel can survive, with prudent leadershiIronically, the key to the survival of the Jewish people is actually the diaspora: it’s much harder to exterminate the Jews if they aren’t conveniently gathered in one place.
So the end of Israel is AOK with our friend Jim; after all, the disapora will make sure that Jews survive. Who needs the only functioning pro-Western democracy in the Middle East? Ignoring the moral issues, this announcement is the trigger to the nuclear war scenario Trent seems to anticipate in the post below.
Some have feared that anti-Israeli terror grouwould make the US actually evicting Israel’s Jews by armed force the price of peace. We would refuse, of course, and destroy those grouif they messed with us. See “Don’t Tread on Me,” above.
What about cooperation against international terror? I’m for it. For instance, I favor using American law to interdict fundraising and organizing for Hamas, Lashkar, the Tamil Tigers and the IRA within the United States. “Terrorism” will be strictly defined as war crimes by non-state actors, so say that we’ll suppress fundraising for any armed rebellion – it’s bad international relations juju. For the duration of our Al Qaeda problem, I’d keep bases at Diego Garcia, in Turkey, Oman and Qatar and Afghanistan. I’d be willing to provide American trooto help overmatched foreign governments against anti-American terror grouin their midst, but I’d do due diligence to make sure we weren’t just being suckered into settling someone else’s quarrel for them.
So first off, we’ve just frozen the political sphere, saying we’ll support existing governments against rebels no matter what our interests may be. And we’ll send out trooabroad to die – as long as a) they’re attacking terrorists within countries (who will sit by and let our troooperate freely without military or diplomatic consequence); or b) it’s not in our interest, but some higher calling.
What about NATO? Remember when you were a kid, and you had a really good friend, so you started hanging out together constantly, and staying over at each other’s house all the time and suddenly you realized you were really getting on each other’s nerves? That’s us and continental Europe. And the way Iraq is going, I think there’s a good chance it’s us and Great Britain within one to five years. We all need some quiet time to ourselves, in a politico-military way.
Yes, it’s America First, all over again. Let me go get my Lucky Lindy button…
What about Korea? Something like 50% of the South Korean population lives within artillery range of the North. I don’t recall recommending that settlement pattern, do you? On the theory that South Koreans aren’t stupid, I take it to indicate their true estimate of the danger from the North. South Korea is a rich, powerful country that can afford as much defense as it needs. Nevertheless, North Korea has to be watched carefully, since it is desperately poor and either on the verge of becoming a nuclear power or already one. We tell Kim Jong-Il that if he so much as glances in the direction of anyone remotely associated with Osama bin Laden, including the Pakistani ISI or the “government” of Saudi Arabia, we will make his country look like a jamboree of Osirak reenactors. And if we get the idea that he’s trying to sell a nuke, we will provide him more than one of our own.
The Godfather defense. Right. If my kid catches a cold…I’ll kill you. How do we do this with a high enough standard of proof to satisfy a Congressional hearing after the fact? How do we show that KJI is actually running a sale on tactical nukes? Do we rely on the classified ads?
Note that intelligence is an inexact science; he’s willing to trigger the Seond Korean War if they do what we don’t want them to do, as long as…hell, I’m confused. We’ve had such good luck making deals with KJI in the past, why not do it some more?
That’s more or less the Grand Disengagement at a high level. Like I said, I see it taking a generation for the aftershocks to subside. That is, I’m solving the terror problem in no more time than the “reconstruct the entire Middle East” hawks, for a lot less money, with a lot less ammo and preserving a lot more freedom here. If they hate us because we’re free, they’ll really fucking hate us when I’m done.
Excethat it won’t solve the terror problem, it will make it worse. It will either leave terrorists free to operate with impunity or trigger wars with nations whose soverignty we violate to ‘hammer the bad guys’ as we chase them to the ends of the earth.
What if there’s another catastrophic terror attack? That will really suck. It will be important to summon up the resolve to stay the course
if that happens. Look, there are no guarantees in life. And if we get attacked tomorrow, do you think the uberhawks will tell you that this proves they were wrong all along? No. They’ll say it proves how urgent it is that we reconstruct the entire Middle East and probably Venezuela when we get a chance, and they’ll remind us that it’s going to take a generation. Like I said before, Fine, but then non-interventionism gets a generation too.
And then a third one, and a fourth one? And then we lose patience and nuke the fuckers…and we’ve brought my nightmare to life; we’re genoicidal killers. Because Mr. Henley and his crew want to have clean hands while they live in the world.
It takes time for things to play out. The atrocities of September 11, 2001, were in many ways the culmination of two taste treats that decidedly did not go together – the US buildup of militant Islam against the Soviet Union in the latter days of the Cold War and Phase I and II of the US War Against Iraq. (Now in Phase IV.) Phase III of the Iraq War – the invasion that began in March 2003 – was the sort of hideous foreign policy mistake that a country simply can’t avoid paying for in numerous ways. Pulling out will lead to a loss of prestige and will embolden our enemies. For a time. Dragging things out another year or five will cost even more prestige and foster even more emboldening. But we are not looking at the Apocalypse either. Losing Vietnam cost us prestige and emboldened our enemies. Within five years we were tightly cooperating with one of those enemies (China) against the other, and within 15, the other (the USSR) was no more. We cut and ran and won. The Soviet Union stayed the course in Afghanistan and bled to death.
Aha. It’s our fault. Then again, to many, everything in the world is the fault of the West; kind of like those for whom everything in the world is their parent’s fault.
I’m not inherently opposed to cutting and running, if what’s at stake – as it was in Vietnam – is essentially national prestige. You can reclaim that.
But the interests here are (a) inseparable – we can’t economically (or culturally) ‘disengage’ from the Islamic world; and (b) central to our well-being – it’s not only the oil and the economy, but the fact that while the Vietnamese Communist Party signed up for the internationalization of Communism, we didn’t need to worry about them, it was the USSR and China carrying that ball; Hanoi was happy to just bring Saigon into the fold. It was a nationalist manifestation of an international movement. Islamism isn’t nationalist. It hasn’t, doesn’t, and won’t stop at national borders.
Henley doesn’t see that. And that’s why the notion is stupid.