So I caught up with the blogs last night, after seeing our friend’s short movie (which was better on a big screen!), and see that I’ve triggered a small squall.
On Friday, after the Good News embargo (yes, we have one – I tend to stop non-Good News posts after about 4pm Pacific. And yes, I do get twitchy about it sometimes, but since I think it’s a great idea – even though we don’t emphasize publishing the good news enough – I’m happy to do it), I read Matt’s post on the horrible attack in Baslem, which I’ll reproduce in its entirety here:
… busy as I’ve been with the convention, I haven’t been following the story of the Russian kids held hostage that’s now reached its awful conclusion. Worse, even, than the reality of the crime is the knowledge that things will get worse. The situation, clearly, can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya. At the same time, in the wake of this sort of outrage there will not only be no mood for concessions, but an amply justified fear that such concessions would only encourage further attacks and a further escalation of demands. I don’t see any way out for Russian policymakers nor any particularly good options for US policymakers. Partisanship and complaints about Bush’s handling of counterterrorism aside, this business is a reminder not only of the horrors out there, but also that terrorism is a genuinely difficult problem — I think we’ve been doing many of the wrong things lately, but no one should claim it’s obvious what the right way to proceed is.
Now I think it’s a dumb post, badly thought through and worse written, and I started to write a post that went something like this: “Does Yglesias even read what he writes before he hits ‘post’ anymore?” but the embargo was approaching, I tend to hammer on Yglesias too much anyway – and to be honest, I’m getting tired of it.I also thought this was an important post, because it profoundly misunderstands the issue with terrorist movements worldwide, and that misunderstanding lies at the heart of the policy difference between me and Matthew and his peers. Matt believes that there’s really no difference – to make a broad example – between Gandhi’s National Party and the Sepoy mutineers. They’re just different manifestations of the same political goals, and the way to respond to each would be to understand and deal with those goals.
He’s smart enough to undercut his absolute point (made in “The situation, clearly, can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya.” with what comes next: “At the same time, in the wake of this sort of outrage there will not only be no mood for concessions, but an amply justified fear that such concessions would only encourage further attacks and a further escalation of demands. I don’t see any way out for Russian policymakers nor any particularly good options for US policymakers.”
Now “Wow, we’re screwed.” is certainly one response to these issues, and it’s one that’s certainly appropriate to a personal website like the ones Matthew and I keep. But one of Matthew’s core points – one that believes that terror can only be resolved by granting political concessions to terrormasters is so wrong in my view that I thought it should get some attention.
So I forwarded the entire post to a few people, with the followon comment of
“…can only be resolved by Russian concessions on the underlying political issue in Chechnya.”
1. We may not condone their killings – if there were any at all -, but we have to look for the root causes for a better understanding of their behavior. Were they inconvenienced in practicing their religion? Delays during rush hour in Chechnya? Election losses? Only if we know exactly what drove these young men and women to their somewhat regrettable actions can we make a final judgment.
2. Avoid the term “terrorists” for the hostage takers by all means. They have families with mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and it would be a great disservice for them to have their relatives labeled with derogative terms.
3. The hostage takers have full rights for proper legal procedure. They should be assigned the best lawyers available, preferably from France or Germany. Both countries have a proud tradition of setting proven terrorists free, either as a result of faulty court hearings or by giving in to blackmail.
4. It must be investigated in full detail if Putin is behind the hostage taking. He has every interest in the world to appear as a hardliner, and he desperately needed another victory over Chechnyan freedom fighters. While this is only a non-confirmed hypothesis so far, we have not heard any rejection of it from official Russian government sources – which is quite telling in itself, of course.
5. There can be no – repeat: NO – capital punishment for the hostage takers. Capital punishment is a cruel and inhuman act that violates the human rights of the accused.
6. We request that an internationally reputable organization such as the Red Cross be permitted to monitor conditions and report cases of abuse and torture in the prison where the hostage takers are held.
7. Free flow of information between the imprisoned hostage takers and their peers from Al Qaida must be permitted at all times. Access to telecommunications and the internet must be guaranteed.
8. The search for a political solution of the conflict is imperative. Meetings between representatives of the Russian government and the hostage takers, under the supervision of the United Nations, are the only way out of the crisis. The cycle of violence has got to stop!
Matthew took offense at Glenn’s link, and replied somewhat colorfully:
Fuck you, Glenn. The entire item I wrote was one goddamn paragraph long would it have killed you to accurately reproduce what I wrote?
UPDATE: Via e-mail:
Misquote you? I cut and pasted. And it seemed like what you meant, judging by the post and your comments. If it’s not what you meant, I’ll happily mention that — but it was Armed Liberal who sent me the link, and *he* certainly read it that way, too.
I’ll reproduce the post in question, this time with italics for added emphasis:
[snipped – you read it above]
What I was saying, in case this is for some reason genuinely unclear, is that to get Chechens to stop making war on Russia requires Russia to do something to resolve the underlying grievance — Russia’s mistreatment of Chechnya. At the same time, taking steps to resolve the underlying grievance would, under the circumstances, be just the sort of appeasement that would invite further attacks. Therefore, it’s not clear what the Russian government can or should do in order to prevent future massacres like this.
Yeah, Matthew, what you were saying was unclear – both times. And big points for responding with “you’re a moron” instead of “I should have been clearer.” Way to take responsibility Matthew!!
Now let me put Matthew aside (literally; I’m going to have to find a new liberal for the blogroll, because I’m done with him. Suggestion in comments, please) and go to the core point that he’s missing.
Geopolitical conflicts are not new. Religious and ethnic groups and nations have fought for control of populations, territory, and resources for quite a long time.
The Chechens mounted an army against the Russian Federation; they lost. They are engaging in guerilla war (which I’ll define as ‘terrorist tactics’ like fighting in civilian clothes, suicide and other bombing, etc. – targeted with some precision at the military of one’s opponents). And they are engaging in terrorism against the civilian population of the Russian Federation, as we saw yesterday.
I would support negotiating a political settlement with any country that was overtly at war with us, given that such a settlement was reasonably in our interest. I would not even object to a political settlement with a country that engaged in guerilla warfare against our forces.
But I am – violently – opposed to negotiating political settlements with groups that practice terrorism as a core tactic (note that in conflicts, all sides typically do some things that could be classified as ‘terroristic’) – because there is fundamentally no one home to negotiate with.
Like the legendary pirates who made their crews eat human flesh so that they could never again live in ‘civilized’ society, groups that adopt terror as the core tactic of their struggle cross a line which makes it impossible for them to live among us as members of the world ‘society of civil societies’.
Note that I am not calling for the death or imprisonment of all the individuals who are part of those groups.
But the groups themselves must, I believe, be reconstituted.
I say this because I believe that there is a simple proposition that we should keep in mind:
If terrorism is about ‘liberation’ – about birthing new states, like Chechnya or Palestine, or about ‘freeing’ states like Iraq – we have to ask ourselves what kind of states will be born or won through that process.
Take Mandela, Gandhi, Havel – the tools they used to free their people resulted in states that could act like states ready to participate in the world of civilized society.
What kind of states would be born if they were led by bin Laden, Arafat or the terror masters of Chechnya? Do we want to grant statehood or political power to people whose vision is so clouded in rage and blood?