Saturday, April 05, 2008

The 'Emboldenment Effect'.

"Researchers at Harvard say that publicly voiced doubts about the U.S. occupation of Iraq have a measurable 'emboldenment effect' on insurgents there,..."

Is anybody surprised by this?

Criticising the conduct of a war is a legitimate and sometimes useful exercise. Senator Harry Truman of Missouri came to national prominence complaining about waste during the conduct of the Second World War. Obviously one of the strengths of western democracies is our talent for self criticism and our ability to learn from it. Truman was trying to help his country fight the war to a successful conclusion. Similarly, some of the criticism of the administration's conduct of the war in Iraq has been aimed at helping us win. Most however has not. The obsessive focus by many on the left with the occasional failings of our soldiers, their officers and most frequently our Commander in Chief have been aimed, not at improving our conduct of the war but at losing it.

This is shameful. Whether we like it or not, we are locked in an existential battle with Fundamentalist Islam. Retreat from our current battlefields will not end that struggle. The demands of our opponents is nothing less than our unconditional surrender. To loose this battle would frankly mean the end of secularism, reason, women's rights, the separation of church and state, much of our understanding of science, democracy, the western idea of progress and pretty much everything else we tell ourselves we hold dear.

Unlike some (most notably Samuel Huntington), I do not think this struggle is a conflict between Islam and the west. Rather I believe it is a struggle between liberty and authoritarianism with each camp having members throughout the world. How else can the apparent alliance between the the secular, radical left and militant Islamists be explained? Americans (well most Americans) hold a firm belief in the universal appeal of western inventions like liberty, democracy, female emancipation, and human rights. Others argue that those ideas are purely western constructs and inappropriate in non-western societies. This racist bit of cant has surprisingly wide currency among western elites. That the people of the unfree world routinely risk life and limb to change their societies or in the alternative flee to the west makes no impact on those whose brains have been addled by overexposure to the writings of Gramsci, Chomsky, Said and countless others.

It's a time for choosing. On the one hand we have pluralism , tolerance, and freedom; on the other we have a twisted ideology of hate that would have sickened Muslims in the 12th century. Choose wisely.


Anonymous said...


Do you really see our problems with radical islamists as an "existential" problem? While nasty, violent and troubling, I do not see it as a major long term threat. At least not to our basic way of life, values etc... It seems to me, that much of the rhetoric surronding radical islam is very similar to the anti communist stuff during the cold war. While communism was troubling and threatening in many ways, I do not think that it ever posed a direct threat to our way of life (I mean this in an ideological sense, not physical destruction, which in itself was not as likely as people thought from what has been found out about the Soviet arsenal) I am not saying that our actions in the cold war were not necesary, or that we did not have anything to do with the downfall of the Soviets, but that the actual threat to the Western system of values was no where near what it was made out to be. (I remember reading a book with a theme along these lines, The Devil we Knew by HW Brands)

I feel the same way about the current problems we are having with fundamentalists. The West has been worried about Islam on and off for over a thousand years. What is it that makes the current threat any greater than is has been in the past.

Could fundamentalist terrorists cause horrific harm to people in the West, even large numbers of people. I would say yes. But a threat to our very existance and our collective values. I think that is giving them too much credit.

At the beging of the Civil War, Lincoln told Sherman that we would "manage to keep house" or something along those lines. Despite all of the bloodshed and defeats, Lincoln ended up being right.

Maybe it is a flawed confidence in western society and the strengths of our values and systems, but I some how see us managing to "keep house" when it comes to the threat posed by radical Islam.


PS I am also reminded of something you said to me in an email about climate change. It was to the effect that rarely is the worst case or catasrophic senario the correct one. I think that theat sentiment applies here as well.

Mike Stajduhar said...

You make some fine points but I think you miss mine. We ARE in a very long struggle with militant Islam. In some ways this dates to the foundation of Islam itself which really has no concept of accommodation with the outside world. There is the house of Islam and the house of War. Islam plan for the world is universalist (much like communism) in that they seek a world in which all embrace their creed-by force if necessary. That is not to say that Islam has not, from time to time been tolerant of minorities in their midst. Nevertheless the supremacy of Islam and Islamic law must be absolute. All of the history of Islam can be understood as a quest for that goal.

I am not suggesting we're about to be overrun with armies of Arabs. Rather, I think our institutions and civilization are under a slow corrosive attack by those who want to destroy them. It's not just the battlefield in Basra, it's also the end of co-ed gym at Harvard. It's Muslim cashiers who have announcing they will no longer ring up pork, the cab drivers who refuse carry passengers carrying alcohol, as well as places like Torra Borra.

Shockingly the politically-correct secular left has aided and abetted this process. "What? The gay pride celebration on the quad offends muslim students? I guess we'll have to move it to somewhere less prominent" Regardless of the merits of gay pride celebrations, the more important underlying values of freedom of speech and assembly are compromised in favor of avoiding giving offense to a favored few.

With regard to the treat of communism in the Cold War. In one sense you are quite correct that communism was probably not a treat to western civilization per se, but that's because communism, particularly the Russian flavor was a creation of western civilization. The Soviets took pains to preserve art, the Taliban on the other hand tended to blow it up. The threat posed by communism was not to western civilization, but to liberty, democracy and prosperity. Aside from the the eastern European nations directly enslaved by the Soviets, attempts were made to overthrow the governments of Italy, Greece and virtually every Latin American country at one time or another-to say nothing of what went on in Africa. In most Western Europe and the United States their goal were more modest-focusing on taking over labour unions and civic institutions. Mostly they failed but that wasn't for lack of trying. Labor Unions in particular became vehemently anti-communist (despite their generally leftish views) as a result. In defense of the Soviets I guess I'll concede that the Chinese communists were even worse but that's sort of like saying that Franco and Mussolini weren't too bad compared to Hitler. True as far as it goes but unsatisfying if you're one of their victims.

In any case the aggressive moves by the Soviets during the Cold War were steps toward a goal-that they didn't get close to victory doesnt mean the threat was illusory. It means people took it seriously.