Iraq and Afghanistan Recommendations


I can remember reading a couple of years ago an argument that the reason George W. Bush followed the recommendations of the so-called neoconservatives–in Afghanistan as well as Iraq–is that the neoconservatives had an analysis of and a plan of action for dealing with Islamofascist terrorists and their state sponsors and aiders and abettors; and that no one else did.

In contrast, on the left we heard after September 11 some anguished voices asking, "Why do they hate us?" But many on the left immediately recognized that what they hated us for was our toleration and freedoms–the very things those on the left like most about our society. Shall we order women to wear veils and order the death by stoning of homosexuals in order to appease the perpetrators of September 11? Obviously not.

As for the foreign policy realists, their recommendations had always been to accommodate Arab governments in the Middle East and to take seriously their pleas that we force the Israelis to make concessions to the Palestinians. The problem is that some governments in the Middle East had been at least encouraging Islamofascism, and that Bill Clinton less than 12 months before September 11 had pretty well exhausted the possibilities of pressuring the Israelis, without success. Now the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group has recommended the same thing but has not met with great cheers: It just seems implausible that Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq are going to quit killing each other because we pressure the Israelis to give up the West Bank to a bunch of people who are (as the Palestinians in Gaza are proving) determined to exterminate them. Another dead end.

So what do we do now in Iraq? Senator Joseph Lieberman, often identified with neoconservatives on this issue, makes the case in today's Washington Post for more troops in Iraq. He cites things he observed on his own recent trip to the Middle East and takes a look at the likely or possible consequences of following his recommendations or taking other courses. In contrast, this piece by Senator Barack Obama, looks more to the now distant past, citing his own strong opposition (as an Illinois state Senator) to the invasion in 2002. Obama says we are "faced with a quagmire to which there are no good answers," cites military advice against a surge of troops, and argues that a surge will only delay needed efforts by Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds "to forge a lasting peace." The Iraqis must "step up," in his view, though he doesn't express much in the way of confidence that this will happen. This is a counsel of something like despair. Lieberman, on the other hand, offers what he characterizes as the possibility–though by no means the certainty–of improvement and victory.

I think his approach is more in line with the American character. There are writers in Europe who argue that the threat of terrorism is just a nuisance. Sure, you get a 9/11 or a London 7/7 attack every so often and a bunch of people die; but your civilization goes on, and the Islamofascists aren't really going to take it over. We put up with a lot of deaths in traffic accidents and we can put up with a lot of deaths in terrorist attacks. So the argument goes. I think what it misses is that the terrorists may be able to get their hands on weapons that could inflict vastly more destruction than we saw on 9/11 or 7/7. And that any attempts at appeasing them–like the multicultural policies Britain and some European countries have been following–tend to take away our freedoms. Figuring out how to fight back and prevail is not easy and there will be errors along the way (as there have been in all our wars, and in great abundance). But it's better than sitting back and seeing what is the worst they can do to you.