I won’t argue with Wretchard.
I don’t generally argue with Wretchard, because a close reading of any Belmont Club post shows that Wretchard is almost always right. So anything I say here will be mainly a shift in emphasis.
In his post on Saturday, Wretchard compared the period between 9-11 and the Mohammed Cartoon Crisis with the “Phoney War”, the period between Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September of 1939 and the onset of actual warfare in May of the following year. The appeasement that led up to the war was a strategic calculation by the West, designed to push Hitler eastward and cause the two great dictators to destroy each other. The failure of this French and British strategy left the West relatively undefended, and brought on the great conflagration that followed.
It is an old and familiar story which bears repeating because it illustrates how far leaders can be trapped by webs of their own making. Like the politicians of the 1930s the leaders of the West after September 11 each made their own calculation. In America’s case it took the shape of thinking that it could make common cause with the most enlightened elements of Islamic civilization against fundamentalist extremists who were vying for Islam’s soul. The strategy for achieving this goal, though reviled as simplistic, was anything but: America would not pick a fight with Islam itself. Rather it would make itself Islam’s friend, ally with its most moderate elements, overthrow its worst oppressors and enlist the aid of the Muslim everyman against the Osama Bin Ladens of the world. In practice it would build a web of relationships with intelligence services, soldiers, intellectuals and politicians in Islamic countries who would provide the information and in cases the manpower to hunt down fundamentalist villains. The War on Terror would be to wars what Smart Bombs were to bombs. It would destroy the miscreants while leaving the surrounding structure untouched. It may be that Europe’s calculation was more cynical. But it was equally sophisticated. It would pursue a policy of Appeasement which like Chamberlain’s was calculated to drive one nuisance against another, pitting America against Islamic fundamentalism in the hopes that one would wear the other out. And the key to Europe’s establishing its bona fides with Islamic countries was to make nice at every opportunity; avoid giving offense; be lavish with aid; open to immigration and obstructive to America at every turn. Like the appeasers of the 1930s it paid for its diplomatic strategy by systematically weakening itself.
The crisis over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed has ironically struck the weakest point of both strategies. At present the crisis is not a danger to the grand strategies of either. But as the days pass the danger grows that it may get out of hand; that some Islamic cell may detonate a bomb in Europe or some skinhead burn a mosque. And then the consequences may incalculable. For America an open antipathy between the West and Islam would destroy its carefully crafted attempt to ally itself with the Muslim street. It would place Washington in the intolerable position of having to choose between its old European allies and its newfound friends in the Middle East and Central Asia. For Europe the consequences would be no less disastrous because in following the policy of Appeasement its leaders have risked falling so far behind their publics that they now find themselves unable to steer the course of popular events. Europe is angry and Chirac, like Chamberlain after the Sudeten crisis, is too far behind the curve of popular opinion to seize its leadership. Chamberlain understood it and brought Churchill into his cabinet to bolster his credentials when he himself had none.
If you read closely, you’ll notice that Wretchard describes the American strategy, but he does not venture an opinion on the wisdom of it. So I’ll go out on a limb and venture one myself.
The American strategy – to make alliances with “moderate” Islamic states and organizations against the extremist ones – was an absolute necessity at the start of this war. Even if our leaders were willing to take action over the objections of all the other nations of the West, our operations would have been impaired by our lack of actionable intelligence. With almost no speakers of Arabic or Pashtun in our intelligence stable, the two landmark victories in Afghanistan in Iraq would have taken years longer, and cost many more American lives. Thus it was necessary to co-opt the locals in the initial phase of the “Long War”.
But we may have already reached the point of diminishing returns. People in Iraq and Afghanistan, egged on by their religious leaders, are rioting against freedom of speech in Denmark. Is it really possible to make common cause with these countries for any length of time?
We can hope that the democratic institutions we have planted there will take root and grow, and that someday, maybe in our great-grandchildren’s time, Iraq and Afghanistan may join the civilized world.
But in the meantime, it behooves us to consider the people we’re dealing with. Iran, sandwiched between Iraq and Afghanistan, is undeterred by the presence of the American military on two of its borders. Its leader is a madman acting under the mandate of Allah, charged by the Divine to foment violence and increase chaos on this earth so as to immanentize the eschaton.
Hitler was a madman, too, but his deranged appetite longed for satisfaction in this world, not the next. Ahmadinejad is of a different breed – when our enemy cannot be counted on to act rationally in his own interests, the conflict we face is indeed apocalyptic.
But never mind our enemies – what about our allies?
Until the Danish cartoons created the current crisis, it was not clear how closely the religious ideology of the “moderates” matched that of the “extremists”. Now the glass has lost some of its darkness. The “moderates” have taken to the streets to proclaim their duties against the defamers of Islam, no matter their location. If these are our friends…
All right then, forget the Arab street. What about its palaces? When we look to our “friends” the Saudis, we find one of the most repressive and dictatorial regimes on the face of this Earth.
And can it truly be said of King Abdullah that “he may be a thug, but at least he’s our thug”? Like the late Yasser Arafat, the king has one thing to say in English when he talks to the Western press and holds hands with our President, and another in Arabic when he’s at home making nice with his imams and keeping the women down. Of how much utility is this kind of “friendship”?
And then there are the Palestinian “moderates” with whom Secretary Rice is so avid to engage in the “dialogue of peace”. How many of them can you find? And when you do, how many of those will survive the first six months of a Hamas government?
It’s time to assess realistically the strategic calculation of our current policies.
Our enemies may be comparable to Hitler, but then our allies would have to be compared with Stalin. Communism was an insane ideology, and Stalin was ruthless, cruel, calculating, and evil, but his eye was always for the main chance.
The Millennium announced by the Communists was to be realized right here in this world, here in the “old chaos of the sun”. When it came down to it, the Soviet leader, the Soviet soldier, and the Soviet peasant all wanted to live.
I’m not so sure the same can be said for all our current allies. How many of them share the same dream of entering the afterlife while killing as many infidels as possible?
And how much are we prepared to risk in order to maintain this alliance? Do we want the Danes to back down and surrender a portion of their freedom of speech to appease the Umma? And will we ask the same of Americans?
That would be the equivalent of throwing Poland off the boat in 1939, of saying to Hitler, “Go on, you can have it. Those Poles mean nothing to us.”
Will we surrender what we’re fighting for to appease the millenialists of Islam?
What kind of strategy would that be?