Monday, September 04, 2006

Why World War 2?

Some discussion has been raised at least as to the use of the term "Islamo-fascist," which I believe is originally derived from French, and whether or not it is appropriate to refer to our enemies as such. Myself, I've never had much of a use for the term because I generally think that it obscures just as much as it clarifies, particularly since "fascism" is now kind of a catch-all term designed to encompass everyone we don't like. If you look at how countries with large Muslim populations (Russia and India) handle the situation of what to call these people, they usual prefer to use some variant of Wahhabi that is then described as a foreign Arab import as opposed to the more traditional (and presumably peaceable) Russian or Indian versions of Islam. Personally, I don't think that it's that hard to expect people who want to talk about this subject to at least be familiar with the meaning of terms Wahhabi, Salafist, and Khomeinist without losing the understanding that all of them refer to Muslims given that we were all able to understand what communism was while recognizing distinctions like Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism. I actually believe that the administration's refusal to properly define terms in this fashion in favor of PC platitudes like "religion of peace" has actually contributed to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments among the American right and the general population as a whole since they are left without any kind of rational or reasonable means of distinguishing friend from foe in the Muslim world. In that sense, Islamo-fascist is probably an improvement, if an incremental one.

However, I've noticed that some commentators, most notably my favorite Catholic apologist, have taken their general dislike (and general ignorance) of neoconservatism to a whole new level by railing against the use of any and all World War 2 analogies to describe the current conflict, in large part because doing so would place them in the uncomfortable position of being modern analogues to or at least fellow travelers with groups like the America First types. Unfortunately for Mark, whose preferred foreign policy as long as the neocons are at the helm appears to be that of Pat Buchanan who, at least in A Republic, Not an Empire is kind enough to basically agree with the views of America First. How one can describe the war in Vietnam as part of an existential conflict for the West but not WW2 is beyond me, but the fact that this appears to be the stated worldview of the paleocon's foreign policy czar would be reason enough for me to suggest charitably that anyone who takes such a view seriously is either an idiot, a fool, or wicked.

Mark makes the "argument" here that:
Go read Daniel Larison take apart Big Thinkers like Ledeen and Hanson who are still vainly trying to press the phenomenon of jihadism into a "Fascism" mold, the better to sell their Greater America End to Evil plans to the American public.

... Larison's right: Muddled concepts make for bad strategy. Yet the President is still getting his talking points from people like Hanson. There is indeed a war to be won, but it won't happen as long as people cannot break free from the idea that every war is a war with Adolf Hitler.

The fact that Larison states in fairly absolutist terms that:
Well, what do you know? Radical Sunnis despise radical Shi’ites–it’s almost as if they were from opposing sects! (”I thought they were all Muslims,” Mr. Bush will be heard to mutter.) They despise secular dictators, too. Weird how “Islamic fascists” turn on each other, isn’t it? Now a wise man would exploit this hostility of Al Qaeda against three members of Max Boot’s ”Quartet of Evil” (Hizbullah plays the viola), rather the lump them all together in a mass called “Islamic fascism.” If this same man is at war with Al Qaeda, he would stop antagonising Al Qaeda’s natural enemies and use Al Qaeda’s hostility to all of us as a basis for common action against Al Qaeda. He would stop forcing Iran into a corner and would prevent Israel from launching some maniacal ”preventive war” against Iran and Syria. The wise man would fight his enemies and not someone else’s.

Is proof enough that he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. If you actually bother to read anything from the al-Qaeda literature, let alone statements by successive members of US military and intelligence community (no doubt every single one of them lies too, even when testifying to Congress), similar statements made by our Arab allies, etc, you would find that there is often much less to these types of disagreements than meets the eye.

But don't take it from me, take from bin Laden's official biographer Hamid Mir:
When I entered the hotel, two men searched me. It took me only a few moments to realise that this was no hotel, but a secret office of Hizbullah, a Shi'ite organisation that is resisting the coalition troops in Iraq.

I was produced before Abu Musa, local commander of the Hizbullah fighters. He was sitting on a revolving chair behind a big office table. A nicely framed picture of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was hanging behind him.

Abu Musa questioned me about the objectives of my visit. He was particularly concerned about a special card issued to me by the Jordanian ministry of information. "They issue this card to those who are very close to them," he told me. I told him that I got the card simply because I was coming from Pakistan through Jordan, and that I was in Iraq to just report on the current situation and that I was not 'embedded' with the coalition troops.

Finally, Abu Musa was satisfied and gave me permission to enter the shrine with a camera. He also delivered a ten-minute lecture on the need for a Shia-Sunni alliance against the Americans. "Hizbullah-Al Qaeda brother brother," he proclaimed. He placed a green and white band on my head with the famous Hizbullah slogan 'Ya Allah, Ya Hussein.'

If Larison spent more time paying attention to what people like Abu Musa actually say and less time to Arabist Western academics assuring us that such groups would never cooperate, maybe he would understand a little better why people in the Bush administration regard them as enemies of the United States. Larison, however, has a much simpler solution: Bush wants to fight someone else's enemies: Israel's.

Now Larison doesn't have to seek out bin Laden's favorite biographer in order to receive this information: it's all available to anyone who bothered to actually read the much-touted 9/11 Commission report and even Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, both which I'm certain that both Larison and Shea would have eagerly linked to had it served to bolster their contention that the war in Iraq was a Bad, Bad Thing. And while I can't speak for Larison, I can speak for Shea, who has shown himself to be either wrong or ignorant on just about every substantive geopolitical policy point relating to the war on terrorism ever since he started to go off the deep end with regard to his opposition to the Iraq war. This has also led to a complete embrace of the absolute worst elements of the paleocon narrative with regard to neoconservatism, which he seems to have settled on as the focus of all things evil in both the Republican Party and conservative movement in general. How he does this is in of itself a rather interesting (if ignorant) trick in which he more or less conflates neoconservatives in the GOP with both libertarians and the so-called "country club Republicans." As anyone who is even remotely familiar with either of the latter groups can tell you, the idea that libertarians or country club Republicans are sold on what Mark refers to as the "Greater America End to Evil" is so ignorant as to the political movement that he himself belongs to that it is probably best that he refrain from making such absurd remarks as these during his explanation as to why al-Qaeda isn't fascist:
The thing is, Al-Quaeda, for all its many unpleasant qualities, including a monomaniacal and murderous vision of Islam, is not fascistic in this way. If it is fascistic, then the Internet is Der Sturmer. Like the Internet, Radical Islamic terrorism is decentralized. It is characterized, not by goose-stepping regiments, but by independent cells of people with a common purpose, but not a common command structure. If "having a common purpose" is all takes to be a fascist these days, then I am a blogofascist along with all other bloggers, and the Internet is infested with Trekofascists who all love Star Trek.

Fascism in and of itself doesn't preclude decentralization (the personal ideal of the Nietzschean Ubermensch is in of itself pretty individualistic), but that's neither here nor there. The argument that al-Qaeda has decentralized from its pre-9/11 is one that's often made in media reports without getting into what all that entails. Because Mark clearly doesn't understand that, I'll explain it: bin Laden (who Mark assured us was dead until October 2004), al-Zawahiri, and the rest of the senior leadership cannot mastermind world events SPECTRE-style to the extent that they were able to pre-9/11 because of security concerns and hence have given local commanders like Zarqawi or his successor Abu Ayyub al-Masri far greater leeway in their day-to-day operations. A lot of the material that one encounters online is very much the result of a central propaganda operation, as can be seen from the fact that so many sites are "on message" all the time and to attribute all of this to individuals sells short the very real and very dangerous infrastructure that is actually in place. Most of the recent al-Qaeda videos released by their production company al-Sahab for instance, make use of modern techniques like the use of teleprompters, digital editing, and blue screening. It may not be Triumph of the Will, but it sure as hell is a lot better organized than the blogosphere or the Star Trek fandom.

But back to the original topic of World War 2, the reason the example is cited by conservatives is that it was the last time that the West encountered an existential threat in a "hot" war and decisively defeated it. An existential threat was also defeated during the Cold War, but the sad fact is that far too many people didn't regard it as such at the time and still don't, so World War 2 is the only that works as a universally agreed upon narrative. Moreover, that narrative serves as a kind of creation myth for our current international order and as such those who invoke it should probably be lauded for trying to return as clearly as possible to the first principles of our current international system in order to defend it. It is certainly infinitely preferable to the constant comparison made of Iraq to Vietnam (which for some reason elicits no international condemnation from the same quarters that find "Islamo-fascists" so reprehensible? I wonder why ...) that relies in large part on parochialism, hagiographic counter-culture nostalgia, and an abject lack of concern for the hundreds of thousands who died in Southeast Asia as a result of the success of the US anti-war movement to the point that those who continue to cite it as a rallying cry are so eager to repeat the experience in the Middle East.

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