Politics

. . . And, On the Other Side: The Liberal Argument At Its Most Persuasive — Nay, Seductive.

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(To be read with the preceding post)

When I read this at Jack Whelan’s After the Future, I was surprised by my own reaction: almost everything in me leapt to believe it.

I continue to be amazed at the paranoia that animates the right wing in this country and the way that paranoia creates the template by which certain information is selected and other information filtered out. It has this way of taking serious threats like Islamic terrorism and distorting them into something that bears little resemblance to what they really are. If you can’t see a problem clearly, you can’t develop the most effective solution for it. [ … ]

Sure there might be some loony-tunes, fringe Islamists sects which have fantasies of subjugating the world in the name of the prophet. But that’s not al Qaeda’s current mission, and even if it were, it’s not something they are even remotely capable of achieving. Al Qaeda has been clear that its primary objectives are to repel the western invader from the Islamic soil. This is primarily a nationalistic impulse that has more in common with the anti-colonial insurgencies of the the mid-twentieth century. Did the IRA in Ireland want to take over the government in London and make everyone a Catholic? Neither does al Qaeda have a similar interest regarding the U.S.

Their goal, consistent with the strategy of all such anti-colonial insurgencies, is to make the U.S. occupation cost more than it is worth for us, and if that means detonating a nuke on Wall Street or on Capitol Hill, they’ll do it. I have no doubt that they will try. And it’s clear that this is the kind of threat that we must bend all of our energies to prevent, and that this administration has been negligent in giving it the attention it deserves. Why? Because all of its energy and resources are bent on occupying the Islamic heartland. Which only increases the insurgents’ motivation to hurt us in ways that will surpass what we suffered in 9/11.

And so the question that never seems to be asked is why are we really there in the Middle East? Why is it worth the cost to us? What’s really at stake for us there that we are willing to sustain its enormous costs in blood and treasure and to risk inciting even worse terrorist attacks on our own soil? [ … ]

The reasons promoted by the administration for the invasion of the Islamic heartland make hardly any sense on the face of it, and it doesn’t have to because most Americans are oblivious of the long history that led to 9/11. They accept the administration’s blather about how the terrorists hate us because they hate freedom. But they hate us for the same reason they hated the Russians when they invaded Afghanistan. They hate us because of our bases and troop presence on Islamic soil. And they hate us for the long Anglo-American history as colonialist bullies. From the Muslim point of view, we’re the barbarians at their gates.

Now you could argue that they have it all wrong and that they’re really the barbarians and we have only the most benevolent intentions and that our occupation will benefit these backward Islamic societies in the long run. That’s always been the colonizer’s rationalization. But we’re not there as neo-Wilsonian missionaries to convert Muslims into a liberal society suffused with Western values.

That’s a justification promoted by the neocons, and it’s a smokescreen to hide the real purposes, which is that we are indeed involved in the next world war, a war in which we are the aggressors and the Muslim insurgents are the defenders. It’s a war over who’s to control the vast energy reserves of the middle east, and the sooner we face up to the fact, the sooner we can have a real debate in the U.S about how to develop a sane energy policy and a sane relationship with these Islamic societies that will support their struggle to find their way into the modern world.

Yes, of course! That’s the explanation! It was like waking from a nightmare: Our enemies are not these boogeyman caricatures of bearded, fanatical maniacs; they’re political men, shrewd, rational actors with specific, finite ends. And if we give them what they want, they’ll go away and leave us alone.

I am not being parodic. This is liberal reasoning at its genuine finest — at the furthest extreme from 9/11 conspiracy self-indulgence. And heaven knows there is truth in the assertion that, from our point of view at least, “we are indeed involved in the next world war [ … ] a war over who’s to control the vast energy reserves of the middle east.” That’s why it’s so necessary, and so difficult, to see the flaw in this view: it is projective. It looks in the mirror and thinks it’s the view out the window. It sees the enemy as us in a funny costume.

If you are a rationalist and/or a humanitarian, it’s almost impossible to imagine the mental world of someone who is not — your reason or your benevolence biases you toward giving your opponents the benefit of the doubt. Even more, that people might exist who are driven by forces unrelated to reason or humanitarianism — or, better put, who bend reason and humanitarianism to the service of an unforgiving God — is a threat to the very foundations of your worldview, to your entire structure of meaning. Just to avoid chaos and despair, you will want to believe what Jack says: that the image of hordes of paradise-bound fanatics is a creation of propaganda, designed to terrorize you and compel your compliance with a curtailment of civil liberties and ultimately, an ultraconservative coup d’etat.