Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pseudo-Conservative Ideology Does Strange Things to Rationality

It is likely impossible for severe ideologues to assess foreign situations rationally and devise strategies tailored to an accurate appraisal of the situation. This is why it is unwise for the American voter to put ideologically driven people in power. Unfortunately, it is ideologues of the right, taking advantage of the hypernationalism and fear of the other they are so skilled at arousing, who have been in control of foreign policy for 18 of the last 26 years.

When the Reagan administration took office the enemy was the "evil empire" or the "international Communist conspiracy". (The Soviet Union was an opponent, but one whose threat was frequently exaggerated and distorted by the radical right for its own purposes.) Today the radical right has conjured up the international Islamo-Fascist conspiracy. I do not doubt that there are suicide terrorists who conspire to attack the U.S., but--if we are to protect ourselves rationally--it is essential that we not merely accept the ideologically driven version of the threat created by pseudo-conservatives.

Interestingly, Robert Pape (pp. 241-246) in Dying to Win:The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism carefully examined the theory of terrorism put forward by David Frum and Richard Perle in An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. David Frum and Richard Perle are excellent examples of the pseudo-conservative radical right: Frum as a speech writer for George W. Bush played a role in inventing the "axis of evil" phrase and Perle is a perfect example of the pseudo-con whose career goes back to the 1970s.

Pape carefully repeats and then examines the basic premises in Frum and Perle’s argument: 1) the “cause [of terrorism] is militant Islam”; 2) “the roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself…. The Islamic world has lagged further and further behind the Christian West”; 3) “The distinction between Islamic terrorism against Israel, on the one hand, and Islamic terrorism against the United States and Europe, on the other, cannot be sustained”; 4) “This strain seeks to overthrow our civilization and remake the nations of the West into Islamic societies, imposing on the whole world its religion and its law.” Pape stated: “The solution, Perle and Frum contend, is regime change: ‘We must move boldly against [Iran] and against all the other sponsors of terrorism as well: Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.’”

Pape, who put together the most exhaustive database including every suicide terrorist attack since 1980, went on to assess their analysis: “This argument is fatally flawed. First, al-Qaeda’s suicide terrorists have not come from the most populous Islamic fundamentalist populations in the world [Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt and Nigeria], but mainly from the Muslim countries with heavy American combat presence [Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries “where the United States has stationed heavy combat troops”]…. If Islamic fundamentalism is driving al-Qaeda’s suicide terrorism, then we would expect a close relationship between the world’s largest Islamic fundamentalist populations and the nationality of al-Qaeda’s suicide terrorists. However this is not the case….”

“Second, Islamic fundamentalism has not created a monolithic terrorism threat against the United States or other Western countries…. When one studies the various suicide terrorist campaigns by Hezbollah, Hamas, and al-Qaeda what stands out is not that these groups share military resources or act in concert, like a monolithic movement. Instead, what stands out is that each is driven by essentially nationalist goals to compel target democracies to withdraw military forces from their particular homeland.”

“Third, the idea that all Muslims around the world are quietly anti-American because Islam encourages hatred for American values for democracy and free markets does not square with the facts. Indeed, robust evidence shows that American military policies, not revulsion against Western political and economic values, are driving anti-Americanism among Muslims.” Pape went on to discuss polling among Muslims concerning world trade, free markets and democracy showing high numbers in favor of these in Muslim countries. He also presented a poll showing the severe drop in Muslims with a favorable view of the U.S. from 2000 to 2004.

Unless “our freedoms” in the United States were only established in 2000 it is difficult to find evidence of President Bush’s contention on September 20, 2001 : “They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Since these freedoms were established in the Constitution well over 200 years ago why did the U.S.’s favorability among Muslims drop seriously in 2002 and 2003? Pape presented data supporting the following conclusion: “Rather, the taproot is American military policy. Overwhelming majorities across a range of Muslim countries believe that the United States conquered Iraq to control its oil or to help Israel rather than to end terrorism or promote democracy, and fear that their country might be next.”

Pape continued: “Fourth, the idea that Islamic fundamentalism is on the verge of world domination and poses a realistic treat to impose Islamic laws in the United States and Europe is pure fantasy. Some [Muslim] radicals may harbor such delusions. Some fearmongers may use such delusions to whip up hysteria. But these are delusions nonetheless.” [Hmmm. I wonder which "fearmongers" he has in mind?]

Finally Pape concluded: “Fifth, and most important, an attempt to transform Muslim societies through regime change is likely to dramatically increase the threat we face. The root cause of suicide terrorism is foreign occupation and the threat that foreign military presence poses to the local community’s way of life. Hence, any policy that seeks to conquer Muslim societies in order, deliberately, to transform their culture is folly.”

Thus, pseudo-conservatives like Frum and Perle manage to completely misunderstand the terrorist threat that we face and perversely misguide us about how to comabt it. Pape argued that what Frum and Perle recommend, moving "boldly against [Iran] and against all the other sponsors of terrorism as well: Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia”, is precisely the action most likely to increase the terrorist threat. If one looks carefully at the foreign policy recommendations of the radical right since World War II I think it is actually quite typical that the policies they so vigorously recommend have precisely the opposite effects to those they expect. If we want to make our world problems worse then we should certainly do what the Richard Perles of this world recommend.

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