Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Post-American Zakaria

I read Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. A lot of what he has written is interesting and useful, but I have two areas of disagreement. The two are connected:

The first is the nature of the Islamist Threat. Zakaria seems still to be living in the world of Edward Said and John Esposito. Esposito wrote The Islamic Threat, Myth or Reality? Esposito argued that the threat was largely a myth. He was the expert on the Middle East most invited to the White House until 9/11. After that, he was replaced by Bernard Lewis. The Esposito view was considered discredited in the White House, but it hasn’t been discredited in Europe and elsewhere. Modern exemplars are Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel. They acknowledge a certain sort of threat coming from alienated over-educated young men, but they don’t consider the threat much wider than that.

Why do some of us consider the 1/3 of the Islamic world (perhaps 400,000,000) that holds to Islamism a threat and others do not? Perhaps I am more inclined to credit the religious fervor of the Islamists because I am a Christian and recognize religion as a motivation. I suspect that Roy, Kepel, Fukuyama and Zakaria are not religious. Perhaps that is why they dismiss the Islamist ideology as a serious motivation.

I spent some time studying Islamist theology. I read some of the writings of Maududi, Qutb and Khomeini. Zakaria criticizes the Bush administration for lumping Shiite and Suni together, but the Islamism of Maududi and Qutb is consistent with the Islamism of Khomeini. Zakaria dismisses Iran’s religious under-girding when he speculates about the military threats bordering Iran and thinks any sane person would want nuclear weapons if they were in that predicament. He thinks we ought to treat Iran like any other nation. If we can dismiss Iran’s Islamist ideology as a motivation, then Zakaria would be right, but if Said, Esposito, Roy, Kepel and Fukuyama are wrong about the nature of the threat, then it would be the height of foolishness to treat Iran like any other nation.

The idea that America is overreacting and running scared is popular in Europe. Again, if all we have to worry about are the actual Terrorists, the actual Jihadists as Fukuyama terms them, then indeed we are overreacting, but if we have to worry about the 400,000,000 Muslims who subscribe to the teachings of Islamism, then we are not overreacting. Not all 400,000,000 need to be willing to strap on bombs for them to be a coherent threat. Are Jihadists alienated from the body of Islam as Roy and Fukuyama suggests? Or do they come fully instructed and motivated out of an Islamist milieu made up of the 1/3 of all Muslims who subscribe to the Islamist ideology?

I have been assuming that the Islamist threat is real, and that it comprises the approximately 400,000,000 Muslims who embrace Islamism. To treat actual Jihadists as aberrant and atypical would, if my assumption is correct, be naïve. Zakaria would have us go back to treating the Islamists the way they were treated during the Clinton administration, as criminals, not as the spear-tip of a much larger Islamist theat.

Given Zakaria’s view about America’s over-rating the Islamist threat, we can now move to my second area of disagreement. Zakaria is unhappy with the Bush Administration for invading Iraq (although he says he supported it when it happened). Bush wanted to begin draining the swamp to make things more difficult for the Islamists. But for Zakaria, there weren’t enough Islamists to be worried about; so Bush’s actions were wrong.

Zakaria is guilty of some errors of fact when he considers Bush, errors that come from the Leftist press – not that Zakaria is guilty of Leftism that I can see – but he is influenced by the press and he is influenced by statistics. Large numbers oppose Bush, therefore Bush must be wrong. The press says Bush was a unilateralist, therefore Bush must be one. Zakaria knows that a multilateral force accompanied American forces into Iraq, but he dismisses them. On what grounds? He says some were coerced and some were from Eastern Europe and didn’t want to offend the U.S.

Here is a Wikipedia list of the troops in the Multinational force: U.S., UK, Poland, Australia, South Korea, Romania, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Mongolia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Estonia, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, New Zealand, Philippines, and Iceland. Most of them didn’t send many troops and some of these nations withdrew after awhile, but no objective person would describe this force as comprising American unilateralism. There was widespread support.

And as part of this second disagreement we must mention the UN Security council disapproval that caused the US to select its own multinational force. The two nations who were the chief roadblocks to U.N. approval of the Iraq invasion were France and Russia. These two nations, along with a relative of Kofi Annan, were implicated in the Oil for Food Scandal. It was in their interests to stop the U.S. from invading Iraq a second time. Zakaria doesn’t discuss this complexity. For after all, if there is no Islamist threat then what does it matter that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator or that important French and Russian politicians colluded with him?

But if, as many have argued, the war against Islamism is serious; then Saddam Hussein was a major impediment: He intimidated nations such as Saudi Arabia that we needed in our pursuit of Al Qaeda members, and he supported terrorism. In addition he portrayed himself as the hero who had backed down America. He fired regularly on American and British planes who had since the truce been flying over Iraq to make sure he didn’t take out his First Gulf War loss against the Northern Kurds or Southern Shiites.

There is much in Zakaria’s book I agree with but the flaws I mention above are fatal if my assumptions are correct. My assumptions would require an explanation of our current situation consistent with Huntington’s thesis. We are engaged in a clash, a major clash, with the Islamic Civilization. This isn’t a small matter that can more readily be treated as criminal. The Islamic Civilization is shot through with an antagonistic ideology that demands our destruction. It won’t be opposed by diplomacy or wishful thinking. It demands the very sort of confrontation that Bush supplied.

How do Jihadists know that Allah is blessing them, a saying goes? Allah gives them victory. If Allah didn’t give Saddam Hussein victory, then Allah didn’t bless him, and he was being touted far and wide as a great Islamic hero. To topple him was a very good thing if we want to fight this Huntington Clash in the best possible way, in a way that makes the most sense to our enemies. We will be doing very poorly in this “Clash” if we treat Iran and other nations as if they are just like a typical European nation. We won’t understand Iran or Islamism or the Islamic Civilization if we insist on looking at it, as I believe Zakaria does, through a European lens.

Lawrence Helm

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