So, the election is over. Bush won. We've all calmed down a bit, stopped reading twenty blogs a day, and maybe we can stop being so Manichean about it. The world hasn't ended and I'm even on the verge of admitting it wouldn't have ended if the other guy had won, but he still just looks too damn French for me to get there at the moment. In election years, concrete issues get elevated into titantic struggles between good and evil, right and wrong; afterwards, we can be more measured. Sure, Michael Leeden is still writing in extreme terms in The Weekly Standard, but that's fine. If we're honest, it's not like we're drowning in a sea of hatred and pro-Bush propaganda here.
One of the problems with the particularly stark terms in which Bush's first Presidency has been understood is what some of the pundits came to call "ABB", "Anyone But Bush" - the focus by the opposition more on getting rid of Bush than thinking about what would replace him. Whether the divisions on this matter amongst the punditry mirrored this among the population, we'll never know. However, the fact is that a lot of liberal media criticised Bush more than they offered constructive alternatives to what he was doing. This meant that the Right Wing Attack Machine, myself included, didn't give enough thought to what might be wrong with what Bush was doing, or what the next step might be - we just defended what he did to ward off the main plank of our enemy's attack.
I can just hear some of you who have been reading me for a while rubbing your hands together in glee. This isn't going to be "Confessions of an ex-neoconservative", it's rather a plea for seeing the flipside to the coin of neoconservatism. Those of us on the right need to consider the full implications of our views without disregarding any idea or opinion just because it came from the left. And the left needs to start taking at least some aspects of 'neoconservatism' seriously, and certainly to stop dismissing it as merely a cover for corruption ("No blood for oil!", "Halliburton!") or an abstract 'lust for power' (a strange concept in a system of such diffuse power as the American government). The term's roots are now three decades old, so there is an argument for discarding it all together.
The first thing right and left need to do is admit we have a collective problem. No, I don't mean Al Gore - I mean terrorism, and I mean weapons of mass destruction. The issues are connected in some ways (terrorists can get WMD), and they are disconnected in others (states can get WMD). The battle against these two scourges is connected, but the issue of WMD is much easier to solve than that of terrorism. It's also much less controversial, as virtually no-one apart from extreme radicals opposes stopping states like Iran and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons. The first imperative of a state under normal circumstances is to perpetuate its own existence, and allowing one of these sworn enemies of the West to acquire nuclear weapons is pathological.
The radical argument in favour of doing so goes something like this: We have WMD, all states are equal and therefore we have no right to stop other states from developing them. However, if we regard a state such as North Korea to be inherently equal to any other, we undermine all the principles of human rights and liberalism we supposedly hold dear; we also dig our own impact crater. One of the West's pathologies is its occasional tendency to reason its way out of dealing with existential threats, and a failure to cope with the problem of nuclear proliferation would be the most fatal imaginable. On a simple level, individual states who might intend to use their weapons against the West should be stopped from acquiring them. The principle of unrestricted proliferation on a more complex level would logically lead to a globe where nuclear arsenals are the norm rather than the exception, creating a multipolar system which would be unpredictable, but likely highly unstable.
I say this issue is easier to solve than that of terrorism because it is technical and diplomatic rather than ideological or normative. It does not matter that North Korea claims to act in the name of socialism, or that Iran claims to act in the name of Shi'a Islam. It would equally not be an issue if Italy, acting in the name of liberal democracy, armed itself with missiles and pointed them at London and Paris. The imperative remains the same - those who systematically seek to oppose our interests should not gain the ability to destroy our population centres and start a nuclear war. France doesn't worry about America's nukes because it knows they will never be pointed at her. I challenge anyone to look me in the eye and say they can say the same of Iran or North Korea.
The question of weapons of mass destruction becomes more 'interesting' when it is considered along with the issue of terrorism. WMD attacks are not different in kind from other types of terrorism, merely in degree. The most devastating terrorist attacks in history were not carried out with weapons of mass destruction. Hence the issue of terrorism is not existentially related to the issue of WMD, which merely makes it a more serious and pressing issue. As the war of words has made the definition of terrorism highly contentious, I should describe what I mean by the current 'issue of terrorism' to the Western world.
There have and always will be terrorist groups with limited goals. The ETA and the IRA are two prime examples. Some commentators have mistakenly compared al-Qaeda to these groups, claiming that terrorism is no new thing and the whole issue has been blown out of proportion due to Islamophobia or 'neoconservative plots'. But the ETA and the IRA had limited goals; what had to be done to stop the bombs was negotiable and for the most part within the realm of the possible.
The ideology of al-Qaeda is not of this ilk. Its philosophy is one of Occidentalism; its plan, one of destruction. Just as official Nazi ideology was rooted in the rejection of the West represented by German Romanticism, al-Qaeda's ideology is rooted in a rejection of the West justified by Islam. It is necessary to understand exactly what Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi 'want' and why what they want is impossible. Only then can we understand the essentially Manichean battle between Western values and their bombs.
These terrorists are the modern representation of a particularly violent strain which has always existed in Islam (just as it has in Christianity and Judaism), taken to an even greater extreme than ever before. The key thinkers in the emergence of this movement are Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, Mawlana Mawdudi, Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Wahhabism is the official doctrine of Saudi Arabia, but not practiced by its rulers; Osama bin Laden is a True Believer. This totalitarian ideology has declared war on the entire world, including the Muslim countries who gave birth to it and became its first targets.
The key concept in their worldview is jahilliyah. This word originally meant the state of ignorance which the Arabs existed in before Muhammad revealed that Allah is the only God. It has been reinterpreted in modern times to mean a society that exists in a state of unbelief because it worships something other than Allah - similar the Judeo-Christian concept of an idol. Non-Muslim societies are held to be jahili because they worship money, or Marx, or Buddhism, and even contemporary Muslim societies are considered so contaminated by outside ideas that they have strayed from the True Path and become jahili. Sayyid Qutb declared a war firstly on contemporary Muslim societies, then on the Western ones which had provided their models. Zarqawi and Osama are his warriors, attacking Jordan and Saudi Arabia along with the West. Victory is the destruction of all existing human society and the establishment of the caliphate.
I do not intend an extended lesson on the philosophy of Islamic extremism. Not that it is not needed - on the contrary, we in the West sadly lack it - but because that is not the point of this piece. I hope to have demonstrated briefly that the West and this ideology cannot coexist. This statement is made even more credible and becomes less of a 'clash of civilisations' when it is realised that the vast majority of contemporary Islam, and certainly its political structures, cannot coexist with it either. Which brings me back to where I started.
Listening to many 'neoconservatives' or hawks speak this last year, you'd think we can just invade the places where these terrorists reside and the problem will dissapear. This isn't because all of these people are stupid, but it's because the atmosphere of the last election was not conducive to deep discussion. We, as a civilisation, need to move beyond our polarisations and discuss how we're going to deal with the problem of terrorism which I have outlined above. Treating it as a law enforcement problem will not be satisfactory for long, as this essentially means we're going to stand in the line of fire and trust in our body armour to save us. It will not do so infallibly.
When Clausewitz said that war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means, he meant this: diplomacy is the process of trying to make people do what you want them to do, and war is the fiercest way of carrying out this process. After a war you need to have changed people's behaviour permanently for it to have been worthwhile. In Iraq, we have doubtlessly stopped Saddam Hussein sponsoring terrorism and sowing discord in the Middle East. But the project in Iraq is about something else - it's about constructing a liberal Arab democracy in the heart of the Middle East, to act as a beacon of hope and progress. Some neighbouring regimes have realised that they can defend themselves by at least promising similar reform, if not moving towards it. This is all to the good, as history shows us that even dishonest reformers eventually must deliver real results, or pay the price.
However, forces exist which oppose these developments - the forces of Islamic fundamentalism. It is a cultural and intellectual movement, and as such it is a battle for the minds of men. The flip-side of neoconservatism which I mentioned at the start of this piece is that once the bullets have stopped flying, once the regime has been overthrown, the new battlefield is the newspaper and the book. This is why the question of terrorism is normative, and it is not purely technical like the question of the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Osama bin Laden has quite clearly explained that he and his followers "love death more than you love life". He was talking to you and I. This is not an ideology that appeals to the man on the street in Cairo any more than it does in New York, but it has the power to spread amongst the hopeless poor and the humiliated middle-class. It can be contained in the same way that Western civilisation contained Nazism, by implanting her greatest gifts - democracy and freedom - at the source of the disease. Modern man in the West may suffer from intense anomie, but he is not liable to strap explosives to himself and walk into a cafe full of women and children.
I am sure several of my readers are now thinking the words 'cultural imperialism'. We cannot impose democracy and free markets on the Middle East, because this is part of our heritage and not part of the region's. I readily admit we cannot impose these things on the whole region, perhaps not even on Iraq. However, the Middle East - like most parts of the non-Western world - has a long history of importing Western ideas for local application. First nationalism, then briefly liberal democracy, then fascism, socialism, imperialism and totalitarianism are all Western ideas that have been imported, adapted to local taste, and applied. This is precisely what raises the ire of Islamic fundamentalists, and the successful application of a liberal democracy is precisely the key to their destruction.
The idea that Islam and democracy cannot coexist is one of the most pervasive remnants of Orientalism in the Western world. It has captivated the left which was once the destroyer of such myths. It has not captivated those who people heap scorn on and damn the intentions of - the 'neoconservatives'. The thoughts which animate the right - a holistic approach to the defeat of terrorism - are ones which intend to bring political and economic development to areas where terrorists currently thrive, to starve them of support by giving people an alternative to a death cult. Free markets, personal freedom, and accountable government - things virtually no-one in the Middle East outside Israel enjoys - are things which are perfectly compatible with Islam, just as the ideologies which we have discarded onto the dust-heap of history are. The history of Islam shows this to be so, as tolerance and peaceful commerce existed in some cases earlier in the ummah than in Christendom.
I hence propose something of a consensus, based upon the following concessions. Firstly, the right must realise that it cannot win its battles without the highest degree of cultural sensitivity. This is because the battle the West is fighting is mainly a battle for the hearts and minds of people in the Middle East, which can only be won by understanding the people there and appealing to their desires. Wars will not solve this problem, and only a dialogue between the West and the predominant moderate elements in the region can create a political program which will do so. We must listen to the left when it calls for greater cultural understanding, and dialogue with those with whom deals can be made, like Qadaffi.
Secondly, the left must realise that the right is not power-crazed, it is not ignorant, and it is not in it for the oil. It is trying, however imperfectly, to address an existential threat to Western civilisation. What is required and what was sadly lacking in the last American election was a real, informed debate on these issues and any acceptance by you that we are not blood-crazed maniacs. People actually exist in this world who would just as soon see you dead because of who you are as a Nazi would see a Jew dead. They still quote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These people must be destroyed, and our own values which you are so fond of criticising must, in the last analysis, be defended. Otherwise we risk reasoning our way out of existence, or arguing about how many angels fit onto the head of a pin as the enemy is at the gates.
I'd like to thank all of those who offered their comments on the draft, you were most helpful and kind.