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Monday, February 28, 2005

Another suicide bombing, and defining the war 

A suicide car bomber blew himself up Monday in a crowd of police and Iraqi National Guard recruits south of Baghdad, killing at least 106 and wounding 133, police and witnesses said. It was one of the deadliest insurgent attacks since President Bush declared the war over in May 2003.

Uggh.

I read these stories and my heart breaks for the innocents, and I remember for the thousandth time that the war against Islamic fascism is just and good, and it is a shame that so many other Western countries are too compromised or too weak to fight it with their armies.

And then, of course, I wonder why the Associated Press finds it necessary in the first paragraph to measure every big suicide bombing against Bush's technically true but politically clumsy "declaration" in May, 2003. Why isn't the relevant measurement "one of the deadliest attacks against civilians since the March 11, 2004 bombing in Madrid, and the deadliest suicidal attack since the October 12, 2002 bombing in Bali?" Whether or not the invasion of Iraq was part of the Global War on Terror when launched (a subject that will be debated for at least a generation), even the anti-war Left says it's the same war now. Why does the press continue to argue, implicitly and explicitly, to the contrary?

15 Comments:

By Blogger Jehane, at Mon Feb 28, 08:18:00 AM:

Because they're asshats.

It's all part of their ongoing strategy to portray the "insurgents" as a legitimate armed force. If they portray terrorist attacks (crimes) as acts of warfare, they dignify what are essentially the lawless acts of a stateless rabble under the banner of 'warfare'.

They're not terrorists. They're "freedom fighters".  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Mon Feb 28, 09:25:00 AM:

Oh! We went to war in Iraq to stop Islamofascism... I thought it had something to do with WMD...um...ties to A.Qaeda...no...um...Iraqi freedom...Oh, it's about stopping fascism! I wondered when we'd get around to something we could settle on.

Now that that's been identified, let's talk about crazy asshats blowing up men who just want (1) jobs; (2) a stable country. They're crazy. They're murderers. We created them.

It's a big, nasty, doughy pantload.

And, in case you think I'm an entirely whiny lib who just can't get over the unjust invasion of a nation that posed no threat to us, I believe that turning over power to Iraqis as quickly as possible is a good idea. This is President Bush's stated goal, so I guess we're in agreement.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 28, 01:24:00 PM:

Your post has the kind of moral clarity that I mostly disagree with. But this is one of the reasons I visit your site- to read the opinions of an intelligent and well informed hawk.

I have a problem with

"...the war against Islamic facism is just and good"

When I look at the Muslim world, I see a bewildering variety of power groups and movements, but doing a little sorting, there are

1/ Autocratic governments vaguely along the lines of those in the old Eastern Europe.

2/ Governments dominated by theological considerations, also autocratic but in a different way.

3/ Rabid terrorist groups which have devolved into a kind of pure nihilism.

Which of this assortment do you mean when you use the phrase Islamic facism? The three groupings above all share the trait of being illiberal. Is this what you mean by the phrase? Is any military action against the first two justifiable?

The details of the constitution that will be written in Iraq are very, very important. If our invasion has the net result of replacing a government of the first type with a government of the second type, is this progress?
I don't know. Nobody knows how it will turn out.

It all seems morally complicated to me. I am slowly coming around to the view that the Muslim countries need democracy more than anything else, but we shouldn't kid ourselves about what this means.Most of the voters will vote for who their clerics tell them to, and many of the countries will become more anti-American in the short run.

I do agree with you that the left and the right want the same outcome, and that historians will be arguing about the Iraq war for a long time.

- Levi  

By Blogger Callimachus, at Mon Feb 28, 05:10:00 PM:

I see that AP's latest write-through, via your link, has removed the Bush reference. Rightly so. How outrageous to have more than a hundred dead, killed by the deliberate actions of certain people, and the only name mentioned in the lede of the story is the American president. But you're also right in that it's such standard procedure now among Western media that we hardly wince. We should.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Mon Feb 28, 05:13:00 PM:

"Now that that's been identified, let's talk about crazy asshats blowing up men who just want (1) jobs; (2) a stable country. They're crazy. They're murderers. We created them."

BS. They were there long before we were. The Bathists have been using terror for decades, this is nothing new.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Mon Feb 28, 05:17:00 PM:

When I look at the Muslim world, I see a bewildering variety of power groups and movements, but doing a little sorting, there are

1/ Autocratic governments vaguely along the lines of those in the old Eastern Europe.

2/ Governments dominated by theological considerations, also autocratic but in a different way.

3/ Rabid terrorist groups which have devolved into a kind of pure nihilism.

Which of this assortment do you mean when you use the phrase Islamic facism?

I think he means all of them. Those movements have their differences, but they also have striking similarities, namely in how they came about. The WoT isn't the War on Terror anymore, its the War on Tyranny. Sometime after Afghanistan the administration realized that only by altering the political climate of the Middle East, and the Islamic world in general, can you truly end terrist groups like Al Qaeda.

Those three groups all thrive in the environment of the Middle East, our goal is to change that environment so that it is anathema to them.

They all require docile populations, ignorant populations, browbeaten populations. Changing the dynamics will (hopefully) make all three types obsolete.  

By Blogger Patton, at Mon Feb 28, 06:30:00 PM:

Levi:

Your list of three types of government is interesting, but might be organized such that it understates one of the most pertinent criteria:

The third choice, rabid nihilism, doesn't have any interest in a future, and thus has nothing to gain by paying attention to the needs of its people. The nihilists, on the other hand, are able to wantonly murder their countrymen and coreligionists and, inexplicably, blame it on the US, as does Screwy Hoolie.

The search for stability for its own sake, or the retention of a stable but corrupt regime, is a fool's quest. But that's what the Baathists seek. Saddam Hussein had a stable country, because everyone who chose not to toe the line got a bullet.

It's not stability they seek, and it's not jobs - it's power, contrary to Screwy's view. Yes, it's a pantload, but that's part of the process, and will remain so until the Iraqis are in a position to take out their own trash. That'll be occurring sooner rather than later, I'm thinking.

And then, to your point, Levi, they'll get the constitution and form of government that they choose. Does this mean that if the freedom that the US led coalition has afforded them is used to make a bad choice, they'd have been better off remaining enslaved?

I think not.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 28, 07:57:00 PM:

Final Historian, Patton,

Thanks for your thoughtful replies to my comment. My short list was meant to be suggestive of the complexities of the situation, and not exhaustive. In fact I left out the most important group of Muslims from our point of view: those who have some education and have seen the West, and who are deeply conflicted at the moment.

Final Historian: I really don't disagree with much of anything in your comment.

Patton:

"The nihilists, on the other hand, are able to wantonly murder their countrymen and coreligionists and, inexplicably, blame it on the US,..."

Our actions have to seem reasonable to reasonable Muslims.I don't want to get into an argument about the decision to invade Iraq (time to move on), but to many Muslims the invasion of Afghanistan seemed reasonable, but the invasion of Iraq didn't and still doesn't seem reasonable. This is why terrorists can blame the US and get traction, even with moderates, in that part of the world.

- Levi  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Mon Feb 28, 08:34:00 PM:

Just to clarify - the folks looking for jobs and stability are the ones being killed, and the killers aren't Ba'athists anymore - they're insurgents with unknown political aims. There weren't any insurgents with unknown political aims before we came to town.

I blame killers for killing, and I blame the Bush administration for turning one kind of killing into another and selling us the lie that this kind of killing is somehow better.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Feb 28, 08:47:00 PM:

Screwy, Levi, Patton, Final H: Good thread. Sorry I've been tied up the last few hours and not able to pile in.

Levi, with regard to your last points, which I reproduce here:

"Our actions have to seem reasonable to reasonable Muslims."

Agreed. But our actions do not have to appear to be immediately reasonable. Muslims, especially Arab Muslims, are not likely to appreciate any invasion of Arab lands under any circumstances. We could have caught Saddam ordering Muhammad Atta's tickets on Expedia and most of the Arab world would still be deeply offended by our invasion of Iraq. The question is whether we can show Arab Muslims, over a period of years, that we will no longer support tyranny in their midst. Eventually, through various mechanisms of soft and hard power and some measure of consistency, we may be able to change the dynamic.

"I don't want to get into an argument about the decision to invade Iraq (time to move on), but to many Muslims the invasion of Afghanistan seemed reasonable, but the invasion of Iraq didn't and still doesn't seem reasonable."

I haven't heard that Muslims saw the invasion of Afghanistan as reasonable. All the accounts that I have seen say that the invasion of Afghanistan really pissed off a lot of Muslims. Granted, liberals and Europeans thought it was reasonable, but I have seen no evidence that the great masses of the world's Muslims felt that way.

"This is why terrorists can blame the US and get traction, even with moderates, in that part of the world."

I do agree that the invasion of Iraq has probably improved the ability of the Islamists to recruit. However, that does not mean that al Qaeda has improved its position strategically. The supply of footsoldiers is not al Qaeda's constraint. There will always be some supply of Muslims willing to blow themselves up -- that is a genie it will take a generation or more to get back in the bottle. The real questions are (i) whether al Qaeda is in a stronger or weaker position to coerce the Saudis, the Egyptians and so forth, and (ii) whether it is improving its ability to recruit the sort of cosmopolitan multi-lingual fighters who can project power into Western countries. I believe that our occupation of Iraq has put tremendous pressure on other would-be state sponsors (or state tolerators) of al Qaeda, and that our soldiers are killing a huge number of multi-lingual and technically capable guerillas who might otherwise infiltrate the West. The Sunni triangle may well be al Qaeda's Stalingrad.

Finally, one point on the matter of recruitment. A lot of people are suggesting that if the Iraq war has improved al Qaeda's ability to recruit, that is in and of itself proof of the Iraq war's strategic failure. I do not see why this must be so. Military setbacks always, or almost always, occasion more intensive recruitment and more manpower. The Germans recruited ever more actively as their military fortunes flagged, at least until they started to run out of able-bodied men. I believe this was true of the Japanese, and any number of the other losers of history. It would be surprising if it didn't happen. The question is whether the Iraq war has improved the ability of al Qaeda to inflict damage on soft civilian Western targets. I think that is very much an open question.  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Mon Feb 28, 09:01:00 PM:

"Just to clarify - the folks looking for jobs and stability are the ones being killed, and the killers aren't Ba'athists anymore - they're insurgents with unknown political aims. There weren't any insurgents with unknown political aims before we came to town."

Actually, the Bathists are still killers. However, they have been joined by Islamists as well. Death by Fascist is nothing new to the Middle East, but we are finally offering a viable alternative, and hope for a better future.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Feb 28, 09:28:00 PM:

Final Historian touches on the broader point. The status quo was failing miserably. We have learned that the status quo in the region has to change, and it has to change on something like a Western schedule, rather than one determined by the dying out of family lines (whether fascist as in the case of the Husseins and Assads or royal as in the case of the House of Saud). The question is, how? Since none of these people will give up power easily, it has to be done through coercion. What kind? As Bush has said, there are many ways to coerce. In some situations, overt military action may be necessary. In other cases, we might coerce through economic sanctions. In still other cases, we might use subversive tactics, either of the sneaky Cold War variety or the more positive promotion of peaceful "people's" uprisings, as happened in the Phillipines in 1986 against Marcos, Eastern Europe in the late 80s, and perhaps Lebanon today (literally, today). Bush is encouraging all these tactics toward his strategic end. Has he always chosen the best tactic? Perhaps not. But at least he has a strategy: drain the swamp, empower the people. Does that mean it will work? No. Is it possible that some countries will elect regimes that are not friendly to the United States? Yes. But it is better than no strategy. What strategy does the Left have? None. I've seen no coherent leftist prescription for putting an end to the cesspool that is giving rise to militant Islam. The left's dominant theme is appeasement -- it is almost a wish that if we somehow behaved differently, they would not be at war with us. Wishes are not a strategy. What's the left's strategy?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 28, 11:35:00 PM:

Jack,

about your first comment:

"We could have caught Saddam ordering Muhammad Atta's tickets on Expedia and most of the Arab world would still be deeply offended by our invasion of Iraq."

I hate to be snarky here, but Saddam didn't order Atta's tickets, and if we hadn't invaded Iraq the Arab world wouldn't have been deeply offended by our invasion of Iraq.

"I haven't heard that Muslims saw the invasion of Iraq as reasonable."

I should mention that in the last paragraph of my comment I was talking about educated Muslims who are familiar with the West. I know quite a few who are (or were) graduate students at my university, as well as some of their friends, from places such as Jordan, Egypt, Morrocco, and the West Bank. All of them are reasonable and most of them are moderates. That's my source for the statement.

"I do agree that the invasion of Iraq has probably improved the ability of the Islamists to recruit."

I don't have the slightest worry that any of the people I mentioned above are going to be recruited into terrorism. But when we act in an unreasonable way it hurts our cause with these people, and we need them.

your second comment:

I think your argument is much stronger here. A lot of us on the left were so angry at the events leading up to the Iraq invasion that we haven't really recovered yet (we're also obsessed by Bush's 2nd term domestic agenda at the moment).

But if you just read blogs like Atrios and Kos you will have a misleading view about thinking on the left. They are really just there to rally the troops.Here are a few blogs that discuss the war on terror fairly often, and there are others.

Matthew Yglesias at

http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/

An interesting group blog called Liberals Against Terrorism at

http://www.liberalsagainstterrorism.com/drupal/

Laura Rozen's blog (many interesting links to left foreign policy articles) at

http://www.warandpiece.com/

If I messed up any of the urls just google the names.

Sorry for the long, long post.

- Levi  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 28, 11:49:00 PM:

*bad* typo in my last post.

The second quote should be

"I haven't heard that Muslims saw the invasion of *Afghanistan* as reasonable."

Big difference there.

- Levi  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Mar 01, 06:56:00 AM:

Thanks for the links, Levi. I'll take a look at them (I've read Yglesias before, but not enough to see his thoughts on the GWOT).  

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