Make no more enemies than necessary
I really really should be working, and the post I'm responding to is kind of crusty, almost a week old, but there's a point that really seems to be getting lost in the warblog world.
Deep in this monster post
, Eric Olsen says:
Saddam must be defeated because of the direct and immediate danger that he is, BUT, as Nick says, he must also be defeated utterly, abjectly, to discredit once and for all - like fascism and Japan's "divine" nationalism were discredited - the way of thinking that ultimately led to 9/11: Islam is the only true religion, all nonbelievers are inferior and to be subjugated by any means necessary, theocracy is the only legitimate form of government, Allah will do whatever it takes to assert the truth of #s 1, 2 and 3.
In a nutshell, the flaw here is assuming that defeating Saddam would teach this lesson. It wouldn't.
Point: Unlike Japan or Germany in WWII, Islam isn't a new ideology adopted by the rulers of particular nations. It is a religion which is spread throughout the world, embedded deeply within the people.
Point: Islamic fundamentalism could be viewed as being like fascism, in that it's an ideology distinguishable from mainstream Islam, and it has been adopted by many seeking power and influence. But it is deeply intertwined itself with the proposition that the West is deeply committed to the destruction of Islam.
Therefore: Any war by the west on an Islamic nation, which fails to be self-evidently justified by some event such as 9/11 and supported by other Islamic nations, will be viewed as confirming the Evil West's committment to the destruction of Islam. A war which is justified by its proponents as necessary to teach Muslims that their belief system is inferior will reinforce this.
The Japanese and German people could easily abandon fascism with defeat because it wasn't a deeply held personal belief, it was the ideology of their rulers. And it was a new-fangled, non-traditional ideology rather than the cornerstone of society.
Military defeat of rulers who pay lip-service to Islamism isn't going to teach the Muslim people that Islam doesn't work as a basis for society or government. It's going to teach them that fundamentalist imams and mullahs were right, that the West is out to destroy them, that the rulers who were insufficiently pious (the House of Saud, and most definitely Saddam) came to their just end because of their lack of piety.
One thing that's easy to miss amid the news and propaganda from all sides is that the vast majority of Muslims are not fundamentalists. Anti-western talk does have some resonanance with the mainstream, but only in a general way, the way that reading about corporate scandals might piss you off about greedy CEO's. Yes there are nuts who will join a cult and learn how to carry out terrorist attacks, but they're the nuts, not the guy next door.
But if America steps into the role the fundamentalists paint for us, it will prove them right. If we defeat the "Armies of Allah" and overthrow Muslim rulers, it will fuel the resistance to American imperialism.
Terrorism will not decrease. No matter how satisfying it will be to teach the Arabs a lesson about how fucked up they are, it won't make our lives more secure, it will make them much worse.
If we're going to fight Islamic terrorism and oppose fundamentalism, let's make sure that's what we're doing. Our actions should be carefully conducted to ensure that both we and the Islamic world are very clear that we're fighting extremist elements within their world, rather than the basis of their culture.
Saddam Hussein, evil though he may be, is not an Islamic fundamentalist. Whatever the pragmatic reasons for overthrowing his regime are, striking a blow against bin Laden's jihad is not one. We can talk ourselves into believing fighting Saddam is fighting Islamism, as many warbloggers seem to be doing, but convincing yourself to believe propagada is dangerous. It leads to making strategic decisions based on your distorted view of the facts, which leads to loss.