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March 03, 2006

Must See TV

Arab-American psychologist Wafa Sultan, in the words of one blog commentator, "kicks some Imam ass" on Al Jazeera TV:

The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings . . .

You can watch the video of her comments via MEMRI here or read a partial transcript here. The discussion originally aired on Al Jazeera on February 21, 2006.

Ms. Sultan lives in Los Angeles and is one of the contributors to the reform-oriented Arab web site Annaqed (the Critic in Arabic). She is a brave, tough woman who is willing to say what many think but are too afraid or politically correct to admit in public. Watch the whole thing. (Via Glenn Reynolds and Daily Scorecard.)

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March 3, 2006 at 06:47 AM | Permalink


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The worldview espoused by this weblog is quite disturbing. It is emblematic of the "you're either with is or you're with the terrorists" mindset of the Bush administration. Although its rhetoric seems high-minded and sophisticated, it advocates a primative and simplistic approach to political and foreign affairs. The Sultan quote above is a case in point - it dumbs down and exaggerates the distinctions: "civilization versus backwardness" "barbarity versus rationality" and "freedom versus oppression".
Doesn't this remind you of the way Bush frames the Iraq policy debate? - Restricting it to three syllable sound bites like " stay the course" versus "cut and run".
Real world problems are more complex than these characterizations would suggest, and if we as Americans can't get beyond the jingoistic sloganeering then we are sentencing ourselves to unending international misery.
There are many reasonable and educated people, both in the USA and abroad, who see the killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians as barbaric, whether it is Hussein doing the killing or George Bush.
Ask yourself what this war was for. Have we accomplished our objective? Are we any closer to acheiving that objective than two years ago? Or farther away? Will more bombing and occupation bring Iraq closer to democracy?
We can either be a republic or an empire, but not both.
This blog is redolent with the aroma of triumphalist bigotry.

Posted by: facethemusic | Mar 3, 2006 7:37:31 PM

Well, I do support the Bush's administration's line on Iraq and the middle east.

Of course, real world problems are not black and white. But some moral issues are so. For example, should people have the freedom to worship as they please or not? Should people be free to express they views, regardless of how these views may offend others, as long as they do not call for violence or incite hatred?

Personally, I believe that Islamist terrorists are out to destroy the west and take over the world in the name of Allah and Islam. This is what they say they intend to do, and I take them at their word. However, in so far as it is my power to resist them, I will do so.

I think George Bush was correct to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, I think his policy of promoting democracy and political freedom throughout the Arab world is both moral and in the interests of Western security and peace.

You may disagree with me, and I dare say you do, but what approach do you suggest to confront Islamist terror? Abandon Israel and hope that with the "Zionist entity" gone, that Islamist passions will be appeased? Withdraw from Iraq and the world and hope that the world will leave us alone?

Posted by: Spart | Mar 3, 2006 7:54:58 PM

Not sure we can even agree on the facts underpinning this debate.

Bush, after abandoning the hunt for bin Laden at Tora Bora for an easier target, had as his stated goal to rid Saddam Hussein of WMD's. Bin Laden had attacked us, but Hussein hadn't. Twentieth century middle east political history shows that the Iraqi Baathists were sworn enemies of the Wahabis, not allies. This was, in my opinion, an unconscionable about-face that amounted to dereliction of duty.

These supposed WMD's were depicted as an urgent and imminent threat to US security, so we went in. When the alleged stockpiles of WMD's vanished into thin air, the stated goal then became "regime change". But let's remember how this looked to the rest of the world: the USA abandoned its decades long policy of deterrence and containment and unilaterally invaded and occupied another sovereign nation which had not attacked us or threatened to attack us. This is a salient fact that represents a sea change in 60 years of US postwar foreign policy.

Then once Saddam was removed, Bush's stated goal morphed again into bringing democracy to Iraq. Now we are helpless bystanders in an incipient civil war, there have been two elections and a referendum, and the Iraqis are seemingly unable to establish a bona fide government. Secular comity has broken down and is dissolving into tribalism. The closest they have come to a national leader is a client and soulmate of the Iranian theocrats next door.

Based on this three year experience, there is no evidence that democracy can be exported by invasion, occupation, bombing etc. It simply has not worked. And it's not just the left wingers saying this anymore, it's folks like Fukuyama, Will, and Buckley. The PNAC manifesto lies in tatters on the floor. But let's leave the practical tactical considerations of effectiveness aside and address the moral status of this enterprise.

I agree that freedom of religion and freedom of expression are "black & white" moral issues. These values are embedded in our founding documents, and our right to enforce them within our borders is black and white, in my opinion. But are you asserting a U.S. right to enforce those values, by military force, abroad as well? If so then you are violating your own caveat- (freedom to express ..."views, regardless of how these views may offend others as long as they don't call for violence or incite hatred".)

As for the question of how I would confront Islamist terror, I think that's the exact wrong question, because "confronting" guerrilla warriors doesn't work (remember Viet Nam?). Bin Laden and his Wahabi fundamentalists need to be thwarted both by cooperative international intelligence work and also by pressuring the Saudis and Pakastanis to fund and promote a moderate alternative to the reactionary Wahabi madrassahs - the seedbed of these extremists. There is no single easy answer, but simply "whacking the hornets nest with a baseball bat" has only further incited international terrorism.

So what's your response when these democratic elections result in theocratic leaders espousing Sharia? Or when the Palestinians give Hamas their vote? Does that diminish your belief in the sanctity of free and fair elections?

Posted by: facethemusic | Mar 5, 2006 2:24:46 PM

Something is amiss with your blogware - my prior comment was posted but not counted in the comment count.

Posted by: facethemusic | Mar 5, 2006 2:59:56 PM

Dear FTM:

Thoughtful response, though I agree that agreeing on a common fact-base may be tough.

First, regarding Tora Bora, I agree this was a missed opportunity. However, I think you underestimate the difficulty of moving the number of US troops that would have been necessary to encircle Tora Bora (probably at least a division sized force) and getting them acclimatized to operate effectively at those altitudes, that terrain and that climate. Of course, it could have been done, but it would have taken weeks or months to accomplish, leaving plenty of time for OBL & his pals to retreat to Pakistan. (As they did.)

Furthermore, in recognition of the difficulties the Soviet Army had in Afghanistan and the prickly and independent nature of Afghan society, US policy was (correctly, I believe) to tread lightly in that country and not have enough forces present to be seen as trying to occupy or control Afghanistan.

As for the Iraqi Baathists being sworn enemies of the Islamist terrorists like Al Queda, there is also evidence (though fragmentary and open to question) that Saddam's government cooperated with Al Queda when it suited their interests. This type of alliance of convenience should not be surprising, since "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is as old as mankind itself.

Furthermore, I urge you to go back and read Bush's SOTU speech laying out the arguments for invading Iraq. (The one with the "famous 16 words" in it.) He did not argue that Saddam was "an imminent threat" -- rather he made the opposite point -- that in an age of WMDs and terrorists willing to attack without provocation, we cannot afford to wait for a threat to become imminent. Also, if you go back and check, you will see that "regime change" in Iraq had been the official policy of the US government since 1998. President Clinton that year signed into H.R. 4655, the "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998," which required the US to support Iraqi's seeking to overthrow Saddam. (You can read Clinton's signing statement here: http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/libera.htm )

Admittedly, the effort to create a stabile and decent Iraqi government has been harder than I anticipated. I remain guardedly optimistic that it can still be accomplished, however. Look, for example, at the article in today's LAT describing the change of heart among Sunni leaders regarding an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-sunnis5mar05,0,5927382.story?coll=la-home-headlines .

As for the US' right to impose freedom of expression or religion upon others by force of arms, I reject any such right. However, I think we can (and should) distance ourselves from regimes that do not provide their citizens with these rights.

In my view, we invaded Iraq not to impose democracy by force of arms, but because an evil tyrant violated the terms of the ceasefire he signed with the US and other UN forces back in 1991. Furthermore, there was ample evidence that he posed a potential threat to the US and therefore set himself up as a fitting example for demonstrating US resolve to the rest of the Arab world. If a democratic Iraq emerged as by-product of this invasion to depose Saddam, great. But after 9/11, continuing to attempt to contain Saddamm (even as he worked to bribe members of the UNSC to lift sanctions) would have been a very dangerous policy.

As far as "whacking the hornet's nest with a baseball bat," it's a great image and perhaps not altogether inaccurate. If it had been possible for us to spray insecticide on this nest or set fire to it without burning down the tree that is southwest Asia, I would have been for it. But by "whacking the nest," we have managed to kill off a lot of jihadis while suffering relatively modest casualties ourselves. The US fought in Vietnam for nearly 10 years at a cost of 60,000 US fatalities. After 3 years in Iraq, it is sad that more than 2,000 brave men and women from the US military have been killed (and thousands more seriously wounded or maimed), but that is still less loss of life than the number of civilians murdered on 9/11.

Of course, we are working to put pressure on the Pakistani and Saudi governments to crack down on funding for Wahabbi extremists. I think we have made a lot of progress in this area, but I suspect that it was much easier to convince these governments that we were serious after we demonstrated our willingness to sacrifice blood and treasure to depose Saddam.

Regarding for democratic elections in the mideast resulting in outcomes of which we don't approve, well, that is inevitable. Many muslims believe that Islam is the one true religion and Islamic law should be imposed throughout the world. They are welcome to their beliefs and to elect leaders who reflect these views. However, if they take military action against western countries or support terrorist violence against our interests, this is unacceptable and will be met with force. Furthermore, countries whose governments incite demonstrations shouting "death to America" should not be surprised to find us unwilling to tolerate their attempts to acquire nuclear arms.

So, in answer to your question, I am completely willing to tolerate democratic governments that loathe the US and western society. That is their privilege, and they are free to order their societies any way they wish. However, if they threaten violence against the US or our allies, this is unacceptable and we must be willing to use force to protect ourselves from potential attack.

Fighting against western capitalism and social degeneracy with ideas and example is great. If Hamas or Hezbollah or even Al Queda want to create a theocratic utopia somewhere, more power to them. But if they go around threatening to impose their ideas on others through violence and show signs of taking steps to prepare to act on these beliefs, then I say it's time for us to pick up the baseball bat and start whacking.

Posted by: spart | Mar 5, 2006 3:44:13 PM

Yes. And that's exactly the point. We went after a different beehive! Iraq was not imposing Islamic extremism on the world. Sure, Saddam had made a greedy grab for Kuwaiti oil fields twelve years before,in 1991; and he had a habit of making cash grants to the families of Palestinian terrorists - these are despicable acts but that was the extent of his international meddling after the war with Iran. He wasn't building nukes, he wasn't stockpiling anthrax & ricin, and there is no evidence that he was sponsoring terrorist cells in the west. He was a secular despot. There was no evidence of, or suggestion of common cause with Saudi radicals. And he wasn't "threatening to impose his ideas on others through violence" - outside his borders. He wasn't even "taking steps to prepare to act on those beliefs". Hussein was a brutal despot and a bully at home, no doubt. But he was a localized despot who had been successfully contained with a decade's worth of sanctions, embargos, no-fly-zones, targeted strikes, etc. He was de-fanged. His violations of the UN ceasefire agreement were petty and prideful and did not rise, in my opinion, to the level of warranting a three year $400 billion invasion & occupation. The others on the UN Security Council (except Britian) certainly didn't think so.

If we had pressed on in Tora Bora, hot pursuit into Pakistan would have been possible and tolerated in a way that it would not be now. Bin Laden had attacked us and he and his Taliban enablers were on the run. We then diverted forces and dropped the ball. Sure, hot pursuit might have been costly and difficult, but not 3+ years, 12,000 killed & maimed Americans, and $400 billion on credit. Just like we tightened the noose in Tora Bora, if the will had been there we could have gone on and tightened the noose in the Hindu Kush if necessary.

Also, I actually got it backwards in my last post: It's the Wahabis who are the sworn enemies of the Iraqi Baathists, not the other way around. I have read repeatedly that one of their core fundamentalist tenets is that all non-Wahabi muslims are heathen and should be obliterated. Bin Laden said publicly several times that the Iraqis were "infidels". So this is an explicit exception to "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".

I certainly don't see the progress you do regarding Wahabi madrassahs. I did see a recent attempted attack on Saudi Arabia's largest oil field, And I do see Parvez Mushareff facing persistent demonstrations at home and having to appease the extremists in his north. And I have to say that the images of Iraqi prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib did more to set back the cause of Islamic moderates than any benefits from the sacrifice of our blood and (our children's) treasure.

I wouldn't draw any optimistic conclusions from the fact that the Sunnis did an about face and started embracing our occupation. They are worried about ethnic cleansing and are seeking support from us and wherever else they can get it (like the Jordanians Syrians & Egyptians). This is hardly a sign of success for us.

The tacit strategic premise that liberating Iraq was the way to subdue Wahabi terrorist cells is absurd on its face. That's my bottom line. The two issues were conflated and marketed as one crisis.

Reminds me of the joke about the drunk staggering around a lamppost, looking down. Someone comes up and says "whats wrong". The drunken man says that he lost his keys... over there by the doorway. "but it's too dark there, so I'm looking here."

Posted by: facethemusic | Mar 6, 2006 11:57:57 PM

Dear FTM:

Well, I respectfully disagree with your conclusions. Hopefully in 10 or 20 years, if we live so long, we'll be able to look back on this war with some perspective and be able to offer a more definitive opinion as to which side was correct.

Meanwhile, thank you for your thoughful and well informed comments.


Posted by: Spart | Mar 7, 2006 8:46:25 AM

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