[Marxism] [com-news] In NYT, Berman backs Kerry to lead war against "paranoid" Arabs
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Apr 16 03:06:27 MDT 2004
This article helps highlight the big differences between the dynamics of
the election debate around "anybody but Bush" in the United States and
the polarization that produced the victory of Zapatero over Aznar in
Spain. In the US, the public debate is being increasingly dominated by
a debate among the prowar forces over whether Bush or Kerry is the man
for the job. This is bad news for Bush, a reflection of setbacks to the
US in the third Iraq war, but also indicates that a vote for Kerry will
not be a meaningful vote against the war, even in symbolic terms.
The article reminds me of the old saying: Just because you're "paranoid"
doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
Will the Opposition Lead?
By PAUL BERMAN
Published: April 15, 2004
The war in Iraq may end up going well or catastrophically, but either
way, this war has always been central to the broader war on terror. That
is because terror has never been a matter of a few hundred crazies who
could be rounded up by the police and special forces. Terror grows out
of something larger an enormous wave of political extremism.
The wave began to swell some 25 years ago and by now has swept across a
big swath of the Muslim world. The wave is not a single thing. It
consists of several movements or currents, which are entirely
recognizable. These movements draw on four tenets: a belief in a
paranoid conspiracy theory, according to which cosmically evil Jews,
Masons, Crusaders and Westerners are plotting to annihilate Islam or
subjugate the Arab people; a belief in the need to wage apocalyptic war
against the cosmic conspiracy; an expectation that, post-apocalypse, the
Islamic caliphate of ancient times will re-emerge as a utopian new
society; and a belief that, meanwhile, death is good, and should be
loved and revered.
A quarter century ago, some of the extremist movements pictured the
coming utopia in a somewhat secular light, and others in a theocratic
light. These differences, plus a few other quarrels, led to hatred and
even war, like the one between Iran and Iraq. The visible rivalries left
an impression in some people's minds that nothing tied together these
American foreign policy acted on that impression, and tried to play the
movements against one another, and backed every non-apocalyptic dictator
who promised to keep the extremists under control. The American policy
was cynical and cruel. It did nothing to prevent those sundry movements
and dictators from committing murders on a gigantic scale.
Nor did the policy produce anything good for America, in the long run.
For the sundry movements did share a common outlook, which ought to have
been obvious all along the paranoid and apocalyptic outlook of
European fascism from long ago, draped in Muslim robes. These movements
added up to a new kind of modern totalitarianism. And, in time, the new
totalitarianism found its common point, on which everyone could agree.
This was the shared project of building the human bomb. The Shiite
theocrats of Iran pioneered the notion of suicide terror. And everyone
else took it up: Sunni theocrats, Baathist anti-theocrats of Iraq and
Syria, the more radical Palestinian nationalists, and others, too.
The Sept. 11 attacks came from a relatively small organization. But Al
Qaeda was a kind of foam thrown up by the larger extremist wave. The
police and special forces were never going to be able to stamp out the
Qaeda cells so long as millions of people around the world accepted the
paranoid and apocalyptic views and revered suicide terror. The only
long-term hope for tamping down the terrorist impulse was to turn
America's traditional policies upside down, and come out for once in
favor of the liberal democrats of the Muslim world. This would mean
promoting a counter-wave of liberal and rational ideas to combat the
allure of paranoia and apocalypse.
Some people argue that anti-totalitarian revolutions can never be
brought about from outside. The history of World War II says otherwise.
Some people respond with the observation that Germany, Italy and Japan
are nothing like the Muslim world. In Afghanistan, the American-led
invasion has nonetheless brought about an anti-totalitarian revolution.
A pretty feeble revolution, true but even feeble progress suggests
The whole point in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, from my perspective, was
to achieve those large possibilities right in the center of the Muslim
world, where the ripples might lead in every direction. Iraq was a
logical place to begin because, for a dozen years, the Baathists had
been shooting at American and British planes, and inciting paranoia and
hatred against the United States, and encouraging the idea that attacks
can successfully be launched against American targets, and giving that
idea some extra oomph with the bluff about fearsome weapons. The
Baathists, in short, contributed their bit to the atmosphere that led to
Sept. 11. Yet Iraq could also boast of liberal democrats and some
admirable achievements in the Kurdish north, which meant there were
people to support, and not just to oppose. Such were the hopes.
As for the results well, in one respect, these have turned out to be,
in spite of everything, almost comically successful. Baathism's
super-weapons may have been a figment of the universal imagination; but
as soon as the United States elevated this figment into a world crisis,
astonishing progress was made in tracking down weapons programs and
trafficking in Libya, Iran, Dubai and Pakistan. Some people will go on
insisting that sudden progress on these matters has nothing to do with
Iraq, and the dominoes tumbled simultaneously by sheer coincidence but
some people will believe anything.
Nobody can doubt, however, that even in its planning stages, the
invasion and occupation of Iraq were depressingly bungled. The whole
thing was done in an odd mood of hysteria and parsimony, a bad
combination. It is tempting to conclude that, all in all, we would have
been better off staying out of Iraq altogether and maybe this will
turn out to be the case.
But everyone who feels drawn to that conclusion had better acknowledge
its full meaning: the unavoidable implication that we would be better
off today with Saddam Hussein in power; better off with economic
sanctions still strangling the Iraqi people; better off with American
army bases still occupying Saudi soil (Osama bin Laden's original
grievance against us); and better off without the progress on weapons
proliferation in the Muslim world (unless you believe in the
sheer-coincidence theory, in which case, you think that progress would
have happened willy-nilly). That is a pretty horrifying set of
Now we need allies people who will actually do things, and not just
offer benedictions from afar. Unfortunately how many misfortunes can
fall upon our heads at once? finding allies may not be easy. Entire
populations around the world feel a personal dislike for America's
president, which makes it difficult for even the friendliest of
political leaders in some countries to take pro-American positions.
But the bigger problem has to do with public understandings of the war.
People around the world may not want to lift a finger in aid so long as
the anti-totalitarian logic of the war remains invisible to them.
President Bush ought to have cleared up this matter. He has, in fact,
spoken about conspiracy theories and hatred (including at Tuesday's
press conference). He has spoken about a new totalitarianism, and has
even raised the notion of a war of ideas.
But Mr. Bush muddied these issues long ago by putting too much emphasis
on weapons in Iraq (and his gleeful opponents have muddied things even
further by pretending that weapons were the only reason for war). He
muddied the issues again by doing relatively little to promote a war of
ideas quite as if his loftier comments were merely blather. His
national security statement of 2002 flatly declared that totalitarianism
no longer existed a strange thing to say. War requires clarity. Here
Somebody else will have to straighten out these confusions, then. I
think it will have to be the Democrats at least those Democrats who
accept the anti-totalitarian logic. And why shouldn't they show a bit of
leadership? After the Spanish election last month, America needed to
reach out to the new Spanish leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and
his voters. Mr. Bush was in no position to do this, given that in
November he had delivered a speech that was all-too characteristically
insulting to the European left. Instead, it was Senator John Kerry who
made a public appeal to Mr. Zapatero to keep troops in Iraq.
I wish the Democrats would follow Mr. Kerry's example and take it a step
further by putting together a small contingent of Democrats with
international reputations, a kind of shadow government not to
undermine American policy but to achieve what Mr. Bush seems unable to
do. The Democrats ought to explain the dangers of modern totalitarianism
and the goals of the war. They ought to make the call for patience and
sacrifice that Mr. Bush has steadfastly avoided. And the Democratic
contingent ought to go around the world making that case.
The Democrats ought to thank and congratulate the countries that have
sent troops, and ought to remind the economically powerful Switzerlands
of this world that they, too, have responsibilities. The Democrats ought
to assure everyone that support for a successful outcome in Iraq does
not have to mean support for George W. Bush. And how should the
Democrats make these several arguments? They should speak about
something more than the United Nations and stability in Iraq. They
should talk about fascism. About death cults. About the experiences of
the 20th century. About the need for democratic solidarity.
This is not a project for after the election this is a project for
right now. America needs allies. Today, and not just tomorrow. And
America needs leaders. If the Bush administration cannot rally support
around the world, let other people give it a try.
Paul Berman is the author of "Terror and Liberalism."
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