Sunday, December 05, 2004


Kevin Drum is one of my favorite bloggers, but I think he gets a few things wrong in his response to Peter Beinart's "A Fighting Faith" piece.

Kevin wrote:
For all his tough talk, the president of the United States has tacitly admitted that he doesn't feel this war is important enough to require any sacrifice on the part of the American citizenry.

The Republican party has made it as clear as it possibly can that the war on terror is not vital enough to require either bipartisan support or the support of the rest of the world. They've treated it more like a garden variety electoral wedge issue than a world historical struggle.

That Bush & Co. have, since 9/12/2001, made terrorism a political wedge issue says more about the opportunism and general unseriousness of Bush and the Republican Party than I think it does about the reality of the threat.

The fact is that compared to fascism and communism, Islamic totalitarianism seems like pretty thin beer to many. It's not fundamentally expansionist, and its power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league.

By arguing that jihadism is "not fundamentally expansionist" is Drum implying that if bin Laden were to achieve his immediate goals, drove the infidels from the Holy Places, took over the Saudi government, and controlled the flow of Saudi oil (and thus the worldwide oil market), that we should somehow be okay with that? I hope not, because that would be silly.

I think Drum also makes a mistake by casting the war in terror in essentially the same terms as conservatives, as a traditional war, and by judging the extent of the threat by the number of attacks or number of people killed in the last few years. Bush calls it a "war" for purposes of mobilizing public support, but in reality what we face is a global guerrilla insurgency. Success is not judged, at least not by the insurgents, by how many people they murder, but in the fact that they set the pace of the conflict, and force us to live our lives under threat of attack and to modify our lives and change our societies accordingly.

But Drum is right that militant Islamic fundamentalism is not nearly as overwhelming or immediate a threat as were either fascism or Soviet Communism. Al Qaeda is not preparing vast armies to march into Europe, but that's also kind of the point: it doesn't have to. As long as they can control the pace of the fighting, as long as they can mount two or three successful attacks a year in Western cities, as long as they can keep us off balance and scared of that suitcase nuke, then they are winning, according to their own metric if not to ours.

To state the obvious, this is a very different world than it was in the 1940s and 50s. The global economy both enables and depends upon the relatively free flow of ideas, technology, capital, and people. It's simply not realistic now (and it was only slightly more realistic then) to think that we can consign one area of the globe to totalitarianism and then go about our business in another. Terrorists know that they can use the technologies and increased openness of a globalized world to level the amount of destruction that formerly would've required an army. More importantly, they can present a credible threat of such destruction. That, in and of itself, should require serious and sustained attention on the part of liberals.

In any case, I think everyone agrees that this is a hugely important discussion for liberals to have, and I'm glad Beinart got the ball rolling.


On another note, one element of Beinart's piece which seems to be getting an inordinate amount of attention is his castigation of Michael Moore and MoveOn, which I think is unfortunate (the attention it's getting, that is). I respect MoveOn as GOTV entrepeneurs, and I think they contributed hugely to Democratic turnout on election day. Their national security views I consider not at all, though I do get the impression that MoveOn types view terrorism as a distraction, which is a problem.

As I've written before, I think Moore has some value as a political entertainer and rhetorical bomb-thrower, but on balance I'm not sure if he's good for liberals or not. I'm generally uncomfortable with populism, especially when affected by a Manhattanite multimillionaire. Moore often traffics in innuendo and pseudo-factual shilly-shallying, all of which tend to undercut his better arguments.

The real question is whether the good that Moore and MoveOn do by motivating the Democratic base is outweighed by the bad they do by convincing swing voters that Democrats aren't serious about national security. I dunno.

What really grates, though, is the way the Left is constantly called upon to condemn its own extremists, while right-wing equivalents such as Hannity, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Coulter (the list goes on and on) are celebrated and unapologetically incorporated into the the broader conservative offensive (and I do mean offensive). This reality was perfectly illustrated a few weeks ago by conservative Jay Nordlinger, during a discussion on C-SPAN's Book TV where he chucklingly referred to Ann Coulter as "flamboyant" after having scowlingly condemned Michael Moore as "toxic" only minutes before. Yeah, right.

One the one hand, I suppose this is the price we liberals pay for inhabiting the moral high ground. On the other hand, it's still bullshit. Personally, I would have no problem with strapping both Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh to a rocket and firing it into the sun, but I know the Right would never accept such a deal. Rush is far too valuable a propagandist for them. You could easily find a couple dozen Limbaugh falsehoods (even leaving aside his despicable male chauvinism and racism) for every one you could pin on Moore, but Limbaugh will continue to be a conservative hero even as conservatives continue to demand that liberals decry Moore in order to prove themselves "serious" about this or that.

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