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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 15 March 2004

Topic: World View

Spain Pulls Out of the Coalition of Grudgingly Willing - A Second Round of Scrutiny from the Other Side of the Pond

Spain? Obviously a nation of pragmatists or, looking at it the other way, a nation of cowards who don't see the nobility of our war on all evil and full of folks with an unreasonable hatred of the heroic George Bush... that is, in Spain the craven appeasers of terrorism have won.

Take your choice.

First up we have Matthew Yglesias - a Writing Fellow at The American Prospect magazine in Washington, DC. In addition, his work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Center for American Progress, and Tech Central Station. Yglesias is a 2003 graduate of Harvard where he majored in philosophy, was Editor in Chief of The Harvard Independent and wrote an honors thesis on the implications of John Rawls' political liberalism for public education. And he has a blog.

Here he suggests the bombing and surprising election in Spain is good for the conservatives here in the United States - it sets up a model:

The right would like to set up the following argument: If there are no attacks between now and the election, then Bush has defended us from terror and deserves re-election; if there is an attack between now and the election, then voting for Kerry would be appeasement. Spain is just the dry-run.
So young. So cynical.

And then he adds this:

On The Other Hand

If -- as much of the right keeps telling me -- yesterday's election in Spain really is a victory for al-Qaeda in the war on terror, and George W. Bush is leading the global war on terror, does it follow that Bush is mismanaging our side and leading to our defeat?
This fellow is fond of snarky logic. Harvard corrupts people, doesn't it?

Then there is Christopher Hitchens. He weighs in today.

See To Die in Madrid: The nutty logic that says Spain provoked Islamist terrorism
Christopher Hitchens, SLATE.COM, Posted Monday, March 15, 2004, at 12:28 PM PT

I must admit this whole item was so heavily sarcastic even I could make little of what he was getting at. And I LIKE sarcasm. Most of it seems to be an argument that no matter what anyone nation does - support Bush or repudiate him or just shrug - the bad guys will kill anyone anywhere. And that is just the way it is. Spain can stay in Iraq or go home. Same for the UK or Australia or Japan or Fiji. Even we can stay or go home. It doesn't matter one whit.

So what should we do?

Hitchens ends with this:

I find I can't quite decide what to recommend in the American case. I thought it was a good idea to remove troops from Saudi Arabia in any event (after all, we had removed the chief regional invader). But, even with the troops mainly departed, bombs continue to detonate in Saudi streets. We are, it seems, so far gone in sin and decadence that no repentance or penitence can be adequate. Perhaps, for the moment, it's enough punishment, and enough shame, just to know that what occurred in Madrid last week is all our fault. Now, let that sink in.
Hitchens suggests a problem that admits of no possible solution. I guess he was having a bad day.

Josh Marshall on the other hand does a more useful analysis. Here's some of it.

Let's fall back for a moment and think about what this whole fight is about. Al Qaida (and militant Islam generally) sees itself as the inheritor of a world-historical religious movement which, according to their view of cosmology and eschatology, is supposed to be at the vanguard of history. In the orthodox Muslim view of history, the `lands of Islam' expand but they never recede. The Islamic world should be the most powerful, the most advanced by various measures, probably the wealthiest. Viewed from that perspective almost everything about the contemporary world is turned upside down, almost a blasphemy in itself. The US, from their perspective both a secular and a Christian power, is the dominant power even in the heartlands of Islam. Add to this that our secularism is another level of blasphemy. From the perspective of revanchist, militant Islam, almost everything about today's world is nearly the opposite of what they believe their religion says it should be. (Thus, they're somewhat aggravated.)

So the whole point of this endeavor is to sweep us out of the heartlands of Islam, put Islam back on the march on its frontiers and purify the religion itself within the Abode of Islam, as they call it.

From that point the whole program becomes more muddled and inchoate, but whether they want to reestablish the caliphate within the existing lands of Islam or take over the whole world or whatever doesn't really matter for our present purposes.

The key point is that it's not hard to see how invading and occupying part of the heartland of Islam is going to rile them up a bit since it brings into sharper relief their whole worldview of a cataclysmic struggle between the West and Islam. (In itself that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. But even if we supposed there would be positive effects, we'd have to realize that there would be at least short-term negative ones as well.) Whether they use our presence there cynically (as yet another rallying cry to bring followers to their side) or whether it just confirms them in their view of the reality of the situation is also not all that relevant for our present purposes.

We know for instance that over the last several years al Qaida has spoken more and more about Palestine --- an issue with which it didn't originally seem to have that much interest. And they started to do the same with Iraq just as the US increasingly turned its attention to the country. But again, that doesn't really prove anything more than al Qaida's opportunism or their addled worldview, take your pick.

Many of us are familiar with early- and mid-20th century Communists or modern-day LaRouchies who will glom onto almost any movement or issue under the sun in order to use it as a vehicle to advance their own interests and enhance their own power. I don't think there's that much difference in this case.

In just such fashion, in the middle decades of the 20th century, Communists sought to infiltrate the American Civil Rights movement --- repeatedly and, by and large, remarkably unsuccessfully. The analogy is imperfect certainly. But the parallels are telling. The point wasn't that the Civil Rights movement was Communist, but that Communists were trying to use the movement for its own purposes. Attacking the Civil Rights movement as part of attacking Communism wouldn't have damaged Communism but rather strengthened it since doing so would have tended to push those committed to Civil Rights into the Communists' arms. Indeed, this was precisely the idea.

Of course, there were those who had their own reasons for attacking both the Communists and the Civil Rights Movement. For them, this equation the Communists were trying to create between Communism and Civil Rights wasn't a distraction but rather a convenience. And those folks most definitely have their modern-day equivalents among us now as well, though we can focus on that point at a later time.

In any case, just because al Qaida has adopted the Iraq cause as their own doesn't mean we've damaged al Qaida by taking down the Baathist regime --- especially by doing it so incompetently. Just as likely --- in fact far more likely --- is that we've just handed them a useful recruiting tool while distracting ourselves from pursuing more effective means of extirpating them.
In short? Just what Hitchens said, without the sarcasm. The war was a dumb idea and didn't help with terrorism at all.

So it doesn't matter if Spain pulls out of the Coalition of Grudgingly Willing. They're not more safe. They're not less safe. This is an al Qaida effort beyond all that. It really doesn't matter.

Hey, if they want to toss out the fellow who kissed Bush's butt in spite of most everyone saying that was really dumb, well, more power too them. As if it matters...

Posted by Alan at 19:28 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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