Sunday, September 11, 2005

"An existential desert of the present"

Four years on, how did we come to this pass?

Mark Danner quotes Rumsfeld asking the right question ("Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"), and then answers, with devastating accuracy:

The answer is clearly no. "We have taken a ball of quicksilver," says the counterinsurgency specialist John Arquilla, "and hit it with a hammer."

What has helped those little bits of quicksilver grow and flourish is, above all, the decision to invade and occupy Iraq, which has left the United States bogged down in a brutal, highly visible counterinsurgency war in the heart of the Arab world. Iraq has become a training ground that will temper and prepare the next generation of jihadist terrorists and a televised stage from which the struggle of radical Islam against the "crusader forces" can be broadcast throughout the Islamic world. "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," Porter J. Goss, director of the C.I.A., told the Senate in February. "These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in, and focused on, acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

And why have we committed such a world-historical folly? I'm afraid Danner is altogether right, again:
Instead of fighting the real war that was thrust upon us on that incomprehensible morning four years ago, we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination, an ideological struggle that we defined not by frankly appraising the real enemy before us but by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions.
Danner's argument, in a nutshell, is that the people running American foreign policy today (in particular the architects of the 2002 National Security Strategy and its first test-case, the Iraq War) have attempted to run the so-called GWOT according the trusty Cold War anti-communist playbook. But with one crucial difference: instead of replicating the containment policy which was the de facto (and ultimately winning) strategy of all American administrations during the Cold War, they decided to go for what Norman Podhoeretz famously refered to as the "old conservative dream of going beyond the containment of Communism to the 'rollback' of Communist influence." In other words, the neocons not only wanted to replay the Cold War, an ambition which in any event misapprehended the nature of the new enemy, but what's worse insisted on pursuing a policy in this new Cold War which had been repeatedly rejected by Cold War American Presidents (including Reagan, whom they bitterly criticized for same) as overly and unnecessarily risky.

Which raises a thought that has been looming larger and larger in my mind for the last ten years: that Dwight D. Eisenhower, the man who really codified containment as the enduring American Cold War policy, is America's most underrated post-Civil War President. Be that as it may, this much is certain: George Bush will certainly be considered one of the worst.

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