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It’s Not Over

May 3rd, 2011

I agree with the right-wingers on one thing: it’s not over. The “War on Terror” was not really a war to begin with, but what it really was–an attempt to quell the use of terror tactics by fundamentalists and others as a result of our Middle East policies–was around well before bin Laden, and will continue. Bin Laden’s death was significant, but not in that it ends all of our problems.

Getting bin Laden was not the magic bullet that makes terrorism stop. It was, however, greatly symbolic, and has value to that extent. It could be, in a way, our excuse to leave. Because Afghanistan was not really crucial to end the bigger problem, and Iraq certainly wasn’t. The answers lie elsewhere.

Do we need to be in Afghanistan? Will it bring great harm if we leave? Depends on what’s important to you, and what you think we can accomplish. I’m not expert, so my guess here is just that–a blind guess. But I would imagine that in the long run, it won’t make much difference. Unless we expend huge amounts of money and a great many lives to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely–which I do not see as being feasible–the country will probably, inevitably, devolve back into something similar to what it was before. Will that harm us and the region? Possibly, but I would argue that it would not be much better overall if we stayed.

We need to get out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan. We need to make the military into something far less bloated, far more surgical and precise. This is not a new idea, but it is a good one. Do this, cut the hundreds of billions wasted in that part of the budget, bring back more reasonable tax rates for the wealthy and corporations, and we stand a good shot of turning this sucker around. And maybe this event today was what we needed to start doing that.

Not that I think it’ll happen.

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  1. Tim Kane
    May 3rd, 2011 at 04:25 | #1

    Not over, but it’s reasonable to see it as an inflection point.

    In the first week of January, tens of thousands of Egyptian muslims formed a human shield to protect Coptic Christians (who use the Eastern Calender thus, January) from possible extremist-muslim-terrorist attacks.

    This told me that Egypt, as a society, is ready for real democracy. But, there were still those extremist they had to protect against. So, it’s still not a perfect society, but ready to take a big step forward. Then the Tunisian revolution happened and it spread to Egypt. So, in my mind, it didn’t take long for events to evolve. Egypt appears to be well along on a trajectory towards functional democracy, but it’s not without it’s medieval and primeval elements.

    Revolutions are still spawning all over the Arab world. This is similar to 1848 – liberal revolutions spawned all over the European world. Some countries, like Denmark became democracies overnight, other’s like France lurched forward only to lurch back again before lurching even farther forward – but in almost every country in Europe, liberal institutions were implemented to some extent. No one can predict the future, but it seems likely that progress in the Arab world will not be even.

    Between Monarchy (ancien regime) and today’s democracies, almost every major European country experienced a dictatorship of some sort: England had Cromwell, France had Napoleon, Germany Hitler, Italy Mussolini, Spain Franco, and so on. (Some nations, mostly smaller ones, managed to avoid reactionary regimes, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Czeckoslavakia prior to WWII and dictatorship imposed upon them from the Soviet Union).

    Still we’ve hit an inflection point, I think, where Arab’s are looking for real progress in civics, and civic progress apart from Islam. This is the most fundamental element of sound civics: separation of religion from civics. This occurs at about the same time that Osama has been killed.

    Osama is basically an extension of Wahabi-ism, which is strict fundamentalist religion, in which strict fundamentalist Islam runs the state. So in my mind, his death at the same time as the Arab revolutions, taken together, underscores the inflection point in time.

    We, the outside world, the UN, whatever, need to be helpful in guiding these societies to avoid obvious pitfalls on the way to creating new constitutions, though they have to do most of the heavy lifting, there’s no need to repeat obvious past mistakes – and certainly worthy of attempts to do so. Hopefully we can avoid as many reactionary movements as possible.

    So, I think we have hit an inflection point in time. It’s a nice turn of events. There’s still terrorist out there, but it seems clear that terrorism is NOT creating mass follower-ship – instead Arabs, at least, are pulling towards sound civics. Bin Laden’s death I think is very symbolic in this.

    With Bin Laden dead, the frustrated masses in the Arab street are even less likely to look to religious extremism to liberate them from their travials, and hopefully look towards liberalism and sound civics, and hopefully achieve such.

    In regard to Iraq, it was a big mistake, but perhaps, we can soon leave.

    In regard to Afghanistan, Bush cluster fncked that up when he went with Karzai instead of building on and leaning on the tradition of the monarchy there and the loya jerga. For developing nations, I’m a big fan of monarchies, especially past the second generation or so. When they achieve legitimacy it becomes increasingly hard for ambitious men to consolidate power to themselves. Royalty eventually pursue noble ethics and that means, ambitious people have to act like nobles which usually means giving consideration towards one’s lessors. Without royalty you get ambitious men like Gaddafi (in the case of Italy and Musollini, some times you still get ambitious men as dictators while still in royalty, just not as often, and Italy was only in it’s second generation as a united kingdom). Of course this only address issues of politics not economics.

    At this point I don’t know how you fix Afghanistan quickly, but if I were a policy maker in Washington, I would still be trying to back in some kind of Monarchy and neo-feudal institutions (they are intuitive to almost every society). They’ve got a real mess on their hands there no, and I’m not sure if there is any way to leave it cleaner than they found it.

    May 5th, 2011 at 17:30 | #2

    There is the saying that you do not go from file clerk to Grandee of Spain in one generation. The Western World didn’t go either from absolute monarchies to democracies in one go. Your suggestion to back in some kind of Monarchy and neo-feudal institutions makes eminent sense to me, but it would never fly. Actually we have seen this process in countries like South Korea or Taiwan, where democracy was preceded by more or less enlightened dictatorships.

    Killing Osama, as before killing Saddam, won’t change anything on the ground in Afghanistan and I could do without the jubilations in the U.S. for his death. To me, it merely shows the capability of American intelligence and Obama’s leadership -which should help him considerably in next year’s election. Actually, that is good enough for me.

    I think that if the objective of the war in Afghanistan is to impose some kind of precarious democracy, like in Iraq, it is fundamentally flawed. It is not worth either American lives nor American treasure. Further, civil society in Afghanistan is much more primitive than in Iraq and therefore any possible semblance of democracy much more remote. Obama is not Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld: he is an extremely intelligent man and knows this. My bet is that he will get out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later. Osama’s death gives him one more argument to declare MISSION ACCOMPLISHED when the right time comes.

    I agree that it’s reasonable to see it as an inflection point the movements that we are witnessing in the Arab World but they have nothing to do with the death of Osama nor with Western efforts to democratize them. It is for this reason that in my opinion they show promise, but it will be a long road and there will be steps back. All major European countries experienced steps back on their way to today’s modern democracies. Minor, monocultural countries without heavy historical legacies are another matter.

    One cannot forget either that terrorism against the West was not an accident: it cannot ever be justified but it can be explained in rational terms. The West should reconsider its foreign policy in that part of the world.

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