Michael had this post below, about what we can learn from the atrocity in Beslan, and what we might have to do in the future as this war continues. I started to type a comment, but I’ll just put it here.
I have been thinking more and more that we need to start thinking about what this conflict will look like in the next few years, particularly if it does evolve into a Huntingtonian war of civilizations. As it is, we are currently engaged against a terrorist organization which is the militant arm of a widespread politico-religious movement, which enjoys a high degree of sympathy among many Muslims, and benefits from the intimidated silence or verbal acquiescience of most of the rest. That is a large challenge, but possibly one which can be overcome.
Michael summarizes the current approach so far: “I think the US is on exactly the right track. Fight and kill the terrorists where we find them, change the social-political conditions which gives rise to them, and to the greatest degree practical defend our populations from them.” Bush has employed this progaram, call it Plan A — destruction of the active militants coupled with political and economic reform leading to liberalization and hence economic development and pacification of the militants’ supporters. The end game for Plan A is a win-win for all communities. The only people who die are the militants, their victims when they manage to pull off one of their atrocities, and those unfortunates caught in the crossfire when we attack. This is a supremely optimistic approach, a very muscular Wilsonianism. If it works, it is the wonder of the age and many benefits will accrue to us and to the rest of the world. I will admit that I have a strong streak of pessimistic “realism”, and I fear this is too hopeful to really work in the muddy reality of the world.
Martin van Creveld, whom I think is too pessimistic, is not a lightweight thinker. He believes the American ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are absolutely doomed. See his essay Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did. He concludes that “the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.” (See also this short pieceby van Creveld.)
Whether or not van Creveld’s analysis is correct, my recent reading of Alan MacFarlane, this one and this one, both brilliant btw, make me think the Muslims are a long way from being able to sustain a modern liberal society and economy. (Details in some future post, I hope.)
What if the attempt to liberalize the Muslim world fails? Then what? What is our “go to Hell” plan? Do we advert to some kind of genocidal onslaught against the Muslims? Wretchard has suggested this — I can’t find the link, but he has talked about what might provoke such a response and how it would play out. This approach, if you can call it that, has become general wisdom, almost, in the right/libertarian spiral arm of blogspace.
But I don’t see that happening, even if New York or Washington or Chicago are destroyed with nuclear weapons, a scenario I consider likely. I don’t think the American people will go for a spasmodic response which kills millions of people who have little or nothing to do with the attacks just because they practice more-or-less the same religion as the attackers. I could be wrong, but assume arguendo I’m not.
What, then is the Plan A.2 before we get to a Jacksonian annihilatory program? I suspect it will look a lot like what we had in the majority of the Postwar period, i.e. reliance on local strongmen like the Shah to keep order by coercion and cooption. That model worked but was ugly and provoked a lot of resentment, and a lot of moral objections here at home. As a stopping point half-way down the cliff to armageddon, it may have appeal in the future. Finding and funding and arming a local tough guy to be “our bastard” may be revived as a middle-ground between social uplift and something approaching genocide. In other words, forthright imperialism in the areas which present a threat to us and which contain petroleum we need. We are to some degree doing this now, leaving the authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia alone, while trying to liberalize the countries which were so far gone they presented a threat.
I hope someone in the Pentagon or the State Department is coming up with a list of possible candidates in the relevant countries to be our future Muslim strongmen. Of course these guys have a way of being dragged out of their palaces by angry mobs. But, those are the risks you take.
Or is there a better Plan A.2 which I haven’t thought of?