"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, March 03, 2006

The War on Terror and the Cold War

I remember thinking soon after Sept. 11th that the War on Terror (as it was quickly labeled) would probably end up a lot like the Cold War: it would be a long, "twilight" struggle where some portion of the political Left (and Right, for that matter) would tire and seek to have us leave the field of battle before we could win. The thing that I thought would be truly distinctive is that, unlike in the Cold War, the Islamists did not and likely would not possess the capability to (a) destroy us or (b) come to rule us. The "Cartoon Wars" and riots in France have made me rethink this a bit - and not in a good way.

Though it may be hard for some people to remember this, the Soviet Union had a real opportunity in the aftermath of WWII to essentially rule all of Europe. Communist parties were quite strong, especially in Italy and France, and if the US had not been willing to spend money (and do whatever else it did) to make sure those parties did not get a hold of power, things could have gone very poorly for us. It's pretty easy to imagine a those parties (who took their orders from Moscow) ordering American troops out of the continent and doing what their brethren in the east did after 1948.

After a while, of course, the threat of direct Soviet rule lessened (they had enough trouble hanging on to their own satellite countries), but still Moscow tried to intimidate the West into bending its direction, at least to the point where they would be "neutral" (a la, say, Finland). The blockade of Berlin, use of communist unions to stage strategic strikes, funding of terrorist groups (Baadher Meinhof Gang, IRA) and "peace" movements, and so on were all designed to apply subtle (and not so subtle) pressure on western Europe in an effort to divide them from the US and bend them (ever so slightly) to the Soviet will. (There were, of course, genuinely home-grown movements that wanted the same thing).

It strikes me that this is precisely the same sort of thing that is going on now in regards to Europe and the Islamists. They can't rule outright - there aren't enough of them - but they can intimidate European governments and societies enough such that the US has to consider much of Europe simply unreliable when it comes to policy toward the Middle East. I have no doubt that the Europeans definitely do not want Iran to get a nuke (they are, after all, much closer than we are), but if push comes to shove, can the Europeans be depended upon to help with action (i.e. reducing every Iranian military facility to rubble)? If a few enterprising Imams can intimidate most European governments into helpless sputtering on the basis of some unremarkable cartoons, what do you think they'll do when it becomes clear that we're getting ready to take Iran out?

I'm still convinced that the Islamists don't pose the same degree of strategic threat that the Soviets did - they just don't have 2,000 ICBMs. But they can intimidate our allies (and us) enough to make it easier for them to win control of the Islamic countries in the Middle East. And that's a cause for worry.

17 comments:

Mark said...

Frankly there is little need for the Islamists to put pressure on Western Europe "...in an effort to divide it from the US". Such a division already exists and its root cause is the war in Iraq not the "cartoon wars", or a strategy of divide and conquer on the part of the terrorists. Europeans and their governments have become increasingly sceptical and distrustful of US military action. None of the European governments which supported the Iraq war would do so again now. Blair says he would but he would be out of office the same day; Berlusconi is enjoying his last few weeks in office and Aznar has been in retirement since 2004.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of previous or potential military action by the US, the capacity for it to command popular and political support in Europe has been severely weakened in recent years. In Europe, the US government is believed, trusted and respected less. The consequences of this can be profoundly negative. Where military action is required (and in time Iran may be such a case) prosecuting it will be more difficult (countries may not grant the use of bases or fly-over rights), more expensive (other governments will not contribute to the costs) and will be seen to carry less moral authority. A coalition of democratic countries will always carry greater weight in an era when popular support matters than a country acting without or against the wishes of its natural allies - other rich liberal democracies.

European governments have not been reduced to "helpless sputtering" over the "cartoon wars". They have consistently made clear that the right to free expression is and will continue to remain a fundamental value in Europe even at the expense of causing offence to others. They have said that the cartoons were offensive and that in their view the publishers should have exercised restraint. Anyone with a basic understanding of Islam will appreciate that they were offensive. Unless ones objective is simply to offend (an easy and tiresome occupation), they should have shown restraint.

James Elliott said...

You should read this piece by Daniel Jonah Goldenhagen of Harvard in The New Republic. It's a really insightful piece on political Islam, and has me thinking I've been rather too blase about the threat political Islam (as opposed to regular ol' Islam) poses. If there isn't a preview option available, email me at jim@pley.net and I'll email you the text of the article, if you're interested (the offer's good for anyone who wants to read it but doesn't want to sully their hands by reading a hawkish liberal magazine).

mjwatson said...

The Iraq war made more clear the split between the US and Europe, but can hardly be called the root cause of it (and though I can't make the full argument here, I think the root cause boils down to religion, one society increasingly believes that this life is all there is, and thus buying Lennon's line that there's nothing worth killing or dying for, and the other society disagrees).

A very insightful original post imo. And while I agree that the Islamists don't pose the same threat that the Soviet nuclear arsenal, one factor that is more alarming is the demographic potential of Europe's Muslim population (caveat here about not all Muslims being terrorists etc. etc.).

With Europe basically committing long-term social suicide, and their already over-crowded Middle Eastern neighbors happy to take up the slack, Europe itself will be more Islamic than not within a few generations regardless of the realpolitic threats of the current Islamicist powerbrokers. If they were smart, the latter that is, they wouldn't risk waking up whatever potential for resistance remains in Europe.

Hunter Baker said...

I think your first para hits it pretty nicely, mjwatson.

connie deady said...

The Iraq war made more clear the split between the US and Europe, but can hardly be called the root cause of it (and though I can't make the full argument here, I think the root cause boils down to religion, one society increasingly believes that this life is all there is, and thus buying Lennon's line that there's nothing worth killing or dying for, and the other society disagrees).

Does this mean secular humanists don't see anything worth killing or dying for or that religious fanatics see things worth killing or dying for or that good ole' America sees moral issues that Europe lacks. I'm really not too clear on who is accused of being what, though apparently it is clear to Hunter.

If you mean the former, surely I'd disagree and consider you've grossly misinterpreted Lennon's pacifist lyrics. (not unusual for religious types to do). Few people are more religious than pacifist Quakers, for example, so you're drawing some broad generalizations across groups that don't exist.

mjwatson said...

Perhaps you should start by rethinking whether I'm "accusing" anyone of anything. I made an observation, a general one, and admitted it couldn't be fully defended here. Generalizations by definition don't cover every particular, that's why they're called generalizations. They're still useful (i.e. your generalization about "religious people"), even if they can be false.

There is a religious difference between the US and Europe, and noting that doesn't take sides on the matter (indeed, many Europeans are only too happy to point it out, as Tony Blair is now learning the hard way).

The gist of my point is that folks who basically think this life is all there is will make "this life" more important than folks who think there's a life after this one. I could be wrong, and surely there are exceptions like the Quakers, but generally I think it's a plausible place to start (a focus on "this life" also goes a ways to explaining imo why religious folks have so many more kids than less religious folks do, why the death penalty is more accepted here, why so many heaven-on-earth political visions have been anti-religious and secular).

I really doubt most religious folks misunderstand Lennon's song, unless maybe he's an bizarro-Straussian whose anti-religious statements mean he is really religious. The distaste expressed by Lennon for Christians and vice versa has at least the virtue of clarity.

connie deady said...

Strangely enough for all your defensiveness I still don't get what your point is, which is why I asked it as a question in the first place.

For simple clarification, are you claiming the U.S. as more religious than Europe or vice versa? And does that religiosity lead to more war or less?

I wouldn't dispute Lennon was attacking religion, but that wasn't your claim. Your claim was I believe that believing there is something to die for is somehow unique to religion and that pacifists are non-believers.

I was trying to understand if you were making the common (IMO mistaken) assumption that secular humanists don't have belief systems.

mjwatson said...

Unfortunately I've now come close to participating in a hijack of what was a very interesting original post.

Let me try and take it one line at a time.

Strangely enough for all your defensiveness I still don't get what your point is, which is why I asked it as a question in the first place.

It's very possible I'm not being clear, and it's possible the problem is on your end. My original parenthetical claim was:

I think the root cause boils down to religion, one society increasingly believes that this life is all there is, and thus buying Lennon's line that there's nothing worth killing or dying for, and the other society disagrees

You responded with a number of questions and I tried to clarify with this:

The gist of my point is that folks who basically think this life is all there is will make "this life" more important than folks who think there's a life after this one.

That was my point. I don't know what's unclear about it. It seems clearly tied to Lennon in that the next line after "nothing to live or die for" is "no religion too". It's an explanatory point, not an argumentative one. And it could be wrong. Certain ancient honor-based societies may mitigate against the point. But I think the contrast is fairly clear, again generally speaking, between, say, the Christian tradition's emphasis on dying for something and a secular emphasis on doing so. What would be the secular or European equivalent to "greater love hath no man than this but to give up his life for his friends?" Peace in our time maybe?

For simple clarification, are you claiming the U.S. as more religious than Europe or vice versa? And does that religiosity lead to more war or less?

I did claim that the US is more religious than Europe (I hope this is not controversial). Does religiosity lead to more or less war? Compared to what? I have not claimed that religiosity leads to more war, and wouldn't make that claim given the anti-religious totalitarian systems that made a great deal of war in the 20th Century (wars rise out of religion too, of course).

Would a more religious society be more likely to go to war than a secular more pacifist one? Maybe, but then again one could say that the more pacifist a society gets the more they invite someone else moving in on them, a scenario that Europeans might find a little to close to home for comfort.

Your claim was I believe that believing there is something to die for is somehow unique to religion and that pacifists are non-believers.

Oh my. Would you reread what I've written and find where I've said this? We can't even rise to the level of argument until we can articulate a basic comprehension of the other's viewpoint.

I was trying to understand if you were making the common (IMO mistaken) assumption that secular humanists don't have belief systems.

Huh? Again, I don't know what I've written that even comes close to making that assumption. I've been around religious folks for a long time and have never heard such a thing, so I don't how common it could be. Of course secular humanists have belief systems. What is a common complaint is that such belief systems are mistaken/wrong/harmful etc. But that's just par for the course as secular humanists think the same of religious folks.

And to try and ward off anymore phantom attributions, I will add that nothing I've said should be taken to mean that there aren't secular people who think there are things worth defending by dying, and killing. I just think they're less prevalent among secularists than among religious people. Europe seems to be a case in point. I also think secular folks can be nice and good, and probably don't spend their time dreaming up ways to oppress Christians and do away with puppies and Christmas.

Matt Huisman said...

Europe is splitting from the US because there is an opening in the #2 slot in the global power rankings, and power vacuums must be filled. [Huisman's Law: There will always be 2*.] The EU M&A project has been in the works for some time, and now that the US is no longer 'necessary', the desire to see it happen has taken new life. It is only natural that the divergent aims of each side has moved our thoughts from commonalities to differences.

As for the feud here between Connie and mjwatson about the soul of Europe, I would only suggest that one look at the reasons that led to its creation. Europe is a corporate consolidation designed to protect market position in a dynamic world. It isn’t about anything (and therefore won't be worth anything in about 20 years).

Not to worry, pretty soon we might not be either.

* Every once in a while 3, but a minimum of 2.

connie deady said...

Matt, I'm not feuding with him, I didn't understand his point, still not sure I do.

BTW, I think I might argue with the assumption that the U.S. is more religious than Europe, though I don't have any facts to back that up. I'm not sure he does either. My anecdotal experience with Europeans is that they mostly have religious education in their public schools and the women I've encountered from Europe tend to be Christians.

But what really interests me is that while he seems to contend that the non-religious believe they have more at stake on this earth, does it follow that it makes them more war-like or less.

If he'd get off his attitude, we might be able to discuss the issues, but he's so busy being defensive, that I'm still not sure what his argument is, though philosophically it could be a really interesting discussion.

mjwatson said...

I'm not being defensive! I'm not! I'm not! I'm not!

Okay, handshake and olive branch Connie? I'm not going to retry making a point on this, at least here, maybe we can take it up in another venue where we can define what it is we're talking about. But I think on figuring out my point we should probably take a rest.

I'd be more than happy, though, to talk about how the US is more religious than Europe. We could look at several factors, such as polls that ask, "Do you consider yourself religious?", "Do you believe in God?" "How often do you attend church?" etc. Weekly church attendance in Europe ranges from the low single digits to probably the mid-20s in the more religious countries. In the US it's over 50%. Individual giving to churches and religious groups in the US dwarfs such giving in the EU, which is likely due to so many EU churches being state-supported.

There are reams of social science data to back this up. It's about as solid as the truth that democracies tend not to fight other democracies. Hunter could likely find you links and sources quicker than I could, but if you really don't trust me I suppose I could try.

connie deady said...

Good. I love olive branches, being a pacifist and all. I wasn't trying to fight with you, I was trying to understand your point.

You could be right about Europe, it just doesn't square with some of what I've read. I'm not sure church attendance is a measure of religiosity per se.

I remember talking with a friend from Denmark I believe or another scandanavian country. They actually were taught Christianity in schools. Germany is pretty solidly Catholic and of course Italy as well. As you note many religions in Europe are state supported.

I just wondered if considering U.S. more religious was a case of perception bias. The fact that European religions are state supported does raise the issue of whether state support of religion is a good thing for religion if America, which has no state support or sanction, is more religious

Karnick said...

"If he'd get off his attitude, we might be able to discuss the issues, but he's so busy being defensive, that I'm still not sure what his argument is, though philosophically it could be a really interesting discussion."

? Seems to me like you were the one who started the argument and brought an attitude to the table. MJ made an argument and articulated it countless ways for you so I don't really see the problem on his part.

"You could be right about Europe, it just doesn't square with some of what I've read. I'm not sure church attendance is a measure of religiosity per se.

I remember talking with a friend from Denmark I believe or another scandanavian country. They actually were taught Christianity in schools. Germany is pretty solidly Catholic and of course Italy as well. As you note many religions in Europe are state supported.

I just wondered if considering U.S. more religious was a case of perception bias. The fact that European religions are state supported does raise the issue of whether state support of religion is a good thing for religion if America, which has no state support or sanction, is more religious"

It's not bias. The United States is significantly more religious than almost every country in Europe. Here (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2005-08-10-europe-religion-cover_x.htm) is an example of the decline of religion in (Western) Europe. Notice the percentage of people who never or practically never attend church. In the United States it is a full 20 points below the mean! Here (http://www.jtsa.edu/research/finkelstein/religion_politics2.shtml) is another example of secular Europe vs. religious America.

"The Iraq war made more clear the split between the US and Europe, but can hardly be called the root cause of it (and though I can't make the full argument here, I think the root cause boils down to religion, one society increasingly believes that this life is all there is, and thus buying Lennon's line that there's nothing worth killing or dying for, and the other society disagrees)."

I think I agree with you here (especially about Lennon). While it is true that secular humanists have moral structures, that point is moot. What MJ I believe is trying to say here is that religious types are more likely to be willing to go to war for a cause than secular pacifists. That's not a radical belief at all!

Matt Huisman said...

Connie>> But what really interests me is that while he seems to contend that the non-religious believe they have more at stake on this earth, does it follow that it makes them more war-like or less.

It’s not a question of whether they’ll be more war-like; it’s a question of whether there is anything worth defending. To the anti-theist, there is no point in getting caught up in the disillusionment of a heroic defense of morals and values that are ultimately meaningless. Think Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms) here. The only struggle worth committing to is the struggle with life itself; to resist the inevitable defeat of death as best we can. Mark Steyn just revisited a the following couplet by Yip Harburg:

We learn this after every war
That life is not worth dying for.


If you want to be anti-war because the ambitions of Big Oil are leading us into something that needn’t have been, that’s one thing. But the anti-theist position is different than that. It says that there are no threats out there, and even if there were, there’s nothing of value for them to threaten. Here’s one more from the Yip-ster:

It's a hundred billion dollars
Every year at your expense,
For the Pentagon to gadget up
Our national defense.
But it's comforting to know that
In the up and coming war,
We'll be dying far more safely
Then we ever died before.

Matt Huisman said...

James>> You should read this piece by Daniel Jonah Goldenhagen of Harvard in The New Republic.

Very good article - very much in line with my thoughts. I don't think I fully appreciated the existential threat that Islam posed to the rest of us until I started looking at what Drucker and others had to say about the significance of demographics.

Demographics are da bomb, and the underlying values behind demographic trends provide as much insight into the future as anything. Kathy provided a link the other day that made an interesting parallel between Islam and 16th century Christianity (Title: The Reformation is Now).

Islam has been politically dormant for a while, but now its members have spread throughout the world. Its populations are growing everywhere, and it has not yet had its Reformation. The linked article makes the case that this Reformation process will be a bloody one.

I think they’re right, and I don’t see how the rest of us will be able to stay out of it. The notion that political Islam will be content only to ‘fix’ the conditions in the Arab world does not seem very convincing to me.

Devang said...

The article in the NRO does talk about all sides of the issue, and it is getting harder by the day to think there more moderate muslims than extremists. You'd only have to have talked to a hindu in India in the last 50 years to learn of what political Islam might look like.

If I may indulge in a nightmare senario here, pakistan could easily be considered as much a grave threat as Iran, IMO. Before the partition of Pakistan and India, both were not very different from each other. Even today I have non-muslim friends who consider Pakistan as a part of India, no less, and the conflict as temporary. But since the partition, Pakistan has grown extremist, with madrasas far out-teaching what we'd call regular schools. Musharraf may have achieved power in a coup, but he has since been propped up by the US... and he, for the most part, doesn't control two out of the four states of pakistan.

Scottage said...

OK, let me start by saying I got lost in the whole argument between MJ Watson and Connie Deady, so if I repeat somethign that's already been said, my apologies. And MJ, I think you're point about the demographics of the Muslim community in Europe is very poigniant, and represents a clear advantage of the Muslim world over the Cold World Soviet Union, not only in the future, but in the present where increasing friction between the two communities will cause a tremendous amount of civil unrest, and situations that will be less and less tenable in some of the long-term major capitals of democracy.

Now, to the original post. The analogy between the war between West and Middle East and the Cold War is a great analogy (though I think that terror is too narrow to encompass the Islamic side). Indeed, I see the potential for a long-term campaign of fear and mistrust that we will be looking for an exit strategy from for the next few generations, at least. And again you're correct in seeing the correlation between the battle of wills between the Soviet Union and the West and the battle of wills between the Islamic Nations and the West, though the West was much more hesitant, it seems, to back down during the cold war, and I worry about the compromise of the principles that make our way of life worth fighting for.

But I'm not sure I agree that Islam doesn't have the strength to win the conflict; or, more accurately, that they won't have the strength, at some point in the potentially very near future, to win this type of battle.

As it stands now, the West has much greater general military strength, no question about it. But that military strength is coupled with an ethic that prevents it from attacking most places indiscriminately. The West attempts at all times to only take out combatants, and in a conflict where the combatants live in and amongst the population, including in and amongst the populatiosn of the Western countries, that can be very difficult. And with the chaos caused by the weapons of the Islamic countries (namely terrorist actions), the devestation is not only physical, it's mental, it effects the whole society.

But the scenario could, and I think probably will, get worse. Because while the disparity in military preparedness is vast now, the gap could narrow quickly if Russia and/or China come in on the side of the Muslim world. Both have increased ties with the Muslim countries of late, and have fostered the types of bonds that sustain into battle. Both have vast amounts of military weaponry, and neither nation, it would seem to me, are huge fans of the West. Many Russians (and many Americans) still harbor the feelings associated with the cold war, and China has taken a back seat to the West for too long, and will also consider the risk of Hong Kong fighting for the West.

Anyway, I found your post excellent, and will be reading more of your work. I also hope to have your feedback on some of mine on the same topic.

--Scottage