MUMBAI: AN EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR THE NEOCONS?
John McCain couldn't do it, Sarah Palin really couldn't do it, but some people have finally given our far rightists a spring in their step and a renewed post-Bush sense of purpose.
The inspirational figures I'm referring to are, of course, the Mumbai terrorists.
When we turn to today's New York Times, we see that William Kristol is getting a thrill up his leg, not only because a foreign enemy seems to have behaved in a way that conforms precisely to his worldview, but because -- and this is the really important point -- he looks across America and sees quislings who need purging:
... Jim Leach is ... a professor, at Princeton, but he's better known as a former moderate Republican congressman from Iowa who supported Barack Obama this year. His contribution over the weekend was to point out on Politico.com that "the Mumbai catastrophe underscores the importance of vocabulary." This wouldn't have been my first thought. But Leach believes it's very important that we consider the Mumbai attack not as an act of "war" but as an act of "barbarism."
Why? "The former implies a cause: a national or tribal or ethnic rationale that infuses a sacrificial action with some group's view of heroism; the latter is an assault on civilized values, everyone's. ... To the degree barbarism is a part of the human condition, Mumbai must be understood not just as an act related to a particular group but as an outbreak of pent-up irrationality that can occur anywhere, anytime. ... It may be true that the perpetrators viewed themselves as somehow justified in attacking Indians and visiting foreigners, particularly perhaps Americans, British and Israeli nationals. But a response that is the least nationalistic is likely to be the most effective."
If, as Leach says, "it may be true" the perpetrators viewed themselves as justified in their attacks, doesn't this mean that they did in fact have a "rationale" that "infused" their action?
But Leach doesn't want to discuss that rationale -- even though it's not hard to find....
No, he doesn't -- but if you read what he actually wrote, you realize that his point is not that the ideology of the terrorists is irrelevant, but rather that treating this as "war" threatens to make the response much less effective:
...The reason vocabulary distinctions are so important is that the vocabulary of "war" not only has the potential to make indiscriminate murderers somebody's martyrs, but it too easily causes the countries of victims to make counter-productive decisions, such as unilateral over-reactions, civil liberty umbrages, and resource misapplications....
Of course, unilateral over-reactions, civil liberty umbrages, and resource misapplications are precisely what Kristol wants. Excessive nationalism accompanied by wide-net demonization of an oversimplified (and frequently misidentified) enemy and an authoritarian response to dissent add up to Kristol's idea of utopia. When we do all this, we know we're truly American.
Jennifer Rubin, blogging for Commentary, also sneers at Leach and urges the Obama administration to reject soft-centered Leachism for "the clear-eyed approach set out by Mark Steyn" -- "clear-eyed" being a neocon euphemism for stark raving nuts:
...This isn't law enforcement but an ideological assault -- and we're fighting the symptoms not the cause. Islamic imperialists want an Islamic society, not just in Palestine and Kashmir but in the Netherlands and Britain, too. Their chances of getting it will be determined by the ideology's advance among the general Muslim population, and the general Muslim population's demographic advance among everybody else....
"Their chances of getting it"?? Oh, good grief. Mark, let me quantify the chance that "Islamic imperialists" will be able to build "an Islamic society ... in the Netherlands and Britain": Zero. Zip. Nada.
Let's go back to what Leach wrote:
If the goal of a hateful few is to precipitate a wider conflict, isn't it self-evident that the best way to debase their efforts is to insure that a response is comprehensive as to individual accountability but does not itself spark a war on the Indian subcontinent?
But Kristol, Rubin, and Steyn want war, not (or not just) on the Indian subcontinent but here, and forever if possible -- they believe a state of war gives us clarity of purpose and is the only way to stave off annihilation.
Or at least they hope so.
To tell you the truth, I think Leach's language is a bit timid -- I think he's responding to years of Kristolesque, Steynian propaganda (much of it emanating from the Bush/Cheney administration), according to which everything short of a crusade is surrender (defined as "law enforcement").
A crusade, needless to say, is precisely what jihadists want in reaction to their attacks.
The proper response to terrorism is the correct use, in the right proportions, of all the tools in the tool kit -- law enforcement, diplomacy, intelligence work, military might, and so on. My sense is that the centrists and the liberals in (and out of) the incoming Obama administration get this, and that only the Kristols and Steyns and Cheneys don't. I hope so. But the Mumbai attacks may have giving the neocons a chance to redraw the domestic battle lines. If so, what a gift to them.