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« Open Mouth, Insert Foot, Colin | Main | Like It Will Make A Difference? »

Pundit Cluelessness And The War

Well, Professor Reynolds beat me to the punch line, but here's the post I promised last night.

The conventional "wisdom" of the media and punditocracy seems to be the following:

The Middle East is a region of states hostile to us (Iraq and Iran), states indifferent to us (Syria), and states friendly to us (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the other Gulf States, and Egypt). In order to deal with the hostile states (primarily Iraq) we have to get support of the "friendly states," particularly Saudi Arabia. This is the famous "coalition" that we had put together in the Gulf War.

But the Saudis are nervous about us being on their territory at all, because this is one of the things that upset Osama, and their own people might not stand for it. In addition, though they'd like to help, they and the other "friendly" states (like Egypt) are upset with us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which has nothing to do with the War on Terrorism). So, at a minimum, in order to have them as part of the necessary coalition, we must first resolve the Palestinian problem, or at least reign in our ally, Israel, who is mostly to blame for all the problems over there, and (remember again) this has nothing to do with the War on Terrorism--it's just a distraction from it.

The War on Terror (you know, the one that has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine) is being waged against us by a (relatively) few fanatics, and they are supported by renegades in those "friendly" countries, and there's little their governments can do about it, because the people are so righteously angry at us for the Palestinian problem that any attempt to crack down on terror in those nations might result in instability in the region, causing those "friendly" governments to fall, with much worse replacements.

This is the standard template for almost all discussion of the subject, at least in most mainstream news sources.

Now here's the reality:

The Arab world is at war with us (us being western civilization), and has been since at least the end of World War II. For most of the world, and for most of that time, it has been a low-grade war, with the only active battlefront in Israel, because the Arab states lacked the resources to take it to their real enemy, in Europe and America, other than with pinpricks like the Lockerbie bombing, and the embassy and Marine barracks attacks.

Because they couldn't successfully wage a conventional war against us, they've instead been waging an unconventional one. They have colonized large parts of the world with their ideology, by funding mosques and religious schools (including North America), and taken over the governments of the countries themselves when they could get away with it (e.g., Afghanistan). They have funded terrorists both directly and indirectly, and they have filled their own people with a rage against us, while at the same time oppressing them. Part of this unconventional war was to pretend that it wasn't happening, with diplomacy and propaganda, paid for by their oil millions. Unfortunately, we've been merely swatting them away like mosquitos, instead of recognizing them for the threat they were.

Up until September 11, the main front was in Israel, using hapless maleducated Palestinians as their pawns and proxies. We have to recognize that, as PM Netanyahu says, we and Israel are fighting the same war, against the same nihilistic enemy, and have been for decades. The Intifada is not a separate problem from the War on Terrorism--it is an integral part of it, and always has been, even when we (the U.S.) didn't realize that we were at war.

But last September, they figured out how to take the war more directly to the enemy, or at least they thought they did. They played, and in fact overplayed their hand, and they can now be recognized for what they are--open enemies of our country. At a minimum, their near-term goal is to prevent us from inhibiting the spreading of their vile beliefs further into lands they consider naturally Wahhabi Islamic. Ultimately, they would like for the entire world to believe as they do, which is why they take the millions we provide them for oil, and fund mosques and madrassas with it, even in the US.

People who say that we have to wait until we straighten out the mess in Israel before we can take on Iraq have it exactly backwards. Taking out Saddam will eliminate the most immediate threat of being attacked with WMD, and it will provide an object lesson to the remaining regimes of what happens when you wage war against civilization. And it will make it much easier to put someone in
charge of the Palestinians who is reasonable and can actually be negotiated with in trust.

But the road to Baghdad may lie through Riyadh. And in fact, though the Administration has been loathe to admit it, they may not be able to ignore the elephant in the living room for much longer--even Cokie Roberts pointed out this morning that the Saudis are rewarding Palestinian Islamakazis, just as Saddam is, though neither she, nor anyone else in the roundtable, discussed the true implications of this.

The current Saudi regime has to go eventually--they are the source, the wellspring, of the Arab war against us. Most of the Al Qaeda's money came from there, most of the 911 attackers were from there, all of the hatred being preached in the mosques is funded from there. But I suspect that the Administration has been hoping that they can instill a change in Saudi behavior by making an example of Saddam, who has much less support (though still too much) from our European "allies," and against whom a clear-cut case can be made of being in more-or-less continuous breach of the surrender agreement he signed in 1991.

I think that this is a naive view. Saddam must go, but so must the House of Saud, at least in its current form. If they won't grant us permission to use their bases for our mission in Iraq, and we require them to save lives, money and time, then we should use them without their permission. They must recognize that we finally recognize that they have been warring with us since at least 1948, and that we are no longer going to tolerate it, and there's little they can do to prevent it.

If their regime falls as a result, c'est la guerre. It will be a necessary beginning to liberating the people of all of the Arab states from their oppressors. And for those who value "regional stability" over freedom and security, I say, when the status quo is so odious, instability is our friend. We are at war.

[Update at 2:49 PM PDT]

Glenn notes this post, and says that I say "that now they're ready to take it to a higher level."

Actually, just to clarify, I don't think that they were really ready to take it to a higher level--they just accidentally did. Osama got ahead of them, and I don't think that they realized exactly how ambitious he was.

So now it's at a higher level, we've been tipped off, and they're not ready for it, so they're continuing to pretend that it didn't really happen--it was just that terrorist over there (averting eyes to the ground, whistling, making circles in dirt with toe...).

[Update at 3:01 PM PDT]

I should also add, that I'm not actually proposing going to war with the entire Arab world. We need to use a little jujitsu, and actually work with the few friends that we have there to really splinter it (not a difficult task at all, since they're always on the verge of doing it to themselves). Probably the best hope is Jordan. We need to cut a deal with King Abdullah that he gets back the Saudi Peninsula, in exchange for use of his territory for strikes on Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Put the Hashemite Kingdom in charge of the holy places, and cut out some territory for a Palestinian state in present-day Jordan (after doing another Black September on the current Palestinian leadership, which Israel has already made a start at). Egypt, hopefully, could be left on the sidelines.

This would be a major step toward an Arab world with which we, and the Israelis, could live.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 07, 2002 01:09 PM
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This is on-target thinking, Rand. And it dovetails nicely with what I've been arguing over on LGF vis-a-vis threats of an oil embargo eminating from the region: oil is not the problem; in fact, it's plentiful. The problem is with the folks sitting on top a good chunk of it. Not that I'm interested in fueling (pardon the pun) more conspiracy nonsense, but the installation of legitimate, pro-western leadership in the region is a far more effective energy initiative than are silly McCain/Kerry 35MPG CAFE dreams.

Posted by Jeff Goldstein at April 7, 2002 03:32 PM

Amen, brother. The overall situation in the Middle East is not very complex (as the Euroweenies and US pundits would have us believe). It's the Good Guys against the Bad Guys, and you don't need to buy a program to tell who's playing for which side. I believe most Americans see the situation in this way, and I believe that's what really scares the Euroweenies, the Arabs, and the punditocracy. Espcially the Arabs, as demonstrated in Prince Bandar's recent screed in the WaPo; he ends with an appeal to the American "elites" to understand the situation and make the appropriate moves. He and his buddies know the American "non-elite" citizenry can see through all the BS and will support this Administration in going after the Bad Guys, no matter what flags or religions they wrap themselve in.

Posted by g lange at April 7, 2002 04:07 PM

Good points.
I would like to state my opinion in brief, what makes a good regime.
Western Europe and USA have secular regimes, and constitutions based on enlightened ideals of civil and human rights.
Israel must go the same way. Secular - open - enlightened. Open to house people of all faiths and non-faith.
The Arab nations should be freed from their past, and follow Turkey's path. Than, we can hope for peace and normal relationship.
The frictions in the Middle East have deep religious reasons which threaten the whole world.
I would lay equal blame to the parties.
Anybody agrees?

Posted by Steven Fodor at April 7, 2002 04:09 PM

No, if by the "parties," you mean Israel and the Arabs, I disagree. Israel is a relatively secular democracy now, and all faiths are already welcome there.

While I think that the rabbis have too much influence in the government (this is the root source of the sore spot of the continuing settlement building on the West Bank, which is a legitimate and the only legitimate Palestinian grievance at this point), it's not comparable to Iran or Saudi Arabia--in which all law is essentially religious law.

The Arab nations must follow Turkey's example. Israel did at its founding.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 7, 2002 04:15 PM

On the mark and on the money. We've been at war for 30 years and only now found out about it. The only place where I don't agree with you is in your opinion that Bush hasn't noticed it. I think he's smart enough not to try and eat the whole cake at once, but to take it a slice at a time. If a pro-western regime to be put in place on either side of Iran, Iran as a consequence of its own internal dynamics is toast in a year or two, hence the emphasis on Iraq. With the ayatollahs hanged, there's only the Wahhabi strain to worry about, rather than a two-pronged Shi'ite-Salafist offensive. The Saudi problem will have to be solved, but the kicker there is the holy places, so it will have to be isolated first and might even be the last slice eaten.

Posted by Fred Pruitt at April 7, 2002 04:36 PM

Think "containment."

My (much earlier, therefore now somewhat stale) comments are at


Posted by Jay Manifold at April 7, 2002 05:33 PM

It would be foolish to do anything to the Saudis until we have secured more Persian Gulf oil. That means we conquer Iraq, and help the Iranian people liberate themselves from their Shiite mullahs, before we do anything to Saudi Arabia. IMO that is in fact the Bush Administration's plan. The Saudis will be considered our good buddies until we don't need them anymore. We're working on not needing them.

Posted by Thud at April 7, 2002 06:49 PM

How does putting another king (Abdullah) in place in Arabia promote a secular, democratic regime there? I know this isn't going to happen overnight, but isn't that repeating the mistake that put the house of Saud in power in the first place?

Just something to keep in mind. I certainly agree that Arabia cannot stay Saudi, but what replaces it should be closer to a civilised nation, not another autocracy.

Posted by tyrfing at April 7, 2002 10:27 PM

Ken Adelman has a piece on Tech Central Station making the same points as Rand. He quotes Donald Rumsfeld as saying - When a particular problem is intractable, enlarge it. I wholeheartedly agree with Rand, Glenn and others regarding the big picture and coming to grips with the Saudis as the problem. Makes me nostalgic for the old colonialist empires and the combination of might, moxy, and self-confidence it took to effectively hold sway over the globe. I can believe that Bush has the smarts to do this. The question can he relish a purging of our State Dept, harming his father's interests and legacy, ignoring the screams from Europe, the press and over 1 bln muslims while attempting to somehow rule Arabia with the American army. Doable and desirable but a whole hell of a lot to chew on. I agree with Rand on Jordan. Other possibble ally along with the new regime in Iraq - Turkey, Oman, and India.

Its all enough to make one's head spin. Which Im sure is why noone's really discussing the consequences of WWIII just yet. Then again, I doubt there was much discussion on how to pacify and carve up Germany & Japan c 1938 either.

Posted by Lloyd Albano at April 7, 2002 11:31 PM

Yes, turn Saudi Arabia back into just plain Arabia. The Saudis must go. Giving them the bums rush would be just the sort of destabilization that the Mid East needs. It would freak many regimes out of their skulls, and would almost certainly keep them quiet while we dealt with Iraq, operating from our newly secured Arabian bases. After Afghanistan, Arabia and Iraq are fallen, the mullahs in Iran might lose their grip and that country may counter-revolt and install a reasonably civilized government. Meanwhile, we could deal with Egypt (they have to go to) and the failed states of the Levant.

I like the Professor's idea of giving the whole bundle to Turkey afterwards. The oil would probably be worth it to them.

Posted by John Hawkins at April 8, 2002 01:24 AM

It's rein, not reign.

Posted by Don Burton at April 8, 2002 09:47 AM

Why the enthusiasm for Jordan? They're better than their neighbors, but it's not clear (to me, anyway) that that's not mainly a function of their being too weak to stir up trouble. Remember whose side they chose in the Gulf War.

The best thing about Jordan may be that it's farther along toward democracy than are most Arab countries. We should encourage Jordan to develop robust, representative political institutions. But to award Arabia (and by implication its oil) to the current Jordanian regime risks transforming Jordan into a different, perhaps less benign, creature than it now is.

Posted by Jonathan Gewirtz at April 8, 2002 10:15 AM

I'll settle for "better than their neighbors" right now. "The perfect is the enemy of good enough."

Certainly we'd like to see full-fledged western-style democracies over there, but given the appalling miseducational system in much of the region, it's unrealistic to expect it for at least another generation. Legitimate monarchies like Jordan's (as opposed to illegitimate monarchies like the House of Saud) can provide a transition form to get where they need to eventually be.

It is not Jordan that has been exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, and it's not just because they don't have oil revenues.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 8, 2002 11:08 AM

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