Skip to comments.[Why the U.S. is] Discarding War's Rules
Posted on 07/22/2003 7:30:04 PM PDT by Enemy Of The State
"Since the events of 9/11," observes Lee Harris, America's reigning philosopher of 9/11, "the policy debate in the United States has been primarily focused on a set of problems - radical Islam and the War on Terrorism, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein in Iraq."
We sense that these three problems are related, Harris notes in an article at TechCentralStation.com, but we can't quite figure out how. He proposes a subtle link between these seemingly disparate issues - and it's not specifically their common Muslim identity. Rather, it has to do with their unearned power.
"All previous threats in the history of mankind have had one element in common. They were posed by historical groups that had created the weapons, both physical and cultural, that they used to threaten their enemies." States achieved power through their own labor and sacrifice, developing their own economies, training their own troops and building their own arsenals.
The same cannot be said of the threats emanating from the Muslim world. Al Qaeda destroys airplanes and buildings that it itself could not possibly build. The Palestinian Authority has failed in every field of endeavor except killing Israelis. Saddam Hussein's Iraq grew dangerous thanks to money showered on it by the West to purchase petroleum Iraqis themselves had neither located nor extracted.
How, despite their general incompetence, has this trio managed to guide the course of events as if they were powers in the traditional sense?
The cause of this anomaly, Harris replies, is that the West plays by a strict set of rules while permitting al Qaeda, the Palestinians and Saddam Hussein to play without rules. We restrain ourselves according to the standards of civilized conduct as refined over the centuries; they engage in maximal ruthlessness.
Had the United States retaliated in kind for 9/11, Harris tells me, the Islamic holy places would have been destroyed. Had Israelis followed the Arafat model of murderousness, the West Bank and Gaza would now be devoid of Palestinians. Had the West done toward Iraq as Iraq did toward Kuwait, the Iraqi polity would long ago have been annexed and its oil resources confiscated.
While morally commendable, Harris argues, the West's not responding to Muslim ruthlessness with like ruthlessness carries a high and rising price. It allows Muslim political extremists of various stripes to fantasize that they earned their power, when in fact that power derives entirely from the West's arch-civilized restraint.
This confusion prompts Muslim extremists to indulge in the error that their successes betoken a superior virtue, or even God's support. Conversely, they perceive the West's restraint as a sign of its decadence. Such fantasies, Harris contends, feed on themselves, leading to ever-more demented and dangerous behavior. Westerners worry about the security of electricity grids, computer bugs and water reservoirs; can a nuclear attack on a Western metropolis be that remote? Western restraint, in other words, insulates its enemies from the deserved consequences of their actions, and so unintentionally encourages their bad behavior.
For the West to reverse this process requires much rougher means than it prefers to use. Harris, author of a big-think book on this general subject coming out from the Free Press in early 2004, contends that Old Europe and most analysts have failed to fathom the imperative for a change. The Bush administration, however, has figured it out and in several ways has begun implementing an unapologetic and momentous break with past restraints:
In brief, until those Harris calls "Islamic fantasists" play by the rules, Washington must be prepared to act like them, without rules.
This appeal for America to act less civilized will offend some; but it does offer a convincing explanation for the inner logic of America's tough new foreign policy.
"is permitted to use force against other agents, who are not permitted to use force."It may not be an equitable or egalitarian rule, but it is a rule. A pretty good one too, although the rule taken to a more moral level (without sacrificing to egalitarianism) would be
"is permitted to use force against other agents, who are not permitted to use force-until such a time as they demonstrate that they have acheived an appropriate level of civilization."After all, the Brits can use force too.
If we waged war without rules, things can get quite ugly - not only for our enemies, but also for our own troops. Apart from being too civilized, the reason we don't get down and dirty is that our tolerance for casualties is very low. The victories in Iraq and Afghanistan have relied heavily on the fact that the populations of those countries for the most part welcome us as liberators. The reason we won't extend the war to other parts of the Islamic world is that their populations won't be quite as friendly, and even if we kill millions of them with our superior firepower, we'll be faced with guerilla combat orders of magnitude greater than what's taking place in Iraq.
I believe Mr. Harris correct in this. But those rules are, after all, self-imposed, and hence self-revocable. And so it has proven.
Of course the radical Moslems were misled by this sort of rule structure - who can blame them? What they saw, and what I find most curious about this, is that other Western powers such as France and Germany felt so terribly threatened when the U.S. decided to behave in contravention to rules that were clearly working against its interests. I don't think it's entirely paranoia to conclude that were not only happy with such rules, but were happy specifically because it was U.S. interests that they worked against, further, that they intended to employ those rules against the U.S. themselves, and even further, that they were actually doing so and had done so in the past. This certainly seems to be the gist of Chirac's comments. A U.S. less restrained by these rules is a U.S. more vulnerable - and that was precisely what they wanted. Why?
I don't want them as subjects. I want them as outlanders, carefully skirting around civilization because they have been proven to not have the skill sets, and having learned their lesson.
With the EU it's a no-brainer: They don't have the requisite hard power to be an influential player in a world where the strongest nation isn't restrained by regulations, however stifling they are to the promotion of long-term peace and stability. In fact the Europeans have built their societies in such a way that they won't have the means to pursue a more traditional realpolitik foreign policy. So that's all they do - whine. On a more sinister note, now that there's no USSR to keep them utterly dependent on US military protection, they can also retaliate by pooling their financial and technological resources to help nations - especially China - that do have a long-term potential to challenge American power.
If we're talking about more assertive action against them on their home turf, their home turf will glow a soft glassy green.
No one wants those 14th century losers as subjects. And we don't need their resources. We have plenty of our own. They just need to die or go away. I don't care which.
What world do you live in? Are you saying things would be better if we didn't have at least indirect control over the world's cheapest fuel?
The world where congress won't let American companies tap our vast resources off of the coast of Florida, California, and up in Seward's Folly... er.. Alaska.
Oh, and that would be direct control, but the envirowackos and lefties in congress can't allow that.