Monday, June 21, 2004

Systematic Thinking

Another Yglesias post intrigues me. The gist:
When the GOP sees a regime that's hostile to the United States and that it is within America's capacity to topple militarily, they say: "Go for it." A hostile state always might become an al-Qaeda sponsor, and Republicans think the possibility of state sponsorship of al-Qaeda is very, very, very bad, so it's worth going way out of our way to make sure it doesn't happen. Fundamentally, Republicans are eager to overthrow regimes [...] because they're very worried about state sponsorship.

The Democratic foreign policy establishment sees this very differently. Democrats worry about failed states. Democrats think al-Qaeda grows -- and grows powerful -- where institutions of governance break down. Iraq wasn't governed pleasantly, but it was governed. Hence, Democrats are loathe to destroy a regime unless they're prepared to put it back together. This makes Democrats more hesitant to overthrow regimes [...] because their collective nightmare is more failed states.

I commented twice on his site. I'll try to synthesize it here in more coherent form.

Yglesias views Republicans' and Democrats' views about Iraq in isolation from both current and past context.

Before the invasion, Iraq was part of the broader Middle East System. It alone may not have amounted to a threat on the level of Al Qaeda, but Al Qaeda itself, and 9/11, are products of the Middle East System. Autocratic authoritarian states stifle liberty, making radical Arab Traditionalism (to use Den Beste's term) the only palatable escape. Other or the same states provide a comparatively safe harbor for terrorists, and often support them and redirect their violence against the West, especially the Land of the Setting Sun itself (i.e. America). Alone, Saddam might have been better than the alternative. In the context of the broader system, though, it's worth taking a few risks -- even risking a failed state -- because we must keep trying, as fast and as hard as we can, until the Middle East System is radically reformed into liberality (and, if possible, Liberal Democracy.) Iraq supported terrorists by rewarding sucicide bombers' families. It threatened terror attacks against the US. It invaded a nonoffending neighboring country. It violated pretty much all the terms of the cease-fire. It pursued weapons of mass destruction, which (for all we knew) it might have had and given to terrorists almost untraceably. Alone, this might not have been an intolerable threat, but it's an important input into the Middle East System.

It is to change the Middle East System that we are in Iraq. It is to change Iraq, but also to change Libya, to pressure Syria and Iran, and to instigate a culture change across the Islamofascist world.

Am I ascribing too much to Republicans? (Leaving aside, of course, the fact that Republicans don't think with one mind, and often disagree.) To the contrary. A contradiction in Yglesias's reasoning its resolved by this.

Yglesias says that Republicans are for regime change, and Democrats are against it. Was this true during the Cold War? To the contrary, conservatives often supported vile non-Communist regimes for fear of something worse. In isolation, this might seem reprehensible. But in the context of the larger, Communist system, it made sense. It is a larger risk to allow regime change than to resist it, when Communism is actively seeking more member states. It is this systematic thinking that has also defined the present Administration's approach to the War on Terror.


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