Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Central Values and Conservative Blindspots

Thought at the Meridian has written a post delving into the justification and rationale behind centrism (link: American Future. I agree with much of what TATM says. Like him, I am liberal on social issues but would be considered more "conservative" on foreign policy (I put in the quotations marks because I don't consider my position conservative at all, see here for details). This in particular was quite eloquent:
"Being centrist means to not want to buy the whole package of either Left or Right. It means being more concerned about issues than ideological consistency. A centrist position can hold strong principles, but it tries not to get tied down by stale ideologies...

Some people sneer at the centrist position. It is often said to be the viewpoint of the willy-nilly, wishy-washy and undecided. I strongly disagree with this view. I think that many people today don't want to, like I said, buy a whole ready-made package deal of leftist or rightist ideas. Many people hold leftist views on some issues, and rightist views on others. There is nothing strange or weak about this position. On the contrary, it takes careful consideration on every separate issue. I, for my own part, am more to the left when it comes to social justice-issues, but more to the right when it comes to foreign policy and the war on terror.

Instead of going to the extremes of the political scale, i. e. to the left or to the right, I prefer to go deeper into the centre. To delve down to the roots of things. A radically democratic view, if you like. Most centrists also have an instinctive dislike of political extremes and the all-too political, which is why so many centrists also are antitotalitarian, i. e. they combat extremism whatever shape it takes, be it Fascism, Nazism, Communism or Islamofascism."

The only quarrel I have with his otherwise excellent post is that he seems to only implicate the left for weakness in the war on terror (to his credit, he also takes a swipe at the isolationist right, but it is much smaller). He writes:
Today we face a new totalitarian threat: Islamofascism. This has not yet dawned upon the Left. Or rather, there is the Reactionary Left to whom it will never dawn, as they do not wish to know. Instead, they will try to support totalitarianism in opposition to "Western" or perhaps more commonly "US imperialism." Then there is the Liberal Left, who has turned out to be even more naive than I expected it to be, indirectly supporting tyrants and dictators, believing that "violence will only make things worse." The political quietism and pacifism of the Liberal Left, and the openly totalitarian and anti-democratic ideals of the Reactionary Left will risk undermining our Western democratic way of life if we don't start acting against these forces as well as against Islamofascism itself. So far, a great part of the Right has seemed to understand the totalitarian threat we're up against, except of course for the rabid, far-right "America first" isolationists who, like the Islamofascists, think that America is rotting from the inside because of the "decadence" going on there.

However, the right's ideological blindspots are as harmful to the war on terror as the left. First of all, the right still is stuck in its cold war glory days; it refuses to break out of the statecentric model which targets the "host states" of terror (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran) rather than the terrorists themselves (al-Qaeda et. al.). I fleshed the point out in an earlier post:
In off-blog conversations about the Bush administration, I've argued that this presidency has, more than any Democrat, viewed the war on terror through a pre-9/11 mentality that emphasizes the importance of states rather than the non-state actors (IE: Al-Qaeda) that actually threaten us. In both Sudan and Afghanistan, terrorist groups have shown that they can survive and thrive without a supporting state structure (both of those countries had, at best, anemic central governments not in control of the whole country). Hence, the policy of attacking states rather than attacking terrorists is counterproductive, as Al-Qaeda can just "stick and move," dodging recrimination as we get bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and whatever other states we decide to intervene in.

Daniel Drezner sees this same problem at work in US policy towards Iran. After linking to an article which claimed that the US was trading the extrication of A.Q. Khan (the mastermind of Pakistan's blackmarket nuke trading ring) for support in any military action against Iran, Drezner notes:
"If this is true, it suggests the administration really believes that the threat posed by nuclear-armed states is greater than the threat posed by a black market proliferation network that could sell to states and non-state actors alike."

That's a very, very, scary thought, and shows a deep misunderstanding of the type of threat we face.

I listed off a plethora of other obstacles within conservative politics and ideology that prevent them from prosecuting the war on terror effectively. They get no political benefit from doing it, as the public sees them as strong on defense regardless of the particular policy stances they take. And ideologically, Conservative belief in free market principles and the inability of government to affect social change both hamper American efforts to defend our country and to defeat the root causes of terror, respectively. Looking over Bush's foreign policy and homeland security record, I see this pattern written all over. A lot of talk, a few high-profile initiatives, precious little substantive action at the detail level. And while it may be subtler, it isn't taking the threat of islamofascism any more seriously than the hard left.


Randomscrub said...

You may believe the current "statecentric model" of fighting the war on terror is stupid, but I believe that there are few other options to combat terrorism at the moment. Do you really think that we can follow the terrorists everywhere, just moving from country to country as they do? Besides the logistical problems this entails, what countries do you think they're going to hide in? Probably the middle eastern ones. Do you honestly think those governments will let in the US military as long as we promise to only shoot terrorists? Not likely. The current strategy is to make it so politically costly for states to harbor terrorists that the scum will have no refuges, and be forced to remain constantly on the run instead of just going to Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever and not having to worry about being found. Whether that works remains to be seen. But what is the better option if you don't like this one?

Mark said...

I think the argument for the "state centric" strategy on terror is that if a state actively or allows a terrorist organization in its midst "cell" sizes can grow without bound. However, if that state is actively seeking out terrorists using its police apparatus, then "cell" sizes are very much limited in scope. The focus of the "state" strategy is to compel states to view terrorism as illegal and to actively seek its adherents. It is not a blind adherence to a cold war view of the world.