In my blog post "Left Hook"
, I linked to Peter Beihart's
and Kevin Drum's
posts on how liberals should respond to the threat of islamofascism. It attracted a fair bit of comments, including one pointing out
that I can't spell "totalitarianism." I would make a defense that I had gotten very little sleep and was effectively braindead, but that would pretend that I can spell when I am awake. So I'll just lapse into fringe leftism for a moment and claim that grammar is an oppressive tool of the western capitalist imperialists. Hurray for playing to stereotypes!
There was only one explaination for why I had suddenly gotten real live commenters, and of course it was that Powerline
had linked to me again! In deference to the fact that I doubt most Powerline readers want to read my enthusiastic endorsement
of Jon Chait's "In Defense of Bush Hatred (again)
, I'll instead write on the dynamics of the left/right split with regards to terror, why I think the Democrats are better equipped to deal with the problem, and how they should go about doing it.
The key starting point for this conversation is the obvious: Republicans enjoy a tremendous advantage over Democrats when it comes to their perception on National Security. Grover Norquist described this as "Republicans are tough on crime to the point where they'll take away your civil liberties. Republicans are so tough on foreign policy that they'll flatten cities." But far from making the Republicans a stronger party on National Defense, it paradoxically makes them far weaker. Since Republicans enjoy a status quo advantage on National Security, they don't have to actually take any concrete actions (legislation, regulation, etc.) on the matter to "persuade" America they are tough. And because they don't have to, they don't, since many of the necessary pro-security actions are opposed by key donor bases (for example: strengthing security requirements at Chemical Plants is a clear defense necessity, but Republicans killed it because it served no political gain and would impose a cost requirement on a major business donor). By contrast, Democrats are seen as pacifistic and weak unless proven otherwise, so they are constantly forced to push pro-security intiatives to prove their security bona fides. Its no accident that the vast majority of Domestic Security reforms in the post 9/11 era--The DHS, The 9/11 Commission--were Democratic intiatives. Yet, the perceptual differences remain and plague Democrats at the ballot box. Since Republicans are seen as SO tough to the point that its considered possibly a flaw (IE, they're too reckless), attacks on Republicans from the Hawk side invariably fall flat. The GOP, dealing with a too good to be true reality that lets them reap all the benefits of being seen as pro-security without having to make the politically painful decisions that go along with it, has naturally taken a purely rhetorical stand on the matter: Lots of oratory on how Democrats don't care about our nation's defense, precious little action to actual make our country safer.
Furthermore, Conservatives are hindered with two philosophical burdens that hinder their ability to respond to their terror threat. The first is the desire for limited government. Conservatives generally believe in market-based solutions to problems. Indeed, the Bush administration fought against mandatory safety standards and terrorism insurance in vulnerable industries--power plants, chemical facilities, trucking, etc--on the grounds that "sufficient incentives exist in the private market to supply protection" [National Strategy for Homeland Security, July 2002]. However, in the March 3rd 2003 New Republic
, Jonathan Chait explains why this logic doesn't hold water:
"At first glance, the administration's assumption that private industry has sufficiently strong incentives to shore itself up against terrorism appears sensible enough--nobody wants their property to be blown up, after all. This logic works perfectly well when it comes to encouraging private industry to guard against, say, burglary, where the victim bears the entire cost of the crime. But, as Brookings' Peter Orszag has noted, businesses hit by terrorism would not bear the entire cost themselves. First, they have every reason to expect a government bailout, like the airlines received after September 11. Second, some firms have interdependent security, which means their security precautions are worthless unless all their competitors follow suit. (The bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988 was transferred to Pan Am after being initially checked through another airline.) Terrorist strikes upon a private business impose costs, both psychological and economic, upon the entire country. So, while a business owner may have no interest in spending more money to prevent terrorism than to prevent, say, an electrical fire, the nation's interest is quite different. For all these reasons, the logic of individual incentive breaks down when it comes to terrorism. "
The problems posed by terrorism are unique and grave in that they mandate government responses, ones that, yes, at times might require government regulation and intervention. But the GOP's business donor base and ideological resistance to government initiatives provide immense barriers to implementing the necessary security reforms.
The second philosophical problem for the GOP is their historical skepticism of the ability to for government to change minds. Again, their reticence to use government as a tool for spreading liberal and democratic values prevents them from hitting the root cause of terror, the state-sponsered oppression of millions of people around the world. Anyone who listened to GOP complaints about US operations in the Balkans surely understands that Republican committment to US peacekeeping and democratization operations is shallow at best. Laudably, the Bush administration and fellow Republicans pushed aside their qualms and did
make the effort in Iraq to spread democratic values--originally. However, a mix of inexperience, hubris, and mistrust of US motives by Iraqi citizens (compounded by US missteps) led to the "hearts and minds" effort largely ending in failure. As of result of this, many Republicans are returning to form, voicing skepticism at the ability of the US to innoculate the people of Iraq and the world with western values and recommending that we abandon the effort and revert back to, at the very least, a realist foreign policy. This response is perhaps the worst that the US could take right now, but unfortunately it is also the one most consistant with the GOP's ideological roots.
What Republicans don't understand is that Iraqi mistrust of US democratization efforts isn't because of any hostility on the part of the Iraqi's to democracy per se. It speaks volumes about the character of the Iraqi people that the most powerful national figure, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is also a committed democrat. Rather, the mistrust stems from a mistrust of motives, Iraqi's know (from personal experience and from basic observation of their neighbors) that the US has been perfectly willing to subvert democratic institutions and install friendly dictators when it serves American economic and realist interests to do so. Furthermore, the US has usually coached these actions in the same pro-liberal, pro-democratic rhetoric that we hear from the Bush administration today (cite: Chile, Vietnam). Hence, Iraqi's are understandably paranoid that President Bush's committment to liberalization is a facade, and every misstep and misstatement by the US occupying regime only amplifies these fears. Worse yet, US tolerance and praise of other dictatorships (in Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan
, and elsewhere
), compounds the problem. The GOP still can't quite grasp that anti-Americanism is a global problem with roots in the gap between US rhetoric and US action; a gap that has its roots in US realist policies in the Cold War.
Because the roots of global terror are reified by longstanding US realist practices, the US has precious little credibilty and very little room to make mistakes. The first step is to disentangle US strategic interests from those that are fundamentally opposed to human rights and democratization. This means, at the very least, a reduction in our dependence on Middle East oil (another move the GOP is ill-equipped to do) and far more aggressive support for liberal and democratic movements around the world. The dictators of the world must realize that "making nice with the US" will not immunize them if they are oppressing their own citizens. But this stick must be met with an equal assortment of carrots. States that embark on the path to democracy and liberalization should be rewarded with economic aid, governmental assistance, and developmental program. The creation of a "Marshall Plan" for subsaharan Africa--but tied to the implementation of governmental reforms--is long overdue (if it would make the realists feel any better, this would help check against Chinese hegemonic ambitions in the region
). For this task, it is the liberals, with their starry-eyed idealism and their geniune committment to pushing western values that are more aptly suited to the task. But in order to do it, they will have to shake off the degrading and detrimental sector of the party that believes any exercise of US power is ontologically oppressive and imperialist. Furthermore, while international help and assistance should be sought after, liberals with have to realize that many nations are still wedded to isolationist and/or self-interested concerns and won't join. The hand should be extended to the world to join the US in our efforts. But international recognition should not and cannot be a prerequisite for American action.
These projects are ambitious--and expensive. They will require, at the very least, repeal of the Bush Tax Cuts and probably the sacrifice of other domestic priorities at home. But in the long run, the US is far better served when the world sees the US as a force for positive social change, rather than a distant observer unconcerned with, or worse, actively aiding, the oppression of millions of people around the world.