Mr. Obama’s Voldemort Complex
In 2004 I posted several articles about the ongoing threat to Western democracy.
Six years later, under a different and less sure-footed administration, each of the problems that I identified have grown more acute. Now, in the middle of a potentially crippling economic crisis, we are beginning to hear isolationist sounds from the right, grumblings that eerily echo the opportunistic pacifism of the British conservatives who were seeking to ride that lame horse against Labor’s Tony Blair, sounds that echo the Lafollette-Lindberg isolationists of the pre-WW II GOP.
I began my 2004 essay with a reference to Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”, an important book that naively made a respectable case that democracy is the next, new thing that will follow the discredited bloody-authoritarian models of governance of the 20th century. I use the term naïve here because professor Fukuyama was naively confident that democracy would succeed because it was the better system, as secure in its right to succession as the dawn follows the night.
But professor Fukuyama later reversed his support for the Bush administration’s war to liberate Iraq. He thus demonstrated a sad aspect of recent intellectual history: American liberal academics are all too quick to abandon their principled positions whenever their other liberal colleagues gang up on them in sufficient numbers.
One thing has long been clear to me, as it was to intellectuals like Norman Podhoretz and scores of others (men and women of moral integrity and wisdom were later to be maligned as the dreaded neocons): The enemy that was belatedly recognized as an existential, large scale threat in the fire, dust and death of September 11, 2001 was a new, virulent ideology.
That threat remains as I described it then,
“…a huge interlinked terrorist network with covert and overt state support whose overriding purpose was to create a pan-Arab Islamist empire, a proto-state governing the entire Middle Eastern region, armed with nuclear weapons, standing triumphantly over the smoking cinders of the hated Israel and in control of most of the world’s petroleum supply. They also saw that the pattern of terrorist attacks was designed and intended to disable all forces that stand in the way of the Islamist proto-state. We know the list: the U.S., Israel, the non-compliant Arab States, and Europe.”
The difference in six years is that our new president dares not name the enemy. Like a trembling professor of magic at Hogwarts (in the Harry Potter books), Mr. Obama refuses to name the dark nemesis that stalks our civilization. Islamo-fascism is our Voldemort, the villain whom the authorities in charge are too timid to name out loud.
As I reread my 2004 essay I asked myself: have we lost the nerve to survive?
Here is part of what I wrote, unedited.
Our War For Survival
A Review of the Overall Crisis
We (this is the large “we” consisting of the US and of all the other targets of the current jihad whether they have awakened to their peril or not) are in two decade struggle. This is nothing less a battle for the survival of Western democratic civilization. It is a struggle that fully qualifies as a “World War” and one that we, as a civilization, must not even seem to be losing, nor is it one in which we should even think of writing off some of the jihad’s targets, just because their nations are foolish, intractable, remote, or all three. We democracies may eventually all stand together. For now, it appears that the US, Great Britain, and a handful of smaller countries must lead out.
Afghanistan and Iraq are just early, multi front battles in a larger war against Western democracy that we did not seek but must not lose.
Given our reduced military resources, downsized since the end of the Cold War (cut 2 and ½ divisions following Gulf War, Phase1) and the limitations of domestic politics, this president has moved more boldly, forcefully and effectively to respond to the threat than any plausible alternative in either party. Only when the next president is elected, (presumably when Mr. Bush is reelected), can we expect further action of the kind the situation calls for. The furor surrounding Mr. Bush’s first election was just one more of the ongoing challenges to existing democratic systems of governance in the world. There was, in effect, a second, de facto election for president in the immediate wake of 9-11, during which the questions surrounding W’s legitimacy were effectively forgotten. Mr. Bush moved as forthrightly as any president with a mandate. But a democratic leader at war needs the particular legitimacy that the democratic process itself confers. The country needs a much more decisive election outcome this time, more secure presidential authority as a result, and an even stronger response to the challenge we face from radical Islam.
The genesis of the struggle is an awakened pan-nationalist fervor among an atavistic, dysfunctional and largely mentally disturbed population centered in the Middle East. There are other such populations in the world, of course – after all this is a description of normal life of an earlier period. But local conditions have isolated these other peoples and societies to a degree that has permitted the West to “allow time to do its thing”. This mindset might be described as evolutionary isolationism, the general notion that primitive civilizations will eventually progress “at their own pace”, and that the wisest policy of the more developed nations is benign non-interference. Leaving aside the dubious wisdom of this form of isolationism when the world is ever more tightly bound by the technologies of transport and communications, the Middle East is a manifestly different case.
Geography, economic realities and the fungibility of deadly technologies have conspired to force the West out of its isolationism.
For the foreseeable future, the architects of a world jihad are in a position to seize control of the economic jugular of the West. By virtue of geographic and economic position, the jihadists, should they capture even one significant oil producing state, are potentially capable of arming themselves with true WMD’s, the kind capable of wiping out large populations at a distance. In a single master stroke, all who stand in the way of jihad would have to defer, or suffer the gravest consequences. And, as I reiterate below, the particular mindset we face– promoting, as it does, suicidal aggression as virtue –makes the overall threat dramatically more deadly. Consider: The Russians and the Chinese were deterrable. A well armed jihad proto-state may not be.
We did not take this growing threat seriously in its earlier stages for several reasons, all of which are founded in our collective complacency, lack of foresight, and stubborn failure to grasp the magnitude of the unique danger posed when a truly atavistic fanaticism is coupled with large scale 21st century weapons technology.
The West has been complacent on more than the narrowly materialistic level. The creature comforts that are the gift of modernity are less disabling than the modernist notion that we Westerners have arrived at the apex of a natural progression of thought, and that the primitive world, suffused as it is with superstition and outmoded religious beliefs, will simply fall like rotten fruit when exposed to our scientist, materialist “values”. Ironically, the post-modern reality is spreading the notion that no values are worth risking comfort much less life itself to preserve. Hence, a profound weakening of value commitment more accurately defines the current Western ethos. Populations seduced by the current level of comfort and complacency are very difficult to rouse to self defense, particularly when the threat is striking elsewhere or can somehow be temporarily contained, or (when all else fails) can simply be denied. The modern jihad architects of the current war were not blind to this weakness.
As long as the restive Middle East population was divided and ruled by tribal leaders whose regimes we in the West could “tame” via mutually beneficial economic relationships, the potential threat was ignored. This space is far too limited to chronicle the last 100 years of Middle Eastern history, but suffice it to say that the emergence of a virulent pan Arab nationalism fueled and ignited by a fascistic ideology based on Islam should not have been surprising.
Even now, the biggest obstacle to a truly pan-Arab force remains the Arab inter-tribal rivalries (recalling the “religious” differences among major Arab groups are tribal at root and that religions function as tribal ideologies). But the developments of the last few years are troubling.
At last a single scapegoat and rallying point has emerged capable of uniting the pan-Arab jihad. It is no accident that the terrorists have taken the war directly to the West, and principally seek to humiliate and gravely damage the single most powerful representative of the decadent Western civilization they seek to replace. We are a useful enemy.
It is essential that any American administration continue to act from a core understanding of the true nature and scope of the threat. The credibility of the isolationist mindset collapsed overnight when the WTC Towers fell, the Pentagon was struck, and the White house (or Congress or FBI Headquarters – we my never know which) were narrowly spared. Reasonable observers soon grasped that we faced a huge interlinked terrorist network with covert and overt state support whose overriding purpose was to create a pan-Arab Islamist empire, a proto-state governing the entire Middle Eastern region, armed with nuclear weapons, standing triumphantly over the smoking cinders of the hated Israel and in control of most of the world’s petroleum supply.
They also saw that the pattern of terrorist attacks was designed and intended to disable all forces that stand in the way of the Islamist proto-state. We know the list: the U.S., Israel, the non-compliant Arab States, and Europe.
The following course appears to be essential to our survival as the world’s preeminent functioning democratic power:
Hardening our domestic defenses. This is a work in progress, at best, and is beset with bureaucratic inertia, civil liberties lawsuits, and the seeming political inability to take strong measures to control our borders and to limit immigration.
Forcing other regimes to deny all aid and comfort to terrorist efforts. Both Afghanistan and Iraq are fully justified uses of military force on this count alone, even if nation building falters. The demonstration of American power in support of the “Bush doctrine” has had a salutary effect.
Preventing overtly hostile regimes (Iran & Korea) from acquiring a deliverable nuclear weapons capability. Another work in progress.
Establishing a semi-permanent US military base in the region not beholden to the Saudis or any other unreliable regime. This is a stated Pentagon goal and awaits developments in Iraq.
Planting the democratic seeds of the counter-jihad in the region. This single effort, with all the attendant problems, contains the key to averting the Islamist proto-state. It may be the single most astute choice this administration has made, provided the resources needed to guide Iraq along the proto-democracy course are not denied.
To imagine that any democratic power could rationally use its raw capacity to “solve” the jihad problem with nuclear weapons is a video game fantasy. The “country sized glass parking lot” solution (only half seriously proposed by a friend) will not be a realistic option, either in moral or practical terms. Only a comparable Cold War threat to our own cities could possibly justify such a massive scale of threat response. In the real world, the infliction of casualties in the millions, risking collateral catastrophic economic damage to the world’s economy, could only come about as a necessary and proportional response to a massive threat of similar scope under profound emergency conditions. In my judgment, that simply isn’t going to happen.
But large scale military actions and brutal, intense small scale actions will certainly be necessary.
For example, the time will come that we, a peaceful democracy, will consider employing tactical nuclear weapons, including neutron bombs, to neutralize a nuclear threat that can’t reasonably be safely eliminated by other means. The North Koreans have most of Seoul within artillery and rocket range. Possible friendly casualties following a North Korean response to a US attack might exceed one million. Any military action against the North would necessarily have a preemption component for these batteries north of Seoul. This logic might well justify the use of tactical nuclear bombs.
In the larger Middle East we will most certainly have to use massive military force once, twice, or three times again. For a time, Iran seemed poised to mutate in a peaceful and democratic direction. A civil war may be needed. If the mullahs in charge press forward with nuclear weapons development, we may not be able to wait out the coming political revolution.
As a democracy, we are probably unable to reinstitute the draft in the absence of another 9-11 scale attack. Fortunately, the modern military has traded technology for soldiers, amplifying the effective destructive power on the ground of 1,000 soldiers a thousand fold. But the stark truth is that we lack the field strength to simultaneously occupy two countries the size of Iraq and Iran, yet we have the power to utterly destroy the military capability of every nation in the region. And this is a step we may yet be forced to take.
Under these complex circumstances, we should proceed with care while remaining visibly willing and able to utilize the kinds of serious military action that will probably be needed.
This is a struggle for nothing less than the survival of the democratic model of governance in the world. We’ve planted a single seed in the Middle East. The contest has just begun.
9-24-04 & 10-13-04
A reading of Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, reveals an untried, unprepared president who is uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief, and unrealistic about the gravity and scope of the threat.
Yet for now at least, Mr. Obama has reluctantly rejected the “cut and run” option that he and his core leftist supporters would really prefer. He will probably muddle through until the 2012 elections, avoiding outright defeat, deferring the day of actual victory.
Absent a repeat of the 911 attacks, the main danger is that the conservative core will “go all wobbly” (to quote PM Margaret Thatcher’s admonition to President Bush I).
In 2013 we may well find ourselves in the position of an aging, weakened superhero, no longer capable of a prolonged fight, but still capable of calling in an air strike.
As a wise man once told a street thug, never pick a fight with an old soldier. He won’t be able to kick your butt, so he’ll just have to kill you.
We are in the World War IV that was named and described by Norman Podhoretz in his trenchant 2007 book of the same title. It is to be a long slog, but one that poses a smaller burden in proportion terms (by any reasonable measurement of casualties and treasure) than the Greatest Generation endured before us.
The weaker and more ambivalent our response to this challenge, the longer the war will last. Because this adversary wants our total subjugation, we are effectively fighting in a corner until the jihad has been disarmed, discredited and dissolved. This is the hand that history has dealt us.
As a great man said,
“We cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”
[Abe Lincoln 12-1-62, to Congress].
Jay B Gaskill is a California lawyer who served as the Alameda County Public defender before her left his “life of crime” to devote full time to writing. His profile is posted at www.jaygaskill.com/Profile.pdf .
Books by Jay B Gaskill currently available:
The Lost Souls Coffee Shop is an allegory for the human condition.
The Stranded Ones is a near-future novel about a potential Armageddon-scale “immigration” problem. Hint: They’re not from around here.
Both books are sold as e-books by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ireadiwrite Publishing and 10 other on-line book retailers. To locate a vendor, Google “Jay B Gaskill” and the book’s title.
Two ***** Reviews of “The Stranded Ones” are available on Amazon at –
 I recommend Norman Podhoretz’ masterful article in the September 2004 Commentary, “World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win It”.