Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Keepin' it real

Among those who oppose the Iraq war there's four main schools of thought:

1. Haters of President Bush and the bourgeois America that he represents.
2. Dogmatic pacifists of any stripe.
3. Paleolibertarians
4. "Realists"

The first is something that respectable people simply ought to shun, though unfortunately sometimes they don't. The second is a little too abstract, so I'll pass on that for the moment at least. The third and fourth are pretty similar to each other. The paleolibertarians are those such as Presidential candidate Ron Paul who are essentially isolationist with respect to the Middle East for one reason or another, though it's difficult to see exactly what level of disengagement would isolate us from the turmoil there. The realists are those exemplified by Henry Kissinger, James Baker or Brent Snowcroft who suppose that we ought to rely more on good execution of the nuts and bolts of diplomacy. The realists and the paleolibertarians are IMO the most interesting of the opponents of the war among other reasons because it's only in the context of plausible alternatives that we can make intelligent choices.

I mention this because there's an interesting editorial in the LA Times today. Professor Bacevich is a realist, as he mentions in the article. Most of it is unobjectionable, uncontroversial even. Certainly now, I think both the military and civilian leadership have a better understanding of how many military resouces it takes to accomplish something, and would like to get a better bang for the buck than we've gotten in Iraq so far.

The fly in the realist ointment, of course, is 9/11. The professor writes,
"Reinvent containment. The process of negotiating that accommodation will
produce unwelcome fallout: anger, alienation, scapegoating and violence. In
collaboration with its allies, the United States must insulate itself against
Islamic radicalism. The imperative is not to wage global war, whether real or
metaphorical, but to erect effective defenses, as the West did during the Cold

Unfortunately, 9/11 proved we couldn't isolate ourselves from radical Islam with Realpolitik. If those dysfunctional societies are left to their own devices, they will be represented by Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or the ayatollahs, because they are the ones strong enough or vicious enough to end up on top.

We should know that most of the tribal societies of the Middle East are not necessarily our close friends. But, it seems that there's a legitimate chance that we could live in reasonable peace with them if we could interact directly with them. If we are smart, we might figure out a way to do that with less cost in life and treasure than we have seen so far. It seems that there is an opening for our scholars and politicians to look for it. I hope somebody finds it, but frankly I don't know where to look.

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