A friend who is close to the so-called “paleoconservatives” – who (unlike the Democrats) opposed the Iraq war from the start (i.e. they did not vote for it before they voted against it) – mailed me a recent article at salon.com in which one Gary Kamiya, following last week’s American mid-term elections, is quick to announce the death of neoconservatism. I think, however, that he is wrong.
Kamiya points out that Irving Kristol once defined neoconservatism as “liberalism mugged by reality” and adds that this explains why the ideology acquired so many adherents after 9/11. For exactly this reason I suspect we have not seen the end of neoconservatism yet. Reality is bound to mug us again. Some fear that the world may experience something worse than 9/11. One recurrent fear is that a large Western urban centre may witness a terror attack with nuclear weapons, which could cause the devastation of Hiroshima and millions of casualties.
Some will say this is scaremongering. However, before September 11th 2001, no-one – not even those in the West who hold the premise that the Palestinians (or the Muslims in general) have reason to be angry with the West – was expecting a terror act of the magnitude of 9/11. What happened on that dreadful day was of an unimaginable scale. We have come to realize that some people will stop at nothing.
According to Gary Kamiya the Palestinians feel powerless and “As everyone who has studied terrorism knows, powerless people turn to terrorism.” I have not studied terrorism but I think Kamiya (and the “everyone” he is referring to) is fundamentally wrong here. Perhaps some powerless people turn to terrorism, but there also seems to be another kind of terrorism. Osama bin Laden, an extremely rich man, with the power to order his subordinates to fly planes into the WTC, is not a “powerless” man. It is exactly because the man has power, and revels in it, that he does not wince at the indiscriminate killing of thousands of people. This is not terrorism of the powerless, this is the terrorism of the bully.
The same applied to the Nazis and the terror they unleashed in the 1930s and 40s. It is certainly true that Germany had been badly treated after the First World War. It is also true that the Versailles Treaty (and even more so the criminal Belgo-French occupation of the Ruhr province in 1923, which caused the collapse of the reichsmark and hyperinflation) was the “seedbed of World War II” because it persuaded many “powerless” people to vote for Adolf Hitler. “Paleocons” such as Pat Buchanan and most recently Taki in The American Conservative [Nov. 20], believe that America made a serious mistake when it first embraced Wilsonian interventionism by entering WWI on the Allied side. If Washington had not done so, the Great War would probably have ended in a military stalemate, eventually leading to a negotiated peace without the total humiliation of the Germans. But I am convinced that to Hitler and his pagans the German humiliation was merely a pretext for waging war, because in their Darwinian ideology war was healthy, ensuring the survival of the fittest.
Similarly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is merely a pretext for a clash of civilizations between the Western world and the Wahhabites, one of the most extremist Islamic groups who suddenly grew immensely rich and powerful because they were living in the Arabian desert atop an oil field. The Wahhabites are aiming for world domination because they think this is what Allah has ordered them to do. Of course they use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to draw disgruntled Arabs to their side. Of course they want to destroy Israel because they think the Holy Land belongs to them. But they also want to destroy Spain because they think “al-Andalus” belongs to them. And they attacked America, not only because it supports Israel, but also because they know that if they can defeat or terrorize America no-one else will oppose them.
Mugged by the reality of Wahhabi terrorism America cracked down on Saddam Hussein. This may not have been the wisest thing to do. Perhaps, as Austin Bramwell writes in the same TAC issue, an “inchoate thirst for vengeance” led to “vengeance listen[ing] to the fools’ request.” Saddam was not a Wahhabi but a secularized Sunni Muslim and an enemy of both Iran and the Wahhabite Saudis.
Whatever one may think of the wisdom of invading Iraq, this, however, is the course which history has taken. We are stuck with the situation as it is today, just as the world was stuck with Hitler in 1933. The question is: What next? And also: What if something worse than 9/11 were to occur?
In Thursday’s [London] Times Anatole Kaletsky writes that Washington should attempt a diplomatic overture to Iran because the latter is a Shi’a country. The Wahhabites are radical Sunnis, and the Sunnis are enemies of the Shi’ites, whom they consider to be heretics. Kaletsky argues that Bush should follow Richard Nixon’s bold example of dialogue with Red China. “Just as the US opening to China irreparably split the Communist world, the theocratic Islamic world could be split by an opening to Iran,” he says. I have heard this before. Another argument in favour of the Shi’a strategy, which is not mentioned by Kaletsky, is the following: Shi’a Islam differs from the mainstream (Sunni) Islam in that it has a hierarchical clergy, with ayatollahs (analogous to bishops in the Catholic church) who can speak for the entire community and who decide the doctrine and its interpretation. Christianity in Western Europe became a force of civilization exactly because it had a leading episcopal establishment, part of a linear tradition, that offered guidance and explanation about religious commandments which, without such guidance, some extremists might have started to take literally (such as “if thy hand offends thee, cut it off”). Some of the Americans working in Baghdad have a high opinion of some of the Iraqi ayatollahs and think they may be the best hope for a peaceful settlement.
Perhaps if, immediately after toppling Saddam in 2003, Washington had supported the Shi’a by giving Iraq to the Shi’a majority, or (as I argued in December 2003 in The Salisbury Review) the artificial Iraqi state had been divided, that policy might have made a chance. It may, however, be too late for the Shi’a option. Kaletsky’s proposal may also be an entirely unrealistic, even dangerous one. The Iranian leadership does not belong to the more moderate strand of Shi’ite Islam. Moreover, one of the major problems that ensued from the toppling of Saddam was that it tipped the regional power balance between archenemies Iraq and Iran in favour of Shi’a Iran. If Washington starts negotiations with Teheran it will elevate the latter even more to the position of regional superpower in the Gulf. This would upset the Wahhabite Saudis. On the other hand a pre-emptive war against Iran would tilt the regional power balance in favour of the Saudis. These are all considerations that must be carefully taken into account. What an irony it would be if a major Wahhabite terror attack tomorrow were to lead to an invasion of Shi’a Iran, like the Wahhabite attack of 9/11 led to the war in Iraq.
And what about Europe?
Meanwhile, the American mid-term elections are being widely discussed in Europe. The European media regard the results as proof that “Old Europe” was right all along, while America was wrong. In the center-right Parisian paper Le Figaro, Nicole Bacharan, a French political scientist and historian, wrote that the elections showed that “America is neither ‘red’ nor ‘blue.’ The majority votes centrist.” She also notes that, following the elections, the French have softened their view on the US because “The values and sensibilities of the Democrats seem to be closer [to those of the French]. And one can detect, in the new political constellation, a return to a less interventionist America.”
The so-called “paleocons” have, however, been arguing longer and more consistently than the “blue” Democrats that less interventionism would be better for America. If Iraq was what decided last week’s American mid-term elections then those elections are not a vindication of the Democrats, as the European media seem to think, but of the “paleocons.” It is wrong to assume, like European journalists, that America has turned “blue” and become more like Europe. The Democrats did so well last week because many of them appealed to “red” voters. One notable example is Robert Casey, Jr., the new Senator for Pennsylvania, who defeated the incumbent Rick Santorum by 59% against 41%. Casey, though a Democrat, hence officially “blue,” is an outspoken opponent of abortion and in favour of the rights of gun-owners – not at all “blue” “values and sensitivities” which the French or other Europeans feel they share. Similar situations arose elsewhere, for instance in Virginia, where pro-gun and anti-immigration Democrat Jim Webb won the senatorial race against the Republican incumbent.
Le Figaro is one of the more sensible French papers, and Nicole Bacharan realizes well enough that it is doubtful whether more American isolationism will be better for France, a country which is currently unable to assert authority over its own territory and which was incapable of winning its last two wars without American “interventionism.” Bacharan warns that those who “blame America for its imperialism may soon regret its indifference” and urges Europe “to invent a new Atlanticism.”
However, it may be too late for that. The “paleocons” do not want to fight for any country but America, the “neocons” have come to resent Europe for failing to stand with them in Iraq, and the “blue” Liberals (the only Americans most leading Europeans feel affinity with) lack the guts to fight for anything at all, including their own hedonistic values. We can deplore this as much as we want, but, again, this is the situation we are stuck with. I doubt whether the mid-term elections showed that neoconservatism is dead. I think they announced the death of the Atlantic Alliance. The bell tolled for Europe – which makes it ironic that so many Europeans rejoiced in the results. Bacharan is sounding the alarm because she realizes America is leaving Europe. Edward Lucas, the central and eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist, does the same in Friday’s Daily Telegraph. He says that the old dictum which described the purpose of the Atlantic Alliance – “to keep the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out” – is now wrong on all three fronts, because “The Russians are coming, the Germans rising, and the Americans leaving. Each country seeks the best deal it can, to the detriment of its neighbours. Collective security is as badly needed as it was during the Cold War. But Nato can no longer provide it.”
Lucas’ article focuses on the old East-West relations, between Russia on the one hand, America and Western Europe on the other. There is, however, more at stake today. Who cares about “coming” Russians and “rising” Germans? Both peoples have committed demographic suicide. It is the Muslims who are coming and rising. History is still to decide whether the Wahhabite, the moderate Sunni or the Shi’a will rule, but one thing is already certain. While America’s future will still most likely be “red,” Europe’s will be “green” – the colour of Islam.