GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

July 29, 2006

How the West Was Lost

Filed under: GA — ericgans @ 7:28 pm

A couple of pieces from today’s LA Times:

1. Rosa Brooks’ column is a good place to find an unsubtle expression of what passes for a “progressive” perspective. A few days ago, she suggested that Islamic terrorists in the US were as rare as elephants. No doubt the way the Times reports the news, that might well be true: you had to turn to page 16 to learn that the fellow who shot six people in a Seattle Jewish center was a Muslim. Today’s column, titled “Four Lessons to Make Us Safer,” deserves more than simple mockery: it expresses the same view that Kerry embodied in 2004 and that I think is representative of the foreign-policy views of the Democratic party (with the hopeful exception of Hillary C?)

To sum up: Lesson 1 is that “The weak will always seek — and find — asymmetrical methods of warfare against the strong.” She gives the example of how we defeated the Redcoats back in 177something. Thus “asymmetric” warfare is unwinnable.

Lesson 2, therefore, is the following:

If you can’t defeat your enemy militarily, you need to take away his motivation to fight. Overly aggressive military approaches only increase the bitterness that caused the conflict in the first place. Unless we want to become the permanent global cop in a permanent global police state, we need to change our approach.

We want peace in the Middle East? Stability in Iraq? An end to terrorist attacks? We may not achieve any of those things even in the best of circumstances. But we certainly won’t achieve them if we refuse to take seriously the idea that our enemies — like us — consider themselves good people, with legitimate grievances. Eliminate the grievances and you’re on the way to eliminating the conflict.

When progressives say things like this, right-wing pundits immediately sneer: “What do you want us to do, sing ‘Kumbaya’ with the bad guys?” No. But you don’t have to love your enemy — or trust him further than you could throw him — to recognize the benefits of talking to him and taking his concerns seriously.

That’s not being “soft.” It’s being realistic.

Yes, this does sound eminently reasonable. Everyone thinks himself a “good person,” and when Jesus sat down with publicans and sinners (serial killers? death camp directors? people who saw off infidels’ heads with rusty knives?) he forbore to judge them. But what if the “sinner” knows in advance that no act of his can be held to prove he is not a “good person”? And what if his “legitimate grievance” consists of … your existence?

There were some people like that back in 1940-something, as I recall. Brooks herself seems to be something of a fan of the Dems of those days; I quote:

Even as World War II raged, an engaged and visionary U.S. president took the lead in planning the dense web of international institutions and laws that would help tamp down conflicts, spread global well-being and buttress American prosperity throughout the postwar period. Institutions such as the United Nations were never perfect, but for more than half a century they have kept our world reasonably stable.

But, as Ms. B doesn’t appear to remember, the United Nations, as conceived by FDR, didn’t sit down with the Nazis and the Japanese to discuss their “grievances.” (How much Lebensraum do you really need? How about that Asian co-prosperity sphere? And all those Jews, they are a problem, aren’t they? Come to think of it, they’re still the problem!) The UN was our side, and we demanded unconditional surrender, with no discussion of terms of any kind, let alone “grievances.” The evolution of the Democratic party is summed up rather well in the contrast between the UN as “the free world” and the UN as the whole world, which is to say, its lowest common denominator.

The conundrum Brooks poses is not, however, solvable by sarcastic references to her lack of historical perspective. What it really depends on is Lesson 1. If asymmetric war truly is unwinnable, if Hezbollah can never be disarmed by any means and will always keep firing those rockets, and bigger and bigger ones, then indeed we have to negotiate with them.

But what Ms. B seems not to have noticed is that this is tantamount to saying that we have already lost. Or does she think that it’s just Israel that has lost, and that we can talk with Hezbollah, and Ahmadinejad, and Osama b. L., and come up with a friendly solution to their “grievances”? It’s a shame Mohammed Atta and his friends blew themselves up, because they would have been just the right people to help out; English speakers, familiar with American mores, surely able to persuade us to “take their concerns seriously.”

2. Just in case you thought I forgot, here is the second article. Read the link if you like; the headline says it all:

Israel Ends Gaza Raid, Leaving a Trail of Death and Destruction

This is a representative example of “news” reporting from the Middle East. The journalists who agonized over the media’s treating the Israelis as the “good guys” instead of reporting the conflict in a “nuanced” fashion should take heart from this piece. The Times is certainly making sure that Hamas’ “legitimate grievances” are getting a fair hearing.

-eric gans

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