I was forwarded a copy of "The Endorsement from Hell," a recent editorial by Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times.
My comments on the editorial follow the "Read more" link. Mr. Kristoff’s editorial follows my comments.
RE: Somalia Policy
Mr. Kristof’s editorial would be more efficacious if he included comments or quotes from people who were actually “on the ground” making the decisions in the heat of the moment. For writing to be effective, be it “factual” news reporting or an editorial, it must present multiple viewpoints from credible sources. Richard Clark is anti-Bush administration. The NY Times is anti-Bush administration. Academics self-identify as between 85 and 95% left to far-left in their political views, and they are certainly anti-Bush administration.
Even if you are a committed member of the far-left, you must question the credibility and value of the sources cited in this editorial beyond their united hatred of the Bush administration. Due to its one-sided sources and lack of contribution from anyone who was actually involved in the situation’s policy-making, I don’t see anything in this editorial that is particularly revealing or convincing.
People like Mr. Kristof, be they on the polarized partisan left or the polarized partisan right, have the luxury of Monday morning quarterbacking from the sky boxes, far away from the immediacy and the physical brutality of the reality of the game. Public policy is very challenging. Foreign policy, especially at the sharp end of the stick in places like Somalia, is a messy, ugly business, often involving very despicable characters. Discerning which warlord is microscopically more in your country’s best interests is more an art than a science. If Mr. Kristof had any real, actual, experience out here “on the ground,” he would be quoting the participants who had to weigh the evidence at hand as the bullets and RPGs were flying, in addition to the academics, bureaucrats and policy wonks cited.
However, to give credit where credit is due, Mr. Kristof does get one thing exactly right—Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and “Islamofascism” have nothing to do with America and everything to do with advancing their cause within the Muslim world. The U.S. functions only as a device to unite competing, disparate, and disaffected groups within Islam with the binding hatred of an external party. In this case, that external party is you, me, our families, and our culture.
Creating cohesion among otherwise contending groups, tribes and factions via engendering fear and hatred of an external party is the oldest and most successful method ever used in human history. The method is used by Al Qaeda just like it is used by the liberals and conservatives in America, as you no doubt noticed during the 2008 election campaign.
The method is at least an order of magnitude more effective if you personalize the threat. Thus, we witness the personal demonization of Bush by groups ranging from anti-American Europeans, domestic liberals, and Islamic fundamentalists, such as Al Qaeda; and the demonization of Obama by domestic conservatives.
Humans are much easier to incite and motivate to action if you put a person’s face on the hatred. If nothing else, it makes for a more effective demonstration for the assembled media if you have Bin Laden’s, Bush’s or Obama’s face on the placards. It is challenging to hang a nation or tribe in effigy, but simple and effective to do so with a person.
Thus, Obama presents a challenge for every leadership group who profits from America and its president being the personalized demon that glues together their otherwise disparate factions. What glue will hold the American left together when Bush is not around to hate? What will unite the historically disparate tribes of fundamentalist Islam when Bush is no longer around to demonize? And, for that matter, how will the anti-American Europeans maintain any cohesion when Bush is not around to denigrate?
RE: McCain & Obama
McCain is not Bush. In fact, he’s probably as far from Bush as you could possibly get and still be a member of the Republican Party in semi-good standing. McCain is also a lot harder for others to form or position as a Bush clone in any manner except one: he’s yet another old white guy, so for people who have little to no understanding of the overall aspects, much less the nuances, of American politics, he looks like more of the same.
By the same token, Obama is not the anti-Christ. He is not the bringer of death and the harbinger of the apocalypse as some fear, and, truth be known, actually wish him to be. There will no doubt be the usual misuse of power and overcompensation that accompanies any new group or tribe’s ascension to power for the first time, or restoration to power after a long absence. In that sense, it will be a matter of how bad the damage will be.
However, Mr. Obama, should he prevail in the election, will soon learn that the realities of public policy are very, very challenging. There are no easy answers for most real issues and they each require someone to sacrifice. And it is not always, or even often, possible to limit that sacrifice to your political opponents. Foreign policy is even more challenging, especially with a nation as self-absorbed and bereft of any reality-based perceptions of the outside world as the U.S.
Campaign rhetoric is easy. Should he be elected, the honeymoon will be joyous. Reality will set in soon enough, and then Mr. Obama and his team will begin to discover that perhaps demon Bush was not so much satanic as just another guy who did not have the qualities to rise to the level of a true leader when the nation needed it the most. Let’s all hope that in those moments Mr. Biden will have an opportunity to provide substantive input to policy and decision making, since he has experience with the realities of both domestic public policy and foreign policy.
RE: Tipping the election
Again, to give credit where credit is due, Mr. Kristof points out that Al Qaeda may “try to use terror attacks in the coming days to tip the election to” McCain. That may indeed be possible, even probable. They have certainly used that method before in other elections to shape the outcome to their liking.
However, I think they may be too late. At this point, I believe the perception would probably be that an attack would demonstrate even further need for change and proof of failed policies. Personally, I think it much more likely that Mr. Obama would wake up dead from domestic, internal American causes prior or subsequent to the election than having the election swayed by external forces.
Even if you account every single word of the froth surrounding “Islamofascism” as concrete truth, the fact is that America is much more likely to continue its disintegration due to the blind political partisanship, materialism and “it’s all about me” self-focus that permeate the current national character.
RE: The Islamist Threat
Osama Bin Laden’s goal is to have his crypt next to Saladin’s, the last Caliphate who united and ruled an Islamic empire. If America falls as part of that story, so be it. If it doesn’t, Osama Bin Laden doesn’t really care. Radical-fundamentalist political Islam is about Islam, not about America. The U.S. is merely a bit player, a red herring, a unifying glue of an external threat to ease Osama’s ascension to historical equality with Salidin.
Due to the fog of anti-Bush hatred, the American political left has little to no appreciation and understanding of the breadth and depth of the very real threat of Islamists. Due to the fog of fear-driven rhetoric, the American political right has little to no comprehension of the historical context or the relative position of America in the landscape and agenda of radical-fundamentalist political Islam.
The bottom line is: both the American political left and right are as valueless regarding this existential issue as they are about anything else. Both will wrap themselves in the flag while continuing to sacrifice the short-, mid- and long-term interests of the nation on the alter of their ascension to, or retention of, power.
Born 1137/38 C.E., Tikrit, Mesopotamia [now in Iraq]
Died March 4, 1193 C.E., Damascus [now in Syria]
Muslim sultan of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, and the most famous of Muslim heroes. In wars against the Christian Crusaders, he achieved great success with the capture of Jerusalem (Oct. 2, 1187), ending its nearly nine decades of occupation by the Franks.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
On the Ground
New York Times
The Endorsement From Hell
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: October 25, 2008
John McCain isn’t boasting about a new endorsement, one of the very, very few he has received from overseas. It came a few days ago:
“Al Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election,” read a commentary on a password-protected Islamist Web site that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and often disseminates the group’s propaganda.
The endorsement left the McCain campaign sputtering, and noting helplessly that Hamas appears to prefer Barack Obama. Al Qaeda’s apparent enthusiasm for Mr. McCain is manifestly not reciprocated.
“The transcendent challenge of our time [is] the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” Senator McCain said in a major foreign policy speech this year, adding, “Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House.”
That’s a widespread conservative belief. Mitt Romney compared the threat of militant Islam to that from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Some conservative groups even marked “Islamofascism Awareness Week” earlier this month.
Yet the endorsement of Mr. McCain by a Qaeda-affiliated Web site isn’t a surprise to security specialists. Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, and Joseph Nye, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, have both suggested that Al Qaeda prefers Mr. McCain and might even try to use terror attacks in the coming days to tip the election to him.
“From their perspective, a continuation of Bush policies is best for recruiting,” said Professor Nye, adding that Mr. McCain is far more likely to continue those policies.
An American president who keeps troops in Iraq indefinitely, fulminates about Islamic terrorism, inclines toward military solutions and antagonizes other nations is an excellent recruiting tool. In contrast, an African-American president with a Muslim grandfather and a penchant for building bridges rather than blowing them up would give Al Qaeda recruiters fits.
During the cold war, the American ideological fear of communism led us to mistake every muddle-headed leftist for a Soviet pawn. Our myopia helped lead to catastrophe in Vietnam.
In the same way today, an exaggerated fear of “Islamofascism” elides a complex reality and leads us to overreact and damage our own interests. Perhaps the best example is one of the least-known failures in Bush administration foreign policy: Somalia.
Today, Somalia is the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster, worse even than Darfur or Congo. The crisis has complex roots, and Somali warlords bear primary blame. But Bush administration paranoia about Islamic radicals contributed to the disaster.
Somalia has been in chaos for many years, but in 2006 an umbrella movement called the Islamic Courts Union seemed close to uniting the country. The movement included both moderates and extremists, but it constituted the best hope for putting Somalia together again. Somalis were ecstatic at the prospect of having a functional government again.
Bush administration officials, however, were aghast at the rise of an Islamist movement that they feared would be uncooperative in the war on terror. So they gave Ethiopia, a longtime rival in the region, the green light to invade, and Somalia’s best hope for peace collapsed.
“A movement that looked as if it might end this long national nightmare was derailed, in part because of American and Ethiopian actions,” said Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College. As a result, Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism have surged, partly because Somalis blame Washington for the brutality of the Ethiopian occupiers.
“There’s a level of anti-Americanism in Somalia today like nothing I’ve seen over the last 20 years,” Professor Menkhaus said. “Somalis are furious with us for backing the Ethiopian intervention and occupation, provoking this huge humanitarian crisis.”
Patrick Duplat, an expert on Somalia at Refugees International, the Washington-based advocacy group, says that during his last visit to Somalia, earlier this year, a local mosque was calling for jihad against America — something he had never heard when he lived peacefully in Somalia during the rise of the Islamic Courts Union.
“The situation has dramatically taken a turn for the worse,” he said. “The U.S. chose a very confrontational route early on. Who knows what would have happened if the U.S. had reached out to moderates? But that might have averted the disaster we’re in today.”
The greatest catastrophe is the one endured by ordinary Somalis who now must watch their children starve. But America’s own strategic interests have also been gravely damaged.
The only winner has been Islamic militancy. That’s probably the core reason why Al Qaeda militants prefer a McCain presidency: four more years of blindness to nuance in the Muslim world would be a tragedy for Americans and virtually everyone else, but a boon for radical groups trying to recruit suicide bombers.