5 November 2003

A Must-Read Speech

I think that calls for serious debate in America about the role of America in the world, and I do not believe that that serious debate is satisfied simply by a very abstract, vague and quasi-theological definition of the war on terrorism as the central preoccupation of the United States in today's world. That definition of the challenge in my view simply narrows down and over-simplifies a complex and varied set of challenges that needs to be addressed on a broad front.

It deals with abstractions. It theologizes the challenge. It doesn't point directly at the problem. It talks about a broad phenomenon, terrorism, as the enemy overlooking the fact that terrorism is a technique for killing people. That doesn't tell us who the enemy is. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg. We need to ask who is the enemy, and the enemies are terrorists.


I do not expect we'll be worn down, but I think we want to understand the dynamics of the resistance. This provides a much better analogy for grappling with what is becoming an increasingly painful and difficult challenge for us. A challenge which will be more successful in meeting if we have more friends engaged in meeting it and if more Iraqis begin to feel that they are responsible for the key decisions pertaining to their country.

We will not turn the Middle East into a zone of peace instead of a zone of violence unless we more clearly identify the United States with the pursuit of peace in the Israeli/Palestinian relationship. Palestinian terrorism has to be rejected and condemned, yes. But it should not be translated defacto into a policy of support for a really increasingly brutal repression, colonial settlements and a new wall.

Let us not kid ourselves. At stake is the destiny of a democratic country, Israel, to the security of which, the well-being of which, the United States has been committed historically for more than half a century for very good historical and moral reasons. But soon there will be no option of a two-state solution.

Soon the reality of the settlements which are colonial fortifications on the hill with swimming pools next to favelas below where there's no drinking water and where the population is 50% unemployed, there will be no opportunity for a two-state solution with a wall that cuts up the West Bank even more and creates more human suffering.

While I this is a great speech, it does contain the sad formula that failure is not an option.

That is formally true. No-one chooses failure, but then no-one chooses success either. You cannot determine an outcome by being passionate about it, and in a sense Brzezinski falls into his own trap of magical thinking. Let us put it in more accurate terms.

The Bush rhetoric about evildoers may be fine for canvassing political support, but evil has been around for quite a long time and is likely to stay around for some little time to come. It's actually a refusal to think. The Howard rhetoric that the terrorists attack us for who we are, not what we have done, is just another attempt to substitute passion for thought.

I am not sure on what battlefield, other than the human soul, evil can ever finally be defeated or what theology could conflate success in battle with the triumph of good in the world.

This is not 1099 and the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders did not actually end evil in the world, although the eschatologically-obsessed Crusaders believed they had destroyed evil for good. Saladin retook the city in 1187. Magical thinking does not work.

In Iraq, failure is a possibility. If the coalition does not radically alter its policies failure is almost a certainty. The coalition cannot opt to succeed, but it can opt for policies which work and those which don't. So let us ask if failure is a possibility in Iraq and what is to be done to avoid it. Let us remember this is not 1099.

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