Tuesday, September 12, 2006


A Civil Argument

Here’s how Glenn Reynolds started the argument, not one of the yelling and screaming and calling each other the Anti-Christ version, but of the rare civil variety:

To read some blogs today, you'd think that this was the 9th century, with camel-riding Jihadis ready to descend on helpless American towns, swinging unstoppable scimitars. It's not that way; it's more like the Ghost Dance or similar movements borne of frustration at losing, movements that do their damage all right, but that are doomed to fail. I don't mean to understate the threat, which is real enough. But it's not on the order of the Cold War, you know, and we won that one.

Which got Vodkapundit (Stephen Green) going:

The Cold War was the Great Civil War of Western Civilization -- exactly like the Thirty Years War, only greater in scope. If the Russians had won, Western Civ would have gone on as before. Only, you know, a lot more repressed and a lot less rich. As it is, the West did win, and Russia is as Russia was except for that whiff of freedom they enjoy.

And if the West were to succumb to Islamic Fascism?

(Take a moment here to shudder.)

At the very least, we’d find ourselves in a new Cold War. Like before, we’d be squared off against half of Asia. Unlike before, we’d have exactly zero allies. And damn little oil.

At the very worst?

(Take another moment to shudder.)

James Joyner weighs in, and tries to stake out middle ground. Joyner refutes the implication in Green’s objection that Russia is part of Western Civilization as we know it, in the real West, or better, the actually civilized West, to concede Joyner’s point:

To begin with, I disagree strongly that the Russians are part of the West. As Samuel Huntington rightly noted, they didn’t have a Protestant Reformation or an Enlightenment, rather key parts of what made Western Civilization Western Civilization.* A wag once said the Soviets were essentially Upper Volta with nuclear weapons. While that overstates things more than a little, the observation carried an essential truth.

In comparative terms, though, Steve’s right that we had a lot more in common with the Soviets/Russians than with the Islamists. The former was a much more highly educated culture, technically modern at a societal if not cultural level, and imbued with Christian concepts of right and wrong.

There’s a minor problem, though, with the argument: It is simply inconceivable that the Islamists will defeat us militarily, let alone impose their culture on us. As scary as Bin Laden and company are, they are not going to amass an arsenal of nuclear weapons capable of annihilating the planet many times over.

Joyner touches on what I think are the differing premises between Reynolds and Green, which would explain why two commentators, otherwise very much aligned on counter-terrorism approaches, seem in disagreement.

Reynolds, strictly speaking, is right, in that Islamic fascism will never appeal to majorities even in the Arab world, let alone the West. Red Staters in particular can be counted on to reach for their guns long before they can take much real estate, politically speaking. The aren’t technologically too advanced, and they won’t ever be able to come close to winning any kind of arms race.

Green on the other hand is thinking about the long term consequence of avoiding war at all costs, and possibly a parallel weakness on the part of elites in the West to sustain the kind of injury and harm that the Islamic fascists will be able to wreak upon us. In our fears of a nuclear or other mass casualty WMD attack, in our willingness to buy into the lie that they hate us because of something we’ve done, rather than what we are, majorities of our populations may indeed want to try to surrender our very liberties, and become what Green fears.

Joyner rightly acknowledges that, unlike the old Soviet Union, Islamic fascists will never amass a vast stockpile of nuclear weapons. Fact is, they don’t need to.

They can terrorize and intimidate regional neighbors and other adversaries with merely the threat of nuclear attack. And who in the West will want to contemplate what happens if they nuke Israel out of existence, or Rome, or Los Angeles for that matter?

For some, fear of that eventuality makes them think themselves willing to pay any price, make any sacrifice, to avoid what will happen next.

Whereas the average American, in cumulative approaching an 80% or higher majority, will demand a response that makes much of the real estate in offending regions glass-like and uninhabitable for thousands of years.

Joyner correctly observes the differences in the Cold War versus War against Islamic Fascism analogy:

Indeed, the only way that the Islamists are scarier than the Soviets is intention. Few believed that the Russians had any desire to wipe us out. Expand their sphere of influence and convert us to their ways? Sure. Mass murder? Not so much. Conversely, there’s not much doubt that Osama and company would hit the button without hesitation had they the means.

Since they don’t and won’t, however, they’re not an existential threat, merely a very annoying one.

Joyner struck a nerve for sure with his last point, and offers the following caveat to his remark about “annoying:”

UPDATE: After a comment and email exchange with EnnuiPundit I realize that I should probably have placed the “annoying” in the context of “compared to the prospect of nuclear annihilation the Cold War offered.” Mass murder, perhaps involving dirty bombs, is no small inconvenience.

Excellent debate and discussion from all, and even excerpts from Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.”

Read everything, here, here, and here.

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