Pathetic (Ab)uses of 9/11: Fouad Ajami Edition
Fouad Ajami uses the anniversary of the attacks on NYC and Washington DC as a launching pad to argue that the Iraq War was all along the right war and that President Obama is a failure. Sadly, this is not a joke. It’s a real piece of work–it gets some free shots in on torture commissions, the dreaded demon of “multilateralism”, a not so veiled reference to Obama’s health care plan, how liberals don’t love America, and of course derides Europeans/NATO. It’s like a greatest hits compilation from the US right-wing for the entirety of the 2000s.
But that’s just on the side. The real argument (I think?) is that Iraq was the right war after 9/11 because Arabs perpetrated the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Ajami starts off this whopper:
This distinction between a war of choice (Iraq) and a war of necessity (Afghanistan) has become canonical to American liberalism. But we should dispense with that distinction, for it is both morally false and intellectually muddled. No philosophy of just and unjust wars will support it.
Actually in a way Ajami doesn’t intend, he’s right. Just war theory would not allow for any such thing as a ‘war of choice.’ Just wars (if there are such things) are forever and only wars of necessity. Classic just war theory also argues that one of the principle criteria for determination of war of necessity is that the war be defensive in nature or a response to an attack. But can someone remind me how many Iraqis were on the list of 9/11 hijackers?
Oh right, I forgot they’re all Arabs, and as we certainly know all Arabs are alike.
To begin with, a policy that falls back on 9/11 must proceed from a correct reading of the wellsprings of Islamist radicalism. The impulse that took America from Kabul to Baghdad had been on the mark. Those were not Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their financiers were Arabs, and so were those crowds in Cairo and Nablus and Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America getting its comeuppance on that terrible day. Kabul had not sufficed as a return address in that twilight war; it was important to take the war into the Arab world itself, and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw. He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a lesson was made of him. No Arabs had been emotionally invested in Mullah Omar and the Taliban, but the ruler in Baghdad was a favored son of that Arab nation.
Last time I checked, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator (wasn’t that the argument the Bushies were making at the time?) not some “favored son” of the Iraqi people. He ran a police torture state and was an insane Stalin-admiring psychopath. I wish these neocons could get their stories straight. But let’s go back to that list of Arab cities Ajami mentions: Cairo, Nablus, and Amman. Anyone see a prominent Arab capital missing from that list? I don’t know, the one where the multitude of 9/11 hijackers came from? Hint: it rhymes with Jihad.
And then this:
The decapitation of his [Hussein’s] regime was a cautionary tale for his Arab brethren.
Was it? Maybe at the beginning. But once it became clear that the US could not defeat a local insurgency what lesson was learned then in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt (ostensibly all American allies)?
Yes, it’s correct to perceive that al-Qaeda was (and still is) symptomatic of dysfunctional autocratic governments throughout the Arab world. To make the leap that therefore the best (and most logical) way to deal with that problem is to invade one of said countries and then occupy it is another matter entirely.
The wrap up:
Eight years ago, we were visited by the furies of Arab lands. We were rudely awakened from a decade whose gurus and pundits had announced the end of ideology, of politics itself, and the triumph of the world-wide Web and the “electronic herd.” We had discovered that on the other side of the world masterminds of terror, and preachers, and their foot-soldiers were telling of America the most sordid of tales. We had become, without knowing it, a party to a civil war in the Arab-Islamic world between the autocrats and their disaffected children, between those who wanted to live a normal life and warriors of the faith bent on imposing their will on that troubled arc of geography.
Am I hallucinating or didn’t Thomas Friedman title his book The Lexus and The Olive Tree, and by Olive Tree he meant the clash that would occur between those of a traditionalist mindset with on the oncoming of globalization? There are plenty of reasons to critique Friedman, but it would help do so in terms of what he actually wrote.
It is as I said possible (and partially correct) to see an al-Qaeda as product of its own culture, time, and place. But that doesn’t mean that a group like al-Qaeda doesn’t choose its own path and has its own autonomy and therefore needs to be studied on their own terms.
And in that sense, Ajami’s shots at “the end of ideology and politics” are very mistaken. al-Qaeda does represent the end of politics and ideology. Zawahiri and Osama have to cite Noam Chomsky in their talks to try to sound relevant (Chomsky is relevant? WTF?). This isn’t the 1980s, boys. They are in many ways Cold War holdovers, spouting on about Westoxification. The political goal they have, such as it is, is entirely Cosmic and (humanly) apolitical in nature. They are ultimately nihilistic–they represent the end or failure of politics and globalization and in many ways are simply it’s inverse manifestation, not some return of the past.
Meanwhile, the newer forms of terrorism has its current epicenter in Southeast Asia. It’s starting to come of age in Africa (Nigeria, Eastern Horn), and is also primed for a move into Central Asia, none of which are Arab lands. These groups are increasingly blurring the line between a classic terrorist outfit and a professionalized criminal enterprise. [Another point in the end of ideology category].
Ajami originally argued that Huntington was wrong to see everything as a clash of civilizations. For Ajami it was states that mattered. Now of late he has changed his mind and come back to the Huntingtonian position of cultures/civilizations as the driving force. But neither is right. Thinking in terms of states or cultures is a product of the 20th century, particularly of the Cold War era. It does not cover the kinds of groups that are gaining strength in this post-Cold War world. Some of these groups may be built around fictive ethnic kinship bonds (as with Pushtuns and the Taliban in Af-Pak), and they may even make use of traditional religious-ethnic legitimatizers (e.g. Pakistani Taliban’s use of the Quranic language of justice and generic calls for land reform against feudal elites in FATA), but they also all use the platform of globalization to hold, gain, and project power. These groups are often called “non-state actors” but it may be that they are creating their own “states” or “state-lets”.
Two failed peaces/stabilizations after two quick wars in the last decade have not taught us how to interact with this different world we now inhabit. And notions of “civilizations” and “states” are far too ham-handed and broad-brushed to offer much in the way of strategic intelligence in the 21st century. But then again, this is what happens when strategic discussion is dominated by old guard academics using outlets like the Wall Street Journal under a cloud of punditry to make domestic political attacks. On of course of all things a day that in theory would be not be defiled by such inanity.