By lex, on December 13th, 2006
Pulled out of comments from an earlier post, and expanded –
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about how people are tired of the war, tired of looking at the scenes of destruction on TV, tired of the flag-draped caskets and what they represent in human costs, tired of the expense and frankly, tired of talking about it. We want to move on, we want it over, we want to change the channel, talk about something else. Get back to full-time Britney and her sartorial choices, the next news blitz about the next telegenic blonde co-ed that goes missing, single-payer health care and Our Crumbling Infrastructure.
People are war-weary, and that’s only natural – no one likes a long, protracted fight. The lines get blurry, goals are re-defined, eventually someone you care about will get caught behaving very badly, casting doubt on the rightness of the entire enterprise. There is so very much misery. But war weariness can be a dangerous indulgence. Partly for political reasons, people have been lulled into thinking that the choice on whether or not to continue the fight is a simple one. It isn’t.
People have been told what they long to hear, that we can bring the troops home and all the killing will stop. Or at least the killing of people we care about will stop. And we do have a choice of course, just as we had a choice on deciding whether or not to go to war. But those choices aren’t of the same weight – it is much easier to decide to go to war than it is to decide to lose one. Most countries don’t get the choice of whether or not to lose their wars – it is imposed upon them. Almost uniquely in human history though, we’ve made a recent habit of picking fights we eventually decide not to win. As we spin up to do it one more time, it’s important that we carefully weigh our choices against the potential outcomes, with those consequences in turn weighed against the likelihood of their occurrence.
Because as tempting as it might be for some to see Mr. Bush lose his little war, it doesn’t end that cleanly. In order for him to lose, someone or something else has to win. And just because things are bad now does not mean that they can’t get worse.
It’ll be a pity, of course, about those poor, benighted wogs. Lied to again, disappointed again, left to be slaughtered again. But they ought to have been used to it by now, wot? After Beirut, after Iraq in 1991, after Somalia, they should have known better than to trust us. With all our talk about democracy and freedom, and the rule of law. That’ll never happen again.
Not to worry though. Eventually enough of them will have been murdered and many of the rest will disperse across porous borders in every direction. There will be enough displaced persons to create yet more of the region’s already all-too-common refugee camps, places of misery and squalor that breed hatred like swamp water breeds mosquitoes. The most brutal killers – and we already know who they are, which takes some of the mystery out of it – will rise to the top of the 21st century Golgotha left behind to rule over cowered masses who lack the resources to escape.
And that’s when it starts to get interesting again, at least from our own parochial point of view: Having consolidated their power – with the help of some friends to the east perhaps – will they be content at home within their self-imposed blanket of smothering oppression? Or will they instead turn their attention elsewhere? To the south perhaps, where lies a land of great natural resources inhabited by impoverished millions ruled by thousands of indolent princes? Will the House of Saud – bin Laden’s true enemy, and the foundational reason for his struggle with the US – stand against this newly victorious combination? They might choose the path of accommodation for as long as they can, to prolong their existence. But at what price, that accommodation, and for how long?
Just wogs though, again. Nothing to do with us. Apart from prices at the pump.
Except that one quarter of the world’s population has been taught, as an article of faith, that their religion is final and perfect and they themselves should be given dominion over the world, to spread the word as it has been given to them. Peacefully, if possible, but spread in any case.
And yet, maddeningly, that promised dominion – so obvious for hundreds of years – has evaporated, never to return. With every passing decade the rest of the world marches on impressively, new technologies creating ever-higher standards of living, happiness, and yes, decadence. That progress is vividly resented by many in an umma that falls further and further behind in every measure of human achievement, stewing in comparative misery, corruption and inefficiency under tyrannical oppression.
Having dabbled unsuccessfully in western concepts such as nationalism and socialism, true believers who ask themselves “what went wrong?” are now faced with only two possible answers: Either their faith is not final and perfect, or they themselves are imperfectly faithful. Down the first path lies reason and the potential for peaceful co-existence. Down the other path, not for the first time, lies the conquering sword of jihad – and the forces of existential reaction.
We should strive to encourage reason. Our enemies in Iraq and elsewhere are busily promoting the alternative. If we abandon Iraq to them, one billion people will observe our humiliation there and decide for themselves which is the “strong horse” and which the weak, which philosophy has a future and which does not. The fact that we do not think in these terms is meaningless – our foe most certainly does.
And do you not wonder, as you follow the branches of possibility down their darkest corridors, how many of us will have to die before we decide to kill all of them? Will New York and Washington, DC be enough, or will we concede Los Angeles and Denver too? We will draw the line, if it comes to that kind of terror.
But perhaps we will be luckier. Perhaps our decline will be more gradual, our choices ever more constrained by the realities imposed by an encroaching world, a world only too eager to remind us of the sins we committed when our power was at its zenith. Picture the future of nation built on trade held hostage by inimical forces in control of the lifeblood of global commerce. This is the eager promise of al Zawahiri’s new caliphate.
But how likely is any of this? The re-imposition of a tyranny in Iraq after a radicalizing bloodbath is almost a certainty if we permit the indulgence of “war weariness” to cause us to yield the battlefield to the entropic forces now engaged there. Everything after that becomes increasingly theoretical and distant. But there is a non-zero possibility attaching to those final scenarios, against which we must multiply the potential consequences.
These aren’t children’s games we’re playing. This is the long war.