Damn, I wish I could vote for Tony Blair for president:
People in the West ask: why don’t they speak up, these standard-bearers of the new Iraq? Why don’t the Shia clerics denounce al-Sadr more strongly? I understand why the question is asked. But the answer is simple: they are worried. They remember 1991, when the West left them to their fate. They know their own street, unused to democratic debate, rife with every rumour, and know its volatility. They read the Western papers and hear its media. And they ask, as the terrorists do: have we the stomach to see it through?
I believe we do. And the rest of the world must hope that we do. None of this is to say we do not have to learn and listen. There is an agenda that could unite the majority of the world. It would be about pursuing terrorism and rogue states on the one hand and actively remedying the causes around which they flourish on the other: the Palestinian issue; poverty and development; democracy in the Middle East; dialogue between main religions.
I have come firmly to believe the only ultimate security lies in our values. The more people are free, the more tolerant they are of others; the more prosperous, the less inclined they are to squander that prosperity on pointless feuding and war.
But our greatest threat, apart from the immediate one of terrorism, is our complacency. When some ascribe, as they do, the upsurge in Islamic extremism to Iraq, do they really forget who killed whom on 11 September 2001? When they call on us to bring the troops home, do they seriously think that this would slake the thirst of these extremists, to say nothing of what it would do to the Iraqis?
Or if we scorned our American allies and told them to go and fight on their own, that somehow we would be spared? If we withdraw from Iraq, they will tell us to withdraw from Afghanistan and, after that, to withdraw from the Middle East completely and, after that, who knows? But one thing is for sure: they have faith in our weakness just as they have faith in their own religious fanaticism. And the weaker we are, the more they will come after us.
Unlike Bush & co., Blair understands that the Left, for all its flaws, is onto something when it talks about the “root causes” of terrorism. He understands that force alone cannot defeat Islamic extremism, and that we must not let our fear of “letting the terrorists win” prevent us from addressing the legitimate grievances and injustices in the world — problems that we should seek to remedy anyway, because it’s the right thing to do, not because terrorists want us to. (It’s a false choice anyway, because terrorists don’t want us to fix the problems they complain about. They are just using those complaints as a means to a very different end. What they want is a clash of civilizations — a scenario which depends on our showing arrogant disregard for “root causes.”)
But unlike so many liberals — quite possibly including, in his heart of hearts, John Kerry — Blair also understands that force, while not the sum total of the solution, is an inescapable and enormous part of the solution. He understands that we must show the terrorists absolutely no mercy, even as we simultaneously show great mercy and compassion for the innocent people whom the terrorists purport to speak for. We must make the Arab world understand that we are on their side, whereas the terrorists are not.
This is an extremely difficult task — it may even be impossible — but attempting it is our only option, and Tony Blair understands that. Bush doesn’t fully understand the first part, and I fear Kerry doesn’t fully understand the second part. Our choice in November is between two sides of the same coin, neither of which is correct without its flip side. Blair gets both sides, but unfortunately, we’re calling the shots instead of him. (And, just as unfortunately, most of the people in Blair’s own country don’t get it, which seriously imperils his ability to pull off what’s trying to pull off.)
Anyway, read the whole thing. Hat tip to Becky’s mom, who e-mailed me the speech.
On a related note, this business of U.S. soldiers mistreating and humiliating Iraqis is a very, very bad thing. It will inevitably reinforce all the negative stereotypes and misconceptions of America and our use of military power, on the anti-war left but also, much more importantly, in the Arab world. Although Bush & co. are certainly right that the actions of these few soldiers do not represent the military or the nation at large, it will be extremely difficult to repair the P.R. damage that this will do.
At the same time, though, I think our reaction to this issue also shows something very good about us, if only people would bother to notice. Here we are, the world’s unchallenged superpower, with the physical ability to do pretty much whatever the hell we want, wherever the hell we want, to whomever the hell we want, damn the consequences — and yet, when we discover wrongdoing by our own people, we own up to it, we apologize profusely for it, and we promise to bring the perpetrators to justice. And it isn’t just about scapegoating the little guy: the general in charge of the prison has been suspended, and will probably be courtmartialed. And rightfully so — that’s what accountability is all about.
Our president has expressed “deep disgust” over what occurred — again, rightfully so. None of this goes above and beyond the call of duty; it is exactly what we should do. But for those who claim that we are unaccountable, unilateral thugs out to oppress and conquer, it ought to be a pleasant surprise. Although they will probably focus on the initial misdeeds and draw vindication from them (e.g. Craig Stern’s statement, “Brilliant. Our troops are dumbasses”), they should instead pay more attention to our reaction. If we were an imperial power bent on world domination, we would not be holding ourselves accountable in this way. As ugly and abhorrent as this incident was, our reaction to it proves once again that America is, at core, a fundamentally good nation with fundamentally good intentions. And that is a very, very good thing.