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August 11, 2006

The Best Week Ever
Posted by Michael Signer

Wow -- big week, with both Lamont and London, in rapid succession.  I've been sampling opinions from all the bedraggled lawyer-types who I run into on the Metro coming home from work at 11 p.m.

So here's what I'm hearing this week, which for political and national security junkies was definitely The Best Week Ever. 

In true Hegelian spirit, let's do a little thesis-antithesis-synthesis on two key issues:  (1)  What this means for progressives, (2) What in tarnation Joe Lieberman is doing.

Thesis:  Progressives are becoming isolationist.  This is my personal biggest fear, and I've heard it reiterated by a couple of friends, particularly Truman Project types.  We had Vietnam and McGovern, and progressives kind of collectively threw up their hands and retreated from (a) foreign policy generally, (b) national security generally.  What we see with Iraq is Vietnam Redux -- history repeating itself, as tragicomedy. 

A smart friend (again, on the Metro) worried that the worst has already happened -- Republicans have "framed" the election as Democrats-going-McGovern, not only cutting-and-running, but screaming and fainting as they do so.

The flaw with this reasoning (as another friend, who was an early donor to Lamont, pointed out), is that it depends on a stereotype of Lamont voters as all peaceniks, all Birkenstock wearers, all wiping latte foam off their upper lips as they stride out of the ballot box, triumphant.  And we really don't know enough about the actual proclivities of those who voted Lamont in -- are they all Deaniacs?  Are Deaniacs really all that bad?

Antithesis:  Progressives are becoming tough and smart.  This is what our own Suzanne Nossel argues, but we have two different strands here -- the Nossel argument, which says that progressives are cannily weeding out the bad (both political and policy) types, and starting to become more sophisticated about just what kind of engaged security/foreign policy leaders they're supporting (like, the argument goes, Hillary, who supported the war but beat Rumsfeld soundly about the head and shoulders in a recent Senate hearing). 

And then there's the Eli Pariser argument from WaPo a couple of days ago, along the lines of all those Deaniacs who patted their bellies and smiled, as their man ascended to legitimacy at the head of the DNC:  Democrats will only win when they become more principled, more identifiably left, leaders by conviction, not calculation -- and that's what Lamont means.

Synthesis:  This is an opportunity, not an event.  There's a gold ring hovering right in the nutmeg-scented air above Connecticut -- progressives can make the Lamont victory about being tough and smart, about separating the Democratic Party from its most avid and weirdly unquestioning supporter of the President and all his failed policies.  So we are not in a moment of resolution right now, but of pregnant possibility.  It is a moment to talk about national and global leadership, of courage, of strength and potential.  If pulling the troops out of Iraq is the right policy choice, it's still neither the message nor the future.  It's a piece in a puzzle -- and the picture on the puzzle (if this is done right) will be of a party with the nation's confidence.

Thesis:  Joe Lieberman has gone crazy:  The friend who's the Lamont-lover and unabashed Lieberman-hater sent me the following Lieberman quote yesterday:

"I'm worried that too many people, both in politics and out, don't appreciate the seriousness of the threat to American security and the evil of the enemy that faces us - more evil or as evil as Nazism and probably more dangerous that the Soviet Communists we fought during the long Cold War."

"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."
For audacity, intellectual dishonesty, historical incomprehensibility, and sheer disorganized reasoning, this is hard to beat.  I just cannot comprehend how militant Islam could be "more evil" than Nazism, which systematically dedicated itself to the extermination of several ethnicities and groups of people, and which quite unabashedly and methodically twisted the minds of a nation into a straight-up imperial power. 
There's a similar problem with the "more dangerous" argument about the Soviet Union. 
What?  The Soviet Union, also unabashedly imperalistic, did everything it could do to pose an existential, state-to-state threat to the United States itself.  It systematically invaded several countries near it, made inroads in our hemisphere, and built up nuclear power so it could invade us -- like, really invade us, as in take over our state.  There's nothing remotely close to that going on with militant Islam.  And there's a deeper issue here -- if we allow our worry and concern over the episodic (if terrible) pulses of violence over the last decades to actually cloud our vision about how to deal with these people and to place America in a broader historical leadership role, then we will start to make mistakes -- like, oh, invade a sovereign country by twisting data to support a conclusory proposition that someone was tied to militant Islam.
And then of course there's Lieberman's proposition that anyone who voted for Lamont really, really, really wants America to get blown up (or at least is just too silly and misguided to appreciate just how bad these snakes on a plane are). 
Deep end, meet Lieberman, etc.

Antithesis:  Joe Lieberman is tough and smart:  Well, there's not too many who think this right now. 

Synthesis:  Um, none.


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Nazism embraced mass murder. Militant Islam also embraces mass murder but goes one better by embracing both suicide as a means of mass murder and believes in slavery. In this sense it's more evil. It cares the same about others (not at all) but also cares little about it's own. Nazi's were evil but they did treat their own women better than militant Islam does.

I think you're way off with the point you make about Militant Islam not being as dangerous as Nazism and the Soviets. Firstly, they are highly decentralized in the world's most followed religion making them a million times more agile than say Hitler's Military or the Soviets for that matter. They may not possess the defense capital those two Military Mights had but who needs it when you're thinking up ways to use everyday situations to maximize mayhem and disorder among concentrated civilian populations (not to mention death, destruction, horror, terror, fear and loathing). Secondly, they are able to continue fighting (blowing themselves up) a war of attrition for decades (one could argue centuries) as they have already demonstrated. They have no recruitment problems. No shortage of resources. They are the ultimate enemy. Last but sure as hell not least the psychology of these people is mind-blowing. Not since Kamikaze fighters have we seen an enemy like this. Only this time, they're walking among us. It sounds as though you made your points without really thinking about it just because Lap Dog Lieberman said it. Just because he says something does not mean it isnt true. I mean, I can't stand Bushie lap dogs as much as the next lib.

President George Bush and Osama bin Laden are a matched set; they feed each other and need each other. They represent the anti-modern faction in their respective societies ("civilizations"). Given that, I do not think so-called Islamofascists are any more dangerous than abortion clinic bombers. Both groups are intolerant and uncomfortable in this day and age. Both seek certainty in an uncertain world.

Please take some time and speak to muslims. Speak to many different muslims from the many different cultures and societies where you will find them. If you listen honestly and ask intelligent questions, you will find that they really are no different from Americans; there are some who are forward thinking, some who are very religiously devout and see the world through a God-fearing lens, and some who are angry and looking for a fight to redeem some part of self esteem that is lost in an increasingly harsh, uncaring, economically defined world.

The way forward is a contest of determination and a struggle of will. It's not unlike governments' battles with organized crime: Some governments do it successfully, others fail and govern societies that disintegrate over time. Successful governments are tough but at the same time maintain moral integrity and do not consistently lower their tactics to the those of their adversaries. The people (remember the people, the masses) need to be able to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys over time. That's the only way modern societies can continue to exist. And being the good guys involves more than just saying "they're bad" and "God is on our side." Being the good guys means taking our lumps as a society, showing restraint, coming down hard on the bad guys but showing mercy and compassion to innocents. In short, it means a tough law enforcement approach.

That's our reality. God help us all.

I agree with the previous comments by "danger." I also want to make a couple of points. 1) I don't think saying who's more evil is a very productive exercise, but I do object to comparing "Militant Islam" to the Nazis. Too often the name of Nazism is recalled to paint current situations as black and white which are not. 1940s Europe was completely different from the modern Middle East. 2) It is important to be careful to "know your enemy" so to speak. "Militant Islam" is not one unified force throughout the Middle East fighting the US tooth and claw. Politicians often fail to recognize that the Al-Sadr Brigade, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Iran and Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda, are all very different groups with different incentives driving their actions. Some are trying to keep power at any cost, most call for an Islamic state but with different ways of achieving it, and some are just trying to provide a voice for the economically disenfranchised. 3) It is important to remember that even the suicide bombers are driven to do this somehow by human incentives. The movie Paradise Now gives a good portrayal of this paradox. With no chance for social mobility, economically frustrated and humiliated arab youth can very easily be convinced of the benefits of suicide and murder for "God's will." Of course it's wrong, but not evil. Many grew up in war with destruction around and are fed half-truths by politicians and leaders who were fed the same thing in their own time. When the American and Iraqi interim governments are unable to provide light, water or food but a local Islamic group is, it is not hard to be convinced that the Americans do not care about you. I heard an ex-British official the other day who was in charge of expenditures for the British force in Basra who said that we will never be able to win people's hearts and minds while we continue to attempt to convert people to "democracy" from behind armoured vehicles and guns while the militants use welcoming hands and food. I think it is important to be reminded that we are all human and subject to the same incentives, whims, and weaknesses.

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