Winds of Change.NET: Kevin Drum Asks The Good Question

Those guys in this blog seem a lot better than your typical neocon. Why, they even respect some liberal questions! Amazing, particularly considering the date of this post, a month after Bushies won 2004. Most of their fellow neocons were gloating and laughing their arses off at our despair and those guys were taking Kevin Drum seriously. And made some interesting points on their attempt to answer Kevin. I think I'll add them to my "blog finds" list though their obsession with "Islamofacism" makes my stomach turn... Oh well, no neocon is perfect! -- law

Kevin Drum asks a serious question that we who support the war have to answer. He's wrestling with the issue of why Democrats do so badly on issues of defense, and responding to Peter Bienert's article that I praised so much.
Kevin says:

That's the story I think Beinart needs to write. If he thinks too many liberals are squishy on terrorism, he needs to persuade us not just that Islamic totalitarianism is bad — of course it's bad — but that it's also an overwhelming danger to the security of the United States.

So I decided to spend a couple of minutes and try and make an argument.

I wanted to start with the numbers, because I think they're significant, so I went to the Department of State, and looked up a page on 'Significant Terrorist Incidents, 1961-2003: A Brief Chronology.' Then I loaded it into Excel and started to do some quick numbers. I removed all the incidents in Iraq - arguably those are part of an ongoing war.

Just for starters, from 1961 to 2003:
Total Terrorist Incidents 229
Total Fatalities 7,071
Total Islamist-Sponsored Incidents 136
Total Islamist-Sponsored Deaths 5,921
Total Palestinian-Sponsored Incidents in Israel 49
Total Palestinian-Sponsored Deaths in Israel 381
Total Islamist-Sponsored Incidents Outside Israel 87
Total Islamist-Sponsored Deaths Outside Israel 5,540

*edited 'Muslim' to 'Islamist' and 'Palestinian'; that was careless on my part - A.L.

I'm going to work up a time series, and obviously the numbers are rising. But - and it's an important one - as a public health issue, terrorism (as defined on this particular list) barely registers a blip. Worldwide, approximately 8,000,000 infants die before their first birthday.

So why is it, exactly, that terrorism deserves such an expensive (in blood, treasure, and goodwill) response?

I think it does, and will try and set out some arguments why. I think that our team - the 'pro-liberation', 'pro-intervention' team - needs to make these good arguments, and that we probably need to acknowledge - as I think the left needs to acknowledge it's flaws - that we haven't done a good enough job on this yet...

Jeff Harrell on December 7, 2004 06:56 AM
I notice that some are wondering whether Islamism is expansionist. Kevin, particularly, asks whether the Islamists have any aspirations outside the Middle East, and whether any Islamist country has ever invaded any other.

The answer to the first question is obviously yes. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Chad, Guinea, Indonesia, the Maldives, Mauritania, Turkey, Tunisia, Niger, Morocco, Somalia, and Sudan are all outside the Middle East; they're all Muslim countries with either an Islamist regime in place (Iran, Sudan) or a strong Islamist movement (Indonesia, Pakistan).

And the answer to the second question is also yes, though not in the way you'd normally think. How do you think all those countries got to be either wholly Muslim and pro-Islamist or Islamist? Islamism is half politics and half religion, and the movement spreads through madrasas and mosques. It's an invasion just like any other; it's just a slow invasion, and a comparatively peaceful one. But it's still an invasion.

I think yes, Islamism is clearly expansionist.

But that's just my opinion.

PD Shaw on December 7, 2004 05:25 PM

To recap:

Interuption of the Oil Supply = Global Depression = Wars & Totalitarian Movements

Liberals DO have a dog in that hunt.


* Why is terrorism a threat to the USA?
* Why is this threat "suddenly" so serious?
* What's the "event horizon" timeline range we're working with (i.e. how much time do current trends give us before really bad things begin happening, as an approximate range)?
* What is the nature of our enemy?
* What are the goals of our enemy?
* What role does oil play in this?

Kevin misses a few things in a complete argument, but the above are an important base that establishes the seriousness of the situation.


The next step engages an argument about the mechanisms underlying the current situation. WHY is it like this? This may be necessary for some people to take them to "OK, it's serious, AND war is the proper response." One will need to address issues like:

* What drives the phenomenon of modern Islamic terrorism? (speaks to "can it be appeased", and also short-circuits the "it's all America's fault!" response that maliciously or onanistically excludes the other as a serious actor)

* The role and dynamics of state sponsorship and/or sanction for terror in the Mideast, and in the chain of carefully organized hate that underlies it. Having noted this, we need to talk about...

* History, and what happens when whole cultures become irrational or hostile (it happens), and how "fixable" this is, and by what means. This is closely related to...

* The role of pretext in war and diplomacy. Having an understanding of classical history, as folks like Victor Davis Hanson do, helps immensely. I find it very weird that people who find their fellow Americans impossible to believe and think we invaded Afghanistan to lay an oil pipeline there will swallow the assertions and problem definitions of an Edward Said, or of dictatorial rulers of Islamic countries, without batting an eye. Gotta bust that and come back to root causes. Fortunately, it isn't hard. A related issue is...

* What are the limits of diplomacy? People who think the world is one big reflection of their faculty club, and have limited deal-making experience for real stakes, often don't understand where these limits are or even acknowledge that they exist. Qualify to see if this is a religious belief before arguing (if it's an article of faith, find someone else to argue with), though for some it dissolves once the "thwarted superiority + organized hate + pretext" chain is laid bare. I recommend hammering at this theme often using historical examples and analogies people can relate to, especially examples that show the cynical side of this or illustrate how it is used to do nothing but seem to be doing something.

That's a lot.


Once you're into the question of "fight it as a war, but how?" you're into tactics and strategy. Part of this debate is already addressed by the level of threat and risk discussion earlier, and part by the roots of Islamic terrorism argument. Those answers automatically suggest (and rule out) ceryain priorities and strategies, so make sure they're solid.

Likely additional propositions include:

* What is the point of war in general? (No, I'm serious, it's a good idea to explain it).

* When fighting a war, what are the keys to success? Seems trivial, but many people have limited or no experience or knowledge in this area. Hey, how much do you know about synchronized swimming? Probably zero, unless you see a swimmer you really want to meet. Same principle. Explain, preferably using historical examples and analogies they can relate to. Sports analogies work if they play and compete to win; sometimes business analogies do too. This is one of the most important points to spend time on. A.L. does a very good job of this, as a consistent theme running through many posts that I've seen.

* So... given everything we've covered so far, what's the point of this war in particular? (Or, turn it on its head, start with that, and bring in backup as needed)

Those are kind of important for intelligent conversations about strategy.

If one believes as I do, add a few more propositions. Like:

* The massive and consistent failure to date of the "international order" in 3 key areas: addressing terrorism, containing WMD, and nation-building.

* Why is a pre-emptive strategy important? Why can't we just play defense?

* When fighting a war, what are reasonable expectations re: success, failure, planning, etc.? The last is tougher with liberals and leftists, who believe implicitly in central planning and often find it hard to grasp its limitations. Sports or competitive/strategy games like chess or go are a good bridge to understanding in that area - if they play.


Just looking at all that is probably scary to contemplate if you're thinking of arguing to convince. Fortunately, each issue may only require a very short answer for some people (like, one sentence). And, many of you have already answered many of these questions for yourselves. Take a second look and see.

Joe Katzman on December 8, 2004

Winds of Change.NET: Kevin Drum Asks The Good Question


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