March 09, 2005

A Neocon's Caution

Daniel Pipes has written a new essay in which he declares:

"As some of my oldest friends and closest allies are called neo-conservative, I happily accept this appellation. Indeed, it has a certain cachet, given that no more than 50 Americans have been called neoconservative, yet we allegedly drive American foreign policy.

I mention all this because neoconservative policies in the Middle East have been looking pretty good the past two months, as Max Boot amplifies in a column titled "Neocons May Get the Last Laugh":

The next section of the essay lists a number of recent positive developments that can be attributed to neoconservative policies. But he advises caution as he lists a number of potential outcomes:

"I too welcome these developments, but more warily. Having been trained in Middle Eastern history makes me perhaps more aware of what can go wrong:

  • Yes, Mahmoud Abbas wishes to end the armed struggle against Israel but his call for a greater jihad against the "Zionist enemy" points to his intending another form of war to destroy Israel.
  • The Iraqi elections are bringing Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a pro-Iranian Islamist, to power.
  • Likewise, the Saudi elections proved a boon for the Islamist candidates.
  • Mubarak's promise is purely cosmetic; but should real presidential elections one day come to Egypt, Islamists will probably prevail there too.
  • Removing Syrian control in Lebanon could well lead to Hezbollah, a terrorist group, becoming the dominant power there.
  • Eliminating the hideous Assad dynasty could well bring in its wake an Islamist government in Damascus.

Note a pattern? Other than the sui generis Palestinian case, one main danger threatens to undo the good news: that a too-quick removal of tyranny unleashes Islamist ideologues and opens their way to power. Sadly, Islamists uniquely have what it takes to win elections: the talent to develop a compelling ideology, the energy to found parties, the devotion to win supporters, the money to spend on electoral campaigns, the honesty to appeal to voters, and the will to intimidate rivals."

I think that it would be wise to listen to his words and to not forget how quickly the positive movement of today can be replaced with the challenges of tomorrow. I still maintain that were we to capture Osama Bin-Laden today we would not find ourselves any closer to winning the war on terror and the war against radical Islam.

This is an ideological fight that is going to take a substantial effort and time. The ideas and values promulgated by our adversaries are not going to die and go away unless we help to make them do so. But the changes cannot be achieved solely by force.

We can win militarily but still lose. The trick is finding the balance. First we must find a way to make ourselves heard and then we need to find a way to be listened to. Without the buy-in of the public, without increasing mindshare we are going to be stuck like a hamster spinning a wheel.

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