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September 8, 2004
Guardian Rants Incoherently On Terror

Talk about missing all the important lessons! The Guardian's Richard Norton-Taylor continues the benighted direction of the London Guardian with this incoherent, self-contradictory rant about how the West is losing the terror war because we aren't paying attention to poverty and illiteracy. And guess who the biggest obstacle to peace is, according to Norton-Taylor:

It is hard not to conclude that one of the greatest obstacles to the kind of better world Blair says he wants - one with less cause for terrorism, even if terrorists will always be around - is the Bush administration, and notably the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. They have consistently dismissed British interests and embarrassed a prime minister who has attached himself so closely to the president with such little reward. ...

We have just witnessed the latest manifestation of the so-called war on terror in the Caucasus. Further east, across the oil-rich Caspian, lies Uzbekistan, where the US turns a blind eye to serious human rights abuses in return for military bases for the same war on terror. They were initially used to attack the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, where elections are due next month - an event the US has done little to prepare for, wary of upsetting warlords, while leaving responsibility for security to its European Nato allies, which are unwilling or unable to provide.

I agree with Norton-Taylor that we just witnessed a manifestation on the terror war in Beslan, but apparently he drew different conclusions than I did. The mass murder of hundreds of children -- deliberately targeted and tortured prior to their deaths -- proved to me that the Islamist terrorists have no rationality other than their own supremacy. Norton-Taylor, on the other hand, considers this a rational response to establishing military bases in Uzbekistan, one of the crassest political equations I have yet read.

And yet, despite the fact that the US and Britain have liberated 50 million people in the area from two brutally oppressive regimes, by any objective standard, what does Norton-Taylor point to as a leading cause of terrorism? Oppression!

In a telling comment last week, Mai Yamani, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, described the annual get-together at Oxford University of the Project for Democracy Studies in Arab Countries. The participants, she wrote in the International Herald Tribune, represented the "lost resources of an Arab world that is fast becoming isolated by illiteracy, ignorance, and repression".

A new generation "denied the opportunity to participate in a range of democratic institutions or other vehicles for public self-expression, is finding more dangerous outlets for its passions". Yamani quoted a Saudi researcher at an English university as remarking: "It's easier for a young Arab to blow himself up than sweep outside his house. He doesn't feel he belongs to anything."

Norton-Taylor doesn't realize that he's making Bush's argument for him. Of course that's what causes terrorism, more than poverty; most of the 9/11 attackers came from middle- or upper-class families, and all of them came from an oppressive culture where religion and state blends into one authoritarian rule, and where all ills are blamed on Western culture. Ignorance springs from the chokehold on information flow to the peoples of these countries, which some of them have belatedly learned (Saudi Arabia) can poison one's own well, too.

Norton argues the "neocon" position in his piece in his attempt to refute them. Establishing democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the oppression was the most brutal, will allow Arabs to understand that other possibilities exist other than the autocratic rule of mullahs and kleptocracies that have oppressed them and fed them a steady diet of crackpot conspiracy theories for decades, if not centuries. Only by establishing these models will democracy take hold in the region. The West has tried working cooperatively in the region for decades, only to be rewarded with psychopathic lunatics like Osama and the Beslan child-killers. Obviously, a new tack is needed.

And what does Norton-Taylor suggest -- a full-scale withdrawal from Iraq? Actually, he doesn't suggest anything, but one argument he draws from history argues against premature withdrawal, even though Norton-Taylor has the context all wrong:

Dodge adds pointedly: "In the 20s and 30s, the hegemonic power seeking to recreate Iraq was Britain. The 1920 revolt made the occupation extremely unpopular with the British people and led to a change in government in London. The result was that state-building in Iraq was sacrificed at the altar of British domestic politics."

First, the problem with British state-building in the 20s was that (a) Britain tried to establish a foreigner as a monarch in Iraq, and (b) post-Great War, the British simply didn't have the resources to stick it out long enough to be successful. (America's refusal to accept the Palestinian Mandate after Versailles had quite a bit to do with that resource problem.) The lack of staying power in Southwest Asia led directly to the problems we have faced for decades, and those we face today. In fact, it has been accurately said that Osama wants to fight World War I all over again in an attempt to win back the Ottoman Empire.

Rather than the dire gloom Norton-Taylor presents, his piece actually supports the direction Bush and Blair have taken for reforming the Middle East. His only point seems to be that it hasn't succeeded yet, an attitude that ironically recalls the post-Versailles period. If Norton-Taylor hasn't learned that much from history, he should be careful about invoking it.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 8, 2004 6:40 AM

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