Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Somehow we have to ... "

(updated below)

I've been hearing this phrase a lot lately regarding the various secondary exacerbations and crises to have arisen from our adventure in Iraq. The latest, and for me the most frustrating, comes from Andrew Sullivan, responding to Bashir Goth's recent Washington Post blog entry. From Goth:
To survive in such unfriendly atmosphere like this, journalists in the Muslim world have become like parrots that only echo the official line. Torn between the call of professionalism and that of censorship, they have to always adhere to the call of the latter. If it takes a village to raise a child in Africa, it takes a community to kill a writer, artist and a journalist in the Muslim world.
Responds Sullivan [my emphasis]:
And so the backwardness deepens; and the ressentiment intensifies; and the censorship grows. Somehow we have to reverse this cycle of conformity and fear - there, and, to a mercifully much lesser extent, here.
What's my frustration, you ask? On the surface, I can disagree with nothing substantive that Sullivan has penned on the subject in the last several years, but I am always left unsatisfied. I want to know what we are going to do about Iran, Muslim democracy, and the unfolding civil war in Iraq. Sullivan quite rightly brings up all the little things that should make us afraid -- he is serious about taking real threats into account -- but he stops short of offering solutions.

Iran is dangerous: but do we invade? As Goth writes, free speech is not a guarantee to Muslim writers: do we invade? Women live under the burqas and the threat of assassination for driving a car in Iraq: do we invade? Oh, wait ...

The set to which Sullivan now belongs -- and it's an expanding one -- is those who supported the war in Iraq for the "right reasons", i.e., our desire to spread democracy, to save ourselves from another terrorist attack, and to show the world that we will not be pushed around, but which is now realizing with every new revelation about our government's incompetence and the scale of the risk we were taking that the war was a very bad idea. (I'm not talking about Afghanistan -- I think that was the right war, and it could have been brilliant had we decided to stick around with half the commitment we made in Iraq.)

Now, what Sullivan is left with is a overexcersized sense of outrage at all of the low-hanging fruit of the kind we see in Iran, and in Goth's comment, that drew him to support the war in Iraq in the first place. Unfortunately for him (but perhaps fortunately for the rest of us) there is no credible and belligerent anti-Iran US foreign policy behind which he can put his considerable rhetorical strengths. When he says "Somehow we have to ... " but goes no further, he leaves us standing at the altar, wondering if we should really have given him that second chance.

Perhaps recognizing how impotent his words about "scary" Ahmadinejad have become when there are no immediate plans to invade Iran -- if you want proof of the lack of imminent plans, look at the recent and very significant drops in oil prices from $75 a barrel to about $61 -- Sullivan posts a comment from a reader, who says [my emphasis]:

I find myself troubled by your recent posting. Specifically, the line, "We have a dictator on the brink of nukes." By all indications, the Iranian regime is at the very least, 6-7 years away from a working nuclear weapon. Most estimates give it a decade, as in around the year 2016. Some predict more time. I have seen no credible reports that they are remotely close to a nuclear weapon. Have you?

Also, Ahmadinejad is not a dictator. He cannot make decisions without the specific approval of Supreme Leader Khamenei. A small point, but still.

I understand the difficulty in projecting domestic politics in a country as hostile as Iran. However, we know that Ahmadinejad is facing a dearth of support in his country over his economic failures, when he was elected largely on an economic populist platform. Seeing how the key issue driving his popularity appears to be his belligerence and feistiness towards the USA, instead of adapting a hard-line stance and feeding into his popularity, it puzzles me why we don't treat him like the pretend fraud he is.


UPDATE 9/27/2006 12:32: Apparently Sullivan did know what a "high-risk adventure" the Iraq invasion was going to be:
We knew occupying a Muslim country would be a very high-risk venture.
I've read his blog since 2002. His recognition of what we knew is news to me -- but I'm ready to stand corrected.

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