Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Aren't Arabs Rational?: I finally got around to reading CATO's non-idiotarian argument against war with Iraq. It conjures a very alarming picture, one well illustrated by this simultaneously hilarious and horrific flash game. (Both of which I found via the indispensible Unqualified Offerings.) But in reading these scenarios that predict massive Arab/Muslim uprisings against the U.S., I can't help but wonder what assumptions they are making about the rationality of this large group of people. Take the CATO piece. In order to debunk the premise that the Islamic world "hates us for our freedoms," Healy cites the following data:
A Zogby poll released in April 2002 surveyed respondents from 10 Islamic nations on their attitudes toward American culture, capitalism, and foreign policy. The results show broad appreciation for America's economic system and culture. But when asked whether they approve of U.S. government policy toward the Palestinians, just 1 percent of Kuwaitis, 2 percent of Lebanese, 3 percent of Egyptians and Iranians, 5 percent of Saudis and Indonesians, and 9 percent of Pakistanis say yes. "It's not our values, it's not our democracy, it's not our freedom...it's the policy they don't like," said James Zogby.
From this, Healy draws the following inference:
What's utterly unreasonable is to assume, as the administration and its fellow travelers seem to, that the number of recruits to Al Qaeda's murderous jihad is relatively fixed, and will not increase dramatically if the U.S. begins a policy of conquering and occupying Middle Eastern Muslim countries with the avowed purpose of making them secular and free.
I'm a little confused here. The only policy of ours Zogby (as quoted by Healy) found opposition to was that regarding Israel and the Palestinians. That's obviously a major problem, but it's a rather unique, sui generis situation. What does it have to do with trying to make other Middle Eastern countries "secular and free"? If it's true that these people have "broad appreciation for America's economic system and culture," then why would they hate us for trying to bring these things to them?

One answer might be that they wouldn't—if they had any reason to believe that's really what we're doing. They have ample reason for skepticism on this score. During the Cold War, we showed ourselves willing to support virtually any status quo, even if oppressive, any dictator, even if brutal—so long as they were anti-communist in aim or effect. (During his interview with Fallaci, William Colby justified the coup against Allende by saying that no communist government, once in power, had ever relinquished it democratically. This would be a somewhat more persuasive position if it hadn't been offered in defense of installing Pinochet.) To win this conflict, we're going to have to convince the third world that the name of the game has changed. That we're not merely anti-terrorism, but pro-freedom. Their freedom. That we'd rather see them have real democratic systems—even ones that occasionally elect people we don't like—than be under the thumb of a royal family or dictator who is willing to cozy up to us. Or pretend to.

So it seems to me that if I'm an Arab, my attitude toward a U.S. invasion of Iraq depends largely on what comes out of it. If what starts to materialize when the dust clears looks like the imperialistic install-a-docile-sonofabitch-and-grab-the-oil scenario so many people expect, then maybe I do think about heading to the nearest al-Qaeda recruitment station. But if it looks like the yanks are actually trying to live up to their rhetoric and set up a free democratic state ala post WWII Japan (yes, I know it will be a lot harder), then maybe I experience a glimmer of hope and watch a little more. To assume that if war comes I will be up in arms against the U.S. no matter what is to assume that I'm not very rational. And it seems strange to conclude that Saddam, about whose unsavory psyche we know so much, is "demonstrably deterrable," but assume that millions of normal Arab/Muslim men and women lack any capacity to think through their own self-interest and act accordingly.

Update: Hitch makes a similar point.

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