Steven den Beste wrote a long, intelligent and insightful essay on who the enemy is. I think he is right to see Afghanistan, Iraq, and the suppression of Al-Qaeda as phases of longer, wider war — a clash of civilizations driven by the failure of Islamic/Arab culture (though I would stress the problem of the Islamic commandment to jihad more than he does). I think he is also right to say that our long-term objective must be to break, crush and eventually destroy this culture, because we can’t live on the same planet with people who both carry those memes and have access to weapons of mass destruction. They will hate us and seek to destroy us not for what we’ve done but for what we are.
I wonder if Steve sees what this implies in the longer time horizon, though? The cultures that produced Al-Qaeda, despite swimming in oil wealth that should have made it easy, have failed in all essential ways to join the modern world. They mutilate the genitalia of the female half of their population, they educate only a vanishingly small number of scientists and engineers, and their politics is a perpetual brawl conducted by tribes with flags. Their capability to get with even the 20th century on their own has been tested and found wanting, let alone the 21st.
Steve may well be right that the only solution to a festering boil like Iraq or Saudi Arabia starts with military defeat, Western occupation, and a forced restructuring of society along the lines of what Douglas MacArthur did to the Japanese after 1945.
I used to think we could corrupt Islamism out of existence, make it fat and lazy with cheap consumer goods and seduce it with porn. Maybe that would be the best way to go if we had two generations to solve the problem. But if the likes of Hussein are breeding botulism and about to get his hands on nukes, we’ve run out of time. We can’t afford the soft option if the price of futzing around might be a mushroom cloud over Manhattan, or over Tel Aviv.
We must win. And we must impose our will and our culture on the losers, not for old-fashioned reasons like gold or oil or craving conquest, but because the likely alternative is nuclear megadeath, plague in our home cities, and the smell of Sarin in the morning. Is there anyone left who doubts that Saddam Hussein, who nerve-gassed Iraqis by the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s, would use nukes if he had them?
There’s a word for the process of conquering a third-world pesthole and imposing your culture on it. It’s called imperialism.
In the 19th century, the Western powers built empires for prestige and economic advantage. In the 21st century, we may be discovering that we need to get back into the imperialism business as a matter of survival. It may turn out that the 20th century was an interlude doomed to end as cheap transportation made the world smaller and improving weapons technology made large-scale destruction inexpensive even for barbarian thugs like Saddam Hussein.
Envy the British of Sir Richard Burton’s time. They could conquer half the world for simple gain without worrying about the Fuzzy-Wuzzies or the Ndebele aerosol-dropping pasteurella pestis on Knightsbridge. We — and I mean specifically the U.S. now — may have to conquer the Islamic world a second time, simply because the risks of war and the moral hazards of imperialism are less threatening than the prospect of some Allah-crazed Islamofascist detonating a knapsack nuke on the Smithsonian Mall.
I’m not joking about the moral hazards of imperialism, either. They may be a more serious danger to a free society than the short-term exigencies of war. Witness the fact that I, a radical libertarian anarchist for more than twenty years, find myself arguing for a position not all that easy to distinguish from reactionary military expansionism. Urgent survival threats make strange bedfellows. And it is all too plausible that. if we take this path, we might degenerate from imperialists by necessity to imperialists by habit and predilection.
Still. Reality is what it is. If there’s no way short of straight-up imperialism and nation-building all over the Islamic world to prevent a holocaust on American or European soil that would make 9/11 look like a garden party, then that’s what we’re going to have to do — civilize the barbarians at the point of a gun.
There is precedent; the British did a pretty good job of civilizing India and we did a spectacularly effective one on Japan. And the U.S. would be well equipped to do it again; our economy is now so large that we could run a globe-spanning empire from the petty-cash drawer. Seriously. The U.S, a hyperpower so dominant that no imaginable coalition of other nations could defeat it at conventional warfare, spends a ridiculously low percentage of GNP (6%, if I recall correctly) on its military.
Civilizing the barbarians needn’t even be a bloody process if you start the job right after their will has been smashed by a major defeat in war. The U.S. burned essentially every major Japanese city except Kyoto to the ground with incendiaries during World War Two and then atom-bombed two of them. This seemed to help. It would be nice if we didn’t have to get so drastic this time, but it might come to that yet; judging by measures like relative GDP and number of Nobel prizes earned, the Arab/Islamic world is actually further behind the civilization curve than the Japanese were in their militarist phase. They may need to be smashed flatter before a latter-day MacArthur will be able to do anything with them.
Some of my readers will be creaming in horror. Imperialism? Barbarians? How dare I use such language? How dare I argue that the U.S. has the right to commit deliberate cultural genocide?
There’s a big hole in the ground in Manhattan. That’s my argument.
If Pearl Harbor was good enough reason for us to conquer Japan and run it like a proconsulate until the Japanese learned manners, then 9/11 was damn good and sufficient reason for us to do the same number on the Islamists. That meant Afghanistan, it means Iraq, and down the road it may mean Saudi Arabia as well.
History is not over.