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Answering Commentary's 4 Questions

Reader comment on item: Defending and Advancing Freedom

Submitted by Bill Narvey (Canada), Nov 3, 2005 at 20:56

The four questions posed by the editors of Commentary Magazine are thought provoking. The following are my answers to these questions.

1. Where have you stood, and where do you now stand, in relation to the Bush Doctrine? Do you agree with the President's diagnosis of the threat we face and his prescription for dealing with it?

The Bush doctrine as a statement of general principle sounds good in theory, but looking at the theory more closely and assessing how that theory has been put into practice in the last few years, reveals the Bush doctrine is flawed and uncertain.

The first flaw in the pre-emption doctrine is that there is no clear definition as to who is an American enemy.

In this regard, the Taliban that gave Al Qaeda a home and support for its attacks on the West culminating in 9/11 were a clear target. Iraq was a less certain target. Assuming the intelligence was sufficient to form the reasonable view that Iraq had WMD's and their use against Israel or any other nations could have had a destabilizing effect causing American interests to suffer greatly, then Iraq was an understandable target within the general parameters of the Pre-emptive doctrine. Ignore for the moment the suspicions that the U.S. attack on Iraq was an orchestrated move by Bush to interpret the intelligence to give him a pretext to finish what his father had not.

It is known, both from intelligence sources and from what Iran has done and said to confirm that intelligence that Iran was and continues to support and export radical Islamic ideology and terrorism, not to mention that Iran's nuclear ambitions add greatly to the fear that it will soon have WMD capacity and will not be afraid to use it.

That WMD capacity combined with its hatred of the west and Israel and America in particular, makes it an extraordinarily dangerous enemy and certainly qualifies it as a top priority enemy target within the pre-emptive doctrine. The U.S. however, has not made a move against Iran, nor does it even hint of doing so.

It appears that other factors apart from the Bush doctrine come into play such as whether in all circumstances America really wants to take pre-emptive action against a particularly vicious enemy such as Iran that could retaliate against a pre-emptive American strike and embroil America in a much larger war than it wants or cause intolerable America losses that would cause a backlash against the government.

Is it possible then that the Bush pre-emptive doctrine is in part hot air and what it really means is taking pre-emptive action against only those enemies that can be relatively easily defeated without America incurring significant loss?

Muddling the definition of enemy even more is that radical Islamic terrorist groups that plot, plan and implement hit and run attacks against the U.S. do not fight under the banner of any state, but do operate from bases within certain states.

Al Qaeda, seeming now based in the mountains of the Afghan and Pakistani border, has cells of Islamic terrorists in various other countries, including within Western nations and there are other terrorist cells either loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda or affiliated with some other group, known by name or not.

The doctrine of pre-emption seems to define a target as a state in the conventional sense. The U.S. appears to accord respect to the territorial integrity of a state hosting terrorists, provided the state claims the terrorists are unwelcome guests and the state is trying to find and deal with the terrorists. That has proved less than satisfactory as the efforts of such states to get at the terrorists has been less than satisfactory.

This policy of accepting the word of states regarding the terrorists within, is a further limitation on the extent to which the Bush doctrine will be implemented.

The doctrine of pre-emption is further confused by not declaring as an enemy target, a state that promotes and supports the spread of radical Islam right into the heart of Western nations including the U.S. and which further supports financially and otherwise, terrorism and terrorists that strike against American and other Western interests. Saudi Arabia is a primary example.
Instead of declaring the Saudis an enemy and taking pre-emptive measures against it, America has declared the Saudis an ally. Information continues to pour out that the Saudis are playing both sides of the fence. Furthermore, while the Saudis suddenly seemed to get serious about terrorism when terrorists struck in Riyadh, it is becoming increasingly clear that their idea of being against terrorism is that they are against terrorism in Saudi Arabia. They continue to support radical Islam throughout the world.

In criminal law, someone who aids and abets in the commission of a crime is guilty of an offence and the penalties can be as tough as they are for the one who actually commits the crime. That basic principle applies far more in theory than practice in international law and international relations. Other considerations obviously get in the way.

While making temporary alliances with an enemy to get at another, is part of conventional military history, America's alliance with the Saudis given the information that is reported almost daily about the Saudis activities in support of radical Islam and terrorists which activities continue to impact against U.S. interests and citizens, further clouds the meaning of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption and Bush's resolve to act on his own doctrine.


Again, there is no clear definition of what acts warrant pre-emptive action. The U.S. is of course hurt by terrorist attacks that kill Americans and damage American property and clearly the definitions would include such acts.

America however, like the west has been and can also be damaged economically.

Take for example just the Saudis who make trillions of dollars each year in oil revenue and those profits come out of U.S. pockets. Are the profit levels within the control of OPEC and has OPEC been gouging? If so does the West feel it has no choice but to pay what is being demanded.

Increased fuel costs mean less money in American's jeans. It means that the middle income poor suffer even more and it leads to higher travel and freight expenses, be it by car, train or plane, with ordinary people opting if they can to travel less. The painful economic impact trickles down and spreads throughout the entire U.S. and Western economies.

Then there is the added and likely exorbitant cost to the U.S. and the West for all the additional institutions and infrastructure to meet America's security needs against terrorists. Those figures probably are in the trillions of dollars per year. Again, states like the Saudis that support and spread radical Islam and support terrorism and those that give terrorists a base to operate from, are largely responsible for those additional costs that impact on the American lifestyles and abilities to put food on the table and otherwise provide for their families.

It has been reported that the OPEC nations are not only wealthy beyond imagination, but they hold the mortgage on America and America would be trembling if the OPEC nations ever called the loans, foreclosed on the mortgage and started to liquidate or remove assets from the U.S. economy.

Does fear of economic reprisal from the likes of the Saudis and other OPEC nations therefore influence the parameters and resolve to implement the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive strike? Of course it must.

If the OPEC nations have ripped off the west for their untold profits and Western nations have out of fear of destabilizing the world oil based economy, allowed OPEC to get away with it and forced their citizens to suffer, can that be set right by the U.S. taking economic pre-emptive measures to put a stop to OPEC gaining unfair profits out of the pockets of U.S. citizens?

Since the OPEC nations along with the likes of Iran have cost the U.S. trillions of dollars in additional security costs which are borne by American citizens, can those OPEC nations be forced to reimburse the U.S. for the costs the U.S. bore because those costs were directly caused by the spread of radical Islam and the support given to terrorists? Can such pre-emptive action include seizing assets of OPEC nations in the U.S. to reimburse America's huge financial losses?

Further ought the Bush doctrine of pre-emption be utilized against the Islamic radical enemy within? Should the U.S. by the Bush doctrine be entitled to further infringe on civil rights beyond their Patriot Act to uncover Islamic radicals within America, charge and prosecute them and if found guilty confiscate all assets, rescind citizenship and send the guilty back to their country of origin, even if that country of origin was a generation or more back?

Further, the Western world is very divided as to what they are prepared to do about radical Islam and for a number of reasons, a great many western nations are united in being at odds with the U.S. on various policy matters relating to radical Islam.

The U.S. continues to evince a desperate need to have allies in its war on radical Islam and that desperation leads to a great self imposed pressure for the U.S. to make various compromises and accommodations to get other Western nations to be on side. That has the effect of further confusing the principles of the Bush doctrine and robbing it of its strength of purpose as a motivating force to take action against radical Islam and those that support it and the terrorism radical Islam breeds.

It seems in many respects that the Bush doctrine of pre-emption is really the old U.S. doctrine of deterrence dressed up to look like it is new. The general U.S. policy of deterrence always inherently included an unwritten policy of pre-emptive strike.

The Bush doctrine of pre-emption, both in theory and in practice, is in the result confusing, confused and plagued with great uncertainty as to when it will be exercised and when it will not and just how far the U.S. is prepared to go if and when it acts on that doctrine.


Again, this part of the Bush doctrine is also flawed by being premised on wrong or questionable assumptions.

First, democracy in western society was never an over night thing and it certainly cannot be that when it comes to democratizing Islamic society that is so different and at odds with Western style democracy.

If America understands that long time factor as being part of the Bush doctrine, does this goal of democratizing Islamic nations mean that the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive strike will also be on a very go slow basis? If so, does that mean the U.S. will be prepared to bleed out slowly, waiting for democracy to root in Islamic countries before America's bleeding can be stopped?
Can America really afford to wait for democratic institutions to take hold in Muslim nations of the Middle East before moving pre-emptively to effect regime change and force a newly formed government or the old defeated government for that matter, to operate with some semblance of democracy and to mercilessly go after every terrorist and would be terrorist within their borders, under threat that if they do not, more pain will be visited on them by the U.S.?

Secondly, it is assumed that by bringing democracy to dictatorship societies, those societies will become much like Western societies in terms of laws, ethics, morals, values, perceptions and the like and in the result there would be mutual understanding, respect and a better ability for Muslim states to relate to the West and become part of one big happy world family where everyone got along and differences would be worked out through peaceful and respectful negotiations and that they would make war no more.

We read that just with the beginnings of democracy starting in Iraq, the rest of the Islamic dictatorship Middle East is getting uneasy and we see that changes are already taking place in Egypt and Jordan. While that is a positive sign, the changes really are cosmetic only and nothing has really changed.

Unlike in Western democracies where there is a separation of church and state, in Islamic nations, religion and politics are intertwined and at this point appear to be inextricably intertwined.

The differences between Islamic and democratic societies are substantial and fundamental, not to mention that Islamic culture and the tenets of Islam are at odds with democratic and Judeo-Christian principles. If that chasm can be bridged, and Islam can reform into a religion and society compatible with Western ideals and ways, it is going to take a very long time and we are talking a generation or more.

As of now, the norm within Islamic countries is for Islamic countries to be governed by dictators. These dictators are naturally fearful of democracy because it threatens to erode their grip on power if the people are given the right to elect their leaders. It does not necessarily mean that new leaders will act in ways different than we see dictators acting from their seats of power.

If democracy did come to Islamic countries, but all political parties swore allegiance to Islam and all the tenets of their faith, beliefs and laws, we could see changes in government perhaps, but the culture and the beliefs would remain the same.

It seems that all things being equal, it is far more likely that if democracy rooted in these Islamic countries, all parties running for leadership in a democratic Muslim country would offer their people different agendas, but all those different agendas would be within the same context of Islamic culture and religions just as in our democracies, the parties running for election do so within the context of what our society is about.

Muslim states becoming democratic does not therefore necessarily mean Muslim societies would change to become more like, more compatible or more tolerant and understanding of Western Judeo Christian societies. They could be democratic and still retain their hatred of Jews, Christians and all non-Muslims.

Unless all aspects of Islam underwent fundamental reformation to make it compatible with democracies built on Judeo-Christian principles, these Islamic democratic nations would likely continue to be motivated to realize Islam's holy manifest destiny and would continue to threaten and pose a danger to the West.

In such case Islamic democracies would be an exception to the Western notion that democracies do not make war on other democracies.

The democratic spread of freedom part of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption is based on a lot of questionable assumptions and that amounts so far to a lot of wishful thinking.

2. How would you rate the progress of the Bush Doctrine so far in making the U.S. more secure and in working toward a safer world environment? What about the policy's longer-range prospects?

The results have been divided. Though Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have been diminished, as has their capacity to carry out attacks, those attacks are still happening and still expected to happen and the U.S. continues to suffer in many ways therefore.

The long range prospects for the Bush doctrine, if it is not further refined and defined and instead remains plagued with the same uncertainties as it is now, are not good and the U.S. will continue to suffer in the same varied ways that terrorism and the threat of terrorism causes it to suffer to this day.

3. Are there particular aspects of American policy, or of the administration's handling or explanation of it, that you would change immediately?

The U.S. must clarify for itself what it wants to achieve in both eliminating the threat of terrorism, the means to achieve that and make the guilty pay and what sacrifices in lost lives and money it is prepared to make to get to where it wants to go.

Further to eliminate the Islamic enemy from within, will likely require the U.S. to temporarily infringe further on individual rights and liberties to seek and root out the Islamic enemy from within. Given how civil libertarians so jealously guard civil rights and liberties, limiting those rights further to achieve a desired end, will not be an easy task for the U.S.

The Bush doctrine needs to be further refined and defined in terms of the refining and defining of the foregoing considerations of means and ends, to ensure the U.S. has clear objectives and means and the U.S. public accepts both the goals and the means as very necessary for their own safety and well being.

4. Apart from your view of the way the Bush Doctrine has been defined or implemented, do you agree with its expansive vision of America's world role and the moral responsibilities of American power?

I do agree with America's expansive role. It must be recognized that America's expansive goal runs headlong into the expansive goals of Islam. Neither society is at this time compatible with one another as things now stand.

America's expansive goal is not to destroy Islam but rather secure its own interests and to free the West from the fear and threat of radical Islam. Radical Islam however appears bent on destruction and domination of the West.

America must therefore define its goal as destroying radical Islam's ability to harm the West and only with that can America force Islam to co-exist in peace. If that means that we will thereafter live in separate worlds, so be it. The primary goal should be however that the Islamic world will be allowed to go its own way and live its life within its own world as it chooses, but the Islamic world will never again be able to threaten or pose a danger to the Western world.
As for American moral responsibilities, that primary responsibility is to its own citizens.

America does not owe radical Muslims and terrorists and their supporters anything but basic moral responsibilities such as to not to kill or harm radical Muslims beyond the U.S. need to meet its goals. Prisoners of war for example should be treated in accord with the moral and legal dictates of international conventions.

If a radical Muslim nation or one that supported radical Islam and terrorism is devastated by the war they started, the U.S. has no moral responsibility to rebuild their societies at America's own cost.

Radical Islamist leaders will have brought the devastation on their own heads and those of their people. They should be the ones charged with the moral responsibility to start repairing and healing their own countries. It will be a painful lesson for them, but that will have a far more salutary effect on their psyches than if they find that in return for trying to murder Americans, the Americans shower money on them so they can get back to where they were before their radical Islamic and terrorist actions against the west and America, brought their countries to wrack and ruin.

Iraq is a case in point. To assuage the concerns and suspicions of Muslim and Western nations that the U.S. went into Iraq to take control of the oil for their own benefit, America has felt compelled to prove them wrong, funded the cost of rebuilding Iraq from their own pockets and that has been a very painful price to pay to prove to the rest of the world just how moral and righteous America is. America cannot afford such morality and has no need to prove itself.

America knows what it is about. If the rest of the world wants to badmouth and accuse America of immoral ulterior motives, let them. America should not have to pay the price to prove it is moral just because jealous and malcontent nations choose to so accuse America.

Of course the U.S. can in furtherance of its own interests assist in the rebuilding process of defeated radical Muslim nations and help to shape the new Muslim nation to U.S. liking, but whatever the U.S. gives, it must ensure that it is repaid in full one way or another.

Bill Narvey

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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