Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Zakaria on our State of Fear

NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria has a must-read piece on what a cowardly nation we have become. (My words, not his.)

An excerpt:
We have become a nation consumed by fear, worried about terrorists and rogue nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed.

...

Having spooked ourselves into believing that we have no option but to act fast, alone, unilaterally and pre-emptively, we have managed in six years to destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face.

In a global survey released last week, most countries polled believed that China would act more responsibly in the world than the United States. How does a Leninist dictatorship come across more sympathetically than the oldest constitutional democracy in the world? Some of this is, of course, the burden of being the biggest. But the United States has been the richest and most powerful nation in the world for almost a century, and for much of this period it was respected, admired and occasionally even loved. The problem today is not that America is too strong but that it is seen as too arrogant, uncaring and insensitive. Countries around the world believe that the United States, obsessed with its own notions of terrorism, has stopped listening to the rest of the world.

More troubling than any of Bush's rhetoric is that of the Republicans who wish to succeed him. "They hate you!" says Rudy Giuliani in his new role as fearmonger in chief, relentlessly reminding audiences of all the nasty people out there. "They don't want you to be in this college!" he recently warned an audience at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. "Or you, or you, or you," he said, reportedly jabbing his finger at students. In the first Republican debate he warned, "We are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us." On the campaign trail, Giuliani plays a man exasperated by the inability of Americans to see the danger staring them in the face. "This is reality, ma'am," he told a startled woman at Oglethorpe. "You've got to clear your head."

The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and—by some definitions—torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?


I agree. The United States lived for decades with the possibility that the human race could be almost completely obliterated at any moment if the Soviet leader got an itchy button finger. Today, we've let our media and politicians terrify us into overreaction at some two-bit terrorists who managed one spectacular attack that killed fewer Americans than have died in Iraq.

Somebody has got to stop the madness, but the Republicans are outdoing each other in their hawkishness ("We ought to double Guantanamo!") and the Democrats are stumbling over each other to prove that they can be as crazy as the Republicans.

One of the main reasons I hold such hopes for Obama is that I think he might be able to straddle that line of assuaging peoples' fears while not engaging in a counterproductive foreign policy to achieve it. George W. Bush has played directly into bin Laden's hands and, I'm sorry, has done more harm to America than those 19 terrorists did on 9-11.

I'll leave you with one last quote from Zakaria's article:

Such overreactions are precisely what Osama bin Laden has been hoping for. In a videotaped message in 2004, bin Laden explained his strategy with astonishing frankness. He termed it "provoke and bait": "All we have to do is send two mujahedin ... [and] raise a piece of cloth on which is written 'Al Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses." His point has been well understood by ragtag terror groups across the world. With no apparent communication, collaboration or further guidance from bin Laden, small outfits from Southeast Asia to North Africa to Europe now announce that they are part of Al Qaeda, and so inflate their own importance, bring global attention to their cause and—of course—get America to come racing out to fight them.

11 comments:

Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and—by some definitions—torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?

There's no need to reinvent the wheel, so I'll just copy and paste what James Taranto wrote yesterday:

"Zakaria simply assumes that current trends will continue, or at least not reverse, like someone who bought tech stocks in early 2000 thinking they can't possibly go down because they've gone up so far and so fast for so long.

Perhaps it has escaped Zakaria's notice that there is a presidential election next year, and the major Democratic candidates have promised to move America to a more defensive posture--by retreating from Iraq, curtailing surveillance and interrogation, and providing terrorists with legal protections that even legitimate prisoners of war don't enjoy. One candidate has even declared that he doesn't believe there is such a thing as the war on terror.

In light of this information, Zakaria's analysis makes sense only if he's sure either that the Democrats won't win or that their promises will turn out to be empty ones."

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "But the United States has been the richest and most powerful nation in the world for almost a century, and for much of this period it was respected, admired and occasionally even loved."

I agree.

RE: "Countries around the world believe that the United States, obsessed with its own notions of terrorism, has stopped listening to the rest of the world."

I agree also. What is also disconcerting is the realization that the US doesn't appear to care about other countries opinions on the matter.

Maybe the "top dog" has got so big, so powerful and so full of its own importance, that it doesn't even feel like it has to pretend what other countries think anymore? I dunno.

What I do know is that trust needs to be won back again or the global situation is not going to improve.

I would suggest that it is this lack of trust between all the parties involved in Iraq that is the major stumbling block towards success.

The sunnis don't truat the shia, the shia don't trust the sunni. The shia don't trust the allies, the allies don't trust the shia. The sunnis don't trust the allies and the allies don't trust the sunnis.

In fact, there are thousands of various tribal configurations in Iraq alone which have thousand year old histories of distrust towards each other.

Adding the allies, has just added another group which will be trusted by some and distrusted by others, and these decisions about who will be trusted and why, will be made upon religious and tribal reasons going back centuries.

Another stumbling block is the fact that for many people who live in the country designated to be called Iraq, that their primary allegiance is with their religious group, their religious leader, or their tribal group.

Expecting people to act as "Iraqis" under these circumstances is an exercise in wishful thinking as they were never "Iraqis" to begin with.

Jack's Shack said...

I agree. The United States lived for decades with the possibility that the human race could be almost completely obliterated at any moment if the Soviet leader got an itchy button finger. Today, we've let our media and politicians terrify us into overreaction at some two-bit terrorists who managed one spectacular attack that killed fewer Americans than have died in Iraq.

That is a tremendous over simplification. JA, you cannot compare the Cold War to the situation we face with AQ.

Granted AQ does not represent the same sort of threat that the USSR did, but they are a different sort of animal.

The USSR did not believe in Suicide Bombers. They were concerned about their own well being and that is why M.A.D. worked.

But those two bit terrorists you mention pulled off more than one attack. There have been many going back to at least '93.

Don't get me wrong, I think that some of what Zakaria says has merit, but...

Anonymous said...

"one spectacular attack"?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1998_American_embassy_bombings
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Madrid_train_bombings
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Cole_bombing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Amman_bombings
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Bali_bombings

And that's just a sample. Come on, JA. You're normally smarter than this. Don't let your anger blind you - these are not nice people and they are dangerous.

As for Zachariah's wider point, given that he starts off with some dubious statements I'm not sure how much credit to give to the rest. For example -

"Having spooked ourselves into believing that we have no option but to act fast, alone, unilaterally and pre-emptively, we have managed in six years to destroy decades of international good will, alienate allies, embolden enemies and yet solve few of the major international problems we face."

Look, this is one of the things that really annoys me as a Brit about the American anti-war left. Criticise the war by all means, but stop using words like "alone" and "unilateral". At the peak of the conflict we had in the region of 10,000 troops in theatre, of whom over 100 have since come home in body bags. Not to mention the contingents from a dozen or more other countries that have passed through. It may be convenient for you guys to pretend these bodies don't exist but it's highly offensive to some of us out here in the real world. (This is a long standing complaint - the moment when I personally came to the belief that John Kerry was not fit to be president was when he described the allies in Iraq as the coalition of the "bribed and coerced" for example.)

Frankly, this sort of attitude cast into considerable doubt the ability and willingness of those who hold it to seriously do anything to repair the USA's international image (unless they're using a definition of ally along the lines of "not prepared to fight alongside the US"). And what's worrying for your thesis is that Obama shares this sort of attitude, at least if incidents such as his strange slanging match with Australian Prime Minister a few weeks ago are anything to go by.

Random

Jewish Atheist said...

CWY:

The Dems will indeed get us out of Iraq, but so would the Republicans, eventually. "Curtailing surveillance and interrogation, and providing terrorists with legal protections" would hardly put us in any more danger. Instead of illegal wiretaps, the government can get warrants. Instead of torture, we can use effective interrogation techniques.

It's also of paramount importance to note that Bush's policies have spawned more terrorism, not less.

Jack's Shack and Random:

"one spectacular attack"?

Fair enough. One spectacular attack and several others, a couple of which were directed at us.

Don't let your anger blind you - these are not nice people and they are dangerous.

I agree completely. But "dangerous" is a relative statement. They are dangerous enough for us to do something about it, of course, but they aren't dangerous enough that ordinary Americans should fear that we're in danger. All this talk about them "following us home" or worrying that they're going to take over the world is just asinine. And politicians are capitalizing on it left and right.

Criticise the war by all means, but stop using words like "alone" and "unilateral". At the peak of the conflict we had in the region of 10,000 troops in theatre, of whom over 100 have since come home in body bags.

That's a very good point. Britian has certainly been deeply involved and a number of other countries have been somewhat involved as well. I agree that we shouldn't use words like "alone" and "unilateral."

(This is a long standing complaint - the moment when I personally came to the belief that John Kerry was not fit to be president was when he described the allies in Iraq as the coalition of the "bribed and coerced" for example.)

To be fair to Kerry, a lot of the nations were in fact bribed and coerced.

And what's worrying for your thesis is that Obama shares this sort of attitude, at least if incidents such as his strange slanging match with Australian Prime Minister a few weeks ago are anything to go by.

I'm not sure where you're getting that. The Australian PM chose to attack an American candidate in the primaries with a stupid and offensive comment. Obama pointed out that talk is cheap: we have 150,000 troops over there and Australia has less than 1,000. Should we forget the hundreds of Australian soldiers? Of course not. But Obama's point is that it's a lot easier to criticize when you have less than 1% of the troops in harm's way.

jewish philosopher said...

Frankly, I'm angry, not scared. I saw the Twin Towers fall from my office window.

I say nuke Saudi Arabia. Give them hell.

Scott said...

Fear is basically the health of the State. I know Bourne said war was, but I think it's much more than just war itself.

The dems are just as guilty as the right on this. They use climate where the right uses islamo-terrorism. Whatever they can do to convince US that we need THEM.

Their job, after all, depends on it.

David said...

**Sigh**... he's right about this much: our wealth has made litigious wimps of the lot of us. The empire is tottering under the weight of its well-being.

Stephen said...

The rhetoric on the right has maintained that al Qaeda and co. are equivalent to Nazi Germany. But England (never mind the USA) didn't go to war against Germany until it had already conquered several neighboring European countries. 9/11, even with the smaller terrorist attacks, was hardly an equivalent threat.

Zakaria's article is correct: the danger was hyperinflated, and the fear likewise. It was done to justify an absurd war, plus political support for the Republicans. It was utterly shameful and contemptible behaviour with a potential for terrible longterm consequences.

Jack's Shack said...

There are a variety of ways to look at this, but I would like to pose a question.

Would you feel differently about AQ if 911 had murdered 10,000 people?

Jewish Atheist said...

Would you feel differently about AQ if 911 had murdered 10,000 people?

The question isn't how many they killed on 9/11, but how much of a threat they now are. Could they now pull off an attack that killed 10,000? Or even 3,000? Airline security is still a joke, but at least the passengers and crew would no longer allow terrorists to take the (helm? wheel? stick?)