Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's not a clash of civilizations

For there to be a clash of civilizations, there have to be at least two civilizations. There aren't. We have a civilization. They have a tribe. The difference is that civilizations live by principles. Tribes live by loyalty. A civilization can criticize its own people. I can shout "Obama sucks" or "Christ was a jerk" from the rooftops and nothing will happen to me (outside the deep South that is).

But if I shout "Muhammed was a clown" in the Middle East I'll be killed--probably on the spot.

The Taliban bombed a women's market in Peshawar, Pakistan, murdering 114 poor women and children. And many if not most Pakistanis--even middle class ones--blamed it on the Jews, or the Indians, or the Americans, as part of a Western plot to destroy Pakistan in particular and Islam in general. They refuse to believe that a fellow Muslim could be so evil. And until they do, they're a tribe fighting our civilization.

We all remember what happened when an obscure Danish newspaper published a group of cartoons depicting/satirizing Islam/Muhammed, of which the one shown here is about as harsh as it gets (Danish imams poured gasoline on the fire when they went to the Middle East armed with the Danish cartoons--plus some far worse ones they cooked up themselves and added to the Danish ones).

There were violent riots throughout Muslim countries. Millions took to the streets. People died in the riots. The cartoonists and their publishers had to go into hiding after getting credible death threats in Denmark.

On the other hand, after the October bombing of that women's market? Nada. If a drone kills three civilians and a Taliban general, there are demonstrations and pop songs written against America.

Pakistani pop music is full of denuciations and videos that are anti-American, anti-drone, anti-India, anti-Mossad. Not one word mentioning the Taliban. Of course anyone who did so would be murdered by the Taliban.

So our drone attacks are met with fury over American interference in Pakistani sovereignty, while the Talibans' murdering civilians and, for example, destroying 200 girls' schools are all blamed on outsiders--us, Jews, India.

So yes, the drone attacks make Pakistanis furious. I'd rather they didn't. But as long as we target them carefully, they may represent our best option among a bunch of options that are all bad, but among which we must choose.

Last note on this: frequently the criticisms of what we do there take the form of pointing out that whatever choice has been made will have terrible consequences.

The problem is that every single option we have--including precipitous withdrawl--has terrible consequences. So such criticisms are shallow and unproductive. The question is always, which terrible consequence is the least terrible.

But that's rarely asked.

If you want to read someone who doesn't agree with Obama about Middle East policy, yet who isn't a ranting idiot, check out NYTimes centrist columnist Tom Friedman. A debate between him and the president would be far more illuminating than the potshots the Republican leadership keeps taking.


Sean said...


Two responses came to mind, so I'll go ahead a include both:


Well put. However, I'd venture to suggest these civilization/tribal clashes (or should I rather call it an 'issue', or perhaps a 'challenge?') are simply a by-product of the festering disaster-of-a-conflict that Afghanistan has turned into. The way I see it, the dilemma the US has found itself in with Afghanistan (or Iraq?) has certainly become increasingly wretched. The sad truth is that the main goal/objective of our role in Afghanistan is clouded.

How so?

It's clouded in the sense that our goals/objective shifts to-and-fro to the point that most people (columnists and politicians alike) can't really place a finger on what they want to accomplish there. Furthermore, the appropriate means to accomplish whatever shifting objective we may have there is constantly being second-guessed to the point that decisive action is only possible in only the smallest of operational spheres. This leaves the larger, ultimate goal (which has quite possibly suffered another 're-evaluation') festering.

Sometimes I feel that the moment a national consensus on a salient, collective goal is on the brink of being adopted, yet another crises derails our train of thought. These crises are often in the form of internal military problems (ex: Abu Ghraib) or some other public hysteria (ex: controversy over the media's coverage of returning caskets). At this point, a shouting match ensues. If this happens to take place during a political campaign, this effect is even more pronounced.

The result?

If we had something moving in the right direction, it's fixed until it's broke.

I'd venture to say that there quite possibly could be a decisive solution out there (that someone at the Pentagon/White House has cooked up), but it will likely fail.


'Nation-building' would be daunting even if we had an easy culture to work with. To think that we can change the hearts and minds of a people that are determined, ignorant, very capable of resistance, or worse (some horrible combination of all three) is laughable. The Afghans are not exactly willing or able to fix there current problems. Nor are they willing or able to accept our help. Throw in the complexity that Pakistan tends to add, and we have a recipe for a steaming pile of failure. Has there ever been any other country or civilization that has been able to nation-build successfully? Let me re-phrase that: Has there been any other country or civilization that has been able to nation-build without annihilating the existing culture first?

Ehkzu said...

The hardest decisions to make are the ones where every alternative is awful.

I wonder whether the President disagrees with you? He may well agree, but believe that the path he's chosen is the least worst way to keep us safe.

One problem you didn't address is how well-financed the Taliban is. They pay foot soldiers twice what the government pays soldiers.

That money comes from drugs. If America and Europe legalized opiates it would cut off Taliban financing at the knees.

Just a thought....