Saturday, January 09, 2010

Terrorism vs the Versailles Effect


We've entered a more mature phase of "reality-based" examination of our foreign policy, and the major topic besides the wisdom of our alliance with Israel is terrorism and its causes. This is tied to recent events like the Fort Hood shooting, the underwear bomber and now the Camp Chapman attack by Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. The rationalist analysis that jihadists are driven to violence by American foreign policy is being asserted frequently and loudly by the usual suspects, some of them bitter that their sense of American culpability for 9/11 was eclipsed by interpretations of the attacks that blamed only the perpetrators.

Here's Oliver Kamm taking a bat to the back of Stephen Walt's legs over this:

"My point is simply to reiterate that any serious effort to deal with our terrorism problem has to be multi-faceted, and has to include explicit consideration of the things we do that may encourage violent, anti-American movements. Only a complete head-in-the-sand approach to the issue would deny the connection between various aspects of U.S. foreign and military policy (military interventions, targeted assassinations, unconditional support for Israel, cozy relations with Arab dictatorships, etc.) and the fact that groups like al Qaeda keep finding people like al-Balawi to recruit to their cause."

How many times does this need to be said? There are errors, crimes and sins of omission and commission in Western foreign policy. But the cause of jihadist rage against our side is not what we have done but what we are: liberal, democratic, secular, pluralist societies with women's rights, universal education and reproductive freedom.

I don't defend Walt's point of view, and I'm a staunch opponent of the rationalist bias that attracts people to it on both the right and the left, but it would help if those opposing it would distinguish between jihadists, and the people jihadists purport to represent and whose support they seek. Jihadists surely are implacable, and as Kamm has argued, there is no reason for the West to seek accommodation with them. Proposing that American foreign policy generates al-Balawis and forming policy around that is a fool's errand. But there is an additional point that is suggested by this analysis.

To what extent can American foreign policy be calibrated to reduce the 'Versailles Effect' among the victimological masses of politically castrated Muslims? For example, in spite of our meddling with Mossadegh, installment of the Shah and support for Israel, the majority of Iranians are pro-American, pro-Western and pro-democracy. They are also susceptible to left-wing and Islamist appeals to anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, but these don't yet prevail. One of the reasons I oppose a military response to the Iranian nuclear weapons program is to prevent the Versailles Effect from turning popular pressure away from the mullahs.

I don't like the isolationist and other illiberal solutions to this problem. Our foreign policy should be conceived as a tension between expediency and morality in pursuit of our national interest, but it would be "head-in-the-sand" to think our actions don't resonate in ways that are lethally exploited.

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