It is a case of the chicken hawks counting their eggs before they hatch: The New York Times reports that the administration is “coalescing”around “a detailed plan, modeled on the postwar occupation of Japan, to install an American-led military government in Iraq.” This news may come as a shock to those Republicans who still quail at the thought of “nation-building”especially when one considers that the U.S. military occupation of Japan continues to this day. But to readers of Michael Ledeen’s War Against the Terror Masters, this bright idea has a familiar ring to it.
Holding up the example of postwar Germany and Japan as models for a post-Saddam Iraq, Ledeen avers, “paradoxically, we advanced the cause of freedom by violently undemocratic means.” But there is more involved here than mere hubris: arguing that deterrence will not work against suicide bombers, he writes, “We will therefore need to demonstrate that radical Islamism is a road to humiliation and defeat, not a pathway to glory.” The Middle East, as currently constituted, must be utterly destroyed in a regional war, which, he predicts, will closely follow an invasion of Iraqand this is a good thing, he believes, because it will give us a chance to “ensure the fulfillment of the democratic revolution.” As Ledeen puts it:
Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace… . We must destroy them to advance our historic mission.
Ledeenor Lenin? One might easily be forgiven for asking.
The author hopes a destructive dynamism will transform the Middle Eastnot only Iraq, but also Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and beyond. The governments of all these countries must be overthrown, according to Ledeen, either by a U.S.-supported internal rebellion or by outright military invasion. The neoconservative Cultural Revolution in the Middle East threatens to be even bloodier than the Chinese Marxist original. Like Mao and the Gang of Four, the radical Ledeen wants to sweep the historical slate cleanto erase the religious and cultural basis of a civilization far older than our ownand create new traditions on the ashes of the old. But first, the conflagration:
“Our unexpectedly quick and impressive victory in Afghanistan is a prelude to a much broader war, which will in all likelihood transform the Middle East for at least a generation, and reshape the politics of many other countries around the world.”
Never mind that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people will die in such a regional cataclysm. As the Soviet commissars used to say in defense of their feats of social engineering, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” Hailing a new world war as a great step forward for mankind might still seem, to some, a signal act of madness, but in our nightmarish post-9/11 world such bombast is not only taken seriously, it is semi-official U.S. government policy. The value of Ledeen’s book is as a guide to the ideology and action program of the War Party’s radical wing, which seems to have captured control of the White House.
Ledeen’s argument is not very convincing: his text is riddled with wholesale evasions, contradictory assertions, and overblown rhetoric. No distinction is made between al-Qaeda, Iraq, Iran, the Saudis, and the Egyptians: they are all Arabs, or at least not Israelis, and they are all in on the Islamist conspiracy, cogs in the Terrorist Machine. While the analogy to international Communism in the Cold War era is not exactIslamism is multi-polar, not monolithicLedeen does not burden us with too many facts. This is a book practically bereft of footnotes, one in which the assertions of the author are to be taken at face value.
The author is hard put to refute the persuasive theory of Chalmers Johnson, who sees phenomena like al-Qaeda as “blowback”the unintended consequences of foreign intervention. We, after all, built up the Afghan resistance (dubbed “freedom fighters” during the Cold War) that later coalesced into bin Laden’s terrorist network. Ledeen can only manage the rather dubious assertion that it “was not an excess of zeal but a lack of engagement and follow-through” that led to the empowerment of Ladenism. Presumably if we had only invaded and occupied Afghanistan earlier, we could have “dismantled the Mujahideen networks” we funded, organized, and armed with Stinger missiles.
In a book that otherwise reads like a paean to the rightness of Israel’s cause, it is strange to see an open admission of that nation’s terrorist roots. In a discussion of how terrorism tends to be counterproductive, he points to three exceptions: the African National Congress, the PLO, and “Zionist terrorism against the British in Palestine (which contributed to the creation of the state of Israel).” So then why are they the good guys?
The makeshift construction of this book makes the whole edifice creak audibly when Ledeen dives into one of his favorite subjects, the “liberation” of Iran. He holds up Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright as patsies for Khomeiniwho supposedly believed that the Ayatollah overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi because the Iranian government was “excessively repressive and intolerant.” While it would not do to come right out and deny the savagery of the Shah’s legendary SAVAK secret police, Ledeen informs us that, under the monarch’s beneficent rule, “Iran had become too modern, too tolerantespecially of women and of other religious faithsand too self-indulgent. The shah had Westernized Iran”except, perhaps, in his prisons, where the ancient methods of torture were routinely employed on dissidents of all sorts.
Ledeen conflates Ladenite medievalists with the secular socialists of Iraq’s Baathist regime and throws Sunnis, Shi’ites, Wahabists, and Alawites together under the general rubric of “the terror masters.” The effect is rather like a used car salesman talking at a very rapid clip, slurring his words into one long litany of dubious claims. As “evidence” for the al- Qaeda-Iraq connection we are given the assertion of one David Wurmser that Saddam has “lately encouraged the rise, in Iraq’s northern safe haven, of Salafism, a puritanical sect tied to Wahabism” and that “one of these Salafi movements turns out to be a front for bin Laden.” Such a tenuous connection seems like an awfully thin thread on which to hang the invasion, devastation, and military occupation of a country.
According to a number of reports, bin Laden offered to help defend the Saudi kingdom against a possible incursion from Saddam in 1991, provided the Saudi government rejected the stationing of U.S. troops on the holy soil of his home country. A recent issue of Al Majallah, a Saudi magazine, features an interview with Abd-al-Rahman al-Rashid, in which the al-Qaeda spokesman says that Saddam Hussein “is at the top of Al-Qa’ida’s assassination list.” Saddam, he announces, “is exactly like Bush in barbarism, cruelty, and unbelief.” I guess Mr. Al-Rashid has not seen the Ledeen book, or else he would know that bin Laden and Saddam are really allies.
We are also treated to a dutiful reiteration of the alleged meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent, a myth dispelled by Michael Isikoff and Robert Novak, among others, who point to the FBI’s denialsand the impossibility of being in two places at once. According to the FBI, records show Atta was in Virginia Beach checking out naval facilities as possible targets at the time this legendary powwow was supposed to have occurred.
But Ledeen is not entirely wrong when he makes the important point that “one of today’s most misleading conventional generalizations about the Islamic world is the suggestion that members of different sects or traditions cannot work together in a common enterprise.” The whole point of U.S. policy in the region seems to be driving them together out of a common cause: survival. In which case, Ledeen’s dictum becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the author’s point about the pragmatic necessities that dictate trans-sectarian cooperation can be taken even further, as the Israeli connection to the early history and success of Hamas dramatically confirms.
The rise of Hamas is a textbook case of “blowback” aimed directly at its earliest sponsor and protectorIsrael. For the Israelis “aided Hamas directly,” says Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies. Hamas was originally registered as a legal organization in Israel in 1978 under the name Al-Mujamma al Islami by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, their firebrand spiritual leader. “According to U.S. administration officials funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel,” reported UPI terrorism correspondent Richard Sale in June. “The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini’s Iran.”
Israel’s strategy of divide and conquer boomeranged badly when one of the severed tentacles of the terrorist monster began to take on a life of its own. The religious-based proto-Ladenite movement, nurtured by Israeli covert support, began to recruit heavily in the wake of the Iranian revolution. Today, far more radical and violent rivals challenge a weakened Arafat, and Hamas is the PLO’s leading competitor.
Israel’s amen corner in the U.S., of which Ledeen is a leading light, often inveighs against the alleged sin of “moral equivalence” when it comes to the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israel, we are told, is our best ally in the war on terrorism, but who are the “terror masters” in this instance? Sheikh Yassin or those who initially funded and supported his movement of teenaged suicide bombers?
Near the end of his screed, Ledeen cites the late Luigi Barzini on the rise of Caesarism in ancient Rome: “How can men, who are dedicated to liberty and the defense of their own independence, efficiently dominate subject peoples, without damning their own soul?” “We believe,” Ledeen writes, “that our ideas are more powerful than those of the terror masters, and that, once liberated, the peoples of the Middle East will embrace our ideas and join with us.”
Surely, then, ideas of such awesome power do not need to be exported at gunpoint. Why, in that case, do we have to go to war with practically everyone in the Middle East before they all become convinced Jeffersonian democrats?
It is extremely odd that this book ends with a self-refutation, but there is no other way to describe it. The author cavalierly informs us that his program of world conquest is very risky and tells us a story about how Machiavelli was a great card player who “ruefully admitted that the best one can hope for is to have good luck about half the time. But that should be enough for us.”
No, it is not enough. What if we take an empire, lose our old republic, and follow our British, Byzantine, and Roman ancestors into the graveyard of imperial ambitions? What will Ledeen and his fellow would-be conquistadores say then“tough luck”?
Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com and author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.
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