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Rand Paul and “Radical Islam”

Something that Rand Paul said [1] early on his speech this morning left me puzzled. He said:

Some libertarians argue that western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam – I agree. But I don’t agree that absent western occupation that radical Islam “goes quietly into that good night.”

There are several problems that I see with this. The first is that I’m not aware of anyone who makes the second argument about jihadism. No one argues that jihadist groups would cease to exist or would no longer have political and religious agendas in their own countries. Some do argue that the U.S. and its allies make themselves targets of at least some of these groups by interfering in predominantly Muslim countries in one way or another (usually through support for local regimes or military action), but they make no claims that stopping this interference would make these groups disappear.

Referring to “radical Islam” as if it were a unified movement or cause obscures the different goals of varying jihadist groups, and it potentially leads to the error of lumping together all Islamist groups regardless of their goals and methods. This can lead to confusing statements, such as one that Sen. Paul makes a little later: “Though at times stateless, radical Islam is also supported by radicalized nations such as Iran.” The Iranian regime supports specific Islamist proxies, but it can’t be said to support a generic “radical Islam.” Iran doesn’t sponsor the jihadist groups most responsible for security threats to the U.S. and Europe. If the goal is avoid making the mistake of early Cold War anticommunists, who interpreted containment doctrine far too broadly, it’s important to distinguish jihadist groups from one another according to the political objectives of each one. It’s also important to distinguish between jihadists’ theoretically global ambitions and their normally very limited means. Containment implies opposition to some form of expansionism, but in this case there is no expansionism to be contained.

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13 Comments To "Rand Paul and “Radical Islam”"

#1 Comment By Ken Hoop On February 6, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

Rand’s dad might make the apt case that if and when “radical Islam” appears as if its even starting to gain the ability to muster a military which can cross the ocean and invade if not conquer the United States, we should start to worry.

This case is apparently beyond the capacity, more precisely, desire of Rand himself to make, however.

#2 Comment By Clint On February 6, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

Larison,
” No one argues that jihadist groups would cease to exist or would no longer have political and religious agendas in their own countries.”

Apparently, neither was Senator Paul.

He more likely is referring to comments by such people as former CIA bin Laden Chief Michael Scheuer stating,
” Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands.

#3 Comment By Blue Shark On February 6, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

Dan,
…Looking for nuance in boilerplate right wing dogma can lead to hopeless frustration.

#4 Comment By Lyle On February 6, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

A lot of libertarians make exactly this argument. Sheldon Richman did just the other day in Reason. His argument is that if there is no intervention, there will be no violent Islamist attacks on any American.

#5 Comment By Lyle On February 6, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

Islamists taking over Timbuktu wasn’t “expansionist”?

Also, as a politician, Rand has to talk in generalities at times. I’m pretty sure he knows about the complexity of radical Islam. He’s just throwing all the varieties of it into the same cornucopia. There’s not really anything wrong with that.

#6 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 6, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

“His argument is that if there is no intervention, there will be no violent Islamist attacks on any American.”

And that isn’t the argument that I’m respond to in this post. As I said, “No one argues that jihadist groups would cease to exist or would no longer have political and religious agendas in their own countries.” Thanks for confirming that no one makes this argument.

#7 Comment By IanH On February 6, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

I forgot that Timbuktu is American territory.

#8 Comment By Mel Gibson the Patriot On February 6, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

Anyone complaining about some local religious group opposing the likes of a foreign sniper (eg. Chris Kyle) from shooting a woman holding a toddlter in the back, should re-watch Mel Gibson in the film ‘The Patriot’.

Anti-colonial Jihad is as American as Apple Pie. Or it used to be.

And Rand Paul cannot be excused by means of ignorance from his confusion about the difference between iranian supported Shia groups opposing Israeli bombing in Gaza and Lebanon; and that of Sunni radical Islam of the Al Qaeda type, if indeed it exists, separate from the saudi -qatari intelligence apparatus. The Heritage foundation once wrote a paper entitled the Iraqi mafia, explaining that insurgents were being paid a 1000 dollars a hit on American targets. Your typical sunni goat herder or taxi driver wasnt funding these mercenaries through collection plates at the local masjid.

#9 Comment By William Leach On February 6, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

But I don’t agree that absent western occupation that radical Islam “goes quietly into that good night.”

What ideology has ever been forced out of existance by policy or war? How many ideologies have ever truly died? While its true that non interventionism, even if taken to an extreme, may not put any nails in the coffin of radical Islam, neither has occupation and intervention, nor will it.

Anyone who even suggest that we base policy on the contradictory mission impossibles is no leader, not really. Rand is just following the beaten beltway path, and hed be happy to carry us all along with him, even if it leads to bankruptcy, both literal and moral.

#10 Comment By Vance Freeman On February 6, 2013 @ 8:00 pm

I agree with Blue Shark. During the last few weeks Rand has gone out of his way adopt the typical GOP party blather.

Trying to get a sound bite on Fox by asking the president to resign because Beyonce lip synced the national anthem was the last straw. I’ll not send him a dollar.

Regretably, paleocons’ hopes on Rand Paul are/were misplaced.

#11 Comment By Jack On February 6, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

“Referring to “radical Islam” as if it were a unified movement or cause obscures the different goals of varying jihadist groups, and it potentially leads to the error of lumping together all Islamist groups regardless of their goals and methods. ”

I’d say there’s no “potentially” about it.

Iran’s brand of “radical Islam” is an entirely different animal than Al Qaeda’s version, but we seem unable to distinguish between the two.

This is not new. Back when the Cold War was underway, we had a tendency to lump the USSR and Red China together as a common communist enemy, despite the fact that they frankly hated each other.

In his popular post 9/11 song, country singer Alan Jackson said “I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell you, the difference in Iraq and Iran.” And that’s the problem, in a nutshell.

#12 Comment By Al-Dhariyat On February 7, 2013 @ 8:20 am

That there are differences in goals between various Jihadist groups is something that I think many Americans still don’t get. Rand Paul is (disappointingly) playing to his electorate when he is in prime position to educate them.

#13 Comment By davenport On February 7, 2013 @ 9:28 am

He’s right about western occupation. And he’s right that radical Islam doesn’t “go away” if we withdraw our military occupation forces.

Radical Islamists will still be there, as will fanatical Zionists, communist terror cells, tribal and sectarian hatreds and every other Middle Eastern evil.

But if we get out of these places, stop throwing gasoline on the fire by giving them money and weapons, and let regional players make their own arrangements, we will lift a crippling financial burden from the American taxpayer, and the terror threat to the American homeland will be far lower.

As we know from daily headlines about towering deficits and “fiscal cliffs”, our troops and our money are desperately needed here at home.