Onto a more fun topic: The Rick Santorum Follies! Newsweek interviewed Santorum, and he had plenty of things to say about the war. He begins:
Americans are frustrated with the prosecution of this war. They don’t understand why we’re in it. They don’t see any reason to continue the fight and instead of going out there and arguing more clearly than the administration has to this point, and putting this in the proper perspective for the American public, [the Republicans] have decided to join the other side and abandon ship. I think that’s absolutely irresponsible and will come back to haunt us as a party.
Right. It will haunt the GOP that it is breaking with Bush at this late date, and not that it remained steadfastly loyal to him for years. Note that Santorum doesn’t actually say that there is anything wrong with the prosecution of the war or with the war itself, but simply with the marketing of it. Better communication is what is really needed to change popular attitudes! This is like the thinking that says the U.S. government just needs better public diplomacy, because there couldn’t be anything wrong with state policies.
This seems to show that Santorum has learned nothing since his defeat in November. Then, as now, he thinks that the reason why the public is tiring of the war is simply that it doesn’t “get it” the way he does. I suppose we have all had similar feelings about things where the overwhelming majority is against what we think is the right thing. Certainly, having majority support is not in itself proof of a policy’s merits. However, when a policy loses public support it is usually because there is something basically wrong with them that requires you to either fix or scrap the policy.
It’s not a pretty time. You have a leader of your party who refuses to go out and identify the enemy. So when you go out there and do what I did in my race, you get your hat handed to you because people think you are to the right of the president.
Sure, that’s it! Mr. Bush has been too cautious and reserved in his rhetoric about jihadis and his political opponents. Santorum never seems to consider the possibility that his defense of the war was not what caused him to lose. There were pro-war incumbents who just barely won (though Pennsylvania was always going to be a very bad state for the GOP last year). The problem was less that Santorum appeared to be on “Bush’s right,” but that his “gathering storm” speeches seemed to be the product of a hallucinating mind. While Pennsylvania voters were concerned about a number of priorities in addition to the war, Santorum talked about foreign policy an awful lot for a Senate election. In a purple state, he had the burden of being a very strong social conservative. Instead of showing how his style of social conservative reformism had led him to support different pieces of popular legislation that went beyond the usual “hot-button” life and sexual morality issues, his sabre-rattling confirmed every bad stereotype that could be imagined about religious conservatives. He also said bizarre, batty things about foreign policy in the process. Warning urgently about the Bolivian-Venezuelan threat to Argentina is not usually the way to win votes in Scranton, no matter what your other positions are.
The people behind the plot in Great Britain were not poor or oppressed Middle Easterners. It is not oppression. It is not imperialism. It is an ideology.
No, they were relatively well-to-do professional Middle Easterners. The exact reasons for the attack, as far as I know, remain unknown. The choice of target does not suggest any obvious symbolism, but seemed theoretically designed to inflict mass casualties and induce general terror for the sake of doing it. Some have floated the idea that it was retaliation for Rushdie’s knighthood; others assume, not entirely unreasonably, some connection to Iraq. It was probably some combination of these, along with more general feelings of resentment, alienation and rage. Someone can have an ideology and be combating what he regards as oppression and imperialism. Imperialism may exist, and an ideology will be created to combat it. Imperialism may inflame an ideology that already existed, giving it new significance, a new enemy and a new cause. Also, just because the people willing to carry out terrorist attacks are not themselves poor or oppressed doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not acting because some other people with whom they sympathise are poor and oppressed. 19th century anarchist bomb-throwers didn’t have to be, and often weren’t, rebellious wage-slaves or serfs turning against their oppressors directly. Terrorists can be motivated by, or can claim to be motivated by, the suffering of others even though they are themselves relatively well-off. Indeed, a certain amount of relatively higher social status and education is often required for someone to become a really ferocious radical. The educated people who enjoy a slightly better quality of life in a community are often historically the ones agitating for change and joining in revolutions and revolutionary societies, because they have been raised with or have had access to radical ideas that they then feel obliged to put into practice. To say that there is such a thing as jihadism and to know that the origins of it existed long before the creation of Israel or U.S. intervention in the Near East do not allow you to ignore that these other things may contribute to the appeal of jihadism. Such things often have multiple causes. It is important not to rule out any of the possible causes because they might undermine our own political preoccupations. Occupation of Muslim countries does not explain everything, but it explains something. A doctrine of jihad within Islam predating the modern period is part of the story, and an important part, but it is not the whole story. There are some causes of jihadism that are beyond our control, which means that changes in policy will not necessarily eliminate jihadi threats thereafter, but if changes in policy can weaken the appeal of jihadism and make that threat less significant they should not be rejected before they have even been considered. It is the insistence on attributing purely ideological motives to jihadis, as if there could be no other explanation, that makes Santorum’s analysis so unpersuasive.