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Tell Me Of Your Homeworld, Usul

Daniel Kennelly makes some interesting observations about the Peters column I criticized below. I should say a few words on why the column irritated me so much. As Kennelly notes, it was hardly the sort of column that someone already inclined to cheer on foreign wars, wink at “enhanced interrogation techniques” and dismiss civilian losses should write, unless he wants to appear, as Jim Antle says, as a sort of parody of a neoconservative written by his opponents. But that is exactly the problem. Peters’ columns often seem as if they could only be parodies of interventionism, or interventionist exercises in self-parody, because the views expressed in them seem so unmoored from reality, but more often than not interventionists are deadly serious when they make these claims. By the end of Peters’ column, he has to resort to a fairly lame qualification to keep from saying what he has been saying the entire time, which comes across like this: “I’m not saying Pashtuns are non-human, I’m just saying it sure seems that they are….”

If liberal internationalist views can be reduced to a simplified “all people want the same things” that ulimately leads to a squishy One Worldism, neoconservatives will modify this universalist idea with Peters’ sci-fi-inspired take. Both liberal internationalists and neoconservatives are globalists, especially in that they believe there need to be mechanisms for global governance, but neoconservatives (and liberal hawks who tend to agree with them on policy) seem to thrive on retaining the idea of a frontier or a periphery that still needs to be actively guarded. (Insert obvious open borders joke here.) As universalists, however, neoconservative interventionists are usually inclined to say, against mountains of evidence to the contrary, “All people want to be free,” which makes the ensuing “liberations” seem more legitimate because they are merely giving the people what they want. Peters might be less inclined, especially after this latest column, to say that all people want to be free, but the only way he seems to be able to make this point rhetorically is to turn the people who don’t want this into aliens and the places they inhabit into other planets. One World globalism and the idea that all people want the same thing survive by denying anyone who wants something else the status of human. Yes, what Peters is doing is rhetorical and arguably Peters does not “mean” it when he says that our enemies are not human, just as his confreres never “mean” it when they imply that dissenters against certain foreign policy decisions are traitors to their country and Iraq war supporters never “meant” it when they claimed that opponents sympathized with the enemy and wanted American forces to lose. Perhaps these, too, were merely mental exercises designed to shake things up.

For that matter, Peters’ qualification is not really good enough. Peters says that this does not mean that Pashtuns in the Taliban are “inferior,” but he insists that it means that they are “irreconcilably different beings.” To say that another group of people, no matter how different they are in custom and religion, is irreconcilably different is to say that we must be at war with them forever, or at least until one group is wiped out, because there can be no reconciliation, no peace. It is a more polite way of saying, “It’s them or us.” Sane people, on the other hand, know that it is not a question of it being a matter of “them or us.”

Indeed, Gen. Petraeus, who presumably knows something about these matters, thinks it is possible to negotiate and reconcile with at least some of the supposedly irreconcilably different people, which suggests that Peters may have learned the wrong lessons from his experiences. Of course, it is possible that there are people who prove to be unwilling to reconcile with their enemy as a matter of their upbringing and conditioning. What Peters does not even attempt to do is to consider whether the upbringing and conditioning of members of the Taliban allow for the possibility that they are not simply “irreconcilably different.” To the extent that the Pashtuns involved follow Pushtunwali more than they follow strict Wahhabist or Deobandist codes, their code of conduct not only permits but facilitates reconciliation after conflict. Indeed, one of the reasons why Pushtunwali endures and is reproduced over the centuries is that it serves a vital function in regulating vendetta and war. Peters’ gravest error is to conflate for rhetorical purposes significant cultural difference with a difference in nature, which at once minimizes the cultural basis for our radical differences in “values” and also exaggerates the degree of separation between us and the Pashtuns. It is a complete failure to understand the enemy, because the attempt to understand them is not even being made, which would be prelude to the failure of policy if anyone in government were foolish enough to take heed of Peters’ argument.

P.S. It is also worth contrasting Charles Krauthammer’s ridiculous “tribe or religion or whatever” argument with Peters’ alien thesis. Neither is correct, but if they meant what they wrote Krauthammer and Peters would have to regard the other’s argument as nonsense.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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