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Afghanistan, Iran: Getting Our Own Survival Priorities Right

"There has been a fascinating point of alignment since 9/11 between the anti-war Left and the democracy hawks. Both sides have failed to identify the enemy: Islamists. The hard Left resists because it doesn't see Islamism as an enemy at all. The Islamists, like the Left, regard the United States as the problem in the world.

Democracy hawks are another matter. Their boundless faith in democracy blinds them to the severity of the Islamist challenge. For them, dwelling on Islam is counterproductive: If Islam is understood as a huge liability, Americans will rebel against the prohibitive costs, in lives and money, of democracy-building.


So the democracy-hawk approach is either not to mention Islam at all or to absurdly portray it as a 'moderating' influence that will help build stable democracies." - - - - Andrew McCarthy

Like many conservatives who agree with Mark Steyn here that "you can't take a reductively libertarian view while the rest of the planet goes to pieces," we have paid close attention to the Obama Administration's serial failures in national security ranging from attacks on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogators to the scandalous pressure the Administration has brought on Honduras for getting rid of a dangerous (now former) president.

Recently George Will has helped reopen the discussion among conservatives about continuing our mission in Afghanistan.

This has prompted a thoughtful commentary - "A Dangerous Delusion: We go to war to defend our interests, not to encourage democracy" - by former Federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy who proposes by his challenge that we rethink the basics.

Here are some of what we see as the key points in analyst McCarthy's essay:

  • "Quite apart from the inherent futility of trying to democratize fundamentalist Muslim countries, our efforts in those two places [Iraq and Afghanistan] were doomed if we failed to address Iran's promotion of terrorism and its intolerable nuclear threat. What has happened to Iraq has happened because we lacked the will to deal with Iran. We left unaccomplished the mission that was vital to our national interests while laboring exhaustively to create Islamic democracies that are either hostile or useless to us. And now, while we are still idling on Iran,the plan is to double-down against the Taliban?"
  • "Islamism is not terrorism. To be sure, Islamism includes terrorism in its arsenal. Still, there is major disagreement among Islamists about when violence should be used and how effective it is. In any event, we must fight the tendency to meld these concepts. Terrorism is a tactic that divides Muslims. Islamism is a belief system that unites tens of millions of Muslims. Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, estimates what he calls the "radicalized" portion of the umma at about 15 percent. I think he's low-balling it, but even if he's right, that would be about 200 million people."
  • "So what is Islamism? It is the belief that Islam is not merely a religious creed but a comprehensive guide to human existence, conformity to which is obligatory, that governs all matters political, social, cultural, and religious, from cradle to grave (and, of course, beyond). The neologism 'Islamist' was minted over three-quarters of a century ago by Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. To this day, the credo of the Brotherhood is "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope." The Brotherhood claims, preposterously, to have renounced terrorism. It maintains, more credibly, that it is the Muslim Nation, as in a mass movement representing what Muslims, broadly, believe."
  • "The Brotherhood's Islam is called Salafism. Developed in the 19th century, Salafism calls for a return to the unalloyed Islam of the 7th-century founders. It is to be 'unalloyed' in the sense that it should be stripped of modernizing influences - particularly Western influences. This is to be achieved by implementing sharia, the divine law designed to govern all aspects of life."
  • "Jihad is correctly understood as a military duty, but it need not be violent. That does not mean, as Islam's Western apologists claim, that jihad is some wishy-washy internal struggle to become a better person. To the contrary, just as war is politics by other means, violent force is one of several jihadist tactics by which the Muslim Nation seeks to install sharia. If non-Muslims are willing to accommodate sharia in their political, legal, and financial systems, combat is not required. Surrenders are happily accepted."
  • "The fact that Islamists disagree with their terrorist factions on tactics obscures the reality that they heartily agree with the terrorists' contempt for the West. Most of the places that are sources of Islamist terror do not want Western democracy. They want sharia."
  • "We can't change that about them, and it cheapens us when we try. The State Department's new 'democratic' constitutions for Afghanistan and Iraq are a disgrace: establishing Islam as the state religion and elevating sharia as fundamental law. That is not exporting our values; it is appeasing Islamism. It is putting on display our lack of will to fight for our principles, which only emboldens our enemies. Recall, for example, the spectacle of the Christian prosecuted for apostasy a couple of years back by the post-Taliban, U.S.-backed Afghan government. He had to be whisked out of the country because it's not safe for an ex-Muslim religious convert in the new Afghanistan. It's not safe for non-Muslims, period. We're not building a democratic culture."(Underscoring Forum's throughout.)

What about Iran and the Iranians?

Long-time anti-terrorist expert Michael Ledeen replies here in "Andy: Some Democracy Hawks Pay Lots of Attention to Islamism" - -

"But we have said from day one that we are in a regional war, and cannot win that war until and unless we have defeated the Islamist regime in Tehran. I said that it was impossible to 'win' durably in Iraq so long as the regime in Tehran was still in place, because a free Iraq was a mortal threat to the mullahs. Ditto for Afghanistan.

I have long said that we could bring down the Iranian regime without sending in troops, because the Iranian people hated the regime and if we helped them - politically, much as we helped the pro-democracy dissidents in the Soviet Empire - they would rise up and overthrow the regime.
. . . . .
Finally, the mater of counterinsurgency doctrine: Winning the support of the people in order to defeat the insurgents is not the same as promoting democracy. The best book I know on counterinsurgency was written by David Galula, a French officer in Algeria. He was adamant that wars of this sort are won by the side that gains the support of the people. It is not a question of democracy, and it is not won as a result of ideology. He insisted that ideology has very little to do with the final outcome. It is all about winning and losing; the people support the side they believe is going to win, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They might prefer democracy, but they will always go with the winner." (Underscoring Forum's throughout.)

Mark Levin Weighs In

In his "Not So Fast: A response to Andy McCarthy on the democracy project" (also today), Mark Levin here declares - -

"Regarding Afghanistan, the argument (as best I understand it) for leaving now is very weak. The bottom line seems to be that the Taliban would defeat the corrupt,inept Afghan government but for our support. Therefore, since the government cannot stand on its own, we should leave. Say what you will about Iraq, the war in Afghanistan was certainly never launched as part of a democracy project. It was launched, as Andy argues, to rid the country of al-Qaeda. But the purpose of ridding the country of al-Qaeda was to punish and destroy, as best we could, the perpetrators of 9/11. Those perpetrators included the Taliban. (By the way, if we are going to cite President Bush, he was quite clear about dealing with regimes that give safe harbor to al-Qaeda.) Both al-Qaeda and the Taliban remain a dire threat to our country. They have now taken over large rural parts of Pakistan, an imperfect American ally with nukes and a weak democratic government. They are active and growing in another dangerous region of the world. The fact that the Obama administration doesn't seem to have a coherent policy for addressing the threat argues in favor of developing such a policy, not our departure from Afghanistan. Again, the consequences of leaving now or soon, given the situation there, must be addressed by those who urge it. In his column, George Will makes a couple of rather silly suggestions for positioning special forces on the border, thus acknowledging that we should do something about Afghanistan (just not enough to be meaningful)." (Underscoring Forum's.)

This discussion about Islamism and preserving our own values should be a preeminent concern for all conservatives.

Readers are encouraged to read McCarthy's essay and his addendum "'Democracy Hawks' - a Poor Choice of Words" in their entirety, as well as Ledeen's response and Levin's comments, both also of today.

But whatever the overseas military strategy and mix of tactics on which conservatives may reach a new consensus, we certainly agree with McCarthy that at home - -

". . .We must accept that Islamism is our enemy and has targeted our constitutional system for destruction by slow strangulation via sharia. Instead of worrying about democracy in Afghanistan, we need to worry about democracy in America. The surge we need is at home: to roll back Islamism's infiltration of our schools, our financial system, our law, and our government. In addition to not being universal, the 'values of the human spirit' are not immortal. If we don't defend them in the West, they will die."(Underscoring Forum's.)

* * * * *

SEPTEMBER 5 RESPONSE FROM ANDREW MCCARTHY HERE TO MICHAEL LEDEEN - "The challenge of Islamism in Iran is more difficult in my mind than you suggest. It's not as if all the Islamists are in the regime and the population is a bunch of Western democrats. Iran is a fundamentalist Shiite country. If the mullahs are overthrown, the world would be a much better place because an aggressor regime bent on exporting its Islamic revolution would be gone. But I think the best we should hope for is its replacement by a moderate Islamist government which is more interested in governing Iran and content to export Islamism the same way the Saudis do-not good but a significant improvement. Obviously, that would dramatically improve our prospects in Iraq, Afghanistan, and everywhere else." AND HERE TO MARK LEVIN - "Democracy promotion is counterproductive because it feeds the illusion that the two civilizations can assimilate and be harmonized. They can't. We're hell-bent to prove the impossible, so we set out to spread democracy and end up capitulating to sharia-lite." Worth clicking on the links to read both McCarthy responses in their entirety
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