Lee Harris has a column
in TCS today regarding the horrific lynching of 4 US civilian contractors in Fallujah. His main point is that this even should spell the end of our belief that we can democratize and civilize the Arab world:
Does the administration have a clue what it is dealing with? Does it really think that anything we can do to avenge the American dead at Fallujah will make the least impression on those who committed acts of such a nature?
We are trapped. Our enemy knows now that no matter what they do to us, we will not do it back to them. They know now that no matter what insult they offer us, or how deeply they violate us, that we can never bring ourselves to descend to their level of de-civilization.
Fallujah should spell the end of the neo-conservative fantasy that all human beings want the same things. It should awake the Bush administration from its dream that what the Arab street really needs is democracy. Fallujah represents the end of the road for that kind of thinking and that kind of talk. And if it doesn't, we are in serious trouble.
That is the lesson of Fallujah
There are really two issues here: the first being what we can and should do, and the second being what this means to our larger goals in Iraq and the Arab Middle East.
Harris is correct that we would never do to them what they do to us. It is the same problem that Israel has been facing for the last 3 years (at least). In part, our reaction (like Israel's) is shaped by our understanding of the nature of the conflict; the Islamists see it as total war, neither the US nor Israel see it as such. And in total war, the US has acted in ways that many in today's world find offensive: bombing of Dresden, fire-bombing of Tokyo, and the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. We were able to do those things because we fully understood that it was a war to the end; it was either them or us. But very few people accept that this is also the fact in our war against the Islamists. Whether we like it, or accept it, this is a war to the end. Either we win, or the Islamists win. Does this mean that we should raze Fallujah? Perhaps. I think that it will at least convince the Arab world that we are serious (seems conquering Iraq and hunting down Saddam was not enough). But it would probably not be useful in our goal of democratizing Iraq.
This leads then to Harris's second point: that the Arabs are savages and that there is no point in even trying to civilize them. With this, I disagree. Its helpful to remember that in our not too distant past (400, 500 years ago) our Western society did not behave very differently. But through the course of time we civilized ourselves. So one reason for their behavior is that as a society they are half a millennium behind the West. The problem with this is that we cant wait 500 years for them to catch up; given the weapons available, leaving them to civilize themselves could prove deadly for our society. But we will need to wait a certain amount of time; the time it will take for the generation brought up under Saddam and similar Arab despots to die off. Iraqi civil society, just like many of the other Arab societies, has been destroyed by its own rulers. As Christopher Hitchens writes in an article
in today's Wall Street Journal: "Fallujah is a reminder, not just of what Saddamism looks like, or of what the future might look like if we fail, but of what the future held before the Coalition took a hand."
Our only hope, then, is to wage this war against Islamism, and wait for the Arab world to catch up; all the while hoping that we can prevent a catastrophic attack on our own society .