Thursday, May 31, 2007

Paul Berman II

The previous post covered the main outlines of Berman's thinking:

Liberalism under attack from transgressive myth, cult of death, embodied in totalitarian movements. The battle is mostly one of ideas.

So I want to get into the battle of ideas bit.

This links back up with my noting Berman's stance on the Iraq War because I think it is connected. Namely has the Iraqi invasion helped with the war against totalitarian impulse? I think overall it is hurt, but I understand there is a lot of subjectivity involved in that decision.

The overthrow of Hussein has sent the death knell of one of the two forms of Arab totalitarianism mentioned by Berman: pan-Arabism.

It was already seriously damaged in its credibility by the loss of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Hussein represented the Baath but it could be argued that he like the House of Saud, Mubarak, Assad is just an Arab dictator who ruled through tribes. That Pan-Arabism was long ago dead.

The new "ism" is pan Sunni-ism promoted by the Arab autocrats against the so-called Shia Crescent.

But what Iraq certainly has done is give an transfusion, an infusion to Islamism that it did not have prior to the invasion. This is why I thought it was a bad idea and it was certainly a bad idea to become an occupier in the heart of the Arab world and have no plan for extrication or securing the area.

But either way it's done and now the question is how to move forward. With the battle of ideas. If using the totalitarian analogy think Eastern Europe. Individuals like Reagan argued from abroad that we were on their side and was smart enough to still deal with the Soviets.

But how much do we think the Czecks and Slovaks would have favored a US invasion of their homeland that say expelled Russians but then caused the break between the two groups, civil sectarian bloodshed, and lack of security? As a battle of ideas issue.

Why do we think it is any different in the Iraqi sphere or more broadly the Arab world? Particularly unlike the Soviet example, the US has been aligned with the authoritarian, if not, totalitarian governments, e.g. Saudis, Mubarak, etc.

This gets back to an issue I have with Berman's analysis, the blanket monolithic nature of Islamism.

In other words, what is the alternative to continued despotic rule for the Arab world? Particularly now given the bloodshed in Iraq and the more to come once the Americans start the pullout. Not to mention the US promotion of elections in Lebanon and esp. Iraq & Palestinian territories where the results were not accepted because they didn't accord with the US definition of what group(s) should have been voted in by the people.

Not all Islamism is the same. Even Berman knows better in his profile of Tariq Ramadan for TNR here.

The US can not be winning the battle of ideas if there is no future for people to look forward that they can create themselves (key conservative concept btw).


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