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It's Not about Imperium By: Michael Ledeen
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 21, 2002


I'm happy to converse with Larry Auster any time, and I agree with lots — maybe even most — of what he has to say. I agree that it's nuts to let Islamist terrorists and their gurus into the country, and I've written extensively about the terrible consequences of our blindness about the dangers of the jihadists. I believe that the greatest of all the intelligence failures was the apparent inability of American diplomats, businessmen, academics and intelligence officers to notice the true nature of the Saudi Royal Family, and the fact that the Saudis were spending tens of billions of dollars to create a worldwide network — including more than a thousand in America alone — of radical Islamist mosques and schools, where Imams and lesser beings taught untold numbers of young Muslims to hate the West, to hate Christians and Jews, and to believe that our killers would go to paradise.

Since immigration is such a hot button, we can dispense with it quickly, too: I'm not in favor of tolerating illegal immigration, and I'm certainly not in favor of letting them vote or getting all the benefits to which legal immigrants are entitled. If you're interested, I hate bilingual education, and I'm a big fan on Ron Unz's campaign against it.

I think we largely disagree on the "imperium" issue, although I confess that I think that the desire for freedom is universal throughout the human race, even though I insist on the importance of cultural differences (I am a cultural historian, after all). I've been saying it for decades, as I have been saying that all tyrants hate the United States, not for what we do but because of what we are: a successful free society. The tyrants know that our success threatens their legitimacy, and so they invariably come after us. Sooner or later, we are invariably forced to deal with them, and it's usually easier and far less costly to do that earlier rather than later.

I don't think this makes me an advocate of an American Imperium, any more than Tocqueville was, when he said that the American version of democracy was destined to govern half the world, against the other half dominated by tyranny, as embodied in and exemplified by Russia. Tocqueville believed he was simply telling it the way it was, just as I think I'm analyzing the world, not inventing a new form of imperialism. Indeed, I'm not much interested in creating an American empire, and I don't think there is much chance of that-it's so contrary to our national character. We just don't want to be deeply involved in foreign lands, save for our spasms of crusading activity. For the most part, Americans are happy with America and want to make it better, and the rest of them can worry about themselves so long as they leave us out of it.

But we were attacked, after all (more than twenty years ago, as I argue in The War Against the Terror Masters), and our only choice is whether to win or lose, not whether to be involved or not. The terror network, anchored by the four "terror masters" — the regimes in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia — will continue to kill us until they have either dominated us or they have been defeated by us. And if you look at those four regimes, you quickly see that their common denominator is tyranny. Not Islamic fanaticism, by the way: Saddam and the Assads have no religious standing. They are secular socialists. Not Arabs, either: try calling an Iranian "an Arab" and you'll see real rage. No, it's tyranny. And this war is an old fashioned war of freedom against tyranny, and our goal should be the destruction of the tyrannical regimes and their replacement with something freer and more democratic.

I think it can be done, by the way. I emphatically disagree with those who say that "Arabs" or "Muslims" can't be democrats, can't organize a decent civil society, etc. etc. I think that the Iranian people, for example, are quite ready for democracy, and they show it all the time in their desperate anti-regime demonstrations. I think that most Iraqis want to be free, and at a minimum want a voice in government, and maybe more than just a voice. I think the same about the Syrians. And therefore I think that our greatest weapon in the war is political, not military. I believe we can bring down the mullahs in Tehran by supporting the Iranian people. I don't think we have to fire a bullet or drop a bomb. And I think that we can liberate Iraq primarily by political means, and should enter Iraq in support of the Iraqi people. Ditto for Syria. Saudi Arabia is much more complicated; we can talk about it another time.

Larry is very upset at the suggestion that every people on earth has the attributes necessary to maintain a constitutional representative democracy. I would agree that they may not be able to do it all at once, today, at our command. But I don't think it's all that difficult, and I think they can get the knack pretty quickly, especially if we and other Western countries are committed to ensuring its success. Sometimes that requires the sort of drastic treatment we imposed on Germany and Japan after the Second World War; sometimes it can be encouraged from within, as in Taiwan or South Korea. Sometimes it will fail, to be sure. Nothing works all the time.

The real issue, as Larry rightly points out, is how to deal with the jihad, and here we once again agree: we have to crush them totally. That is because the terror network is in the hands of messianic leaders who claim divine support for their endeavor, and argue that they are winning because their religious practices are what the Almighty wants. If we deliver a devastating and humiliating defeat, we will thereby demonstrate that they were false messiahs. That must be our primary goal.

Paradoxically, I would expect the conservatives for whom Larry speaks to be upset with the real architects of an American Imperium, of a particularly dismal sort: the managerial class now running the State Department and the CIA. These people have no faith in democratic revolution abroad, just as their counterparts in other governmental agencies have no faith in the ability of the American people to make rational choices about their own lives. Talk to Iranian and Iraqi freedom fighters, and they will tell you of their profound disappointment with American secretaries of state for many years now. They will complain, rightly in my view, that these American leaders insist on total control, every step of the way, as if only the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency knows what should be done and how to do it. And this after the monstrous failures of policy and intelligence that led up to 9/11.

One last point: those who believe that all the Arabs, or all the Muslims, are hopelessly committed to insane doctrines should remember that, at the moment, we cannot possibly know what they really think. They have no choice in the matter; they must follow the party line, or they will be treated severely. We can only know the truth after we have won the war, for only then will they dare to tell us. Yet another reason for urgency. Would that all our leaders sensed it!




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