Misguided, Absurd Charles Krauthammer Calls for Second Cold War

Rarely do we see such an explicit articulation of the view that we can keep the national security state rolling by simply substituting "Islamism" or "terrorism" for "communism." Charles Krauthammer calls for a second Cold War:


We are, unwillingly again, parties to a long twilight struggle, this time with Islamism - most notably Iran, its proxies, and its potential allies, Sunni and Shiite. We should be clear-eyed about our preferred outcome - real democracies governed by committed democrats - and develop policies to see this through.

That is a reference to a passage in John F. Kennedy's November 16, 1961 speech at the University of Washington:


In short we must face problems which do not lend themselves to easy or quick or permanent solutions. And we must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient, that we are only 6 percent of the world’s population, that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind, that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.

These burdens and frustrations are accepted by most Americans with maturity and understanding. They may long for the days when war meant charging up San Juan Hill, or when our isolation was guarded by two oceans, or when the atomic bomb was ours alone, or when much of the industrialized world depended upon our resources and our aid. But they now know that those days are gone and that gone with them are the old policies and the old complacencies. And they know, too, that we must make the best of our new problems and our new opportunities, whatever the risk and the cost.

But there are others who cannot bear the burden of a long twilight struggle. They lack confidence in our long-run capacity to survive and succeed. Hating communism, yet they see communism in the long run, perhaps, as the wave of the future. And they want some quick and easy and final and cheap solution--now.

There are two groups of these frustrated citizens, far apart in their views yet very much alike in their approach. On the one hand are those who urge upon us what I regard to be the pathway of surrender--appeasing our enemies, compromising our commitments, purchasing peace at any price, disavowing our arms, our friends, our obligations. If their view had prevailed the world of free choice would be smaller today.

On the other hand are those who urge upon us what I regard to be the pathway of war: equating negotiations with appeasement and substituting rigidity for firmness. If their view had prevailed, we would be at war today, and in more than one place.

Perhaps Krauthammer hasn't familiarized himself with Matthew 7:5, wherein Jesus of Nazareth said, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." He suggests that there is a group of liberals who don't have the stomach for the long, twilight struggle against Islamism without recognizing Kennedy's simultaneous condemnation of the conservatives who equate negotiations with appeasement, see America as omnipotent, and seek an American solution to every problem. He doesn't care about his hypocrisy, of course, because what he wants is to get us to accept the premise, which is that we can support democracy in the Arab world while suppressing and subverting political parties in those countries that we don't like, just as we did in Western Europe in the 1940's and 1950's. Here is how Krauthammer describes this:


With Egypt in turmoil and in the midst of a perilous transition, we need foreign policy principles to ensure democracy for the long run.

No need to reinvent the wheel. We've been through something analogous before. After World War II, Western Europe was newly freed but unstable, in ruin - and in play. The democracy we favored for the continent faced internal and external threats from communist totalitarians. The United States adopted the Truman Doctrine that declared America's intention to defend these newly free nations.

This meant not just protecting allies at the periphery, such as Greece and Turkey, from insurgency and external pressure, but supporting democratic elements within Western Europe against powerful and determined domestic communist parties.

Powerful they were. The communists were not just the most organized and disciplined. In France, they rose to be the largest postwar party; in Italy, to the second largest. Under the Truman Doctrine, U.S. Presidents used every instrument available, including massive assistance - covert and overt, financial and diplomatic - to democratic parties to keep the communists out of power.

He even goes so far as to equate Iran with the Soviet Union:


As the states of the Arab Middle East throw off decades of dictatorship, their democratic future faces a major threat from the new totalitarianism: Islamism. As in Soviet days, the threat is both internal and external. Iran, a mini-version of the old Soviet Union, has its own allies and satellites - Syria, Lebanon and Gaza - and its own Comintern, with agents operating throughout the region to extend Islamist influence and undermine pro-Western secular states. That's precisely why in this revolutionary moment, Iran boasts of an Islamist wave sweeping the Arab world.

Thus, Krauthammer wants us to repeat nearly every mistake that we made in the Cold War. Namely, demonstrating an inability to distinguish between the aspirations of different peoples and folding everything under the us vs. them banner of communist or anti-communist. Perhaps, Krauthammer should read his own newspaper because today they a running a column by Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, who explains the difference between his brand if Islamism and the kind of Islamism that flies airplanes into our buildings. But it is unlikely that Krauthammer, who couldn't distinguish between the Sandanistas and the Khmer Rouge, will take the point.

We do face a threat of terrorism originating from people with Islamist beliefs, but we ought to learn from our success in the Cold War that can afford to be patient and that our best ideals will prevail over narrow-minded and totalitarian mindsets. The best antidote to communism was the example of Western Europe, which flourished as the East stagnated. In Egypt we have a chance to start over. If our beliefs are correct, Muslim fundamentalists will not flourish in a democratic Egypt. Anti-western feelings will diminish over time, as Egypt integrates into the world of representative democracies and free commerce. This might have happened in Iran, too, if we hadn't stayed too long with the Shah. Rather than interfere in the Egyptian elections we should allow the Muslim Brotherhood to prosper or falter based on their performance.

Krauthammer thinks otherwise. He lays out four principles that he believes should guide our new Middle Eastern policy. First, we should support and encourage other Arab nations to rise up, throw off their oppressors and embrace democracy. Second, despite points three and four, we should insist on the right of parties to participate in elections. But then Krauthammer errs:


(3) The only U.S. interest in the internal governance of these new democracies is to help protect them against totalitarians, foreign and domestic. The recent Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the Hamas dictatorship in Gaza dramatically demonstrate how anti-democratic elements that achieve power democratically can destroy the very democracy that empowered them.

(4) Therefore, just as during the Cold War the U.S. helped keep European communist parties out of power, it will be U.S. policy to oppose the inclusion of totalitarian parties - the Muslim Brotherhood or, for that matter, communists - in any government, whether provisional or elected, in newly liberated Arab states.

What Krauthammer is advocating is that we give bags of money to parties we prefer and try to insist that parties we dislike are not allowed on the ballot. That's not democracy and it shows no respect for the informed opinions and preferences and sovereignty of these new democracies.

The Arab world has struggled to adjust to its confrontation with the West. It has dabbled in anti-colonialism, emulation, secularization, communism, pan-Arabism, neo-fascism, and Islamism. Nothing has emerged as a solution, but the current interest in political Islam is but one of several experiments that have arisen out of frustration and impotency in the face of stronger outside powers. It probably would never have gained much strength if democratic revolutions had proved possible. We ought to have confidence that the appeal of Islamism will diminish as a better alternative becomes suddenly available.

And, in any case, Islamism is not synonymous with terrorism. And, while a concern about how women will fare in countries where political Islam gains power is valid, we have to keep things in perspective. Unless we're willing to do something about how women are treated in Saudi Arabia, we ought not to interfere in elections elsewhere out of a fear that Shariah law may be enacted by some legislature. Again, with patience, self-confidence, good-will, and honest support, our best ideals will prevail and the threats we face will diminish.

As Kennedy said, "...we must make the best of our new problems and our new opportunities, whatever the risk and the cost." But we need to lose our hubris and realize that "...we are only 6 percent of the world’s population, that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind, that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem."

If there is to be democracy in Egypt, and then throughout the Arab world, let us make the best of it. Let's not repeat our worst mistakes.

Booman Tribune / By Booman

Posted at February 11, 2011, 6:21am

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