The George Will Schism In The Conservative Movement: NRO Edition


The George Will reverberations continue on the right. Andy McCarthy at NRO:

George Will is not being faithless about the war. To the extent there was national agreement about its objectives, the war was about routing al-Qaeda, driving it out of its safe haven, and killing or capturing its main players. Those objectives have been substantially accomplished, and, while we’ve failed to round up bin Laden, Zawahiri, and some others, they are not in Afghanistan. 

What Will is being faithless about is the democratic vision. Democracy enthusiasts have always conflated the war and the dream, but the two are and will always be separate. The American people overwhelmingly supported, and still support, a vigorous war — not an experiment, but a war — against the enemies who threaten us: Islamist terrorists and the regimes that abet them. Americans do not support, have no patience for, and would never go to war over the thankless enterprise of transforming the Islamic world.

Mind you, I’m no dove. I daresay I’m as much or more of a hawk than the nation-building side of the house. I’ve bit my tongue for a long time, and it kills me to write this, because I’ve never bought the nonsense about how you can support the troops but not support the mission. And if someone can convince me we need 40,000 or 400,000 or 4 million more troops in Afghanistan to destroy enemies who would otherwise attack the United States, count me in. But I think Rich, Pete, and others I admire — Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and Jen Rubin, for example — go too far in their condemnation of Will. Americans have a right to wonder what on earth we’re doing. The war against Islamist terror is global and, even in the region where we are fighting, has always involved more than Iraq and Afghanistan. There are hostile regimes (particularly in Iran) that we have left in place, unscathed, and growing stronger. For all the brave “you’re with us or you’re against us” talk after 9/11, we never walked that walk. Americans would have supported such a war, which was — and is — patently in the national interest. There is no political will for it now because, without first defeating the enemy, we tried to reprise the Marshall Plan in a place where it won’t work.


Why should Islamism matter to us? Because, besides being the ideology that catalyzes jihadist terrorism and threatens our freedoms in sundry other ways, Islamism rejects the premises of Western democracy. Islamists believe that sharia is the perfect, non-negotiable blueprint for law and life, prescribed by Allah Himself. Therefore, Islamists reject the notion of free people at liberty to govern themselves, to legislate in contradiction to God’s law. They reject freedom of conscience: Islam must be the state religion, and apostasy from Islam is a capital crime. They deny the principle of equality under the law between men and women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims. They abjure any semblance of Western sexual liberty: gay sex, adultery, and fornication are brutally punished. They countenance slavery. They encourage polygamy. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This is all horrifying to us, but that is because we are a different civilization. Tony Blair was wrong, as Will has realized in more recent times. Individual liberty and democracy are not “universal values of the human spirit.” And our democracy-building enthusiasts are wrong, and unintentionally insulting to Muslims, when they intimate that the Islamic world will fall in love with our values once they taste a little freedom.

President Bush decried the “cultural condescension” of us democracy doubters. But the shoe of arrogance is on the other foot. Those of us who’ve studied Islam have never doubted its “aptitude for democracy” (to borrow Will’s phrase). The issue has never been one of aptitude; it is about principled beliefs. Fundamentalist strains of Islam, including Salafism, have been developed by extraordinary minds. It is not that these Muslims fail to comprehend our principles; they reject them. They have an entirely different conception of the good life. They believe freedom is not individual liberty but individual submission to Allah’s law. Their very conception of freedom is the opposite of ours. When we talk to them about “freedom,” we are ships passing in the night.

Michael Leeden at NRO:

I’m a member of an endangered minority, a democracy hawk who spends lots of time on Islam and Islamism. According to your latest, excellent piece, we don’t exist. 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.

Most pundits either said that was wrong, or gave some excuse, such as “there isn’t enough time,” as if anyone could predict such a thing. Yet anyone who wishes to look at Iran plain, can see that the Iranian people are in open rebellion right now. And STILL the pundits don’t call for supporting the Iranian people, even though no action in the war against terror/Islamists/al-Qaeda etc. etc. would do so much for our cause as regime change in Tehran. They still look at the war piece by piece, instead of stepping back to look at the full context. My forthcoming book, Accomplice to Evil;  Iran and the War Against the West, is an attempt to answer the old question: Why do we refuse to see evil when it is right in front of our noses?  The Iranian tyrants make no bones about their intention to destroy us, and they are killing us every day.

Mark Levin at NRO:

Brother Andy argues that we need to be more honest with ourselves about Islam. He is absolutely right, in my view. There is no question, as a matter of historical fact, that Arab and Islamic culture and societies are less hospitable to democracy than others. But there are exceptions. Turkey, although an imperfect example, is a functioning democracy — not a Western democracy, but a democracy nonetheless. Jordan is less of a democracy but not a genocidal dictatorship. There are other examples, but Andy’s point is well taken. Unlike in the West, where it is the rule, democracy is the exception in the region where we are fighting two wars. Still, it cannot be said that the attempt to build democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan was irrational or utterly unworkable. And the effort is a proper one if its purpose is to secure our nation’s security interests.

My objection to the democracy project is that it is irrational as a general doctrine. The Shah of Iran was a crucial American ally. However, as a result of Jimmy Carter’s human-rights project (not altogether different from the democracy project in some ways), his government was toppled and replaced with the current Iranian regime, whose lust for terror, expansion, and weapons of mass destruction poses an enormous threat to the United States and the rest of the world. Clearly many of those associated with the democracy project reject Carter’s foreign policy and previously opposed his refusal to support the Shah, who sat on a very elaborate throne but was a steadfast ally. There are many more examples of such regimes.

Although democracy-project adherents have their own irreconcilable arguments and objectives, so do those who insist that all is lost, Iraq was a bad idea from the start, we’ve done all we can in Afghanistan, and it is time to pull back. Pull back to where? Regarding Iraq, I see no political support for staying there much longer. Even President Bush set a timetable for pulling out most of our troops. I don’t know if this was wise or not. It seems to me that if staying for a few more years would make a big difference, we should commit to it. If Iraq collapses, what then? This is the question that George Will and others leave unanswered. I don’t blame them. It’s a tough question. But it is one that must be considered, particularly by those who are responsible for our country’s national security. Andy writes of Iraq’s coziness with Iran. But Iraq is by no means an appendage of Iran. It is not a terrorist base from which the United States or its allies can be effectively attacked. Can we insist that those who argue for departure now, or soon, at least present some coherent case for the possible consequences of their position?

Andy McCarthy responds:

Mark is at pains to point out that democracy promotion was not the reason we went to Iraq. That has been my contention all along. I’ve respectfully disagreed with the argument, most forcefully made by the great Norman Podhoretz, that democratization was a principal aim of the war in Iraq. I freely concede — Norman’s meticulous accounting of this makes it impossible not to — that the Bush administration’s rhetoric was threaded from the start with democratization ambitions. But I don’t believe the freedom agenda was a casus belli. The American people would never go to war for such a reason.

We went to war because the Iraqi regime was (a) a terror facilitator that (b) was in gross violation of the terms that ended the Gulf War and (c) was credibly thought have a thriving WMD program (d) the arsenal of which it might share with its terrorist allies — an unacceptable risk after 9/11. I supported the war on that basis. My objection was the later shift in priorities to nation-building and democracy promotion — especially given that our enemies in and out of Iraq had not (and still have not) been defeated.

Mark is also right in opposing an immovable position against nation-building and democracy promotion. I don’t hold such a position. As he ably relates, we can do and have done these things. The proper strategy does indeed depend on our best interests under the circumstances. 

My point is that it is not worthwhile, and is likely counterproductive, to try to build democracies in a different civilization that opposes our core principles. On this score, Mark cites the exception that proves the rule. Ataturk, who knew a hell of a lot more about Islam than we do, was determined to have Turkey westernize and knew that, to pull that off, Islam had to be suppressed — in the classroom, the institutions, the government, and the public square. Indeed, among his first moves was formally to shut down the caliphate, even though it had long ceased to exist as anything other than a symbolic office. He realized that modernizing was so daunting a challenge that he could leave no doubt about his determination to purge Islam from politics and confine it to the spiritual realm (even though Islam is no longer Islam that way). The interesting thing is that Turkey turns out to be, irrevocably, part of the Islamic civilization: 80 years after Ataturk’s secularization, Islamism is now resurgent — Turkey is feinting West as it turns East.

Michael Ledeen:

I was a big supporter of the Bush Doctrine. I still am. But I disagreed with the methods and the “sequence.” I thought that if we were going to go after state sponsors, the number one sponsor was (and is) Iran. Moreover, I didn’t (and don’t) think we had to bomb or invade Iran in order to remove the regime that sponsored the terrorists. I thought we could do something similar to what we did to the Soviet Union:  support the dissidents with broadcasting, communications technology, public demands, funds for strikers, and so forth.

You don’t think this is likely to succeed, and you are certainly in good company. But the Iranian people have repeatedly and at great cost to their well-being and even their lives showed their hatred for this regime. Strikes are ongoing, demonstrations take place daily, and after what we have seen there since June 12, it seems to me that the country fulfills all the conditions of a revolutionary situation. By the way, I do not believe that a free Iraq is the mullahs’ worst dream. I hope I said that the mullahs feared the effect of a free Iraq, as of a free Afghanistan. I think that’s true; revolutions spread, even in the tyrannical Middle East, and the Iranian leaders live in great fear. They’re right to be afraid, especially of American support for the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people. Like most people who have looked at this, you don’t think it’s likely. But then, hardly anyone thought the current uprising was likely (I did, as you know).

But then, most people did not think we had a chance of provoking the collapse of the Soviet Empire. And as for forces to repress potential dissident uprisings, I don’t think the KGB was inferior to the Revolutionary Guards.


Where is Islam in all this? To take your colorful example, Ayatollah Sistani has expressed many noxious thoughts. But then, he’s of a tradition that suggests that men with turbans shold be in the mosques, not in the chanceries. The Islamists that you and I dread and wish to defeat have a different view of things; they want men with turbans in control of everything. They want some sort of caliphate, a true nightmare. It is noteworthy that Sistani recently sent a secret message to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, condemning the violent repression the regime has directed against the Iranian people. He’s a fundamentalist, as you rightly say, but he’s not a jihadi.

That 31-year old Iraqi whose claim that his people don’t believe in liberalism or secularism seems conjured out of a hat, frankly. I thought most people agreed that the last Iraqi elections showed the growth of less sectarian parties. As for Iran, that’s a country with a tradition of secular self-government, where the Islamists are now so deeply scorned that I cannot imagine a man with a turban being freely elected to anything. Unlike Iraq, where democracy must be learned, the Iranians know all about it. Indeed, if you read the statements of the many dissident ayatollahs these days, you can see that they believe that Islam has been discredited by the regime. You can hardly miss this: Every night millions of Iranians take to the rooftops and chant “Allahu Akbar,” Allah is great. They shout this, not to praise the theocratic regime, but to mock it. For those words are immediately followed by “Death to the Dictator!” who, famously, rules in the name of Allah. 

So yes, “freedom” has different meanings from region to region and from tradition to tradition, but in the case of Iran (and, I think, for most Iraqis) it is understood much as we do.



Filed under Af/Pak, Go Meta, GWOT, Iraq, Religion

2 responses to “The George Will Schism In The Conservative Movement: NRO Edition

  1. jakub

    ha ha haa u ha ha ha ay a ah aha aha ha

    THI s this this – eagle ha ha ha BUUUU HAHAHAHA


    u’re damn S.T.U.P.I.D.!!!!!!!!

  2. jakub

    nobody reads that anyway – maybe some killers, cold blood eggheads and other madre-fuckers

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