Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"A Fighting Faith"

Peter Beinart's recent National Review article, "A Fighting Faith", is one of the most thought-provoking analyses of a contemporary political issue I've read in a long time. Using as his template the decision of most Democrats to affirmatively reject Stalinist communism following the end of World War II, Mr. Beinart argues that the Democrats have failed to take Islamist totalitarianism and terrorism seriously. The Democratic party, he argues, must similarly embrace the goal of defeating the threat presented by Islamist totalitarianism as its "north star". "The recognition that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left." Every thinking American should read Mr. Beinart's piece.

The article struck a basic chord with me. In the recent election, it was precisely the apparent willingness of the Democrats to overlook, and often to excuse, Islamist totalitarianism that disturbed me the most. Nothing he did suggested to me that he truly believed that Islamist totalitarianism was the most serious threat to Western Civilization since the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead, he allied himself with Michael Moore, seemed to favor doing nothing of substance at best, and on occasion displayed a disturbing tendency to appear to be rooting for the other side.

No doubt, some Democrats are silently nodding in agreement with Mr. Beinart's analysis. Unfortunately for the two-party system, however, initial returns from the Democratic base are not encouraging. In his responsive essay in the Washington Monthly, for example, Kevin Drum argues precisely "that compared to fascism and communism, Islamic totalitarianism seems like pretty thin beer to many. It's not fundamentally expansionist, and its power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league."
Beinart basically argues that in 2004 the argument over our response to terrorism should also be over. But the problem is that world events today are nowhere near as clear as they were in 1941 and 1949. Sure, 9/11 was a wakeup call, but in the three years since then what's happened that's the equivalent of even a single one of the events described above? There have been some scattered bombings, but barely more than before 9/11. North Korea and Iran appear to be building nuclear bombs, but they've been doing that for over a decade. The Middle East is dominated by brutal totalitarian regimes, but that's been true for as long as there's been a Middle East — and in any case the United States actively supports many of them.
A number of the comments to Mr. Drum's piece are downright bizarre and paranoid, arguing that it is President Bush and the Republicans who are the true fascists, far more dangerous than the Islamists. As one Solon succinctly summed up the sentiment, "I am far more worried about the bushco response to a new islamic terrorist attack on our soil than the attack itself. Look at what happened last time!"

If Democrats truly believe that Islamist totalitarianism is "not fundamentally expansionist", if they truly do not see Iran and North Korea armed with nuclear weapons (and missiles on which to carry them) as even a cause for concern, I fear they are going to be in the wilderness a long time.

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