The tactics and morality of support

The tactics and morality of support

: My friend Steven Johnson says he wants to make clear that a reason why he and others opposed the war in Iraq was because it could fire up al Qaeda and cause an attack like Spain’s tragic 3/11. (He emailed me saying I was his imaginary debating opponent as he wrote the post; so I’ll make it real). Says Steven:

With the elections yesterday giving control of the Spanish government to the Socialists, over the coalition of the willing’s Popular Party, we’re going to see a wave of posts and op-eds explaining how the 3/11 terrorist attacks threw the election to the party “soft on terror,” thereby allowing Al Qaeda to get exactly what they wanted: a regime that would be “friendly” to them. No doubt a version of this argument will be trotted out again and again during the runup to the 2004 election here….

This formulation needs to be drilled into people’s heads: we opposed the Iraq war because we predicted that this particular engagement would lead to more Al Qaeda strikes, not less. (We supported the Afghanistan war because we felt it would, on the whole, lead to less.) In other words, we thought that invading Iraq was ultimately “friendly” to Al Qaeda: hard on Hussein and his secular dictatorship, but soft on the shadowy, nationless networks of Islamo-fascism. So when the Spanish vote out the Popular Party, or the US votes out the Bush Administration, it’s not that we’re trying to give the terrorists a break. It’s that we think the Bush Administration has been playing directly into the hands of Al Qaeda for the past two years, enraging young Arab men with elective wars that do nothing to combat Bin Laden and his minions directly.

I have many problems with this line of thinking for it is just so much thin moral soup.

First, I do not find it acceptable to decide not to oust Saddam Hussein because we’re afraid it would get terrorists’ dander up. You can have other reasons to say we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq (I don’t), but that’s not one of them. That is allowing the terrorists to manage us. We cannot find ourselves in a position of deciding what we should and should not do in the world based on what bin Laden might do.

Second, I also find it unacceptable to leave millions of people suffering under a tyrant we should have ousted a decade ago just because we are afraid of terrorists.

Third, by this logic, Great Britain would not and should not have entered World War II to defend Europe against Hitler. Nor should we have. Don’t want to piss off Hitler. Don’t want to piss of bin Laden. Same difference.

Fourth, by this same logic, no one should ever support us and we should support no one. The U.N. is pretty much useless now but you might as well shut it down completely and turn it into condos, because any nation that supports another when it is attacked is a damned fool. So no one should have supported us after 9/11 and we should have not supported Kuwait or the people of the former Yugoslavia. That’s clearly unacceptable.

Fifth, there is absolutely no basis for the belief that if we had not invaded Iraq, 3/11 would not have happened. You could try to argue that if Spain had not helped us, they might have picked another country but, again, that is the clearest definition of shirking moral responsibility (aw, let ’em bomb England) and, besides, bin Laden does, remember, have this thing about the Crusades.

Now as to the Spanish elections: Yes, the terrorists had a clear impact on the outcome of the Spanish vote and, as I said yesterday, that may have been the result of the ruling Conservatives’ self-centered insitence on trying to blame this on ETA. But having the vote is itself a victory against the terrorists.

And as to our own elections: If — God forbid! — there is another attack in this country before our elections aimed at steering them, I would not call either possible outcome a victory for the terrorists. A free election is a defeat for them. But before that election, this is why it is now all the more important to have a strong debate on how best to protect us against this terror. And the last thing I want to hear Kerry do is echo this logic that he will protect us by trying not to piss off terrorists.

The best way to piss off terrorists is to hunt them down and exterminate them and I want to hear Kerry and Bush battle for the right to the title of Toughest on Terrorism. I want the President of the United States to piss off terrorists as much as he possibly can. I want to see him continue to put pressure on countries that harbor and grow terrorists (read: Libya). I want to see him bring democracy to the Middle East, for that is the best way to stop bringing up generations of pissed off victims (I am a Tom Friedman liberal hawk).

But let’s be clear: Being soft on terrorism or on Saddam Hussein would not have prevented the tragedy of 3/11.

: Olivier Travers says it far more eloquently than I do:

you can’t have your “Iraq is not connected to terrorism” cake and eat it too.