Proposing disengagement from Muslim world, September 2001

Within a day or two of the September 11th attack on America, I began articulating the position that I’ve since stated so many times at this website. It is a position distinctly different from the positions of the left, the mainstream right, and the paleo right, which have monopolized American discourse for the last five years. Unlike the writers on the left and the paleo right, who respectively said that the attack on America was a deserved recompense for our racism and selfishness, or “blowback” for our imperialism and our support for “oppressive” Israel, and who concluded that the solution was not to make war on Muslims but to stop doing the things that offended Muslims, I said that the people who had attacked America were our mortal enemies, that they had attacked us not because we had harmed them but because we had been nice to them, carelessly opening our country to them and to millions of their co-religionists, and that we had to destroy them. At the same time, unlike the mainstream right, which wanted to respond to the attack on America with an ill-defined global war to destroy terrorism and spread democracy, I said that after we had disposed of the parties that immediately threatened us, we should separate ourselves from the Muslim world, while announcing that we were giving up our multiculturalist/ universalist ideology. Thus, while I agreed with the paleocons that we must care about America first, I rejected their denial of the fact that we had real enemies who intended our destruction and whom we had to defeat. While I agreed with the neocons that we had real enemies whom we had to defeat, I rejected their approach of turning this necessary war of self-defense into a global ideological crusade. I said the most important lesson of the attack was that we needed to erect barriers between ourselves and the Islamic world, not get ourselves more deeply involved in it, though, in the short term (and this is the only part of my argument I would now qualify), it might be necessary to occupy and reconstruct a couple of Muslim countries whose regimes we had defeated. These ideas were expressed in an e-mail exchange on September 17, 2001, which is copied below:

Correspondent to LA:

What do you think of this war? My strong instinct is to support it. Then I read the Weekly Standard and want to throw up.

LA to correspondent:

I’m following the various arguments, trying to understand what we need to do.

If these forces have their sights on us, then we must destroy their ability to harm us. That’s the definition of war. Bush said we must destroy these organizations and those who harbor and support them. Well, that would mean, at a minimum, an invasion of Iraq, overthrowing the government there, and—what was never considered as an option in ‘91—governing the country ourselves for a while.

A different approach I’ve thought about is a disengagement, as far as possible, from the Muslim world. That means, first, expulsion of all Muslims with ANY ties to these radical groups in the U.S. My own view has always been that Muslims in large numbers do not belong in any Western country. But expulsion of all Muslims is not an option in the real world. For the moment I will accept expulsion of all radicals, which is a very substantial number, with communities all over the U.S. (Since we ourselves have been harboring these terrorists it is absurd for Bush to ignore that. Yet he continues to do so, which may be the most worrisome part of the whole picture.)

Second, withdrawal of our involvement from Mideast as far as possible. This does not mean abandonment of Israel. Ironically, it was our pushing the “peace process” that got us most involved with the Muslims, and thus got them even more angry toward us. But if we just gave Israel the aid we give them and otherwise let the Israelis alone, we would not be so involved.

The underlying conceptual change that would make the above changes possible is that the U.S. must stop seeing itself as this universal nation and model for the world. We need to define ourselves again as a distinct, Western nation different from the Muslim world. We have our sphere, they have theirs. We get out of their faces (as much as possible), and they get out of ours (as much as possible).

The first approach I’ve described (war, conquest, and temporary administration of Iraq) does not contradict the second (mutual disengagement of West and Muslim world). War is necessary to deal with the immediate threat. Yet even as we do that, we announce (1) that we are not a universal nation/empire claiming to be a leader and model for the whole world but a distinct nation under God acting in a limited way to defend ourselves from mortal enemies; (2) that we are expelling from our country all Muslims with radical ties or sympathies and all non-citizens from countries that harbor anti-American extremism; (3) and that after this war is over our ultimate goal is not American control of the Islamic world but rather the mutual disengagement, as far as is possible, of these two utterly incompatible civilizations from each other.

I would add that President Truman’s demand for the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945 could be a model of what I’m talking about. The text of his demand is not well known today. The demand for unconditional surrender is often attacked as an example of U.S. arrogance, but in fact it was a carefully limited statement. Truman assured the Japanese that the U.S. had no intention of destroying the Japanese as a people and a nation, that it was the present government of Japan that had to be unconditionally removed through U.S. occupation; and that as soon as the Japanese had set up a government that would live in peace with the world, the U.S. would withdraw from Japan. In other words, his demand for unconditional surrender was not the imperial thing it is often seen as, but a moral position with defined limits around it. [In making the analogy to the unconditional surrender demand in World War II, I do not mean that we should demand the “unconditional surrender” of anyone in the Mideast. I am trying to apply Truman’s principle of removing a dangerous government or other entity from a country and then leaving.]

In the same way, we need to make clear that our present military purpose is not to remake or permanently control the Moslem world, but to remove these dangerous elements. Once they are removed and cannot threaten us, once there are governments in place that will leave the rest of the world in peace, then we will withdraw.

Perhaps this sounds hopelessly unrealistic, since the transformation we look for WOULD require us to run parts of the Mideast for a while. But I think the conceptual change I’ve described above makes such a conquest and administration viable and acceptable, whereas the neocon approach, which sees the war as a step toward a global American empire, frightens most people in the East and the West as well.

Correspondent to LA:

There seems to be a strange desire to say this is about “freedom,” etc.

LA to correspondent:

Well, that’s exactly the problem. Many Americans are unable to articulate any value except tinny self-important abstractions. Vile devils commit a mass murder of Americans, and all that many Americans can say about it is that “freedom” has been attacked. The reconceptualization I’m talking about—which means a return to more traditional ways of thinking—means that we see ourselves as a concrete society and civilization following our own ideal of truth, not as the repository of all good and model for the universe. We must stop arrogantly describing ourselves as “the greatest country in the history of the world,” a statement that implies that other nations are not worth loving. It may be utopian to think Americans can return to more modest, traditionalist modes of thought, but that is what’s needed. If we continue to define ourselves as some universal abstract idea like “freedom,” then any attack on us is an attack on “freedom,” which can only be answered by our imposing “freedom” on the whole world. “Freedom” is a recipe for universal empire. We must pull back from that, EVEN AS we effectively defend our more limited identity as a particular nation under God practicing our own ideas of freedom.

This doesn’t mean an American version of “Little England.” We are, as a matter of fact and not of boasting, a great and powerful nation with a large role in the world. But, as Bush becomingly said in the second Presidential debate, we need to be more modest about ourselves and our mission.

- end of initial entry -

“Snouck Hurgronje” makes some excellent points:

I agree with almost all you say in this post. I want to add something. The USA has been aiding Israel with economic aid and military aid since 1973. Israel has received a lot of money relative to the small size of its population and economy.

Receiving aid is not without a price. There is a cost in national pride. Then there is dependency. Israel has become an aid junky. The state which receives the aid becomes independent of the population and thusly removed from it. The military aid is supposed to be spend on American arms as “pork” and so the IDF has become linked to the USA in a way that is unhealthy. Increasingly the IDF has become an army depending on massive amounts of sophisticated machinery. If we compare the results of this army with the IDF in ‘48, ‘56 and ‘67 when it was not as well armed as the Arabs.

Israel has also become tied to the US political class by the aid it receives. The US political class is far removed from Middle Eastern realities. Israel would be well served if its aid ties would be severed and it would pursue its own policy.

Finally I would like to say that under the present circumstances Israel needs territory for its population and defensible borders (Jordan Valley) more than more helicopters, jet fighters or artillery. Its strategy should be population driven, not machine driven.

Richard C. writes:

You wrote: “Thus, while I agreed with the paleocons that we must care about America first, I rejected their denial of the fact that we had real enemies who intended our destruction and whom we had to defeat.”

One paleoconservative who does not fit your description above is Serge Trifkovic (Chronicles Magazine), who has been writing about this subject for many years.

LA replies:

Of course, Trifkovic is an exception. He is an Islam critic whom I’ve approvingly quoted many times.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 24, 2006 01:55 AM | Send

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