Thursday, December 09, 2004


Josh Marshall, a self-professed liberal hawk, weighs in on Beinert's article (link). I won't quote it extensively (read it yourself, please), but Josh gets to a key point when he points out the uncomfortable (for some) truth that the threat of Islamic terrorism is just not of the same degree as the threat of Soviet communism:

Let’s survey the world stage the ADA folks faced in 1947 for some points of comparison. Having vanquished fascism, the democratic world faced in world communism a political movement that in its basic hostility to democracy and liberalism was more similar to than opposed to fascism. Russia, half of Europe and (in a couple of years) China were all communist. The communists controlled the largest land army in the world and would soon have nuclear weapons. Communism had substantial minority support across Western Europe, including vast support (active or passive) among the most articulate in society. And in the United States many on the left saw communists less as enemies than as errant allies, with whom cooperation was possible on common goals.

Placing context or limits on the danger posed by Islamic terrorism is a hazardous business these days. But unlike communism in 1947, militant Islam simply does not pose an existential threat to our civilization. It just doesn’t. It puts us all physically at risk. And especially for those of us who live in DC, New York or other major urban areas, it could kill us tomorrow.

But aside from middle eastern immigrants in western countries, this ideology has close to no support anywhere outside the Muslim world. As an ideology it controls at best a few small states; and it has possible access to Pakistan's small nuclear arsenal. But where is the danger of the Islamist takeover of any of the world’s great powers? China? The US? Europe? India? Japan? Brazil? Will Germany or Canada becomes ‘finlandized’ by Islamist power? That doesn’t mean the danger doesn’t exist, only that it’s different. And those are fundamental differences we shouldn’t ignore.

Admittedly, the lack of Islamist power, in this sense, will be cold comfort for many of us if al Qaida brings us cargo ship with a nuclear weapon into New York harbor tomorrow. But the difference between an existential threat and a physical one is an important one for thinking about its impact on our politics. Particularly, whether it should lead us to purge folks from the Democratic party or from American liberalism who haven’t yet come around yet to a sufficiently serious view of the threat of terrorism or a coherent and tough-minded national security policy.

As much as people fear the threat of terrorism, that fear, for me at least, comes nowhere close to the fear of TOTAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR WIPING OUT ALL OF HUMANITY that was a constant fact of life during the Cold War. I only came into this world in the latter stages of that conflict, but I can remember sleepless nights during the Reagan years when I lay in bed straining to hear the sound of Russian bombers coming over the horizon. As bad as the destruction of a single city in a terrorist nuclear attack would be, it still doesn't compare to the threat of TOTAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR WIPING OUT ALL OF HUMANITY.

When people like Beinert question our commitment to fighting terrorism because we don't treat it as a threat equivalent to TOTAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR WIPING OUT ALL HUMANITY (last time, I promise) then I have to wonder where his sense of proportion has gone.

Josh covers a lot of other points, not the least being that organizations like MoveOn are not comparable to the communist fellow-travelers of the 1940s (ANSWER is a different matter) and may be the greatest hope we have for a progressive renaissance in this country. Purging the group as a whole would be foolish.

Aside: I have to wonder what the impact on the future will be as our population shifts towards a demographic that has never leaved under the fear of ... okay okay, I promised I wouldn't do it again. Still, the impact of that global existential fear on our psyches as children couldn't help but shape the way our minds work. The lack of that fear must be having a similar titanic impact on the thinking of the next generation.


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