The Death of the Right in the Face of Terrorism

by Joshua Foust on 7/23/2007 · 15 comments

Months ago, I complained about how much I can’t stand reading the Instapundit’s writing on foreign policy—a post which I highly suggest reading for further context to the point I’m about to make. Under a link called “China addresses its Muslim insurgency,” the Instapundit links to this terrible blog that tries to draw a connection between the Uighur tension in Xinjiang and the actions against Chinese citizens in Pakistan.

Aside from a total lack of evidence (except for some local newspapers clearly speculating and pushing their narrow political agendas, something I thought would draw concern from the Victory Bloggers… well, maybe only when it cuts against their biases), I can see Wretchard’s point. Recall if you will when I was pondering the role China might have played in the Lal-Masjid stand-off: that it may have been prompted by Beijing’s anger over the kidnapping of three Chinese citizens. That still may well be true.

Except that’s not what Wretchard is saying. While combining the pomp of one who is used to never being questioned with the in-depth area knowledge of, say, James Love, Wretchard draws the connection that, clearly, Chinese citizens are being targeted in Pakistan because a decade ago China slaughtered a few thousand Uighurs near Kashgar. What? He goes on to make the case that the reason China hasn’t been a major target for Islamist terrorism so far is because they don’t think twice about slaughtering people by the thousand.. and the same goes for Russia (and not, as it should be stated a rational person would think, because China and Russia don’t matter as much as the U.S. in global affairs or the Middle East).

To make this case and to believe that argument, you would have to know nothing about Uighurs or Chechens, aside from their religion and a quick breeze through Wikipedia (I genuinely get this sense of the way that post is written). Uighurs are at best marginally tied to the deobandist crazies in Eastern Afghanistan and Western Pakistan—and then I would bet money it is merely a marriage of convenience. Uighurs want independence and freedom, not Islamic craziness. Look at a figure like Rebiya Kadeer (whom I still think should win a Nobel Peace Prize for her work). A culture obsessed with regressive fundamentalism would not produce such a woman.

Similarly, the Chechens were not known for their close, management-level ties to al-Qaeda until they began fighting in earnest with the Russians for independence—the second time around. And there is a lot of speculation that the extreme brutality with which the Russians treated the independence movement—with countless massacres and the complete desolation of Grozny among them—was a main reason the Chechens reached out to al-Qaeda for help: they were the ones with experience fighting vastly superior foes (Andrew Meier, in his excellent travelogue of post-Soviet Russia, considered Grozny’s devastation in 2000 more tragic than Kabul in 1996, as it had fallen farther). While their cause now may be tied to the extreme radicals (or it may not; news from the Chechen rebel networks has become sparse after Ramzan Kadyrov took over as President), for the Chechens, the ultimate goal is still independence, and not the establishment of a global Caliphate—however brutal and unforgivable their sins, like the Beslan massacre.

In reality, the reason the Chinese have been dragged into Pakistani power politics probably has far more to do with their close tied to Pervez Musharraf’s than the way they treated their Uighurs last century. Indeed, you can see a very similar rationale behind targeting the U.S. for attacks: it is our support, the way we prop up the brutal despots of the Middle East (in particular Saudi Arabia), that has made us a target for the pent up anger of an oppressed people. The same dynamic is most likely at play in Pakistan—it is the presence of Chinese companies, always alongside Pakistani security forces, that makes them essentially indistinguishable from a resistance standpoint. China’s heavy investment in Pakistan props up the economy. Attacking that investment is simply what one would do if one were trying to disrupt Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power.

So Wretchard, after demonstrating a child’s understanding of both the Uighur and Chechen movements, then goes on to blame “the left” for being “radical Islam’s Ring of Power.” No, I’m not joking. He continues:

And the brilliance of al-Qaeda’s reliance on [the Left] as a force-multiplier is that the defeat of radical Islam must consequently come at the price of altering the structure of post-war Western politics itself. In a sense the Western Left has become a hostage to the current world crisis, and perhaps the only part of the Left that understands this are the signatories of the Euston Manifesto, who realized that al-Qaeda had already claimed its political soul: that unconciously, almost imperceptibly, the Left in uncritical embrace of any foe of America had come to align itself with the most brutal, obscurantist, repressive theocrats on the planet. And would conceivably share its fate with them.

But al-Qaeda’s allies can only control events up to a point. Elemental forces are ranged against it. Chief among which is the sheer, simple brutality of countries like Putin’s Russia and China. If a snapping point is reached, even the Left may not forever restrain the West. The end point of debasing the coin of information is absolute bankruptcy.

That popping noise you just heard was my cerebrum exploding. So, let’s get this straight: the reason Al-Qaeda is ascendant and gaining traction in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in Iraq, isn’t the failed and hypocritical and shortsighted (and so on…) policies of President Bush, but rather “the Left,” an undefined and amorphous movement that had no power or influence in American politics until this past November. And not only is “the Left” unconsciously aligned with Al-Qaeda (in a chorus often heard on many pro-war blogs), it is actively allied with it, and wishing for America’s “defeat” to a bunch of crazies who think a Saruman-type figure hiding in a cave will somehow lead the world to eternal piety.

I’m sorry, my head just thudded on my desk. This pablum is meant to explain China “handling” its Muslim “insurgency?” There is an insurgency in Xinjiang? (Maybe we could ask this guy.) This is meant to explain that our fundamental decency is in fact our fundamental weakness? That we would “win” a war of ideas by becoming more brutal to those who don’t share our ideas?

I don’t get it. Twenty years ago, America’s biggest complaint about the Soviet Union, which I think was the right thing to be vehemently opposed to, and the reason Ronald Reagan was right to call it the Evil Empire, was its horrendous disregard for human life. Before people jump on me for this, I’m speaking of the gulags, the secret police, the forced psychiatric treatments for dissidents under Brezhnev, the torture for the religiously faithful (Christian and Muslim alike), and so on. These things, and the unbelievable human cost they imposed, are undisputed history.

The great virtue of America was that we didn’t do any of those things (our proxy dictators, on the other hand did, which is its own issue I won’t touch here). And the biggest problem I see now with the War on Terr-uh is that we are slowly but seemingly inexorably turning into the Soviet Union—right down to reviving their old torture prisons in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. According to Wretchard, and, given the warmth with which bloggers like Instapundit link him, many others as well, our biggest problem is that we are not more monstrously anti-religious, not more violent, not more indiscriminate in our bombing and killing and mayhem.

Yuck. Excuse me while I go throw up at what used to pass for principled, liberty-centric conservatism.

Update: Glenn Reynolds wrote me an email in response, wondering what sources he should look at for a more balanced perspective. For this, I must offer deep respect—very few bloggers in general, but especially successful, visible ones, would do such a thing. I sent him some links from our blogroll, and thanked him. I should also point out that this post is not about the Instapundit—that is simply the site where I found that wretched Wretchard post. Which means, despite my previous vow to stop reading Instapundit, I still do—for the same reasons Nathan does, which is the tech stuff (it’s easier than slogging through Engadget or Gizmodo).

But seriously, my ire isn’t really directed at the Instapundit. If you thought it was, then… well just don’t.

Update II: It seems that wasn’t much use – the guy still links to terrible, locally-ignorant crap about Central Asia. So much for moving beyond the meta-narrative… and remind me again why some of these blogs are meant to be so much better than the big media types? As Nathan has said repeatedly—we can do better.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 15 comments }

brian July 24, 2007 at 1:52 am

Joshua: An excellent comment, if I may say so. I wish there were more people like you around here. People who are informed enough to see the fundamental difference between the things that may appear similar.

Also, I fully agree with you on your response to E.K. regarding the purpose and the content of this blog. However, E.K.’s reaction is also understandable. It’s human to put specific things in a more general context. You are rightly critical of corruption and lack of democracy in the region but it may difficult for some to accept your criticism given the challenges with democracy we face at home. Just look at the posts at your other blog.

Once again, thanks for keeping us informed.

Nick July 24, 2007 at 4:10 am

I too read that post, and possibly you may have read the comments underneath also, one of which suggested that the ‘Wiggers’ (sic) were the same people who expelled the Greeks from Anatolia and only were getting their just desserts.

Unfortunately, there is a cynical, post-9/11 school of international relations that regards liberation or national movements of minority Muslim groups (Chechens, Kosovars, Uighurs etc.) as not being worth spit because they are allegedly no different to AQ or the Taleban.

I seem to remember we had a debate here at Registan a couple of months back about Russia and China’s role in the GWOT (or that’s the way the comment thread was leading …) and someone suggested that their problems regarding Muslim insurgencies were also ours. I disagreed, and I’ll say it again: Russia and China couldn’t give two hoots about the GWOT – for them, Chechnya and Xinjiang are primarily issues of territorial sovereignty.

Joshua Foust July 24, 2007 at 6:26 am

Nick –

The comments there were even more terrible, but I try not to hold blogs accountable for their readers 🙂 It’s like they couldn’t figure out who to hate more: the supposedly communist Chinese (there is nothing communist about modern China), or those scary brown-skinned MOSLEMS. It’s revolting.

Brian –

Thank you. There seems to be not much room in American discourse for principle these days. The self-proclaimed defenders of liberty seem only to want wanton slaughter; the self-proclaimed principled opposition seem to want only a change in government (without a useful change in policy). I don’t get it, and it makes me want to sit out the upcoming (will it ever end) Presidential election. America is indeed sick at its core, but not to the reasons anyone thinks.

Nomennovum July 24, 2007 at 1:52 pm

“It’s like they couldn’t figure out who to hate more: the supposedly communist Chinese (there is nothing communist about modern China), or those scary brown-skinned MOSLEMS. It’s revolting.” — Nick

Ah, yes. The right has an inordinate fear of communism … and they’re racists too. It’s good to see you worked both of these chestnuts into your straw man. Or are you just fantasizing? Stick to the points that were actually raised, not the ones you imagine lurk there … somewhere.

Now to the post. You argue that “[Wretchard] goes on to make the case that the reason China hasn’t been a major target for Islamist terrorism so far is because they don’t think twice about slaughtering people by the thousand.. and the same goes for Russia (and not, as it should be stated a rational person would think, because China and Russia don’t matter as much as the U.S. in global affairs or the Middle East).”

There are a couple of problems with your facile dismissal. One, any half-way rational terrorist will target someone who he thinks will be less likely to fight back hard (i.e., he will seek to minimize the costs of an attack), while at the same time maximizing his strategic goals, such as bloodying the nose of the enemy, killing the enemy, gaining a propaganda victory, getting the enemy to retreat (a la Somalia), etc.. That is, he will seek to maximize his benefits from the attack. This was Wretchard’s point, I think. It is here that the mainstream media and the left in general have helped in the propaganda department (I don’t think I need to reiterate the examples of this).

Two, you say Russia and China are not big enough actors in the Middle East or in “global affairs.” Well, the only big, non-Muslim, actors in the Middle East are the US and Israel (if you can consider such a tiny country a big actor). As far as global affairs go, I think Russia and China are still pretty big – China especially as it seeks to extend its influence. But lack of size hasn’t prevented Bali, Spain, or the UK from being attacked. As a result, Spain retreated and the UK looks as though it’s about to do the same from Iraq. Attack the weak link – or the “weak horse,” as bin Laden calls it. There are a number of examples of this throughout history. Don’t you agree? Germany comes to mind.

You are right that Russia is not as big as the US in “global affairs” anymore. It’s also true that no one is as big or influential in the world as the US. It’s also true that bin Laden’s complaint with the US is it’s presence in Islamic lands. It’s the same complaint levied against Israel. But Russia sure is big in the Muslim world (looking at your web site tells me you are more than somewhat aware of this) and, as you obviously know, there are considerable portions of China with large Muslim populations, people who are not ethnic Chinese. So, why are so many Pakistanis, French-Muslims, German Muslims or Bosnians (not to mention Arabs of many nationalities) joining forces with AQ to fight and kill Americans? Are Americans abusing Muslims worse than the Russians or Chinese? What did we do to the Bosnians except save their hides from non-Muslim Europeans? Did Russia not support the Serbians in their attempted genocide of the Muslims? What did we do to those Chechens who decided to ally themselves with AQ except ask Russia to stop slaughtering them? Yes, we support a nasty regime in Saudi Arabia, but who in their right mind — including the jihadists — think bin Laden will be any less brutal? Is bin Laden’s complaint against the house of Saud that they are too brutal to their own people? Our complaint against the Saudis is that their too “7th Century” in their treatment of their people. This is not Bin Laden’s complaint. This is not the jihadist’s complaint. Who among you thinks bin Laden will be an improvement? I think bin Laden thought he was attacking the easier, less dangerous, target with the greater payoff when he chose to attack the US, and not the harder, more dangerous, lesser payoff target. Of course AQ wanted to attack such a looming presence as the United States – all the more so since bin Laden believed that the US wouldn’t seriously bite back. If the jihadists are able to beat the US, do you seriously think they won’t go after Russia or China in due course? Do you really think bin Laden won’t find a causus belli to do so? Are you aware of his stated goals?

Finally, I do not think Wrechard said al Qaeda was now involved in China or that another front in the GWOT has opened. He was simply speculating. Doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, though.

Joshua Foust July 24, 2007 at 2:36 pm

Oooookay, Mr. Anonymous Coward, before you go insulting his critical reading skills, perhaps you could direct your attacks at the one who made the comment about the Right… which would be me. Not Nick. And address what I said, because I said it with reason (and just today Nathan posted another comment that boils down to a similar argument): we instinctively assign China nefarious motives because a few decades ago they were communist, and we instinctively assume Muslims are either currently or at the least mere steps away from violent, radical Islamism. You can see that with the way China is written off as “ChiComs” (i.e. Chinese Communist), and the way… well, simply reading Wretchard’s writings on Muslims tells me he’s probably never met any, or if he has he refuses to let that “color” his opinion of his enemy.

Now getting into the calculus of terrorism – a thorny subject, given the depth of the literature on the subject (actual, rigorous literature, and not op-eds on Front Page Magazine or World Net Daily) – your reasoning makes sense, to a point… except that Osama bin Laden has been open since at least 2001 that he was hoping to tempt the U.S. into a disastrous war with a Middle Eastern state. He wanted to bait us into invading too many countries at once, and thus destroy ourselves. We’re doing an admirable job.

Beyond that, Wretchard’s (and, let us not forget, the Instapundit’s) point was that the Uighurs in China constituted a “Muslim insurgency,” with all the social and theological baggage that implies, along with the Chechens for good measure. My point was that assigning broader Islamist motives to these struggles is highly inappropriate, as they were national liberation movements, and not religious wars. If Wretchard’s point was that our retreat from Mogadishu in 1993 brought about 9/11… well, that’s not the point he was making (and if he meant to, he could have done me the courtesy of mentioning it). His point was that We need to be more like China and Russia, because their brutality has deterred Islamist attacks on their soil — the precisely wrong argument, as Islamists have no reason to attack Russia or China (that the Uighurs and Chechens happen to be Muslims is actually immaterial, as their causes don’t further the al-Qaeda cause).

Again, neither Zawahiri nor OBL care about Russia or China because, even they’re big in the Muslim World as a whole, they’re not big in the Middle East. From the start, that’s all al-Qaeda has cared about. Even while camped out in Afghanistan, while sheltered by the Taliban, al-Qaeda was focused on the Middle East. It got all its funding from the Middle East. It got all it supplies from the Saudi networks we helped build in the 80’s. And so on.

Neither Russia nor China have had a noticeable presence in the Middle East for a very long time.

Now to the long, unbroken paragraph:

China does not have a measurable population of radicalized Muslims – even in the back corner of Xinjiang, where there has been friction with the Uighurs. They are seeking independence, not a Caliphate (unless self-determination has suddenly been folded into the general cause of al-Qaeda in your eyes, this is an important distinction, and the point of this post).

Most of the European Muslims have been radicalized specifically by the anti-assimilationist policies and social movements within Europe itself. In France, pervasive racism combined with government inaction to rectify it has led to deep disenfranchisement among second generation immigrants – their parents, who fled their homelands, are not radicalized. Their children, who grow up with just as few prospects but now nowhere to turn to except the crazy at the Mosque preaching revolution, are. It is a classic revolution pattern.

The Bosniaks’ acts of terrorism can similarly be tied to Europe’s failed policies in the former Yugoslavia. Why are there Kosovar terrorists? Because Serbia still would be brutalizing them if IFOR weren’t there to physically separate them (the corollary is why are there so many Christian terrorists in the Balkans as well – a point you fail to make in your quest to demonize all Muslims. All of the men on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia are of Christian heritage, not Muslim – and they committed acts of terror and unspeakable inhumanity against Muslims. I could ask why all Christians are lining up to kill Muslims, but you may not find that a stupid question, I feel). I also must have missed that time Bosnians were “lining” up to kill Americans, rather than Serbs or Croats — which proves my original point, that there are local explanations for these with no ties to the grander al-Qaeda agenda, which is focused on the Middle East.

If you were to look at the rhetoric spewed by the cavemen in Pakistan, you’d see, yes, Americans are abusing Muslims worse than the Russians and Chinese. We’ve killed more of them, more recently. We’ve tortured more of them, more recently. We actively prop up, support, supply, and economically exploit more of their cruel, barbaric dictators more often, with more money, more recently.

Russia didn’t slaughter the AQ-aligned Chechens; its crime was that it slaughtered all Chechens, indiscriminately shelling cities like Grozny to get at them. Fat lot of good it did them, huh?

The thing is, attacking Russia would get OBL nothing. Russia has no sway in the Middle East (in particular Saudi Arabia). Neither does China, except only very recently in Sudan. The U.S. controls the Middle East, we control the tyrants of the Middle East, and therefore we were the most logical targets of terrorists focused on the Middle East.

Seriously, I don’t know where you’re getting this from. You are inventing motivations out of thin air, and drawing narratives and causations on, at best, the flimsiest of correlations. And you’re doing this without even the decency to stand up behind your real name and own up to your opinions.

Then again, so is Wretchard. How fascinating…

unaha-closp July 24, 2007 at 6:20 pm

“Indeed, you can see a very similar rationale behind targeting the U.S. for attacks: it is our support, the way we prop up the brutal despots of the Middle East (in particular Saudi Arabia), that has made us a target for the pent up anger of an oppressed people. The same dynamic is most likely at play in Pakistan—it is the presence of Chinese companies, always alongside Pakistani security forces, that makes them essentially indistinguishable from a resistance standpoint. China’s heavy investment in Pakistan props up the economy. Attacking that investment is simply what one would do if one were trying to disrupt Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power.”

That would be a more credible rationale if such a thing ever actually happened in Saudi Arabia. There is only one economic interest America has in Saudi Arabia (oil) and it is not attacked.

Joshua Foust July 24, 2007 at 6:33 pm

Nomennovum — thanks for stepping up to the plate and standing behind what you say. Don’t bother commenting here ever again.

Unaha — on several occasions before 2004 or so, and on a much smaller scale (in both intensity and frequency) after, there actually were many attacks on Saudi oil assets. Most of the targets were American oil workers—much like in the Niger Delta, where the target is the western oil company and its personnel. The attacks in Saudi Arabia have abetted in part because a lot of the militants shifted next door to Iraq, but also in part because the House of Saud cracked down pretty hard core on the crazies—to the point of founding reeducation camps.

That’s about the limit of my knowledge of that particular subject, but here is one fairly recent, and worrisome example: the February 2006 attack on Abqaiq, which is one of the world’s largest oil terminals. Had the attackers successfully interrupted the flow there (they were foiled at the cost of two guards’ lives), then global energy markets would have seen a significant price disruption. So I don’t think it’s as rare or as unthinkable as you say.

unaha-closp July 24, 2007 at 7:22 pm

This I agree with: “Again, neither Zawahiri nor OBL care about Russia or China because, even they’re big in the Muslim World as a whole, they’re not big in the Middle East. From the start, that’s all al-Qaeda has cared about. Even while camped out in Afghanistan, while sheltered by the Taliban, al-Qaeda was focused on the Middle East. It got all its funding from the Middle East. It got all it supplies from the Saudi networks we helped build in the 80’s. And so on.”

To my perspective Al Qaeda are supremacistic pricks from the Middle East – funded and established to exhort the virtues of the Middle Eastern Sunni. They are no more going to attack the ‘tyrants’ of the Gulf than the KKK might attack the state of Georgia circa 1925.

Al Qaeda care about Chechnya or Uighur (much as the KKK cared about Rhodesia or S. Africa) as struggles for supremacy of the ideal against the sub-humans.

unaha-closp July 24, 2007 at 11:03 pm

Joshua,

Those attacks on Westerners were ineffective at disrupting oil production, but quite good at reminding the infidels that they were merely guests of the Arabs. The attacks were consistently portrayed as intra-infidel fights over bootlegged booze by the Saudis and not seriously investigated – several Brits were arrested for the bombings – further reminding the foriegners of their second class status. The actions left the nuts & bolts infrastructure of the Saudi state untouched – the oil refineries, pipelines, electricity grid are all very vulnerable – and merely forced the infidels to further restrict their interaction with the Arabs.

Contrast the ineffectual actions in Saudi to the campaigns of terror mounted against infidel Shia Arabs in Iraq and the attacks on the religiously treachorous Iraqi police and the heathen Coalition Forces carried out by the same Al Qaeda grouping. The Iraq actions are carried out against real targets with real committment. Do conclude that the infrastructure of the Saudi state is not attacked, because it is not a target.

Joshua Foust July 25, 2007 at 5:55 am

Unaha, I think I’m not seeing where we disagree. There have been attacks in Saudi Arabia on oil assets, and on the westerners who are exploiting it. That it hasn’t been very effective speaks more, I think, to Saudi Arabia’s brutal police forces than any sort of intent on the part of the crazies. And Iraq, well…

So I don’t get where we part ways. And the main point of this post (back to topic, argh!), I think you agree with too — that the Uighurs and Chechens really have nothing to do with al-Qaeda beyond the fuzziest of peripheral senses.

Papa Ray July 25, 2007 at 9:26 am

I’m not sure how I arrived here, but I am really sure what I found here, and I am disappointed, but not surprised.

I’m sure you moderate your comments, but I will leave them here anyway so you can delete them.

As I roam around the blogs looking for someone, really anyone who understands the situation our Nation (ummm. I mean the United States of America, in case anyone from other Nations are reading) is in, I am disappointed most of the time. It appears that no one is worried in the least bit about the situation that the world is in.

Everybody just wants to debate their points. Their Viewpoints, with no real discussion of what to do, to whom, when or how.

In other words, Word Warriors, with no battle plan, no victory plan, no plan but to blame others, and formulate the least offensive surrender plan.

Have we become a world of debators, who like those who get physical pleasure from other activities, think nothing of what they do, except for the pleasure from it? Not seeing the waste of time, of effort, of their words?

Yes, I fall in that mess too.

Well, I have an opinion for you. You need to understand this is not some debate, some game, some exercise. This is for real treasure. For your family, your friends, yourself. For your way of life.

If you don’t believe that, go back to your wordsmithing.

This is not some never never land, some exercise given to you in class. This is real life. You know the one you live in.

Talking about why someone, somewhere did something and if what happened hundreds of years ago or yesterday…or who is wrong, right or to blame, is just an lazy (or frightened) excuse to not talk about WHAT WE NEED TO DO NOW, to protect all that we hold dear.

If you do not understand that, you are not just a big part of the problem. You are the problem.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

Drew Curle July 25, 2007 at 11:52 am

1. “some local newspapers?”

Wretchard cites a quote from a Pakistani newspaper first, it’s true, but the place he draws the bulk of his information from (i.e. the blockquotes) is the Times Online.

2. “Wretchard draws the connection that, clearly, Chinese citizens are being targeted in Pakistan because a decade ago China slaughtered a few thousand Uighurs near Kashgar.”

To be fair to Wretchard, he never explicitly gives this as the *only* reason that Chinese are targeted in Pakistan, he merely quotes that Pakistani newspaper as a lead-in to his topic. Now, clearly the initial thrust of his article is based rather uncritically on this kind of thinking. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that Wretchard argues that only this warfare-reprisal dynamic is at work when he never actually makes that claim. After all, the initial story about the attacks in Pakistan is really just a starting point for a tangent he gets on about why the US has been a main target of terrorism. Wretchard’s crime here is one of insufficient investigation of claims, rather than his own nefarious drawing of connections.

3. “He goes on to make the case that the reason China hasn’t been a major target for Islamist terrorism so far is because they don’t think twice about slaughtering people by the thousand.. and the same goes for Russia”

Wretchard does make this argument, and I agree that it is ill-informed and generally not a strong argument. Clearly, as you say, it is the US’s global importance (and especially in the ME) that makes it the obvious terrorist target. Level of resistance offered is undoubtedly an afterthought, at most. Probably not even that—after all, when you are living in caves, your probably don’t tend to think of the enemy that is keeping you there as being weak.

However, Wretchard’s argument does not rely on the fact that Chechens and Uighurs happen to be Muslims, as you claim that it does. His argument simply states that the Chinese & Russians are brutal to those who fight them, and the two examples he draws are the ones most likely to be familiar to crazies in caves (and thus most likely to have affected their target prioritization, according to Wretchard’s argument)… after all, the Tiananmen massacre is unlikely to be much of a factor for OBL & Co.

So your accusations regarding his knowledge of the Chechen and Uighur independence movements (“you would have to know nothing about Uighurs or Chechens, aside from their religion and a quick breeze through Wikipedia,” “child’s understanding,” etc.) is a bit unfair.

4. “‘radical Islam’s Ring of Power’”

You are quoting Wretchard somewhat out of context here, he actually says: “There are times I am tempted to think that….” That is a big difference from flat out claiming the parallel as being true: it makes his argument tongue-in-cheek, rather than ridiculous.

5. “the reason Al-Qaeda is ascendant and gaining traction in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in Iraq, isn’t the failed and hypocritical and shortsighted (and so on…) policies of President Bush, but rather ‘the Left’”

I don’t think that this is what Wretchard was arguing. I think he was arguing that Al Qaeda benefits from the way the American political process works, in much the same way that you say “the self-proclaimed principled opposition seem to want only a change in government (without a useful change in policy)” in the comments. Things like fact that all the 2008 Democratic candidates promise varying degrees of rapidity in pulling US troops out of Iraq, or that the Democrat-controlled Congress tried a rather hopeless bill to force such a pull-out. Wretchard views a pull-out from Iraq as an AQ victory, and I’m sure AQ would feel the same. But the US pull-out wouldn’t so much be happening because of strategic considerations, at least according to Wretchard’s way of thinking, but because of domestic political machinations.

6. “According to Wretchard, and, given the warmth with which bloggers like Instapundit link him, many others as well, our biggest problem is that we are not more monstrously anti-religious, not more violent, not more indiscriminate in our bombing and killing and mayhem”

Again, Wretchard never directly advocates that the US should be more brutal—you are putting words in his blog, so to speak. True, he certainly implies that the US’s current handling of terrorists is too soft (“even prisoners in Guantanamo Bay could insist upon their Korans being handled with white gloves”). But I don’t think its fair to use that as a basis for claiming that he advocates the US becoming more like the USSR in terms of respect for human life and dignity.

Wretchard’s point in bringing up Chinese and Russian brutality isn’t so much that the US would benefit from emulating it, as it is a sort of open pondering of the implications of AQ getting involved with the Russians and Chinese. I read his last quotes (about a “snapping point”) as being more like dire warning for what could happen if US politics continues to allow AQ to get easy victories… a sort of fearful apprehension of the sort of indiscriminate brutality that could be unleashed by countries like China and Russia if they see fighting Islamic terrorism as essential to their self-interest.

So, in sum:
I think Wretchard’s unexamined acceptance of attacks on Chinese in Pakistan being a consequence of Chinese-Uighur conflict is a poor argument, but kinda beside the point Wretchard wants to make.
I think his point about the US being a terrorist priority because China and Russia are more inhumane is also pretty weak.
That said, I think his point about the American political process benefiting AQ has some merit.
And I think that you are overly-harsh toward Wretchard on several occasions.

I read both his blog and registan, and like both. Wretchard writes opinion pieces, things inspired by some news story, but that aren’t really about that story so much as they are about thinking through potential implications that news story has. He is very much in the Huntingtonian “war of civilizations” camp, which to me means that he has some good points, but in general an unhelpfully conflict-centric way of thinking.

All I want to do here is give Wretchard and you both a fair shake: I see where your vitriol toward him comes from, there are bad vibes all over that post of his—but sometimes a generous reading can discover gems in the rough, and points of consensus rather than just division. This can make for more productive conversation than just labeling something a “terrible blog” and then hammering at it with everything you can muster.

Finally, sorry this was so long. As they say, I didn’t have time to write anything shorter.

wretchard July 25, 2007 at 4:16 pm

I think the main point of the post was that both the Russian empire and China have had a long history — because of geography — of conflict with Islam. The history of the Czars, and later of Stalin should be pretty clear. And the 1997 massacre of Uighurs is only illustrative of a longer history of conflict. Similarly the Chechens are not angry because of say, the recent events in Grozny. Rather, Grozny is simply the latest incident in a long series of incidents.

And the second point was that, given this history of brutality, why it was that radical Islamism considers America the “Great Satan”. And the answer that I suggested, which I think is fundamentally correct, is that radical Islam regarded it necessary to raise the consciousness of the worldwide Ummah as a necessary prerequisite to ever fighting its physically oppressive neighbors.

And one way to do that was to attack the world center of media. The West. Events along the Chinese border, or even in Chechnya; even the Balkans would never be able to raise al-Qaeda’s agenda on a global scale. But an attack on New York would. And once it was on the media radar, especially if became entangled with domestic politics, the great flagships of the press would make certain that, in the great tradition of printing both sides of the story, al-Qaeda would get equal coverage with kings and presidents.

Maybe you would have preferred some other metaphor than Ring of Power. I guess that’s a fair criticism. But the concept of the current “War on Terror” as being an accelerant to Muslim radicalization is an established one. One often repeated in the press. Most recently I listened to a counterterrorism expert who said that the news reports and propaganda coming out of Iraq are contributing to the radicalization of Muslims in the West. And maybe everywhere. Radio Free Europe recently published an amazing study of the text, video and audio releases that flowed from two days of operations in Iraq. That study can be read here (http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/06/830debc3-e399-4fa3-981c-cc44badae1a8.html).

Whatever one wishes to call it, it seems reasonable, based on empirical studies and often-repeated arguments, that the memes coming out of the War on Terror are fulfilling a role which mere clashes with Russia or China would never accomplish.

And — here is where we probably disagree the most — I am arguing that the Left has played a part of spreading those memes. I hear your argument that the Right is causing its own troubles. And I’ll not deny this is partially true. But I think the Left bears the greater share of responsibility.

However that may be, I think it is true that radical Islam attacked America because it could fulfill the information war requirement of raising worldwide Muslim consciousness better than hitting out at the Russians and the Chinese.

Joshua Foust July 25, 2007 at 6:37 pm

Okay “Papa Ray”—the anonymous pseudonym is cute and all, but as with Non-ovum or whatever his name was (read above), I don’t take well to people insulting me behind anonymity. If you have a point to make that can be made without reference my age, your assumption of my knowledge, experience, or past research (the last of which is easily accessed in this space), then please make it. But make a fracking point—the personal jabs are totally unnecessary. Do it one more time, and you’re banned. And before you respond, please bother to read my other posts before you call me names or imply things about my motivations.

In case anyone else was wondering, yes, my patience has run out for people who think calling me names or pointing out that I’m young is a proper substitute for arguing against what I said. The reason I have responded well to the Instapundit, and why I have backed off my statements of frustration, is because he did neither of those—he dealt with what I actually said, and why I disagreed with it. Should he and I disagree again, which is likely, I will not get as frustrated or as angry for that very reason.

Similarly, both Drew and Wretchard have disagreed with parts of this post without personal invective, and I respect that and will do my best to respond (thank you, both of you, for that).

Drew – The Times Online is a tabloid. I don’t mean “tabloid” the way most Americans write off most British papers. I mean it is a for real tabloid. Search for my post on Anne Penketh to see my opinion of one of their writers. She is not alone.

Though this is related to the substance of Wretchard’s comment, there were many things he did not explicitly state that were obvious beyond the merely subtextual (you kind of dance around this). The impression from his post—that Russia and China don’t face jihad because they slaughter Muslims in large numbers, while the U.S. does because it refuses—is plain as day. That he mentioned other aspects as well is sort of immaterial; most of his post was about China’s “Muslim insurgency,” and how we are not as violent in our treatment of the “enemy,” not, as he suggests, the information war.

Now, for the record, while I was deeply frustrated with what he said, specifically for those implied policies he pointed to (which also inspired the title of this post), I do appreciate Wretchard leaving his comment. And I am very sympathetic to it—in fact, on a process level, I think fighting a long war (an actual war, that is, not the competition of the Cold War) is damned near impossible with an election cycle as short as ours. When the legislature does not look past two years and the Presidency does not look past four, you will not get good long term policy.

Similarly, and this perhaps plays into what “Papa Ray” was trying to say, there is definitely a nasty problem, in particular among the democrats (though I really think it flows both ways) of obsessing over political points rather than arriving at some principled good. This is why I have not voted Republican or Democrat for years.

Wretchard, I read that RFERL report, and thought it deeply illuminating. And I agree with you that the insurgencies have become masterful at creating media moments to undermine the U.S. mission. The problem is, we cannot or will not create our own (and Pentagon’s media people are hopelessly clumsy), and many of our actions are quite worthy of scorn from liberty loving folk—I’m speaking specifically of sanctioned torture, secret prisons, abductions, murder, and so on. These happen, we know they happen, and their existence is uncontested (even super conservative rags like National Review simply defend or excuse these things; they don’t deny them). And these do a tremendous amount of harm, when we are put under the microscope. Dealing with the usual range of excessive behavior that always accompanies war is bad enough; adding on tactics designed to deliberately insult the faith of the people we’re trying to win over, along with the rank hypocrisy of behaving like our enemies, is a dagger to the heart. That is why, if you read the archives of my other blog, I go from being a strong pro-Bush war supporter in 2004 to now, when I quite firmly opposed to both.

I also must say I wish you had explained your post the way you did here. While I still don’t fully agree with you, what you wrote above is certainly not unreasonable, and to be frank, it doesn’t sound ignorant. The points about the Chechens and Uighurs, however, does. That was my complaint.

Drew Curle July 27, 2007 at 7:49 pm

Well, not sure how totally dead this post/thread is, but I’ll put up a brief couple comments anyway.

1) Josh, you’re right that I was a bit evasive in my reply. But I think it’s only fair if you admit that you were perhaps a bit over-harsh in yourself in your original post.

2) I read that Anne Penketh stuff… wow, is she a moron. But I still say that it is probably more than a bit of a stretch to call the Times a tabloid. It has slipped since Murdoch bought it, no doubt, but I (and I think most British people) would still call it the “newspaper of record” for England, insofar as that title still exists and means anything in this day and age.

Also, the Times’ slipping toward celebrity “news” is very much in keeping with the general decline of news coverage everywhere– it’s just hard to make an honest journalistic buck these days. So I don’t fault their fall quite so much.

But I’m always looking for one more news outlet to add to my blacklist, so I’d be interested in a more detailed explanation of your dislike of the Times. I realize that I am sort of just supporting it out of inertia.

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