Sunday, December 05, 2004

Worth repeating

Kevin of Lean Left commenting on Crooked Timber about the US believing it is acceptable to use evidence extracted under torture:

You know why we won the cold war? In the end, it wasn’t our military or nuclear weapons or even the Soviet Unions economic problems (the Chinese have proved a hundred times over that totalitarianism can coexist with capitalism quite well). It was the simple fact that we convinced the Europeans and the Japanese that our ideals were better than theirs. This war will be won the same way.

Yes, military action is sometimes required, as will police action. but in the end, the question comes down to this: which side will be able to convince enough of the Arab Muslim world that its ideals are correct, and thus neuter the other side? The monsters tell the Arabs that they can provide a good life, a safe life, a proud life, for them and their families because the monsters are close to God’s heart and know what God wants. So if you turn life over to them, if you do Gods will as they reveal it to you, they will give you the life for your family that you desire. It is a powerful idea, one hard to defeat.

But we have a better idea: we will let you be your own person, find you own way to heaven, build your own independent life with dignity, free from orders and monsters who dare to tell you what God really wants, protected by the law that you yourself helped create. It has won every single time it has been given a chance to be put in practice, our idea. But it it can only work if it is put into practice. Refuse to practice it, forget its power, lie about your adherence to it, flaunt it’s restrictions, ignore its laws, become a monster in defense of it, and it has no power.

And that’s what you advocate, dan — telling the world a lie, giving up on our ideals so that you can feel safer. Trying to fight a monster by becoming a monster. Instead of a choice between freedom and tyranny, you offer them a choice between an honest tyranny and a lie. Why should they believe in our ideal when we so obviously don’t?

(My emphasis)

This captures the debate over the war on terror in a nutshell: it is between those who think it is about nothing more than force, and that all we have to do is keep on killing and killing and killing and killing and eventually there will be no more terrorists left (because people who will willingly blow themselves up to kill others can obviously be intimidated by threatening their lives), and those who understand that it is fundamentally a war of ideas. The split can also be viewed as being between those who think that terrorism poses a serious threat to western civilisation (making the war on terror a war of survival, in which any tactic is justified), and those who take a more realistic view.

From my posts here, it ought to be clear which side I favour. Terrorists are dangerous, and may even at some stage acquire a weapon of mass destruction, but do not ultimately pose a threat to civilisation - the real threat in that area comes from the "war of civilisations" crowd's willingness to sacrifice everything worthwhile about western civilisation in order to "save" it from a few loonies hiding out in caves. Rather, we must win the battle for hearts and minds, and dry up the terrorists' supply of supporters, funding and recruits by presenting them with a genuinely better alternative. And we already have that alternative: freedom.

Unfortunately, as the US Defence Science Board recently noted, American policies seem to be moving in exactly the wrong direction...