Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Guiliani vs. Paul and the two theories on Iraq

The most notable moment in the May 15th Republican presidential debate: the mini-debate between Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani on 9/11 and the War in Iraq. Paul is the most credible anti-War candidate from either party; Giuliani is best known for his response to the 9/11 attacks on New York City. The brouhaha was good for both candidates, allowing Giuliani to focus on his strongest point and providing Paul much needed attention and publicity.

The mini-debate was instructive, but a full-blown debate on the merits of their positions would have been far better. Alas, that is rarely the shape of political discourse; typically, 30-60 second sound-bites carry the day.

There seem to be two competing theories on these matters. The first theory is that militant Moslems are responding to our foreign policy interventions (e.g., our support for Israel and our previous sanctions against Iraq). The second theory is that militant Moslems hate us and our freedoms (e.g., the products of our “degraded culture” and we don’t make women wear burkas). The first theory is political and secular; the second is personal and religious. The first theory says they hate us more for what we do; the second says they hate us more for who we are.

If the second theory is correct, then we need to prepare to defend ourselves against certain attacks and perhaps, take the battle to them. But to the extent that the first theory is correct, then we should soberly assess our government’s foreign interventions, worrying that our solutions may cause more trouble than they fix.

Surely, both theories have some explanatory power. Some Moslems hate us for each reason—or their hatred stems from some combination of these two stories. Instead of dismissing one theory out-of-hand, the more reasonable position would be to debate which theory is primary. If this is correct, then both Paul and Guiliani offered flawed positions during the debate. Guiliani tried to annihilate Paul’s explanation; Paul failed to fully acknowledge the competing explanation. (Given the time constraints of the debate, Paul’s omission is more excusable than Guiliani’s commission.)

As Paul noted, it is odd to see Republican politicians so eagerly support the War in Iraq. The Republican Party has a history of being non-interventionist (if not isolationist at times). Moreover, it is a common “conservative" critique of government activism to address unintended or secondary policy consequences—e.g., that subsidizing unemployment, poverty, and out-of-wedlock births will tend to yield more of that which is subsidized. In the context of foreign policy, the same critique is often called “blowback”—the idea that what we do will probably cause negative ripple-effects. Failure to acknowledge the potential for “blowback” runs counter to standard conservative arguments.

Paul’s position is also more clearly “constitutional”—in respecting the Founding Fathers’ desire to avoid “foreign entanglements”. In the debate, Paul cited the American government’s meddling in Iran in 1953—to continue BP’s 93% take on oil profits when President Mossadegh wanted them to be split 50/50. Eisenhower’s CIA arranged a coup and installed the Shah of Iran as leader, eventually leading to the famous events of 1979—the takeover of the U.S. Embassy and the taking of hostages in Tehran.

In trying to justify his attacks, Osama bin Laden has cited some of our foreign policy initiatives, including U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, bombing and sanctions of Iraq, and U.S. support for Israel. We either dismiss this as a convenient rationalization for the true reason (he just hates us) or we acknowledge the potential connections between what our policymakers do and what others do to us in response.

Interestingly, before the War with Iraq began, conservative Pat Buchanan predicted this state of affairs: “America will not be defeated by an Arab pariah state with an obsolete air force, a dozen 400-mile missiles, a population a tenth of ours, an economy 1% of ours, and neither satellites nor smart bombs…But what comes after the celebratory gunfire when wicked Saddam is dead? Initially, the President and War Party will be seen as vindicated by victory…What is wrong with this vision? Only this. Just as Israel’s invasion of Lebanon ignited a guerrilla war that drove her bloodied army out after 18 years, a U.S. army in Baghdad will ignite calls for jihad from Morocco to Malaysia…To destroy Saddam’s weapons, to democratize, defend and hold Iraq together, U.S. troops will be tied down for decades…a militant Islam that holds in thrall scores of millions of true believers will never accept George Bush dictating the destiny of the Islamic world.”

It is naïve to dismiss either theory out-of-hand. We should prepare as if our enemies hate us irrationally. But we should also think about our interventions as if others will respond out of ignorance, pride, or perceived self-defense.

See: Jeff/New Albany Tribune for the print version: