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Friday, July 21, 2006


For some time, I've been meaning to post about the idea of "Islamo-fascism." As recently as June 9, President Bush referenced this threat in the context of the "war on terror."
it's really important for the American people to understand that al Qaeda has got an ideology and a strategy to impose that ideology. And part of the strategy is to create turmoil in moderate Muslim nations. And they want to overthrow moderate Muslim nations. They want to have their view of the world. I call it totalitarian, Islamo-fascism. Whatever you want to call it, it is extreme and it's real.
At various times, Bush uses this phrase as a synonym for Islamic radicalism (sometimes evil Islamic radicalism) and militant Jihadism.

According to Bush, Islamo-facism
exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment by terrorism, subversion and insurgency of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.
Clearly, Bush implicitly assumes that terrorist ideology and motives matter a great deal in world politics. Note that he does NOT say that these evil Jihadists have the power to accomplish their goals and implement their strategy.

For Bush and his followers, the radical ideas themselves serve as prima facie evidence of a threat.

I think this simplification explains why many on the left worry that the "war on terror" will resemble prior ideological struggles, used as a sledgehammer to pound domestic political enemies defined as soft on war. The enemy tries to be invisible, after all, which practically demands and obviously justifies absolute vigilence. Some dare call it treason when foes of the administration challenge its war strategies.

As I've noted elsewhere, both constructivist and realist scholars of international relations have argued that states cannot truly know the motives of other states. For this reason, realists argue that states have to focus on the material capabilities of potential foes.

The same standard should be applied to non-state actors as well. Joe Stalin once asked of the Pope: "How many divisions has he got?" Security analysts should demand the administration to answer a similar question about al Qaeda. Just how serious is the material threat?

Of course, President Bush claims that the war in Iraq is designed to keep Islamo-facists from acquiring a state base:
They want to use the vacuum that would be created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, to build a base from which to launch attacks on America and to conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments.

Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and Jordan for potential takeovers. And for a time, they achieved their goal in Afghanistan, until they came face to face with the men and women of the United States military. (Applause.)

In Afghanistan, we put the terrorists on the run, and now they've set their sights on another country -- they're trying to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a terrorist sanctuary from which they can plan and launch attacks against our people.
The question, however, is whether evil, radical, Islamic terrorists have the ability -- not merely the wish -- to capture a state, hold it, and use it not only as a training site, but also as a base of operations.

Consider me a strong skeptic. Conservatives spent years trumpeting the fact that the mighty US had defeated the powerful Soviet state and empire. The Soviets had an advanced industrial economy, millions of men under arms, 1000s of long-range ballistic missiles capable of inflicting tremendous nuclear destruction, and control over a ring of satellite states.

For the right to trumpet al Qaeda as any kind of similar threat is simply outrageous. Even the most hawkish counter-terror experts recognize that al Qaeda's forces are measured in the small number of thousands. It almost certainly does not have a nuclear arsenal and likely does not have a significant chemical or biological capability.

It is time for opponents of the administration to stand up and demand a reality check. Otherwise, I fear that the world's democracies will veer aimlessly from one alert to another over the next months and years, wasting tremendous national resources, ignoring many more serious problems and (re)electing foolish hawks.

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