What, me worry?

I didn’t want to let this column by Amir Taheri get by without comment. Here’s Mr. Taheri’s peroration:

Despite efforts by postmodernists, multiculturalists and apologists of terror to explain (and explain away) Islamofascism, the overwhelming majority of free peoples, especially in the United States, realize that they are engaged in an existential struggle against an enemy that can and must be defeated both on the battleground and in the field of ideas.

The world is witnessing a new type of war in which none of the traditional causes of conflict such as territory, borders, natural resources and markets are the prize. The prize in this war is human freedom. And this is why, no matter how long this conflict takes, the enemies of freedom cannot win.

I have a tiny, smidgeon of a problem with Taheri’s conclusion and it can be summarized with a simple question: if victory is inevitable why do anything?

Victory is not inevitable. Is never inevitable. It may look that way with the clarity of hindsight but that’s an illusion.

The North could have ceded victory to the South in the American Civil War and the Union would have ceased to exist.

The United States might never have entered the Great War on the side of the Allies and Europe could have fought itself to exhaustion or, as was predicted by some at the time, be fighting still.

The United States might have withdrawn back to its own shores (as was urged by its isolationists at the time), ceded Asia to the Japanese and left Europe to its own squabbles, imagining itself safe behind the thousands of miles of ocean that divided it from its enemies. This could have happened at a dozen times, in twenty ways, for a hundred reasons.

The Soviet Union could have won the Cold War: they were winning. Read the Mitrokhin archives.

There are a thousand ways in which we can lose whatever we’re calling the struggle we’re in now. We can overreach and become exhausted. We can underestimate and become complacent. We can withdraw into isolationism or pretend that someone else will carry burdens we’re unwilling ourselves to bear.

We’ve already spent a trillion dollars on additional security since September 11, 2001 and I think you’d be hard put to find anyone who genuinely believes we’re more secure for it. Much of that trillion is in the form of recurring costs. That’s a trillion dollars worth of research not financed, bridges not built, schools not refurbished, and roads not repaired. Another mass attack and we may have the unacceptable choices of massive, indiscriminate retaliation, domestic upheaval, or another trillion or two trillion or five trillion dollars worth of expense. We’re wealthy but we’re not indefinitely wealthy.

This is, I think, the sense in Steve’s recent post in response to Glenn. We’re not doomed but nothing will come of nothing.

UPDATE: Is there another interpretation of John Mueller’s essay at Cato Unbound than that the United States should do nothing in response to terrorist attacks?

9 comments… add one
  • AMac Link

    I tend to roll eyes at the “Left is willing to see Western Civ lose” idea. Unfortunately, reading sometimes cures that notion. Today’s dose of turgid defeatism was supplied by Michael Vlahos’ essay “The Long War: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Protracted Conflict—and Defeat” in the Asia Times; original ishere. The sort of ignorant historicism it relies upon means it’s not for the-faint-of-heart reader.

    Some of the intelligentsia seem to be overly fond of a materialist version of Original Sin. “The US is wrong. What we did then was wrong. Any steps we take to identify our true enemies and confront them will also be wrong, as will be anything we don’t do, too.” Vapid ideas garnished with cribs from a Churchill-lite survey course in World History. Seeing essays like this in print is somehow worse than reading scary stories about Islamists with nukes. The terrorist was never in doubt about which side he’s on, and neither was I.

    My reference is to Ward, not Winnie, by the way.

  • My reference is to Ward, not Winnie, by the way.

    Thanks for the clarification. My first reaction was Winston and I wondered what the heck you were getting at. 😉

    If you’ve got TimesSelect see also John Tierney’s column in the NYT this morning.

  • Here’s a question:

    Two sides are fighting a war. One sees the war as “existential”; the other doesn’t. Is it an existential war?

    UBL very much is fighting an existential war. He completely believes that if his “side” doesn’t win, then we (or at least those members of his side) are doomed to eternal damnation, except those who, through the martrydom clause, get a shortcut.

    The war with radical Islamism isn’t existential for us, as you note. But it is for UBL.

  • What’s more, John, I think that that UBL is right: for Islamists it is an existential fight. I think it is for the post-Enlightenment West, too, but not in the sense of “they’ll kill every last one of us” but more in the sense of “we’ll kill every last one of them” (them in a very broad sense) and our world will be unrecognizeable and less for it.

  • Hi Dave,

    Sorry this doesn’t relate to your post, but I wanted to comment on something you said elsewhere:

    The soul of self-defense is avoiding confrontations not fomenting them.

    Kudos, Dave – you’re obviously the Real McCoy. I started karate in late 2001, which was something my parents wouldn’t let me do because 1) it’s for BOOOYS! and 2) they were afraid I’d be all violent and bitchy, like a certain author’s wife. Since then, I have walked away from three separate potential fights, including a woman who threw a drink in my face. I also snapped the wrist and elbow of a man who grabbed me at 3:00 in the morning in an Albertson’s parking lot. This woman is bantering the term “self-defense” around quite loosely, and if that man had countered that throat choke with a head hook and smashed her in the nose with his elbow, John would’ve been blogging a different tune. (BTW, John seems to know a lot about what his wife was doing. While Krissy was dealing with the drunk, what the hell was John doing? Taking notes?)

    If you would write an entry on self-defense and ways it could be PROPERLY handled, I know many of us women would appreciate it. (“Rule #1: It is okay…to hit…a man…who is trying…to KILL YOU!!”)

  • Thanks, Jennifer. I think that this is the post you’re looking for. Perhaps I should re-post it.

  • Hi Dave,

    Boy, Mueller sure gets around these days. I recently commented on his article in Foreign Affairs




    Subsequently, he had a follow-up in the Foreign Affairs website


    My comments are here:


    To put it frankly, I think he’s a total idiot.

  • “Is there another interpretation of John Mueller’s essay at Cato Unbound than that the United States should do nothing in response to terrorist attacks? ”

    Cato, whose ferocious intransigence helped spark civil war as much as did the actions of Caesar and who committed suicide rather than concede, is no doubt rolling over in his grave.

  • Ah. I’ve seen an enormous amount of this poppycock going around to day, especially from the more libertarian folks. It’s a false dichotomy. The choice isn’t between ignoring terrorist attack as no more than flesh wounds (until the attack that it’s politically impossible to ignore) on the one hand and the abandoning of all civil rights in a mass mobilization for war on the other. The proper dichotomy is in responding in proper proportion to the gravity of the threat or in a fashion totally out of proportion to the gravity of the actual threat (which ignoring the threat entirely actually promotes). Were these people raised by wolves?

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to discuss the present administration’s judgment but to claim that judgment is impossible is mindboggling.

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