Good Question

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Niall Ferguson asks a thought-provoking question at The Daily Beast: What if the September 11, 2011 Islamist atrocities had never happened? After noting that, contrary to what one might expect, polling data show very little movement of American opinion on several matters related to the war, Ferguson turns around and forgets the lesson he just taught regarding how things have shaken out in the Arab world.

Some time after Bush foils the attacks and our leftist media expose his methods, Ferguson imagines the Arab world catching fire:

The government of Qatar -- gone. The government of Kuwait -- gone. Above all, the government of Saudi Arabia -- gone. True to form, the experts are soon all over network TV explaining how this fundamentalist backlash against the U.S.-backed oil monarchies had been years in the making (even if they hadn't quite gotten around to predicting it beforehand). "Who lost the Middle East?" demands Kerry, pointing an accusing finger at George W. Bush. (Remember, prior to 9/11 Bush favored a reduction of U.S. overseas commitments.) The Democrats win the 2004 election, where-upon bin Laden's new Islamic Republic of Arabia takes hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh…

In other words, if things had happened differently 10 years ago -- if there had been no 9/11 and no retaliatory invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq -- we might be living through an Islamist Winter rather than an Arab Spring.
Has Ferguson not noticed the large Islamist factions in Libya and Egypt? Does  history not offer us numerous examples of disciplined Communist or Islamist factions taking over the reigns after similar revolutions in the recent past? I, for one, am very hesitant to call this "spring" in an Arab world where popular opinion, only ten years ago, was so anti-American. (I'll abstain from commenting on whether the Arab regimes Ferguson calls allies really are, or whether our actions in the Middle East have been better than doing nothing.)

Ferguson, until he starts gushing about an Arab "spring" seems about to make a point similar to one once made by Ayn Rand about long-term historical trends:
There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man's rational faculty -- the power of ideas. If you know a man's convictions, you can predict his actions. If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society, you can predict its course. But convictions and philosophy are matters open to man's choice.
If American opinion is essentially unchanged ten years on, why would Arab opinion be any different? And why would a society of people acting from the same premises suddenly make big changes?

Had the particular atrocities of ten years past not occurred, others or none might have taken place. Different regimes or none might have fallen. Our immediate situation might be better or worse. But long-term historical trends don't change unless men and cultures change. America is mainly pragmatic and the Arab world mystical. Neither culture will maintain or achieve freedom for long until it changes for the better.

-- CAV

PS: Above, I mention Communists taking over revolutions. It should be obvious that I am not worried about that particular thing happening. Rather, it is small, disciplined factions like them (such as Egypt's Moslem Brotherhood) who can win out in the aftermath of blind revolts that concern me.


Today: Corrected source to Daily Beast and added a PS. 


Anonymous said...

Ed Cline over at rule of reason has an alternative history scenario about 9-11 that is worth a read.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for pointing that post out. Other commitments have kept my web presence to a mere toe in the water lately, so that post had escaped my attention.