Cato: Pretend It's 19th Century

Sunday, September 10, 2006

In the opinion section of today's Houston Chronicle is an unbelievable editorial, "Panic mongers among us couldn't be more wrong", by Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, the famous Libertarian think tank.

His entire column could be summed up in one sentence: "Since the Islamofascists cannot destroy all of Western civilization at once, we should pretend that these terrorists are simply another breed of criminal -- just like we were doing before the atrocities committed in the name of Islam on September 11, 2001."

I cannot imagine a better way to desecrate the memory of my lost countrymen than to counsel the rest of us to accept their fate as a normal part of life. He might as well have said, "Shut up and get ready for your shower."

(Before I begin, I will say that while I agree with some of the individuals mentioned by Carpenter that we are indeed in a world war, I am not necessarily defending their remedies for the situation. I favor a far stronger response to the various state sponsors of Islamic terrorism than any I know of any these proposing.)

Carpenter starts his column by drawing a historical parallel: between Islamofascist terrorists and the anarchists of the nineteenth century.

The closest historical analogy for the radical Islamic terrorist threat is neither the two world wars nor the Cold War. It is the violence perpetrated by anarchist forces during the last third of the 19th century. Anarchists committed numerous high-profile assassinations, including a Russian czar, an empress of Austria-Hungary, and President William McKinley. They also fomented numerous bomb plots and riots, including the notorious Haymarket riot in the United States.
On its face, this is not a bad analogy, but it confuses tactics with ideology. Anarchism is simply the belief -- absurd on its face to all but a handful of leftists and Libertarians -- that we must do away with government. The very tactics employed by the anarchists of the nineteenth century thus not only failed to gain sympathy for their cause, they made the value of having a government even more apparent. Who else is, after all, better-equipped to stop some group of lunatics from hatching deadly plots than the government?

The Islamofascists on the other hand, seek to impose tyranny in the form of Islamic law by attacking the West and then demanding what appear, in isolation, to be small concessions. In fact, each concession granted after each attack is a further erosion of the hard-won freedom we currently enjoy in the West, not to mention a psychological warfare-type of preparation for the next attack-and-concession. The hope is that we in the West will come to regard such things as random bombings, mass executions of ordinary citizens, and riots "provoked" by line drawings as a normal part of everyday life -- along with the practice of making small concessions as a means of increasing our "odds" of escaping calamity just a little bit longer. In other words, we will once again become used to being pushed around while we barter away our freedom in order to "live". (I recommend Mr. Carpenter consider what New Hampshire's state motto means.)

Carpenter, by making this analogy, furthermore blatantly evades the role of state sponsorship of terrorism. If he is to make so much from a comparison between the tactics of the nineteenth century anarchists and today's Islamofascist terrorists, then he should at least factor in the activities of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic states in funding, harboring, and otherwise supporting such groups. In other words, each state sponsor of terrorism is guilty of an act of war the moment one of its client groups commits an attack. Sounds like we have more than just a crime problem to me here. That, Mr. Carpenter, is what the M-I-L-I-T-A-R-Y is for. And it is at its most effective in "total war" mode.

But Carpenter never even uses the word "Iran" in his entire column! Unless the word "somehow" as used below counts:
... U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that there are no more than a few thousand al-Qaida operatives -- many of whom are hunkered down in the wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However fearsome they are, we must keep their threat in perspective. Even in the improbable worst-case scenario -- the one in which al-Qaida gets its hands on a nuclear weapon and somehow figures out how to detonate it (not an easy task) [Maybe this is why Iran is doing it for them?!?! -- ed] -- the scope of destruction, while terrible, would still not begin to rival the horrors of the last century's bloodletting, much less what would have happened if the Cold War had turned hot. There is no realistic prospect of al-Qaida obtaining thousands of nukes. [This is an even more obscene instance of "corpse-counting" than Molly Ivins' famous tally of civilian deaths in Iraq. --ed]

Consider the scope of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and its allies in World War II. Germany was the world's No. 2 economic power and had an extraordinarily capable military -- probably the best in the world. At the peak of its success, the Wehrmacht managed to conquer most of Europe, and Japanese forces overran most of East Asia. It took the combined military efforts of several great powers to defeat the fascists' bid for global dominance. When the dust settled, more than 50 million people were dead. [bold added]
So: If Iran, say, gets a shipping container full of terrorists and a nuclear warhead into an American port, our use of the military for "full scale war" would be unwarranted even if they succeed in nuking one of our cities! Well, then, we should obviously just take it lying down. Never mind that this is part of the Islamist strategy for achieving global dominance by a more subtle means than outright military conquest.

Carpenter shortly after has the audacity to speak of the Russian military's ability during the Cold War to reduce much of Europe to "communist slavery" as if the lack of immediacy of today's threat somehow diminishes it -- or as if creeping dhimmitude or sharia law could not be better termed "Islamic slavery". To Carpenter, the unholy devastation unleased upon American soil by an Islamic nuclear warhead is a "pinprick" warranting nothing more, I suppose, than a "better" garrison state, and the erosion of our freedom that would result somehow isn't as frightening a thought as Europe being reduced to slavery.

He saves his most blatant insult to our intelligence for last:
As we mourn our dead, we must remember that we have more power than our enemies to worsen our fate. For both the dead and the living, we must make sure that does not happen.
What the hell did he just say? That we could "worsen our fate"? And how would that be? His answers lie in the immediately preceding text:
We must recognize that terrorism poses a frightening and tragic but manageable threat to the United States. Gingrich, Podhoretz and other panic mongers do us a huge disservice by exaggerating its danger. The only way the current struggle [jihad? --ed] could ever become a world war is if American leaders followed their advice and escalated our response into a war between the West and Islam.
If the Islamofascists are so weak, then how the hell is "escalating" (against an aggressor) via a military response going to endanger us any more than we already are in danger? And if Carpenter is worried about our waging a war against Islamic states and their terrorist allies, he is only urging appeasement, for they are already waging war against us.

We do have the ability, as Carpenter says, to "worsen our fate". However, we would, contrary to his implication, do so by failing to respond to the current threat more vigorously.

We are in the midst of a world war which we should easily be able to win quickly -- if we would only dare think of "escalating" our response from passive acceptance of terrorism as if it were a natural phenomenon to an unrelenting rain of hellfire, preferably well-televised over al Jazeera's comandeered network, upon a state sponsor or two. This "escalation" would severely limit the ability of said state sponsor(s) to aid the terrorists and make any such state (and any observer with a grain of sense) think once or twice before daring to participate in such a foolish endeavor again.

It isn't "scare-mongering" to call for a can of Raid when one sees a cockroach any more than it is to call for military action when state sponsorship of Islamic terrorism threatens so much as a hair on the head of a single solitary American. It's simply the appropriate response.

-- CAV


Apollo said...

So, what is the dividing line between a war and a crime?

Is it only war when a state is involved? If Al-Qaeda had attacked the WTC with no state sponcership would it have THEN been a crime and not war?

In your post you said that Carpenters analogy "is not a bad analogy, but it confuses tactics with ideology."

Im not sure what you mean by this, if we want to determine if we should treat a certain act as a crime or an act of war, shouldn't we be looking at what type of organization we are dealing with and their objectives, and not their tactics or ideology? Since their ideology can be any ideology.

If the organiztions "objectives" are what determines if an act is criminal or an act of war, then what objectives are an act of war?

And more importantly, is answering this question harder than figuring out if Pluto is a Planet or not? Ok, Just kidding.

I found this definition of war on the strongbrains website,

"War is armed conflict among men, in which a political unit attempts to achieve objectives by means of organized force against other men."
-Andrew Layman

Does this definition imply that only crimes with a political objective(what other objective would a political unit have?) be defined as wars?

A crime is commited when you initiate force against an individual or a group of individuals. And what is war? it is basically the initiation of force against a group of individuals or an individual(possible?). So the concept "war" is subsumed by the concept of "crime". All wars which are not wars of self-defense are crimes but not all crimes are wars.

Your thoughts?

Gus Van Horn said...


When all else fails, consult a dictionary.

War: "a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation; warfare, as by land, sea, or air"

Crime: "an action or an instance of negligence that is deemed injurious to the public welfare or morals or to the interests of the state and that is legally prohibited."

I'd say in brief that it a state does not have to be involved at all for war to occur, although that is the usual context. The essential differences between a war and a crime would appear to be these: (1) In a war, each side is armed. (2) In a crime, one side has definitely injured the other and the injured side may or may not be retaliating or even aware that it has been victimized.

So, there can be wars between two wrong sides (as in a gunbattle between thugs), two tragically mistaken sides, and where one side is clearly right. In all cases, both sides are armed and duking it out. An act of war may or may not also be a crime, but it is thus an act carried out before mutual hostilities that would reasonably be expected to provoke the attacked side to retaliate.

Thus the attacks of September 11, 2001 were crimes and acts of war.

You will note that I never once insisted -- as you seem to believe -- that there had to be a state involved for a state of war to exist between America and al Qaeda. (Although you could fault me for not saying that the anarchist attacks were not merely crimes, but acts of war.) My problem with Carpenter is that he wants to pretend that our conflict is with al Qaeda alone.

To summarize so far: In answer to your questions: (1) "Is it only war when a state is involved?" No. (2) "If Al-Qaeda had attacked the WTC with no state sponcership would it have THEN been a crime and not war?" It would have been a crime and an act of war by al Qaeda.

Next: "[I]f we want to determine if we should treat a certain act as a crime or an act of war, shouldn't we be looking at what type of organization we are dealing with and their objectives, and not their tactics or ideology?" It is useful here to consider a more restrictive definition of "war" here since we are now discussing how the government will respond. This is because the military is used to protect the citizens' rights against aggressors, usually foreign, (in what the term "war" normally refers to) who seek to overthrow the government. THAT objective determines whether we treat a criminal act as an act of war. (This also answers your next question.)

This would jibe with the definition of war you bring up and shows that war is not subsumed by the concept "crime" -- nor are all acts of war crimes if the attacking party does so in defense of individual rights.

Hope that helps.


Apollo said...

"This would jibe with the definition of war you bring up and shows that war is not subsumed by the concept "crime" -- nor are all acts of war crimes if the attacking party does so in defense of individual rights."

Thanks for responding,

Actually, I said "-All wars which are not wars of self-defense are crimes- but not all crimes are wars."

And if you define a crime as the violation of individual rights, how can a war that is not in self defence not be a crime?

Gus Van Horn said...


Conceivably, a country could be duped (diplomatically or through deception of ints intelligence apparatus) into entering a war against a non-threatening country.