The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Bed-wetting vs. Leadership, Part Deux

We shouldn’t minimize the seriousness of the Paris attack. But we should realize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire.

Consider Marco Rubio: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This is not a geopolitical issue where they want to conquer territory and it’s two countries fighting against each other…They literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical, Sunni Islamic view of the future. This is not a grievance-based conflict. This is a clash of civilizations.

America is not going to become a Caliphate, Mr. Rubio.

Or Trump on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe“, saying we might have to close Mosques:

I would hate to do it, but it’s something you’re going to have to strongly consider, because some of the ideas and some of the hatred is coming from these areas…

Or consider that 25 Republican governors vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states, arguing that the safety of Americans was at stake after the Paris attacks. Or, the recent poll by PPP in North Carolina, showing that 40% of Republicans thought Islam should be illegal in the US.

In Congress, the GOP is taking a stand against Syrian immigration, linking it to the current budget discussions with the White House on the omnibus spending bill that appropriates funding for the next 10 months. It, or some other measure, must pass by December 11th. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has sent the WH a letter calling for restrictions on Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US over the next year. Sessions called for a separate vote by Congress on funding Syrian immigration, which is highly unlikely to pass in the current political climate.

Sessions is saying he is for a government shut-down if Obama vetoes the Syrian immigration funding bill.

Preventing Syrian immigration polls very well. Instead of “Immigrants, eek!!!” it’s “Syrian refugees, eek!!!” But there is a legitimate concern among both Democrats and Republicans that we not let terrorists into our kitchen.

The Democrat’s problem is that one terrorist among 10,000 Syrian immigrants will be considered a failure of policy and execution of the policy. We shouldn’t scapegoat Syrian refugees, and reasonable, logical people won’t do that. The issue is our electorate is seldom reasonable or logical. That means that Democrats are going to be on the wrong side of the electorate when it comes to this issue UNLESS they can somehow address those fears.

This all started in the Democratic debate. CBS Host John Dickerson asked each candidate to respond to a Republican talking-point about whether or not they were prepared to call ISIS “radical Islamists.” But he got push-back from both Sanders and Clinton. So, Dickerson attempted to make the argument about why what words you use matters:

The critique is that the softness of language betrays a softness of approach. So if this language – if you don’t call it by what it is, how can your approach be effective to the cause?

You should focus on Dickerson’s usage of “softness of approach”. Here is Nancy LeTourneau about Dickerson’s point:

Once again, the Republicans are attempting to fear-monger us into making stupid moves in order to avoid being labeled “soft on terrorism.” So it’s time for Democrats to get out ahead of this kind of fear-mongering…When it comes to terrorism, we’d don’t need the bellicose chest-thumping we’re hearing from Republicans, we need leadership that is smart on terrorism.

It would be useful to remember what President Obama said to Matt Yglesias about this in February:

…this is going to be a generational challenge in the Muslim world and the Middle East that not only the United States but everybody’s going to have to deal with. And we’re going to have to have some humility in recognizing that we don’t have the option of simply invading every country where disorder breaks out. And that to some degree, the people of these countries are going to have to, you know, find their own way. And we can help them but we can’t do it for them…

Obama went on: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The real challenge for the country not just during my presidency but in future presidencies is recognizing that leading does not always mean occupying. That the temptation to think that there’s a quick fix to these problems is usually a temptation to be resisted.

The American right’s unwillingness to distinguish between victim and perpetrator, or between ally and enemy, does not bode well for our struggle against extremism. Our threat is not just terrorism, but also a reactionary political backlash that could create nationalistic, xenophobic governments both here and in Europe.

Let’s hope cooler heads prevail.


Paris: A Time for Bed-wetting, or Leadership?

From Krugman:

So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.

It is always better to wait a day before reacting to something like the Paris attacks. It’s easy to say “We have to do something”, that our response must be vicious and overwhelming. Let’s call that “bed-wetting.” As used here, bed-wetting isn’t a physical or psychological term, it is describing the emotional response to fear that causes us say “do something!” So put French President Hollande into the “bed-wetting” category. He said that France would engage in “pitiless war”, as if some wars involve pity.

Really? A “war” on terrorists? Does that sound familiar to anyone? We know how that ends.

It is bed-wetting when several US state governors respond to Paris by announcing the ban of Syrian immigrants.

Other “bed-wetting” examples are Republicans ratcheting up the rhetoric, intimating that what’s being done by President Obama has failed to keep the country safe. Some are calling for an increased US footprint in the Middle East, including “boots on the ground,” and an increased role for the NSA in surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.

So, can we see beyond bed-wetting to leadership? This is certainly a time for leadership. But what are the chances? Mr. Obama is in Turkey for the G20 meetings. He has conferred with Putin. Did they talk concretely about cooperating in Syria?

Obama is also meeting with Erdogan, the Saudi king and the Emir of Qatar about how to combat ISIS, despite the fact that all of them are ISIS sponsors. Will anything come from those meetings?

Bed-wetting says terror is about Islam, and leadership is about the bold use of our military. The roughly one billion Muslims who aren’t currently engaged in killing us (or each other) must be made part of the solution through leadership. Yet, bed-wetting demonizes all of them.

So, what should we do?

We need to stop pussyfooting around what we know to be true.

1. We should declare war on ISIS and Al Qaeda. A declaration of war forces us to get beyond posturing and political finger-pointing.
2. It is high time we tell Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to stop funding the head choppers and suicide bombers. We have to say, “One more dollar to the jihadists, and we no longer buy your oil”, regardless of the consequences. The friend of my enemy is my enemy.
3. We must recruit Russia and Iran as allies in this fight. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. This means we must stop demonizing Putin about Crimea and Ukraine, at least for the time being.
4. Europe must re-establish strict border controls.
5. Erdogan’s facilitating of a Muslim invasion of Europe must end.
6. The West must accept that Syria’s Assad is going to stay in power for a while.
7. We must accept the cooperation of all who fight ISIS, including Hezbollah, despite what Israel might say.

Now, none of the above points will be supported by the bed-wetters. Their dependence on the politics of fear prevents them from thinking outside of the neocon box. As Charlie Pierce said:

A 242-ship Navy will not stop one motivated murderous fanatic from emptying the clip of an AK-47 into the windows of a crowded restaurant. The F-35 fighter plane will not stop a group of motivated murderous fanatics from detonating bombs at a soccer match. A missile-defense shield in Poland will not stop a platoon of motivated murderous fanatics from opening up in a jammed concert hall, or taking hostages, or taking themselves out with suicide belts when the police break down the doors.

Posturing about Russia and Iran fall into the same category.

We must accept that there will be Paris-type attacks inside the US homeland. Despite our huge anti-terror funding of the police, the possibility of jihadi success here is real. The Paris model of mostly local French and Belgian jihadis born of Muslim immigrants is also a viable model for attacks in the US.

It’s very human to fall for the ‘we’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. But that is only an illusion in times of fear and insecurity, when we don’t have a simple answer.

Leadership or bed-wetting. You choose.