For my part, the belated epiphany came a couple of years ago after reading an article published by Andrew McCarthy in the National Review Online that, regretfully, I cannot now locate. In essence, McCarthy took issue with the proposition that among the fundamental components of human nature was the desire for freedom…an innate yearning for liberty.
Not so, McCarthy argued: many humans – entire cultures and even civilizations, in fact – are perfectly content to live out their existence in servitude, so long as they are secure.
It is the desire to be secure in one’s person and family – and not some esoteric notion of liberty unique to the West in general and the U.S. in particular – that drives humanity. In effect, if there is food on the table, a roof over their heads and no immediate threat of injury or death, human beings will readily adapt to slavery.
It was a jarring thesis that obliterated the primary justification for nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan – a justification elegantly summarized by the great nation-builder himself, George W. Bush, on page 232 of his memoir “Decision Points”:
If we had to remove Saddam from power, Tony [Blair] and I would have an obligation to help the Iraqi people replace Saddam’s tyranny with a democracy. The transformation would have an impact beyond Iraq’s borders. The Middle East was the center of a global ideological struggle. On one side were decent people who wanted to live in dignity and peace. On the other were extremists who sought to impose their radical views through violence and intimidation. They exploited conditions of hopelessness and repression to recruit and spread their ideology. The best way to protect our countries in the long run was to counter their dark vision with a more compelling alternative. That alternative was freedom. People who could choose their leaders at the ballot box would be less likely to turn to violence. Young people growing up with hope in the future would not search for meaning in the ideology of terror. Once liberty took root in one society, it could spread to others.
Unfortunately, President Bush hoped in vain, having bet the ranch on a horse that was lame before it ever reached the starting gate. As the so-called Arab Spring amply and unhappily demonstrates, what is spreading in the Middle East is not liberty but the tyrannical foundation of a global Islamic caliphate – one the people themselves have chosen to live under.
What is the point of spending hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificing thousands of our best and brightest people in an effort to bring the gift of liberty to cultures and peoples who have no desire for it? In some respects, it would be like presenting a Steinway baby grand piano to a psychotic Hottentot in the hope he will immediately appreciate the beauty of Debussy’s Claire de Lune and teach himself to play it.
While Dubya’s strategy was lamentably off-base, it was nevertheless entirely understandable: the only other alternative to nation-building in the Islamic world is nation-destroying – in this case, waging global war against militant Islam.
The recent tumult in Afghanistan drives this point home and, as usual, Andrew McCarthy cuts to the chase:
And where is Mr. Karzai’s apology over the Afghan soldier who just killed two Americans? That is only the latest incident in a largely unreported epidemic: our “allies” turning their weapons on their Western trainers.
On second thought, who cares if Karzai apologizes? Our troops do not belong in Afghanistan. They have given more than enough, way more. So has our country.
If our government believes the Taliban and other factions are our enemies, allied with al-Qaeda to kill Americans, then we should unleash our military to destroy them. This should not be an endless counterinsurgency experiment that prioritizes the protection of Afghan civilians and the construction of Afghan civil society; it should be a war that our vast might enables us to win rapidly and decisively.
But our government has repeatedly professed that the Taliban are not our enemies. If that is true, we lack not only the will but the cause for waging war. We should leave — now. It is immoral to keep our young men and women there as sitting ducks in a place where the people hate Americans but we are not trying to vanquish them. We routed al-Qaeda years ago. We don’t need to defeat the Taliban or waste time negotiating with them, Karzai, the warlords, and the rest. Let them have their Korans and work it out for themselves with the compassion that has been such a Religion of Peace hallmark for the last 14 centuries.
It’s time to immediately, completely and unilaterally withdraw all of our forces from Afghanistan and leave these savages to their own tender mercies with a warning that we must be prepared to act upon: if they export their terrorism to our shores or to any of our national interests abroad, retribution will be swift, lethal and destructive with no regard for collateral damage. If necessary, we must be prepared to destroy entire villages if it means taking out those responsible for waging war against us.
Nevermind nation-building. The time has come for nation-destroying. Does this mean we must engage in genocide? Not at all: we need kill only enough Muslims to ensure that the remainder concentrates on slaughtering each other and leaves us alone.