Max Boot is a good historian. On Islam, I often disagree with him, finding in his work the wishful thinking common among Islamic Democracy Project enthusiasts. Still, he is thoughtful and civil, so one always expects to learn something from reading him. It was therefore jarring to read his smug attempt to drum Diana West out of the conservative movement. Boot seems to see himself as William F. Buckley Jr. and West as the John Birch Society. If you’re going to play that game, you’d better be right. Boot is dead wrong.
Boot’s attack on West is an effort to defend a surpassingly foolish statement in which Gen. David Petraeus cast Israel as the source of all America’s woes in the Middle East. To his great discredit, the general — in a Clintonesque fashion which, as we shall see, is probably not a coincidence — simultaneously denied making the statement, grudgingly admitted making it while minimizing its significance, and accused West and others of misrepresenting his views. In fact, the general’s critics quoted his words at length, placed them in unmistakable context, and drew from them the same commonsense conclusion drawn by Israel’s gleeful critics — for whom Petraeus is the hero of the moment.
THE HONEST BROKER
As head of Central Command, General Petraeus’s area of responsibility includes Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. That is, CENTCOM is the U.S. military’s bridge to the Muslim umma, much of which despises America. The vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about that. It is Islam’s problem, not ours — we’re not dying to be loved by a dysfunctional civilization that produces most of the planet’s terrorists. But for the Wilsonians who deem it worth our time, money, and lives to try to remake the Islamic world, Muslim animus is something that must be addressed — otherwise, they’d have to concede that there is nothing we can do about it, that Muslims resent more than appreciate our help, and that their grand project is thus a fool’s errand.
We need, they tell us, to exhibit a little sympathy. We need to be more understanding of the totalitarian, iniquitous, misogynistic, homophobic, virulently anti-Western and anti-Semitic culture that dominates Muslim countries. We need to project the image of an “honest broker” in the impasse between our stalwart ally Israel and an Islamic world bent on Israel’s elimination as a Jewish state. We need to “live our values,” a favorite slogan of both top Obama officials and General Petraeus. These always turn out to be transnational-progressive values. Under them, our justice is blind: We must make no distinction between (a) a Western-style democracy that permits Muslims to live in dignity as citizens within its borders and (b) incorrigibles who make no secret of desiring that democracy’s annihilation and who consider mass murder to be legitimate resistance.
General Petraeus is a uniquely gifted warrior and intellect. He is also a major enthusiast of the Islamic Democracy Project. As Mark Bowden’s revealing profile in Vanity Fair recounts, the general’s embrace of nation-building put him at odds with the Bush administration, which initially was resistant to the concept of a long-term civil-society project in Iraq. And that’s what Petraeus’s counter-insurgency theory is: a civil-society strategy for an America that no longer believes we have to defeat our enemies first, that pretends most of our enemies are actually our friends, and that thinks we not only owe the world another Marshall Plan but one that starts in 1944 instead of 1947. Bowden notes that Petraeus “called for more reconstruction projects, more cultural sensitivity, and more partnership with the State Department and other civilian agencies.” In his approach, Islam is not a daunting challenge to us but a valuable asset. The State Department with which he anxiously partners is the institution of government foremost dedicated to the view that we must be absolute neutrals in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. No material distinction is to be drawn between one side’s construction of housing and the other’s suicide bombings.