For much of the last few years, and especially the last few months of the campaign, we have heard a familiar narrative. Guantánamo was a virtual stalag, where far more innocents than terrorists were unjustly incarcerated. Given that this gulag served no useful purpose, it should be summarily shut down, and the unfairly detained suspects at last returned to their families back home. The FISA laws and Patriot Act were aimed more at bogeymen than jihadists, and what little advantage they gave us was not worth the shredding of the Constitution.
The ‘fly-paper’ theory of Iraq—thousands of belligerents flocked to Iraq, were killed and defeated, discredited radical Islam, and, their loss of face, coupled with a constitutional Iraq, made the region and the U.S. safer–is a puerile reductive fiction. What bellicosity we experienced with supposedly rogue terrorist-sponsoring states such as Syria and Iran was largely due to George Bush’s juvenile cowboy rhetoric—‘bring ‘em on’, ‘smoke ‘em out, ‘dead or alive’—and his refusal to defuse tensions and misunderstandings through reasoned diplomacy.
The promotion of democracy was a neocon pipedream, in which partly through violence, partly through cultural arrogance, we tried to clumsily project our values on deeply religious, traditional, tribal—and in the end, deeply different—societies, whose own alternate politics cannot be so crudely dismissed by our rather arbitrary standards.
American unpopularity in the Middle East had nothing to do with globalization, westernization, age-old envy or the newfound ability via instant communications to see how much worse life was in an autocratic Arab world than in a free West, but was largely a phenomenon of George Bush’s Iraq War and his neocon advisors’ crude tilt toward the Zionists. “The War On Terror” was largely a construct to wage perennial war, impugn the patriotism of critics, and scare the American people, through false consciousness, into voting against their real economic interests.
I think that is a fair enough appraisal of the opposition’s view of the Bush anti-terror philosophy. And as is true of all theories, we will soon perhaps see the extent to which it proves the more accurate in the real world of the next administration.
So the closing of Guantánamo, repeal of the Bush anti-terrorism legislation, rapid withdrawal from Iraq (though we are already past Obama’s original target date of March 2008 for withdrawal of all combat troops), cessation of pressure to democratize and the end of hectoring against Arab authoritarianism, soothing rhetoric from a new Chief Executive, renewed diplomatic reaching out to Teheran and Damascus, more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and rejection of the notion we are in some sort of war, much less one of a “global” nature, should ensure greater American popularity, win-over our critics, defuse tensions with Iran and Syria, and ensure another seven years of safety from a major terrorist attack at home.
So come late January and beyond we shall see, and we all should genuinely wish the Obama administration well in their promised radical departure from the past, since the stakes are high for us all.