Politics & Policy

Our Moment of Vainglory

A p.c. mess.

We are now making the Afghans and the Iraqis pay a terrible price for American political correctness, and the price is being exacted by our diplomats and misnamed “strategists.” The fundamental error–enshrined, as the splendid Diane Ravitch has recently explained in her stellar work on American history textbooks–is the belief that American political and civic culture is just one among many, no better and quite likely considerably worse, than most. Hence we have no right to tell anyone, here or elsewhere, how they should behave.

This leads inevitably to one of Jerry Bremer’s favorite dicta, which is that the United States policy in Iraq must be “even-handed.” We will not support one party, or group, or faction, against the others. We’re not going to take sides. We will manage things in such a way that all Iraqis will have a fair shot at political participation, and then we will let the Iraqis decide what they want.

That doctrine is lethal to freedom in the Middle East, where none of the many active tyrants in the region has the slightest interest in even-handedness. The tyrants want to survive, and if at all possible, to win. They do not want free societies or polities in Iraq and Afghanistan, because they fear the spread of freedom to their own countries, which would spell their doom. So they are feverishly supporting their own tyrannical kind under the benevolent noses of American overseers. The Saudis, Iranians, Syrians, and others are pouring money, mullahs, imams, killers, and political enforcers into the recently liberated countries. They are spending millions of dollars to blanket Iraq with anti-American, fanatical broadcasts from an amazing number of radio and television stations (Iran alone is running more than ten of them), and they are supporting those Iraqis who will push for Islamic tyrannies in both countries.

Our misguided notion of even-handedness is in effect a surrender to the forces of tyranny. We do nothing to support the pro-democratic, basically secular groups and parties, we in fact have long withheld funding (despite laws and appropriations to the contrary) from the Iraqi National Congress–a pro-American, democratic, inclusive, and even multicultural umbrella group–and we have recently acquiesced in legislation in both Iraq and Afghanistan that gives Islamic law–sharia–privileged standing, specifically in civil marriage and inheritance procedures.

No wonder the Baghdad dentist who operates www.healingiraq.com writes caustically “I’m so happy about this, now I can marry and divorce in any way I like. Yay! I’m at the moment gathering family members to go to the local cleric so I can divorce my fourth wife which I don’t really like anymore, and get myself an 11 year-old virgin. All the other small details will be settled within the family and with the blessings of the Sayid.”

President Bush should tremble at the thought that all our efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East will, instead, replace one form of tyranny with another. He should have been outraged when our ambassador plenipotentiary in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, twice accepted the definition of Afghanistan as an Islamic republic. He should intervene to stop (Islamic) legal proceedings against two Afghan women now charged with “blasphemy” for questioning the desirability of giving sharia special status in the new national constitution. And he should insist that Americans not fight, and even die, for the creation of yet more theocratic states in the Middle East.

All this is the inevitable result of the doctrines of political correctness, which make it socially unacceptable to state the simple truth that the United States has developed a superior political culture, one of the crucial elements of which is the separation of church and state. When Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this act of genius in the early 1830s, he marveled that it made both politics and religion stronger and more responsive to the needs of their followers, and he urged Europeans to adopt it. Scholar after scholar, including some of the best of the Islamic world, have recognized that an excessive intrusion of certain Islamic precepts into civil society has contributed mightily to the lack of freedom, creativity and even scientific knowledge. The liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan gave hope that the region’s long decline might be reversed. Yet our own leaders, on the ground and back in Washington, are permitting one of the main elements in the ruin of the region to reassume its dominant role.

Our diplomats are clearly not as prepared to fight politically for democracy as our soldiers fought militarily to remove the Taliban and Baathist tyrannies. Yet both are integral parts of the same war, and should be waged with equal conviction and equal intensity. The difference seems to be that our soldiers had no doubt of the legitimacy of the American cause, while the diplomats and strategists–in the Pentagon and the National Security Council as in Foggy Bottom–are afraid to assert it and fight those who challenge it.

We’ve made a terrible mess. As “riverbend”–another Iraqi blogger–puts it: “This is going to open new doors for repression in the most advanced country on women’s rights in the Arab world! Men are also against this (although they certainly have the upper-hand in the situation) because it’s going to mean more confusion and conflict all around.” But our guys won’t risk criticism for being politically incorrect, by fighting for our values, and insisting that our wisdom be used to create a better and freer Middle East.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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