Politics & Policy

Can We Talk?

Well, we can, but we shouldn't.

This is a war of will. If we lose it, the historians will marvel at how mulishly we resisted understanding the one thing we needed to understand in order to win. The enemy.

In Iraq, we’ve tried to fight the most civilized “light footprint” war of all time. We made sure everyone knew our beef was only with Saddam Hussein, as if he were a one-man militia — no Sunni Baathists supporting him, no Arab terrorists colluding, and no Shiite jihadists hating us just on principle.

No, our war was only with the regime. No need to fight the Iraqis. They, after all, were noble. They would flock to democracy if only they had the chance. And, once they hailed us as conquering heroes, their oil wealth would pay for the whole thing … just 400 billion American dollars ago.

This may be the biggest disconnect of all time between the American people and a war government.

In the wake of 9/11, the American people did not care about democratizing the Muslim world. Or, for that matter, about the Muslim world in general. They still don’t. They want Islamic terrorists and their state sponsors crushed. As for the aftermath, they want something stable that no longer threatens our interests; they care not a wit whether Baghdad’s new government looks like Teaneck’s.

To the contrary, Bush-administration officials — notwithstanding goo-gobs of evidence that terrorists have used the freedoms of Western democracies, including our own, the better to plot mass murder — have conned themselves into believing that democracy, not decisive force, is the key to conquering this enemy.

So deeply have they gulped the Kool-Aid that, to this day, they refuse to acknowledge what is plain to see: While only a small number of the world’s billion-plus Muslims (though a far larger number than we’d like to believe) is willing to commit acts of terrorism, a substantial percentage — meaning tens of millions — supports the terrorists’ anti-West, anti-democratic agenda.

Islamic countries, moreover, are not rejecting Western democracy because they haven’t experienced it. They reject it on principle. For them, the president’s euphonious rhetoric about democratic empowerment is offensive. They believe, sincerely, that authority to rule comes not from the people but from Allah; that there is no separation of religion and politics; that free people do not have authority to legislate contrary to Islamic law; that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, and men to women; and that violent jihad is a duty whenever Muslims deem themselves under attack … no matter how speciously.

These people are not morons. They adhere to a highly developed belief system that is centuries old, wildly successful, and for which many are willing to die. They haven’t refused to democratize because the Federalist Papers are not yet out in Arabic. They decline because their leaders have freely chosen to decline. They see us as the mortal enemy of the life they believe Allah commands. Their demurral is wrong, but it is principled, not ignorant. And we insult them by suggesting otherwise.

Democratizing such cultures — in anything we would recognize as “democracy” — is the work of generations. It is a cultural phenomenon. It is not accomplished by elections and facile constitution writing … especially, constitutions that shun Madisonian democracy for the State Department’s preferred establishment of Islam and its adhesive sharia law as the state religion.

Elections, in fact, play to the strengths of Islamic terrorists. Jihadists are confident, intimidating, and rigorously disciplined. They are thus certain to thrive in the chaos of nascent “democracies.” Consequently, it should be unsurprising to anyone with a shred of common sense that terrorist organizations are ascendant in the new governments of Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

So now comes James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, riding in on its bipartisan white horse to save the day. The democracy project having failed, this blue-ribbon panel’s solution is: Let’s talk.

Let’s talk with our enemies, Iran and Syria. Let’s talk with terror abettors as if they were good guys — just like us. As if they were just concerned neighbors trying to stop the bloodshed in Iraq … instead of the dons who’ve been commanding it all along.

Someone, please explain something to me: How does it follow that, because Islamic cultures reject democracy, we somehow need to talk to Iran and Syria?

What earthly logic that supports talking with these Islamic terrorists would not also support negotiating with al Qaeda — a demarche not even a Kennedy School grad would dare propose?

There’s none.

When I grew up in The Bronx, there were street gangs. You mostly stayed away from them, and, if you really had to, you fought with them. But I never remember anyone saying, “Gee, maybe if we just talk with them …”

Nor do I remember, in two decades as a prosecutor, anyone saying, “Y’know, maybe if we just talk with these Mafia guys, we could achieve some kind of understanding …”

Sitting down with evil legitimizes evil. As a practical matter, all it accomplishes is to convey weakness. This spring — after trumpeting the Bush Doctrine’s “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” slogan for five years — Secretary of State Rice pathetically sought to bribe Iran out of its nuclear program with a menu of all carrots and no sticks … and certainly no demand that the mullahs stop fomenting terror. The result? They’re still laughing at us, even as they build their bombs, harbor al Qaeda operatives, and arm the militias killing American soldiers in Iraq.

While our rhetoric blathers that we’ll never let them have a nuke, our talk begs them, pretty-please, to stop building one. And our actions all but hand them one. If all that makes you wonder who’s the superpower, what do you suppose they’re thinking?

That’s talking with an enemy that has us pretty well pegged, while we stubbornly resist even thinking about what motivates him. We wouldn’t want to question his ideology. After all, what would CAIR say?

The democracy project tells Islamists that we don’t understand them — or care to try understanding them. The “let’s talk” gambit confirms that we’re not just studiously ignorant; we’re ripe for the taking.

For our own sake, we need to respect the enemy. That means grasping that he’s implacable, that he means us only harm, and that he must be subdued, not appeased. Negotiating with such evil is always a mistake, for any accommodation with evil is, by definition, evil.

Rejecting the democracy project is about respecting the enemy. Declining to talk to the enemy is about respecting ourselves.

– Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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