TCS Daily


Breaking the Resistance

By Michael Vlahos - December 16, 2003 12:00 AM

The capture of Saddam Hussein marks the end of another phase in America's Great Struggle with Islam.

Originally it was a struggle within Islam itself -- a desperate competition over authority, change, and the future of the Muslim World. But once attacked directly by a part of that world, it was decided that the only solution to this struggle was the wholesale conversion of Islam to American-style democracy.

Thus, like a cardboard cutout dictator, Saddam Hussein was the perfect foil for this strategy's initiation -- the precise contrast of oppression vs. liberation, of tyranny vs. political liberty, good vs. evil.

 

But the initiation phase is over. Now the US must confront Islam's three competing constituencies directly -- and convert all three. This means not only the radical Islamists, but to the extent that "democracy" also means all-secular law and civic institutions, moderate Islamists as well; that is, all Muslims who dream of some form of Islamic Republic. Finally, democratic conversion means dismantling the elaborate architectures of corrupted rule in the Muslim World, whether they wear traditional robes -- like the Saudis -- or Western garb -- like Syrians and Egyptians.

 

Now, as they say, "comes the hard part." The difficulties go beyond the tripartite ethos of Iraq to the tripartite nature of the Muslim World. If the US were to encourage a moderate Islamist approach it would at least have one supportive constituency among three (see The Six Dilemmas of the Moderate Islamist). But instead US strategy demands submission to the secular from the moderate Islamist, surrender or death from the radical Islamist, and a "just fade away" from the current Muslim ruling establishment.

 

Furthermore, there is no way to achieve this outcome for the entire Muslim World short of direct management -- which we see today in the form of altruistic military occupation. But this is hardly the first such intervention for good. In fact the pattern for military altruism was pioneered in Bosnia and Kosovo. Liberate, pacify, uplift -- we know how to do this, but it is expensive and historically time-consuming.

 

But it is exactly what America has undertaken as its strategy in this war. It is now imperative to showcase working, thriving democracy in Iraq -- and to preserve it. The United States has promised this. It is now imperative to bring democratic change to Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- another recently sworn promise.

 

Promises mean commitments. What if American-encouraged political change comes to Arabia as Islamic revolution? Could the US sit by while pundits declare the emergence of "another Iran"?

 

American-style democratic change means American military orchestration of the Muslim World for a real chunk of historical time, with some Washington thinkers now saying a hundred years or more -- time for much military altruism.

 

But such good work, demonstrated over and over again in the heart of classical Islam only makes the radicals' case. It may even serve over time to build a more coherent rebel movement. Thus, years from now, even a generation hence, the US may face not a gaggle of fighter groups but a real insurgency across the Muslim World -- united against us. Or by then America may have broken Muslim resistance entirely.

 

But with the departure of Saddam the Enemy we have also come to that famous "end of the day," so easy on the lips of cable news talking heads, in this sense:

 

America's strategy and ultimate goals in this war require nothing less than breaking Muslim resistance entirely.

 

Thus, think of Saddam as a loyal American client to the very end, wearing the evil mask as we wished; distracting us by dutifully playing the role of "man you love to hate;" helpfully obscuring for awhile the truly breathtaking nature of this war.

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