Somehow NRO is having some trouble posting my full reply to my friend Andy McCarthy. I’m sure it will be fixed soon, but in the meantime, here it is:
Nothing is better than getting honest criticism from a serious person. It’s almost impossible to find it nowadays, and I’m very grateful to Brother Andy for his kind words and trenchant comments. Ditto to Mark. How did these lawyers learn to write so well? I thought they beat that out of you in Law School…
Bush Doctrine: As I remember it, we declared war on terrorist groups and on the countries that supported them. Indeed, we would not distinguish between the ones and the others. There was no democracy component. It was war; we had been attacked and we were now responding.
We blasted Afghanistan because al Qaeda was there, and the Afghans wouldn’t turn them over to us despite the two ultimata.
I was a big supporter of the Bush Doctrine. I still am. But I disagreed with the methods and the “sequence.” I thought that if we were going to go after state sponsors, the number one sponsor was (and is) Iran. Moreover, I didn’t (and don’t) think we had to bomb or invade Iran in order to remove the regime that sponsored the terrorists. I thought we could do something similar to what we did to the Soviet Union: support the dissidents with broadcasting, communications technology, public demands, funds for strikers, and so forth.
You don’t think this is likely to succeed, and you are certainly in good company. But the Iranian people have repeatedly and at great cost to their wellbeing and even their lives showed their hatred for this regime. Strikes are ongoing, demonstrations take place daily, and after what we have seen there since June 12th, it seems to me that the country fulfills all the conditions of a revolutionary situation. By the way, I do not believe that a free Iraq is the mullahs’ worst dream. I hope I said that the mullahs feared the effect of a free Iraq, as of a free Afghanistan. I think that’s true; revolutions spread, even in the tyrannical Middle East, and the Iranian leaders live in great fear. They’re right to be afraid, especially of American support for the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people. Like most people who have looked at this, you don’t think it’s likely. But then, hardly anyone thought the current uprising was likely (I did, as you know).
But then, most people did not think we had a chance of provoking the collapse of the Soviet Empire. And as for forces to repress potential dissident uprisings, I don’t think the KGB was inferior to the Revolutionary Guards.
I almost always thought that the Iranian revolution would need outside support, and urged us to provide it. I am not of the Wehner/Will school that foresaw a rippling wave of democracy sweeping across the region. Rather, I thought that we had a chance of overthrowing many of the terror-supporting tyrants by political means rather than by invasion. I believe, furthermore, that if the Iranian regime comes down, it will have a huge effect on the terrorist organizations all over the world. I think that a free Iran would be pro-Western, would terminate support of the terrorists (Sunni and Shi’ite alike, as well as the secular terror groups), and would be interested in living in peace with its neighbors.
Where is Islam in all this? To take your colorful example, Ayatollah Sistani has expressed many noxious thoughts. But then, he’s of a tradition that suggests that men with turbans shold be in the mosques, not in the chanceries. The Islamists that you and I dread and wish to defeat have a different view of things; they want men with turbans in control of everything. They want some sort of Caliphate, a true nightmare. It is noteworthy that Sistani recently sent a secret message to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, condemning the violent repression the regime has directed against the Iranian people. He’s a fundamentalist, as you rightly say, but he’s not a jihadi.
That 31-year old Iraqi whose claim that his people don’t believe in liberalism or secularism seems conjured out of a hat, frankly. I thought most people agreed that the last Iraqi elections showed the growth of less sectarian parties. As for Iran, that’s a country with a tradition of secular self-government, where the Islamists are now so deeply scorned that I cannot imagine a man with a turban being freely elected to anything. Unlike Iraq, where democracy must be learned, the Iranians know all about it. Indeed, if you read the statements of the many dissident ayatollahs these days, you can see that they believe that Islam has been discredited by the regime. You can hardly miss this: every night millions of Iranians take to the rooftops and chant “Allahu Akbar,” Allah is great. They shout this, not to praise the theocratic regime, but to mock it. For those words are immediately followed by “Death to the Dictator!” who, famously, rules in the name of Allah.
So yes, “freedom” has different meanings from region to region and from tradition to tradition, but in the case of Iran (and, I think, for most Iraqis) it is understood much as we do.
In case there is any confusion about my antipathy to radical Islam, like you I was outraged at the inclusion of Shariah in the Iraqi Constituion, as I had been similarly horrified when Afghanistan was declared an Islamic Republic. But I do not believe that Muslims are doomed to follow a set of unchangeable and unacceptable convictions and orders to slaughter or enslave all the infidels.
I know this is too long, forgive me. But two more points: first, the notion that Iraq is simply an Iranian colony. That’s a real stretch. Most Iraqis dislike their Iranian neighbors. But they have to pay attention to the facts on the ground. We are leaving, and, at least for today and tomorrow, the Iranians are staying. As I have said for years, you cannot possibly have decent security in Iraq so long as the mullahs reign in Tehran, because Iraqi leaders know that the Iranians can kill them. Maliki know this better than most; he was once a member of an Iranian terrorist proxy. He’s seen it first hand, and perhaps he’s even done it with his own hands. So the Iraqis have to take out insurance, and at least pretend to bend to Iran’s will. This is hardly a matter of Islamic brotherhood. Oy.
If you want to give Muslims a chance, the key is to defeat the radical Islamists. Our defeat of al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army in Iraq was a very important event; people all over the region understood that Iran had been kicked between the legs. But if we now walk away, and pretend that our problems with Iran are just a misunderstanding, the jihadis will return. Indeed they are returning right now, precisely as I expected.
We can’t win this thing unless we defeat the Islamist regime in Tehran.
Final note: Afghanistan. If we retreat from Afghanistan, it will be the greatest boon to jihadi recruiters since the destruction of the Twin Towers. They will then prepare the next assault on us, and eventually kill more of us, here and elsewhere. So leaving is self-defeating. I have little hope of a flourishing Afghan democracy in my lifetime. A family member who has spent time there suggests that if all goes well, it might join the Third World. At the moment it’s more biblical. But few Afghans will freely throw in with the Taliban if we show, as we did for a while in Iraq, that we cannot be defeated and we are not going to leave.