Belmont Club

Through the Looking Glass

Alice in Wonderland, the white rabbit is arguing the case of the stolen tarts before the King of Hearts and is stumped for an initial place to start his argument.

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. `Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked. `Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, `and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

Beginning at the beginning is easier done in Wonderland than in real life — whether the subject is the subprime financial crisis or international terror. Take the global terrorist threat, for example: when did it begin? Michael Totten writes about the difficulties of not remembering where things start:

Senator Barack Obama said something at the presidential debate last week that almost perfectly encapsulates the difference between his foreign policy and his opponent’s: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself acknowledges the war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there.” I don’t know if Obama paraphrased Gates correctly, but if so, they’re both wrong. If Afghanistan were miraculously transformed into the Switzerland of Central Asia, every last one of the Middle East’s rogues gallery of terrorist groups would still exist. The ideology that spawned them would endure. Their grievances, such as they are, would not be salved. The political culture that produced them, and continues to produce more just like them, would hardly be scathed. Al Qaedism is the most radical wing of an extreme movement which was born in the Middle East and exists now in many parts of the world. Afghanistan is not the root or the source.

Totten’s argument makes a lot of sense. But denying the centrality of Afghanistan solves nothing; in fact it creates an additional political difficulty.  If neither Iraq had anything to do with terrorism, as the Left claims, and if terrorism seems likely continue even if Afghanistan is transformed into the “Switzerland of Central Asia” then what exactly has been the point of America’s efforts these last seven years?  The inability of politicians to “begin at the beginning” is captured in the Bush administration’s vague identification of the ideological enemy and Barack Obama’s idea that the war on terrorism starts and ends in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Michael Totten continues:

Most of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis. All were Arabs. None hailed from Afghanistan. This is not coincidental. Al Qaeda’s politics are a product of the Arab world, specifically of the radical and totalitarian Wahhabi sect of Islam founded in the 18th Century in Saudi Arabia by the fanatical Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab. … the Middle East is central. It is not a distraction. It is where the war truly began because it is where most of the combatants, ideological leaders, and supporters were born and raised. While there’s a chance it won’t end there, most of it will be fought there.

Of course official Wahabism will never formally declare war on America and even if they did, which political party in the West would take them at their word? The King of Hearts had the words for it: “`If there’s no meaning in it,’ said the King, `that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any. And yet I don’t know,’ he went on, spreading out the verses on his knee, and looking at them with one eye; `I seem to see some meaning in them, after all. ‘”