Monday, October 30, 2006

Aid and Comfort

Eight days out from the midterm elections, things are tense. The air is thick with slung mud and bad blood.

As Republicans desperately struggle to hold on to the power they so richly deserve to lose, they're bringing out the big guns against a Democratic party poised to grab the power they scarcely deserve to hold.

A favorite weapon in this arsenal is the accusation that Democrats, with all their cut-and-runnery, are providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Terrorists in Iraq, so the argument goes, are emboldened by Democratic calls for troop withdrawal. If they can only hang on until after November, Speaker Pelosi and company will hand them a golden victory for jihad.

Now, as wantonly bandied about as this argument may be, it has the merit of being true. If the U.S. pulls out of a turbulent and broken Iraq, it will unquestionably be a victory for terrorism—both because the country would likely turn into a killing field (more so) and because defeating the U.S. would be a huge P.R. coup. Of course, there's no guarantee that a power shift to the Democrats would result in such a policy, but the Republicans are more than happy to scare people into thinking it would.

Conservatives and right-wingers like to believe that they have rock-solid anti-terrorism credibility, and only the Democrats could possibly provide aid and comfort to the enemy. That's where they're wrong.

One of the crucial errors in the War on Terror so far has been the Bush cabal's inability to grasp the psychological aspects of the conflict. They've been far better at winning territory (and they haven't been very good at that) than they have been at winning hearts and minds. The reason is plain: they don't understand what they're up against.

This is by no means limited to the White House. These kinds of errors are propagated across the right-wing blogosphere and find their way into FOX News talking points as well.

The first way the right-wing is guilty of providing aid and comfort to the enemy is not even limited to the conservative mindset, although it finds its natural home there. Some well-meaning liberals fall into its trap as well. This is the tendency to conflate the worst aspects of Muslim intolerance with Islam in general. You see it in spades on sites like Michelle Malkin's blog and Instapundit—and, sadly, on Andrew Sullivan's blog, too. It reached its height during the Muhammad cartoon crisis, but it's evident every time some imam says something idiotic.

Terrorist groups like al Qaeda have gone out of their way to frame the War on Terror as a religious war; as a war not just against them, but against Islam as a whole. Whenever ill-informed pundits and politicos use the actions of a few to tar a culturally and doctrinally diverse group of over a billion people, they make al Qaeda's argument for them. Every time Muslims hear that their religion is inherently violent or sick, or that they are by definition incapable of tolerance, Osama bin Laden's obscene philosophy gains a little strength.

Another way in which War on Terror partisans make life easier for the terrorists is by exaggerating the scope of the international terrorism "apparatus" in an effort to underline the threat we face. That's not to say there isn't a threat. There is, and it's grave. That said, attributing all of the various terror cells and splinter groups to one massive and far-reaching conspiracy—turning myriad ragged bunches of nihilists into a monolith of pure evil—confers an exaggerated power onto them. It's a power they would greatly like to possess, and couldn't without our help.

If we in the United States and the Western world as a whole are serious about confronting the problem of international terrorism and geopolitical upheaval, we need to be far more nuanced in our thinking. The problems are too real and too complex to be dumbed down for the election cycle and used to defeat domestic political enemies.

The current administration has proven itself utterly incapable of taking anything other than an opportunistic and cynical approach to the problems of our age. The political opposition shows no signs of being any different in this respect.

And that's election season in a nutshell. Happy voting!
Listed on BlogShares