February 18, 2005

Arguing for engagement over appeasement

Within the Muslim world there is a violent movement whose ultimate goal is to install a theocratic dictatorship in each country worldwide; members of this movement are, therefore, accurately termed "Islamofascists." Every terrorist act is subordinate to that goal; every terrorist act is, by the Islamofascists' calculation, expected to have optimal payoff with respect to the ultimate goal of installing Islamofascist dictatorships wherever possible.

When Bush fought Hussein in the First Gulf War—of course, Hussein had personal ambitions outside of the Islamofascist movement, but the two were allied and had well-intersecting goals—Hussein fought fiercely to save Baghdad. He calculated that, if he fought hard enough, the Americans would decide the cost of toppling him was too great and that the Americans would pull out. Of course he was right; Bush could have taken Baghdad, but he turned away.

Beginning in 1993, terrorists and dictators enjoyed eight years of dovish Western foreign policy, led by a charming Southern president and encouraged by an increasingly Chamberlain-esque Europe. The Islamofascists grew bolder and brasher in the face of appeasing diplomats who understood "multilateral negotiations" and "international law" very well but not necessarily when applied to game theory. The Islamofascists saw successes in Kosovo and in Israel, and memory of the hawkish Roosevelt and Churchill faded.

America almost elected another dovish (though decidedly less charming) Southern president. Instead we elected a gutsy, hawkish Texan with no patience for Chirac-ian appeasement.

The terrorists and dictators, however, had gotten comfortable with the old payoff matrices and were sluggish to change strategy. Saddam and his entourage abetted terrorists, slaughtered Iraqis, and snubbed U.N. weapons inspectors, expecting more dovish, western "negotiations"; what the Husseins got was a swift military response. Saddam fought to the end, hoping Bush would withdraw like his father. Saddam's son understood, however; "The end is near," Uday Hussein told Iraqi television three days before the fall of Baghdad. "This time I think the Americans are serious; Bush is not like Clinton."

In the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden had been counting on a dovish American response. From a Gore or a Clinton or a Kerry, he probably would have been right; America would have whimpered and curled up in a corner, and it would have been another successful strike against the infidels.

But September 11 backfired. It cost the Islamofascists Saddam Hussein. It also cost them Libya. When Libyan dictator Qaddafi saw what Bush did to Hussein, Qaddafi immediately renounced his WMD program, ceased abetting terrorists, and resumed diplomatic relations with the United States.

Most of Europe, however, continues their disastrous appeasement. Terrorists bombed Madrid rails three days before the general election and succeeded in usurping the hawkish center-right Popular Party, throwing the election to the liberal Spanish Socialist Workers Party.

More than anything, bin Laden had wanted to affect American elections. He wanted to subvert our democratic process with mass violence. However, Homeland Security ensured that he failed, and the world's most savage terrorist sent his greatest enemy a videotape.

The United States must maintain its hawkish stance on terrorism. If the world knows that we respond swiftly and proportionally to terrorism, to WMD programs, to genocide, to hostage-taking, the world will quickly learn not to terrorize, not to have WMD programs, not to slaughter, and not to take hostages. If it were important to be hawkish before the war, it is triply important now; if we withdraw from Iraq now, the terrorists realize their payoff, and terrorists around the world will be encouraged by Iraqi success. The United States must maintain the credibility of its threats. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush declared, "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." On December 19, 2003, Libya ceased its WMD and ballistic missile programs because of the credibility of Bush's threats.

America needs a hawkish foreign policy. We need our threats, like our promises, to be credible. We have the military and the economy to support a hawkish strategy; we just need to be careful to ignore the liberal cowards.