OK… let’s try again

We all owe (yet another) debt of gratitude to our hurricane-battered Mistress of Movable Type, Kathy Kinsley, for diagnosing our server problem, enabling us to comeback… again… with… a vengeance. So, thanks again, Kathy.
So much to talk about. (Well, not really, but I’m supposed to say that!)
I fear this will be a den Beste length post. So be it.
Two troubling themes I’d like to tie together. The first one comes straight from Kathy’s blog, where you can read my “clash of civilizations” comment and Kathy’s response. The second comes from the Unseen Editor concerning eerie parallels between John Kerry and fellow Yale/Skull and Bonesman/war hero/careerist ass coverer George H.W. Bush. And Kaus is on the job to continue to tell us that Democrats’ best reaction in light or recent post-convention polling which has taken Bush from politically dead to back in the thick of it… is panic.
So we’ll lay out the brief thesis, antithesis (sort of) and synthesis and then discuss…
Clash of Civiliations (“thesis”)
Many erroneously believe that the leading problem in the world right now is Islam, or even fundamentalist Islam specifically. But I submit that Islam is simply the latest symptom of something that we can quickly recognize once we throw away filters we have developed as “civilized people”, and realize that our thought processes are by and large aberrational.
Give Attilla the
Hun A Gattling gun and it
won’t be too much fun.
–the talking dog, (c) 2004

Most people in this world live pretty crappy subsistence lives– despite our living in the space age, they are barely living above the way their ancestors did hundreds, even thousands of years ago. But many, many people are rapidly being thrust into the modern era; hundreds of millions are joining middle classes around the world. We are rapidly evolving into the global village– though we’re not there yet.
But people’s fundamental belief structures do not keep up with how they lead their physical lives in many cases. Indeed, when you slice through Hitler’s ideology, it would be very hard to distinguish from Medieval (or earlier) Germanic tribal beliefs, including tree worship, ancestor worship and the like; what made it dangerous was when this mindset was accompanied with first class, first world weapons and logistics. A pathological abnd hateful ideology that in one era would result in a pogrom against the nearby Jewish shtetl, which might result in the stabbing or shooting deaths of, at most, dozens, can, thanks to modern weapons and logistics, kill millions.
Fast forward around 50 or 60 years to the present, and change Germanic tribal to Arabic tribal, and we are at precisely the same place. While the weapons at Hitler’s disposal included a major industrial state and some of the best scientists, engineers and military logisticians in the world, the weapons at the hands of our current Islamist nemeses include the internet, the interconnectedness of the world, very open societies, and high tech weaponry available to the highest bidder, which will, if we don’t successfully combat this menace, include nuclear weapons.
What we have are people who, as late as the mid 20th century, would act out their petty hatreds and grudges by riding around on horseback and camel, and stabbing or shooting nearby nomads or settlements, again, killing at most dozens. Now, with some ingenuity and some decent explosives, they can kill hundreds, sometimes thousands at a time. (Am I saying, btw– that this means Nazi Germany was a greater threat than Al Qaeda and the Islamist extremists? Why yes– yes, I am. It turns out that Hitler and Nazi Germany with the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht and U-boats, and the USSR with the Red Army and hundreds of ICBMs some of which presumably worked, were an existential threat to us all, whereas the Islamists– right now at least– are not.)
That said, what we are dealing with is what I would call “pre-rational” people. In the Middle Ages and earlier, people had no problem fighting and dying for very little because, hey– their lives kind of sucked as it was, and that was the prevailing ethos. We had hoped we had moved past that. Turns out, we left out a few billion people, and some of them (God help us) managed to get themselves stoked up with Saudi sponsored hatred and Saudi money, and formed Al Qaeda, whose mission seems implausible to us, but not to its members. Don’t get me wrong: A.Q. has some “modern” gripes with us– our support of Israel over the Palestinians in anything but an even handed way, our presence on, and interference in the affairs of, the Arabian peninsula, our support of dictators in the region– that we can deal with because we can understand them. But their methods– attacks on innocent civilians far removed from their gripes, strike us as alien.
The problem is they are coming from a mindset where the enemy consists of a clan or tribe of maybe a few dozen people, where everybody knows everybody knows everybody. Industrialization hasn’t caught up to them– except in the weapons and tactics department. But in their world, if a member of the tribe insults them, the entire tribe is fair game for revenge. And that seems to be where we are.
John Kerry = George H.W. Bush (“antithesis”)
The Unseen Editor points out oodles of similarities between Kerry and Bush– not the current one, but Bush Pere. Both are Yale skull and bonesmen out of top prep schools and New England aristocracy; both were war heroes later portrayed as wimps and pussies by cowards and draft evaders; they are distantly related (as is Bush, Jr.) But its not these things– its the fact that both seem to have been political “careerists”– not so much a record of accomplishment so much as a record of having held office– and both seem to be habitual ass-coverers.
Regardless of what he says, would John Kerry have invaded Iraq last year? Certainly not. Would George H.W. Bush? Seeing as he actually pulled back troops chasing down the Iraqi Republican Guard, unquestionably not. Is this a bad thing? I’m not saying that– I’m saying that Bush Pere is a fuck of a lot closer in every way to Kerry than he is to his own son. Frankly, many people voted for Bush the Younger believing he would behave (despite his rhetoric and own limited record in Texas) like the moderate, flip-floppy Bush Pere (Don’t believe me? think “Read My Lips; No New Taxes.”)
Now, personally, as many of you know, I consider Bush Pere (I did once vote for the s.o.b.) to be pretty much evil incarnate– a key player in a rather vast and effective crime family. But as President, he was much more of an ass-coverer than Junior. Junior takes chances. Frankly, I’ve said that he takes them rashly and badly, and as a result, people die unnecessarily and there are other bad consequences– but Junior is not afraid to act– and act aggressively if he perceives a need to do so.
The War on Terror TM Requires Action (synthesis)
All that said, we the American voters have to be extremely careful now– and I suspect the tightly moving polls we are watching are showing just that.
George W. Bush is, frankly, a terrible President. The economic numbers reflect a gross irresponsibility; to cut taxes for the rich at the same time a deficit mounts and a war is fought is just unacceptable, for example. Further, he is gutting environmental and worker protections, and is moving our tax system so that only working people bear the entire tax burden. Frankly, his performance prior to 9-11-01 was unacceptable: no question, his Administration had other priorities than battling Al Qaeda and these dark forces.
HOWEVER… what matters to most people right now is who will do a better job at combatting our new world wide enemy– which, as noted above, most of us– including the Bush Administration– simply do not understand well enough to combat. In tarring Kerry as a pussy, the GOP (naturally) smears him with his record of votes against numerous weapons systems– many of which were also opposed by, oh… Dick Cheney… Not fair at all.
No. What IS fair is to ask Senator Kerry now what is response is. He insists he would have gone into Iraq knowing what he knows now (question 1: then why shouldn’t we vote for GWBush who said the same thing?), then Kerry insists he would have run the Iraq war better and differently without any specifics as to how, and he gives us a Bob-Shrum-ism about firehouses in Baghdad but not in New York or Boston. Well– fair question– and one Midwestern swing voters (they’re out there) desperately want to know: What will John Kerry’s policies be on the war on terror, dealing with Al Qaeda, dealing with Iraq, and protecting this nation against a growing worldwide menace of the possibility of Medieval psychopaths getting their hands on nuclear weapons?
We know GWBush’s answer: crazy wars against the wrong countries. But… John Kerry’s response has (as far as I can tell) utterly evaded the question.
My OWN answer is to apply maximum pressure- military, diplomatic, economic, complete with carrots and sticks– to stop nuclear proliferation immediately. If necessary, we have to buy North Korea’s arsenal, buy out Iran’s arsenal (or at least Russian contracts to provide their arsenal), and do what it takes to get the genie back in the bottle. AND pursue OBL and A.Q. to the ends of the Earth. AND try to modernize the rest of the world to isolate the maniacs (so we can crush them) within their own societies, and THIS DOES mean massive foreign aid, including and especially REMOVAL OF ANY AND ALL TRADE BARRIERS THAT HURT POOR COUNTRIES– from us and Europe; our farmers’ greed will not be allowed to be the cause of our annihilation (and yes, its that simple).
Kerry doesn’t have to give this answer (indeed, its a politically bad answer). But Bush has, at least, thought of an answer. And Kerry continues to evade.
The American people need to have a better choice than a bad answer and no answer. Because if that’s the choice, I think they’ll pick the bad answer. And I’m not fully convinced they wouldn’t be justified in doing just that.