I’ve been following the arguments in the Beinart-Drum-Atois-Yglesias exchange. While I haven’t seen Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, neither do I watch Fox News, so I’m avoiding both extremes. I can say the same for Moveon.org, though I have considered joining the organization or some part or parcel of the Democratic Party – so I can say I’m “a card carrying member”. That term is loaded with innuendo for those who remember the Communist scare of the fifties and sixties.
And as a segue into my point, the argument over who is tough and soft on terror may find further meaning in the same argument over who was tough and soft on Communism. This seems to be the heart of the argument laid down by Beinart in his article in the New Republic Online and then commented on by the other bloggers listed above.
Peace was the worst enemy of Communism. While it is true that the use of military force for containment and the threat of mutual destruction kept the Cold War from getting hot, it did not defeat Communism. It was peace that brought down Communism. It could not measure up in the light of day that peace provided. In the last quarter of the previous century, if we had been at war or at an agitated state, there might still be a Soviet Union and a threat of Communist totalitarianism, today.
Any policy that was slanted toward peace (such as the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT)) benefited the countries that had free economies more so than those that had planned economies, because without the threat of war the Soviets had no excuse for not providing those conspicuous consumer goods we’ve come to love so much. But the waste and inefficiencies of central planning could not get the raw materials to the factories and then to the market. Long lines became the norm in the Soviet Union even during times of peace. The difference in the standard of living whether you measure it by per capita wealth or income or the conditions for the lowest ranks within in either society or the opportunity to move up the economic latter, it was always better in the countries with free markets.
Third world, developing countries took notice and choose to side with the west. The spread of Communism was not only contained by a succession of Presidential doctrines but by its own shortcomings. At first the Communist lost influence abroad and then they lost sway with those at home. Because there was world peace and there was no excuse to crack down for national defense, the people rose up and knocked down the wall and the Communist governments fell.
And as it turned our, we Americans had more to fear for our freedom from the anti-communist movement than from the Communist. The fear of the red scare and the charge of “pinko” or fellow-traveler could be a career ender. Blacklisting raised its ugly head and the country that brags of being the freest was not all that free for some.
The U.S. involvement in Vietnam was the result of the doctrine of containment and the political fear of being soft on Communism. A war for independence was labeled another domino in the Domino Theory of Monolithic Communism and a few troops went in. And then it escalated and more troops were needed. Unlike our current occupation of Iraq in which the State Department tried to warn what has come to pass, experts on Southeast Asia area had already been purged from the department’s ranks due to the red scare and the political cleansing of the 1950’s. The best experts were gone due to their red taint and the ones left dared not speak up for fear of being labeled “soft on Communism”, and thus, we became involved in a war in which we could never truly win.
While the Communists took over Vietnam and are in control, Communism as a form of any future government anywhere else is gravely in doubt. Free markets is the catch phase for future development. We lost that war in Vietnam but we won the greater war for the world. And while we stayed free because we were tough, we won because we were soft. We chose peace when we could, and peace is what defeated the red menace.
Now the question at hand is whether the war against terror is the same as the war against Communism. Should liberals declare they are tough on terrorism and disavow any connection to being soft on terror? If being soft on Communism is what won that war does that mean being soft on terrorism would win that war? I guess it depends on whether terrorism like Communism is subject to the same weaknesses. Could a peaceful, non-belligerent attitude toward terror defeat it in the long run? Does turning the other cheek and going the extra mile not only give you points for heaven but weakens and defeats terrorism eventually?
If terrorism suffers the same weakness as Communism, we could fight it on two fronts. First, containment: like Communism we must prevent the spread of terrorism. This is the tough on terrorism part. We will have to endure the tight security at airports and elsewhere, as weak spots are located. While I worry about intrusion into my privacy and the possibility that once the government gets its nose in my private life, I may have to learn to live with it from now on. And of course like the anti-communist forces in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the name-calling and finger-pointing may affect me more than any terrorist act. The paranoia of the right and their reaction to it has no bounds.
Included in the tough approach is the threat and use of military intervention. However, this aspect carries the heaviest burden of a major strategic error both for when it should be done and when it should not. If Iraq is a mistake, then we will be tied down for several years – if not even longer – and will be ineffective in containment in other areas. One theory of government policy is that once a policy is enacted, it develops a life of its own. While the invasion of Iraq may have been a pet strategy of the Necons in the Defense Department, now that it has occurred, they really no longer own it. It owns itself. They no longer control it but are responding to the situations as they arise like the rest of the world. They may become, if not already, like Lyndon Johnson’s description of his Vietnam situation: “I feel like a hitchhiker on the Texas plain during a hail storm – no place to run and no place to hide.”
Second, and the more difficult, the work toward a peaceful world will cause terrorism to weaken and hopefully die as a means of political statement. This is the soft approach and the means to a true mission accomplished. It means having faith in our way of living. While an open, free society benefits the individual, terrorist can move freely in carrying out their plots, but so too its short comings will be evident in the light of day that peace and freedom bring. Just as free markets was the actual defeater of Communism; free and open societies will eventually defeat terrorism. Remember be tough to contain, be soft to win.