December 06, 2004

Items of Note from Today's NYT

The United States has a strategic problem: its war on terror, unlike its long fight against Communism, is not universally seen as the pivotal global struggle of the age.

Rather, it is often portrayed abroad as a distraction from more critical issues - as an American attempt to impose a bellicose culture, driven by the cultivation of fear, on a world still taken with the notion that the cold war's end and technology's advance have opened unprecedented possibilities for dialogue and peace.

Here in Brazil, plagued by problems of poverty and development, the policies of the International Monetary Fund arouse more interest than Al Qaeda's. The violence that is debated is not that of Islamic holy warriors but of drug barons and their private militias occupying the favelas, or slums, of Rio and São Paulo.

In South Africa, the issues of the day are 40 percent unemployment, crime, disease and addressing the problems of a continent that is home to many of the 1.3 billion people in the world who live on less than $1 a day. Terrorism is not the theme of the hour.

The cold war was refracted through Latin America and Africa in the form of countless battles between surrogates of Washington and Moscow. But the war on terror has neither divided nor engaged these continents in the same way.

Read all of Roger Cohen's piece and feel free to comment below. I have some problems with his thesis that I plan to turn to tomorrow night. Also on the blog agenda? The state of broader Middle East democratization efforts. Perhaps not suprisingly, my take is more optimistic than that of the NYT on both counts. More soon.

Posted by Gregory at December 6, 2004 03:51 AM

Blowjobs from an intern seemed more important than global terrorism to America in the late 90's. People only react to terrorism once they are victims of it, which Brazil isn't. I bet terrorism would slide down America's list of priorities pretty quickly if there were no further attacks. Maybe plague viruses accidentally released or a California or Japanese earthquake will seem the huge threats of the 2010's, who knows?

Posted by: PJ at December 6, 2004 03:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If I lived in a third world dictorship with no healthcare, no job and a pretty dismal future, I wouldn't rank terrorism a high priority. I also wouldn't care about environmental protection, interest rates or much of anything other than my daily survival.

Roger Cohen is playing a shell game. He takes a major threat, finds people not affected by it and marginalizes the whole issue. I'm sure during the height of the cold war, the pygmies could have cared less about fighting communism. And you wonder why Kerry lost?

Posted by: Peter L at December 6, 2004 04:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The cause of this confusion is our labeling this a "war on terror" when in fact it is a war on *fascism*.

The Cold War engaged everyone because it was a contest of two competing political visions for the modern state. Whatever one's views on global capitalism, the role of the state, or North-South and decolonialism, those views resonated with one of the competing worldviews.

By defining the threat as "terror," we have drained it of its real ideological content and allowed the global media to continue their game of presenting this as David and Goliath, a global version of the Palestinians vs Israel.

It's more accurate, and certainly much more useful, to think of this as a struggle between liberal modernity and a fascist death cult that is for all intents and purposes not different from the Spanish fascists who shouted "Viva El Muerte!" during the 1930s, or the SS and the Totenkopf, or Japan's kamikazes. Like them, today's jihadists are members of a warrior death cult whose essential objective is annihilation.

Osama, Zarqawi, the jihadist "martyrs" and avengers of any and all slurs on Islamist pride: all of these are

Posted by: lex at December 6, 2004 04:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the test of this kind of thinkpiece is to speculate whether the same kind of thing could have been written in 1984. This one feels this way to me. I can see the same folks from Brazil poo-pooing American concenrs about the Soviet Union's intenstions, and concerns that that American obsession with Communism was causing it to act in a unilateral fashion and angering the people of the world.

Some nations are bothered with terrorism, some are bothered with specificaly Islamic terrorism, and some do not have anything to worry about. Cohen's article would have been more interesting if these quotes were coming from people in nations like, say, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Columbia, where terrorism or retrograde Islam actually makes a dent in their existence.

What really concerns me is that the US and Europe do really have the same problem with islamic terrorism -- and that we view it very differently, and that we cannot seem to make anything constructive out of the differences. Examining that problem might have made for a better thinkpiece.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at December 6, 2004 05:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Moderate is right, if you define the threat as "islamic terrorism" as it was in the 9-11 report, then its clear why Brazil and South Africa are not as intensely motivated. Could the same article have been written substituting the Philipines and Nigeria?

I also sense a dose of nostalgia for the Western unity in the Cold War that I'm not sure quite existed, at least in its latter stages. See France and NATO.


Posted by: PD Shaw at December 6, 2004 08:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We were probably considerably more successful selling the cold war as a world problem than we are at "islamofascism". The USSR covered a great big part of the world's surface, and they had an ideology that appealed to billions of people.

Plus they were willing to spend real money. A third world nation could ask us for money to fight communists and if we didn't give it to them then they could say they were socialists and get money from the russians. Either way they'd get counted as being on one side or the other. But islamic terrorists have essentially no money to put into third world nations, and we aren't putting much of anything in them, so why should those nations pick sides?

Also, we got a lot of "moral capital" from 9/11. The idea of all thos airline passengers getting hijacked into a bombing that killed thousands of people and left some of them falling.... But we've spent it all now. The israelis are still getting sympathy for the Holocaust after 60 years, but 9/11 didn't hurt us that bad and we've displayed ourselves too much as the bad guys. The big communist nations did so much bad stuff to their own people -- purges, gulags, starvations etc -- that we tended to be the good guys by default. But the islamic threat just hasn't done that much, 9/11 is pretty much it plus some minor terrorist incidents in other countries. They just haven't been evil enough to offset our own bombing campaigns.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 6, 2004 09:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brazilians and South Africans resent the United States on one level simply for being the United States ... a rich, successful, modern nation while they are still mired in poverty and corruption. This would be true under Presidents Bush or Gore or Kerry; and was true under Clinton.

America is also profoundly different in that it is not run by Social Democrats, even under Clinton it was essentially a conservative government. Bush likely grates because of style more overtly conservative, and Clinton soothed a bit more because of his new agey-style; but that's only on the margins. The press and populace in both South America and South Africa, Europe are essentially Social Democrats of one stripe or another in assumptions, worldviews, and attitudes towards power.

However insofar as the struggle against Jihad; these nations have made a strategic decision to appease Jihadis before 9/11 and don't seem to have changed much since then. The Durban conference about a month before 9/11 was a disaster of anti-American/anti-Semitic rabbles; Iran and Al Queda have operated for a long time in South America, Europe, and South Africa without too much trouble with the understanding that at most only "jews" would be targeted, ala Argentina's Synagogues.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at December 7, 2004 11:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The world never shared the American belief that the struggle against Communism was "the pivotal global struggle of the age"

The Europeans and the Japanese might have shared some of our views because the Soviet wolf was literally at their door. They were, however, quite content to have America do the heavy lifing in that pivotal struggle.

Most nations were larglely consumed by the same set of domestic challenges all face today. In Latin America nations were either insulated from the struggle entirely or they saw it play out in their domestic politics with little sense of a world conflict.

Even an anti-Communist Latin American or African government did not automatically support any aspect of American foreign policy towards the Soviet Bloc or anywhere else. Much of Africa and some of Latin America was 'non-aligned' meaning that rhetorically they leaned toward the Soviet Bloc but expected most development assistance to come from the West.

Today the functional equivalent of the 'non-aligned' myth is making variously disapproving noises about American foreign policy and strident anti-Israeli pronouncements. All the while they adamantly refuse to criticise any American or Israeli opponent, even those who are terroristic or who are a threat to the 'non-aligned' nation itself.

Believing that there was some idylic era where America had a common vision and purpose with the world anytime after World War II distorts the past and serves a partisan political purpose in the present. Are we to believe then that Bush and 'his' War on Terror had us cast out of some Eden of worldly consensus?

Posted by: Frank Goodwin at December 7, 2004 02:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Richard Cohen is WRONG, and Frank Goodwin is right: the Cold War was considered bunk by the Left; when reagan called the USSR what it was - "an evil empire" - they freaked out and thought HE was the warmonger and that he was fomenting an irrational fear; to the Left the USSR - and most tyrants (unless they were in the USA' sphere of influence - were benign. Only tryants thast the USA used to oppose the USSR were bad.

The source of this for the Left is their embrace of post-modernism and the "pomo" rejection of white heterosexual men; to the pomo Left thwe white hetersexual man is the source of all bad things. All poltical movements which oppose white heterosexual men are good - whether they be feminist, "anti-colonialist," nativists, Islamist, gay, anti-immigration controls, anti-global, etc..

All the Left's anti-USA, anti-capitalist, anti-globalist, anti-neocons positions can be seen as attacks on traditional culture and politics of the West - which has been a traditionally white male enterprise until the second half of the last century.

Cultural and moral relativism are the post-facto rationalizations for the Left's insistence on supporting anti-West groups even though most these groups are anti-libertarian and even Luddite. They fall back on subjectivism and cultural relativism to make what are obviously evil groups (in any universal sense) appear to be "mere alternative ways of living and behaving and judging."

This is why the Left so OVERVALUES the U.N. and international unanimity/consensus as prerequisites for international intervention: the only source of universality for the Left is consensus among divergent appearing groups (nations, cultures, races, genders, etc.).

Proof that the Left's pomo moral and cultural relatvism is in fact morally bankrupt is the fact that they have no basis for interceding to stop genocide when it occurs within a nation - as in the Sudan, or Rwanda - recently. If Hitler was around today, they'd watch him kill German Jews and just shrug their shoulders saying - in effect: "it's none of our business."

Further proof of their moral bankruptcy is the utter hypocrisy at the utter core of theior creed: how could white male heterosexual ciivilization be "bad" (for women, non-Western nations & cultures, etc) if there is no such thing as "bad" - in abslolute/universal terms!? It cannot be.

YES: they simply want to have their cake and eat it to. This cannot be done. And it proves the the Left is a hypocritical and false and useless creed.

Neocons are merely universalists - not unlike FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt - believe that all humans everywhere deserve the same human rights. And neocons are willing to take on burdens and risks to help their fellow human beings achieve their human rights; neocons think it is the duty of the richest and freest and most powerful among us to help our poorer and less free and weaker brothers and sisters enjoy their rights, too.

Richard Cohen is still basically a Leftist trapped in a tired, hypocritical, vapid, useless and amoral ideology. When he and his fellow travellers abandon their pomo moral relativism the will join us in he good fight. until then, I expect nothing but hypocritical sniping whioch does nothing but aid the enemy of universal human rights for all humanity.

Posted by: reliapundit at December 7, 2004 03:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"... 9/11 didn't hurt us that bad and we've displayed ourselves too much as the bad guys."

Actually, it's more a case of we've displayed ourselves too much as not willing to be victims. Hard for the left to work up that condescending schadenfreude they seem to find so comforting when instead of whining we went and thrashed our attackers, their hosts, and several of their fellow travelers.

Posted by: Achillea at December 7, 2004 08:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The central point that the ‘war on terror’ is not seen as a focus for South American and African countries is correct. However, this is not because terrorism is unknown to countries of these regions rather it is because they (along with other countries in Europe and Asia) have tackled this problem in a more rational manner.

What we are witnessing in the “war on terror” is an American over reaction to a single terrorist attack on its own soil. Prior to 9/11 the majority of terrorist attacks on America were focused on its troops and property overseas, thereby rendering these events distant and less of a perceived threat. In terms of the recent masters of terror (Hitler and Stalin), Osama Bin Laden is but an amateur.

The political parties in the US have leveraged the fear in American society for their own political ends to conduct a confused war where the definition of the enemy is unclear. The policy was bourn in haste and is being prosecuted with a disregard to the impact on innocent civilians. The legacy for American in terms of its role as a worldwide force for good has now little or no credibility.

Posted by: John Meagher at December 7, 2004 09:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Achillea, whatever use we might have gotten out of "moral capital", it's gone now. The rest of the world was ready to believe bad stuff about us, and then they saw a lot about us killing random civilians, and airstrikes on iraqi cities, and Abu Ghraib + enough related reports that it didn't at all seem a few bad apples, particularly with the stuff leaking from Gitmo. It didn't help that they caught Bush and Powell lying to the UN about WMDs etc.

I'm not sure whether it matters. I mean, with the world's sympathy and $2 you can buy a latte, but with a 2000 pound bomb you can destroy a city block. It could be argued that it doesn't matter whether anybody in the world sympathises with us, provided they all fear us in their bones. Maybe international agreements are all shams anyway. It's only force that matters in the world, and we just have to make sure we're stronger than everybody else put together and we'll be fine. With our allies britain and australia -- and poland -- we can do whatever we want and nobody can stop us. So it just doesn't matter what they think.

The germans gave up that approach to international relations in 1945. But we're stronger than the germans ever were, and we have enough of our own oil to meet 40% of our needs even without rationing. Maybe we can last a thousand years.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 7, 2004 09:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas ... the Germans and Japanese still depend on the US Security umbrella, otherwise stronger states in the region would be nibbling off territory and other soveriegnty bit by bit. Nor are we like the Nazis or Militarists. No one put a gun to Cairene teenager to make him wear Levis; or forced Beijing residents to watch the Matrix. Naturally the subversive elements of American culture are hated, because the seductive mix of individualism, expression, freedom, and material/spiritual progress in tandem explicitly criticize repressive societies and point out their cultural failures.

J Meagher ... if you mean that South America and South Africa, Europe have made bargains with terrorists in a more "rational manner" then you are absolutely correct. Argentina for example let Iran/Hezbollah attack Synagogues with impunity and secret police assistance, Europe and South Africa have let terror groups operate openly (such as Hamas) as long as only "the Jews" are targetted.

Unfortunately Jihadist terror and it's appetites don't stop there ... we've had a wake up call in 9/11. It used to be that Americans could pretend that terror only victimizes Jews in Israel, or the odd traveling American abroad, or nameless Indians, or Han Chinese in Xianxing, or Thais, or Filipinos, or unlucky Muscovites. However the pace and scope of terror attacks are increasing because those who use them feel that it offers a very good chance at victory in their political objectives.

The next attack won't be another 9/11; it will be orders of magnitudes worse without deterrence. Which American city are we prepared to lose? Use of force shows Jihadists that modern industrial states are not weak (the impression of chaotic, inept Russia or corrupt Phillipines) and that there's a huge cost to kicking a sleeping lion in the ribs. Introducing reality to Jihadists is a good thing.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at December 7, 2004 11:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Rockford, your security umbrella idea might have merit in 10 years or so, assuming we can still offer it.

But at present, if some stronger neighbor started to nibble off bits of germany, the germans would tell them they'd better stop it right now or they won't be allowed into the EU. And the stronger neighbor would stop.

Similarly, when we gave okinawa to japan without consulting the okinawans, japan's ability to nibble that island wasn't because japan (or okinawa) lacked our security umbrella.

Your other speculations seem just as out-of-touch. What do you think you know about jihadis and how do you think you learned it?

Posted by: J Thomas at December 8, 2004 02:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I just finished reading a great book about the real truth behind the CIA, the BUSH/CHENEY, and Tony Blair cover ups. The most devastating terrorist act in history was not the 9-11, it was the rigged voting of million of ballots behind the scene. CRIMES OF THE RIGHT by author HOPE NEWMAN hard cover ISBN is: 0595665748, and is available from:,, and
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