The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Poker Game

I watched to the democratic “debate” last night and was struck by how similar both Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton's policy and world view actually are. Details vary a bit, but overall, they’re on the same page. The question, I suppose, is whether or not it’s the right page.

As I watched the domestic side of the debate, I got the feeling that Hillary Clinton really wanted to scream, “Barack, you’re either incredibly naive or dangerously disingenuous.”

For example, Obama suggested that rather than designing a health care reform bill “behind closed doors” (a jab at Hillary) he would solicit input from divergence of congressional contributors (gee, that’s a novel idea), and somehow, he never says how, he’ll be able to forge a bipartisan coalition on this extremely divisive and complex matter.

No mention of the fact that Congressmen and Senators are strongly influenced by lobbyists (and that’s NOT going to change, not matter how charismatic Obama is). Some will slant legislation in favor of drug companies, others will represents the medical establishment, more than a few will present the interests of insurance carriers, and on and on. But magically, Obama will bring these interests together and we’ll all live healthier lives.

On the international front, both candidates seem consumed with Iraq and work hard, very hard, to paint the very real successes of the past year as failures. Charles Krauthammer comments on the history of Democratic narrative in Iraq when he writes:
As Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., put it, "Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq." Their Senate leader, Harry Reid, declares the war already lost. Their presidential candidates (eight of them at the time) unanimously oppose the surge. Then the evidence begins trickling in.

We get news of the Anbar Awakening, which has now spread to other Sunni areas and Baghdad. The sectarian civil strife that the Democrats insisted was the reason for us to leave dwindles to the point of near disappearance. Much of Baghdad is returning to normal. There are 90,000 neighborhood volunteers -- ordinary citizens who act as auxiliary police and vital informants on terror activity -- starkly symbolizing the insurgency's loss of popular support. Captured letters of al-Qaeda leaders reveal despair as they are driven -- mostly by Iraqi Sunnis, their own Arab co-religionists -- to flight and into hiding.

After agonizing years of searching for the right strategy and the right general, we are winning. How do Democrats react? From Nancy Pelosi to Barack Obama the talking point is the same: Sure, there is military progress. We could have predicted that. (They in fact had predicted the opposite, but no matter.) But it's all pointless unless you get national reconciliation.

Both Obama and Hillary appear to be in a poker game where each raises the other's bid to exit Iraq sooner.

I for one, do not believe that we can achieve a classic “victory” in that part of the world, but we, along with the Iraqis, can establish a form a stability that will be strategically important. Obama and Hillary appear anxious to reinitiate instability—and in the Middle East, instability is a recipe for an emergent al-Qaeda, a stronger Iran, and many more decades of Islamofascist trouble.

If stability holds (and that will only happen if we extract ourselves slowly), we will be perceived (maybe grudgingly, but that really doesn’t matter) as being the victors by the Moslem world. If we leave precipitously (as both Democratic candidates seem to advocate) the Moslem world will perceive a great victory for the Islamofascists—the “great Satan” has been chased away.

Wretchard of the Belmont Club reacts harshly to precipitous withdrawal, suggesting that local sentiment, even in Islamic countries, follows the perceived victor. It does not care about concessions, apologies, listening to concerns or any of the things that Western liberals believe (against all historical fact) will somehow win Islam over. He comments:
Everybody loves a winner. Laugh and world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone. Which always made me wonder why the liberal response to radical Islam was always to engage in pre-emptive apology and unilateral retreat? It's not just that you die in the end, but you die sniveling. When you could have won by standing your ground just once.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, we never once (with the exception of the Gulf War) stood our ground. In provocation after provocation (Lebanon, Kobar Towers, Blackhawk Down, World Trade Center I, the USS Cole, and many, many others) we retreated. Did our retreat in each of those situations cause Islamists to rethink their strategy? Nope. In fact, our retreat strengthened them internally.

In an interesting side-bar, Amir Taheri reports
The latest analysis of the results [of the Pakistani Election] shows that the parties linked, or at least sympathetic, to the Taliban and al Qaeda saw their share of the votes slashed to about 3% from almost 11% in the last general election a few years ago. The largest coalition of the Islamist parties, the United Assembly for Action (MMA), lost control of the Northwest Frontier Province -- the only one of Pakistan's four provinces it governed. The winner in the province is the avowedly secularist National Awami Party.

Despite vast sums of money spent by the Islamic Republic in Tehran and wealthy Arabs from the Persian Gulf states, the MMA failed to achieve the "approaching victory" (fatah al-qarib) that Islamist candidates, both Shiite and Sunni, had boasted was coming.

The Islamist defeat in Pakistani confirms a trend that's been under way for years. Conventional wisdom had it that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the lack of progress in the Israel-Palestine conflict, would provide radical Islamists with a springboard from which to seize power through elections.

The facts tell a different story. So far, no Islamist party has managed to win a majority of the popular vote in any of the Muslim countries where reasonably clean elections are held. If anything, the Islamist share of the vote has been declining across the board.

It looks like the forces of moderation (and that includes us, folks) are making headway, not through concession but through resoluteness. It looks like AQ’s defeat in Iraq has weakened their standing in neighboring countries. Interesting, huh?

I wonder if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are aware of this trend. I wonder further if they care. I suspect that because it runs counter to their deeply held narrative, they’ll simply dismiss it, and in the process, ruin the gains we have made.

And that’s too bad.