Monday, February 07, 2005

Contra Kinsley

I admire but disagree with Michael Kinsley’s Sunday column on Bush the Thinker. His argument is this: Bush, contrary to Kinsley’s own preconceptions, has been growing intellectually, as proved by his State of the Union and inaugural addresses. In particular, Kinsley believes Bush is parting ways with his neocon tutors by blaming terrorism on tyranny, an argument Kinsley characterizes as a variation on the old “root-causes” school of crime, which said that crime was caused by poverty and other social disorders that schooled would-be good citizens in cruelty and unfairness. Kinsley quotes Bush saying: “The peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror.” Kinsley goes on to compare Bush’s insight here with one of Emma Goldman’s that, “terrorism . . . is inevitable so long as tyranny continues, for it is not the terrorists that are to be blamed, but the tyrants who are responsible.” True, Bush is looking into despair and poverty and the crutely of tyranny for the causes of terrorism, but this is not the same as arguing that the only way to address terrorism is by addressing tyranny. Which is far more like what the root-causes school of criminology, which, like Goldman, viewed the criminal as the victim and policing and other anti-crime activities as pointless or worse. Bush, as evidenced by his worldwide manhunt for Osama bin Laden and other leading terrorists, believes in going after terrorists and holding them personally responsible for their actions. Thus one expects that no hard-luck story about a tough childhood is going to save Osama once Bush gets his hands on him.

What I admire about Kinsley’s editorial is that it focuses on an important development in Bush’s thinking even if he incorrectly categorizes the idea. Bush’s insight int tyranny breeding terrorists seems to me be much more in line with classical political philosophy’s understanding that different regimes breed different human types. A regime that rules by fear (Taliban, Saddam), a regime that proceeds on the whims of one powerful individual (Saddam), a regime that teaches cruelty to its citizens by placing its own hunger for blood and feuding over the good of the people—these are regimes that people that success consists in becoming your own trader in fear and violence and treating like nothing the hopes and dreams of thousands, if not millions, of other people. Not all tyrannies breed terrorists, but all breed individuals who know little about politics or power that isn’t learned through fear, cruelty, and the casual indifference of a government that has little to do with the consent, well-being, or rights of the governed.

In understanding this, Bush is not falling for some overheated ‘60s notion about how the system's corrupt while the so-called bad guys are innocent. Rather he is absorbing a set of insights that goes back to Machievelli and Hobbes, and back to Aristotle and Plato.

1 comment:

jwb said...

Huh? What are you working on here? A rewriting of history? A rewriting of the causes of the current sources of terrorism? A new, revised (non-WMD) justification for invading Iraq? Kinsley is a good writer, but his analysis (and Bush's analysis) does not dovetail with the experts' analysis of the causes of terrorism.

From the CIA:
"7) In his speech to the Joint Session Of Congress last September 20, President Bush said of the war on terror that "...[I]t will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." In your opinion, how long will it take to obtain this objective?

While we are striking major blows against al-Qa'ida--the preeminent global terrorist threat--the underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist. Several troublesome global trends--especially the growing demographic youth bulge in developing nations whose economic systems and political ideologies are under enormous stress--will fuel the rise of more disaffected groups willing to use violence to address their perceived grievances.

These trends are fueling a growing backlash against globalization itself. Although we view globalization as having been the driver of the world economy in recent years, it has come under attack from those who see it as the source of income disparities, unemployment, slower growth, and financial crises." See

William Christison a former director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis has given the following summary of what he believes are the root causes of terrorism:
"I have six root causes on my list, Four are major issues in the Middle East, and two are more global in scope. On the Middle East, I'd include the Israel-Palestine issue, the continued bomings of and sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, and the anger of many Arabs and Muslims with their own authoritarian and often corrupt governments. My two global issues are the U.S. drive to spread its own hegemony and its own version of unregulated, freemarket globalization worldwide, and (2) the very kind of war the U.S. now wages, On the globalization issue, poverty is THE main factor."

Granted, Christison notes that "authoritarian and often corrupt governments" are one of the causes, but it is only one of the causes and not the main cause.

Citing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan as a source of terrorism gets the analysis backwards. The Taliban is a result of the causes listed by Christison.

Moreover, very, very few of the terrorists in the world today came from Saddam's Iraq. The baathists (the Iraqi insurgent fighters) are fighting for power in their own country and do not fit the definition of terrorist as is used by either the CIA or most terrorism experts. Most of the "terrorists" that are in Iraq right now come from outside the country, a considerable number from Europe.

For an interesting look at the current face of terrorism, take a look at a recent Frontline story:

Thus, I have to say that both Kinsley and Skinner have gotten it wrong.