Dumb Things Westerners Believe about Terrorism: Part Two

Myth Four: The West can defuse tension by seeking dialogue with terrorist groups and unfriendly governments.

Even Deepak knows there are some gulfs that can't be bridged
Barack Obama believed that when he was a candidate. He's wiser now. Call this myth "dreams gone wrong." Belief in reason is a foundational value in the West. It's a key component of what anthropologists call worldview. It's why the West (plus Asian democracies and secular China) pioneer in science, medical technology, electronics, consumer goods, creative culture, aeronautics, computers, and (alas!) military hardware. We believe in the power of reason so much that we have trouble understanding alternative worldviews.

Faith-based and ideological worldviews–including those of troublesome groups in the West–demote or reject the power of the reason. What person grounded in empiricism believes that 72 virgins will greet each religious martyr in the after-world? Or that prayer alone will set a broken arm? Or that it's fine to kidnap children? Or that it's logical to make threats against a military superpower when you command tin soldiers?

But you know what? It's pretty dumb to hew to the logical path when your adversary thinks reason is a bigger fairy tale than Cinderella. Diplomacy is for diplomats, not ideologues. If you're not on the same worldview page as your opponent you must either find some other sliver of common ground, or stop talking.

Myth Five: International bodies such as the United Nations and the World Court can mediate disputes.

Perhaps it's time to call many of these bodies noble experiments that have failed. Economic sanctions have a decent chance of working, but international law is an oxymoron. (See Myth Four!) It always has been. Does it matter if Al-Qaeda leaders are labeled as having committed crimes against humanity? Or that the Kymer Rouge committed war crimes? Only if you defeat them, something that blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers are forbidden by charter to attempt.

Reason can involve as much blind faith as a religious worldview. We treat international laws as if they are  objective standards of decency when they've never been more than a victor's fiction since the days of Nuremberg when they were invented. Classic example: If the Axis had won World War II, would the Holocaust or Pearl Harbor have been crimes against humanity? Nope, but the bombing of Dresden and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan would have been. Don't like hypotheticals?  Since World War II the only Westerners mentioned as possible war criminals are Americans associated with the My Lai Massacre and Serbian leaders. What do they have in common? Americans lost Vietnam and the Serbs the Yugoslav civil wars. The U.S. military prosecuted William Calley for My Lai and has since maintained the position that American combatants cannot be tried in international courts. The U.S. has also extended this principle to its Allies. Don't hold your breath waiting for Benjamin Netanyahu to be tried as a war criminal. On the other hand, I'd not get too comfortable if I were Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

At best, international bodies such as the UN, the World Court, and the Geneva Convention can restore some order after the fighting ends. At worst, they are idealistic anachronisms. In neither case can they be said to solve or prevent conflict–unless both sides are willing to submit to mediation.

Myth Six: The West wishes to bring democracy to the globe.

No, it doesn't. Nor would it if it could. There are legions of terrorist leaders in the world; often the only difference among them is that a few receive Western sanction for assumed titles such as president or king. You tell me what made El Salvador's Roberto D'Aubuisson, Chile's Augusto Pincohet, or Guatemala's numerous juntas valuable U.S. allies, but Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Fidel Castro were allegedly dangerous.

 The West has always been selective in its demonization of "tyrants," so why not just admit it's all about self-interest? In 1946, George Kennan counseled that the U.S. should identify and support "core" nations vital to U.S. interest, and mostly ignore "peripheral" lands inconsequential to those concerns. Then and now such advice smacks of cold-heartedness, but that doesn't mean he was wrong in describing what the West has done and should do. It should surprise no one that the West did little more than lament tragedies in Rwanda and Bosnia, but took an active role in Iraq. It's called oil, as in the first two have none but Kuwait and Iraq do.

Part of the Western improvements in Iraq
The West gets in big trouble when it thinks it can be a nation-builder. Does anyone with an ounce of Western worldview reason think that Iraq is better off today than when Sadam Hussein was in power?  Sure; all those elections have made it a pillar of hope–for ISIS. About those peripheral nations, Afghanistan or Palestine anyone? I'm uncomfortable with the idea, but would the West be any worse off to announce that it's done with nation building and that future acts of aggression against it will be met with indiscriminate force? Elections don't deter terrorists, and smiling boots on the ground don't make populaces embrace Western values. I'd prefer we butt out and let history run its course, but wasn't it Machiavelli who said it's better to be feared than loved?

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