Tuesday, August 31, 2004

War Sketches

David Brooks has an intriguing piece in this Sunday's NYT Mag about "How to Reinvent the G.O.P." I like the historical perspective of it, and heartily approve of the idea of basing the party's identity on Hamilton.

Along the way, he outlines a "New Conservative Platform," the first element of which is "The War on Islamic extremism." This short section seems to me a good summation of the essential nature of our enemy, and a sensible account of what we've learned so far from successes and failures:

The first great agenda item has been thrust upon us. This has been miscast as a war on terror, but terror is just the means our enemies use. In reality, we're fighting a war against a specific brand of Islamic extremism, a loose federation of ideologues who seek to dominate the Middle East and return it to the days of the caliphate.

We are in the beginning of this war, where we were against Bolshevism around 1905 or Fascism in the early 1930's, with enemies that will continue to gain strength, thanks to the demographic bulge in the Middle East producing tens of millions of young men, politically and economically stagnant societies ensuring these young men have nothing positive to do and an indoctrination system designed to turn them into soldiers for the cause. This fight will organize our politics for a generation, as the Cold War did.

The first task is to build a new set of strong federal and multinational institutions to defeat this foe. Obviously the intelligence community needs to be reorganized. The military needs to be bulked up, and public diplomacy needs to be rethought. Somebody has to develop a counterideological message that is more than just: "We're Americans. We're really decent people. We're nice to Muslims."

We need to strengthen nation-states. The great menace of the 20th century was overbearing and tyrannical governments. The great menace of the 21st century will be failed governments, because those are the places where our enemies will be able to harbor and thrive, where violence can nurture and grow, where life is nasty, brutish and short.

We are going to have to construct a multilateral nation-building apparatus so that each time a nation-building moment comes along, we don't have to patch one together ad hoc. In the 1990's we thought free markets were the first things new nations needed to thrive and grow. Now we know that law and order is the first thing they need. We are going to have to construct new institutions to help nations develop rule of law within their boundaries, for if that is not accomplished, all the economic development in the world will not help.