I heard Mike Scheuer on an It’s Your World program tonight. He’s a former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden Unit, and a controversial insider to the world of counterterrorism. He made a strong case for examining U.S. foreign policy’s mobilizing effects on the Islamic population, and consistent place in Osama’s rhetoric. Mr. Scheuer talked about how the popular “They hate us because of who we are” assertion doesn’t hold up against the ample evidence of previous Islamic jihads that failed when they used the “who we are” kind of tactics, and the comparative effectiveness of Osama’s call for jihad.
Mr. Scheuer’s points were numerous, sometimes radical, and incredibly thought-provoking. You could probably do an entire university course exploring his tenets, and indeed, he’s written the text for the course to use! But one in particular sparked my imagination. Mr. Scheuer felt that the Cold War idea of trying to spread democracy should be taken out of our foreign policy. We should be an example for the world, but our troops shouldn’t be dying in order to try to turn Iraq into a democracy. He had other reasons to send troops into harm’s way, but Western-style democracy for the world wasn’t it.
Think about it. Can Uncle Sam embrace political pluralism? Could we, as he suggests, just let the rest of the world have their own kinds of governments, and only meddle in affairs where our national interests are imperiled and we plan (and fund) to win decisively? We clearly would still help our world neighbors with natural disasters — Myanmar and China aren’t Western-style democracies. What about the human disasters, the next genocide or oppression of women or a minority — would that be in America’s best interests? Could our liberal citizenry be content to go along with the United Nations majority on those human disaster issues, shoulder to shoulder with most of the world, and serving as a gadfly to the world community, rather than a policeman on the world beat?
Religious pluralism, politicial pluralism — what would the 21st century be like, if the world at large adopted those values? Has the Internet as we know it, given us the tools to live this way? Will there be a political version of the COEXIST bumper sticker? Questions like these make me want to live a very long time, just to see how history unfolds.
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