Saturday, July 24, 2004

Brooks, Brother

I'm hardly the first guy to point out that New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks can be singularly exasperating to read. As the Washington Monthly pointed out recently, a sharp-eyed observer who transcends partisanship and a lazy, uber-partisan hack seem to co-exist under Brooks's bald pate. But the "good" Brooks was clearly in evidence today, trying to take a long view of the war on terror:

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement, not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques, they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

As an ideological movement rather than a national or military one, they can play by different rules. There is no territory they must protect. They never have to win a battle but can instead profit in the realm of public opinion from the glorious martyrdom entailed in their defeats. We think the struggle is fought on the ground, but they know the struggle is really fought on satellite TV, and they are far more sophisticated than we are in using it.
We also need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive. The commissioners recommend that the U.S. should be much more critical of autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our principles. They suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own. If you are a philanthropist, here is how you can contribute: We need to set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce them to Western intellectuals.

Most of all, we need to see that the landscape of reality is altered. In the past, we've fought ideological movements that took control of states. Our foreign policy apparatus is geared toward relations with states: negotiating with states, confronting states. Now we are faced with a belief system that is inimical to the state system, and aims at theological rule and the restoration of the caliphate. We'll need a new set of institutions to grapple with this reality, and a new training method to understand people who are uninterested in national self-interest, traditionally defined.

Of course, by this logic Brooks and those who agree with him should be backing John Kerry this year. While the Bush junta continues to focus on threats from nation-states--as seen in the counterproductive Iraq incursion and their ongoing, infuriating fixation with missile defense--Kerry and the Democrats have been focused on assymetrical conflict since the late 1990s. But this is probably where "Brooks the journalist" would give way to "Brooks the hack," and logic would take a holiday.

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