Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Michael Gerson on 9-11

Here. A taste:

There are still many steps of diplomacy, engagement and sanctions between today and a decision about military conflict with Iran—and there may yet be a peaceful solution. But in this diplomatic dance, America should not mirror the infinite patience of Europe. There must be someone in the world capable of drawing a line—someone who says, "This much and no further." At some point, those who decide on aggression must pay a price, or aggression will be universal. If American "cowboy diplomacy" did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.


Five Augusts from 9/11, in a summer of new fears, in a war on terror that has lasted longer than World War II, public weariness is understandable. And that exhaustion is increasingly reflected in our politics. In a conservative backlash against the president’s democratic idealism. In a liberal backlash that has moved from the fringes to the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Ned Lamont, in his primary victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman, summed up the case this way: "We are going to get our troops out of Iraq ... we’re going to start investing in our own country again." Lamontism—the elevation of flinching to a foreign policy—is McGovernism, and a long way from "bear any burden, pay any price."

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 19 Comments

Gerson’s right. On just about everything here. And the media’s and the punditry’s and the political class’ weary/wary neglect of the Iran problem has got to stop. Enough of this baby-talk about Lamont, November 08, Iraq as a political liability, and did-Israel-lose. After this weekend, the primacy of the big-picture should be clear. Scroll down NLT to read the Stanley Kurtz essay for another adult assesment of the long-term war on Islamofascism.

"Realist" repubs and Dems have to ask themselves--who is the nation going to turn to follow in 2010 or 2015 after a nuke explodes in Tel-Aviv or DC, if all the liberal voices and all the "sensible" moderate and conservative ones have been deliberately ignoring the problem for years? We’re treating the Iranian threat the way several generations of Louisiana politicians treated the possibility of a Katrina.

Reagan and Bush sr must have been on the McGovern train too. People have such selective memories.

on a related note, I see that Chimpy got a terror "bounce." He’s up to 36%. Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

And to think last night I thought the term "baby talk" might have been too harsh.


I think you’re right about Iran, but I’m worried that you believe our military can fix the problem (or maybe our money, if sent to angry and rebellious student groups).

Islamofascism is a problem because it is an ideology that has little (if any) evidential proof to justify it. Rationality is simply thrown out the window in favor of believing things like 72 virgins await martyrs in heaven and Muhammad flew up into the sky on a winged horse when he left this world. If we are ever going to truly conquer Islamofascism, we NEED to focus on conquering the ideology with better, more rational ideology.

This, however, can be pretty hard when our own nation’s leaders would have a very hard time getting elected if they doubted the resurrection of Jesus, the existence of heaven and hell, and that a Jewish woman had a child without ever having sex. While the consequences of such irrational belief (and, by definition [Heb. 11:1], Christian faith seems to necessarily be irrational) are a lot different in the United States than in countries where people are actually killed for believing differently (like in the Middle East), but the fact is that the majority of Americans seem to start from the same premises while lacking appropriate justification.

In a world where one crazy, rich man can kill thousands of people with a touch of the button, I have little tolerance for those who simply criticize "radical" Muslims. Islam is not a religion of "peace", as some attempt to pretend (citing the religion’s name), nor can it have continuous beneficial effects on the world if harnessed in a different, corrected, more loosely interpreted way. It’s simply irrational and unjustified. In such a technologically advanced (and, therefore, scary and dangerous) world, we cannot allow such ideology to continue . . .

I don’t believe the term "Realist" is truly the best term to use for such politicians.

Picking up on what Dale Michaud posted, is anyone else dissatisfied with the realist-idealist dichotomy? It seems to me that it has nothing to do with any sensible political science. Between the `real’ and the `ideal’ are the regimes, and it seems to me that political struggle takes place in terms of them--over them, around them, through them. Just a long-winded way of saying that Aristotle was right, I guess.

Will’s too modest: obtain and read his "Regime Change: What it is, Why it matters." It’s short, its jam-packed, it is a precis of political philosophy and modern political history(including what that idealist Jefferson did to the Barbary pirates), brought to bear upon the contemporary scene. As we say: Highly recommended. Or: Read the whole thing.

Joe, you comment on Gerson and Brownback alot. Do you support their big government christian approach to gov? Aren’t they really more theocrats than constitutionalists?

I don’t think either is a theocrat, unless you simply accept the hysterical definition of theocracy bandied about by the authors Ross Douthat criticizes here. You can, by the way, find my own criticism of some of that analysis here, here, here, and here.

I think that Gerson and Brownback are two interesting and somewhat quirky political figures, uniting evangelical reformism (though Brownback is now a Roman Catholic) and a political outlook that belongs in the conservative family (though perhaps as a wayward cousin, rather than as a member of the inner circle). If Republicans are interested in holding onto the next generation of evangelicals in numbers approaching what they’ve achieved in the last few election cycles, they’d do well to pay attention to Gerson and Brownback (note: I didn’t say "follow blindly"). The closest I’ve come to dealing with this issue directly is here.

But I also agree with Wilfred McClay, who argued in a piece for Commentary last year that the theological hope associated with evangelicalism runs the risk of degenerating into mere optimism if it isn’t leavened by "the constrained vision" of conservatism. (See the Ashbrook site tomorrow for more of this.)

Finally, I linked to this piece by Gerson because the last time I discussed Gerson, folks took him to task for his failure to discuss the major foreign policy challenge of our time.

while they should be considered, they are dangerous to the GOP and the country. They support big government, and care little for the constitution. Gerson is interesting; Brownback just nuts.

Dale and Will, I do use scare quotes around "realist," precisely b/c I don’t think I’m giving up the Aristotelian perspective on this issue, i.e., seek the regime the people are capable of, simply because my agreements with the foreign policy neo-cons are greater than my disagreements.

Matt, I have a lot of little disagreements with you that unfortunately I would need even more words than the following to elaborate, mostly having to do with your opinions about Christianity, and how it impacts our politics. Starting points on your comment about Christian irrationality would be the first book of evangelcial theologian Donald Bloesch’s systematic theology, or an introductory text to Aquinas.

But here’s a disagreement I must address. I actually do prefer the term Islamist to Islamofascist, because with you I agree the root of the problem is the nature of Islam itself. But not all roots are meant to be torn up by mankind. You say, "we cannot allow such an ideology to continue," meaning Islam. Uh, what makes you think "we" or anyone could ever get rid of any ideology through government action, let alone a religious one? And what hubris in your soul allows you to seriously recommend such an action? I’d say it’s a hubris that might be hemmed in by the scriptural tenet that we are all God’s children, all of whom have fallen damningly short in his sight. For it might be that your purely rational, no-guidance-possible-from-God stance, actually requires you to reason as you do. That is, if there is no caring God, perhaps other humans, and especially the very deluded ones, cannot mean more to you than potential threats to your finite life. And maybe this is why like the (pratically) no-guidance-from-reason Islamist, you also wind up seriously contemplating total elimination of the other. Maybe those faith-AND-reason guys offer a better way.

Matt- I don’t buy your bald faced attack on the irrationality of Christianity anymore now than I ever have before. I know in a way in which I can not express and that you won’t admit that you don’t buy it yourself. That being said, you mistake the point. The difficulty of destroying the mindset behind the problematic middle eastern version of Islam (and that may be the only kind that matters) is much greater than any parallel you may wish to draw to the belief sets of American or simply western politicians.

The question you must ask yourself, and then come to terms with the answer, is how do you change the mindset of millions of people? And, more importantly, how do you do that before millions of people in Tel Aviv, or London, or Los Angeles are killed?

I think to those questions there are only two answers: diplomacy or force. The former will hardly rise above a delaying tactic for sake of allowing slower measures like education or popverty to take their toll. The second can only work when a people are fully satisfied with their righteousness in cause and will to succeed. I fear the United States lacks the necessary fortitude required of the latter category and the cunning to make the first work.

Your thoughts?

First, to Allan -

I’m not trying to say I know how to destroy the dangerous belief-system that every pious person holds fast to. All I’d like to see is an ideological movement that isn’t afraid to break the taboo of criticizing religion. We can all tear down each other’s political views, but if I make fun of your belief in Christ, everyone (well, maybe not everyone, but certainly people on both ends of the political spectrum as well as secularists and people of different religions) cringes.

To get on to your questions, though, I completely understand your concern for the slow pace of education. Obviously, even if a large secular movement arose across the entire world instantaneously, it would take generations to overcome the obstacles of faith-based belief. Force will then be needed, as you suggested. The Islamofascists are not going to wait around while education crawls along. While I think an offensive military attack against an ideology is silly, I see no reason (and I doubt many, save perhaps that sad little man Noam Chomsky, would disagree with me) to stop putting massive amounts of cash and other resources into investigating possible attacks on U.S. soil (and I would not have a problem with other nations doing the same thing).

Maybe I did a poor job of understanding and/or answering your questions. Feel free to narrow the scope or ask something more direct (I know you’re dying to ask me what I think of Thomism)!

Carl -

Uh, what makes you think "we" or anyone could ever get rid of any ideology through government action, let alone a religious one?

I didn’t think I suggested that. Maybe you misunderstood. When I wrote that "we NEED to focus on conquering the ideology with better, more rational ideology", I didn’t mean "we" to stand for the United States government. I meant it to mean "the people in this room/this nation/my head/this world". I’m suggesting that YOU write a treatise on the failings of faith-based belief, not the U.S. Government. :)

Total elimination? Did you think I meant "wipe ’em out"? Maybe their ideology . . . not them. If they don’t make a conscious and meaningful swith from their religious ideology to a secular one, what have we accomplished? Nothing. No progress was made, just needless blood spilled (ironically, once again because of religion).

Just a note on the side - I’m not trying to be "purely rational". There are most definitely things in life that can not be reasoned down and made to fit nicely in little logical squares, and then firmly affixed to our brains (although that would be cool). That does not, however, mean that religion is the explanation for such things. I don’t really want to get into this here, I just am a little frightened by your extreme hostility toward my soul. You talk like you know a lot about it, but I don’t think you know much about it at all . . . especially since I think you really, really, really misread that last post of mine.

Ideologies are not people. Wiping out ideology does not necessarily entail wiping out people. Does the hubris in my soul still smell so bad?

P.S. to Allan -

Don’t try to exploit the soft spot in my heart for Aquinas here. I’m not beyond going all the way down there to Dallas to smother you in your sleep.

Matt- I can’t possibly see why you’d think that I’d do something so base as to point out that you love and knowledge of Aquinas flies so strongly in the face of your other arguments and opinions. I swear, one of these days, I’ll help break you of your evil problem (or problem of evil . . .)

Using force to combat an ideology is not silly. It has been a major part of every legitimate war in history. Take, for example, the overplayed example of the first and second world wars. The failure of the allies in the first war to break the German will (that is, change their ideology) led to the Second World War. Or, in a religious context, take a look at the first century Jewish situation. A political/military group caused trouble for the Romans who, used great force to destroy the will and ideology of the people. That group did not exist again significantly in any political sense for 1800 years.

Yes, I’m saying that force (if used properly) can change or destroy an ideology. I contend, then, that the only two appropriate actions open to the United States or the West in general are two use swift, conquering, unrelenting force to destroy Iran and Syria or to abandon middle eastern politics to their own devices. I very much like driving my car, so the latter option might be a problem.

Well, that isn’t much of a question. It’s really just a rambling approach to middle eastern foreign policy. If you find something to comment on about it, please do.

Matt, having re-read your post with your interpretation, I retract what I said, with some egg on my face. Perhaps post-midnight readings/writings aren’t such a good idea. I am quite glad to hear you don’t mean "wipe ’em out," or "gradually remove Islam from the earth through arguments/coercion," and knowing this completely removes my charge of soul-diseased hubris. But I remain very queasy about the phrase "cannot allow such an ideology to continue," and particularly when applied to a religion. Those are your words, and I think they put a bit of egg on your face as well, as they are the sort of words that Islam/multiculturalism apologists can turn against the serious issues you and I both want to raise about Islam’s direct inspiration of Islamism, and it seems, our desire to prod Muslims into finding ways to moderate their tradition. But I apologize, and will remind myself to read more carefully in the future.


Perhaps post-midnight readings/writings aren’t such a good idea.

You and me both, buddy. Thanks for re-reading it, though. We’ve all done that once or twice.

A final thought, Matt, coming from the more faith-based side of my thinking. If Jesus does not return prior, it will take one to three milleniafor Islam to fade away into irrelevance as a religion that does not nourish humanity, and particularly in inter-connected and technological times. On the other hand, because Islam seems very much tied to a collective submission, and one that must be socially and politically enforced, the world may see a mass apostasy from Islam, either to athiesm or Christianity, that comes upon us very quickly. Less likely, but not impossible.

My Christian instinct, however, is that Islam has some kind of status as the heresies of heresies, that is, it might be a particular instrument of the Devil, and as such will remain locked in conflict with Jews and Christians on one hand, and with antiestablishmentarianism (i.e. 1st amendment) and radical secularism (i.e., Rawls, A. Sullivan, G, Wills, etc.) on the other, till the very end of days.

How it will go before the throne of God for those who have committed or abetted Islamist evils out of a terrified sense that this was submission to God, I do not know. I have nothing but compassion for Muslims who find that the Koran backs them into a corner in which they must accept some Islamist arguments, or for those who believe that Islam is the way, but feel powerless (in part due to those Koranic verses--in part due to the "freedom, whiskey, sexy" as the most obvious alternative) to prevent demagogues from using Islam for their purposes of political domination. My compassion is partly due to knowing what it means to feel bound by scripture to hold positions one feels uncomfortable with--in the past, I agonized a lot over the Bible’s barring of women from certain positions of authority, and I do not remain at ease with it; much more serious is the discomfort the Bible causes me by having to take the possibility of predestination and hell seriously.

That is, when you hear of the latest Muslim atrocity, a more humble and realistic response than "they’re insane!" and "we’d better teach them!" is "there but for the grace of God (or, if you want, my being born in my particular historical epoch raised by my particular parents in my particular nation ) go I." I say this, I remind you, as someone who is beating the drums for a (strategically considered) showdown with Iran.

Carl -

In all honesty I think those are excellent final thoughts. Unfortunately I’m going to have to again agree that a showdown with Iran is practically inevitable and I truly hope that your hope of a massive ideological exodus from Islam is possible. While I’ve already stated that Islam and Christianity may stem from the same type of (in my opinion) thought based on largely irrational principles, I’ve also noted that the consequences of particular beliefs can vary greatly. Based on recent history and the modernization of contemporary Christianity, I would much rather see bunches of Christians running around in the Middle East than bunches of Muslims (ideally for me [and, in my opinion, the world], however, they would all be secularists - this seems pretty unrealistic, though).

Again, very nice final thoughts.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2006/08/michael-gerson-on-9-11.php on line 920

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2006/08/michael-gerson-on-9-11.php on line 920