When smart people play dumb

David Frum exposes the limits of his imagination: The Arab Middle East has spawned murderous ideologies that threaten the peace and security of the whole world. You can’t “withdraw” from the Middle East: not when millions of Middle Easterners live in the West, not when the Middle East produces one-third of the world’s oil, and not when you can get from Riyadh or Baghdad to Boise, Idaho, in less than 24 hours. So our options resolve themselves to basically four:

1) Try to find some way to calm the extremists down. This was the policy the US followed in the 1990s – it was the ultimate justification for Clinton’s Palestinian diplomacy. By now it should be obvious that the people we are concerned about won’t be calmed. The appeasement option isn’t an option: It’s a wish.

2) The Bush approach – try to deal with the sources of extremism by promoting democratic change in the region. By curbing tyrannies that foment extremism to justify their hold on power – like Iraq’s, like Saudi Arabia’s – the US and its allies can promote what the president calls “the peaceful pursuit of a better life.”

3) But let’s suppose that the Bush policy fails too. Let’s suppose policy-makers decide that the Middle East cannot be changed any more than it can be calmed. What then? Then I’m afraid we are going to see the emergence of a harsh new pseudo-realism that will in effect try to seal the Middle East off from the rest of the world. Hire new dictators to police the region, lock the people in, and “let them kill each other” as they say in the line at my supermarket.

4) But any policy so self-consciously dismissive will be anathema to the soft spirit of American liberalism. And so the likeliest consequence of a Bush defeat and a turn away from his policies will be: nothing at all. We’ll end up averting our eyes, telling ourselves that we can protect ourselves by chasing down al Qaeda fugitives, and basically forgetting about the whole problem – until of course it strikes again.

This is either incredibly shallow or incredibly disingenuous. We certainly can withdraw from the Middle East. Millions of Middle Easterners can be easily deported, as simply enforcing existing immigration laws and sending home the illegals would eliminate half the problem. The US uses very little Arabian oil and isn’t even drilling in its largest reservoirs.

The Bush policy will fail. It is absolutely doomed to failure. Democracy as we understand it isn’t even in the cards, since anyone who’s actually paying attention knows that a true representative democracy would lead to a one-vote, one-time election of Shiite jihad-sympathizers. Indeed, many of the administration’s champions support the president precisely because they see the occupation of Iraq as a charade meant to cloak the foundation of an undercover low-intensity WWIII. If option one is not an option because it is just a wish, that goes doubly for option two.

We are not responsible for the world. If we try to play that role, it will complete the destructionn of our country as quickly as it destroyed the Roman and English empires. Neither empire was truly bad, not compared with the alternatives, but that doesn’t change the fact that empire and nation-building is a late-stage societal development. We cannot hope to bring freedom to the world while simultaneously and systematically eroding it at home. We must lead by example, not by force.

I fully support crushing those who have declared war on America. Unfortunately, we have chosen to ignore most of our enemies while manufacturing new ones in a stupid and futile cause. You cannot build a nation where one does not exist.