Thursday, September 12, 2002

# Posted 1:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Sontag's latest missive
see Andrew Sullivan's latest work at Salon.com

If you still think Sontag deserves more after a shellacking like that, take a look at Jonah Goldberg's comments in the National Review's 'Corner'

As Goldberg points out, it is extremely ironic that Sontag has chosen to criticize American involvement in an endless war without even mentioning that Al-Qaeda's jihad - a war that will only end with the establishment of a universal Islamic dominion - is responsible for provoking the current "war on terrorism".

The one point I take issue with in Goldberg's response to Sontag is his implicit acceptance of Sontag's point that a decision to embrace endless war - such as Al-Qaeda does its jihad - is necessarily a bad one. Goldberg's decision to list the Romans, the Mongols, and the Vikings as other societies that have embraced jihad-like endless wars suggests that such wars reflect an endless appetite for conquest and destruction.

Now here comes my unique contribution to the Sontag bash-fest:


The United States waged an endless war for four decades in order to contain Soviet aggression. Now, "Wait just a second," you might say. Didn't the Cold War come to a conclusive end in 1991? (As if to reinforce that point, the internet café I´m sitting in has just begun to play "Winds of Change" on its sound system.)

Yes, the Cold War came to a conclusive end. But in 1947, when George Kennan designed, and the Truman administration implemented the strategy of containment, the United States had no idea whether the war would ever end. Kennan suggested that if the United States held fast for 10 or 15 years, the Soviet Union might call off its relentless effort to expand. Yet this hope contrasted strongly with Kennan's own recognition that expansion was an ineradicable element of Communist ideology. (Goldberg might have listed the Soviet Union as another historical example of a society committed to endless war).

Regardless, the United States committed itself to the endless war against Soviet imperialism, a war that could not end for as long as the Soviet Union continued to exist. Well into the 1980s, few saw any hope of the Soviet empire crumbling. Yet that did not mean that the American decision to contain it was wrong. Rather, it was a moral imperative. It was an unavoidable prerequisite of defending our way of life.

Without question, the United States made terrible mistakes in its war against Soviet aggression. McCarthyism. CIA coups in Guatemala, Iran and Chile. Vietnam. Yet the US also learned from its mistakes and corrected them.

Today's war on terrorism has much in common with the war on Soviet expansion. It will only end when our enemies cease to be who they are. While negotiations on specific points may be possible with certain of our enemies (Iran comes to mind), we can not negotiate an end to the war on terror. By the same token, we were able to negotiate specific arms-control pacts with the Soviet Union but never an end to the Cold War.

As such, it may be best to think of the war on terrorism as war in which our enemy is an ideas as much as it is a state or a terrorist network. We are fighting against the idea that violence against civilians is legimitate. In light of the intimate connection between this idea and the ideas which form the corps of fundamentalist Islam, we may find that we are fighting it as well.

Will the war ever end? I don't know. If it does, it may end as suddenly and as surprisingly as the Berlin wall fell. One day, in Cairo and Baghdad and Teheran, the masses may flood the streets with peaceful demonstrations that force their governments to let them listen to the music, watch the films and think the thoughts that they want.

In light of the incredible hatred which the Islamic "street" often indicates that it has for the United States and the West, such an outcome may beyond the realm of the possible. Yet in the first decades of the Cold War it also seemed as if the masses supported the perverse agendas of their governments. In time, they became disillusioned. All we can do is fight and wait.

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