The Long View 2004-03-18: Terror-War Spin; Good Faith & Credit

In retrospect, al-Qaeda's [only] accomplishment was convincing us they mattered.


Terror-War Spin; Good Faith & Credit

Since we are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, many attempts are being made to convince the public that the war has been lost or won, that it has achieved essential objectives or that it was a doomed enterprise from the first. The worst of these efforts are coming from Al Qaeda: Islamofascists like anniversaries almost as much as National Public Radio does, but commemorate them with carnage rather than retrospectives.

Scary enough in its own way was an Op Ed by Ian Buruma that appeared in the New York Times on March 17, entitled: Killing Iraq With Kindness. It is evidence, if any more were needed, of the foreign policy establishment's refusal to understand what the war is about:

One year later, most of the stated reasons for invading Iraq have been discredited. But advocates of the war still have one compelling argument: our troops are not there to impose American values or even Western values, but "universal" ones. The underlying assumption is that the United States itself represents these universal values, and that freedom to pursue happiness, to elect our own leaders and to trade in open markets, should be shared by all, regardless of creed, history, race or culture.

Some might question whether America is as shining an example of these good things as is often claimed. Nonetheless, spreading them around is certainly a more appealing policy than propping up "our" dictators in the name of realpolitik. Still, history shows that the forceful imposition of even decent ideas in the claim of universalism tends to backfire: creating not converts but enemies who will do anything to defend their blood and soil.

The reason for the Terror War is that there a is network of Islamist terrorist organizations and sovereign hosts that plans to stage mass-effect attacks against civilian populations in the West. The Iraq campaign in the Terror War was launched because Iraq, the only part of the network that international institutions had tried to contain, was still not in compliance with the disarmament regime, even after ten years. The mere fact that Iraq might have WMDs would not have justified an invasion. The irresponsible nature of the regime, and its hostility to the US and its allies, made even the possibility that Iraq had such weapons intolerable. This possibility had always been intolerable; after 911, it was obviously so.

The chief discovery of the war was not that the Iraqi regime had apparently mothballed its WMD programs: the fact that regime had decided to wait until sanctions were lifted did not make the war less necessary. The big surprise was the rottenness of the international security system. Important persons associated with the French and Russian presidents were on the take from Iraqi oil contracts; the same seems to be true of the family of the Secretary General of the UN, the organization that was administering the contracts. France and Germany are still reluctant to remonstrate with Iran, much less sanction it, despite the fact it has clearly flouted the non-proliferation system.

No doubt it is true that the invasion of Iraq was a blow to Iraqi national pride. However, the armed opposition to the occupation comes from a minority of the Sunni minority, which is irate at losing its privileged status with the downfall of the regime. The actual attacks seem to be coordinated with Al Qaeda foreigners. To describe this campaign as a national liberation movement is a wilful misreading of the situation.

The transformation of sovereign hosts of terrorism is not a question of indolent goodwill: "certainly a more appealing policy than propping up 'our' dictators." People like Ian Buruma have to take on board the fact that very ruthless people are trying to kill them. If the transformation of places like Iraq fails, for whatever reason, then those ruthless people are quite likely to succeed.

* * *

The situation in the Terror War is by no means desperate. However, you might be forgiven for thinking so. This editorial from the March 15 issue of The Weekly Standard suggests why:

A senior White House official spoke privately the other day about dramatic progress in the Middle East. Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds have broken an impasse and are on the verge of a historic compromise on a new Iraqi constitution. It mandates a pluralistic, democratic Iraq when the United States hands over sovereignty on June 30. Meanwhile, as a consequence of American intervention in Iraq, reformers have been strengthened in other countries throughout the region. In Pakistan and elsewhere, official support for Islamic radicalism - and official tolerance for terrorism - are on the wane. Israel is going to withdraw from settlements for the first time in a generation - and the threat of terror there, too, seems much reduced. There are even signs that the Europeans may actually help in efforts to reform the Middle East.

The White House official also had a lament: How come these breakthroughs have gotten so little serious attention?...The truth is, the White House isn't trying very hard.

The Administration's policy in the Terror War is both coherent and reasonably successful (perhaps because, if you believe The Onion, it has been devised by an evil genius). The problem is that the policy is on a fairly high order of abstraction, but the Bush Dynasty's campaign machine runs on soundbites.

In set speeches, when he is arguing for policy, George Bush has done a good job of connecting the dots in public. Now that the campaign is on, however, the White House is back to his father's "Flag Factory" campaign of 1988. It's as if campaign rhetoric were the only kind of discourse that must not, under any circumstances, contain a thought. It's a shame, really. The dumbing down of politics that the Bushes did so much to promote may make it impossible to defend the current Bush's record.

* * *

Speaking of promoting universal values, The New York Times ran an analysis yesterday of how the Constitution's Good Faith and Credit Clause (that's the one that requires each state to recognize the legal acts of each other state) might work in a situation in which gay marriage's were possible in one state but not in another. The article is, as you might expect, a tendentious argument that a federal Marriage Amendment is unnecessary:

[U]ntil the Supreme Court struck down all laws banning interracial marriage in 1967, the nation lived with a patchwork of laws on the question. Those states that found interracial marriages offensive to their public policies were not required to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere, though sometimes they did, but as a matter of choice rather than constitutional compulsion...

There is no doubt that the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies to marriages; a marriage that is valid in one state is, almost always, valid in another. However, the federal courts carved out an exception for the "fundamental" public policies of the several states in connection with marriage. This was most important, not with regard to interracial marriages, but whether one state would recognize a divorce in another. (Divorces were once very difficult to obtain in most states.) It was easy to tell what public policy was with regard to interracial marriage and quickie divorces; the same is not true of gay marriage:

Opposition to interracial marriage in the last century was in many ways more vehement than opposition to gay marriage today. It was, for instance, a criminal offense in many states. None of the 38 states that expressly forbid gay marriage by statute today go that far.

Considering the current legal climate, it is inconceivable that many courts would find a fundamental public policy against gay marriage if they can avoid it; even a definition of marriage in heterosexual terms might not be enough. Moreover, some people have already argued that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. That's the statute that tries to preserve the exception to the Good Faith and Credit Clause that we have been discussing here. Without that exception, the recognition of gay marriage could unquestionably be coerced.

The key piece of misdirection in the Times article is this whopper:

In 1967, when the United States Supreme Court struck down all bans on interracial marriage, it acted on the most fundamental constitutional grounds, saying that the laws violated both due process and equal protection.

No one believes that the court is likely to say anything like that about gay unions anytime soon.

After last year's Lawrence v. Texas decision, this is exactly what everyone expects, and at no distant date.  

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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