August 9, 2007
Islamofascism and the GOP
The Republican presidential candidates are largely falling into step. Mitt Romney gave a remarkable statement tying together Sunni, Shias, Hezbollah and Hamas into one Islamic threat "following in the footsteps of Nazism and communism." Of course, if Sunnis and Shiites are part of the same world movement, they've disguised their alliance with devilish cleverness by murdering each other.
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo), previously known for his hot rhetoric on immigration, now says that we ought to bomb Mecca if there is any attack on the United States. The Republican candidates have wholly adopted the party's line of attack in 2008: Do Democrats really understand the threat or do they "just" think it's about Osama bin Laden?
How can this "war" be distinguished from a struggle with all of Islam? What about the growing Muslim constituency in America? Republicans liked Muslims a lot in 2000, when they voted Republican after candidate Bush promised that he would not isolate or demonize them. After Sept 11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, they turned to Democrats. Presumably they are now politically expendable.
The notion of global Islamofascism (remember feminazis?) is a convenient way to rewrite the history of the past six years and to reframe failure into success. The neoconservatives who drive Republican foreign policy believe themselves to be "history makers" surrounded by millions of people who just don't "get it."
Bush likes to compare himself to Winston Churchill on his lonely precipice. Vice President Dick Cheney is Cassandra, seeing even more dire threats from which we (and Israel) need his protection.
To be Churchill, one has to be a lonely voice in the wilderness before the threat was even real. That was actually true of Churchill, who clearly saw the Nazi threat, while, in John F. Kennedy's memorable phrase, England slept.
Go back only six years, though, and you'll find that it was the Clinton administration that was warning the incoming Bush team about Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Those warnings were ignored. The famous intelligence briefing, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," failed to interrupt Bush's August vacation. Republicans have recast those years by switching roles; they warned of trouble, but Clinton slept.
Having ignored the warning signs of Sept. 11, Bush and Cheney then compounded their error by turning from Al Qaeda to the ill-fated invasion of Iraq. Had American forces been greeted as "liberators," Islam would be very popular in the White House. In fact, among the mad scenarios the administration believed in was a pan-Arab alliance that would be pro-American and pro-Israel after the United States brought democracy to Iraq. Unfortunately, the photos at Abu Ghraib showed such contempt for the Arab and Islamic worlds that this dream was shattered.
The political value of the global threat of Islamofascism is that it allows the Republicans to dismiss their failures. Romney, for example, said it's not "just" about Bin Laden, so failing to catch him is no big deal..
It also reframes the failure in Iraq. Instead of a catastrophe, the Iraq War can now be portrayed as only one battle in the great war. It becomes the Bull Run defeat on the way to victory at Gettysburg.
Consider the threats that previous American presidents have faced and thereby found greatness: Washington and the formation of a new republic, Lincoln and the Civil War, Wilson and World War I, Roosevelt both the Depression and World War II and then presidents of both parties, from Harry S. Truman to Ronald Reagan, who for 40 years held the line against communism in the Cold War.
The psychological value of global Islamofascism is that it places our leaders in the same exalted status as those who faced down the Nazis and the communists. To go after Bin Laden, they say, would only be a kind of pedestrian police work.
Most American Jewish voters have adopted a different point of view. The 2006 American Jewish Committee survey of American Jews is revealing. Concern about Israel and distrust of its foes can coexist nicely with loyalty to the Democratic Party.
Asked about anti-Semitism, Jews were deeply concerned and feared that American Muslims harbored anti-Semitic attitudes. They were pessimistic about Middle East peace, 56 percent saying there will not come a time when Israel and the Arab nations will settle their differences and live in peace.
More than four-fifths believed that Arab nations seek the destruction of Israel. They were sour on the United Nations but strongly supportive of the United States and Britain in the Middle East.
Politically, however, only 15 percent of Jews counted themselves Republicans, with 54 percent Democrats and 29 percent independent. On decisions regarding Iraq, 59 percent trusted the Democrats and 22 percent the Republicans. On terrorism, 51 percent chose the Democrats and 28 percent the Republicans.
In a January 2007 article in the neoconservative Commentary, Gabriel Schoenfeld bemoaned the fact that 88 percent of Jews voted for Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections. How, Schoenfeld asked, could Jews miss the threat posed by the election of an American Muslim congressman like Keith Ellison of Minnesota?
Jewish voters seem to be resisting the lure of joining the Republican war on global Islamofascism and, by extension, the isolation of American Muslims. And they are likely to support a Democratic foreign policy that still thinks, quaintly, that capturing Bin Laden is important and that the Iraq War was not a step toward glorious victory but a catastrophe that will take years to undo.
Resolving the consequences of these two mistakes will be plenty to occupy the next president, without taking on the entire Muslim world at the same time.
Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. His column appears herre monthly.