Five Things Dean Supporters Can Do Right Now to Fight Terrorism

Or: how I stopped worrying and learned to support the spread of democracy in the Middle East.

Hello, Dean Nation!

The incomparable Aziz P. has kindly invited me to post here in addition to my usual perches at Liberals Against Terrorism and Chez Nadezhda. For that, I thank him, and I hope that I do him credit.

Like perhaps most readers of this site, I'm not a fan of the Bush Administration. Last year I devoted a goodly portion of my life to ousting it, including a trip to freezing cold Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, Iowa, where I canvassed for the Dean Campaign in the runup to the caucuses. I admit that I lost faith in the Dean movement after that, and I floundered around a bit in trying to figure out who to support, eventually setting upon Johnny Sunshine Edwards (or was it Clark?). I have never been a big fan of John Kerry, to say the least.

It's tempting to fall into cynical sniping, which I myself have done at times. But I find it dispiriting and ultimately corrosive to my soul to focus on what I oppose rather than what I support. And it's also frustrating to feel powerless.
With that bit of introduction out of the way, here's my list of concrete things you can do in spite of the unfortunate fact that George W. Bush is President of the United States.

1. Support the growth of civil society in the Middle East. It would be incredibly sad if the large gap between the Bush Administration's soaring rhetoric and its policies obscured the fact that the peoples of the Middle East really do want a better life, and many of them are devoting their lives to change. While there is an ongoing debate in the literature about thresholds and phasing and when to have elections and so forth--to say nothing of the advisability of regime change by force--everyone agrees that it is vital that non-governmental organizations develop their capacity and independence. There are a number of brave dissidents of one stripe or another in the Middle East who are working for change, and they deserve our support when they are threatened or suppressed by the regimes. When the Bush Administration fails to live up to its stated ideals, as, for instance, it has already failed to do
in Jordan, think in terms of the real world good you can do by holding Bush's feet to the fire rather than the partisan advantage you can obtain by bashing him. In Iraq, you can support the efforts of brave Iraqis who are making an effort in spite of incredible odds by supporting Spirit of America's Friends of Democracy project. Even if you think that the Iraq War was a bad idea and that the nation-building project there is doomed, these people deserve a shot at their dreams. And as you ought to be able to tell from a quick read of their blog, the election-related news they are conveying is real, unvarnished and not some kind of mindless propaganda like you might get elsewhere. Friends of Democracy is exactly the sort of grassroots project that can work to build civil capacity and potential allies across the Middle East.

2. Push for higher gas taxes.
Interestingly, a number of prominent neoconservatives are finally starting to understand the importance of reducing the leverage that Persian Gulf autocrats have over American foreign policy and their own disempowered people. While true energy independence is probably a fantasy, the reduction of oil consumption is both an intrinsic good and a necessary pillar of longterm American security. According to most economists, gas taxes are the most efficient way to improve fuel economy standards and reduce the oil intensity of the American economy, which is the amount of oil it takes to produce a dollar of GDP. The lower the oil intensity, the less worried we need to be that a sudden disruption in oil supplies will cripple the American economy. And that will give the United States greater flexibilty to distance ourselves from and/or pressure Saudi Arabia to reform and diversify its economy and society. So write, call, and fax your Congresscritters and tell them that you want to address this problem and are willing to pay more. Congresscritters are generally followers rather than leaders, so they need grassroots political cover before they are willing to take a clear stand. If you really want to get serious, get a bike or a Prius.

3. Make connections with Muslims here in America and abroad. As Thomas Barnett says, disconnectedness
rather than radical Islam is the broader danger. The Bush Administration has done a lousy job in reaching out to Muslims, only a tiny percentage of whom support the Al Qaeda agenda (note that Ayman al-Zawahiri himself has admitted that the program of the radical Islamist vanguard has repeatedly failed to mobilize the Muslim masses, which is why have turned to violence). But opposition to American policies in the ME and among Muslims elsewhere is overwhelming and real (albeit hardly monolithic), and according to recent polls has been bleeding over into dislike for the American people themselves. This is a dangerous development. Be a personal ambassador, if not for American policies then for American values and people. Make an effort to read and link to Muslim blogs, and try to understand what they are saying about their faith and their aspirations. Whereas the American right has often shown a prediliction toward maximizing our list of enemies, we liberals can make a personal commitment to improving the conversation and developing allies. Luckily, Aziz and alt.muslim have already done the legwork to identify the best of the best Muslim blogs.

4. Take the threat of terrorism seriously. Just because the Bush Administration says that something is true doesn't mean it is not (although this is probably a good rule of thumb for Social Security and budget policy). While I think that the Bush Administration, most egregiously during the Republican National Convention, has used the issue of terrorism as a club with which to bash the Demcratic Party, it's an issue that isn't going away. In fact, it's probably going to get worse, in part due to Bush Administration mistakes, in part due to a global upswing of extremism in response to globalization, and in part due to the excitement that the September 11th attacks caused in radical Islamist circles. This excellent but terrifying PBS Frontline special about Al Qaeda in Europe is not completely online quite yet, but once you watch it I guarantee you will not take the threat lightly if you do so now.

5. Educate yourself about the issues. One of the best ways to win debates is to know more than your opponents. Don't just depend on the news or you will lack the proper context and get caught up in political jibs and jabs and byzantine bureaucratic wars. Few Americans have read the Arab Human Development Reports, for instance, which were written by Arabs and for Arabs under the auspices of the United Nations. Read them and see what Arabs themselves say about the needs and aspirations of their own societies.
Learn the names of terrorist organizations, especially Al Qaeda, their leaders, and their goals; the best book on Al Qaeda for my money is Rohan Gunaratna's Inside Al Qaeda. Learn about mainstream Islam and learn to identify the many, many ways in which it differs from extremist political ideology. For my money, the handiest reference on American national security is William Arkin's new book, Code Names, which, in addition to exposing all sorts of secrets, provides a handy snapshot on our relationships and agreements around the world. If you don't want to buy a new book, I recommend subscribing to Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News (which compiles very informative and timely "leaked" Congressional Research Reports and other government documents) and reading the incredibly comprehensive and reliable

Got other ideas? Disagree?

Let me know in the comments below.

Note: removed the offending language


Eric Martin said…
Great work Prak. This is all good advice that should be seriously considered. It will make us all stronger, and a more attractive party and political movement.

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