Deacon, I think there is a close relationship between the two stories you’ve just posted on. It seems to me that, viewing the war in a broad context, the Administration is guided by two basic principles: first, we cannot make war on the entire Arab world, let alone the entire Muslim world, simultaneously. If the war becomes Us vs. the Muslims (or the Arabs) it will be immeasurably harder to win. Second, no matter how successful we are in suppressing the immediate terrorist threats, the world cannot have peace in the long term unless Islam is reformed. I think these two principles–both clearly correct, in my opinion–influence everything the Administration does in the war.
I certainly do not believe that Islam is, at present, a religion of peace. On the contrary, I think it has been the source of much violence. But it is important, maybe essential, for our future security that Islam become a religion of peace, like Christianity and Judaism. So when President Bush keeps talking about Islam being peaceful, it is not because he is too dumb to notice that it is not peaceful at present, nor is it because he wants to be our theologian in chief. It is because he recognizes that we must do all we can to encourage the reform of Islam, and toward that end, the official position of our government must be that, in its essence, the Islamic faith is peaceful–even though the “real,” peaceful Islam may not yet exist. So, as a matter of descriptive accuracy, I agree that Islam is not now a religion of peace; but as a matter of government policy, I think President Bush is right in taking the position that it is in essence, and must become in practice, a religion of peace.
Likewise, everyone knows that the Saudis are the prime financers of Wahhabism and terrorism; so why continue to pretend that they are our friends? Because we cannot fight the entire Arab world at once. We must prioritize our targets, and begin by destroying those who are most dangerous to us. We must also take the position that various Arab countries are our friends, no matter how suspicious of them we may be. The Saudis pose no independent threat; they support terrorists because they are being blackmailed. Unlike Iraq, they will never use weapons of mass destruction to shelter terrorists. So they can wait. Once al Qaeda has been destroyed and the Iraqi and Iranian regimes have been deposed, what happens in Saudi Arabia will be more or less irrelevant. In all likelihood the Saudi royal family will be overthrown, but either way, events in Saudi Arabia will not compromise our security.
What these two issues have in common is that it is not the job of the President to go around accurately describing the world. That is the job of a pundit. The President’s job is to use all the means at his command to pursue objectives that will assure the country’s security. If it furthers those objectives to take the position that Islam is a religion of peace, or to assure the Saudis that we value their friendship, so be it.
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