Austin Bay is a guy whom I have been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t taken the trouble to focus on and pay attention to. (My fault, not his.) Tonight Hugh Hewitt interviewed Bay on his radio show; he was a superb guest. Bay is a novelist and an Army reserve Colonel who served in Iraq for six months. His web site is here. Bay isn’t a blogger. Yet.
Austin Bay wrote an article for the current issue of the Weekly Standard titled “The Millenium War”. Bay’s keen intelligence, his first-hand knowledge of events in Iraq, and his skills as a novelist are all on display. Here are a few excerpts:
Iraqi cops and Coalition force advisers arrested one Ahmad T. Tahir (also known as Mohammad Bogy) at the wake of a man Tahir had murdered on August 22. Tahir had ties to Saddam’s regime, possibly serving as an enforcer for one of Saddam’s intelligence services. When the Coalition forces arrived, Tahir tried to flee into his victim’s house. When the police chased him he tried to hide behind the daughters and wife of his victim. The women then began slapping Tahir and pushing him forward toward the police and security troops, who proceeded to capture him. The women told the police that “[Tahir] didn’t think we could do anything to him, and that’s why he was here.”
In street slang, Tahir/Mohammad Bogy, the killer, was strutting his stuff until Iraqi police backed by Green Berets jammed an assault rifle into his nose. Thug arrogance is all too common a feature of the world’s hard corners, where the criminals have dominated for so long they are certain their iron wills and unmitigated violence will continue to cow all opponents. It’s why the only way to beat the arrogant is to beat them and punch a rifle barrel into the cold amazement of their eyes. I state it crudely with good purpose, for this is a rubber-meets-the-road example of what scholarly strategists mean when they describe war as a clash of wills.
Babylon was an old-style military empire that attacked its neighbors, then ruled them by force. Our contemporary world is filled with petty empires that differ very little from Babylon, fake states where gangs or tribal clans rule by oppression, not consensus. In too many hard corners of our planet the foundation for a modern state never formed, but the trappings–capital, an army, a seat in the U.N., IMF loans–can be acquired. Legitimate authority? Rule of law? Forget it. The bayonet to the throat remains the only process for establishing authority, making “sovereignty” within Rand McNally borders a constantly contested notion. In such tribal, feudal, and anarchic quarters, lip service may be paid to common humanity, but the implementation of laws protecting basic human rights is rare.
For centuries the fake nation-states didn’t matter too much. Tribal battles remained local horrors. Not any more. Enforcing local dictatorial control with arrows or assault rifles is one thing–but now the rogue rulers use nerve gas. With ballistic missiles at hand, with terrorists willing to fly commercial jets into skyscrapers, rogues’ possession and use of chemical weapons is no longer a local matter: Technological compression means a local war can become a global war. We learned, at a terrible price, that Islamofascist plotting in Afghanistan produces terrorist crime in New York and Washington. To return to an era where distance made a difference requires ditching essential technology. Ban the Internet? Ban the 747? Ban satellite television?
This is why the End State in Iraq matters, and why there is no Exit Strategy from the task in Mesopotamia.
Iraq, long plundered by despots, should be a wealthy country. It has water, an agricultural base, a source of capital (oil), and people willing to work. It is the best place to begin to reform the dysfunctional political systems that shackle and rob the vast majority of Middle Easterners. Success in Iraq would create conditions to break the region’s endless cycle of robbery and violence. It would also force angry Middle Eastern Muslims to finally confront the inadequacies of their own societies instead of blaming Europe, the United States, and Israel for their centuries of fossilization and decline.
Listening to Austin Bay on Hugh’s show tonight, I was struck by the thought that it’s no wonder that many journalists feel threatened by the new media. The fact is that very few of the smartest people around are journalists. And today, people aren’t forced to get their news and commentary from journalists. It’s a good thing.