Now that the midterm elections are over and voices of the Tea Party will soon be established in Congress, the movement’s views on foreign policy will come under closer scrutiny, and the results may prove surprising, not least to the Tea Partiers themselves. Those views are far from Republican orthodoxy. On some issues, the Tea Partiers will predictably line up with the Republican leadership, but on others they may find they have more in common with Democrats. They may even provide Barack Obama with unexpected support.
Barack Obama faces no more important foreign policy decision during his presidency than whether to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program (a decision that also includes whether to give a green light to Israel to do so). Among the possible consequences of a military strike, we must consider a long-term, inconclusive war with Iran, a wider conflict across the entire Middle East, the destabilization of moderate regimes in the region and an increase in terrorism around the world.
Amid all the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero Islamic center and mosque, the most memorable comment I’ve seen was made by a New York State assemblyman named Henry Meigs. “The constitution of this state,” Meigs said, “guarantees equally the religion of all. The Jew, who believes the blessed Savior an imposter; the Egyptian who worships a crocodile or an onion; the Pagan who worships the sun; the Indian who pays divine honors to sticks and stones; the worshipper of Odin; the Chinese or the Mahometans.
Terry Glavin, the cofounder of the Canadian-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee and a firm supporter of Western intervention in Afghanistan, tells a joke that has made the rounds in Kabul. The United Nations, sick of the corruption that is rife in the Afghan government, demands that Karzai clean things up. “Of course, of course,” Karzai replies.
We were all dreamers then. When we overthrew the Shah, we thought a bright new age had dawned. Tyranny had been defeated and soon we would vanquish all the secularists, Westernizers, imperialists, and Zionists. Our glorious revolution would be the model for millions, not only in the Middle East but among Muslims everywhere. Islam would be restored to its rightful place at the center of people’s lives, and piety would replace politics. Some of us even imagined that all the prophecies of the Koran were about to come true. Such dreams.
As readers of Entanglements know, a healthy debate has broken out over the question of whether the United States should be intervening around the world to “promote the cause of freedom.” Obviously, Afghanistan is uppermost in the writers’ minds, though Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, Burma, and Darfur have also been mentioned.
Every once in a while, one experiences a “clarifying moment,” foreshadowing an important policy debate that hasn’t yet taken shape. In 2003, for example, just before the Iraq war began, I heard Paul Berman give a talk to a group of liberals and leftists on his new book, “Terror and Liberalism.” The reception was almost uniformly hostile, so much so that Berman warned that the left was in danger of demonizing George Bush in the same way that the right had demonized Bill Clinton. He was prescient.