While conceding that Christopher Hitchens’s latest unintentionally risible strawman-burning is not one of his finest efforts (myself, I can’t tell the difference), Michael Totten defends his central thesis, arguing that “[t]he American right is a better champion for secularism where it is most urgently needed. And for that they have my (partial) support.” Given that Totten explicitly brackets out domestic policy, let’s look at the major relevant foreign policy initiatives of the Bush administration:
- Afghanistan. This is the one Bush Administration initiative that advances secularism. However, secularism was not the primary purpose of deposing the Taliban; had Afghanistan been controlled by a secular government that was a primary sponsor of Al Qaeda, we would have deposed them as well. Aside, from this, the bigger problem with citing Afghanistan is that anybody who could be elected President of the United States would have done the same thing. Not only did John Kerry consistently and unequivocally support the invasion, Democrats much more liberal than Kerry generally did as well. As partisan comparison, this is a wash. (And that’s being generous; the on-the-cheap reconstruction has left non-secular factions in control of much more of the country than would is desirable.)
- Iraq. One can still defend the war, if not very convincingly, but it most certainly is not a triumph of secularism. Hussein’s regime, while awful, was also perhaps the most secular regime in the region. It’s not a question of whether the new regime will be less secular; it’s just a question of how much. Nor have surrounding states become more secular. If anything, reformers in Iran (for example) are in a weaker position than they were before the war. By intensifying hatred for the United States in the middle east, the war has strengthened the domestic hand of theocratic regimes in the region. If (and I’m sure Hitchens and Totten agree) you think Kerry wouldn’t have started this war–and I do–then in terms of secularism that’s a major advantage for Kerry.
- Al Qaeda. Bush’s decision to prioritize the war on Iraq, whether right or wrong on the merits, also resulted in diverting resources from attacking Al Qaeda. On fighting Islamic terrorism Kerry (correctly) campaigned to Bush’s right, arguing that Bush should make it a greater priority. And let us not forget that Bush–whether for crudely political reasons or because of his anachronistic preoccupation with nation-states–let Abu Musab al-Zarqawi walk when he had a good chance to take him out. Again, here Kerry has the policy that is more likely to advance secularism.
The claim that the American right has done more to advance secularism abroad, therefore, is just as indefensible is that claim that they’re the more secular party at home. Jaun Cole unearths a quote that sums it up:
…it is hard to avoid observing that al-Baghdadi castigated Bush’s administration as “fundamentalist” and “right-wing.” When even the Sunni Salafis of Mosul consider you too fundamentalist and right-wing, you have probably gone too far.