Boykinism

September 27th, 2012

Joe McCarthy Would Understand – Published on ZNet (first on TomDispatch), by Andrew J. Bacevich, September 26, 2012.

… From time to time during the decades when anti-Communism provided so much of the animating spirit of U.S. policy, Judeo-Christian strategists in Washington (not necessarily believers themselves), drawing on the theologically correct proposition that Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same God, sought to enlist Muslims, sometimes of fundamentalist persuasions, in the cause of opposing the godless. One especially notable example was the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989.  

To inflict pain on the Soviet occupiers, the United States threw its weight behind the Afghan resistance, styled in Washington as “freedom fighters,” and funneled aid (via the Saudis and the Pakistanis) to the most religiously extreme among them. When this effort resulted in a massive Soviet defeat, the United States celebrated its support for the Afghan Mujahedeen as evidence of strategic genius. It was almost as if God had rendered a verdict.

Yet not so many years after the Soviets withdrew in defeat, the freedom fighters morphed into the fiercely anti-Western Taliban, providing sanctuary to al-Qaeda as it plotted — successfully — to attack the United States. Clearly, this was a monkey wrench thrown into God’s plan.

With the launching of the Global War on Terrorism, Islamism succeeded Communism as the body of beliefs that, if left unchecked, threatened to sweep across the globe with dire consequences for freedom. Those who Washington had armed as “freedom fighters” now became America’s most dangerous enemies. So at least members of the national security establishment believed or purported to believe, thereby curtailing any further discussion of whether militarized globalism actually represented the best approach to promoting liberal values globally or even served U.S. interests.

Yet as a rallying cry, a war against Islamism presented difficulties right from the outset. As much as policymakers struggled to prevent Islamism from merging in the popular mind with Islam itself, significant numbers of Americans — whether genuinely fearful or mischief-minded — saw this as a distinction without a difference. Efforts by the Bush administration to work around this problem by framing the post-9/11 threat under the rubric of “terrorism” ultimately failed because that generic term offered no explanation for motive. However the administration twisted and turned, motive in this instance seemed bound up with matters of religion.

Where exactly to situate God in post-9/11 U.S. policy posed a genuine challenge for policymakers, not least of all for George W. Bush, who believed, no doubt sincerely, that God had chosen him to defend America in its time of maximum danger. Unlike the communists, far from denying God’s existence, Islamists embrace God with startling ferocity. Indeed, in their vitriolic denunciations of the United States and in perpetrating acts of anti-American violence, they audaciously present themselves as nothing less than God’s avenging agents. In confronting the Great Satan, they claim to be doing God’s will.

Waging War in Jesus’s Name: … //

… Boykinism: The New McCarthyism:

How many Americans endorsed McCarthy’s conspiratorial view of national and world politics?  It’s difficult to know for sure, but enough in Wisconsin to win him reelection in 1952, by a comfortable 54% to 46% majority. Enough to strike fear into the hearts of politicians who quaked at the thought of McCarthy fingering them for being “soft on Communism.”

How many Americans endorse Boykin’s comparably incendiary views?  Again, it’s difficult to tell. Enough to persuade FRC’s funders and supporters to hire him, confident that doing so would burnish, not tarnish, the organization’s brand. Certainly, Boykin has in no way damaged its ability to attract powerhouses of the domestic right. FRC’s recent “Values Voter Summit”  featured luminaries such as Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, former Republican Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Representative Michele Bachmann — along with Jerry Boykin himself, who lectured attendees on “Israel, Iran, and the Future of Western Civilization.” (In early August, Mitt Romney met privately with a group of “prominent social conservatives,” including Boykin.)

Does their appearance at the FRC podium signify that Ryan, Santorum, Cantor, and Bachmann all subscribe to Boykinism’s essential tenets?  Not any more than those who exploited the McCarthyite moment to their own political advantage  — Richard Nixon, for example — necessarily agreed with all of McCarthy’s reckless accusations. Yet the presence of leading Republicans on an FRC program featuring Boykin certainly suggests that they find nothing especially objectionable or politically damaging to them in his worldview.

Still, comparisons between McCarthyism and Boykinism only go so far. Senator McCarthy wreaked havoc mostly on the home front, instigating witch-hunts, destroying careers, and trampling on civil rights, while imparting to American politics even more of a circus atmosphere than usual. In terms of foreign policy, the effect of McCarthyism, if anything, was to reinforce an already existing anti-communist consensus. McCarthy’s antics didn’t create enemies abroad. McCarthyism merely reaffirmed that communists were indeed the enemy, while making the political price of thinking otherwise too high to contemplate.

Boykinism, in contrast, makes its impact felt abroad. Unlike McCarthyism, it doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of incumbents on the campaign trail here. Attracting General Boykin’s endorsement or provoking his ire probably won’t determine the outcome of any election. Yet in its various manifestations Boykinism provides the kindling that helps sustain anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world. It reinforces the belief among Muslims that the Global War on Terror really is a war against them.

Boykinism confirms what many Muslims are already primed to believe: that American values and Islamic values are irreconcilable. American presidents and secretaries of state stick to their talking points, praising Islam as a great religious tradition and touting past U.S. military actions (ostensibly) undertaken on behalf of Muslims. Yet with their credibility among Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and others in the Greater Middle East about nil, they are pissing in the wind.

As long as substantial numbers of vocal Americans do not buy the ideological argument constructed to justify U.S. intervention in the Islamic world – that their conception of freedom (including religious freedom) is ultimately compatible with ours – then neither will Muslims. In that sense, the supporters of Boykinism who reject that proposition encourage Muslims to follow suit. This ensures, by extension, that further reliance on armed force as the preferred instrument of U. S. policy in the Islamic world will compound the errors that produced and have defined the post-9/11 era.
(full text).

(Andrew J. Bacevich is currently a visiting fellow at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
A TomDispatch regular, he is author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, among other works, and most recently editor of The Short American Century
).

Links:

Mauritania: Enslaving Africans in Africa in 2012, on The Africa Report, by Abda Wone, August 28, 2012.

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