Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Weak horse, strong horse

There are a few posts that we can't remember whether they are only posted somewhere in our head or are actually on the blog somewhere, but if it's the latter, we can't find it so let's begin the process of materialising the former. The theme is the extent to which Osama Bin Laden's famous "weak horse, strong horse" statement has influenced the Bush administration. Here's the statement:

when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.

The statement was made in mid-November, 2001. Our claim, and it's not unique or original to us, is that this statement has influenced much of Bush Administration policy since then. In particular, the refusal to admit mistakes, the cult of personality around Bush which emphasises "projecting resolve," and even the invasion of Iraq itself -- to show that the US is the "strong horse." Now of course the administration can't admit that Osama is its guru, but that particular Osama-ism has had a life of its own in the conservative Internets, and was cited yet again by Dick Cheney recently.

Which prompts one specific question: how exactly did it work its way into their thinking? Step forward Dean Godson in Tuesday's Times of London with the by-the-way answer. Godson has branched out from his focus on Northern Ireland's unionists (which led to a biography of David Trimble) into general writing on the GWoT, and he notes one event in the ongoing celebrations of Bernard Lewis's 90th birthday in Philadelphia yesterday:

his great detractor in Western academe, the late Edward Said, who in his work Orientalism (1978) argued that the predominant school of scholarship on the Middle East and Islam (which Lewis personified) was little more than a tool of imperialism and domination.

Lewis successfully rebutted the accusations in intellectual terms, but for the time being has lost the war of numbers in academe. The Saidians triumphed, peddling an account of Arab and Muslim victimhood that is now the norm. “Narratives” of “humiliation” and “disempowerment” came to be valued above solid textual and philological analysis, Lewis says.

Until September 11, Lewis’s most intensive dialogue had been with Muslim leaders such as King Hussein of Jordan and President Ozal of Turkey. But shortly after the twin towers collapsed, Cheney (who had met Lewis earlier while Defence Secretary) convened a dinner of experts in his residence at the Naval Observatory.

Lewis was the star: he reaffirmed the Vice-President’s deep conviction that the jihadists believed that the US could not last the course — as exemplified by the American retreats after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the Somalian debacle of 1993. The perception of American strength was critical to anything the US wished to do in the region.

So while Cheney believed it for some time, it's clear that Lewis plays an important role, at minimum, in reinforcing the thinking. One disturbing possibility raised by this is that even the ex post rationale for the Iraq war -- creation of democracy -- camouflages the real objective of being the strong horse in the Middle East. Remember, these people have their fingers on some very lethal buttons.

UPDATE 11 JANUARY 2007: Dan Froomkin has an extensive discussion of Cheney's obsession with "strength" and his corresponding view that "weakness" would be catastrophic [scroll down to The New Domino Theory].

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