Thursday, January 12

In search of common ground--if any

In the previous entry I looked at the problem of whether liberals and conservatives can find any common ground. Herewith a quick summary of what I consider some major ideals held by conservatives:
Democratic government;

Freedom, including the freedom to own property without fear that some bureaucrat or tyrant will seize it;

Equal rights for everyone, including women;

Honest elections--no one's allowed to vote twice in the same election, no matter what party he belongs to;
As I understand it, conservatives believe that if the above are in place, all other good outcomes will follow. Conversely, a society that lacks one or more of the above must necessarily spend so much of its energy working around the missing element that it will rarely have enough left for other good programs.

Unfortunately, in nations ruled by a dictator and/or other authoritarian form of government, those in power will almost never give it up.


From the emergence of the nation-state until roughly the last half of the 20th century, wars have been prosecuted by nations. When the central government of one side surrendered, the war ended and life on both sides generally returned to whatever passed for normal.

For a small sub-set of people in a nation to continue to fight on after their government had surrendered--without the support of the government--would have been ludicrous, because the holdouts would have no hope of defeating the far larger standing army of the other nation.

But as technology made combat less dependent on individual strength and more on technical mastery, men found they could conduct tiny hit-and-run raids on an occupying force indefinitely. Eventually the trickle of losses would cause the populace of the occupying nation to demand an end.

In effect, a few thousand dedicated individuals could defeat an entire nation. It was a world-class paradigm shift.

These tactics eventually and forced a major military power--France--to withdraw in frustration from what was once called "French Indochina" and then from Algeria.

This was "guerilla warfare," and for it to succeed the fighters had to be able to live without the vast, expensive supply system of national armies. Instead, guerilla fighters had to blend in with the native population and be either covertly supported or at least tolerated by them.

This requirement eventually led to the discovery of the countermeasure, which was education: the more enlightened and educated of the locals eventually came to realize that communism didn't deliver prosperity.

Terrorism can be seen as a natural evolution of guerilla warfare in an age of international commerce. One key difference is that it's no longer necessary for those who want to change a government by force to live among the people whose nation they want to change. Instead they can live in any country that will tolerate their activities, and simply 'commute' to the target nation on commercial carriers.

In a free country there's probably no direct way to prevent someone from leaving a bomb in a public place, or cramming explosives into a car. But this doesn't mean there's no defense--because just as guerilla fighters had to have a sympathetic populace to operate, terrorists need a sympathetic host nation to allow them to operate--whether openly or pseudo-covertly.

When the host nation has a totalitarian government, it's naive to claim that government is unaware of the terrorists' occupations. Thus it seems reasonable that a totalitarian host nation could stop their activities if it were so inclined.

So here's my take on Conservative criteria on terrorism:
Nations must not support terrorism, nor allow terrorists to operate from their territory;

No one has yet shown an example of a free people under a democratic government supporting terrorism;

If a nation ruled by a dictator violates #1, we'll oppose that dictator by all peaceful means;

If a nation doesn't support terrorists, we have no problem with that nation having WMDs. However, WMDs in terror-sponsoring nations are much more problematical because of the possibility that the nation's leader will quietly allow terrorists to acquire those weapons, while claiming no responsibility. Obviously this is hugely destabilizing;

If there is evidence that that nation is taking steps toward providing terrorists with certain classes of weapons, we will give that nation's leadership ample time to rectify the situation;

If said dictator persists, you're liable to wind up like Saddam;

Enforcing this last point requires a well-trained, well-equipped military with high morale; we are grateful for--and humbled by--the sacrifices made by members of the U.S. armed forces and their families.
Anything above strike liberals as off base?


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