Friday, June 8, 2007

POW: Newt Gingrich

A new recommended podcast: Newt Gingrich speaking to a CFR crowd back at the end of April. It's probably the most intelligent discussion of foreign affairs I've heard from a credible Presidential candidate.

The major theme was about bashing government bureaucracies for failing to adapt to the faster information flows available. I can only imagine how chaotic federal departments are, I work in the private sector and that is bad enough. Newt brushes on the concept that engagement with the world whether in counter-terrorism, economic development, or even the foreign service requires integrating first and second gen Americans with readily available networks and language skills. It's easier to train a Pakistani to be a foreign service officer then it is to train a foreign service officer to be Pakistani. Sort of like the guy who said the FBI was terrible at combating the mafia until it hired Italians and Irish, and would be terrible at combating terrorism until it hired Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, etc.

Not all was good. Gingrich peddles the war metaphor shamelessly. He manages to acknowledge that the war on terror is less then meaningful, but then he tries to reshape it into a war against Anti Modernity Muslims. Problem: Muslim terrorists aren't anti-modern. They're happy to use cell phones, the internet, and whatever other technologies suit their purpose. What they're against is a Western dominated modernity centered on America. Their problem is with the West, not with modernity per se. But acknowledging that means acknowledging the ways in which the West dominates modernity as experienced by Muslims, and Newt lacks the guts to go down that road.

Also, in answer to Newt's challenge about what religions besides Islam inspire terrorism, the short list is Hinduism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Hinduism in India, Protestantism and Catholicism in Ireland, and Judaism in Israel. The Hindu Tamil Tigers in fact invented the suicide bomb. Newt's real question is what religions inspire terrorism against the West, but if he put it that way it would again acknowledge there was something specific to the West that Muslims don't like.

Despite it's faults, the speech and subsequent questions are engaging. I strongly recommend.

PS: A fuller analysis of religion inspired terrorism can be found in a lecture by Robert Pape given to a UC Berkeley class on terrorism in 2006. He also wrote a book on the subject.

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