March 2008 -- Jed Babbin is an attorney and international affairs expert who served as a deputy undersecretary of defense during the administration of George H.W. Bush. A commentator and prolific author, he has written a new book, In the Words of Our Enemies, published by Regnery in 2007. (See the accompanying review.) As the title implies, he uses the actual words of leaders of terrorist networks and rogue states to demonstrate the intensity of their hatred of the United States and its policies. Babbin was interviewed recently for TNI by defense analyst James Joyner.
TNI: In your book’s Introduction, you observe, “When some dictator threatens to end our way of life, destroy our economy, or end our influence over his nation, we usually either ignore him or rationalize his statements.” Why do you think that is?
Jed Babbin: It’s a natural progression. Americans are generous and don’t wish to impute evil to anyone, so we usually write it off as bluff and bluster. Which is what we did—for years before 9/11—with bin Laden. Unless you study another nation’s culture, history, and government, it’s tough to see these statements in the proper context. So we see other nations through our eyes in our context.
Think of this one example. No matter how religious any American politician may be, when he speaks, he doesn’t speak with the combined authority of religion and government. When an Iranian ayatollah speaks, or some Saudi cleric preaches, he is speaking with that combined authority. That’s a tough thing for us to understand. Separation of church and state is something we take for granted.
TNI: Your book gives plenty of examples of our enemies’ hatred of our nation and the moral depravity of their chosen means of warfare, such as child suicide bombers. This is intermingled, though, with anger over American foreign policy, such as stationing of troops near Islam’s holiest shrines, our sanctions against and later invasion of Iraq, and our support of Israel. Do you see no distinction between these things?
Babbin: Fortunately, I’m not Ron Paul, so I don’t confuse America’s pursuit of its own legitimate interests with justification for terrorists attacking us. People who say that are essentially blaming us for the terrorists’ acts. We had troops in Saudi Arabia for decades, training the Saudi military, and no one complained. (Some are still there, last I heard.) When we increased the numbers of those troops to mount the counter-invasion of Kuwait to toss Saddam out, the bin Ladens condemned both us and the Saudis. To say that our pursuit of our interests—peacefully or otherwise—somehow legitimizes the terrorist ideology or actions is, frankly, nuts.
TNI: You quote Osama bin Laden as saying terrorizing innocents is “reprehensible,” but “every state and every civilization and culture has to resort to terrorism under certain circumstances for the purpose of abolishing tyranny and corruption.” Is there any merit to that distinction? Given the asymmetry of means available, is there any way the Islamists could fight perceived tyranny through legitimate means?
Babbin: Bin Laden is the ultimate moral equivalencer. He will say anything, make any analogy—no matter how false—to “prove” that his terrorism is morally right. If he weren’t a mass murderer, he would be a great study in psychopathology. Islamists cannot fight the “perceived tyranny” through legitimate means because the so-called tyranny is the existence of cultures that are not identical to theirs.
"We are not a tyranny that rules or threatens the Islamists."
Here again is some Ron Paulism. One cannot fight tyranny legitimately unless there really is a tyranny to fight. We are not a tyranny that rules or threatens the Islamists. If we were, the Islamists could fight in accordance with the Geneva Conventions (which to allow for guerilla movements). We believe in a “just war” doctrine. Because we have done nothing to justify their war against us, there is no means—openly or covertly—that they may use to fight and kill our people legitimately.
TNI: You cite approvingly Raphael Patai’s assertion that the Palestinians are “the only people of the world who seem incapable of acting in their own enlightened self-interest.” How so?
Babbin: Actually, I draw that inference from history. Patai doesn’t really say it. But his assertion that there is a heavy anti-Western streak in Arab nationalism, which also includes a feeling of inferiority, is very instructive. The Palestinians’ inability to act in their own interest is proven by all the “peace processes” that have been engaged in for years. Arafat never wanted peace: He preached peace in the UN, and shouted “to Jerusalem, martyrs by the millions” at home.
The Palestinians have never had a legitimate government. People such as Arafat were doing the bidding of the neighboring Arab nations that use the Palestinians as cannon fodder in their never-ending war with Israel. If the Palestinians want peace, all they have to do is renounce terrorism, renounce the right of return, and sign up to Israel’s right to exist. The Arab nations don’t want it, so the Palestinians’ “governments” don’t accept it.
TNI: One example you give, repeatedly, of the evil of our enemies is their assertion of the right to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Given that Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong Il, and other tyrants have been allowed to do so despite our wishes, what’s wrong with that desire? Surely, you can understand a people wishing to ensure their autonomy?
Babbin: No, I can’t. Iran is under no threat. Their pursuit of nuclear weapons is to establish hegemony over the entire Middle East. The fact that Stalin and Mao got nuclear weapons occurred—you fail to mention—over and above our best efforts to prevent it. Your question implies that if one tyrant has nuclear weapons, any other should be able to. Think about this: Deterrence works with respect to nations that desire to avoid nuclear war. The kakistocracy that runs Iran has the apocalypse as one of its career objectives.
TNI: You quote Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying many things that are outrageous, if not insane. Yet, you highlight in boldface—presumably as the most objectionable—that “The whole world knows that America and England are the enemies of the Iranian nation” and that “The Security Council, in its present condition, is illegitimate.” Aren’t those things which are arguably true?
Babbin: Iran’s regime is our enemy, not the Iranian people. And please don’t ask me to defend the UN. I gave that up before graduating high school. (See Babbin’s Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think, Regnery, 2004.)
TNI: One comment theme that runs throughout the passages you quote is inflammatory language used to describe Americans and, especially, Jews. Could you imagine an Islamic author citing your work and others warning of the evils of Islamofascism in a similar way? How difficult would it be to write a parallel book using the words of American religious leaders like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell?
Babbin: It wouldn’t be difficult to write, just impossible to publish in one of the Islamofascist nations. What I write points out the intellectual bankruptcy of their dogma, the false foundations of their ideology. They could write it, but none of those regimes would allow it to be published. Truth hurts: Despots can’t handle it.