Monday, March 14, 2011

Lenin's Lessons for Obama on Dealing with Radical Islamists

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By Barry Rubin

I just don’t get it. The more degrees from famous universities U.S. leaders have, the less they seem to know, especially about history.

Consider this in light of their inability to understand that not only al-Qaida but also Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the AKP government in Turkey, as well as Iran’s regime and other Islamists are dangerous, anti-democratic forces.

1. In 1920, Vladimir Lenin, leader of the new Soviet Union and of the world Communist movement, wrote "`Left-Wing’" Communism: An Infantile Disorder.” Lenin ridiculed small, radical groups that believed only instant insurrection could bring revolution. He explained that Communists needed to maneuver, to use all sorts of tactics, sometimes to advance and sometimes to retreat.

In our time, al-Qaida is the equivalent of the groups about which Lenin was writing. It knows only one thing: terrorism. In contrast, the West’s really important enemies are the present-day parallels to the smarter Communist movement.

It knew how to do social welfare work, set up front groups, propagandize to hide its own nature, participate in elections, make and change alliances. That is how one goes beyond individual acts of terrorism or insurrection to seize control of whole countries and gain power over the lives of millions of people.

If the Obama Administration had been around in 1920, it would be explaining to us that while the little anarchist and extremist Marxist-Leninist sects were evil, the Bolsheviks and their Communist parties were good. They just needed to be in power in Russia for a while and would then become moderate. It sort of worked, didn’t it? But it just took almost 75 years and mountains of dead bodies.

2. At no time in the last two centuries has it been clearer that socialism—depending on how you want to put it—either failed or served its purpose. Personally, I’ll go with the latter response.

Yet why is the idea of socialism having a resurgence after Communism’s miserable failure and the obvious fact that while democratic socialist parties helped create better Western societies historically they now are only piling up entitlements, out-of-control spending, and oversized governments that diminish both freedom and economic success? How can Americans watch what's happening in Europe--notably Greece--and then advocate precisely the same policies that created those disasters?

3. The lessons of the Cold War, appeasement, and of the World War (Two)—in fact the basic lessons of the twentieth century--have been thrown into the garbage can by much of the current political elite. The fact that President Obama thought celebrations on the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall not worth attending is most significant. The idea that the main enemy of freedom today is not some nineteenth-century caricature of a bloated capitalist in a top-hat but totalitarian radical ideologies, most notably Islamism and Communism (in all of its permutations), seems simply not to have been taught to young people in the West.

4. Just as the left mistook  many dictators of the past and present for heroes—you can make your own list—it is now glorifying the dictators and dictatorial regimes of the future. Why? Because these regimes promise dramatic change, a comprehensive organization of society from the top down, and oppose their own Western societies which they hate and think are evil.

But the problem is that in doing so, in helping revolutionary Islamists and extolling other radicals—Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, for example—they are going to create major headaches for their own countries and terrible oppressive regimes for those doomed to live under them.

In modern history the West’s leaders made mistakes leading to World War One, then World War Two, and then the Cold War. Today, we are seeing a repetition of that tragic pattern. But this time the outcome is—or perhaps I should say “was”—easier to avoid. This is a disaster not of necessity or even, by this point, of excusable error but of choice.

Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

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