Somewhat ironically, what I believe to be the first Heads in the Sand review is a James Kirchick piece in the City Journal. Not surprisingly, he’s unconvinced by my arguments! I don’t think it would make sense to respond in great detail, but one issue he raises does point to an issue worth elucidating:
He echoes Osama bin Laden when he argues that Islamist anger against the West is a justified response to foreign powers that “occupy Muslim land.” This is a bold assertion, and yet Yglesias doesn’t care to explore why Iran and Syria—countries where foreign soldiers haven’t set foot for decades—continue to be the two most active state sponsors of international terrorism.
I’m not quite sure why he’s playing dumb here, but the crux of the disagreement is that I think the appropriate response to 9/11 is for the United States to engage the various instruments of American power against al-Qaeda. Iran and Syria have their own reasons of state for providing support to Hezbollah, thus earning the designation “the two most active state sponsors of international terrorism.” But in terms of al-Qaeda this is all neither here nor there — both Syria and Iran have, at various times, indicated an interest in collaborating with the United States against al-Qaeda.
Kirchick, following the prevailing conventional wisdom on the right, thinks we should eschew a narrow, focused, and efficacious assault on al-Qaeda in favor of a vaguely defined “war on terror” that includes sundry Muslims Behaving Badly including Saddam Hussein, the Assads, the Iranian, Hamas, Hezbollah, and whoever else you like. Which is fine if you think the past several years worth of blundering around have been a good idea and you’re eager to see the United States follow John McCain’s lead and start thrashing harder. But I don’t think this constitutes a reasonable response to 9/11 or a sensible means of dealing with al-Qaeda. What’s more, I think most of the hawks know that it doesn’t make sense to most people, which is why they insist on using a lot of terminological funny business to obscure the move away from al-Qaeda and toward a wide variety of not-really-related other adversaries.