tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Friday, March 31, 2006

D’Souza offers insight into Iraq, American appeal

Dinesh D’Souza, an India-born Hoover Institution Fellow, addressed a business group in Milwaukee recently on a wide range of foreign affairs. Before his think tank gig, D'Souza was a policy analyst at the Reagan White House. He is author of several books, including "What's So Great About America."

D’Souza is a sharp guy and a very good speaker. Telling our group that radical Islamism has replaced Soviet communism as the great threat facing America, D’Souza give us his insight into America involvement in the Middle East.

The reasonable question is what is America doing in Iraq today and what is the prospect for success? Iran is the closest thing to a democracy in the Middle East. The kind of country we like -- like America -- does not exist in the Middle East. There are no countries there with an independent judiciary, free elections, separation of powers, checks and balances, minority rights, free enterprise. And no such country has ever existed. America is taking the grand and risky experiment to see if the alien seed of democracy can take root in the Arab world. And if democratic winds begin to blow to Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, Egypt, you could see the beginnings of a historic transformation that would be more incredible than the old Soviet Union.

Fifty years ago, democracy was a Western idea. But now you see a rash outbreak of democracy in Asia and Latin America. But in the Middle East, it has been nil, and that is what Bush is trying to change, it seems to me.

Many say we can’t win in Iraq and we have to get out but common sense revolts against that. You have a country of Iraq with 25 million people. The Shia are 60 percent, the Kurds are 20 percent, and the Sunni are 20 percent. You will never find a more pro-America population than the Kurds. The Shia are on the American side because they have come to the conclusion that if you have the mathematical advantage, democracy is a good thing. The insurgency is drawing from the Sunnis. But even then, they are drawing from only a fraction of that 20 percent. So you have a fraction of 20 percent against 80 percent and the wealth and power and technological sophistication of the United States. Who’s going to win that war? There is no way the U.S. can lose that war.

There is only one way we can loose. That is to lose the war in the American mind. The war is being fought on the battlefield of the American mind. Walt Whitman said force in a war is a product of your weapons, you skills and you wealth, times your will.

Muslims will argue that American society is based on freedom, but Islamic society is based on virtue. So they think they have a higher calling. They don’t dislike what we have, but they don’t like what we’ve done with what we have. They say freedom can be used well or bad, and America has used it bad. They say, in America you have freedom, you see material prosperity but cultural decadence. You see technological expertise but moral decay. In the Islamic world, we might be poor but we are trying to fulfill the will of God. We might be failing, but at least we are trying. And that makes us a hundred times better than you because virtue is a higher calling than freedom.

The problem with that thinking is there is no real virtue without freedom. Virtue is not virtue if you are forced to act that way. It is not virtuous to wear a burka if you are forced to do so.

D’Souza said people the world over still want to come to the United States.

There is an expectation of opportunity here. More than any other society, America is distinguished by the fact that even more than the countries of Europe, it gives a pretty good chance of success to the ordinary guy. In Europe, you have greater security, protection from cradle to grave, but there is less opportunity and less mobility. If you meet someone rich in France or Germany, the chances are pretty good they come from an affluent family. If you find someone who became rich, that story is striking because it is not normal. In America they are commonplace. In other countries, the rich have an aristocracy, something you cannot buy in the United States. It seems to me a country is judged by the opportunity it gives to the common man. As an immigrant, I am startled to see that the common man has it pretty well in America – a place where the poor people are fat.

In America, a person is the architect of his own destiny. In America, your life is more like a blank sheet of paper and you are the artist.
(In India, he said, his future would have been pretty much laid out before him. He would have had choices, but within relatively limited parameters.) In America, your destiny isn’t given to you, it is constructed by you.

The core idea of America is the self-directed life. This is a clue about what is so appealing about America, especially among young people.