Yesterday, I wrote about the recent Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, focusing on the speech of President Bush. Another speech worthy of attention was given by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a man who, before our eyes, grows stronger as the going gets tougher. His keynote speech to the opening dinner was an easy occasion for platitudes. He might have heaped praise on Natan Sharansky and Václav Havel, topped it off with some bromides about freedom, and taken his bow to much applause. Instead, he plunged unflinchingly into the most difficult issue of the day, and threw down a rhetorical gauntlet to those demanding a quick U.S. exit from Iraq. Here is a key excerpt:
What is happening in the Middle East today is not simply a battle between the United States and its enemies in one particular country, but a much larger struggle between freedom and fear, in which Iraq happens to be the central front. On the one side of this conflict are the latest in a long line of totalitarians, a loose alliance of terrorists and tyrants every bit as fanatical as the fascists and communists with whom they share a hatred of America and the values for which it stands.
Terrorism is their preferred weapon, but it is not their ultimate aim. Their vision is far more ambitious and terrifying: a vision of hatred and conquest, in which billions of people fall under a jihadist jackboot of vicious and repressive rule. . . .
The outcome of the struggle in Iraq will go a long way toward determining whether our future in Europe, and America, and throughout much of the world belongs to these totalitarians, or to democrats. . . .
Iraq is about the survival and success of the very ideal of freedom not only in Iraq, but in Iran, and Syria, and the rest of that region, and in a very real way, in the rest of the world. . . .
Today, the choice we face is not simply whether we support the advance of democracy in the abstract, but at what cost we are willing to fight for it.
Yesterday, I asked whether a leak published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2002 might have had something to do with the recent arrests in Tehran of four Iranian-Americans on espionage charges. What direct evidence can I adduce on this score?
The answer is: none. The evidence is all circumstantial and indirect. But it is highly suggestive nonetheless.
To begin with, Iran has a significant diplomatic and intelligence presence in the United States. The same LA Times piece revealing the CIA program to recruit Iranian émigrés reported that Iranian intelligence was not only active here but that it paid careful attention to the émigré community. The LA Times story was thus, to a near certainty, picked up by Iranian officials; and it is inconceivable that a report detailing a CIA operation with such specificity would not then have been given wide notice inside the Iranian foreign-policy and intelligence establishment.
The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).
Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.
I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed optimism about our military relations with Beijing at the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue, the preeminent security conference in Asia. American efforts could be complimentary to, not competitive with, those of China, he said at the Singapore conclave. Gates listed the areas where China and America share security interests, such as terrorism, proliferation, and energy security. But he left one major issue off the list—the construction of large warships.
This is particularly disturbing in light of the remarks made by Admiral Timothy Keating in Beijing last month. Keating, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said he found his host country’s ambition to build an aircraft carrier “understandable.” After talks with China’s navy chief, Admiral Wu Shengli, Keating offered to help the Chinese build a carrier “to the degree that they seek and the degree that we’re capable.”
Will the Chinese seek to build a carrier? Without a doubt. They have been contemplating the prospect for decades, going so far as to purchase the hulks of one Australian and three Soviet carriers for purposes of reverse-engineering. Recently, Chinese military representatives have been touring international air shows to find strike planes that can be launched at sea. And the U.S. is, of course, capable of helping them build carriers. The only thing that prevents Keating from handing over the plans to the Nimitz is American legislation: a Tiananmen-era ban on military exports to China, as well as a strict limit, enacted later, on military exchanges.