By Arthur Alpert
Vive la difference!
Because they seemed to originate from different planets, I found myself digging into both to grasp why.
Douthat is a conservative. Some might describe Thomas that way, too, but – as you will see – the word “conservative” loses all meaning if applied to both essayists.
Douthat opens his piece with the intriguing notion that Mubarak, though a U.S. ally for some 30 years, fostered the terrorism of 9/11 by radicalizing some of his countrymen. Think Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s right-hand. Think Mohammed Atta.
That leads Douthat into a consideration of Washington’s options given the intricacies of Mideast geo-politics and, finally, this:
“We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neo-conservatism or non-interventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them…..
“But history makes fools of us all.
“Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.”
In its caution and pessimism, that’s echt conservatism.
And, agree with Douthat or not, it’s also cool, rational, nuanced, beyond partisanship.
Mr. Thomas opens by locating the Egyptian “turmoil” within the context of Islamic radicalism and not – to offer a plausible alternative – applauding it as payoff for the Bush-Cheney policy of exporting democracy to the Mideast.
He moves swiftly (in the second paragraph) to assault the Obama administration as “delusional in the belief that dictators and religious fanatics can be coddled.”
Later, Thomas blames the “clueless” State Department that, he says, “Got behind Hamas…” He doesn’t mention the Bush Administration’s insistence on a Palestinian vote Jan. 26, 2006, wherein Hamas crushed Fatah.
The burden of Thomas’s argument, however, is that the Muslim Brotherhood is a radical Islamist organization out to use the popular uprising. And, “If Egypt falls – immediately or ultimately – to the Muslim Brotherhood, it will embolden other fanatical revolutions throughout the region and world.”
“Then they’ll come after the big prizes: Europe, which is almost gone, and America, which still has time to save itself…..”
Whew! Well, given some time, let’s use some to characterize the Thomas approach.
First, you’ll agree, it’s exiting – hot, hot, hot. Not cool.
Secondly, it’s a sermon, a statement of (capital T) Truth; Thomas isn’t analyzing a knotty problem; he KNOWS what’s happening, what he thinks and what’s to be done.
Well, maybe not that last, for (on second thought) Thomas offers Washington no advice on playing this game. Except, maybe, to wage a global religious war.
Finally, Thomas is brazenly partisan, which (for once) I find relatively unimportant.
No, the columnists differ mostly in their premises. Douthat begins with doubt and uses his intellect to understand. Thomas, burning with religious fire, knows the (capital T) Truth, which allows him to think less and rage more – much like the radical Islamists he’s preoccupied with.
The religious fire is Manichean; he sees a struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness.
This doesn’t mean the Journal shouldn’t publish him. Though it’s hard to distinguish from rabble-rousing, Thomas’ dogmatic absolutism has its place.
Perhaps, however, management might rebalance its mix of rightist writers in favor of the more rational. (Where’s William F. Buckley when we need him?)
If, that is, the newspaper can distinguish between journalistic inquiry and religious certainty.