Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Origins of Islamofascism

I have been reading Hannah Arendt's famous book The Origins of Totalitarianism. In it she makes many compelling arguments on the subject of what leads seemingly sane people to back totalitarian leaders such as Stalin and Hitler. Among these arguments were her insights into the affects of promises of stability and certainty, as well as, the power of the movement's momentum in increasing the support of the masses.

In today's NRO Michael Leeden expresses his thoughts on how in-line with these essential understandings (though his source of these understandings is Erich Fromm, not Arendt) of totalitarianism the Islamofascist movements of today seem to be.

Concerning the search for certainty in an uncertain world, which leads many to adopt totalitarian sympathies, Leeden states:

It's not easy for modern intellectuals to accept the true nature of the Islamofascists, because of the long-discredited but still popular theory that revolutions are a good thing, and are invariably a righteous eruption against social and economic misery inflicted by greedy oppressive governments. In that view, revolutions are signs of progress, another step along the road to modernity.
But, especially in the 20th century, many important revolutions were reactionary outbursts against modernity, a desperate attempt to restore an earlier (and often imaginary) style of politics in which the state, or the leader, made most of the fundamental decisions, thereby sparing the citizens the many agonizing choices that afflict modern man. One of the greatest thinkers to grapple with these issues was Erich Fromm, who explained in Escape from Freedom that totalitarian mass movements helped modern man escape from the burdens of freedom, and then later argued that such mass movements fulfilled a collective death wish, what he called a sort of epidemic of political necrophilia. Fromm is an invaluable guide to much of what is going on in the Middle East today.

On the importance of seeming inevitability and momentum for a totalitarian movement's hold on power he writes:

Revolutionary regimes have fallen both because their own people turned against them, and because they were defeated on the battlefield. In each case, the revolutionary ideology was discredited. We humiliated the fascist revolution in the Second World War, and fascism was drained of its mass appeal. We do not know how European fascism would have ended (or indeed if it would have ended) if the Axis had won the war, but I have suggested that China today constitutes the first case of a mature fascist regime, one in which the ideology is now bloodless, but whose regime remains very nasty, corrupt, and potentially aggressive. Communism had lost much of its appeal in other Warsaw Pact countries even before we defeated the Soviet Empire. Years before the wall was breached, very few people wanted their country to become a new Bulgaria, and Pope John Paul II once wryly forecast that the last communist on earth would be a North American nun.
Islamofascism seems to me to be on the same track to the losers' circle. The Iranian people loathe it, and would gladly trade it for the Westminster model or their own fine 1906 Constitution. Most Iraqis, even though they are still voting along 'religious' lines, have shown little affection for a new caliphate or Islamic republic. No sooner had they voted for the religious blocs than they sat down and renegotiated the division of power. It's not textbook post-electoral politics, but it bespeaks a distinctly non-fanatical approach to government. Several recent polls show that al Qaeda's popularity ratings are careening downward, while our own are rising. I think these positive symptoms are the result of four main factors: the failure of the terrorists to drive us out of the Middle East, the recognition by most people that the terrorists, from al Qaeda to Hezbollah (that is, from Sunni to Shiite), are evil and must be defeated, and the near-universal conviction that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not the sort of place where one should want to live. That mullahcracy is the closest thing on earth to the much-ballyhooed "caliphate" so dear to the mouths of the jihadis, and while some alienated middle-class Muslims might dream of its wonders, most think it stinks. As it truly does.

I share the view with Leeden that Islamofascism suffers from the same weaknesses as totalitarian movements of the past, but I am a little less certain as to whether these movements are destined to fail. My doubts are not because I question that those living in the middle east are slowly coming to notice the disconnect between the fake reality that their leaders are painting and the massive failure of the terrorists to push out coalition forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, nor because I doubt that this recognition is slowly leading to a lessening of Islamofascism's potential appeal. Instead, I doubt the ability of most in western society to perceive these changes. With the constant chant of just the opposite being pushed down their throats by politicians and the media, I fear that our will may be sapped and from this loss will arise a withdrawal from the fight. With our withdrawal, the lying prophesies of the Islamofascists will appear to have come true and their despicable movements will gain yet more support as their eventual success becomes seen as both inevitable and the only provider of secure stability.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The False Paradise of Military Technology

Ralph Peters writes in NRO today the many problems with the current revolution in military thinking in the U.S. Two points struck me as particularly prescient.

First among these is his take on what a future military conflict with China would likely entail; and as he points out, some of the greatest threats aren't those we most often consider:

Even in preparing for "big wars," we refuse to take the enemy into account. Increasingly, our military is designed for breathtaking sprints, yet a war with China--were one forced upon us by events--would be a miserable, long march. For all the rhetoric expended and the innumerable wargames played, the best metaphor for a serious struggle with Beijing--perhaps of Homeric length--comes from that inexhaustible little book, Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, with its pathetic image of a Western gunboat lobbing shells uselessly into a continent.

Given the comprehensive commitment and devastation required to defeat strategically and structurally weaker enemies such as Japan and Germany, how dare we pretend that we could drive China to sue for peace by fighting a well-mannered war with a small military whose shallow stocks of ammunition would be drained swiftly and could not be replaced in meaningful quantities? Would we try Shock and Awe, Part II, over Beijing, hoping to convince China's leaders to surrender at the sight of our special effects? Or would our quantitative incompetence soon force us onto the defensive?

We must be realistic about the military requirements of a war with China, but we also need to grasp that, for such an enemy, the military sphere would be only one field of warfare--and not the decisive one. What would it take to create an atmosphere of defeat in a sprawling nation of over one billion people? A ruthless economic blockade, on the seas, in the air, and on land, would be an essential component of any serious war plan, but the Chinese capability for sheer endurance might surprise us. Could we win against China without inflicting extensive devastation on Chinese cities? Would even that be enough? Without mirror-imaging again, can we identify any incentive China's leaders would have to surrender?

The Chinese version of the counterrevolution in military affairs puts less stress on a head-to-head military confrontation (although that matters, of course) and more on defeating the nation behind our military. Despite the importance Beijing attaches to a strong military, China won't fall into the trap that snared the Soviets--the attempt to compete with our military expenditures. Why fight battles you'll lose, when you can wage war directly against the American population by attacking its digital and physical infrastructure, its confidence and morale? In a war of mutual suffering, which population would be better equipped, practically and psychologically, to endure massive power outages, food-chain disruptions, the obliteration of databases, and even epidemic disease?

Plenty of Americans are tougher than we're credited with being, but what about the now-decisive intelligentsia? What about those conditioned to levels of comfort unimaginable to the generation that fought World War II (or even Vietnam)? Would 21st-century suburban Americans accept rationing without protests? Whenever I encounter Chinese abroad I am astonished by their chauvinism. Their confidence is reminiscent of Americans' a half century ago. Should we pretend that Chinese opinion-makers, such as they are, would feel inclined to attack their government as our journalists attack Washington? A war with China would be a massive contest of wills, and China might need to break the will of only a tiny fraction of our population. It only takes a few hundred men and women in Washington to decide that a war is lost.

As for our military technologies, how, exactly, would an F/A-22 destroy the Chinese will to endure and prevail? How would it counteract a hostile media? If we should worry about any strategic differences with China, they are the greater simplicity and robustness of China's less developed (hence, less fragile) infrastructure, and a greater will to win in Beijing. No matter how well our military might perform, sufficient pain inflicted on the American people could lead a weak national leadership to a capitulation thinly disguised as a compromise. Addicted to trade with China, many in America's business community would push for a rapid end to any conflict, no matter the cost to our nation as a whole. (When Chinese fighters forced down a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft on Hainan Island several years ago, American-business lobbyists rushed to Capitol Hill to plead for patience with China--they had no interest in our aircrew or our national good.)

The Chinese know they cannot defeat our military. So they intend to circumvent it, as surely as Islamist terrorists seek to do, if in more complex ways. For example, China's navy cannot guarantee its merchant vessels access to sea lanes in the Indian Ocean--routes that carry the oil on which modern China runs. So Beijing is working to build a web of formal and informal client relationships in the region that would deny the U.S. Navy port facilities, challenge the United States in global and regional forums, and secure alternate routes and sources of supply. China's next great strategic initiative is going to be an attempt to woo India, the region's key power, away from a closer relationship with the United States. Beijing may fail, but its strategists are thinking in terms of the out-years, while our horizon barely reaches from one Quadrennial Defense Review to the next.

Even in Latin America, China labors to develop capabilities to frustrate American purposes, weaken hemispheric ties, and divert our strategic resources during a Sino-American crisis. We dream of knock-out blows, while Beijing prepares the death of a thousand cuts. The Chinese are the ultimate heirs of B.H. Liddell Hart and his indirect approach: They would have difficulty conquering Taiwan militarily, but believe they could push us into an asymmetrical defeat through economic, diplomatic, and media campaigns in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America--while crippling the lifestyle of America's citizens.

It's become another cliché to observe how much of our manufacturing capability has moved to China while we tolerate, at our own business community's behest, Beijing's cynical undervaluation of its currency. If you don't think this matters, try to go a single week without buying or using a product made in China. A conflict with Beijing might be lost on the empty shelves of Wal-Mart. Indeed, Beijing's most effective international allies are American corporations. In the Second World War we famously converted our consumer industries into producers of wartime materiel. Will a future president find himself trapped by our defense industry's inability to produce consumer goods in wartime?

A war with China would be a total war, waged in spheres where our military is legally forbidden to engage, from data banks to shopping malls. How many readers of this magazine have participated in a wargame that addressed crippling consumer shortages as a conflict with China dragged on for years? Instead, we obsess about the fate of a pair of aircraft carriers. For that matter, how about a scenario that realistically portrayed the global media as siding overwhelmingly with China? The metastasizing power of the media is a true strategic revolution of our time--one to which our narrow revolution in military affairs has no reply.

Oh, by the way: Could we win a war with China without killing hundreds of millions of Chinese?

Secondly, his point of view on the threat posed by false realities and the anti-American vitriol which is constantly and quickly spread through the world-wide media is worth considering and I believe very close to today's reality:

Many of us have struggled to grasp the unreasonable, even fanatical anti-Americanism in the global media--including the hostility in many news outlets and entertainment forums here at home. How can educated men and women, whether they speak Arabic, Spanish, French, or English, condemn America's every move, while glossing over the abuses of dictators and the savagery of terrorists? Why is America blamed even when American involvement is minimal or even nonexistent? How has the most beneficial great power in history been transformed by the international media into a villain of relentless malevolence?

There's a straightforward answer: In their secular way, the world's media elites are as unable to accept the reality confronting them as are Islamist fundamentalists. They hate the world in which they are forced to live, and America has shaped that world.
It isn't that the American-wrought world is so very bad for the global intelligentsia: The freedom they exploit to condemn the United States has been won, preserved, and expanded by American sacrifices and America's example. The problem is that they wanted a different world, the utopia promised by socialist and Marxist theorists, an impossible heaven on earth that captured their imagination as surely as visions of paradise enrapture suicide bombers.
The global media may skew secular, but that doesn't protect them against alternative forms of faith. Europeans, for example, have discarded a belief in God as beneath their sophistication--yet they still need a Satan to explain their own failures, just as their ancestors required devils to explain why the milk soured or the herd sickened. Today, America has replaced the horned, cloven-footed Lucifer of Europe's past; behind their smug assumption of superiority, contemporary Europeans are as superstitious and irrational as any of their ancestors: They simply believe in other demons.

One of the most perverse aspects of anti-Americanism in the global media and among the international intelligentsia is that it's presented as a progressive, liberal movement, when it's bitterly reactionary, a spiteful, elitist revolt against the empowerment of the common man and woman (the core ethos of the United States). Despite their outward differences, intellectuals are the logical allies of Islamist extremists--who are equally opposed to social progress and mass freedom. Of course, the terrorists have the comfort of religious faith, while the global intelligentsia, faced with the death of Marxism and the triumph of capitalism, has only its rage.

Human beings are hard-wired for faith. Deprived of a god, they seek an alternative creed. For a time, nationalism, socialism, Marxism, and a number of other-isms appeared to have a chance of working--as long as secular intellectuals rejected the evidence of Stalin's crimes or Mao's savagery (much as they overlook the brutalities of Islamist terrorists today). The intellectuals who staff the global media experienced the American-made destruction of their secular belief systems, slowly during the Cold War, then jarringly from 1989 to 1991. The experience has been as disorienting and infuriating to them as if we had proved to Muslim fanatics that their god does not exist.

America's triumph shames the Middle East and Europe alike, and has long dented the pride of Latin America. But the brotherhood of Islamist terrorists and the tribe of global intellectuals who dominate the media are the two groups who feel the most fury toward America. The terrorists dream of a paradise beyond the grave; intellectuals fantasized about utopias on earth. Neither can stomach the practical success of the American way of life, with its insistence on individual performance and its resistance to unearned privilege. For the Islamists, America's power threatens the promises of their faith. For world-intellectuals, America is the murderer of their most precious fantasies.

Is it any wonder that these two superficially different groups have drifted into collusion?
The suicide bomber may be the weapon of genius of our time, but the crucial new strategic factor is the rise of a global information culture that pretends to reflect reality, but in fact creates it. Iraq is only the most flagrant example of the disconnect between empirical reality and the redesigned, politically inflected alternative reality delivered by the media. This phenomenon matters far more than the profiteers of the revolution in military affairs can accept--the global information sphere is now a decisive battleground. Image and idea are as powerful as the finest military technologies.

We have reached the point (as evidenced by the first battle of Falluja) where the global media can overturn the verdict of the battlefield. We will not be defeated by suicide bombers in Iraq, but a chance remains that the international media may defeat us. Engaged with enemies to our front, we try to ignore the enemies at our back--enemies at whom we cannot return fire. Indeed, if anything must be profoundly reevaluated, it's our handling of the media in wartime. We have no obligation to open our accounts to proven enemies, yet we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by platitudes.

This doesn't mean that all of the media are evil or dishonest. It means we need to have the common sense and courage to discriminate between media outlets that attempt to report fairly (and don't compromise wartime secrets) and those whose track records demonstrate their hostility to our national purposes or their outright support for terrorists.

We got it right in World War II, but today we cannot count on patriotism among journalists, let alone their acceptance of censorship boards. Our own reporters pretend to be "citizens of the world" with "higher loyalties," and many view patriotism as decidedly down-market. Obsessed with defending their privileges, they refuse to accept that they also have responsibilities as citizens. But after journalistic irresponsibility kills a sufficient number of Americans, reality will force us to question the media's claim that "the public has a right to know" every secret our government holds in wartime.

The media may constitute the decisive element in the global counterrevolution in military affairs, and the video camera--that insatiable accomplice of the terrorist--the cheap negation of our military technology. (And beware the growing capability of digital technology to create American "atrocities" from scratch.) We are proud of our ability to put steel precisely on target anywhere in the world, but guided bombs don't work against faith or an unchallenged flood of lies. We have fallen in love with wind-up dolls and forgotten the preeminence of the soul.

We need to break the mental chains that bind us to a technology-über-alles dream of warfare--a fantasy as absurd and dated as the Marxist dreams of Europe's intellectuals. Certainly, military technologies have their place and can provide our troops with useful tools. But technologies are not paramount. In warfare, flesh and blood are still the supreme currency. And strength of will remains the ultimate weapon. Welcome to the counterrevolution.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Should We Take the Bad or Worse Option?

Yet another great article by VDH today at National Review Online. This one calls out Kerry and Clinton for their recent attacks on Bush's decision to be "multilateral" when it comes to the Iran and North Korea nuclear standoffs.

Here is a sampling:

There are really only two bad choices, Senator Clinton. One is the present “outsourcing” course: Let the Europeans exhaust negotiations, pressure the Chinese and Russians to allow the matter to go to the U.N., bolster Turkey and the Arab Gulf states and advise them to build a regional coalition to contain the problem, hope that Ahmadinejad alienates the world even more. Then, perhaps, sometime during this process, a popular uprising or even a right-wing worried cleric will thwart the nuclear party in Iran before this latest Great Mahdi gets the bomb, and with it impunity through national adulation.

All that is slow, often humiliating, and easily caricatured work; but what Secretary Rice is now doing is pretty much what liberals and Democrats also prefer — except for, apparently, the exasperated and now hawkish Senator Clinton.

The other unmentionable alternative — if we set aside the real appeasement of letting the mullahs have the bomb, or the equally cowardly policy of gently suggesting that the Israelis do the deed, or some Lord of the Rings fantasy about a grand aerial armada of NATO, American, and Russian jets descending in bombing formation over the modern forge of Mordor — is a preemptive (or in-sourced) American “air strike.”

But the singular form of the noun “strike” is disingenuous, more so when it is cloaked in the now-squishy “no option will be taken off the table” lingo.

Instead, if she wants to raise the stakes and contemplate the consequences, the senator should at least apprise her upper-West Side constituents of what the word “strike” entails: Perhaps two or three weeks of messy bombing, shown on CNN round-the-clock. Unavoidable collateral damage served up hourly on Al Jazeera as “genocide”. Missed targets, followed by worries about retribution from terrorists, now armed with nuclear waste and righteous indignation, vowing to “avenge” the infidel attack. Shiite turmoil in Iraq. Investigations into overflights of Muslim airspace. Contention over American use of Turkish, Iraqi, or Kuwaiti facilities to attack another Muslim country. Iranian-backed Hezbollah incursions into Israel. Fierce denunciations from the Russians and Chinese. Private glee and public “remorse” from the Europeans. Pulitzer-prizes and whistle-blower adulation for CIA leakers and Washington Post up-and-coming reporters. More Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky rants, reverberated by yet more shrillness from Sens. Boxer, Durbin, and Kennedy. Sky-high oil prices with the attendant conspiratorial talk about oil grabs and Zionist plotting. And more still.

All that mess is what killing bin Laden and stopping Iranian nukes may well be about, if we don’t “outsource” responsibilities — however glib that sounds on a Democratic blog or thrown out as a gnarly bone to an oohing and aahing academic audience.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Happy Burns Day

As an American of Scottish descent, I feel obligated to share with you the annual Scottish celebration of their National Poet; Robert Burns. On the 25th of January, Scots celebrate Burns birthday with a traditional haggis supper. Since I lack the time and the appetite necessary for such a formal celebration, I thought I should at least post the following (which I found here):

Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn

by Robert Burns

The battle of Bannockburn took place in midsummer of the year 1314. It marked the conclusion of the wars between England and Scotland that had been going on intermittently since king Alexander of Scotland rode his horse off a cliff in 1286, leaving the nation leaderless. The conclusion was, that Scotland was to be an independent nation. Bannockburn was therefore one of the most consequential battles in British history. King Edward the Second of England, who lost the battle, was literally chased out of Scotland. The victor of the battle, Robert Bruce, became King Robert the First of independent Scotland, recognized as such by the Pope himself in 1323 (though the English did not make formal peace until five years later).
Burns wrote this poem in 1793, at age 34, when he was living in Dumfries. He had given up farming, got an undemanding government job, and was contributing verse and folk ditties to Scottish editors. Just three years later he was dead from heart failure, probably the result of excessive drinking working on the after-effects of rheumatic fever. He has ever since been revered as Scotland's national poet, and the lines read here are considered the unofficial national anthem of Scotland.
[wha, wham = who, whom; hae = have; sae = so. Wallace refers to William Wallace, who struggled unsuccessfully in the 1290s to do what Bruce at last accomplished in 1314. This is the character played by Mel Gibson in the 1995 movie Braveheart. To be fair to Wallace, his opponent, Edward the First, was a much more formidable foe than the silly, vain, and foppish Edward the Second.]

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!

Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power—
Chains and slavery!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?—
Let him turn, and flee!

Wha for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand of freeman fa',
Let him follow me!

By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do, or die!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Race and the American Polity

In a thought provoking Opinion Journal article, Shelby Steele writes about the use of grievance for political power. Specifically, he concerns himself with the tactics the modern Democratic Party uses to ensure its strangle hold on the Black vote, as seen in Hillary Clinton's recent "Plantation" comment.

Steele goes onto argue that the best way to reveal the condescension found in modern liberalism's approach to race politics would be a Condoleezza Rice candidacy for President.

Here is a taste of the article:

Republicans and conservatives have simply never had an easy or glib mechanism for addressing profound social grievances.

But this Republican "weakness" has now begun to emerge as a great--if still largely potential--Republican advantage. Precisely because Republicans cannot easily pander to black grievance, they have no need to value blacks only for their sense of grievance. Unlike Democrats, they can celebrate what is positive and constructive in minority life without losing power. The dilemma for Democrats, liberals and the civil rights establishment is that they become redundant and lose power the instant blacks move beyond grievance and begin to succeed by dint of their own hard work. So they persecute such blacks, attack their credibility as blacks, just as they pander to blacks who define their political relationship to America through grievance. Republicans are generally freer of the political bigotry by which the left either panders to or persecutes black Americans.

* * * * *

This is why so many Republicans (including Laura Bush) now salivate at the thought of a Rice presidential bid. No other potential Republican candidate could--to borrow an old Marxist phrase--better "heighten the contradictions" of modern liberalism and Democratic power than Ms. Rice. The more ugly her persecution by the civil rights establishment and the left, the more she would give liberalism the look of communism in its last days--an ideology long since hollowed of its idealism and left with nothing save its meanness and repressiveness. Who can say what Ms. Rice will do. But history is calling her, or someone like her. She is the object of a deep longing in America for race to be finally handled, not by political idealism's, but by the classic principles of freedom and fairness.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Arab Democracy Equals Terrorism?

A well reasoned argument is found in the Los Angeles Times, in which Mark Helprin demonstrates that examples from history often belie the point of many pro-Democracy hawks that Democracies don't go to war with democracies. But in discounting some of the more grandiose claims made by the likes of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Natan Sharansky, Helprin implies an even greater untruth. After reading this article one is incapable of being left with any view other than that the entire basis for Bush's foreign policy is mistaken. I will attempt, in a few words, to demonstrate that Helprin's implied assertion is based primarily upon mistakes made in his characterization of both the justifications and theories surrounding the Bush doctrine.

First, and possibly most importantly, Helprin wrongly suggests that Bush's admiration for a democratic middle east has led America's foreign policy off of a cliff into an idealistic strategic la la land where idealism trumps all other considerations. So important is this characterization of the Bush administration to Helprin's argument, he both begins and ends his article with it:

THE PRESIDENT believes and often states, as if it were a self-evident truth, that "democracies are peaceful countries." This claim, which has been advanced in the past in regard to Christianity, socialism, Islam and ethical culture, is the postulate on which the foreign policy of the United States now rests. Balance of power, deterrence and punitive action have been abandoned in favor of a scheme to recast the political cultures of broad regions, something that would be difficult enough even with a flawless rationale because the power of even the most powerful country in the world is not adequate to transform the world at will.

* * * * *

For the pleasure of displaying our virtue, we may someday suffer innumerable casualties in a terrorist attack that a compromised state might have helped us to prevent.

In foreign policy, carelessness and confusion often lead to tragedy. Thus, a maxim chosen to guide the course of a nation should be weighed in light of history and common sense.

Or is that too much to ask?

Bush and his administration have not forgotten the strategic tools of the past, they have simply redefined their relationship to broader goals. In other words if America could both deter her enemies and promote human rights; if she could both punish those whom wrong her while at the same time push for democratic reform; if America is able to change the balance of power to her advantage while at the same time advancing liberty in a part of the world not use to its presence, then why shouldn't she. Helprin's answer of course is that America cannot do both....and so should wisely choose to protect her own security at the expense of allowing others do what they will.

Helprin also seems to think that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were begun for the simple reason of experimenting and testing this new democracy theory which those wily neo-conservatives of PNAC had been pushing for since the end of the last Gulf War.

This is flat wrong. It is true that many members of the now famous letter to then President Clinton from PNAC arguing for more aggressive action to be taken against Saddam Hussein also believed deeply that the greater purpose for America was spreading democracy. But it is also true that many of the members then looking for the overthrow of Saddam did so for the exact same strategic reasons to which Helprin now wishes so fervently for the U.S. foreign policy to return (see Richard Armitage, Francis Fukayama, and James Woolsey).

The most obvious reason for discounting any view that Bush decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan simply to spread Democracy is because of what preceded these attack on the American homeland not rivaled by anything in American history (I realize the many similarities with Pearl Harbor but even Pearl Harbor does not rise to the events of 9-11 for the simple fact of the differences in the targets of the two attacks). Afghanistan was not invaded for the simple purpose of spreading democracy, it had at least something to do with both revenge and deterrence (nothing deters future acts of terrorism by individuals and states like killing said individuals and states). Neither was Iraq merely a petri dish for testing theories of democracy. Despite the many second guessings of defeated or frightened politicians and hypocrites, no one (by no one, I mean no one who was taken seriously on either side of the Atlantic) doubted Saddam's WMD capabilities. And with that seemingly certain knowledge and the less certain knowledge (now ironically the one belief which has been confirmed) of Saddam's support and contacts with terror groups (including al Qaeda), it was a very traditional self defense argument that pushed America, the UK, Australia and thirty-something other nations into invading Iraq. Once we had dethroned the devilish tyrants who led these nations, placing a form of government in conformity with our greatest ideals should have been expected and sought. It appears then that there were and are many non-idealistic reasons for the current wars in which America now finds itself.

So what of Helprin's greater argument that suggests America's idealistic's promotion of Democracy in the broader middle east (and the entire world for that matter)...some how contradicts our greater goal of national security. This, at least, is debatable. Helprin does a good job promoting the reasons for doubting the inteligence in America's attachment to her ideals in foreign affairs. But his argument has its own weaknesses.

First off, if his view of the perfect defense strategy comported perfectly with reality then there would be little reason for America to have changed its policies. Again this leads us to the question of what changed the status quo. Just as before what changed was September 11. It was, of course, not that the world actually changed on that day. But rather, our perceptions changed. It was as if a veil had been lifted. What we once saw as safety was suddenly revealed to be nothing more than a false mirage. One of the big reasons I would argue for the rise in terrorism is in fact the existence of so many despotic rulers in the middle east in the decades preceding 9-11. These tyrants ran their countries into the ground and then blamed their own failings on the outside world, and often they directed this venom at the convenient target of the U.S. In doing so they were able to delay the questioning by their own populace which would eventually have lead to their being held accountable for failings. Also with no outward vent for frustrated dreams (as well as oftentimes no window on the outside world) these same populations became easier prey for Islamists. Even those despots lovingly referred to as "our bastards" seem to have created more strategic trouble than they were worth. The house of Saud's spread of violent wahabism, the backlash to the American backed Shah of Iran, and the lack of thankfulness from the PA leaders past and present are just a trinity of examples. The simple fact remains that in the long run relying on dictators to promote American security is a losing hand.

Secondly, there is truth in the argument that if popular elections were held today throughout the middle east the results would probably give one pause and create justifiable panic throughout America and the west concerning their strategic future. This being said, however, it is premised on a rather short-sited view of America's strategic interests. While in the short term pro-American despots will lead to an increase in security and the promotion of democracy a relative decrease in the same...the long run view reveals just the inverse. So either America is left with no good option in fighting Islamic terrorism or perhaps democracy is the path to long term security.

Finally, in part (a very small part) I agree with Helprin. The administration needs to put more stock in changing the perception of America in the middle east. Despite popular belief this does not mean America should capitulate, in fact our strength (military and otherwise) can work to our advantage. But what I would argue works most to our advantage is the actual support of democratic institutions in the middle east. Those, in that region, who do not look upon any democratic reform as a good thing may in fact be beyond rehabilitation.

I feel that our democratic push is not only not a detriment but more likely one of our great weapons going forward.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

God's Wrath and New Orleans

New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin made two relatively controversial statements concerning God's will and New Orleans Monday. The first suggested that the reasons for Hurricane Katrina's devastation were the U.S. war in Iraq and the failure of black America in resolving her own problems.

Just as is the case when any man tries to divinate God's meaning in natural phenomenon, Nagin seems to suffer from an unhealthy overconfidence in his ability to spot the failings of both America and the black community. When Pat Robertson claims to know why Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke, most of the world cringes in disbelief and disgust. And so, also should the world condemn Nagin's recent pronouncement. The reason for this condemnation, however, might not be the same reason for which many in today's society initially cringed.

It is little debated anymore that the modern West has lost its faith in the supernatural. It should also come as little surprise, then, that modern man is often-times unwilling to admit the role an omniscient God must play in the world. By admitting that all which happens here on earth is done with forethought by God, many people fear that we are attempting to write man out of the calculation or rather that we are writing man's knowledge and insight and potential out of the calculation. There is nothing inherently contrary to human knowledge and potential to be found in the fact that God acts upon and through his creation (by creation I of course am including man himself). If we as human beings act for our own purposes, or understand through our own observations some minor truths concerning how God interacts within the world, or attempt to lay blame for disasters at the feet of the politicians and leaders who we feel have wronged us, we are none the less bound by our very nature to be moved by God. We also will be no less just or unjust because of our actions or pronouncements. For so long as we act for our own selfish purposes, we act unjustly, no matter whether our acts coincide with God's plan (which they most necessarily always do).

All that being said I proffer the idea that to announce that a thing occurred because of God is not wrong, nor should it ever be condemned out of hand. To take upon oneself the unwarranted authority of condemning others or even yourself by claiming with any certainty a causal link between a natural or man-made occurrence and God's greater will is wrong and always contemptible. For some things man is incapable of passing binding judgment and the work of the Lord is always one.

A better example of commenting on the Lord's interaction with mankind is found in Lincoln's 2nd inaugural:

. . . One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

In the speech Lincoln made clear that he viewed slavery as an evil worthy of punishment (most would say that today this is a judgment beyond dispute, though at the time some argued with such a characterization), but such was Lincoln's humility that he never expressly states that God would even see slavery as always evil. He further suggested that perhaps the great suffering the Civil War placed upon America was justly deserved for the perceived sin Lincoln believed slavery to be. But one must pay great attention to the presence of an overriding humility and ambiguity with which the subject is approached. Lincoln never states that surely this Civil War was sent by God for this reason, only that slavery might be one possible of many explanations for God's actions. Also, he submits himself totally to the will of God and ventures a guess that if war be the debt due for having allowed slavery for so long, and if God feels the debt still unpaid then more war must be expected and experienced obediently.

Ray Nagin's speech, however, deserves the cringes and condemnation likely to follow because in it, all ambiguity is missing. The lack of uncertainty on Nagin's part is underlined by the fact that the two perceived evils he identifies lack the certainty of being truly evil, which the scourge of slavery, in contrast, has earned and maintained.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A cautious Note to My Overall Support

As most anyone who has read my posts on this blog will know, I believe that the spread of democracy throughout the world should be U.S. policy because it is both strategically beneficial to America and because it is the right thing to do. That having been said, I have never been the most optimistic when it comes to the amount of difficulty this goal will entail. While I can say that there is nothing innate within any race or ethnicity which would keep them from making good republicans (notice I mean small "r" republicans), I do not doubt that other external influences might make large groups more inclined to be incapable of consistently supporting a stable democratic (again small "d" democrat) government. Whether this external influence might include cultural imperatives, I do not know. But in the very least I feel that economic and ideological realities on the ground are likely to impact the success of any plans at democratization the U.S. implements. A great article on this very subject is found in the latest Policy Review. As the author, Gerard Alexander, states those pro-democracy hawks of today with whom I so often agree do stand the very real risk of soon being seen much like the Developmental Economists of the post-war era (in other words as noble failures).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Iran gone MAD

James S. Robbins pens an outstanding piece concerning the problem with allowing Iran to go nuclear. It appears now that the U.S. decision to allow Europe to try their plan of bribing (I mean "negotiating") Iran away from nukes is likely to fail. And as Robins tells it some on both sides of the pond (U.S. State Department especially) are now fondly misremembering the recent past (more particularly their love affair with the strategic stalemate between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.). So these State Department apparatchiks argue if it was good enough for the Cold War surely it is good enough for the U.S. in the war on terror.

As Robbins correctly argues there are a myriad of mistakes to be found in their logic. Biggest among these is the Cold War wasn't so peachy, especially for those liberals (read classic liberals) who found themselves on the other side of the Iron Curtain (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc...). And despite their best attempts at information recall, it wasn't all that great for us, either (Korea or Vietnam, anyone).

My favorite quote from his article:

"The belief that there is an upside to a nuclear-capable Iran is a rationalization of perceived impotence; those who suppose we are unable to prevent this from happening seek to make a virtue out of necessity." [emphasis added]

This statement, particularly the italicized part, seems to me to be a fair restatement of the entirety of European (minus Britain) strategic thinking since WWII.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Pope Benedict on International Relations

From Pope Leo I's confrontation with Atilla in the 5th century to Pope John Paul II's connections with solidarity and the fall of communism, the Pontiff has had a pretty big impact on the international scene (I mean in a secular context, as the greatness of his religious impact should be assumed). And as a protestant, it is the Pope's secular impact which often most intrigues me.

Pope Benedict XVI delivered his annual Message for the World Day of Peace yesterday. In it he mentioned a few things with which I disagree (mainly concerning his overly optimistic view of both the nature and function of international organizations in bringing about peace--especially as he defined peace in his speech).

But, alas, we being different people, it is not surprising that we do not agree on everything. More importantly Pope Benedict, clearly condemned terrorism and, I think, correctly identified its faults, as well as, the likely faults in the world view of the terrorists. Also, equally as important from my viewpoint, the holy father continued his great crusade against nihilism and moral relativism.

Here are but a few words from my favorite section of the Pope's message:

"Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. My predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II frequently pointed out the awful responsibility borne by terrorists, while at the same time condemning their senseless and deadly strategies. These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism which Pope John Paul II described in these words: ''Those who kill by acts of terrorism actually despair of humanity, of life, of the future. In their view, everything is to be hated and destroyed''.(9) Not only nihilism, but also religious fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist thinking and activity. From the beginning, John Paul II was aware of the explosive danger represented by fanatical fundamentalism, and he condemned it unsparingly, while warning against attempts to impose, rather than to propose for others freely to accept, one's own convictions about the truth. As he wrote: ''To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offence against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offence against God in whose image he is made''.(10)
10. Looked at closely, nihilism and the fundamentalism of which we are speaking share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Despite their different origins and cultural backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God's existence and his provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving and merciful countenance, replacing him with idols made in its own image. In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given, not only to its political and social causes, but also to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations."

Also in what the news report describes as a foreign policy speech to Vatican-based diplomats the Pope stated unequivocally the immorality of terrorism for any cause as well as the need to push for freedom of religion in all the world's nations:

Benedict described a global "clash of civilizations" taking root and said the danger was made even greater by terrorism, whose causes he attributed to politics as well as "aberrant religious ideas."
"No situation can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy, and it is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists' own blindness and moral perversion," he said.
Benedict stressed the need for all human rights to be respected, but said religious freedom was most important because it involves "the most important of human relationships: our relationship with God," he said.
"Unfortunately, in some states, even among those who can boast centuries-old cultural traditions, freedom of religion, far from being guaranteed, is seriously violated, especially where minorities are concerned," he said.

"To all those responsible for the life of nations, I wish to state: if you do not fear truth, you need not fear freedom!" Benedict said.

Homer's Omnipotence Paradox

Wikipedia's hilight for today was the omnipotence paradox, which is probably best described in the form of the following question:

May an omnipotent being limit its own omnipotence?

Truly a question worthy of much speculation. But enough with the serious side of this issue. Upon reading this, I was immediately reminded of my most favorite statement of this riddle. Homer (Simpson, not the Greek poet), while high, asks his religious neighbor Ned Flanders (who has just approached Homer in the well intentioned hope of spreading the good Word), "Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot, that He Himself could not eat it?"

Bar none, the best omnipotent paradox question ever uttered by man or cartoon.

Apparently, I'm not the only person who thought immediately of Homer, as the exact quote is listed at the end of the Wikipedia entry. According to that entry the Jesus-burrito conundrum was said in season 13, episode 285.

Friday, January 06, 2006

News of Interest to Me and a Little Commentary on the Side

In what is perhaps one of the most consequential stories in recent days, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in coma following several surgeries aimed at saving the political giant from the massive stroke and the fate which eventually awaits us all. Regardless of whether Sharon survives, he is unlikely to recover to a level allowing him to play any significant role in Israeli politics. In the immediate term it seems that the greatest political impact of his prostration, will be the fall of his new centrist political party Kadima in the upcoming parliamentary elections. In the long run, his absence places his strategic peace plan of withdrawal and overwhelming defensive build up in the balance. Several good articles on the many implications and many lessons to be taken from this man's fascinating life and its abrupt end can be found: here, here, here, and here.

On the ever increasing list of reasons to be weary of the "China is democratizing" talk, add the following two stories in today's news:
1) Local officials in China's Shandong Province have hired club-wielding goons to keep
a blind activist and his family in line, after the man telephoned international
newspapers to inform them of his country's policy of forcing certain undesirable
pregnancies to be aborted against the intentions of the mother.
2) Working with American corporate giant Microsoft, China shuts down a blog run by
New York Times Beijing reporter, which discussed "sensitive" political issues facing China.

U.S.-German relations may see a much needed improvement with the rise of the new government in Berlin. Many suspect that while there will be few substantial changes in U.S. or German policies, there seems to be plenty of evidence that the style of diplomacy will change for the better.

The new list from Men's Health is out and it seems that America's fittest city is Baltimore and its fattest is Chicago (no surprise there). But for the first time I can remember New Orleans doesn't even make the top 20 fattest city list. I would be interested in seeing whether the timing of the survey (read Katrina) had anything to do with these results. In related news, it appears that us Americans and our erstwhile French brethren may be on the way to sharing something else in common (the first thing being our hatred of British cuisine). Speaking of New Orleans, perhaps a return to normalcy is not that far away, afterall.

From the world of South American politics, it appears there is yet another reason to hate Chavez on par with Castro. And if there lucky soon Bolivia too will be able to challenge Cuba for having the worst dictator in the Western Hemisphere. Before anyone responds, I do realize that it's arguable that Chavez is a dictator (though arguing against this proposition is becoming slowly more difficult), and Morales has yet to do anything dictator-ish (but give him time he hasn't had the chance yet).

It appears even former members of his own party no longer like the Syrian dictator-king Assad much anymore.

An absolutely fabulous piece touching on the difficulties found in both the Departments of State and Defense in fighting the war on terrorism, by Tony Corn in the latest issue of Policy Review.

Apparently G.W. isn't the only world leader crazy enough to believe that Missile Defense is a good idea (and no I am not talking about the ghost of Reagan). It seems pretty logical to me that those countries (Japan) which are closest to the nuclear missile threat would be the first (other than the forward looking Bush) to see the benefits of a missile defense system. And for all of you wandering to yourselves "but hasn't this guy heard of the argument that such a defense system would destroy the deterrence scheme that has protected us for so long", the answer is yes, I have heard of that argument--I took a class on international security which spent a good deal of time perpetuating that argument--and I don't buy it. I believe that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), as the end all be all of nuclear threat defense, was passed over a long time ago due to changes in both technology and new security threats. But thank you for your concern.

Steven Spielberg's increasingly controversial take on Israel's response to the massacre of their athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic games is considered in these two articles today. Both disagree with his take but for different reasons.