Eunomia · 2006 · November · 27


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I’m all in favour of ‘democracy promotion’ (means to be determined on a case-by-case basis). Indeed, I consider it to be an essential goal for the West in the 21st century, both for reasons of self-interest (democratic governments do not go to war with each other), and basic human morality (democratic governments respect universal human rights).

I can’t understand thinking that a democratic government’s role does not involve securing and promoting democracy. ~Akrasia

Via Pithlord

Akrasia’s first claim, the claim of democratic self-interest in promoting democracy, is based on a fable and a dream.  Not only do democracies go to war against each other with sufficient regularity to reject any talk of “exceptions that prove the rule,” they tend to wage particularly nasty, long, drawn-out wars against each other.  Second, must we continue to belabour simple points about whether democracies respect human rights?  Some democratic states (Russia leaps to mind) do no such thing, and there is nothing inherent in democracy that requires such governments do respect those rights.  If by “democracy,” Akrasia means constitutional government under a rule of law, he should say so and stop importing the virtues of one kind of regime into democracy and pretending that democracy has something to do with respecting human dignity and the claims of morality.  Any government’s duties, regardless of its political constitution, are defined by providing basic order, enforcing the laws, protecting citizens against external threats and securing the interests and welfare of the people and the commonwealth.  At no point is it part of any government’s function to export an ideology or lend its support to the spreading of a certain type of government elsewhere in the world.  Besides going beyond its proper functions, any government that did this would very likely have to acquire such power that it would become a threat to the constitution of the home country. 

Not without foundation, it seems, Lee suspects a hint of gnosticism. I really need to get this book [Doors of the Sea]. ~Kevin Jones

There are traces of gnosticism in David Hart’s work, and he himself acknowledges a proclivity for gnostic views in Doors of the Sea, but I would argue that this gnosticism is not so much to be found in his distinction between nature and creation (which accords fairly well with patristic distinctions about the created order before and after the Fall). 

There are, however, other problems with Doors of the Sea.  On that book and his challenge to traditional theodicy, I had this to say last year:

Dr. Hart’s squeamishness, which is what it seems to me to be, at the thought of a wrathful God has already made any patristic account for suffering irrelevant to his argument. The thought of a wrathful God is something he is so far from acknowledging that he does not even engage the Fathers when they speak of God in this way. It is certainly a trend in modern theology, including Orthodox theology, to de-emphasise potentially embarrassing concepts in the Fathers, whether by heavily ‘contextualising’ them historically so as to deprive them of contemporary relevance or by misusing, as it seems to me, the concept of the consensus patrum to write off some patristic ideas as eccentric or idiosyncratic and therefore not authoritative. Hart’s book does not ignore the Fathers–he relies on them for a solid account of the goodness of God, creation, man and his place in the cosmos. But his brisk treatment of the subject apparently precluded testing his idea against the received wisdom of the Fathers–it is not only St. Gregory who makes the case for understanding natural calamities as chastisements, but St. Maximos who approvingly comments on a similar view from a separate Oration. What cannot be stressed enough is that God’s wrath and mercy are both expressions of His love (whom the Lord loves He chastises–Heb. 12:6), and there has never been an inherent contradiction between divine wrath and divine love.    

Saakashvili’s best American friends are Sen. John McCain, who has made support of democracy in the former Soviet Union a major theme, and George Soros, who helped pay salaries for the bankrupt Georgian civil service system in 2004. This cannot please Putin. ~Richard Holbrooke, The Washington Post

Let’s see: a hot-headed hegemonist and an arch-fomenter of anti-Russian activism both like and support Saakashvili.  This is not news to us, and this is exactly why Moscow views him (rightly) with suspicion.  Why might Putin find Saakashvili more than a little irritating?  Perhaps because he is bellicose and irresponsible, anti-Russian, and a perfect caricature of Third World tinpot dictator “elected” with an improbable 95% of the vote? 

Whatever the many, many flaws of Putin, let us be clear about this: Saakashvili is not a defender of anyone’s freedom or a noble David struggling against overwhelming odds.  He is a small-time crook who has overplayed his hand and now finds himself outgunned and surrounded.  Lucky for him, he has major Western connections.  But this Djindjic of the east may well meet a similar fate thanks to his own reckless and dangerous confrontational positions vis-a-vis Russia.  It is not admirable that Russia is smothering Georgia, and it is deplorable that two Orthodox peoples are at odds with one another, but it was always folly for the Georgian ant to bite the Russian bear.  The ant was never going to win, and there is nothing admirable or heroic in calling down ruin on your people. 

For his part, Saakashvili had best be careful around his “friend” John McCain, who likewise supported Shevardnadze against the Russians.  This was not because he cared a whit about Shevardnadze, whose overthrow at the hands of the Stalin-loving Saakashvili (this dictator rallied his supporters at the statue of Dzugashvili during the “democratic” Rose Revolution) brought no comment from him, but because pro-NATO Georgian politicians are simply useful tools to advance hegemonist goals in the Caucasus and nothing more.  In spite of Saakashvili’s repeated belligerent statements with respect to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in spite of his provocative actions that precipitated the latest crisis (in which, I must agree, Putin has overreacted and played directly into the hands of the Russophobes in Washington, who are piling on lately), the good establishment lackeys continue to tell us that Saakashvili is an important supporter of U.S. interests rather than an embarrassing liability.  You can take it to the bank that if Richard Holbrooke believes supporting Saakashvili is the necessary course of action that the wise, patriotic and moral thing to do is the exact opposite of what he recommends.

The fruits of pre-emption and regime change are beginning to ripen.  Now other great powers are taking advantage of our relative weakness to settle scores with small countries which their governments would like to dominate.  Where Russia at least has some claim to legitimate interests in its near-abroad, Washington has claimed the right to intervene almost anywhere.  Let us not be shocked or scandalised when Moscow acts to punish a neighbour after our government has chastised regimes on the other side of the world.  It is most regrettable and awful that the people of Georgia (and Armenia) are being made to suffer for the delusions of Saakashvili and the rage of Putin, and if Washington had any credibility as a neutral power in all of this it might call Russia on its arbitrary and excessive treatment.  Since Saakashvili is transparently Washington’s man and everyone paying attention knows this, there is essentially nothing that we or the Europeans can say that will do anything but confirm the Kremlin in its hard-line policy.  Such is the loss of our moral authority that goes with attempting to create hegemony across vast swathes of Asia.  Such is the backlash against the mad hegemonist design to encircle and “contain” Russia.  Like so many nations before them, the Georgians have been led on by American and European promises of support and then left stranded, because in the final analysis Washington and Brussels know that Georgia is not worth enough to them to cause a significant rift in relations with Moscow.  Like so many other peoples before them, the Georgians have been led astray and betrayed by their own “reformist” leadership that does not have the welfare of the Georgian people in mind.  Putin is being exceedingly cruel, but the Georgians must see that their own government has been exceedingly stupid in bringing this disaster upon their country. 

A homeowners’ association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.

——————-

The association in this 200-home subdivision 270 miles southwest of Denver has sent a letter to her saying that residents were offended by the sign and the board “will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive.”

The subdivision’s rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

Kearns ordered the committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, but members refused after concluding that it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn’t say anything.

Kearns fired all five committee members. ~CNN

Via Clark Stooksbury

You have to admire the pettiness of people in these little positions of power.  It will accomplish nothing of value, but Kearns has made his point and established his authority over the subdivision! 

A wreath in the shape of a peace sign is so innocuous and inoffensive that it probably ranks among the more neutral symbols one might put up to express the desire for “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.”  Were this to happen on a university campus and a professor or student were prohibited from having some sort of explicitly Christian symbol or message on his office or dorm room door at Christmastime, you had better believe that we would be hearing about religious discrimination and the godless oppressors of academe (and these critics would have a good point).  But it does not require much imagination to guess that the response from the professional War on Christmas watchers will be one of silence or only the mildest of rebukes.  The assumption that a peace symbol during the Christmas season  must have overtly political meaning is simply amazing.  This makes roughly as much sense as those who think that creches on public property are the first step towards theocratic domination.   

More depressing in a way than this pointless attack on a harmless wreath is the deadening uniformity that this association can impose on the subdivision’s homeowners.  Leave it to naturally conformist Americans to create private bureaucracies and committees to ensure homogeneity and uniformity of appearances.  This reminds me of nothing so much as Californians and other transplants who move into semi-rural or small-town locations in the Southwest and set about trying to regularise everything and bring it up to their own codes of zoning and restrictions.  Rustic and charming have their limits, after all. 

Update: Bob Kearns is really out on a limb–even Don Surber realises that Kearns is being a fool.

The letters to the editor in the latest American Conservative (12/04 issue) include some remarkable statements.  One Ted Barrett responded most negatively to TAC’s election editorial, GOP Must Go, saying, among other things:

To vote for liberals to spite conservatives is absolute suicide–something I don’t believe in either. 

At least there’s no compromising on absolute suicide.  Relative suicide would be something else again.  This statement makes a certain amount of sense, except that the “spiting” going on in the editorial in question was of Mr. Bush and his agenda, which, as longtime readers of the magazine would already know, was anything but conservative.  It has been a typical refrain that opposing the GOP this year would undermine conservatives, to which the only appropriate response seems to me to be, “You mean there are still conservatives in the GOP?”  I jest, but only slightly.

Robert Mautz of Zanesville wrote as perfect a demonstration of circular reasoning as you will find anywhere:

As far as the argument that Bush’s policies have emboldened terrorists, this is a ridiculous. [sic]  If Bush’s policies embolden terrorists, then the terrorists should want these policies to continue so that the [sic] can recruit more terrorists; however, terrorists want the Democrats to regain power.

Isn’t it obvious?  How can you argue with a thing like that? 

Then there was Jason Reeves, who lamented TAC’s neglect of the mighty electoral machine that is the Constitution Party.  On this I have a little more to say.  I am registered with the New Mexico affiliate of the CP, though you would be hard-pressed to find any evidence that such an affiliate does or ever did exist.  In the veritable one-party state that is New Mexico, where Democrats dominate all aspects of state government, rightist protest votes tend to be pretty small and there tends to be no large constituency in our subsidy-dependent state for paring the government back to the bone.  Therefore, the CP in New Mexico is extremely small and typically runs no candidates.  Now I generally agree with the CP platform, and I voted for Michael Peroutka in 2004.  But how exactly is the CP relevant to midterm elections?  Like all other failed third parties to date, they organise for the presidential elections in the hopes of making some small ripples on the national scene, instead of building up positions at the local and state level and then establishing a presence in Congress.  Once the presidential race is over, the party largely goes into hibernation until the next one comes around, when they begin the entire dance again.  To have endorsed the Constitution Party, which was running perhaps a handful of candidates for Congress (if that), rather than taking account of the need to hold Republicans to account for their misrule, would have shown the TAC editors to be fairly frivolous.  One might disagree more heartily with the decision to have multiple endorsements in 2004, but there the CP candidate received two endorsements out of six, which is two more than he received from just about anywhere else.  I appreciate Mr. Reeves’ maximalist, all or nothing approach to politics, and I still share more of it than most, but it is singularly unrealistic to expect anyone else to pay attention to the demands of maximalists who insist that everyone who has not, as of right now, embraced the glory of the Constitution Party must have already sold out to the system.

I also suspect, and the title of the blog has always suggested that Americans are primarily consumers of products - that our other pre-political bonds or identities are overwhelmed by our identities as consumers. We don’t look at each other as members of sections, or religious communities so much as we latch onto hobbies and rank whether someone is relatively close to our status. Oh you like hot wings too? Have you ever tried this kind? You’re into audio equipment? Have you seen that new tube-driven CD player in Audiophile magazine? This used to be just a tiny part of a man’s eccentricity. But in the age of Patio-Man it is his identity. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

There is a lot of truth to this.  I think this is partly why Austin Bramwell criticises defenders of “ancestral loyalties,” partly why the anti-crunchies literally cannot understand the virtue of putting obligations to a community first, partly why some libertarians view opponents of immigration as madmen and proto-Nazis.  It is one of the reasons why neocons think it is an insult to claim that other peoples have greater attachment to “tribe or religion or whatever,” because they so plainly regard the accusation of any such attachment as the worst kind of insult, and it is one of the reasons why the only tribal loyalty David Brooks can muster is loyalty to the anti-tribal, universalist tribe of the proposition nation, an imaginary tribe, a tribe bound by ideas and not blood or custom or faith.  It is partly why Trent Lott cannot understand why Sunnis and Shi’ites are killing each other, and perhaps also why most Americans could only shrug in confusion when they were confronted with the wars in the Balkans.  It is why they had to attribute sectarian and ethnic warfare in the rest of the world to disputes that stretch back centuries.  This falsehood was often uttered in relation to the Yugoslav wars–”they’ve been killing each other for centuries!”–as if the sheer antiquity of the grudge was the only thing that made it understandable to people whose blood and sect loyalties are as weak as ginger beer. 

This represented the failure to understand that these feuds have everything to do with immediate loyalties to kith, kin, church and place and less to do with unusually long memories about slights and battles from long ago.  The memories of old injuries are kept alive because the rivalry is ongoing and fresh in the minds of those who remember.  The old fights are not old, but continue in some form even now.  Only antiquarians would normally bestir themselves over the outcome of Culloden, but for Scottish nationalists who have a mind to detach their country from Great Britain it might have an immediacy and relevance that more recent battles do not.  The characteristically short American historical memory, which prevails everywhere except perhaps for some areas in the South, is a product of having kept few powerfully strong attachments to the old ties of blood and faith that cause men to tell the stories of their past victories and defeats and the old outrages against their people.  There is an advantage to this ongoing amnesia, which is that Americans are unlikely to resent one another over the injuries that your people did to mine 50 or 100 or 200 years ago and are less likely to engage in actual violence against their ancestral foes, but it also means that they have no idea who they are and only passing antiquarian interest in where they came from (genealogy is most popular, naturally, in the country where it is also supposed to be the most irrelevant).  Because we are trained to be less atavistic than other peoples, we are tied less to our history, which is from my perspective mostly a blight and a curse; because the conventional national myth today is one of progression away from the old ways, we consequently have much less respect for our forefathers and find ourselves increasingly unable and unwilling to defend the patrimony they have left to us.  This keeps us from the extreme declensions of vendetta and brutality against neighbours from another tribe or sect, but it also dissolves and eats away at our capacity to have meaningful community and to have neighbours who are more than geographically proximate.  There is something deeply unnatural and abnormal about this, and if Europe is any indicator of where we are headed we should be able to see that no people can long survive the abjuration of loyalty to itself.   

The Marching Season in Ulster appears to Americans bizarre and difficult to comprehend (what do battles in the 17th century really have to do with people today, some might ask) because we rarely attach our current status in society to the outcome of old internecine fights.  The Russian commemoration of the victory over Polish occupation during the Time of Troubles probably strikes many of us as odd in the extreme for similar reasons.  The Orthodox recitation of the Synodikon on the first Sunday of Great Lent, listing and re-condemning the errors of all of the major heresies of the past, is for many other confessions slightly inexplicable, because for many others this emphasis on right teaching is, if not foreign, hardly as ingrained as it is in the Orthodox Church.  Catholics, while many take doctrine very seriously, do not annually get together and denounce the Cathars, Luther and Calvin.  There is a certain mentality tied to this kind of ritual denunciation that Americans usually share only in the context of endorsing their own universalist political ideas against the list of enemies of the 20th century.  That enthusiasm for America as something other than a Brooksian universalist tribe is not really permitted in much of the current discussion is proof of the self-destructive tendency in denigrating and minimising pre-political loyalties.  If men are not defined by kin, birth, place and the web of traditions handed down to us, no enduring identity exists that is not subject to the dictates of a state and the whims of individuals.   

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas strongly hinted yesterday that he would run for president in 2008, saying the Republican field was open for a “full-scale conservative” and that he would make an official announcement soon. ~The Washington Times

Now in the past year Ross held up Brownback as a sort of “theocon” poster boy, and he certainly has the credentials to beat Romney among social conservatives (even if Romney weren’t a Mormon).  In many ways, he is the Midwest’s Santorum as a religious and social conservative, but lacks the Pennsylavnian’s ranting about Venezuelan invasions of the Andean highlands.  Unlike Santorum, his odd obsessions in foreign policy run toward the internationalist do-gooder side and less towards the apocalyptic, “gathering storm” interventionist side.  Brownback is the religious conservative social reformer who has taken an interest in foreign and domestic problems that typically leave many conservatives cold or uninterested (AIDS in Africa, prison reform, etc.).  His preoccupation with Darfur is representative. 

Therein lies the biggest (but not the only) problem I have with Brownback.  Brownback’s Darfur focus puzzles and concerns me.  In the last three years, Brownback has figured prominently in news about U.S. responses to the conflict in Darfur, but where has he been on Iraq one way or the other?  Someone who believes that a high foreign policy priority for the United States is to stop a civil war in the Sudan, while the problems of Iraq are put on the back burner, is frankly not someone I would want in the White House.  If he runs for President, Brownback’s calls for action on Darfur will provide a substantive example of a religious conservative whose religion is to some significant degree guiding his foreign policy proposals.  The complaints from the left about this might be less shrill than dark murmurings about evangelical foreign policy gone wild that we have endured in the past several years, since Darfur is a pet project for some on the left, but it would still be a liability.  

Brownback’s work on Darfur will make him seem like a lot less of a “full-scale” conservative and more of a Wilsonian (which is how I think of him).  This Wilsonian image ties him to the public image of Bush, and this will damage him among conservatives who have had quite enough of crusading for freedom and democracy “and all that good stuff” (as Col. Tigh might say).  The Bush associations don’t stop there.  Already he is talking up the “compassionate conservative” label, after we had all thought it had been left dead and buried in the wreckage of New Orleans, and I guarantee you that this unfortunate phrase will not fool anyone again and will instead lose him support.  My guess is that your hard-core Republican primary voters have heard enough about compassion and ”hopeful” ideologies and a desire to make the world a better place.  What they are looking for will be two things: competent leadership and a record of pragmatic experience in actually running an executive department.  (Hey, Tommy Thompson is looking better all the time!) 

Here are the basic problems: Brownback has attached himself to a governing philosophy, if we want to dignify it with that name, associated strongly with Mr. Bush, who is not terribly popular.  He generally seems to be playing the role Mr. Bush claimed to play post-South Carolina in 2000, positioning himself to the right of the likely “moderate” front-runners.  Brownback’s message at present is that of the early Bush of “Congress is balancing the budget on the backs of the poor” (that’s the “compassionate” part) combined with the later anti-McCain, “I’m the real conservative in this race” Bush (that’s the “conservative” part).  The content of Brownback’s proposals may not be as bad as this suggests, but the symbolism of taking up the fallen standard of Bush’s failed political program is poisonous to his candidacy.

All of that having been said, Brownback has actually said some intriguing things about other areas of foreign policy that deserve brief mention.  The willingness to open ties with Syria and Iran is wise and necessary, and if there were more of this common sense in the man’s foreign policy proposals and less of the idealist Save Darfur rhetoric he might become a credible alternative to the disastrous foreign policy ideas circulating in the upper echelons of the GOP.  But I will tell you right now that someone who calls for diplomatic ties with Syria and Iran is politically a dead man in the primaries.  This is a shame, since Brownback appears to be the only likely candidate so far who has broached this topic publicly.  In so doing, he has put himself against not only hard-core GOP voters but also against the main organs of GOP opinion.  He will find himself on the receiving end of a lot of harsh criticism from the think tanks, the WSJ, NR, the Spectator and anywhere else where bad historical analogies and rhetoric about Islamofascists appear.  I can already hear Victor Davis Hanson screeching: “If Sam Brownback were around in WWII, would he propose that we open diplomatic ties with imperialist Japan and Fascist Italy?  Well, would he?!  1938!  1938!” 

What applies to Obama, Clinton and McCain also applies to Brownback: Senators do not generally win general elections for President.  It hasn’t happened the previous four times someone from the Senate captured the nomination of a major party (1964, 1972, 1996, 2004), and in each case the nominee from the Senate was running against an incumbent party or president.  Senators win nominations when everyone else in the party assumes that the election is probably a lost cause and not worth pursuing–and they’re usually right.  The only sitting Senators to win the Presidency in the twentieth century were Warren Harding and JFK, and Harding’s victory was almost predetermined by the deep loathing of Wilson’s Democrats following WWI.  Some Democratic Senator this time around might pull off a Harding-like victory in the wake of a disastrous two-term Bush Administration, but it remains extremely unlikely.  

More than that, Senators don’t often get the nomination.  Except for 1960 and those four modern examples, in every open year on either side sitting Senators have either not run or failed to win the nomination in every election besides 1888 and 1920.  From 1892 until 2004, sitting Senators received the nomination only 20% (6/30) of the time.  Except for the elections of 1960 & 1964, there have not been consecutive elections in which a major party nominated a sitting Senator.  If it were to happen in 2004 & 2008, it would be only the second time in American history.  (1884 & 1888 both saw candidates who had served in the Senate, but Blaine was not a sitting Senator when he ran.)  All trends indicate that sitting Senators becoming nominees for either party in two years is extremely unlikely.  (Speaking of past nominees and Brownback, how did the last GOP nominee from Kansas do?  That’s right.  It was ugly.)      

1888 and 1920 are the only examples besides 1960 of Senators who came directly from the Senate to win the nomination of his party and win the general election: Benjamin Harrison and Warren Harding.  Before Harrison and Harding, former Senators had done a little better in getting nominations: Pierce and Buchanan had served in the Senate and later became President, but they did not come to the White House directly from the Senate.  Still earlier, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Hugh Lawson White were Senators who made failed bids on Whig tickets in the elections of the 1830s.  Senators simply don’t become nominees for the Presidency very often, and usually even when they get to the general election they lose. 

1988 on the Democratic side was simply lousy with Senators, and none of them got anywhere.  To their everlasting embarrassment, they chose Dukakis, but consider what that means (besides being an indictment of the bad judgement of primary voters).  Given the option to choose from a selection of Senators (admittedly very dreary characters: Gore, Biden, Hart, Simon), Democrats instead chose Dukakis.  Reckless prediction: John McCain will be the Gary Hart of 2007-2008.  1992 on the Democratic side was likewise Senator-rich (Harkin, Kerrey, McCarthy, Tsongas), and we all know how that turned out.   

It is worth noting, given that both parties seem to have excesses of ambitious Senators in their ranks for this coming cycle, that it has never happened that two Senators have faced each other in the general election.  Anything is possible, and the alternatives are few and are almost impossible to take seriously (Vilsack! Richardson! Thompson! Huckabee!), but the chances of a McCain vs. Clinton throwdown or a Brownback vs. Obama fight, or any combination for a Senator-against-Senator election, are so poor that it is a wonder that anyone gives their candidacies serious consideration. 

Reihan mentions in his Iraq post the TNR contribution of Prof. James Kurth, a sometime contributor to The American Conservative and a serious foreign policy thinker I once mistakenly criticised in a letter to History Today.  Now I fear I must criticise with rather more intensity. 

Reihan doubts the desirability of playing the Shia card.  For my part, I doubt the practicability before anything else (why do they want or need us as their patrons when they have all the advantages right now?), but I also question the wisdom of any argument that contains the following claim:

A more accurate comparison, however, would analogize the Baath Party to the Waffen S.S., the Nazi Party’s elite unit, and the Sunni Arab community to the Nazi Party as a whole, which eventually made up as much as 15 percent of Germany’s population.

All Nazi analogies, however well-formed and considered, are an automatic 20 point deduction from any argument related to Iraq.  I am a fair man.  I find Nazi analogies with Iraq absurd and ridiculous whether they are uttered by proponents or opponents of the current war.  They are almost always sloppy analogies, misguided and tendentious.  The blithe identification of an entire people, an entire sect, with the Nazi Party is unworthy of a serious thinker, and I consider Prof. Kurth to be more capable of serious analysis than this. 

This is the sort of unfortunate rhetoric that encouraged the Serbophobic bloodlust among the chattering classes in the ’90s.  It is the resort of someone who is about to propose something rather distasteful and ugly.  It is much better to align the future victims of massacre and mass forced relocation with the Nazis, in order to make the ugliness go down easier.  Let no more paths of criminal policies be paved with lame references to Nazism.  Irony protests at being so ill-used.

The Shia strategy is a move that Prof. Kurth has proposed before in a TAC article that proposes the same Shia strategy in the greater anti-jihadi war in a reprise of the lessons of nurturing the Sino-Soviet split.  There is a certain way in which this larger divide et impera approach makes a lot of sense.  This proposal would fit very nicely with a move towards rapprochement with Iran, which would parallel the move to divide politically the communist world in 1972.  According to this model, we might “open” Iran or, more grimly, reap the benefits of encouraging intra-Islamic feuding.  Let them kill each other, and let Allah sort it out, we might say. 

From this perspective, it might be possible to view the sectarian warfare in Iraq as a desirable redirection of fanatical energies against other Muslim populations.  Shi’ites then become the means to further weaken, distract and disorient Sunni jihadis, who represent the bulwark of the anti-American jihadi threat, a reality only obscured by silly people who throw around labels like Islamofascist in an attempt to group together jihadis who should be targeting one another.

In the Iraqi context, however, this dubious “two-state solution” of Kurdish and Shi’ite polities seems a recipe for continual nightmares.  It may well be that the Shi’ites and Kurds carve out their two states from Iraq’s corpse with or without our support, and the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are made into a stateless, oppressed and refugee people.  How encouraging perpetual war inside at least one of the two post-Iraqi states (since the stateless Sunnis will become as desperate, bitter and fanatical as the Palestinians inside the Shi’ite enclave) is more desirable than a minimal three-state partition escapes me.  (All the while, we speak as if the form of the future of Iraq were up to us–it is not.) 

Where all of this seems to go especially horribly wrong is in our endorsement of it, and in the belief that backing the likely victors will somehow aid American interests.  First, if all we do is “unleash” the Shi’ites, to use Reihan’s phrase (which assumes, wrongly, that we really have them on a “leash” right now), they will owe us nothing and will therefore have no reason to heed our demands later (we gain obligations from them only if we actively aid their defeat and/or destruction of the Sunnis, something even the most cold-eyed realist does not wish to contemplate).  As the likely victors of all-out sectarian warfare, the Shi’ites will be in a position to dictate terms, and as their de facto sponsors we will be put in a position of weakness with them.  Unlike what the U.S. actually did in Yugoslavia, this would be as if Washington had allowed the Serbs to smash their various enemies without interference of any kind and then attempt to gain some sort of leverage out of a Serbian victory that had nothing to do with us.  Simply put, ignoring every moral or political consideration, it will not work to advance American interests and will in the process stain us with the more or less open endorsement of large-scale massacre and ethnic/sectarian cleansing.  We may have to endure the reputation of the nation that destroyed Iraq and left it for dead, which seems hard to escape now; we do not yet have to attach ourselves to the mass murder of still more Iraqis with our connivance.