Eunomia · August 2007


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Whenever I try to chart a course between the “Iraq would have been great if we’d just had smarter people in charge of the occupation” and the “Arabs can’t handle democracy” school of thought, I tend to come back to things like this — the great difficult [sic] Belgians have in creating a viable, legitimate binational democratic state. Or think of the Canadians. Or the endless problems in Spain with the Basques. It’s genuinely difficult to work these kinds of things out. And then there’s the former Czechoslovakia where it couldn’t be worked out, or else Northern Ireland where it also couldn’t be worked out but where there proved to be no adequate line of partition. ~Matt Yglesias

Looked at another way, the problem in all of these cases isn’t the creation of a viable, legitimate binational state.  Even Czechoslovakia functioned as some kind of viable, legitimate binational (or actually trinational before they kicked the Germans out) state for approximately eighty years until the local power bosses on either side of the Slovakian border decided that it would be easier and/or more advantageous to them politically to hive off the Slovaks into their own state.  This suited the Slovak nationalists and the Czech leadership, which was just as glad to have that much less competition for running Bohemia and Moravia.  As many Czechs and Slovaks will tell you even now, the “velvet divorce” was something that many people on both sides of the border did not want.  Czechoslovakia may have been some arbitrarily made-up country, but it was their arbitrarily made-up country and it was the only one they had known.  Suddenly friends and relatives became citizens of a foreign country.  As someone who visited the newly independent Slovakia in 1993, I can testify to the sort of absurd “nation-building” pettiness that accompanied this process, as our perfectly good Czech koruna bills had to be exchanged for virtually indistinguishable Slovak koruna bills, as if the little stamp on the Slovak money made any real difference.  

The trouble in these cases arises when the political class tries to maintain a binational state in such a way that appears to one party of the union to unduly privilege the interests of the other party.  To many Flemings, the Belgian state appears to be a mechanism to rob them to support Wallonia (which, for the most part, seems to be true).  You then combine this with a growing sense of alienation and nationalism of the party that feels as if it is being ignored or abused, and you suddenly have a very difficult situation.  In Belgium, matters have reached such a boiling point because, among other things, Flemish nationalists feel that they subsidise the rest of the country and they think they do not have sufficient representation at the federal level.  It has not helped that the consensus parties have banned one Flemish nationalist party and have worked assiduously to contain Flemish nationalist political power.  This has only helped to encourage the view that Belgian “democracy” means having the ‘right’ elections results and enacting the ‘right’ policies rather than having any kind of self-determination or popular government.

What do almost all of these places have in common?  They are almost all the legacies of conquest/colonialism or the products of international congresses that drew fairly arbitrary lines on maps to suit Great Power vendettas and interests.  Of these, the most “manageable” have been those arrangements where there has been significant decentralisation to meet demands for regional or provincial autonomy.  The more accurate comparison for Iraq, however, is not with Spain or Canada or even Belgium, which have a relative wealth of history as united countries compared to Iraq, but rather with Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, which were created in the same period as part of the same foolish Allied empire-carving process and which dissolved into their constituent parts (though Yugoslavia’s dissolution had a good deal of help from outside meddlers).  Iraq seems bound for the same fate, if only because the local power bosses in different parts of Iraq are going to become interested in partition for the same reasons their counterparts in Czechoslovakia were: it allows them to be bigger fish in the necessarily smaller ponds.

A few months ago, it was the received wisdom that Iraq was in the midst of a rapidly escalating civil war. That claim is no longer plausible. ~Michael Gerson

Well, actually, that was the “received wisdom” of many people last summer as well.  Rather than “rapidly escalating” now, the civil war has reached a plateau for the moment and has settled into a steady stream of sectarian bloodletting.  One wonders if Gerson reads the newspaper where his column appears.  He claims that sectarian killings in Baghdad have declined by 50%.  However, the Post reported on the draft GAO report yesterday:

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced [bold mine-DL],” it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged [bold mine-DL]. It also finds that “the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved.” 

What does all this tell us?  That it may be the case that the new tactical plan had some decent success in certain areas, and that when the “surge” ends things will revert back to the way they had been before.  Since the “surge” is definitely going to end at some point, its main accomplishment will have been to halt the worsening of the situation and buy time for the political track.  As we all know, however, the political track is all but hopeless.  Why, then, do optimistic war supporters continue to give the public false hope?  We should give Gerson this much–at least he didn’t say we had turned a corner!

Update: Prof. Cole makes all the necessary points on this subject.

Fukuyama actually makes some sense about Russia:

What the West needs to do is watch Russia’s actual behavior, and not project onto it the West’s own hopes and fears as occurred over the past fifteen years. Many Westerners are angry with Putin and the Russia he is creating in part because they are jilted lovers: they hoped in the 1990s that the country would transition in short order to a full-fledged liberal democracy, and when it didn’t, they felt cheated. But the fact that a fully democratic Russia did not emerge does not means that a fully authoritarian Russia is now inevitable. Russia’s future will not be inevitably shaped by its past, but by the decisions that contemporary Russians will make, and the opportunities that the international environment provides them to make the right choices.

John Warner’s recent relatively outspoken stances on Iraq are evidently not the result of worries about his chances for re-election next year, as he has announced that he will not be running.  As John Judis has noted, Virginia is a vulnerable seat for the GOP with a Warner retirement, and it is also a state that has lately been trending Democratic in federal elections.  The Dems could quite plausibly wind up with 56 or 57 votes in the Senate come 2009 (including Sanders and Lieberman), sending the Republicans back to pre-1994 numbers in the Senate.  In a full rout for the GOP (which would involve highly unlikely losses in Texas and Alaska), they could be reduced to 40 Senators, which would be the fewest members since the 95th Congress.  My early guess (and that’s all) is that Collins and Smith hang on, but Coleman loses along with the GOP nominees in Colorado and Virginia. 

And the fact is that the neocon crowd that took far too easily the helm of the foreign policy establishment away from the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game are almost entirely responsible for the dramatic erosion of America’s national security portfolio. ~Steve Clemons

Well, with the exception of rare figures such as Mr. Clemons himself, “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” allowed the neocons to take the helm or did very, very little to stop them from taking the helm, because at the time that the neocons were taking the helm in 2002 and 2003 “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” were largely on board with the general goals of the neocons with respect to the “war on terror” and Iraq policy specifically.  Certainly, concerning Iraq there were differences over methods, timing and process, which is why “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” lost control, because they had no fundamental and essential objections to what the neocons were proposing to do.  On Iran policy, where are “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” right now?  What are they doing to thwart an escalation of conflict with the Iranians?  Which presidential candidates (besides, naturally, Ron Paul) are challening the neocon line on Iran?  As of right now, none of the major candidates is firmly opposed to military action against Iran.  How did the neocons begin dictating the terms of the debate?  It was easy–almost everyone (with honourable exceptions such as Mr. Clemons) in the foreign policy establishment already accepted most of what the neocons were saying, or remained silent if they did not accept it.  

As the neocons have overreached again and again, there has been some resistance to executive usurpation, policies of detention and torture and the like.  However, I fear that as long as most of “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” accept so many of the same assumptions about America’s role in the world and approve of so many of the same means to reinforce American hegemony, there will never be a time when the neocons–or people just like them–will have been “purged from the American soul.”  When this particular group passes from the scene, we will find ourselves set upon by another and yet another group of hegemonists, because “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” are evidently unwilling to change very much about the way the United States government conducts foreign policy.

Strange but true: the Stars and Bars adorn this Pakistani fruit-seller’s stand (via Cliopatria).  What’s Urdu for Deo Vindice?

The Wall Street Journal (yes, you read that correctly) has a story on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, and it is surprisingly favourable.

As someone who was a fairly early critic of Maliki, I have to say that I have never had any confidence in his government as an effective U.S. ally, much less as a reliable quisling government.  Even so, I have to acknowledge that Maliki was never going to achieve the things that Washington expected him to achieve, because the interests of his government and ours never really coincided.  What was the incentive for an old Shi’ite fundamentalist Da’wa hand to engage in “political reconciliation”?  Exploiting sectarian differences and maximising majoritarian power naturally serve the particular interests of Maliki’s own party and his coalition far better.  This is not, however, something that derives from Maliki’s own flaws.  If not Maliki, Iraq would have someone from the Terrorist Group Formerly Known As SCIRI or another Da’wa politician, which means that any future ministry would be just as sectarian and “beholden to religious and sectarian leaders,” if not more.  As Prof. Cole confirms, a SIIC (formerly SCIRI) prime minister would be even more closely tied to Tehran and even more under Tehran’s control, since his party is still quite clearly an Iranian proxy as it has been for decades. 

Prof. Cole is correct that the sudden disdain for Maliki inside the Capitol is a function of both our warped political debate on the war and our pols’ ignorance about Iraq.  Democratic critics of Maliki would almost have to hope that no one pays any attention to them, since “success” in forcing Maliki out would not bring the war to an end any sooner.  The strange thing is that Democratic critics of Maliki don’t seem to grasp that installing yet another ineffectual or unduly sectarian prime minister in Iraq would simply prolong our involvement in the war that much more.  It would give Mr. Bush the advantage of being able to call for patience as the “new Iraqi government” tries to work out the various thorny problems of legislation.  If we recognised instead that Maliki was probably the best that could be hoped for, and everyone is coming to the conclusion that his government is a hopeless case, we could begin making the necessary preparations for getting out of Iraq that much sooner.  This absurd dance of arguing over which Shi’ite should be allowed to fail to govern Iraq is a waste of precious time, and each day of dithering by alleged Congressional opponents of the war is another day when Americans are dying in Iraq for no good reason.

The antiwar forces, the surge opponents, the “I was against it from the beginning” people are, some of them, indulging in grim, and mindless, triumphalism. They show a smirk of pleasure at bad news that has been brought by the other team. Some have a terrible quaking fear that something good might happen in Iraq, that the situation might be redeemed. Their great interest is that Bushism be laid low and the president humiliated. They make lists of those who supported Iraq and who must be read out of polite society. Might these attitudes be called thuggish also? ~Peggy Noonan

Give Ms. Noonan credit at least for acknowledging a certain thuggishness on the other side as well.  Most of this column is reasonably fair, and it actually gives opponents of the war a good deal more credit than one might have dared to hope for in The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed pages, which is to say that it treats opponents as rational people who might even have the odd legitimate point to make here and there.  I would really like to take Ms. Noonan’s column in the spirit in which it was written–a call to work for the common good, set aside the rancour and bitterness of the last several years and rise to the occasion of a national challenge.  With as little “grim triumphalism” as possible, let me suggest a few reasons why this appeal will be met in antiwar circles with indifference, if not derision.

First there is this business of accusing us of engaging in grim and “mindless” triumphalism.  It is true that many of us who have opposed the war from the beginning, including myself, have occasionally made a point of reminding others that those on our side were making the more prescient, accurate and serious arguments prior to the invasion.  It seems to me that war opponents have done this not, for the most part, to gloat and feel satisfied with themselves (though it is unavoidable in any major controversy such as this that there would be some of this–I genuinely believe that this sort of preening has been less obnoxious and less common than that done on a regular basis by the other side).  We have done this to establish our own credibility and, by extension, to question the credibility of those who urge us to continue the war. 

What triumphalism does Ms. Noonan mean?  Who engages in it, and how representative are they?  What, after all, do war opponents really have to gloat about?  Where is the triumph that war opponents are grimly and mindlessly celebrating?  What have we accomplished?  That we saw the disaster coming and failed to stop it?  That we knew the stated goals of the administration were nonsense, but nonetheless were entirely unsuccessful in persuading the country when it mattered?  Prescience, principle and foresight are all very well, but in the most fundamental way the antiwar movement in this country has gone from failure to failure, constantly waiting on events to do for them what war opponents have been unable to do for themselves: force an end to the war. 

Even now antiwar elements in Congress cower in fear at the approach of Petraeus, fully expecting a political setback when the general reports (as virtually all of us expect) that things are getting better and we need to give it more time.  Antiwar activists attempt to interpret the political maneuvers of mildly critical Republican Senators with the superstitious awe of someone reading his fortune in coffee grounds.  Nothing much has changed from four years ago.  American war opponents waited in anticipation at the possibility that British protesters or Dominique de Villepin or the Turkish government or (God help us) Hans Blix would somehow stop the war and save the day.  No wonder the jingoes won the day.  (Then again, jingoes usually do win the first round to get us into the war, and then leave it up to the rest of us to fix their mess.)

There is this claim that we “smirk” with pleasure at bad news.  If there is any smirking going on, it is distinctly of the gallows humour variety, since war opponents have always been appalled at the moral blight and humanitarian disaster that this war has been.  There may be exceptions out there somewhere, but in general war opponents are horrified at the nightmare that our government has let loose in Iraq, but most of us are not so foolish as to think that the same government that destroyed Iraq can effectively put it back together again.  Speaking for myself, I grimace at reports of new bombings and continued chaos in that miserable country.  It grieves me that ancient Christian communities are being uprooted, that centuries-old mosques, treasures of the medieval Islamic world, have been destroyed by fanatics and that millions of people are displaced or have fled their homes.  The few gratifying moments come in revealing the more pompous jingo pundits to be ignorant and foolish, which is not a terribly difficult task, but mostly this just reminds me of the frustration that such people are still taken seriously as equal, if not dominant, participants in the foreign policy debate in this country.  It would be excellent if there were actually good, widespread news in Iraq of permanent progress in security and services, rather than the exaggerated Potemkinesque rattling off of statistics about reopened schools and rebuilt soccer pitches.  If the disaster in Iraq could realistically be redeemed, you would find a great many war opponents very happy to be wrong.  Of course, it can’t be, which is what the entire debate has been about, but I fail to see how it helps to restore lines of communication by repeating the most dreadful calumnies against war opponents. 

Ms. Noonan says, “They make lists of those who supported Iraq and who must be read out of polite society.”  Well, yes, war opponents do argue that people so fantastically, massively wrong about the major foreign policy debacle of our time should not be taken seriously in future.  Their record of repeated, consistent misjudgements and errors in understanding Iraq and indeed foreign policy generally should indict them without our having to say anything.  That just seems like good sense.  It is telling that reasoned criticism of massive policy blunders can be equated with shrill chauvinistic demonisation as if they were equivalent.  More to the point, in spite of the Iraq debacle, every single war supporting pundit, policy intellectual and academic remains very much a part of “polite society” and seems to be in no danger of being cast out from it.  Though there were quite deliberate efforts to read war opponents out of “polite society” (or perhaps it was more of a permanent barrier to their ever being allowed into said society in the first place), war opponents have never been in any position to drive the jingoes into the proverbial wilderness, as much as we might privately wish to drive some of the more obnoxious ones out of public discourse.  Rather than being expelled into outer darkness, they remain at the center of the debate.  Shockingly, they are still taken to be “responsible” and “serious” participants in the conversation, when those are precisely the things they are not.  The political environment is such that, in spite of continual failures of judgement and analysis, they flourish while most war opponents toil in relative obscurity.  This environment is why most of our presidential candidates, including some allegedly antiwar politicians, try to outbid one another into their belligerence towards Iran and other foreign countries and why our foreign policy establishment remains as fundamentally misguided in its assumptions about American power as it has ever been.  There has been no antiwar triumph, and so we have had very little about which to feel trumphalistic.

Ms. Noonan calls for “a vow to look to–to care about–America’s interests in the long term, a commitment to look at the facts as they are and try to come to conclusions.”  Naturally, both sides of the debate believe they are doing just that.  However, part of looking at the facts “as they are” involves making this judgement: which side has been consistently unable to face facts, especially those that contradict its prior assumptions, and which one has been right more often than not in its analysis of the available facts?  I think most war supporters do have America’s long-term interests at heart, but the trouble is that they completely misunderstand the relationship between this war and those interests.  They believe our interests are best served by remaining in Iraq until we “win,” whereas this sounds like crazy talk to us.  In the end, Ms. Noonan’s call for comity and compromise results in defaulting to support for continuing the war and resisting calls for withdrawal.  War opponents are supposed to set aside not just their grievances and resentments of the past several years–we are supposed to accept the fundamental untruth at the heart of this war that Iraq is vital to our national security and that we cannot, must not, leave Iraq no matter what.  In short, Ms. Noonan is calling on all of us to come together to support the conclusions that war supporters have arrived at months and years ago.  It will come as no shock to anyone that war opponents will resist this kind of moral blackmail tooth and nail.

Rumours continue to swirl about an attack on Iran before the year is out.  Prof. Cole points to this Barnett Rubin item, this author was told by U.S. intelligence sources that his forthcoming book on Iran might be made obsolete by an attack before 2008, and there has been talk that Rove timed his departure to make sure that he was out before it happened.  Plans to classify the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation certainly fit well with preparation for some sort of military action.  An attack on Iran is, of course, a supremely bad idea, which is probably another reason to think that the administration will order it.

So far Mr Thompson’s speeches have been a succession of conservative clichés interspersed with long pauses. ~The Economist

For diplomacy to work, we need to dial up [bold mine-DL] our political and economic pressure - not just our tough talk. ~Barack Obama

How do “we” dial up economic pressure beyond the current sanctions regime?  Turn the dial to eleven?  The old Clinton-era caviar export exceptions are, as far as I know, a thing of the past.  His option is divestment, which is a misguided effort. The Europeans might stop doing business with the Iranians–some have made gestures in this direction–but ultimately that just opens up that many more opportunities for the Chinese and Russians to bolster their influence and tie Iran that much more closely to themselves.  Western divestment from companies that do business in Iran would have the same effect–the Iranian market isn’t going anywhere, and other investors will take the place of everyone who divests.  Put this down as yet another Obama proposal in which he tries to be more belligerent than the administration (which he attacks here for its weakness and passivity!) and one where he demonstrates that his foreign policy qualifications really are just as non-existent as you would think they are.

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced,” it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that “the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved.” ~The Washington Post

These statements are from a draft GAO report on progress in Iraq.  This is in line with the impressions of the lack of progress that we have been getting from news reports all year long.  During this entire period of almost eight months, war supporters would continually say, “the surge is working, the surge is working, just give it a little more time.”  This seemed like a strange thing to say at the time, since the “surge” pretty clearly wasn’t achieving the goals it was supposed to achieve, or at best only a very few of them.  I could never understand why people who wanted to prolong our presence in Iraq thought exaggerating the success of the “surge” was the smart thing to do.  In the end, this “surge” boosterism would wear out the patience of those parts of the public that had not already turned against the war, and it would reveal (yet again) the poor judgement and analysis of war supporters.  The best way to encourage greater public support for withdrawal was to hype the results of the “surge,” which was never going to be able to do what its proponents claimed.  In the absence of any practicable remedy to the problems in Iraq, public frustration would start to turn into outright public opposition to the war. 

Perhaps they felt compelled to say this as part of the domestic political debate, or perhaps many of them are so deeply deluded that they literally couldn’t recognise that this new plan had not succeeded.  Whatever credibility war supporters still had, if they had any, has been wasted in boosting the prospects of the “surge” as it has become more and more clear that the new tactical plan did not accomplish the (admittedly impossible) mission set out for the U.S. military.  It’s as if a dam had already burst and flooded the valley below, and the administration said to the military, “Go plug up some of the holes in the wreckage of that dam, which will somehow solve the flooding problem.”

From President Bush on down, U.S. officials enthused about Iraqi democracy while pursuing a course of action that made it virtually certain that Iran and its proxies would emerge as the dominant political force. ~David Ignatius

Of course, Iran’s main proxy, SCIRI, was always going to be part of “the dominant political force” once that group was allowed to participate in the elections.  Given that the elections were run on a ethnic and sectarian basis, the majority of Iraq and the Iranians belong to the same sect and the major Shi’ite blocs already had Iranian backing, any election outcome that wasn’t blatantly rigged against Shi’ite parties (and we did do some things to minimise Shi’ite electoral dominance as it was) would have led to this result. 

The “hubris and naivete” consisted of having elections in the middle of a war in a country that had not yet been stabilised.  Allowing obviously sectarian lists of candidates didn’t help all that much.  If Shi’ite majoritarianism now strikes some people as an unacceptable consequence of the introduction of ”democracy,” it is their enthusiasm for the latter that they ought to be interested in abandoning.  If some people now don’t  want Iran and its proxies to dominate Iraq, they shouldn’t have supported the invasion.  There’s not much to be done about it now. 

It’s hard to imagine Jacques Chirac, Mr. Sarkozy’s predecessor, speaking this way. (Mr. Sarkozy has also reportedly described French diplomats as “cowards” and proposed “[getting] rid of the Quai d’Orsay.” Imagine the media uproar if President Bush mused about doing the same to Foggy Bottom?) ~The Wall Street Journal

Does anyone outside of the lunatic asylum of the WSJ editorial board think that “getting rid” of either the Quai d’Orsay or Foggy Bottom is advisable?  There is a fairly good pattern down through the years, and it is this: government leaders that openly despise State or Foreign Ministry employees have a curious habit of also being the most amazing foreign policy buffoons.  Despite some initial promise of representing sound leadership, Sarkozy has done nothing to persuade that he is anything other than this.   

There is certainly a kind of irony in Sarkozy’s remarks about China, since Total just put together a very nice natural gas deal with the Russians.  Needless to say, French huffing and puffing about other nations’ “search for raw materials” is about as credible as our own holier-than-thou pundits lecturing Europeans and others about their oil interests in Iraq (because we naturally have no oil interests anywhere). 

I suppose some Frenchmen can be forgiven for mistaking Sarkozy for a neocon with a French passport.  He isn’t one, but he certainly likes to give the impression that he is as much of a foreign policy dunce as they are. 

Ross offers an interesting counterargument on the crucial ”Bourne question”:

Okay, but let’s not take this too far. For instance, I would submit that a film like Braveheart (which, like the Bourne movies, I’m very fond of) qualifies as obviously “anti-English” even though it’s technically only critical of the English government and military, or that the infamous Valley of the Wolves is an anti-American movie even though it mainly concerns itself with the wickedness of certain American soldiers (and evil Jewish-American doctors, of course).

All right, I’ll grant Ross that Braveheart really is anti-English (as is almost every historical movie Mel Gibson has ever directed and almost every historical movie he’s starred in) and Valley of the Wolves really is anti-American, but it seems to me that Braveheart, at least, never gives  you any reason to think otherwise and indeed encourages you to despise the English as part of some grand Celtic vendetta for past crimes.  It is partly the anti-English-ness of Braveheart  and partly the nationalist mythology of it that have so disgusted Alex Massie.  There will be no argument over Braveheart’s anti-English quality, since I’m fairly sure that the director would happily agree that it is anti-English, just as The Patriot is very clearly anti-British (despite the moderately positive portrayal of Cornwallis).   

Now a very different kind of film made by an Australian would be Breaker Morant, which depicts some of the evils of British policy in the South African War and which has a very clear anti-imperialist message, but which is not anti-British as such.  The main character, portrayed mostly favourably, is an English gentleman, and the movie does not show the kommandos in a terribly flattering light.  However, because it recognises that the South African War was a “bad cause,” as Woodward’s Morant puts it, it does not vilify the Afrikaners, either.  It shows the war to be the cynical and senseless waste that it was.  It finds fault with certain individuals and institutions, but it does not condemn the whole of the country.

The two movies Ross mentions were designed to be exactly what Ross says they are, because they are different examples of nationalist filmmaking.  Braveheart is anti-English in a classic nationalist myth-making way where the perfidious oppressor nation with no redeeming qualities is ultimately defeated by the heroic champion of independence.  Similarly, Alexander Nevsky is intensely anti-German and was made with the intention of vilifying Germans as a group.  Valley of the Wolves was designed to be anti-American after a fashion, but mostly by way of providing a villainous adversary to bolster the strong pro-Turkish nationalist themes in it.  Your standard nationalist action/war flicks do not allow for a lot of subtlety in the depiction of enemies, which is why virtually every American and British movie made about WWII shows Germans to be a monolithic group of villains. 

When someone attempts to break with the standards of the nationalist war flick and introduce complexity and humanity into the depiction of enemies, his film typically does not fare very well with the big action movie crowds.  The crowds that turn out for their own versions of Rambo are not interested in making fine distinctions and balanced portrayals, but want very clear-cut affirmations that their people are virtuous and the other guys, whoever they might be, are either nameless, faceless opponents or they are fairly close to evil incarnate

Ultimatum, on the other hand, insists on conveying the message that Americans are not all like the worst people running Treadstone/Blackbriar, and that even those who have been part of the system and those who have been conditioned and brainwashed into becoming killing machines for the government can change and turn against the corruption of the system.  One of the interesting things about the climax of Ultimatum is the complaint that Bourne makes when he said, more or less, ”You said I would be saving American lives.”  Implicit in this statement is the notion that, had Treadstone actually been used in some way to help save American lives, Bourne wouldn’t have that much of a problem with it.  Besides the larger argument that there is something basically wrong with the methods being employed, the movie might also be seen as saying that the agency’s real error is in using these “assets” for the wrong things (e.g., assassinating Russian politicians rather than, say, targeting terrorists).  If a movie like that is what passes for “anti-American” these days, I fear that some of us have become hyper-sensitive.   

The sound you hear is the last shred of Rick Santorum’s credibility bursting into flames.

Take two from the world-famous Miss Teen South Carolina:

Personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on our map.  We don’t know anyone else who doesn’t, and if the statistics are correct, I believe there should be more emphasis on geography and our education, so people will learn to read maps better.

To ask the all-important question, “Is The Bourne Ultimatum anti-American” is a bit like asking, “Is Gladiator anti-Roman?”  Put this way, I think we can immediately see how misguided the question is, since the question makes us say whether the movie is for or against an entire country, way of life or (if you will) civilisation, when the movie in question is pretty clearly an indictment of a corrupt and/or tyrannical government.  “This isn’t us” isn’t quite “there was a dream that was Rome” in rhetorical power, but it conveys a similar idea.     

The first mistake anyone who flings the “anti-American” accusation makes is to equate the government with the society as a whole.  If someone or something is critical of the U.S. government, it is very often deemed anti-American or, if the person doing the criticising is American, unpatriotic.  This plays by the state’s rules: it makes patriotism dedication to the state, rather than to the country, and it makes the state into the embodiment of America.  This is simply not true, and it’s a very good thing at times that this isn’t true.  That doesn’t mean that the citizens don’t have some small part to play in the dreadful policy decisions made by the state (it is our government, after all), but the decisions being taken in Ultimatum are the sort that the public is never supposed to know about because the average citizen of this country would still probably be horrified at ordering the deaths of foreign journalists in the name of protecting some part of the behemoth security state.

This may be why I don’t think the word “anti-American” means very much, at least not as it is used these days.  If it applies to, say, Bin Laden, Gerhard Schroeder and Paul Greengrass in some meaningful way, it seems to me that the word is either far, far too broad to mean much at all or it is used deliberately to obscure what the user is actually trying to say (i.e., “I really don’t like this person’s views, and I’m going to tar him with a really ugly label”).  Here the criticism is that the movie pretty explicitly says that black ops, torture and breeding armies of mindless assassins are all un-American activities (ha!), which can really only offend your sensibilities as an American if you think all of these things are basically necessary and useful tools of the state for the protection of [place whichever buzzword we’re using this week here]. 

Mickey Kaus’ main complaint is that “the film is unredeemed by any sense that America or the American government ever stands for or does anything that is right.”  Here’s the crucial point, since the movie is not concerned with America in general, but is very specifically concerned with one nasty corner of the American government.  It does not, it’s true, spend even five seconds of film time noting the solid work that people in the National Park Service are doing every day, and Matt Damon does not stop his rooftop chase in Tangiers to applaud this year’s charitable giving to hospitals, but I think these things might break up the storyline a bit.  Obviously, I jest, but this sort of thing invites a bit of ridicule. 

Yes, we know that Damon and Greengrass are men with super-liberal politics (Howard Zinn is a Damon family friend, for goodness’ sake), and we know that they don’t understand James Bond (which is their true crime), but what is the basis for charging their movie with anti-Americanism?  That it doesn’t engage in a lot of feel-good, pro-American rah-rah?  This is silly.  I’ll second Chris Orr’s “jingoistic nonsense” line.

Before I go this morning, I wanted to mention that Fisk has an excellent article on the Armenian genocide.

Well, I had warned you that this day was coming.  I had thought that my intensive Arabic class would interrupt blogging, but I managed to keep posting anyway.  Now that I am beginning the semester at my teaching job, I don’t see how I can possibly keep up the same pace here and still get everything else (including the dissertation) done in a satisfactory manner.  From time to time, I will put up new posts, but I cannot guarantee any regular posting for the next several months.  For a regular dose of Larison, subscribe to The American Conservative (which you should have already done by now).

Perhaps Steve Clemons should stick to foreign policy.  Affrerement, like adelphopoiesis in Byzantium (the terms mean the same thing), is not what the Boswells of the world would like us to think that it is, namely a medieval stamp of approval for homosexual relations.  Byzantinists understand that ceremonies for adelphopoiesis were not ceremonial approvals of homosexual erotic relationships, which neither secular nor ecclesiastical authorities would have approved, but were instead rites designed to formalise a strong social and emotional bond between men or as a mechanism for adoption.  It is strange that some moderns should have such difficulty imagining such fraternal bonds between friends. 

The Middle East, by contrast, was always the “elephant path of history,” as Israel’s fabled defense minister, Moshe Dayan, put it. Legions of conquerors have marched up and down the Levant, and from Alexander’s Macedonia all the way to India. Other prominent visitors were Julius Caesar, Napoleon and the German Wehrmacht.

This is not just ancient history. Today, the Greater Middle East is a cauldron even Macbeth’s witches would be terrified to touch. The world’s worst political and religious pathologies combine with oil and gas, terrorism and nuclear ambitions. ~Josef Joffe

Of course, by “visitor” Joffe is being quite literal: Napoleon was obliged to depart soon after he arrived, and the region played essentially no role in the wars that followed, Caesar didn’t bother to stay for long, and the Wehrmacht ”visited” a lot of places that were not of great strategic value (they got around).  When was the last time the Near East actually possessed the strategic significance Joffe attributes to it?  Realistically, the region has not been a significant “strategic arena” since the 17th century, and that is being fairly generous.  Near Eastern campaigns in the world wars were relative sideshows, and while important the region was never the main stage during the Cold War.  What great powers exist in the region now that have changed this?  Not even the discovery of oil has changed the region’s marginal importance. 

South and East Asia are shaping up to become such a “central strategic arena.”  Numbers, wealth and the concentration of several major military powers all indicate that it will be the main arena of the future, if it is not already.  In fifty years’ time, our heirs will look at our obsession with the Middle East (assuming that we have not perpetuated it until then) in the same way that modern Europeans must regard the scramble for Africa with some amazement.  Late 19th century colonial advances into Africa were just symptoms of the rivalry of European powers, and it was in Europe where the major power struggles were going to take place.   

Besides, a withdrawal from Iraq will not realistically entail any rapid departure from the Gulf as a whole.  Fears of total Iranian domination are just that–irrational fears.  Kooky predictions of Chinese domination of the western Pacific are even less credible.  (Last I checked, the Pacific Fleet still existed, and there is this country called “Japan.”)  Additionally, Joffe’s article contradicts itself: at the same time that he says that America isn’t dispensable, he warns that our allies will seek “insurance” elsewhere.  But if there are no other powers that can credibly provide it, where will they go? 

No, American superpower will persist well after any withdrawal from Iraq.  Leaving Iraq will be a setback, but it will almost certainly not unleash the sort of worldwide backlash against the U.S. that Joffe predicts.  Rather than opening the floodgates that will threaten to sweep American power away, getting out of Iraq will stop the bleeding of U.S. prestige and power, which are daily being consumed by an open-ended, pointless occupation of Iraq.  Articles such as these are a good sign that war supporters have become extremely desperate and have dug in with their last excuses for keeping the war going.  Perhaps they sense that the country has turned against them so strongly that their only hope is the most irresponsible kind of fearmongering.  Then again, they have never had much in the way of other arguments.     

In his brief statement, Gonzales reflected on his up-from-the-bootstraps life story, the son of migrant farm workers from Mexico who didn’t finish elementary school. “Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father’s best days,” he said. ~MSNBC

But I’ll wager that his father didn’t lay waste to the federal department in charge of law enforcement, and he probably didn’t work to subvert the Constitution and federal statutes.

It was looking grim there for a while, but it seems that Gonzales is finally gone.  I couldn’t imagine how he would have lasted another 17 months until the end.  It’s encouraging to start the week with some good news.

Whether this is spin for our benefit or the actual story, it is remarkable how we once again have a prominent Cabinet member trying to resign and we hear that the President didn’t want to accept the resignation.  Either Bush really is that stubborn, or this is how he wants to be perceived.  It’s quite odd, actually, since Bush suffers the political damage of a member of his Cabinet being forced out by scandal and political pressure, but he doesn’t even reap the reward for making the decision to remove the person in question. 

The Republican state capitalists, meanwhile, would never have even pretended to be “conservative” if Wallace had not forced them to, but would have continued to present themselves as the competent, decent, safe version of Progress. Indeed, with “compassionate conservatism” and the current presidential competition, they have have almost totally reverted to their old stance, which served them well for a long, long time—keeping the state capitalist regime in power by deluding the middle class with an image of progressive competence and respectability. As if Goldwater and Reagan never existed, they are all Rockefeller Republicans now. (After all, ain’t that where the money is?) ~Clyde Wilson

Kirchick offers a common misinterpretation of Obama’s foreign policy that mistakes Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq for a model for his views about intervention, particularly “humanitarian” intervention.  In this reading, Obama must be opposed to “humanitarian” interventions in cases of genocide because he wants to withdraw from Iraq (where, according mainly to war supporters, there might be a genocide after a withdrawal).  Another guest blogger, Hilzoy, offers the necessary corrective, reminding us of just how overly ambitious and potentially dangerous Obama’s foreign policy is.  The strangest thing of this electoral cycle is the readiness with which so many critics of Obama try to cast him as some sort of “neo-isolationist,” to borrow a word from Sullivan.   

It’s remarkable how fairly unimpressive columns can generate more serious commentary.  Yglesias joins in, making some of the right points on the origins of the GOP, though he neglects the importance of the “Know-Nothings” and the American Party in the 1850s as one of the significant sources of later Republican supporters.  The American Party served as a kind of way station between the dying Whigs and the rising Republicans for antislavery Whigs.  In the end, though, the only way a third party has ever succeeded in becoming a major national party is by gaining most of the supporters of one of the two major established parties.  The new party has to have a clear rationale for existing.  Needless to say, this is as far removed from the entirely personality-driven Bloomberg-Hagel craze and Unity ’08’s Broderistic fetish of bipartisanship as can be imagined. 

It is also worth noting that Broderism (or the “centrism” of “moderates”) is the very antithesis of what has always motivated third-party politics in this country.  Where third-party supporters (and I have been one in the last two presidential elections, for whatever that’s worth) want to have more representative government that reflects the diversity of political views in this country, adherents of Broderism find even the mild disagreements between the two established parties to be unsettling and painful.  Were Broderists ever exposed directly to the rough-and-tumble chaos of a proportional representative political system, they might become seriously ill.  Where third-party supporters would like to heighten differences over important policy questions and sharpen debates, because we think policy arguments have meaning and the right policy choices are more important than comity among members of the political class, the Broderists would like to mute disagreement and muddy the waters.  In our view, the major parties are virtually indistinguishable in practice in so many of their general views about policy, while the Broderists imagine that the two parties shout at each other across a deep and wide chasm. 

It isn’t that the Broderists and “centrists” haven’t got an agenda exactly, but that it seems to be an agenda culled from the worst aspects of both sides of the spectrum.  It is by combining the worst of both worlds that the political class creates the consensus, and it is the consensus that determines the limits of permissible debate.  (As a side note, I would add that this is most especially true in the foreign policy establishment, which has an even more narrow range of permissible views.) 

Take the immigration bill, since the “failure” of immigration “reform” is something that troubles Bloomberg, Hagel and Broder.  It might very well trouble them, since they all tend to favour more liberal immigration policies and pro-corporate immigration policies, and the defeated bill was the embodiment of both.  The bill would have undermined U.S. sovereignty and exploited immigrant labour, but because this nasty compromise could initially command a consensus in the Senate it was deemed to be “reform.”  For the Broderist, any legislative achievement would seem to be better than none, provided that it has “broad, bipartisan support,” to use an old phrase.  The merits of the policy are less important than the breadth of support it can command, and there is nothing more damning that can be said of a policy than that it is divisive or was approved on a party-line vote. 

After four years of war in Iraq–a war approved on a bipartisan basis–we might reconsider the virtues of bipartisan collaboration and unity.  If we had a more fierce opposition party, divided government might even at some point produce more sane policy decisions rather than mere stalemate.  The last thing we need is more tame opposition to the majority, or more deference of the legislature to the executive.  We have a government of divided powers and an adversarial party system, so we might as well try to use them for their proper purposes of checking power and preventing usurpation.  Of course, Broderism is simply a symptom of a political culture that tells us that government is here to provide us with services and to “get things done,” rather than to meddle as little as possible in our affairs.

Today, President Bush maintains that the nation is in a war against terrorism — what Pentagon officials call “the long war” — in which civilization itself is at stake. Yet six years into this war, the armed forces — not just the Army, but also the Air Force, Navy and Marines — have changed almost nothing about the way their promotional systems and their entire bureaucracies operate. ~Fred Kaplan

Kaplan’s article is an interesting read, but I think the juxtaposition of WWII and the current fight Kaplan makes here doesn’t really reveal what he wants it to reveal.  He is right that there have not been significant changes in military procedures over the past many years, but this is more of a revelation of how overblown and exaggerated the scope and scale of the conflict have been.  It is tempting to put everything down to administration and bureaucratic incompetence, and there may be a lot of that, but I think the failure to make so many of the necessary changes to the military, as well as failures in upgrading port security, protection of infrastructure, disaster response, and, obviously, border security, tells us that no one is making these things a priority.  Why don’t they?  Because the “existential” threat they are meant to guard againt is mostly so much hot air emanating from warmongering politicians.  Almost six years ago, the propagandists said that “everything had changed,” but there have been impressive continuities of bad policy, mediocre decisionmaking, institutional structures and bureaucratic procedures.  Unconservative in almost every other way, the administration has at least managed to preserve the same flawed hegemonist goals and the same misguided obsessions with certain Near Eastern regimes that previous administrations have shared.  

There is one of two reasons for this: either no one knows how to make the proper changes, or changes are considered unnecessary.  If the latter, perhaps it is because there is not really a “long war” to be fought, but instead the “long war” serves as a rhetorical umbrella to justify whatever it is that hegemonists thought needed to be done anyway.  Call it the “long pretext.” 

Since he presumably understands that the “Swift-boating” of various Democratic candidates was the product of rank dishonesty and distortion, Tom Friedman seems to be upset that the administration does not make lying about Bin Laden’s connections to the war in Iraq a more prominent, central feature of its propaganda effort.  Friedman should gve the administration some credit.  They are going to war with the dishonest spin they have.  They have been trying to deceive the public about the effectiveness of the “surge” (which does not seem to be working, if death tolls from sectarian killings and bombing fatalities are any measure).  They have been regularly deceiving the public about recent successes by attributing the “Awakening” to the “surge,” when it was a reaction against the excesses and brutality of  the “Islamic State” types and the new tribal “allies” in Anbar were not that long ago supposed to be targets of the “surge.”  They invoke Al Qaeda with amazing regularity.  It is amazing, as anything remotely related to Al Qaeda is an extremely small part of the mess in Iraq and has little to do with what would happen in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.  Friedman wants them to do more of this spinning.  He wants the administration to be engage in even more dishonest spin, if such a thing can be imagined. 

Friedman tries to get in on the act:

Bin Laden has created a situation in which the U.S. occupation in Iraq is viewed as entirely “illegitimate” and therefore any violence there by Sunni jihadists against Americans or Iraqi civilians is considered entirely legitimate “resistance.” 

Actually, Bin Laden has done very little to make the occupation seem illegitimate.  The insurgents who are not with the ”Islamic State of Iraq,” which would be most of them, view the occupation as inherently illegitimate and have done for years, because they have somehow concluded that our government invaded their country.  They didn’t need Bin Laden or anyone else to tell them this.  The main trouble with winning a “P.R. war against Bin Laden” (as Friedman calls it) is that the tactics of the “Islamic State of Iraq” have already been alienating the people who have suffered from them–we don’t need to persuade Iraqis to view the perpetrators of those attacks negatively.  However, as much as they might loathe those perpetrators, they aren’t going to fall in love with the occupation, and they aren’t going to blame their plight on Bin Laden.      

This is probably well-known to more advanced students of both languages, and is so obvious that I feel silly for not noticing it earlier, but if someone told me about this before I had forgotten it.  Armenian seems to have borrowed the root of their words relating to translation (targmanut’yun, targmanich, targmanel) from Arabic or, more likely, Syriac, given the strong cultural and commercial ties between classical/medieval Armenia and Syria.  In Arabic, the word for translation is tarjama, so the connection between that or some variant of it and targmanel is clear enough, since anel means “to do” and the gim in Armenian is equivalent to the jim in Arabic.

A friend of mine has just given me a boatload of Armenian books and books about Armenian history and literature, including the Matyan Voghbergutyan (Book of Lamentation), often known simply as Narek after the monastery where its author, the late tenth and early eleventh century churchman Grigor Narekatsi, one of the great Armenian medieval writers, resided.  I also received a copy of the English translation.  Narekatsi’s poem is one of the greatest written works of Armenian Christian spirituality, a work of repentance and profound sorrow over sin.  Consider these lines from the second lament:

I am the forsaken tabernacle on the verge of collapse;
The broken lock on a door;
The voiced edifice soiled anew;
The forlorn fitting inheritance;
The forgotten house built by God,
As foretold by Moses, David and Jeremiah. 

Until now, I had not looked closely at the original.  I will certainly try to make some time to work on this. 

We already know that Reihan doesn’t like Ramachandra Guha’s new book, so what would he make of his utterly bizarre op-ed (via Chapati Mystery) from a couple weeks ago?  His op-ed told me that Mr. Guha does not much care for Punjabi landlords or crowds of Pakistani Muslims.  Very enlightening. 

It may not be a shock to find that Obama, who vows to change the way Washington works, plans no such change when it comes to how Washington works on Cuba. But it does suggest that the only place to find Obama and audacity in close proximity is on the cover of his book. ~Steve Chapman

Oh, I don’t know.  Obama’s been fairly bold in making foreign policy statements that strain credulity and upset the establishment (along with baffling or horrifying most informed citizens), so we shouldn’t dismiss his capacity for daring.  The problem with his proposed changes to Cuba policy, as Mr. Chapman notes, is that they are tepid and unremarkable, but this isn’t necessarily a measure of Obama’s lack of boldness in general.  It is a reflection of just how conventional the ideas of the great bringer of change, transformer of politics and unifier of all things usually are when they relate to foreign policy.  When he takes risks or attempts to blaze a trail, he makes mistakes, and when he sticks to his script his excessive interventionist biases force him to adopt much of the worst in the status quo.  

Steve Clemons also notes that Zbigniew Brzezinski, former NSA under President Carter, has endorsed Obama.  I hope Obama has a good damage control team.  Needless to say, my view of the strategic genius of Brzezinski is not the one Steve Clemons holds.

Substituting for Sullivan, Steve Clemons, one of the more interesting foreign policy realists out there, has pointed out that everyone’s favourite, Michael O’Hanlon, is under contract with Al-Hurra (which literally means “the free one”).  Al-Hurra is the Arabic-language U.S. propaganda information service, which O’Hanlon serves in both a producing and commentary capacity. 

This is the same service, incidentally, that has made headlines for being managed by officials who (you guessed it) don’t know Arabic, which has led to the unwitting broadcast of terrorist messages on the network.  Your tax dollars at work. 

In the course of giving his devastating reply to Derbyshire’s review of his book Religion of Peace?, Robert Spencer reminds us once again of a crucial point regarding Christianity and immigration:

In reality, Christianity has no inherent connection at all with open-borders insanity and globalization. No less prominent a Christian than St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the mainstream Christian view when he said that “after his duties towards God, man owes most to his parents and his country. One’s duties towards one’s parents include one’s obligations towards one’s relatives, because these latter have sprung from [or are connected by ties of blood with] one’s parents…and the services due to one’s country have for their object all one’s fellow-countrymen and all the friends of one’s fatherland.” An open-borders globalist? Not quite.

It is telling that many of those who either cite the Gospel as the source for rejecting national loyalties and/or supporting immigration or invoke the Lord to justify the importation and exploitation of poor labourers are not themselves professing Christians.  Of course, the absurdity of justifying the exploitation of labourers in the name of Christian fraternity ought to be obvious, but we live in dark times where even the simplest things are obscured.  This quote also brings us back to the question of the relationship between Christianity and patriotism.

It has also never been clear to me where anyone came across the idea that orthodox Christianity endorses or encourages egalitarianism or rootless cosmopolitanism.  (There have been many modern Christians who have understood their religion in this way, but their egalitarian and cosmopolitan views are typically matched by their departure from orthodoxy more generally.)  The teachings in the Gospels and Epistles presuppose social hierarchy and patriarchal authority, and their authors literally cannot conceive of a world in which civic and family obligations are weak or non-existent, much less do they advocate for such a view.  If Christianity is “universal” in that it is for the salvation of all, it nonetheless does not obliterate natural loyalties and affinities to particular places and peoples.  Being willing to leave all your earthly relations for the sake of following God is a measure of the devotion the believer has and his desire to put God first–it does not abrogate his obligations to his kith and kin.  Indeed, to be a good and faithful servant, the Christian must not only show mercy to those who seek it from him, but he must also discharge his duties to those to whom he is obliged and related.  The Apostle exhorts: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (I Tim. 5:8) 

For more on this, I recommend Dr. Fleming’s The Morality of Everyday Life.  

Cross-posted at WWWTW

During the question session following his talk on his book Napoleon’s Egypt, Prof. Cole makes a brief remark (around 38:40) about Byzantine Egypt that caught my attention, since one of my professional hobbyhorses is the old claim that the dissenting populations of the Near East “welcomed” or did not put up much resistance to the Islamic invasions.  Of course, they didn’t put up much resistance, but this was not a function of their alienation from the empire.  (Indeed, evidence even for the existence of such alienation is very thin.)  In short, I think this idea that imperial religious policy contributed to the loss of the Near East is a myth fostered by modern historians, which I believe began with Gibbon, who were already biased against Byzantine “theocracy” and regarded the Christianisation of Rome to be a civilisational disaster.  Anything that might lend support to the idea that Christianity or Orthodoxy undermined the security of the state would be seized on, and the Christological controversies became favourite examples, since these controversies already seemed bizarre and ridiculous to many modern scholars.  This idea of disaffected religious dissidents yielding to invaders was also mixed up with some very anachronistic ideas about ethnic separatism and heresy functioning as the expression of national consciousness. 

The “evidence” to which Prof. Cole refers comes from, in fact, suppositions about what must have happened as a way of explaining the success of Islamic arms.  Depicting these provinces as ripe fruits waiting to fall into the lap of the Muslims, this view does not give the Muslims very much credit for their own conquests.  

There is not actually much evidence of local collaboration with or even satisfaction about the Islamic conquests, and there is more that tells us that the invasions were viewed very negatively.  Coptic chronicler John of Nikiu recorded the coming of Islam as a disaster for the empire, to which Copts and other non-Chalcedonians retained strong allegiance.  They just didn’t like that their confession wasn’t in control of religious policy and believed that God was punishing the empire because of the government’s Chalcedonianism.  There is some irony that secular historians have been reproducing a charge of anti-imperial disloyalty against religious dissidents in Byzantium that matched some of the official government views of these dissident groups.     

Prof. Cole said:

Towards the end, of course it was the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire that ruled Egypt, there’s some evidence that the Egyptians didn’t really fight to retain that government when the Arab Muslims came in because the Byzantines had attempted to impose Eastern Orthodoxy in Egypt and the Egyptians were Coptic and had their own [sic].  So even with the Romans towards the end, I think they were weakened by their social policies. 

It is perfectly understandable that Prof. Cole would say this, since this was a common view until not all that long ago.  If you are relying on Ostrogorsky’s classic text, you will come away convinced that this interpretation is right, and it does sound rather compelling at first.  If you are thinking about the intersection of political and religious loyalties from a post-Reformation perspective and assume that religious dissidents would mobilise (or fail to mobilise) politically because of their religious sympathies or disagreements with the authorities, you are going to misunderstand the late antique and early medieval worlds rather badly.  Neither Egyptian nor Syrian Byzantine subjects were organised or mobilised in the seventh century, and they would not have had much, if any, tradition of being mobilised for military service.  North Africa has even less supporting evidence for religious alienation, since Carthage fell some time after all religious controversies between Constantinople and the west had been settled, which has led to some very imaginative but rather far-fetched claims of some enduring legacy of Donatism. 

Their “failure” to fight did not signal a lack of loyalty to the empire as such, but rather reveals that antique and medieval imperial polities did not cultivate the kind of conscious political attachment to a state that might very well be expected in later periods.   Particularly in the absence of effective political leadership or organised military support, armed resistance by the population was extremely unlikely as a response to foreign invasion.  Cities would yield to invading armies because they wished to avoid sack and massacre, and not because they secretly wished for a chimerical “liberation” from religious oppression.  The “ease” of the Islamic invasions was facilitated by Byzantine political and military weakness following the Persian War and particularly by specific Byzantine defeats on the battlefield.  There is an understandable desire to find some “deeper” causes for such a momentous change in the history of the Near East, but there are good arguments that this change can be best understood through old-fashioned institutional and military history.     

Cross-posted at Cliopatria

The only thing wrong with his [Napoleon’s] theory was that it was 115 years ahead of its time. ~Prof. Juan Cole (at approx. 61:20) on Napoleon’s views of the Ottoman Empire during his lecture on his book, Napoleon’s Egypt

Via Antiwar Blog

If you have the time, watch the whole thing.  Prof. Cole’s video takes about an hour, but it is an interesting topic and of obvious relevance to our present predicament.  I would just add that the Egyptian campaign also follows the model of what was supposed to happen in the Fifth Crusade (capture Egypt to dominate/secure the Levant).

As an aside, it was notable, but not surprising, that our textbook this summer, Al-Kitaab, which incorporates some elements of a northern Egyptian dialect into its lessons, included 1798 in a list of famous dates.  (The list was designed to help us practice reading the eastern Arabic numeral system.) 

Update: Prof. Cole has a brief digression about other colonial episodes, saying, “The Americans could do it [dominate] in the Philippines at the estimated cost of 400,000 Filipino lives, by the way, and it tells you something about the callousness and brutality of the American power elite that they actually instanced the Philippines as a success story of American colonialism on the eve of going into Iraq.”  He isn’t referring directly to this, which I commented on here, but it is the same kind of thinking.

From Dwight D. Eisenhower through Richard M. Nixon, a parade of presidents convinced themselves that defending South Vietnam qualified as a vital U.S. interest. For the free world, a communist takeover of that country would imply an unacceptable defeat.

Yet when South Vietnam did fall, the strategic effect proved to be limited. The falling dominoes never did pose a threat to our shores for one simple reason: The communists of North Vietnam were less interested in promoting world revolution than in unifying their country under socialist rule. We deluded ourselves into thinking that we were defending freedom against totalitarianism. In fact, we had blundered into a civil war.

With regard to Iraq, Bush persists in making an analogous error. In his remarks to the VFW, the president described Iraq as an “ideological struggle.” Our adversary there aims to crush “freedom, tolerance and dissent,” he said, thereby “imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world.” If we don’t fight them “there,” we will surely have to fight them “here.”

Radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden do subscribe to a hateful ideology. But to imagine that Bin Laden and others of his ilk have the capability to control the Middle East, restoring the so-called Caliphate, is absurd, as silly as the vaunted domino theory of the 1950s and 1960s. ~Prof. Andrew Bacevich

John Edwards wants to build a bridge to the 24th and a half century (or something like that), but he would never use the phrase “building a bridge,” because it would involve nostalgic reminiscences of years gone by.  You have to enjoy how he lumps together the “policies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” which he is not going to follow, as if the policies from all three decades formed a coherent unit. 

That reminds of something Sir Humphrey once said:

Bernard, I have served eleven governments in the past thirty years. If I had believed in all their policies, I would have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to going into it. I would have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel, and of denationalising it and renationalising it. On capital punishment, I’d have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolitionist. I would have been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac, but above all, I would have been a stark staring raving schizophrenic!

On a more serious note, people who invoke the future are dangerous, because the future “authorizes every kind of humbug.”

Ross is right that it is undesirable to have dueling groups of pro- and antiwar soldiers wielding some outsized political authority over this or any other debate.  However, it occurs to me that we have already gone through several rounds of this politicisation of the military since the war began, and it has accelerated since February 2006 (right around the time everything in Iraq began to get really bad).  Of course, it was always appropriate to acknowledge that senior generals, such as Gens. Zinni and Shinseki, either advised against the war or recommended much larger numbers of soldiers to fight it, but antiwar enthusiasm for disaffected military men, usually retired officers speaking out against the planning and execution of the war, has been the flip side of this sometimes worrisome deference to the opinion of military officers.  

Some antiwar writers were thrilled by last year’s ”revolt of the generals,” when it always seemed to me that most of these generals (with the exception of Gen. Newbold) just wanted to fight the war more effectively and were undermining the chances of ending the war sooner.  It was amusing to watch war supporters mutter darkly about mutiny and conspiracy and threats to civilian control of the military and then, as if by magic, discover that Gen. Petraeus was endowed with superhuman abilities and foresight.  Trust in Petraeus–this was the new mantra, and it has been dutifully embraced by war supporters.  It was one thing to ridicule Mr. Bush, but any policy endorsed by Petraeus suddenly acquired an aura of untouchable genius.  Now we have groups of soldiers publicly taking this or that side of the debate, and before long I expect we will see bloggers on both sides running up tallies to see which side has more declared military personnel.  This cannot lead anywhere good.

It is telling that the NYT ran the op-ed by the seven Iraq veterans as a not-so-subtle counterbalance to the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed that it had run earlier in the month.  Rather than finding someone, anyone, from the foreign policy community that could offer a rebuttal to O’Hanlon and Pollack, they went for the more symbolically charged contribution of war veterans.      

Worse, Finer and critics such as Rep. Jack Murtha and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald have suggested that our analyses are based on a few days of military “dog-and-pony shows.” ~Michael O’Hanlon

Actually, Sen. Jim Webb (at approximately 1:15) was the one to refer most prominently to seeing “the dog-and-pony show” when he was in the military (via ThinkProgress).  Presumably, Rep. Murtha saw the same show when he was in Vietnam, but he is not the one to have said that.  I suppose it’s a minor point, but when writing a rebuttal of critics who accuse your previous op-ed of errors it probably doesn’t help your case that you can’t even properly identify your most prominent critics. 

O’Hanlon’s description of the criticism itself is also inaccurate.  This particular argument against the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed (one of many) was not that the analyses are based on the so-called “dog-and-pony show,” but that the evidence of improving conditions that they used to make their analyses was derived from the “dog-and-pony show” that may not have been all together representative of the conditions in the rest of the countryside.  The main problem with the op-ed was that it took a partial, brief, stage-managed visit to Iraq as the source for evidence of improving conditions, just as Finer claimed, and Finer was arguing that everyone, pro- and antiwar alike, should stop making these misleading claims based on such limited experiences. 

Both newspapers downplayed the Korea and Japan analogies which Mr. Bush also delivered at the convention. This is more than a little convenient. The president spent much more speech time on Korea and Japan than on Vietnam. Both Korea and Japan stand as rebukes to people who once argued for the purported incompatibility democracy and freedom among peoples who lacked a history thereof. Today we hear it about Middle Eastern peoples instead of Asian ones. Mr. Bush’s point is that each was proven wrong in time and that he expects the same to be true in Iraq. ~The Washington Times

Everyone has been preoccupied with the (admittedly flawed) Vietnam sections of the speech, while dismissing or overlooking the others.  The others are, in their way, far more dishonest and inaccurate.  This is why I focused most of my attention on showing why Bush had no understanding of modern Japanese history, since Japan was his principal example of America creating democracy where none had existed.  The trouble was that some form of it had existed prior to the war, just as it had in Germany for decades prior to Nazism.  

Helping to rebuild a constitutional representative government (which is what we’re actually talking about) in a place that has already had one is immensely easier than laying a foundation on the sand of a political culture unsuited to such government.  The social, political and economic structures of modern Japan made it vastly different from Iraq, c. 2003, and made it much more able to resume its constitutional parliamentary government.  Japan’s cultural and ethnic homogeneity, its long history as a unified state, and the unifying symbol of the emperor all combined to make postwar Japan as unlike Iraq as could be imagined.  So many of the conditions that explain Japan’s success after the war do not exist in Iraq.  It is simple realism to acknowledge that two radically different societies are, in fact, radically different, and the development of democratic institutions in one may be impossible while it is possible in the other.  The simplistic Bush/Times notion is that the critics always underestimate the democratic potential of foreigners, so the right response is to consistently overestimate that potential while striking a pose of moral superiority.  There may have been occasions in the past when doubters were wrong (it is likely that doubters of Japanese democracy were as poorly informed as Mr. Bush about pre-war Japanese politics), but for the same to be true about Iraq the examples being cited would have to bear some remote resemblance to present-day Iraq.

But he is also the man who has declared his eternal friendship with Libya’s Col. Gaddafi, Belorussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Iranian leader Ahmadinejad, Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe, Sandinista commandante Daniel Ortega, imprisoned terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Saddam Hussein and, of course, Fidel Castro. Amongst the gringo masses, this side of Chávez is rather less well-known. ~Michael Moynihan

I understand that there has to be an angle for articles to make them seem more interesting, and the author wants to present his material as if he were revealing something new and previously unknown to you, the audience, but are the “gringo masses” actually unfamiliar with Chavez’s list of friends, assuming they know anything about him at all?  If the gringos know anything about him, they will remember that Chavez called the President a “devil,” routinely visits Cuba and they may know that he has close ties to Morales in Bolivia.  The better-informed gringos will know of his support for Ortega and left-populist candidates around Latin America, and they will also know that there are alarmists in this country who want to make Hugo Chavez out to be one of the great threats of our time.  In fact, the odds are good that most Americans who have heard of Hugo Chavez regard him simply as another member of the ever-shifting list of officially approved enemies.  He probably has his liberal sympathisers (e.g., Danny Glover), but I would assume that Chavez, anti-American friend of Castro and Ahmadinejad and Master of Clock Changes, is much better known than Chavez, the “mildly buffoonish, if delightfully brave, left-wing populist.”

Jason Zengerle at The New Republic has an interesting article on evangelical converts to Orthodoxy (via Rod).  I had not seen it before Rod mentioned it.  It is worth reading (and not because it quotes me), and I think it presents a fair picture of Orthodoxy in America.  Evangelicals may be less pleased with the portrayal they receive, but nothing glaring leaps out at me as an unfair description.  

There is understandably considerable geographical overlap among the people interviewed for the article, but this story is very focused on one very specific region in the west suburbs.  My Scene colleague Alan Jacobs teaches at Wheaton College, which is literally down the road from my parish, and the Antiochian parish Holy Transfiguration is fairly close nearby.  In fact, several families from Holy Transfiguration have been visiting our parish lately, and I realised with a sudden shock that the priest they have been telling me about is none other than the subject of Mr. Zengerle’s article.

Update: I hadn’t noticed the title of the article: “The Iconoclasts.”  As an eye-catching title, it works, but I wonder if Mr. Zengerle appreciates just how much Orthodox Christians dislike the historic Iconoclasts?  We anathematise them every year.  My guess is that most Orthodox converts would find the title annoying at best.

I had a response to this all worked out, but I will hold my fire this time.  Instead, I will point you all to my colleagues Paul and Zippy at WWWTW, who offer their much more even-tempered responses to recent critics.  They make the right points, and I agree with their remarks entirely.

Following on Zippy’s remarks, I would just include this one section from my unpublished post:

There is, of course, a legitimate hierarchy of loyalties that a professing Christian can and should respect.  One no less than Aquinas has laid out how natural loyalties to kindred, friends, neighbours and fellow citizens appropriately take precedence over loyalties to other, more remotely related people.  Loyalty and obligation to fellow citizens would take precedence over duties owed to foreign citizens, but the duty to treat all men justly in wartime is something owed to God.  As my colleague Zippy is a very serious Catholic (and it is this, I think, that is really what bothers his critics), he would probably have no difficulty acknowledging and affirming such an idea.

Is Max Boot channeling Ross, or was Ross anticipating Boot?  Here’s Mr. Pith Helmet himself:

That assessment actually understates the terrible repercussions from the American defeat, whose ripples spread around the world. In the late 1970s, America’s enemies seized power in countries from Mozambique to Iran to Nicaragua. American hostages were seized aboard the SS Mayaguez (off Cambodia) and in Tehran. The Red Army invaded Afghanistan. It is impossible to prove the connection with the Vietnam War, but there is little doubt that the enfeeblement of a superpower encouraged our enemies to undertake acts of aggression that they might otherwise have shied away from.

Not only is it impossible to prove this case, but it is also possible to prove that Boot’s argument is wrong.  Actually, Iran was lost because Carter dropped most meaningful support for the Shah and all but urged the Iranians to depose him.  That was one of the early “victories” of a foreign policy of “values” and democracy promotion.  The Shah was gone by February 1979.  Afghanistan, which the Soviets invaded in December of that year, came at least partly as a result of the failure to respond effectively to the hostage crisis, but the Soviets had already been looking to counter what Moscow saw as American gains in the 1979 peace deal between Israel and Egypt and the beginnings of a pro-Western turn in Baghdad under you-know-who.     

Mozambique’s communists came to power in the wake of independence from Portugal, and their internal policies provoked civil war.  Their support for ZANU and the ANC provoked some of Mozambique’s neighbours to intervene against the government’s side.  Naturally, the Soviets supported or at least sympathised with communist and pro-communist African movements, including the ANC, but the existence of these movements would not have been prevented by continued U.S. backing for South Vietnam.  Obviously.  The rise of communism in Mozambique (and Angola) had more than a little to do with resistance to Portugese colonialism and Portugal’s fairly intense efforts to prevent the independence of its African colonies.  These were national or independence movements in which communists took a leading role; outside support did not create these movements.  

The very same kind of limited thinking about the nature of Vietnamese communism that plagued policymakers in the ’60s and ’70s then seems to be plaguing latter-day Vietnam “hawks” when it comes to talking about African communist movements.  The confusion is such that Mozambique can be cited as some sort of “proof” for the validity of the domino theory, when Mozambique was  going to turn communist at that stage regardless of what happened in southeast Asia.  Communists in wars of decolonisation were not all directed by the Supreme Soviet to advance Moscow’s foreign policy.  Moscow might try to use these rebels as proxies after they had already started fighting, but communist control in Mozambique was primarily a result of their war for independence and not outside support.  There is no meaningful connection to the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  

Nicaragua’s story was rather like that of Iran.  Carter was pulling the rug out from under Somoza (Carter’s foreign policy of “human rights” strikes again) and stopped all military support in 1978, which certainly did nothing to reduce Sandinista enthusiasm for overthrowing the government.  The methods of Somoza’s dictatorship generated the resistance against the government, and the Sandinistas came eventually to dominate that resistance.  You might make a very roundabout argument that Carter did to Somoza’s regime what had been done to South Vietnam’s, but the connection with Vietnam ends there.  There is a certain irony that the policies that helped bring about these blows to U.S. power are the very ones–democracy promotion and championing of human rights–backed by the interventionists who are busily cheering on Mr. Bush’s blinkered revisionism.  Naturally, if I were a partisan of the New Carter currently in the White House I would do all I could to deflect attention to the actual causes of U.S. setbacks during the late 1970s, since a discerning eye would be able to recognise an earlier version of Mr. Bush’s “freedom agenda” doing its pernicious work in undermining American interests.  Indeed, each and every one of the examples cited has nothing to do with Vietnam and everything to do with a misguided idealistic foreign policy that the current administration seems intent on duplicating today.

Update: Separately, it seems relevant to the Drezner-Greenwald debate over the foreign policy establishment consensus to point out that Max Boot, a ”paid-up” CFR man himself, has never had any difficulty endorsing the idea that the United States has been acting as an imperialist power. 

No wonder Americans are so weak in learning foreign languages.  Take this case.  I had not heard of this academy, but I was not surprised to find that one of its critics was Daniel Pipes, who wrote earlier this year what may be one of the most ignorant things I have seen:

I say this because Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.

This is absurd.  I just went through the equivalent of one year of Arabic language instruction here at Chicago, and if it was laden with “pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage” it would be news to all of us who were in the class.  It would be one thing to argue that, in a specific case, the instruction was loaded with such messages, but to say that learning Arabic inevitably involves “pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage” is to reveal yourself as a fool. 

One of the most common textbooks used for Arabic instruction in this country, Al-Kitaab, the text we used this summer, is essentially free of anything that might be construed as political or controversial.  (The one thing that I noticed that was bluntly political and obnoxious was the depiction of Kosovo as an independent country on one of its maps.)  It is true that studying al-fusha involves not learning specific dialects, but that hardly makes it “pan-Arabist” in any meaningful way.  This would be like saying the study of German is inevitably laden with Pan-German ideology because it privileges Hochdeutsch over Bavarian, Austrian and Swiss dialects. 

Pipes isn’t finished:

Also, learning Arabic in of itself promotes an Islamic outlook, as James Coffman showed in 1995, looking at evidence from Algeria. 

Really?  Does that mean that Pipes’ own study of Arabic made him into an Islamist sympathiser?  This is preposterous.  Arabic predates Islam; there are still many Arab Christians (though fewer of them remain in the Near East thanks to foreign policy moves favoured by geniuses like Pipes), and there are Orthodox and Maronite liturgies in Arabic.  It is doubtful that these Arab Christians are being Islamicised when they learn the language of their parents or when they go to church.  (The phrase in the title of this post is the Arabic for the Orthodox Paschal greeting, “Christ is Risen,” and the response, “truly He is risen.”)  It is likely that Pipes would have no objection to the students learning about the history and culture of the Near East, provided that they were learning the sorts of things with which Pipes would agree.     

Of course, the results of the cited study (which appears in Pipes’ own journal, which has incidentally also played host to articles providing cover to Armenian genocide denial) might have something to do with the students being Algerian Muslims living in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.  These results have literally no bearing on instruction in this country.  It is very likely that there were other factors that determined the results Pipes cites.  For one, students in Algeria who are studying in Arabic rather than in French might already be predisposed to endorse these views.  There seems to be absolutely no control here for their social background, the political affiliations of their parents or the materials presented in the class.  Studying Arabic in and of itself cannot induce an Islamic outlook if there is no attempt to propagandise the students, and in most Arabic instruction in this country it is implausible that such propagandising is taking place.  Learning foreign languages does not compel you to embrace this or that ideological or religious frame of mind.  If Americans become convinced that learning Arabic is somehow buying into Islamic propaganda, they will be that less interested in learning it.  It is fairly despicable that a putative scholar of the region should actively spread such misinformation.  Put it down as one more reason to pay no attention to what Pipes has to say.  

Are we really supposed to believe that Maha and Khalid, two of the characters of Al-Kitaab, are the vehicles of jihadi subversion?  Give me a break.  Perhaps Pipes had this experience in Egypt, but Brooklyn is in a very different mintaqa.  Whatever else might be said about the principal of this academy or the curriculum of the school, it can hardly be a good thing that her ouster is a victory for buffoons of Pipes’ ilk.

Update: Just for your enjoyment, here is the voice of the wonderfully talented Maronite nun, Sister Marie Keyrouz, as she sings Inna Al Masih Qad Qam (approx., Christ Has Risen).  Here are additional liturgical songs courtesy of the same Melkite Catholic church site.

Now, the tribal leaders are rallying to the government and asserting themselves against al-Qa’eda. ~William Shawcross

The first part of this statement is, of course, completely untrue, as is quite a lot of Mr. Shawcross’ flimsy rah-rah article.  The “Awakening” in Anbar has no loyalty to the Maliki regime or an Iraq ruled by Shi’ites, and it is not rallying to either one.  This group, or rather the tribes that make up this group are rallying, if you like, against being assassinated and blown up by the “Islamic State of Iraq” types.  Once they have taken care of these people, they will in all likelihood turn their attention to destroying the government to which they have supposedly rallied.  I know that The Spectator has to run pro-war articles because its owner requires it, but couldn’t they be the least bit interesting and accurate while they’re at it?

Update: For good measure, Shawcross manages to invoke both the Partition and Vietnam withdrawals to try to intimidate people into supporting the war.  (He was an early one to start talking up the genocide in Cambodia as a way to bludgeon war opponents.)  This is also the same Shawcross who wrote last May that “we are winning” in an article describing the training work being done in Basra–the same Basra mission that he so thoroughly criticises and ridicules in this article.   

For those keeping track, another August 22 has passed without any sudden world-ending apocalypse, just as it passed without incident last year.  I’m sure that comes as a relief to all of us.

The rights of the siloviki, however, have nothing to do with the formal kind that are spelled out in laws or in the constitution. What they are claiming is a special mission to restore the power of the state, save Russia from disintegration and frustrate the enemies that might weaken it. Such idealistic sentiments, says Mr Kondaurov, coexist with an opportunistic and cynical eagerness to seize the situation for personal or institutional gain. ~The Economist

This is what accounts of a resurgent Russia often miss, as I have argued before.  Whether it is self-justification and rationalisation or genuine conviction, or some measure of both, Putin and the siloviki are both keenly interested in gaining and expanding their power and in achieving their goals of restoring what they see as Russia’s proper place in the world.  They are nationalists because they are power-hungry, but to some extent they are also interested in power for themselves because they believe, for good or ill, that they can restore national power.  Dismissing any of them as cynical and greedy misses the point: they are cynical and greedy because they are ideologues, and they probably think their “correct” beliefs entitle them to rewards. 

The evidence also shows great, gaping weaknesses. Giuliani’s penchant for secrecy, his tendency to value loyalty over merit and his hyperbolic rhetoric are exactly the kinds of instincts that counterterrorism experts say the U.S. can least afford right now. ~Amanda Ripley

Hm…secrecy, loyalty rather than merit and hyperbolic rhetoric–sound like anyone else we know?

I will have to second Josh Patashnik’s post, in which he replies to Mr. Krikorian:

I’m going to offer the rival prediction that if and when the Iranian government falls, there will be no mass conversion to Zoroastrianism [bold mine-DL], no widespread beheading of Christians, and Iran will…remain Muslim.

The point about Zoroastrianism is basically guaranteed, since Zoroastrianism today is unique among the ancient world religions that originated in the Near East in that its adherents actively discourage conversion.  Also, it has not had any noticeable or significant presence in the land of its birth for many centuries.  Quixotic attempts by the Pahlavis to consciously revive pre-Islamic Iranian traditions and names were, shall we say, not wildly popular, associated as they were with a rather brutal dictatorial regime.  (For that matter, rampant Baha’i revivals are also unlikely, since the Baha’i faith hardly seized the imaginations of Iranians during the rule of the Pahlavis.)    

This reminds me of two things that would be widely considered major drawbacks to the separationist plan.  The first would be that an embargoed, isolated Islamic world (were such a thing possible) would almost certainly have a massive backlash against the native Christian populations, and the refugees we have seen fleeing Iraq for Syria would soon be fleeing the entire Levant for Cyprus and points west.  The second would be that it would make Israel’s position totally untenable in the long term.  No one would confuse me with an enthusiastic booster of the U.S.-Israel connection, to be sure, but the likely extinction of Judaism and Christianity in their native lands following the implementation of such a plan would be an unacceptable price for whatever “strategic goals” such an arrangement might serve. 

Fundamentally, the hope of this plan is that Muslims will judge the merits of Islam based on earthly successes and failures.  Though I cannot claim to know the minds of so many different kinds of Muslims throughout the world, my guess is that people raised up in a tradition that teaches them a theodicy in which trials and rewards are God’s will are not going to conclude that political tyranny or disastrous misrule are evidence that Islam needs to be fundamentally changed or abandoned all together.  It didn’t happen for the entirety of Ottoman rule, and it isn’t likely to happen in the future.  On the contrary, the woes of this world will make traditional Muslims all the more likely to turn to their deity for justice and mercy in direct proportion to the extent of the misery experienced.    

If push comes to shove, Mr. Bush will face Moscow all alone. There is a great deal of dissent in Europe, from Madrid to Athens to Bucharest and Bratislava, but not even those Europeans who are nominally pro-independence—notably, the Germans—would sacrifice a single day’s supply of natural gas over Albanian claims. By contrast, this is, for Serbia, an existential issue and, for Russia, a litmus test of her ability to be a great power once again.

The most important reason the United States should not support Kosovo’s independence is and always has been cultural and civilizational; but trying to explain that to the chief executive who is fanatically supportive of a blanket amnesty for tens of millions of illegal aliens in the United States is as futile as trying to reform Islam.

George W. Bush has painted himself into a tight corner in the Balkans, and he will get a bloody nose if he does not relent. That is bad news for the church-burning Albanian Muslims of Kosovo, and bad news for their heroin-financed lobby in Washington, but it is very good news for America and the civilized world. ~Srdja Trifkovic

Dr. Trifkovic’s article is simply excellent, and it sums up all of the strongest arguments against Kosovo’s independence.

But the Communist victory in Vietnam did lead to the rest of Indochina going Communist, as the domino theorists predicted, and it played a role in the Soviet advances across the Third World during the rest of the 1970s - from Ethiopia and Mozambique to Afghanistan and Nicaragua, with various other proxy wars thrown in for good measure. ~Ross Douthat

Well, this may be a bit of quibbling, but something close to half of Indochina/southeast Asia (Thailand and Burma) did not turn communist, and instead of turning red Indonesia under Suharto became a (rather nasty) anticommunist bulwark and Malaysia was not seriously affected.  The Pacific Rim allies were basically fine after Vietnam.  For domino theory to have been right, many more dominoes would have had to be knocked over.  For all the warnings of ever-advancing communism, communism acquired those strategic gems of Cambodia and Laos and then contested for the various backwaters (no offense, Nicaragua) mentioned by Ross.  Having just detached China from the Soviets, America could reasonably afford to risk setbacks in such vitally important places as Mozambique.  (One problem of withdrawing from Iraq is that we have yet to have a foreign policy crew interested in or capable of pursuing anything like a China-style detachment of a formerly hostile regime.) 

Fights over influence in Latin America and Africa were not new in the post-Vietnam era (see Egypt, Zaire, Angola), and Soviet-backed Cuban mischief overseas had already been going on for a while.  Soviet aggression became much greater in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.  At the time, that was a huge loss.  It was the failure of the Carter Administration to cope with the challenge in Iran that helped embolden the Soviets into invading Afghanistan (similarly, it was Carter’s failure that damaged the Democrats’ reputation on foreign policy leadership immeasurably more than anything related to ending the war in Vietnam, contrary to the popular myth circulated by some GOP talking heads).  A comparable Iran-like setback, a really serious blow to our strategic interests, would be an expressly jihadist revolution in Pakistan, which would make any consequences of an Iraq withdrawal as a matter of U.S. strategic interests look small and irrelevant.  Indeed, as a matter of U.S. strategic interests–and it is this, and not, I’m afraid, the casualty count that traditionally governs great power foreign policy–the consequences of an Iraq withdrawal will be damaging but hardly devastating.  In Realpolitik, the loss of a Cambodia or a Laos is not all that important.  (Someone will say that Iraq and many of its neighbours are different and much more important, to which I say: re-read Luttwak.)  Since domino theory was meant to describe the strategic consequences of the failure to contain communism in southeast Asia by military intervention, it does not say much for domino theory that every strategically important country in Far East that should have turned communist did not actually turn.   

Domino theory related to communism was an updated version of old British paranoia dating to the Great Game: today the Russians have Tashkent, tomorrow they will have Delhi!  To the extent that the British were fairly crazy to worry about the Tsar’s armies marching over the Khyber Pass and across northern India to Delhi and through Baluchistan to the sea, the domino theory was also pretty crazy.  In its time, it was also dreadfully respectable, the sort of serious thinking that foreign policy intellectuals love. 

It was also the product of ignoring a Kennan-like approach to international affairs and accepting that the enemy was actually driven by a transnational ideology that could traverse boundaries of nationality and culture without difficulty and which would present a united, pro-Soviet front against the West.  The detachment of China, and the Sino-Vietnamese war that followed shortly after the fall of the South were proof that this idea was wrong in its core assumptions about international communism.  It was proof that Kennan’s attention to nationalism and nationalist policies in understanding communist states was the fundamentally correct analysis of how these states acted.  Wild-eyed notions of universal communism spreading around the world like wildfire (or was it fire in the minds of men?) once the fire was lit somewhere proved to be wrong, because they vastly overestimated the appeal of transnational ideology when compared to the much stronger draw of nationalism.  Having mistaken nationalist revolutionaries for true-believing commies, domino theorists could never grasp the implications that the domino theory could not happen in the real world because of the barriers created by ethnic, cultural and religious difference.  There is comparably mistaken thinking today inasmuch as those predicting the worst following a U.S. withdrawal believe that some unified global jihadism exists and will sweep all before it.  Having mistaken the particular interests of various state and non-state actors for a more or less unified jihadist (or, God help us, Islamofascist) front, these people see disastrous post-withdrawal outcomes that are unlikely to occur.  They think we are in an “ideological struggle.”  In fact, we are not, or at least it is not of the kind they are describing.  Their analysis is necessarily going to be flawed as a result. 

But they cannot so easily dismiss The Economist, an avowedly conservative voice that is among the oldest and most respected periodicals in the world. ~Joe Conason

Conason refers to The Economist’s leader on the pro-Democratic political trends in the country.  The leader lays out a compelling case that the country is trending towards the Democrats and, in certain ways, does seem to be headed leftwards.  The merits of the article speak for themselves, and the magazine’s political leanings are really beside the point.  But this description of The Economist is just absurd. 

The Economist is so “avowedly conservative” that it endorsed John Kerry in 2004 and has long maintained a position as a ‘wet’ British liberal magazine, and in many ways it has become much wetter over the last 15 years.  If Portillo and Blair could have a baby together, its name would be Economist.  Its politics are globalist, internationalist and Europhile, its economics are right of center in a pro-corporation, pro-globalisation mode, its social views are squishy center-left with hints of libertarianism, and it is conventionally multiculti on questions of immigration and diversity.  It favours military interventions for both humanitarian and supposed international security, it is positively exuberant in its support for democracy promotion and when it comes to the Near East it is skeptical about the virtues of untrammeled Israeli nationalism.  (In spite of much of this, it is still probably one of the better international news magazines around, if only because its competition is minimal.)  In neither the American nor British contexts would someone say that The Economist is “avowedly conservative,” unless we are speaking of it in comparison to Le Monde. 

But don’t take my word for it.  In their own words:

What, besides free trade and free markets, does The Economist believe in? “It is to the Radicals that The Economist still likes to think of itself as belonging. The extreme centre is the paper’s historical position.” That is as true today as when Crowther said it in 1955. The Economist considers itself the enemy of privilege, pomposity and predictability. It has backed conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It has supported the Americans in Vietnam. But it has also endorsed Harold Wilson and Bill Clinton, and espoused a variety of liberal causes: opposing capital punishment from its earliest days, while favouring penal reform and decolonisation, as well as—more recently—gun control and gay marriage.

They describe themselves as latter-day classical liberals, which they are to some degree.

If you look through James Dobbins’ article in Foreign Affairs, you will look high and low for any admission that policy experts, think tanks and public intellectuals dropped the ball.  Almost everyone else in Washington comes in for criticism, and “the entire nation” receives some generic blame, but the policy wonks and pundits escape all censure.

Indeed, you can argue that over the past month, Obama has been shaping the foreign policy debate for the Democrats — and getting the best of the arguments. ~David Ignatius

You could argue that, if you didn’t know anything about foreign policy.

I appreciate Mark Krikorian’s fair description of my post criticising this idea of his about how to combat and defeat “radical Islam.”  We are still in disagreement about his proposal, but let me say a couple of things about his response.  He wrote:

Islam will change, but only (or at least sooner) if we pursue some variation of what Larry Auster calls “separationism.” “Separationism” is the isolation of Islam from the rest of the world through military action, restrictions on immigration, and other means, presumably including a radically more aggressive search for alternative automobile fuels.

I grant Mr. Krikorian that Islam will change, as any religion with so many adherents spread across the globe would inevitably change over time, and it has changed before.  The first difficulty is that certain kinds of Islam already have changed in the past, and many of the changes wrought by revivalism and Salafism have been to take Islam in quite the opposite direction of the “moderate” Islam Mr. Krikorian envisions emerging in the aftermath of this apparently militarised embargo of the Islamic world.  As a kind of glorified sanctions regime, it would have many of the adverse, undesirable effects of a sanctions regime.  Militarised embargoes are also not generally known to help bring down their targets, but rather reinforce the more hard-line and radical elements inside a country while the population is cut off from the outside world and forced to fall back on whatever the local authorities tell them.     

I think the separationism described here (with which I do not entirely disagree, at least as far immigration is concerned) would certainly cause a change in the Islamic world.  It is not clear to me, however, that the change would necessarily be the kind Mr. Krikorian hopes to see.  If such an isolation of the Islamic world from the West were possible, the isolation of that world from the rest would never be complete in any case, as large parts of the rest of the world are not interested in isolating themselves from the Islamic world.  India cannot isolate itself from that world without cutting itself in two and closing itself off from markets for its labour.  China would probably opportunistically try to fill any void left by Westerners.  A policy of isolation combined with military action would seem to combine the worst of both worlds, since it would reinforce the most violent instincts among jihadis and build up sympathy for them while rejecting any alternative connection.  It would be our Cuba policy writ large, but with an added refusal to take in refugees.  I suppose the idea here is to create sufficient internal pressures within the Islamic world such that something gives way in dramatic fashion, but if the end result would be to encourage internecine strife inside this isolated Islamic world it seems as if this would simply strengthen the worst elements and produce an Islamic world in far worse shape, politically, socially and economically, than exists today.  Everything that fuels jihadism would remain, and the indigenous forces that oppose it would probably have been swept away and purged in the process. 

There’s an idea going around that calls for Maliki’s (political) ouster are bad, and that Maliki is being made into a scapegoat.  I disagree with this latter claim, since a scapegoat has to have a plausible chance of ridding a people of its sins, and I don’t think Maliki is up to the job.  I certainly agree that replacing Maliki with another member from his party or the old SCIRI would hardly improve matters, since it is the sectarian nature of the government and its close ties to Sadr (who has now abandoned Maliki to the wolves) that have compromised it from the beginning. 

Talking about dropping the Maliki government is premised on a mistaken idea that the supposedly conciliatory legislative agenda that has been stalled can actually be pushed through the Iraqi parliament, provided that we just find the right political helmsman to take the wheel of government.  This is the mistaken view that the political situation in Iraq is salvageable in a form agreeable to Washington.  It is the same kind of mistake that led Washington to endorse Maliki’s ministry in the first place.  As far as it goes, forcing Maliki out would help some American pols score some points in the “blame the Iraqis, don’t blame me” game, but it would achieve little else.  It would also help the White House by providing the President with a new pretext to say that “we must give the Iraqis more time.”  A new prime minister would probably be followed by a change of other ministers, and there would be some delay before the government was ready to try to do much of anything.  Those complaining about the slowness of political reconciliation would actually find themselves frustrated by the even slower movement as the new PM got his act together (assuming that he did).  In the end, Maliki is not likely to have a successor any more capable of or willing to foster political reconciliation, since the major Shi’ite parties still thrive on communal conflict and the promise of continued Shi’ite predominance in government.  The deep flaws of the current Iraqi government are a good argument not for Maliki quitting his job, but rather for us to quit Iraq.

There can be absolutely no argument that a million or more Armenians died during World War I.  But, on issue of whether genocide—a deliberate plan to eradicate a people—occurred or not, there is a big gap between the narrative of Diaspora communities and that of prominent historians.  The historical debate is more complex. ~Michael Rubin

Via Yglesias

Well, there is certainly a big gap between historians who take the Turkish government’s view and those who actually properly handle the evidence.  I don’t know whether the Turkish historian Taner Akcam ranks as “prominent” in Mr. Rubin’s world, but the argument he lays out for the deliberate, central planning of the genocide is thorough and persuasive.  Even though it required quite a lot of political pressure to make it happen, the ADL’s belated, grudging and qualified acknowledgement of the genocide is to their credit. 

It goes without saying that similar agnosticism and references to the complexity of historical debate in connection with certain other genocides would be considered despicable, dehumanising to the victims and basically unwelcome in polite society.  The histories and historiographies of Cambodia and Rwanda were and are no less complex, but there were still deliberate genocides carried out in those countries.  Of course, neither the Khmer Rouge nor the Hutu Power maniacs have well-heeled lobbyists, a U.S.-allied government and willing apologists to help cast doubt and cover up for them. 

Update: Due credit to Jeff Jacoby for a good column on this.

Today’s dynamic and hopeful Asia — a region that brings us countless benefits — would not have been possible [bold mine-DL] without America’s presence and perseverance. ~George W. Bush

You know, if I were Japanese (or Taiwanese or Thai, to say nothing of Indian) I think I would get pretty tired of hearing this sort of thing.  Yes, I understand that this was a speech to the VFW and the President is obliged to pay his respects to veterans of the Pacific and Korean Wars, as well he should.  Nonetheless, we peddle these myths about our indispensible role in the reconstruction of many of these countries after the war, and this leads us to make mistakes in our current policies.  Thus Mr. Bush once again trots out post-WWII occupation and reconstruction as some sort of “proof” that current Iraq policy makes sense, which would be interesting, except that Japan was not like the way Iraq is and the two cases are not comparable at all.  If there were people who believed that Japan was unsuited to democracy (if today’s virtually permanent LDP rule they have there is what you want to call democracy), they were evidently too much in thrall to official propaganda about the nature of the Japanese regime, since the Japanese had already had universal manhood suffrage for decades.  They had a liberal constitutional monarchy, and their legal system was based on European models.  (Also, the implicit comparison the President makes between Shinto and Islam is unpersuasive for what I would hope are obvious reasons.) 

For people who normally get so edgy when Vietnam is mentioned in any negative connection with Iraq, the administration is strangely happy to make lame analogies with U.S. involvement with almost any  Asian country now.  For what it’s worth, Japan was fairly “dynamic” before the Pacific War, and they were, I suppose, “hopeful.”  It may have been the hopefulness of a would-be empire and regional overlord, but it was hopefulness all the same.  Indeed, they were rather too optimistic in what they thought they could accomplish.  That’s something worth bearing in mind.

There is one way in which Mr. Bush might have a small point, if he means to refer only to the postwar period and he wanted to talk specifically about, say, South Korea alone.  It was primarily the Japanese themselves who rebuilt their own country and transformed it into the economic dynamo that it became.  Having already industrialised significantly before and during the war, the Japanese were hardly unfamiliar with modern industry, finance and capitalism, and they had also had some experience with parliamentary government.  Having successfully created and sustained these things once before, they were prepared to rebuild and recreate anew.  Our role was to allow this without allowing Japan to rearm and resume its great power ambitions.      

Running throughout this speech is the idea that every nation in the world wants freedom and has the potential to do great things, but none of them could have done or will ever do anything if the Americans don’t show up to “help” or, more precisely, make them do it.  Especially if Mr. Bush is right about the potential and the desire of all peoples to live free, this is appalling arrogance to claim that their success is dependent on us.  On the other hand, if it is so heavily dependent on us, how will it be sustained if we should ever depart?  If the former, our involvement is redundant and pointless, and if the latter our involvement is ultimately futile. 

My Scene colleague Matt Feeney raises an objection to Ross’ critique of Chait’s criticism of Kristol (ah, the fun of blogging), noting correctly that there are internal political reasons why TNR does not say much about the war one way or the other.  There is something else worth mentioning here. 

Ross began his post thus:

Jon Chait’s attack on Bill Kristol’s supposed “thuggery” in support of the current American strategy in Iraq would be considerably more interesting if it were possible to discern where Chait’s own magazine stands on the question. 

By the same token, Ross’ critique of Chait would be considerably more powerful if it were possible to discern clearly what Ross’ own view on the war was at the present time.  It isn’t that Ross never writes about the war, but he doesn’t say much about what kind of Iraq policy he thinks would be best.  In his bloggingheads appearances, he will often make a point of declaring himself to be something of an agnostic on the “surge,” and thus ends up, by default, with a “wait and see” position.  That’s fair enough, but it is a bad  position from which to criticise someone else’s reticence about Iraq policy.   

I would add that it shouldn’t matter here whether TNR’s position on the war is discernible, and I don’t know that it would necessarily make the criticism that much more interesting.  If TNR were an openly pro-withdrawal, antiwar magazine, Chait’s criticism of Kristol could–and would–be written off by other war supporters as a standard attack on a prominent “hawk,” which would immediately make the criticism less interesting to large numbers of people.  If it were an openly pro-war, stay-until-we-”win” magazine, this might make the article more noteworthy as evidence of some political rift among the “hawks,” but it would in no way make the underlying criticism of Kristol more or less interesting. 

On the contrary, the nebulous nature of TNR’s position could make the criticism of Kristol all the more powerful, as it sets up an opposition between a magazine trying to offer a report about the reality of the war and the reflexive, ideological, party-line response of a major war supporter.  This entire Beauchamp affair has been a miniature version of the larger pro-war obsession with the media’s “failure” to report the “real news” and ”good news” from Iraq.  The pro-war responses to the Beauchamp reports, of which Kristol’s is one of the more prominent, have been typical representatives of this kind of argument.  Underlying this “they aren’t reporting the real, good news” view is the assumption that any media outlet that reports things that war supporters don’t want to hear must be reporting them because of their inveterate opposition to the war and their hatred of the troops, etc.  After all, only ideologically-driven antiwar fanatics could believe that anything was really going awry in Iraq, since war supporters know that the “surge” is working and all will be well. 

When there is the slightest hint of erroneous reporting, the war supporters believe they have found the Holy Grail in their quest to uncover antiwar media bias.  Arguably, Iraq reporting in a magazine whose editors have an ambiguous or divided view of the war stands a slightly better chance of breaking through this otherwise impenetrable cloud of willful pro-war ignorance.  Similarly, such a magazine’s criticisms of war supporters whose first resort is vilification and insult instead of real argument might be more effective in forcing less obnoxious war supporters to recognise the shallowness of the arguments offered on their behalf by a prominent “hawk.”

Update: Ross gives a good reply here, and he convincingly rebuts at least part of my post.  TNR does have more of a responsibility to address Iraq policy. 

It is certainly a conundrum of America’s laudable foreign policy objective of democracy promotion that electorates sometimes freely vote for parties whose goals are distinctly inimical to US foreign policy objectives. ~Gerard Baker

You could call it a conundrum.  Or you could call it an entirely predictable outcome of empowering populations that despise U.S. foreign policy, which is not so much of a conundrum, since virtually everyone already knew the attitude of the populations in question.  Conundrum makes the outcome sound somehow mysterious, inexplicable and bizarre, as if it were the last thing anyone might have expected. 

Baker continues:

And yet, for all its perils, President George Bush is surely right to insist on the primacy of freedom.

Well, this seems to be a decidedly strange way to run U.S. foreign policy (the primacy of the just American interest would seem to be appropriate), but even supposing that Mr. Bush insisted on the “primacy of freedom” and did the necessary legwork to make sure that his rhetorical insistence was matched with proper support, an insistence on the “primacy of freedom” has next to nothing to do with the promotion of democracy.  As Near Eastern, Latin American and other elections are reminding us all the time, democratic elections in most countries are a sure-fire way to ensure that there is much less freedom in the country, since majorities in these countries are far more interested in using their political power to gain benefits and subsidies than they are in gaining any real sort of freedom.  This may have something to do with the fact that most people, when faced with the choice of either doing the hard work needed to possess and retain freedom or not doing it, will opt for the easier path.  This rather makes nonsense out of Mr. Bush’s refrains that all people want freedom, since they might very well want it and could still want many other things far more. 

If Mr. Bush were insisting on the “primacy of freedom,” he would be actively discouraging elections and encouraging the development of civil society and liberal education.  Instead, there is virtually none of the latter and constant chatter about the former.  Besides, all those purple-thumbed Iraqis make for better television than the drudgework of changing political culture over the long haul (not that I think that the U.S. government should be involved in any of this). 

Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. ~Alexander Kronemer

Additionally, Kronemer writes of a generic “Islamic Spain,” as if there were no difference between Umayyads, Almoravids and Almohads.  The latter two dynasties were decidedly much less interested in perpetuating whatever toleration and good intercommunal relations there had been before, and they were, in fact, much more fanatical.  It is remarkable how these dynasties play no role in Kronemer’s description of the worsening relations between Christians and Muslims in Spain.

There was a time when neoconservatives sought to hold the moral and intellectual high ground [bold mine-DL]. There was some- thing inspiring in their vision of America as a different kind of superpower–a liberal hegemon deploying its might on behalf of subjugated peoples, rather than mere self-interest. As the Iraq war has curdled [bold mine-DL], the idealism and liberalism have drained out of the neoconservative vision. What remains is a noxious residue of bullying militarism. Kristol’s arguments are merely the same pro-war arguments that have been used historically by right-wing parties throughout the world: Complexity is weakness, dissent is treason, willpower determines all. ~Jonathan Chait

That first line is amusing.  Certainly, neocons have always sought to strike the morally and intellectually superior pose, but their taking of the “high ground” usually consisted of declaring that their policies are the ones most consistent with American values and then declaring those who oppose them to have lost faith in those values.  Chait is right that neocons did stress the idealistic cant about “benevolent global hegemony” and their enthusiasm for democratising the world more than they tend to do these days, but when exactly was this pristine time when they did not simultaneously engage in vilification, demonisation and, as he calls it, “thuggery”?  Thuggery and intimidation have always been part of their method, and they have, at least until very recently, been fairly successful in marginalising political rivals as a result.  Neocons learned fairly early on that ideologically-charged demonisation of opponents was quite effective in either shutting up or discrediting their foes, and it seems to me that some of them taught Mr. Bush a thing or two about this. 

Part of the advantage of their support for democratisation, a foreign policy of “values” as well as interests and an idealistic hope to reform politically dysfunctional societies was that they could–and did–very easily cast anyone who opposed their preferred policies as people who were not very supportive of, or who actually hated, democracy and American values (or who actively sympathised with despots and noxious ideologies).  To deny the feasibility and practicability of the democratisation of the Near East was not just common sense or prudence.  No, it was evidence at once of cultural supremacism and/or racism and also cultural relativism.  If you did not accept that freedom and democracy were universally possible, you did not really think people in other countries were fully human, and so on.  This was the standard kind of argument put forward by neoconservatives.  Nowadays, it is true that the neocons tend to go straight for the jugular by smearing their opponents as unpatriotic backstabbers, but this is simply because their more “idealistic” rhetoric does not have the power to shut down debate that it once did.  Heavy-handed nationalist and militarist appeals (which have been integral to neoconservatism for at least the last 12 years) are their best rhetorical weapons for shoring up their base of support and bludgeoning their foes.  Naturally, it is not persuasive or intelligent, but that has been true of these people for a very long time.

Accusations of treason are a dime a dozen for these people–what does Chait think their unending warnings against policies of “appeasement” are if not accusations that their policy opponents are aiding and abetting the enemies  of the United States?  The embrace of simplistic abstractions in the place of complex analysis has been commonplace, and you need only browse Krauthammer’s archives for a few minutes to find some nauseating invocation of the power of the will and the need to show “resolve.”  This was all true before the invasion of Iraq, and for years before that.  If Chait has finally discovered the hollowness and shallowness of modern neoconservatism, good for him, but it is not exactly a new thing.

Many economists (not all) might agree that it would be lovely if we lived in an Edenic utopia in which everyone did the best for society without thought of themselves. But almost all economists recognize that self-interest is a powerful force that must be dealt with, and therefore that economic policy must be designed on the assumption that people will try to maximise their own good, rather than society’s. Similarly, foreign policy assumes that states will act in their own interest, and try to design a foreign policy that works within that constraint [bold mine-DL]. The netroots (and many libertarians), who have a more idealistic theoretical model, are outraged. They are particularly outraged because they see that in certain cases, such as Iraq, their prescription would have produced a better outcome. ~Megan McArdle

First, foreign policy does not assume this, but traditional foreign policy realists assume this.  It remains unclear to me how accepting that states act out of self-interest requires anyone to endorse interventionist foreign policy prescriptions or the rather open-ended ” war for vital interests, whatever they may be” position.  It is not clear to me that people who object to wars of aggression are espousing an “idealistic” worldview, unless we would like to say now that only “idealists” are interested in opposing the principal crime for which the war criminals at Nuremberg were executed.  Undoubtedly, all states operate out of their self-interest.  One of the basic red lines of international law, of the international system itself, is that no state should be able to pursue that self-interest through an aggressive war.  It was to provide a mechanism to prevent such acts, theoretically, that international organisations such as the U.N. were created in the first place.  Respecting the sovereignty of other states is one of the bonds that is supposed to hold the international state system together.  Apparently, Drezner believes that the Foreign Policy Community generally agrees that this rule does not apply to the United States. 

The formulation of which Drezner approves declares that the interests of some states or perhaps just one state take precedence over the constraints of that system.  If this were an economic model, it would be a near-monopolistic system in which the monopolist is allowed to steal and destroy the property of everyone else if he has a “vital” need to do so.  It is curious that Drezner would basically confirm the worst possible indictment of the Foreign Policy Community, which is that it is fundamentally biased in favour of illegal and aggressive warfare, but he seems to have done just that. 

But of course, that doesn’t mean that it necessarily works as a system–that Bill Gates gave billions to charity is not a vindication of communism. Having gotten it so dreadfully wrong on Iraq, I am seduced by the easy by-the-numbers approach posed by a non-interventionist foreign policy. But I wonder what I am not seeing–the wars that don’t happen in the Middle East1, or Central Europe, because all the participants know that it would be a foolhardy invitation to US intervention. I take this to be the foriegn [sic] policy defense of their position; and it’s a pretty compelling one. For the same reason that it’s only a good idea to be a pacifist in a nation with a strong police force, it may only be possible to be an idealist when realists are running the show. ~Megan McArdle

Ms. McArdle seems willing to concede the possibility that Dan Drezner’s foreign policy fight with certain other bloggers is one of sober “realists” (Drezner) against high-minded, but necessarily reckless idealists (Greenwald, Quiggin, etc.).  Non-interventionists do not assume that natural human goodwill and peace would spring up in the absence of U.S. intervention; we are not the foreign policy equivalent of utopians or idealists (it is strange that this needs saying).  Non-interventionists do not imagine that states do not act in their interest, and many of us do not think that they ought to act any other way.  We have this funny idea that it is not in the national interest of our country to start fruitless and aggressive wars.  To use an economic comparison, non-interventionists are like those who think that there ought to be a free exchange of goods, but who still hold that murder, assault, theft and arson should still be illegal.  We are like those who assume that the security of persons and property is vital to the functioning of a market economy (or, indeed, of society in general).  The serious “realists” of the Foreign Policy Community believe that there is at least one actor in the world that is allowed to ransack the other “shops” to secure what it ”needs” and indeed takes this as an essential part of the foreign policy consensus.  We oppose foreign policy criminality, whereas they find it acceptable, at least when it comes to our government.  We regard wanton aggression as something that destroys the proper working of the international system (this is something that internationalists themselves used to believe before our government got into the habit of attacking smaller states), just as we might argue that criminality undermines trust and the effective working of the market. 

Most non-interventionist critiques of those “serious” people trying to push anti-Russian, anti-Iranian or other aggressive lines around the world focus on the understandable and legitimate interests of other states that a sane, responsible foreign policy (i.e., something the Foreign Policy Community would not be interested in) would have to take into account.  The “realists” take it for granted that those states’ interests are not only to some degree illegitimate, but that any pursuit of their interests must necessarily be damaging to America, because maintenance of hegemony is their overarching concern.

Quiggin points us to this Drezner’s rephrasing of Greenwald and Drezner’s remark following it:

The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.

I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a “national interest” in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would.

Yes, well, we all make mistakes.  Non-interventionists accept the concept of “national interest,” but we don’t endorse the abhorrent idea that Drezner endorses here.  Indeed, we place national interest fairly close to the heart of our foreign policy view.  The fundamental argument of non-interventionism is that aggressive and interventionist wars–always in the name of “vital national interest”–are detrimental to the American interest and always will be.  They are also damaging to the international system as a whole.  Invading Panama to clean up one of Bush the Elder’s old mistakes at the CIA strikes us as a rather senseless waste; starting a war against a European country in the name of European stability and human rights strikes us as fairly barbaric.  I would be interested to know what a “paid-up member” thinks our “vital” interests were in the many military campaigns over the past 17 years.   

“Vital” interests are always so broadly defined by the people who invoke them as justifications for intervention that they come to include almost everything.  These interests are never clearly defined, and this is because America does not have any significant interest at stake in many regions around the world.  Any effort to define and describe those interests would reveal this.  It is hardly in the interest of the Foreign Policy Community to acknowledge that part of its definition of “vital” interests includes the perpetuation of U.S. hegemony itself. 

Someone will need to explain this to me: why do certain Westerners claim to care so much what happens inside Russia (or replace Russia with any other country you’d care to name)?  I’m serious.  This is the second prominent op-ed about the youth group Nashi in the last week, and it is written in that same tone of alarmed concern.  It seems to me that Westerners look at Russia with the same kind of myopia with which Americans look at Europe or Europeans look at America or coastal liberals look at people in “Red” America.  The critics always latch on to those elements of the country that they purport to find sinister (usually because the “sinister” elements have different political views from themselves) and then generalise about the condition of the entire country based on this.  Where the secular European quakes in dread of American megachurches, or the religious American shudders at the thought of empty churches in Europe and godless Frenchmen cavorting on their long weekends, certain Westerners are filled with horror at the thought of Russian nationalists. 

Better yet they are disturbed by things like this:

But it is one thing for French kids to be told about Joan of Arc’s heroism or American kids about Paul Revere’s midnight ride; everyone is entitled to a Robin Hood or William Tell or two. It’s a bit more disturbing to learn that the new Russian history manual teaches that “entry into the club of democratic nations involves surrendering part of your national sovereignty to the U.S.” [bold mine-DL] and other such choice contemporary lessons that suggest to Russian teenagers that they face dark forces abroad.

The textbook’s phrasing is a bit blunt, but I can’t say that I find this statement to be all that inaccurate.  Entering the “democratic club of nations” in practice frequently means having your policies dictated to you by foreign governments, the U.S. being chief among them, which offer the “incentives” of gaining membership in other clubs (the WTO, NATO, the EU) and receiving support from the IMF.  Once you have joined these organisations, your sovereignty is reduced even more and your policy options are even more constrained.  In practice, it often is the case that these nations yield up some of their sovereignty to Washington as an “ally” or to institutions where Washington’s influence is very great. 

The legitimate criticism here should be that this statement has little or nothing to do with the study of history.  If it were a political science book, it might be different, but there is certainly a level of gratuitous politicisation here in any case.  It is the politicisation, and not the message’s content, that we should find objectionable.

It is worth noting that none of this fundamentally changes what our attitude towards the Russian government ought to be.  Cooperation with Russia is in the best interests of both our countries.  The more people in the West rile themselves up over what the Russians are doing with their textbooks and the like, the harder it becomes to foster good relations with Moscow.  The Japanese, of course, have engaged in some of the most appalling revisionism about WWII in their textbooks, but very few people seem terribly upset by this these days such that they try to encourage fear and loathing of Japan. 

Yes, Minister jokes aside for the moment, I was struck by Ross’ comment on the Peter Baker story I posted on yesterday.  Ross writes:

On the one hand, it’s a damning portrait of a weak President who entertained delusions of world-historical grandeur but couldn’t even keep his own Vice President on board with the mission, let alone his Cabinet agencies; on the other it’s a story of how the federal bureaucracy works to frustrate and undermine the elected officials whose policies it supposedly exists to implement [bold mine-DL].

I have a few observations.  Cheney seems to me to be wholly on board with the “freedom agenda” as far as the Near East and the former Soviet Union are concerned (and these are the only places where the administration actually cares about the “freedom agenda,” because they think it meshes well with their other strategic goals, such as they are).  Embracing Nazarbayev is useful in pushing an anti-Russian line, while pushing for “democratic” revolution in places with more pro-Russian despots also advances that line.  One of the goals of democratism is to put a “democratic” (i.e., relatively pro-American) elite in power in various countries around the world, but their democracy is very much the managed managerial democracy that will come up with the “right” policy results rather than function as a government that reflects and represents the popular interest.  Eastern Europe is lousy with such “democratic” governments these days.  When democratists talk about democracy, it is this managerial system to which they are referring.  Actual popular, representative government gives such people hives, as we can see whenever American populists make any headway in domestic politics. 

There is a certain irony that some of the bureaucratic managers inside our managerial state are opposed to the proponents of the ”global democratic revolution,” but I think it is a mistake to focus entirely on the federal departments as obstacles to some imagined representative government enacting the will of the people.  The policies being set by elected officials have no more connection with representative government than do the policymaking processes inside the bureaucracy; these policies routinely favour very narrow and particular interests that may have nothing to do with the interests of most of the voting constituents.  The departments and agencies work to undermine the politicians who actively work to undermine and discredit them–that’s how bureaucratic infighting works, and it is unavoidable once you have vested so much power in permanent departments and agencies.  If we find it obnoxious, as we all do to some degree, we might start by getting rid of large parts of the bureaucracy and removing permanent entrenched power interests from the heart of our government.  It seems to me that the trouble arises when we want to have the administrative and bureaucratic apparatus of a managerial state and also want to have none of the drawbacks of ceding actual governing to unelected functionaries.  We are likely to feel very agitated when confronted with the arrogance of the managers who think, not without good reason, that they are effectively in charge (or at least have a major say in what happens).   

What about the friendly relations with the Thai military men?  On the one hand, the administration can ignore the Thai coup and embrace Gen. Sonthi et al. because the coup does not represent a shift in Thailand’s relations with Washington (which is what really matters for those pushing the ”freedom agenda”), and it can also justify support for the coup on the grounds that Thaksin was corrupt, unpopular and making a hash of the counterinsurgency in the south.  There will always be “war on terror” exceptions to the “freedom agenda” (see Pakistan) and the U.S. acquiescence in the coup in Thailand was a good example of that at work.

But the notion that the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security is not really extraordinary. Quite the contrary, that is how virtually every country in the world conducts itself, and it is a founding principle of our country. Starting wars against countries that have not attacked you, and especially against those who cannot attack you, is abnormal. ~Glenn Greenwald

Yglesias cites this as an example of how Greenwald is politically on his “left” and rather too far to the left for his taste.  This is certainly one of those places where the right/left schema makes no sense at all to me, since I am light years to the right of Yglesias on everything else and yet I believe I am entirely in agreement with Greenwald’s statement here.  This is not because I am discovering my inner left-winger, but because Greenwald’s statement is entirely consistent with any sane Christian and conservative attitude towards war.  There is nothing particularly ”far left” about repudiating and deploring wars of aggression, which seem to me to be the kind of war that Greenwald is rejecting.  He might go beyond this and say that American forces should never be involved in wars of collective security or sent on peacekeeping missions (that would generally be my view), but that is not clearly implied here.  Greenwald is saying that wanton aggression is not the norm, and wars of self-defense and national security are.  He does not say whether collective security or peacekeeping is desirable (my wild guess is that he probably thinks that they are), though he does imply that it is fairly unusual.  He says simply that the default condition for the use of force for most states is self-defense, which seems pretty clearly true. 

Moved by claims that it will help the metabolism and productivity of his fellow citizens, President Hugo Chavez said clocks would be moved forward by half an hour at the start of 2008. He announced the change on his Sunday television program, accompanied by his highest-ranking science adviser, Héctor Navarro, the minister of science and technology. “This is about the metabolic effect, where the human brain is conditioned by sunlight,” Mr. Navarro said in comments reported by Venezuela’s official news agency. Mr. Chávez said he was “certain” that the time change, which would be accompanied by a move to a six-hour workday, would be accepted. ~The New York Times

Via Zengerle

Clearly, the plan to conquer Argentina proceeds apace.  Fortunately for all of us, the Venezuelan war machine will only be working six hours a day, which means that we might still have a chance to save Buenos Aires from the dastardly time change before it’s too late.

The current demonization of Russia in some American quarters is thus incomprehensible, unless one keeps in mind the particular conceit of democracies at war that Kennan, following Tocqueville, pointed out long ago: “There is nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision of everything else. . . . People who have got themselves into this frame of mind have little understanding for the issues of any contest other than the one in which they are involved.” ~Tony Corn

It is an interesting, albeit rather long, article, and I can’t agree with everything in it (who can actually be surprised by neocon tunnel vision?), but most of the sections on Russia and Central Asia seem fairly sound. 

There was no manger, Christ is not the Messiah [bold mine-DL], and the crucifixion never happened.  A forthcoming ITV documentary will portray Jesus as Muslims see him. ~The Guardian

I don’t know whether this is a mistake by The Guardian or by ITV’s documentary, but a mistake it surely is.  Set aside for the moment that the phrase “Christ is not the Messiah” sounds really stupid (since Christos means “anointed one” and thus Messiah), and consider the claim behind it.  The claim is that Muslims do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, which is incorrect.  The relevant point, obviously, is that they deny His Divinity and do not recognise His Divine Sonship in His role as Messiah.  This is one of the two major points of disagreement between the religions, and it is rather central to how Muslims see Jesus.  One would have thought that a report on a documentary designed to foster some minimal understanding of the Islamic view would have managed to get this much right.

The Qur’an (Sura 3:48) says (Pickthall translation):

(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo!  Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary…

Idh qaalat al-malaika ya Maryam inna Allah yubathiruki bi-kalimat-in minhu ismuhu al-masih-u ‘Isa ibn-u Maryam…

 

Presenting Mormon tritheism:

Just to clarify, Mormons in fact do believe that Christ is God. It’s really quite simple. There is one God, which is the Godhead, consisting of three separate beings [bold mine-DL] in the way that the Bush Administration is one administration consisting of many people. God the Father, Jesus Christ who is also God, and the Holy Ghost, who is also God. They are one in purpose. It’s not more complicated than that. Mormons do not believe in the Nicean [sic] Creed, but Christ’s role is not undermined.

In other words, Mormons do not share the fundamental doctrine of God that all Christians share and quite explicitly accept something that undermines monotheism.

But after the inevitable failure of Islamic movements to provide an adequate response to the challenge of modernity, what will Muslims embrace? The only thing left, at that point, will be the ever elusive “moderate Islam,” a new, modernity-compatible faith that retains the name of Islam but jettisons all the substance (kind of like mainline Protestantism).

But Muslims have to come to that conclusion on their own, by living under regimes that will exemplify that failure (like Iran). Our hearts-and-minds efforts, like the north poles of two magnets, can only repel Muslims from drawing the necessary, inescapable conclusion that Islam, as it has existed for 14 centuries, is a failure as an ideology and way of life in the modern world. ~Mark Krikorian

No offense to Mr. Krikorian, but does he really think that Muslims are going to conceive of their religion as an “ideology” and “way of life” that have failed?  If they believe, as I assume they do, that their religion is the final revelation of God to humanity, it will take a lot more than its “inadequacy” to adapt to modernity to persuade them to abandon it.  The substitute will also have to be a lot more powerful than the Islamic equivalent of the via media

The lesson of mainline Protestantism, to follow his comparison, is that religion without substance and conviction is dead and uninspiring and doomed to stagnation and irrelevance.  People flee it as they would from the plague.  Those inclined to belong to religious communities are going to seek out communities where there is a sense that the religion they practice is true and edifying.  Looked at this way, Islamic revivalism and fundamentalism stand a much better chance of spreading and thriving, much as Pentecostalism has been doing for many decades, which means that the failues to adjust to modernity will simply persuade even more people to follow a revivalist and fundamentalist path.  For every person who thinks that a religion needs to be updated to match the modern world there will always be at least one other who thinks that it is the modern world that must be adjusted to the dictates of the old time religion, and probably more than one.  It seems to me that one of the handicaps of a lot of Westerners in understanding the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is the idea that such fundamentalism is not modern.  It is anti-modernist, but it is itself a modern phenomenon that addresses the needs (or seems to address them) of people today.  To say that it does not result in good results by the standards of our modernity is to miss the point entirely–the people who embrace such fundamentalism do not want such results, or if they do they want them less than they want the certainty and deliverance offered them by revelation. 

 

George Ajjan draws to our attention the bizarre case of Patrick Syring, former State Department officer and apparently inveterate Arab-hater (how’s that for dispelling myths about State Department employees’ reflexive Arabism?).  During the war in Lebanon, he sent vulgar, nasty and threatening messages to members of the Arab-American Institute.  He has been indicted on 2 counts of ”Threatening Communication in Interstate Commerce.”  Whether he has violated the statute in question is not really my main concern, and I am skeptical that the laws he may have broken are actually constitutional, but a few things do occur to me. 

The first is that if the situation were reversed and there were a government official sending such hateful messages to Jewish-Americans and their colleagues, it would be a major story and would be hyped from here to eternity by the usual suspects.  We would see daily coverage in The New York Times and hear constant commentary every day.  There would be bloviating pundits asking “how many” other Foreign Service officers held similar views, and what Secretary Rice was doing about it.  Certain newspapers and magazines would have a field day and would draw broad, sweeping claims about State’s toleration of these attitudes.  As it is, so far as I know, this has not been a major news story and is not likely to become one.  Further, it occurs to me that the reason why it is not a bigger story than it has been is that Syring’s opinion that “the only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese” is one with which I fear all too many pundits and citizens of this country might be inclined to agree, at least to some degree, as shown by the appalling indifference of the American public to the civilian casualties of the bombing of Lebanon and the propagandistic mantras that “they” deserved what they were getting.  In short, it is not more of a story than it is because the public would not be interested in reading or hearing about it.  Additionally, I note that Syring’s repeated declarations in which he allegedly wishes “death” to various Arab-Americans is a strange imitation of standard street protests in the Near East by the very people whom Syring regards as “dogs” (which would apparently make him an imitator of dogs?).  Yet another thing that occurs to me is that it is sickening that foreign conflicts can so inflame Americans against each other that they would wish harm upon their fellow citizens for the sake of a state on the other side of the world.  This is why we were advised to avoid passionate attachments to any other nation, and why we should have no permanent alliances abroad.  Such alliances breed attachments that are not healthy for the political life of our country and they set Americans against each other over wars with which we properly have nothing to do.     

Update: The Post, CBS and USA Today’s blog have some items on this case, but it is generally not a widely reported story.  Suffice it to say, this would be inconceivable if the targets of the threats were not Arab-Americans and the context in which the threats were made was not the war in Lebanon. 

Syring (evidently a Notre Dame alum) was apparently a big fan of threatening people with hellfire, as he had done previously in condemning a critic of administration foreign policy.

Less than two months later, Vice President Cheney went to Lithuania to deliver the toughest U.S. indictment of Putin’s leadership. But the next day, Cheney flew to oil-rich Kazakhstan and embraced its autocratic leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, with not a word of criticism. The juxtaposition made the talk of democracy look phony and provided ammunition to the Kremlin. ~The Washington Post

Of course, it is unusually dense to denounce the decline of democracy in one country and then slap the back of another dictator in the same week, and I would agree that this betrays a certain cynicism at the heart of the democratist agenda.  However, as I tried to argue before, I would insist that the proper criticism is not that democratists are “phony” democrats, but that they are consistent hegemonists.  Washington is officially worried about the decline of Russian democracy because it coincides with the relative increase in Russian power in Asia and Europe and the strengthening of the Russian state.  Complaining about this declining democracy helps to undermine that growing power by attributing to it a certain political illegitimacy.  “Democracy” as such is neither here nor there.  In neocon theory, expanding democracy and expanding American power go hand in hand, but this does not often work out in practice.  More realistic democratists (and I think they do exist) understand that democratism exists as a vehicle for expanding American power at the expense of rival powers.  If it can be used as a club with which to bludgeon hostile or rival states, so much the better; if it can be used to undermine or overthrow their governments, that’s great in the democratist view.  Should there be a perfectly pro-American dictator somewhere, such as in Kazakhstan, let’s say, there is no reason to talk about democracy or anything of the kind, because the more important goal of expanding American influence and power is already being served.  Similarly, when perfectly democratic, elected governments come to power in Latin America espousing political views that Washington finds objectionable and threatening, the supposed love of democracy goes out the window because these populist governments are opposed to Washington’s policies in their part of the world. 

Viewed from the perspective of consistent, principled support for democratic politics, this approach appears inconsistent and two-faced, but that’s a result of judging these policies by some standard of principle.  Once we recognise that the ideology exists to facilitate power and will be adjusted as and when necessary for the sake of power, the “phoniness” and inconsistency of democratist support for democracy makes perfect sense.

Clearly Bush’s people were not watching enough Yes, Minister, or they would have known already that it is the bureaucracy’s job to govern and the politician’s job to get elected:

Defiance of Bush’s mandate could be subtle or brazen. The official recalled a conversation with a State Department bureaucrat over a democracy issue.

“It’s our policy,” the official said.

“What do you mean?” the bureaucrat asked.

“Read the president’s speech,” the official said.

“Policy is not what the president says in speeches,” the bureaucrat replied. “Policy is what emerges from interagency meetings.”

Using the word “imperial” to describe what great powers have been doing for decades pretty much strips the term of any concrete meaning. ~Daniel Drezner

This doesn’t seem to make very much sense, since great powers usually are imperialistic.  This is part of how they operate as “great powers”: by dominating other powers and using force when they deem it necessary to enforce their will. 

But what, after all, do we mean by imperialism?  Here’s one definition that sounds right to me:

The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations.

There is something of a technical debate out there over whether you can be a hegemonist without being an imperialist.  Empire usually implies sovereignty and direct control (people inevitably think of Rome or the little pink bits on the map representing British mastery), while hegemony need only imply supremacy and the ability to dictate policy to satellites.  Hegemony is supposed to be more morally acceptable because it is simply “leadership” and supposedly not coercive–the hegemon’s lackeys are willing servants, rather than subjects.  In practice, the policies of an empire and a hegemony are often so similar that the distinction is one of rhetorical presentation: to be an empire-builder today is considered unjust, but to be a hegemon “expanding freedom’s frontiers” is basically fine. 

However, if the definition of imperialism is not limited to direct control and administration of territories outside the Home Country, and it seems that it does not have to be, supporting policies that shore up U.S. economic and political hegemony could be very fairly described as imperialist.  (Never mind that we do actually wield what is effectively direct control over territories overseas in a quasi-colonial relationship with the locals.)  Indeed, the policies of Ethiopia and Eritrea towards each other and the surrounding region could also be described this way, especially since the conflict between them is centered around territorial acquisition and regional dominance.  At its most basic meaning, for a state to be imperialistic is for it to seek control and domination over others and to be willing to use violence to maintain that control and domination.  American empire is fairly unique today in that the U.S. is the only great power that states publicly that the entire globe should follow American “leadership” and that all policies that reinforce that “leadership” (i.e., superpower hegemonic status) are justifiable and serve the greater good.  

Obviously, the foreign policy establishment that has crafted and implemented the policies that have created and preserved this hegemony are dedicated to its continued preservation, which is Greenwald’s point.  Obviously, those who object in principle to this hegemonic status and regard it as the bane of this country are not to be found inside the “foreign policy community.”  Drezner’s counterargument that someone such as Scowcroft opposed the Iraq war is not at all persuasive.  Most foreign policy “realists” who objected to the Iraq war did so for pragmatic, technical reasons.  Above all, they feared that the war would weaken our ability to act as a superpower in other parts of the globe and that it would contribute to the decline of our status as the hegemon.  Scowcroft is reliably internationalist and has no qualms about U.S. hegemony in the region and in the world–he opposed the war at least partly because he wants to keep the hegemony going for as long as possible.  Those of us from left and right who regard this as deeply wrong are not fooled by such a person’s opposition to any particular conflict.  Obama always opposed the war in Iraq, but has demonstrated in all his foreign policy speeches that he is a true hegemonist.  Like the opposition between rival British advocates of a ‘forward’ posture and an approach of ‘masterly inactivity’ with respect to Central Asia, the opposition between antiwar internationalists and prowar internationalists is simply a disagreement over how to best secure the continued dominance over the region.  What Greenwald describes is most definitely hegemonism, and to the extent that hegemonism is simply a kind of imperialism Drezner’s reply on this point does not hold up very well.

Since most nations gain independence in armed struggle of one sort or another, armed struggle in which some civilians inevitably suffer, then by the “logic” of the ranteurs about “Naqba Denial” the existence of all those states should also be deemed catastrophes. But Israel alone is singled out for condemnation. ~Steven Plaut

Is it really?  Not by everyone.  The Greeks and Armenians remember their experiences with the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of their people for the sake of an ethnically homogenous nation-state in much the same way, or in even stronger terms: as the Megali Katastrofi or as the Tseghaspanut’yun respectively.  The Turkish government goes out of its way in the case of the Armenians to actively deny genocide and prosecutes those of its citizens who even hint that the extermination of the Armenians was planned and deliberate (as, of course, it was).  Naturally, any state that understands that its foundation lies on the graves of the innocent or is based on the forced expulsion or relocation of hundreds of thousands of civilians will be keen to ignore the record or deny the memory of these events.  Do such past crimes “delegitimise” the current state?  I don’t think so.  But the continued refusal to recognise the crimes for what they are is certainly not a legitimate method of defending a state against unreasonable or excessive attacks.   

Of course, the “inevitable” suffering of the civilian population during such conflicts is rather more inevitable when there is a plan of expulsion that results in massacres.  The final justifications in Plaut’s article, citing the far worse death tolls in the mayhem after the Partition or the ethnic cleansing and starvation of Germans after WWII, are typical diversionary moves.  Plaut does not, of course, care a whit about the German victims of these expulsions, nor would any attention be brought to their case except that the scale of suffering and devastation helps to make what happened to the Palestinians seem unimportant.  Rather than an old stand-by excuse that ”lots of bad things happened in that war,” Plaut has offered a different excuse: “lots of worse things have happened in other wars, which means that these events are irrelevant.”  He can impugn the integrity of some (though not all) of the revisionists, but he cannot wish away evidence.   

Via Ambinder, here’s an interesting bit of information culled from Mark Penn that relates nicely to this post:

There are 10 million Protestant Hispanics in the U.S. today. 90 percent of them adhere to a variant of Pentecostalism. It was this subgroup of Latinos who helped George W. Bush increase his margin among Hispanics in 2004 — “the percentage of Bush voters among Hispanic Catholics remained exactly the same.” Penn’s own surveys suggest that Protestant Latinos are largely values voters; Catholic Latinos are much more likely to respond to economic issues.

If the GOP wants to work Rovian electoral “magic” via bad immigration policy, they would need to get on the ball and begin bringing in Guatemalans by the hundreds of thousands, since Guatemala has become something like 30% Pentecostal.  They would also have to somehow manage to keep the non-Protestant Hispanics out.  The point is that most of the Hispanics coming here are not “natural” GOP voters, just as most of the Hispanic Catholics already here are not.   

Michael reminds us of an excellent piece he did for TAC from an issue ago on one of my favourite foreign policy punching bags, Rick Santorum.  Here’s an excerpt:

After dipping gingerly into the differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam, Santorum concluded that Iran poses the greatest threat to the United States. In previous centuries, he explained, Shi’ite regimes had been at peace with the West [bold mine-DL]. But ever since Khomeini re-interpreted that tradition of Islam, Iran had been radicalized. “And so now we have Iran in a position to project power and to use Sunni-like theology, if you will…” he lowered his voice, “to conquer the world.”

After those last four words, you expect a laugh track to kick in, but it never comes [bold mine-DL]. Instead, the speech grinds on as Santorum warns of the “gathering storm” and draws parallels between our time and the late 1930s and early ’40s. Warning that America will face an array of exotic threats alone, Santorum begins to quote the June 1940 address of Winston Churchill to the British people in which the prime minister girded them for the coming battle of Britain. In the audio recording sold by Focus on the Family, as Santorum’s voice solemnly quiets, the ghostly crackle of Churchill’s original rises. Santorum closes by explaining that defeat means to “sink into the abyss of a new dark age.” Dobson emerges to speculate that this may be some of “the most prophetic work” his ministry has brought to its audience, saying, “Rick Santorum gets it. He may have been the finest senator we have had in many decades. He is part of the heritage of Winston Churchill.”

This bit about “Shi’ite regimes” being at peace with “the West” is curious, since it is not a very meaningful statement.  “Shi’ite regimes” in the early modern and modern period have been limited to the Zaydi imamate in Yemen (overthrown in 1962), the Safavids in Iran, the Qajars in pre-constitutional Iran, and (if you want to be generous in how you define the phrase) the interrupted rule of the Pahlavis in post-1920s Iran.  Except for the Zaydis and Safavids, who had fairly limited contact with the West, these regimes were at peace, or rather they were often under the thumb, of Western powers for all that time.  In any case, it was in the strategic interest of pre-WWI Iran to be friendly to European powers, since many of the Europeans shared with Iran a common enemy in the Ottomans.  Iran then effectively became a client of the British and Americans during WWII and afterwards until 1979, despite the brief attempt of the elected Iranian government to say differently. 

The point is simply that there is nothing inherently more peaceable or pro-Western about pre-radicalised Iranian Shi’ism or Shi’ism generally, but it is rather the relative distance and/or weakness of Iranian rulers in relation to the West that has determined the nature of the relationship.  Indeed, most pro-American regimes in the Near and Middle East are either nominally or are very seriously Sunni (which should apparently, by Santorum’s reckoning, make them more dangerous).  Meanwhile, one of the typically most pro-American populations is that of Iran, which might suggest that Khomeini’s radicalism did not sink in very deeply among most Iranians (thus casting some doubt, if any needed to be cast, on the world-conquering aspirations of the Iranians).  It would also suggest that it is the regime that determines hostility or good relations, and perhaps also that the sectarian affiliation of the regime may matter less in understanding its practical interests and goals.  In other words, don’t expect them to try to usher in the coming of the Mahdi, but focus instead on concrete strategic interests.  Santorum unfortunately badly fails here.

One of the most telling parts of Michael’s article is this line:

According to Santorum, the West must witness to Muslims, not for Christ but for Modernity.

It is important to remember the historic clash between Islam and Christendom, certainly, but it seems to me that an evangelising modernism of this kind is bound to fail.  The Islamic world already has modernised after a fashion, but the results have not been what apostles of Modernity would have expected or desired.  The character of modernisation, like that of a reformation, depends on the nature of the original thing being changed.  

Obviously, I regard Santorum’s obsession with Venezuela as bizarre, and his animosity towards Russia is lamentable and depressing.  More troubling is the degree to which Santorum personally embodies the horrible contradictions and compromises of what Joseph Bottum dubbed the “new fusionism.”  Not being a terribly great fan of the original, I was not very enthusiastic about the new version of fusionism, since I saw in it the inevitable marginalisation of social conservative concerns and the primacy of aggressive, militaristic foreign policy in the name of “moral clarity.”  This new fusionism was exactly what Santorum is now peddling: it is a fusion of, in Michael’s words, “neoconservative foreign policy and traditionalist social policy.”  It is an unholy alliance, if ever there was one.  The most troubling thing about Rick Santorum is that I think he is entirely in earnest and personally quite a decent man, which makes his support for these policy views all the more discordant and harder to understand. 

Here’s a pretty thorough and compelling rebuttal not only of the reliability of the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed that has had war supporters swooning for weeks, but also of every report from visitors to the limited confines of secure facilities and the Green Zone.  Finer writes:

The Brookings pair, self-described in their Times op-ed as “two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq,” are also longtime backers of the invasion and the recent troop surge. Before the war Pollack wrote a book subtitled “The Case for Invading Iraq,” and he has found fodder for hope on every visit.

It goes without saying that everyone can, and in this country should, have an opinion about the war, no matter how much time the person has spent in Iraq, if any. But having left a year ago, I’ve stopped pretending to those who ask that I have a keen sense of what it’s like on the ground today. Similarly, those who pass quickly through the war zone should stop ascribing their epiphanies to what are largely ceremonial visits.

The question here is not one of honesty or careerism or bias, though a good part of the debate over the op-ed centered around whether or not the authors were spinning or distorting the “reality” of what they saw because of ideological or professional blindspots.  The question is whether anyone has the ability to learn much significant or valuable about what is happening in Iraq given the short time of the visits, the limited access to much of the country and the highly controlled atmosphere surrounding the visits.  The answer seems pretty clearly to be no. 

It is also telling just how desperate war supporters have become that they latched on to this misleading glimmer of positive news (which, of course, simply “confirmed” what they had supposedly ”known” all along) with such zeal.        

Update: This report of a fairly significant battle outside Ramadi underscores how tenuous things are in precisely one of the areas highlighted by O’Hanlon and Pollack as secure.

Thomas Friedman discovers what opponents of the “surge” understood many, many months ago and still manages to make himself sound rather ridiculous in the process.

The fact is Hispanics are conservative on cultural issues, entrepreneurial on economics, and intensely patriotic. ~Fred Barnes

Which is why New Mexico has been predominantly Republican at the state and local level for 75 years, right?  Oh, wait, it’s been solidly Democratic for all that time.  How could that be?  It isn’t that New Mexican Hispanics are necessarily all that different from the description Barnes gives here (though it seems as if someone should point out what a grossly simplistic stereotype of an entire ethnicity this is), but that there is no necessary or obvious connection between these things and supporting the Republican Party.  First of all, being “conservative on cultural issues” is determined to a very great extent on what your own cultural identity is, and if you take pride in a distinct culture aside from, or alongside, a generic Anglo-American one you might very well be a cultural conservative and have entirely different attitudes towards a party that theoretically represents a different cultural conservatism.  ”English only” and English as the official national language are usually thought of as culturally conservative positions of sorts, but they will not be greeted with much enthusiasm from many Hispanic voters. 

Leaving that problem aside, the logical connection is still very shaky.  Most Hispanics in this country are at least nominally Catholic, which would mean theoretically that they are “natural” supporters of the major (at least officially) pro-life, culturally conservative party, except that there is actually no necessary connection between being culturally conservative in private, family and community life and embracing a culturally conservative political agenda.  You can argue all you like that such people should support such an agenda, but they may find it unsuitable or undesirable to do so.  The GOP has been fighting to get a majority of the American Catholic vote for decades, and has enjoyed sporadic success–part of this is the result of GOP economic and social service policies that many Catholics find unappealing and undesirable, and part of this is the result of the diverse kinds of American Catholics out there.   

I am frequently reminded at my local Orthodox church that adherence to a traditional, liturgical, hierarchical, socially conservative church by no means leads you to support the GOP (and not just because the GOP’s practical support for social conservatism and traditional morality is all but nil).  At my church, you can usually spot the converts by their political conservatism and right-leaning party affiliations.  It is actually normal that more liturgical and catholic confessions would include people of widely varying political views, so there is no guarantee that belonging to a church that officially professes moral or social doctrines that are more consistent with cultural conservatism means that you are going to support a political expression of that conservatism.  The pro-immigration GOP view takes for granted that most immigrants are pious, hard-working family-centered people and that this makes them “natural” GOP voters.  Even assuming the first is true in most cases, the second does not follow at all.  There are three possible explanations for why it does not follow: either the voters do not see the GOP as being actually dedicated to protecting life, family, community and the like, or they are not basing their voting preferences on such things or they find any natural sympathy with a socially conservative agenda offset and overwhelmed by their negative reaction to economic, welfare or foreign policy positions held by the GOP. 

Someone who is personally entrepreneurial may not be at all interested in supporting the party of the moneyed interest.  He may be even very keen on the free market, which does not necessarily push him towards the party that glorifies state capitalism.  Being entrepreneurial and aspirational does not mean that you will necessarily agree with, say, reducing tax rates on wealthier people.  (Take a different kind of example to see this point: I expect few would call the folks in Silicon Valley lacking in entrepreneurship of a kind, but many of them are on the left politically.) 

Finally, it is not at all obvious these days that “intense patriotism” would or should inspire someone to pull the lever for the party that led the way into Iraq.  Barnes’ description could be completely accurate, and it still would not make these voters into “natural” supporters of the GOP.  In the end, the reality is that they are not “natural” GOP voters because most do not, in fact, vote for the GOP.  “Natural” constituents do not need to be bribed and cajoled to support a party, but will do so because they see this or that party already advancing their interests and “values.”  Say whatever you like about irrational voters (and I could say quite a lot), a majority of actual Hispanic voters do not perceive their self-interest being served by having GOP pols in positions of authority.  Of all the pathetic arguments for bad immigration policy, the argument that the GOP must pursue a pro-immigration line in order to win the votes of people who will never vote for the party is the worst and most unfounded. 

What’s worse is many Republicans are oblivious to this or insist that losing Hispanic voters doesn’t really matter because they’ll never be reliable Republican voters anyway. These Republicans buy the notion that a sizable majority of Hispanics are and always will be Democrats. ~Fred Barnes

But they won’t be reliable Republican voters.  A sizeable majority (at least 60%) of Hispanics will always (or at least for a very, very long time to come) be Democrats.  Some will be Democrats because Democrats will always be more favourable towards mass immigration than the GOP can ever be.  Others will be Democrats because their parents and grandparents were Democrats and it is ingrained that this is the better party for them.  Still others will be Democrats because they are actually more in agreement with left-liberal ideas about “social justice” and economic fairness and greater Democratic support for government programs.  New Hispanic immigrants will also be possessing political values more in line with left-liberalism, as they will be coming from countries with stronger left-populist and revolutionary leftist political traditions, and it will be those traditions to which those migrating to this country are more likely to belong.  The GOP cannot compete with the Democratic Party for a majority this voting bloc, at least not without attempting to suddenly get to the Dems’ left on all of the relevant issues.  Any such attempt would guarantee the fragmentation and eventual death of the GOP.  Furthermore, failure to limit the rate of growth of a natural Democratic constituency will mean the marginalisation and permanent minority status of the GOP as it is currently constituted. 

How wrong is Obama on Pakistan?  So wrong that both The Economist and I agree that he is being foolish:

Although Pakistan is more complicated, one certainty is that the idea proposed recently by Barack Obama—sending in American troops against al-Qaeda—would be high folly.

My next column will talk more about Obama’s foreign policy, so I’ll leave that there for now.  My latest column in TAC has also laid out why Musharraf’s continued hold on power is undesirable for both Pakistan and America, so go find yourself a copy of the 27 August issue.  Strangely, and rather shockingly, I find myself once again agreeing with much of this Economist leader:

Until recently America turned a blind eye: better the general you know than the deep green sea of jihadism. But to see General Musharraf as lone defender against the Islamic tide is to misread Pakistan. It is not the Islamists but the moderate mainstream that has lost faith in him. His sacking of the chief justice (since reinstated) and his desire to have himself re-elected by the existing legislatures before the next general election have disgusted voters. America should not give uncritical support to a military ruler who is blocking the return of the democracy that Pakistan appears now both to want and to need.

The ”moderate” mainstream’s moderation should not be talked up too much, but this analysis is still more right than wrong.  The “democracy” to which Pakistan would be returning should not be exaggerated or treated as a panacea, since it has been a deeply dysfunctional democracy (during the time, and to the extent, that it has been one at all).  The reason why Musharraf should step aside and be succeeded by an elected civilian government is not because glorious democracy makes all things better, nor is it because we should always prefer democracies to dictators for our allies, but because Musharraf’s continued hold on power and his errors in wielding that power have themselves become a serious threat to the stability of Pakistan and the security interests of both Pakistan and America.  (Incidentally, it never ceases to amaze me how some of the people who found Putin’s head-cracking, clumsy, brutal methods in Chechnya so distressing are among the same who think that we need more head-cracking, clumsy brutality in Waziristan.)  Democratisation is not normally the right answer, and it is never a cure-all or a “solution” to persistent political and social problems, and it is only a very small part of any remedy for what ails Pakistan, but real national interests of both countries dictate that a civilian government should take over from Musharraf in the very near future.  The more that this can be done with minimal American involvement, the better for the new government’s credibility, since it has been the (often mistaken, but widespread) perception of Musharraf’s slavishness towards America that has weakened him at home.  

What is amazing to me is that there is so much agreement in foreign policy circles in America that Pakistan’s truce with the tribes in Waziristan was a horrible mistake and that a resumed military offensive there by the Pakistani army is the right answer.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

(We haven’t) come to terms with how much time and money and commitment and unity it’s going to take to prevent radical Islam from reaching its goal and that is the subjugation of the United States and the western world. They say they’re right on schedule, and we’re going to have to do a lot of things better. ~Fred Thompson

Here’s the thing: “radical Islam” has so far made next to no progress towards this goal.  Check that–it has made no progress towards it.  Actually, ”radical Islam” doesn’t have any goals–”radical Muslims,” if you like, are the ones who have goals and try to reach them, and these have not been at all successful in moving towards this goal of this subjugation.  This isn’t to deny that such jihadis have a strong interest in such subjugation, but simply to look at the actual strength of such people to seize and rule territory.   

Let’s suppose that “they” do say that “they” are right on schedule–should we accept this at face value?  What does a brief glance around the globe tell us?  Far from trying to subjugate any Westerners, “radical Muslims” are mostly focused on two things: getting Westerners out of Muslim countries (or those they consider to be historically Muslim territories) as much as possible, and enforcing their sort of Islam on the people in those countries (to date, they are not having all that much luck with either of these goals, either).  It is only to the extent that “radical Islam” is influencing the Muslim populations in Europe and here that there is any remote chance of such “subjugation,” and this is still fairly remote.  (This is not an argument over whether, in theory, Muslims seek the subjugation of all lands to Islam, but whether there is any chance of this actually happening in any Western countries in our lifetime.)  Even the Eurabian thesis is not one of jihadis subjugating the West, but it is instead an argument that white Europeans will die out and be replaced by growing Muslim populations.  The problem in that case, of course, is one of demographic change, migration patterns and the non-assimilation of immigrants.  Since the more extreme cases are to be found in Europe, it is not clear what an American President is going to do about this, no matter how much money, commitment and unity he can muster. 

On the other hand, if Fred believes that jihadis are on pace to conquer the West (”right on schedule”), it seems to me that he shouldn’t be entrusted with any position of responsibility connected to our foreign policy.  Al Qaeda itself actually has a pretty lousy record of taking, holding and governing territory, since its “administration” these days largely consists of murdering people and alienating the locals, and the Taliban’s horizons have never realistically gone beyond Afghanistan.  In principle, jihadis are ultimately out to conquer, but at the present time their priorities and their theaters of operation seem focused on throwing out perceived occupiers and invaders, reclamation of old territory, irredenta.  Thus far, the only places where mujahideen have been reasonably and more or less permanently successful have been those places (e.g., Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo) where Washington either encouraged the introduction of foreign jihadis into the territory and/or gave those already there weapons or direct military support.  “They” have enjoyed some moderate, often fleeting, success in those regions loosely or poorly controlled by central states (e.g., Somalia), which means that jihadis tend to thrive in the absence of effective public authority but are not terribly good at displacing and then replacing existing authorities.  They do not fight like armies of conquest, but have instead adopted the tactics suited to a role of being Islamic insurgents.  Some jihadis may talk about the glories of medieval Cordoba, but their chosen type of warfare is that of modern guerrilla.  Describing this conflict in terms of defending against territorial occupation may be psychologically and ideologically satisfying for neo-imperialists, since it obscures the role of U.S. policy in helping to worsen the danger and allows any act of U.S. aggression to be cast as pre-emptive defense, but it is not an accurate description of the nature of the conflict.  

It must be disappointing for people raised on the glories and myths of WWII and who lived during the entirety of the Cold War, and who have always wanted to have another Great Cause of their own where they get to take the leading roles, to find that the epic “existential” conflict of their time is neither epic nor existential.  For people accustomed to thinking in terms of hunting the geopolitical equivalent of bear, warding off and swatting hornets and mosquitoes must seem beneath them–hence the constant refrain from these circles about the “global” struggle, WWIV, the “existential threat” and the impending appearance of the green flag and crescent over Washington and London.  One other problem with a nationalism that demands that the nation be the preeminent world power is that it forces its adherents to believe that anything less than a major, lengthy, global, existential conflict is unworthy of the mission of the nation’s world-historical “mission.”  It ceases to be a matter of coolly assessing the scale and scope of foreign threats–the threat must be as dangerous as, if not more dangerous than, anything we have ever faced before, because nothing less will suit the “indispensible nation.”

What is desperately needed in American foreign policy discourse is a sober discussion of the limits of American power, not a rehashing of the supposed need for renewed leadership abroad. Real leadership in American foreign policy involves a mature acceptance of the changes in the international system and a carefully calibrated effort to manage change in a way which avoids the extremes of war and suffering. What it does not require is a celebratory call for a return of American leadership of the rest of the world. Only by puncturing its cheerful faith in its own leadership can America come around to a more judicious and effective use of its power. ~Michael Boyle

Obama’s ads were not exercises in self-parody?

Via Ambinder, I see that fake populist Fred takes to the Iowa state fair in Guccis while riding in a golf cart (he really is lazy).  A man of the people he aint. 

In all of the commotion about Obama’s remarks on Pakistan, I neglected to note that his 01 August speech contained this Bush-Romney-Giulianiesque soundbite:

Just because the President misrepresents our enemies does not mean we do not have them. The terrorists are at war with us. The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real. They distort Islam. They kill man, woman and child; Christian and Hindu, Jew and Muslim. They seek to create a repressive caliphate.

But if that is the enemy, how exactly does the President misrepresent the nature of the enemy?  Obama is saying the same things that Bush (”they distort Islam”, Romney (”caliphate”!) and Giuliani (”terrorists’ war on us”) have said.  (Yes, of course, Bush misrepresents things by including Baathists and Iranians and everyone he can think of and lumping them all together, but Obama doesn’t say that here.)

I’ve posted about Martin Kramer once before after he offered a transcript of his remarks at the Prague dissident conference where President Bush also spoke.  In Prague, he said:

My teacher and mentor Bernard Lewis has put it starkly: “We free them or they destroy us.”

Now Kramer is less of a democratist than some others, which is one thing that can be said in his favour, but his Prague speech showed clearly that he shared his mentor’s diagnosis about the source and nature of the threat.  He is, it must be said, more skeptical about the democratist cure and the inevitability of democratisation than is, say, Mr. Bush. 

Now that Dr. Kramer is advising the Giuliani campaign, we should look out for a combination of this sort of thinking with the dangerous foreign policy outline offered by Giuliani himself.  Giuliani’s recent debate appearance where he poured a little cold water on democratist enthusiasms may be the result of Kramer’s influence.  The Kramer post from last month announcing his involvement with the campaign points us towards a paper by the campaign’s chief foreign policy advisor, Charles Hill, whose arguments from this paper are echoed quite clearly in Rudy’s Foreign Affairs essay.  The most damning thing that can be said against Dr. Kramer is that he wrote:

I believe that Mayor Giuliani gets it. He understands perfectly what is at stake in the Middle East, he sees precisely the forces arrayed for and against us, he knows this will be a long contest, and he has the resolve to see the United States prevail. I don’t see that same depth of understanding in any of the other candidates.

If that doesn’t disqualify Martin Kramer’s judgement on such matters, I don’t know what does.

Via Pithlord, I see that Prof. Bainbridge has commented on this story about a Dutch bishop proposing that Dutch Catholic churches use the name Allah in their services “to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.”  Pithlord is, of course, right that the concession, such as it is, is actually only a linguistic one.  Allah does mean God, or literally “the God” in Arabic.  As far as it goes, the change is fairly innocuous as a matter of literal meaning, but therefore all the more unnecessary and symbolically discouraging in that it is another example of Dutch natives accommodating and assimilating themselves to the immigrant communities rather than vice-versa.  The Islamic understanding of God is obviously quite different and opposed to that of Christians, but the bishop was not proposing introductions of Qur’anic passages, such as Ma qataau-hu wa ma salabu-hu during Communion and La taqu thaalatha during the Sanctus.  It is a trivial proposal in a way, but this makes it all the more foolish and pointless.  It is the ultimate in condescending tokenism while also managing to introduce a pointless change into the liturgical life of the bishop’s flock.  Should Anglicans begin saying Khuda Hafiz to make their Muslim neighbours feel more at home? 

It is not exactly an embrace of relativism, as Prof. Bainbridge fears, but it is fairly stupid all the same.  It is an example of the embrace of rather pointless symbolic gestures that are intended to foster ecumenical dialogue and such, but which routinely backfire and are viewed either as insults, attempts to muddy the waters or even aggressive attempts at appropriating someone else’s beliefs.  Do you suppose that a Muslim in the Netherlands will have a better view of non-Arabic-speaking Christians if they begin using the name Allah?  Would this not, in fact, inspire some resentment against those using this name to refer to the Trinity or to Christ Himself, when Muslims recognise neither the existence of the former nor the divinity of the latter?  At best, it would not achieve the intended goal, but would become one more episode in European Christianity’s own self-marginalisation.  

Update: On the other side of the world, there is apparently no small controversy over the changing usages from Khuda Hafiz to Allah Hafiz, as this older article also relates.  I had noticed that Allah Hafiz had been cropping up in more and more Bollywood movies over the past few years, but I suppose I had not realised that this reflected such significant changes in South Asian Islam.

You don’t often hear any Congressmen or Senators demanding answers on how long the duration or how great the number of troops will be required in Kosovo, South Korea, or Germany.

But you hear little other than those questions when the subject of Iraq comes up. ~Hugh Hewitt

Via Clark

Might the different reactions have something to do with soldiers being killed and blown up in Iraq? 

Hewitt really has us cornered now!  You know, it’s true: I and other opponents of the war in Iraq have not made a top priority of calling for a withdrawal from Okinawa, and I have not stipulated that troops withdrawn from Iraq should not be sent to Okinawa.  I thought this was because it would have been a distraction to argue over other foreign deployments when the priority of withdrawal supporters is to get American soliders out of a futile, senseless war that Hewitt will apparently support to the very last moment.  Little did I know that it was just because I wanted to embarrass the President.       

Update: For extra amusement, read the entire Hewitt piece to the point where he describes Max Boot and Fred Kagan as “serious analysts.”  Why, if Max Boot and Fred Kagan agree, it must be true!  When have they ever been wrong in the past?  Ahem. 

 

This Lilia Shevtsova column makes a claim that is not all wrong:

The key reason behind the crisis is the failure of the post-Soviet liberal project and the return to a hyper-centralised state. In order to justify the about-turn, the political elite needs an enemy.

I would not discount external challenges, whether perceived or real, as part of the cause for the turn back towards a “hyper-centralised state,” and I would certainly not lay the responsibility for the crisis in Western-Russian relations solely at the door of Russia.  The Russians did not compel us to bomb Yugoslavia, occupy Kosovo or withdraw from the ABM Treaty.  Washington did those things despite knowing how much it would disturb the Russians.  Obviously, they did not make us incorporate eastern Europe into NATO, nor did they push us into backing what are effectively puppet regimes in Georgia and Ukraine, and they also did not force us to announce the deployment of weapons systems to central Europe.  The “failure of the post-Soviet liberal project” also had something to do with the political and moral bankruptcy of said project as it was actually implemented, and since the “liberal project” was connected to the advice and assistance of Westerners it was inevitable that its failure would sour people on future Western meddling.  Further, the fact that Americans and western Europeans may not see things this way or reject this reaction as irrational is irrelevant–if this is how Russians remember and view these events, this is what matters for understanding what motivates their actions. 

Later, Shevtsova allows for some of this:

The West is also to blame for the current crisis through its failure to integrate Russia at the beginning of the 1990s. Instead, the West - mainly America - has merely presented the Russian elite with a series of pretexts to help perpetuate that “enemy image”.

Where Shevtsova’s column fails to persuade is when it retreats to the mythical realm of “values” and pretends that the West has been too generous and understanding of Moscow over the last 15 years.  The idea that Westerners need to be more united in a common front of value-exporting intrusiveness seems absurd and dangerous.  I agree that integration with Europe, to which Russia properly belongs, should be the goal, but Shevtsova insists that the terms of the integration be set in such a way as to make integrating Russia in the near future all but impossible, and here I think she makes another mistake.

Any student of the history of Russia, or indeed of almost any country, must be aware that centralisation of power is very often a response to perceived and/or real external threats, or centralisation will be justified in terms of providing the government greater ability to respond to threats in the future.  If the Russian elite did not think that the West was encroaching on its sphere of influence and attempting to encircle it, it might be less inclined to embrace this concentration of power.  In any case, the memory of domestic chaos and lawlessness is another factor behind the push for centralised control. 

It is certainly not sufficient to see this crisis in relations as the outgrowth of only one side’s attempted power grab.  If the Russian elite is making a power grab at home and in its near-abroad, the U.S. and NATO are making a power grab abroad in and around Russia.  The latter feeds the former by providing the authoritarian nationalist with a plausible foreign threat (which can then be tied together with a more generic opposition to U.S. policy elsewhere in the world, lending a different sort of respectability to Russian intransigence, which in turn has the notable effect of making Russia more respected in the world than America).  Those in the West who are most agitated by Putin’s authoritarian practices are doing their very best with all their shouting and complaining to confirm Russians’ worst suspicions about Western hostility and interference in Russian internal affairs.  Whipping up hostility towards Russia encourages nationalist, anti-American reactions there–this has been and will continue to be the end result of neoconservative, liberal and libertarian critiques of Putin.  Those in the West who are most upset by the excesses of Putin are doing their very best to ensure that the rift between Russia and the West will widen and deepen, which is in the long-term interests of neither and serves to distract us with old conflicts when we have much more pressing concerns elsewhere in the world.  These Putin critics are actually encouraging the very things they purport to despise by casting them in the ludicrous framework of a malevolent and aggressive Russia that poses a threat to its neighbours and the West.   

Our political elite has needed to find new enemies as much as the Russian elite has, and actually even more because they have that much more power and prestige bound up in the structures of U.S. hegemony.  Resuming a rivalry and renewing hostility with a state with which you have no real conflicts of interest are foolish things to be doing, unless you regard any other world power as a threat to your own predominance.  The crisis in relations stems in part from recent Russian resurgence and the Western, and specifically American, refusal to accept Russia’s attempt to once again play an active, sometimes contrary, role in world affairs.

Shevtsova writes:

The Russian elite does not see the West as a real threat, but is deliberately describing the West as the bogeyman for its domestic needs. The Kremlin’s chest-beating and repetition of the litany of grudges towards the West has multiple purposes: it is a means to justify backtracking, a way to consolidate support around the regime, a loyalty test for the elite and a technique to conceal the true reasons behind the crisis [bold mine-DL].

Suppose for the sake of argument that this is true–what difference does this make for the Western policymaker?  Whether they are doing it to play to the crowd at home to shore up their own power or are “genuinely” worried about Western encroachment, our response should be tailored to suit the proper security interests of both countries in such a way that reduces the chance for conflict and improves mutual relations.  Our vital interests do not dictate any great concern over who rules in Kiev, for example, while the Russians are decidedly unhappy with any sign of meddling or attempts to incorporate Ukraine into Western security and political institutions.  This is because they want to dictate who governs in Kiev, and we all know that, so why needlessly agitate another major power over something that does not actually matter to us?  This is the question that the Putin and Russia critics seem to be unable to answer, because their own excessive protestations about withering Russian democracy and freedom are typically masks for their own preoccupation with justifying the policies that so disturb the Kremlin.  Even when they are themselves sincere in their motives in drawing Western attention to the internal affairs of another country (something that never ceases to puzzle and amaze me), their statements are routinely used to justify the worst courses of action against that country.    

Consider Shevtsova’s description of the rationale for the Russian elite’s complaints against the West and then compare it to our own political and media classes.  In much the same way, I could say: complaints about authoritarianism in Russia and Russian “bullying” of its neighbours have nothing to do with American security concerns, and only very rarely stem from any great concern over Russian democracy or the independence of an Estonia or Georgia.  They are used to justify continued American meddling in the region, consolidate support around our broken Russia policy, provide a loyalty test for members of the establishment and to distract observers from the real goals of that establishment in pressing for NATO expansion or democracy promotion.  All of this could be true and it would still not detract from the rhetorical and political power of the ideological arguments in favour of using American power to spread freedom and democracy, nor would it mean that the interventionists in question do not believe in certain political abstractions, just as cynical domestic political reasons for Russian complaints against Western behaviour are not necessarily separate from actual concerns about national security and nationalist resentments against perceived foreign threats. 

Ideology and the desire for consolidating power are not distinct or opposed things, but are deployed in a complementary way.  Cynical elites deploy nationalism or some other ideology to acquire and keep power, but they also develop an attachment to a certain ideology because they believe it is the best for acquiring and keeping power, which makes it appear true to the elites.  Militant democratists actually do believe in some sort of democratic politics, but the same genuine believers can also be fairly cynical hegemonists who think that promoting this kind of politics and promoting national and their own power are perfectly compatible things.  They are wrong about this latter point in practice, but we would protest in vain that they do not “really” believe in some kind of democracy.  They believe in it to the extent that they think expressing support for it will enable them to wield influence and power at home, and they are very keen to do these things, which means that they are frighteningly real believers in this kind of politics.   

This is the dangerous thing about ideologues in power and powerful people who adopt ideology: the former always find a way to justify their wielding power through some interpretation of the ideology, and the latter legitimise whatever they have done or want to do with their power by appealing to some abstract ideal.  At some point, posing as if you have a nationalist grievance and “actually” having a nationalist grievance cease to be different things.  For all intents and purposes when it comes to making policy, you are supporting certain policies as if you were a nationalist.  The nationalist is doing this to shore up your power at home, but that doesn’t mean that he does not at some level come to accept the substance of the rhetoric and the critique of foreign threat.  Furthermore, if agitating against a foreign threat is the bread and butter of the nationalist, how better to deflate the appeal of that nationalism than for Westerners to denounce the counterproductive, senseless policies that fuel resentment and suspicion (or which serve as useful pretexts for whipping up a sense of resentment and suspicion)?  Obviously, the worst response is to moan and cry about the authoritarian nationalism itself directly and repeatedly, since this serves, in this context, to confirm in the mind of many ordinary Russians that the foreign critics are actually hostile to Russia and the Russian people themselves.    

Second, Edwards exudes a deep distrust of Washington that can sound almost Reaganesque. “Nothing is going to change if we replace one group of Washington insiders for another group of Washington insiders,” he declares. ~David Brooks

Fred wants to make the same kind of argument, though he has put in a lot more time as a lawyer and lobbyist in D.C., while Edwards might still be able to sell the “outsider” image he has been cultivating for the last three years.  The trouble with Edwards, as always, is that he seems fake even when he’s being genuine, or at least you assume that he is a fake because of his profession.  Also, I second this point about characterising Edwards as “culturally conservative.”   

“We [the GOP] were founded as a reformist party,” he [Rove] said in our conversation this week, “not to be against something, but to help the little guy get ahead.” ~Michael Gerson

Er, actually, the party of “free labor, free soil, free men” was very much founded in direct ideological opposition to slavery and self-interested economic opposition to the low-tariff-supported agricultural interests of the South.  The GOP never had any interest in helping the “little guy” as such, and remained from its earliest days largely the protector of business and corporate interests through support for an impressively high import tariff, and then when multinationals needed lower tariffs the GOP dutifully became the party of “free trade.”  (Yes, there were also progressive Republicans who challenged some of the excesses of corporate power, but they did not define the party for most of its existence.)  This just might be why the “little guys” over the decades have tended to vote Democratic, and why it has only been a very recent development that the GOP has been winning over any of these voters thanks to nationalist, culturally populist and socially conservative appeals.  These voters come to support the GOP in spite of its continued privileging of the interests of corporations.  Perhaps someone could pen an argument in defense of this longstanding support for corporate interests (in which the words growth, progress, technology and modernisation would probably figure prominently), and make the case why it is better to put the government at the disposal of these interests for some greater good, but to describe the primary vehicle of corporations’ political influence as an organisation founded for the sake of helping the “little guy get ahead” is just appalling revisionism (even by the very, very low standards of Karl Rove).    

Update: Incidentally, it used to be an old stand-by of Republican rhetoric that it was not the proper role of government to “help the little guy get ahead.”  Instead, the goal was to remove the burden of government to allow citizens to flourish. 

Via Yglesias, I see that Fred Kaplan is appropriately horrified by Rudy Giuliani’s Foreign Affairs essay, but Kaplan’s reaction suggests that the essay reveals a policy view markedly worse than other major candidates’ views.  In fact, while his essay is a more undiluted form of neocon madness, his proposals are not really that much more unrealistic and arrogant than what we’ve heard from Obama, Romney or Fred in recent months.   

Edwards’ essay, which was paired with that of Giuliani in this issue, is no prize, either.  Apart from a few points about the effects of the ”war on terror,” with which I basically agree, I find the essay unnerving and worrisome.  Consider this line from Edwards:

We need to reach out to ordinary men and women from Egypt to Indonesia and convince them, once again, that the United States is a force to be admired [bold mine-DL].

But you don’t admire a force.  I think we should persuade other nations that we are a nation to be admired, and we should try to make sure that our government acts admirably, or at least justly, in the world to that end.  To cast “reengagement” in the way that Edwards does confirms for me that he is not in the least concerned with the excessive overreach and abusive relationship that a hegemon has with the rest of the world, but rather that he wants to find a way to perpetuate hegemony through more subtle means.  What he says later makes this clear:

Iran has been emboldened by the Bush administration’s ineffective policies and has announced plans to expand its nuclear program. Meanwhile, other powers are benefiting, too. China is capitalizing on the United States’ current unpopularity to project its own “soft power.” And Russia is bullying its neighbors while openly defying the United States and Europe. 

That last bit is amusing, as if the U.S. and Europe are Russia’s masters that the latter should be obeying and Russia’s neighbours are our protectorates to be guarded against so-called Russian “bullying.”  This comes in a paragraph that refers to what “our enemies” are doing.  In Edwards’ eyes, not only Iran and China, but even Russia is an enemy.  As he sees it, Russia is not a potential enemy or rival, but already an enemy right now.  This will be popular with Cathy Young and The Wall Street Journal, as these already regard Russia as an enemy of our country.  They seem eager to encourage anti-Russian sentiments whenever possible to make supporting policies of renewed hostility between our two countries a more popular and politically viable option.

Of Iran, Edwards says:

Iran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.

To speak of allowing or disallowing is to claim the power and right to control something, and even Edwards must know that Iran’s nuclear program is beyond the control of the U.S. and the “international community.”  In any case, what does he propose to do about it?  He says:

For example, right now we must do everything we can to isolate Iran’s leader from the moderate forces within the country. We need to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions through diplomatic measures that will, over time, force Iran to finally understand that the international community will not allow it to possess nuclear weapons. Every major U.S. ally agrees that the advent of a nuclear Iran would be a threat to global security. We should continue to work with other great powers to offer Tehran economic incentives for good behavior. At the same time, we must use much more serious economic sanctions to deter Ahmadinejad’s government when it refuses to cooperate.

Which leader?  Does Edwards think Ahmadinejad is “the leader” in Iran?  That is incorrect, and it is unfortunate enough that he does not even understand this much about a country he is willing to attack.  How would additional sanctions on Iran help to separate “the leader” from “moderate forces,” when sanctions inevitably strengthen the hand of hard-liners and despots?  How does Edwards think that “the leader” can be undermined by challenging the Iranian government over the development of nuclear technology, when this is something that most Iranians believe they have a legal right to develop?  How does he propose to prevent the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons?  He remains open to starting a war with Iran–and he is allegedly the progressive “peace” candidate!  What a joke.

What of the other major candidates?  Over the years, McCain has been the neocons’ favourite and, as we all know, holds comparably dangerous views.  HRC is still supportive of the activist, aggressive foreign policy of the DLC/PPI, which is consistent with how her husband governed.  We can look forward to essays from McCain and Clinton in the future, and I expect that both of them will be filled with much of the same dreary excess and bombast. 

I would be willing to grant that Giuliani is the most dangerous out of seven dangerous candidates, but this is a matter of a few degrees and not a massive difference in substance.

I neglected to note earlier this week that Tommy Thompson, whose run never seemed likely to succeed, dropped out in the wake of his weak showing at the Ames straw poll.  There really must be something wrong with a process for selecting a President that so quickly forces out candidates who have executive experience while retaining so many who have none, or at least none that is really relevant.  Then again, if Mr. Bush’s tenure has taught us anything, it is that having experience as a governor is no indication that you have any idea how to govern at all well.   

As we all know, U.S. Senators have not won many nominations in modern times (Senators have been nominated only four six times since 1900), and they have won even fewer elections (2), yet we are inundated with them and members of the House this time and we are losing more and more of the governors.  Only three former or current governors remain, and none of them actually seems likely to be nominated.  It will be interesting to see whether the “curse” can hold up under such difficult conditions. 

Update: Thompson’s departure makes the ‘08 cycle less like one past open election, namely 1928, when the incumbent party nominated a member of the outgoing administration’s Cabinet.  As the only former Cabinet member to have served under Bush in the presidential field, Thompson ‘08 would have matched up nicely with the Hoover ‘28 run.  The predominance of Senators in the non-incumbent party’s field makes a comparison between 2008 and 1920, when a non-incumbent Senator won, slightly more interesting.

The notion that this kind of politics has no victims, has not led to evil, has not at times led to absolute insanity (like Prohibition), and is not still a constant threat - is preposterously complacent. ~Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan is replying to Ross, who obviously never said any of the things being attributed to him in this sentence and who adds his rebuttal here.  Ross also made the best point of this exchange so far in noting that the description of Mother Theresa’s original quote as “vulgar but legitimate” displays “snobbish overtones and arm’s-length distaste for Mother Teresa (!)”. 

Since Sam Brownback, Dangerous Christianist, started all of this, perhaps he can have something to say in making certain basic but necessary points:

The separation of church and state does not mean the removal of faith from the public square.  I think you should have a robust public square that celebrates faith, that draws faith into it.

For a leader of “Christianists,” Brownback says the strangest things in this video.  Indeed, if I were someone who believed that Christianists existed and that they were infiltrating and destroying our public life with insidious references to Jesus, I would still not spend a lot of time vilifying Sam Brownback.  The original context of the quote ”All for Jesus” had Brownback making the point that it was “faith that powered her [Mother Theresa] to help millions.”  This is pretty banal and garden-variety “faith makes us better people” banter.  Presumably what Mother Theresa did falls under Sullivan’s arbitrary category of “good Christianism,” but Brownback’s reference to her statement about living for Christ is an example of the “bad Christianism.”  In Sullivan’s world, Mother Theresa could have said these words to a U.S. Senator and it was legitimate, but Brownback could not repeat them in an anecdote while running for President.  When Brownback repeats the “vulgar but legitimate” phrase, it becomes toxic.  This wouldn’t even make sense if Brownback were not one of the most reformist Catholic conservative politicians who has made prison reform, anti-poverty, “comprehensive immigration reform” and Darfur into his signature issues outside of his pro-life work.  I happen to think that his policy views and priorities here are mostly mistaken on the merits, but of all the politicians to attack with this line of criticism I can hardly think of one less appropriate than Brownback.  Sullivan seems to be channeling Marcotte.

Sullivan’s argument depends on simultaneously holding the view that introducing unduly “sectarian” religious language into political discourse (i.e., mentioning Jesus in a speech in a positive way) is a “toxin” while also holding that it is the purpose for which the Name of Christ is invoked that ultimately matters.  Thus he can speak about the “good” Christianism, which also happens to be the kind that is more in line with his general political views, and deplore the “bad” Christianism, which is not.  Sullivan does not deplore the latter because it is bringing Christianity or sectarianism or religion into politics, but because it does not interpret and practice Christianity in the way that Sullivan thinks that it should be practiced.  A liberal Christianity that does not bother itself too much with talking explicitly about Christ is acceptable in his scheme and can play a role in political reform, especially if it waters down the religious inspiration behind the reform drive and reduces it to platitudes about human rights, while any traditional Christianity that cannot conceive of speaking about moral or spiritual truths without referring to the Lord must keep out of politics.  Any attempt to rectify this arbitrary and one-sided arrangement by speaking forthrightly about Christ in a political context is supposedly an attempt to inaugurate sectarian bloodletting and to want to reenact the sack of Magdeburg.  That is Sullivan’s view, as his own words make clear.       

The cult of Petraeus exists not because the general has figured out the war but because hiding behind the general allows the Bush administration to postpone the day when it must reckon with the consequences of its abject failure in Iraq. ~Prof. Andrew Bacevich

 

In a religious context, it is a vulgar but completely legitimate expression of faith. In a political context in a secular society, it is a toxin that will eventually corrode civil discourse into sectarian warfare. Which is, of course, what the Christianists want. They have the biggest sect, after all. ~Andrew Sullivan

If they existed, Christianists would be interesting people.  They would have to believe at one and the same time that they must make God’s will into the law of the land and enforce Christian doctrine throughout society and be convinced that the best instrument for this goal was the utterly secular, Mammon-serving Republican Party.  They would have to be completely fanatical and at the same time completely indifferent that their chosen vehicle of political power was basically hostile to everything they sought to achieve (which is one of the reasons why, despite decades of trying, they have achieved next to nothing).  They would have to be able to turn their fanaticism on and off with a readily available switch, which makes them rather less worrisome as the founders of the future theocratic nightmare to come.    

Sullivan’s larger point is worth keeping in mind: so long as it remains nicely separated from anything involving real life, confined to an irrelevant private sphere of “religion” that need never include venturing outside beyond the front door, religious faith is fine, albeit a bit crude for the high-minded doubt-filled pundit, but once it moves into the public sphere it is poisonous and vile.  Devotion to the Lord, once it escapes the safe environs of the closet, becomes an acid that destroys the bonds of the political community.  That is what Sullivan and other such “skeptical” conservatives believe about religion.  Religious conservatives would do well to remember this whenever they are tempted to entertain sympathy for the appeals of the “skeptics” to reason and moderation.     

Faith is a good thing, not a bad thing. ~Sen. Sam Brownback

Andrew Sullivan disagrees.

When I first read this (via HNN), I was going to just let it go.  Why bother with yet another article that demonstrated such appalling lack of understanding of the rest of the world?  After all, life is short, I have other things to do and there is no chance that anything I say here will stop the author in question from producing more of the same.  Yet there is something so wrong with it that I feel compelled to make a few remarks.  To begin, here is Hanson:

Turkey is democratic, a NATO ally, and a recipient of substantial American military aid. Yet it reveals the highest level of anti-Americanism of any country polled — 83 percent express an unfavorable view of the U. S. Perhaps that enmity is due to our support for Kurdistan and the resentments of Ankara’s own Islamist government. In any case, so much for the ballyhooed American efforts to bolster Turkey’s bid to join the E.U. In theory, if we opposed Turkish membership, or suggested that Ankara leave NATO, would our image then improve? Again, something is terribly wrong when four out of five “allied” Turks feel so unfavorably toward the United States.
————————-

Apologists, of course, will cite our policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel as catalysts for Middle East hatred. But clearly there is some preexisting venom involved that makes the Muslim Street ignore all the good we have done, and focus only on what is considered bad.

——————-

But who really cares to calibrate all the reasons why the Germans hated us when Ronald Reagan deployed Pershing missiles to protect them, or why the Greeks hated us when Madeline Albright tried to stop Balkan genocide, or why the French hated us for ending the once lucrative Baathist regime in Iraq? Instead, at some point Americans should ask themselves how they can continue to be allied militarily with countries whose populations have a more negative view of us than do our supposed rivals in Russia (48 percent unfavorable) and China (57 percent).

Hanson allows the idea that policies in the Near East might be cited as reasons for the appalling collapse in our reputation in these countries only to dismiss this as the claim of “apologists.”  Yet the massive discontent of the Turkish public with the United States can be traced directly to the invasion of Iraq, and to a lesser extent the American acquiescence in the bombing of Lebanon.  The invasion turned the Turks against us so completely that it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the policy in pushing the population of Turkey into an “anti-American” mood.  Of course, if I am an apologist for Turkey then Hanson is the Pope.

Hanson refers vaguely to the “resentments” of Ankara’s Islamist government–the same government his ideological confreres are so eager to see join the councils of the EU–when the current Turkish government has, for the most part, far fewer reasons to be hostile to Washington than its predecessor, which was the one in power when the war began.  U.S. support for the main Kurdish parties in the KRG is not the main thing that bothers Ankara, but rather the effective protection afforded to the PKK inside Kurdistan.  Erdogan has made a point of improving treatment of the Kurds in his neo-Ottomanist solidarity with fellow Muslims.  The PKK has become a point of contention between the U.S. and the Turkish government, but the outrage of the Turkish public began long before that.  Hanson writes as if he is surprised that U.S. support for a quasi-democratic regime in which the military plays a considerable role does not buy public affection for the United States, yet it is the pattern across the globe that the most pro-American and dependent governments are the ones most out of step with their own populations in their attitudes towards the U.S.

Greek hostility to intervention in the Balkans is not and was not hard to understand.  On the Greek left, there is residual resentment from U.S. support for the Colonels during the ‘67-’74 junta, and across the spectrum in Greece there was strong resentment against American vilification of a traditional Greek ally in Serbia.  Historians should be interested in understanding these things, because they involve the application of an understanding of history to the affairs of the present day.  Predictable warmongering pundits are, naturally, not interested.

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes.  One of the reasons why the populations of allied states view the U.S. government and its policies so negatively is that they have come to expect more from Americans and can remember a time, or at least have read about a time, when Americans were not so incorrigible.  Other populations in allied states live under rather restrictive regimes whose existence we help perpetuate, for good or ill, and so they necessarily have a dim view of us.  Someone who does not “care” to understand this should stop writing about foreign affairs.  If Hanson believes that America’s strategic position would be strengthened by increasing our ties with Ghana and dissolving them with the Turks, he should say so.  Otherwise, it is entirely unclear what the point of his observations is, except that it is a chance for him to whine that millions upon millions of people around the world find the policies that he supports to be hateful and wrong.

The GQ profile on Obama has some amazing details that probably would, by all rights and normally, relegate him to the world of the laughable also-rans.  For instance, there is this item:

We stopped at a picturesque redbrick general store—“America’s oldest”—to photograph Obama and his family as they bought sandwiches and fudge and played with a puppy. As Obama stood at the counter paying, he looked quizzically at a display of trailer-hitch covers dressed in the guise of moose and turkeys. Turning to the phalanx of cameramen and reporters, Obama bravely wondered, “Who knows what a hitch ball is? This is a hitch-ball cover. We don’t know what a hitch ball is. Anybody know?” A cameraman politely explained that it’s the silver thing on the back of a truck used to tow a trailer. “Oh, I see,” Obama said, looking as if he was doing a mental calculation about whether this was one of those moments the press would use to make it seem like he’s out of touch. It wasn’t exactly President George H. W. Bush marveling over a checkout scanner, but still.

Make it seem like he’s out of touch?  There’s no need for the press to make him seem like anything–he is out of touch.  No one would confuse me with someone who is extremely familiar with pickup trucks, but even I know what this is.  It’s not some piece of arcane cultural knowledge that you acquire only after years of dwelling in deepest Oklahoma or Arkansas.  It is something that you learn when you come across a pickup truck.  No wonder “downscale” Democratic voters don’t relate to Obama–it seems as if he doesn’t even know how to speak their language or understand their world. 

“One of the things that I’m going to do when I’m in there,” Obama says with the extreme politeness he turns on when saying something that won’t fully please his interlocutor, “is to look at this faith-based initiative and see how it’s worked and where the money is going. What you don’t want it to be used for is a way of advancing someone’s political agenda and rewarding friends and not rewarding enemies. Know what I mean?” The reverend tightens his lips, nods his head, and gives Obama a fairly unconvincing “mm-hmm.” ~GQ

Of course, what this pastor probably wanted to hear was less of Obama’s transcendent unity piffle and more promises that Obama will be directing more of the rewards to his friends–that is, people such as the pastor and the other “right kinds” of people.  The article describes this as Obama taking an “easy pander” and making it an occasion to tell a “hard truth,” but the trouble Obama seems to be having in this race is that he likes to tell a lot of “hard truths” to voters who haven’t yet committed to supporting him without doing much of the “pandering” first.  (His advocacy for merit pay in the lion’s den of the NEA is typical.)  He wants voters to respect that he has a sense of integrity, but many of the voters first want to hear that he will be looking after their interests in the most mercenary sense.  He wants to campaign as a “change” candidate, but one constant problem with “change” candidates is that most voters actually don’t want their candidates to campaign in this above-it-all, supposedly meritocratic, reformist style.  They want candidates who can deliver the goods to them, while Obama tries to project the appearance of someone who finds the act of doling out the goods offensive and beneath him.  This doling out of rewards is “small” politics, but it is the sort of politics to which most voters respond.  Having asked, “What are you going to do for me?” they don’t want to hear a high-minded answer that we should direct our resources where they are most needed.  They want to hear that their needs are the most important, whether or not this is true, and that their needs have priority over everyone else’s.  The truly cunning campaigner is the one who is able to say this to numerous, mutually antagonistic groups without anyone being able to notice the contradiction.  Obama may want to change some of the things in the current system, but at the rate he’s going he will certainly not be doing it from the White House. 

One way to describe Obama is that underneath the inspirational leader who wants to change politics—and upon whom desperate Democrats, Independents, and not a few Republicans are projecting their hopes—is an ambitious, prickly, and occasionally ruthless politician. But underneath that guy is another one, an Obama who’s keenly aware that presidential politics is about timing, and that at this extremely low moment in American political life, there is a need for someone—and he firmly believes that someone is him—to lift up the nation in a way no politician has in nearly half a century. ~GQ

Via Michael Crowley

In other words, underneath the megalomaniac is a con-man, and underneath the con-man is the guy with the delusions of grandeur.  Sounds like a great combination.

How surprising.  Ryan Sager makes another tired pitch for the Giuliani campaign while bashing the rubes of Iowa.  That is so very interest….zzz. 

“All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus,” - Sam Brownback’s stump speech in Iowa.  And some say I exaggerate the sectarian nature of the GOP base. ~Andrew Sullivan

Since Brownback won all of 15% in an unrepresentative straw poll in a state with a fairly sizeable population of very activist evangelicals, you could argue that even if Brownback were the embodiment of the ”sectarian” and “fundamentalist” stereotype that Sullivan has laid out in his book and on his blog the significance of such supposedly fundamentalist sectaries for understanding the politics of the “GOP base” is minimal.  Against Brownback’s 15%, you have 31% who voted for a Mormon (the bete noire of the sectarians among us), almost 10% who voted for the decidedly non-sectarian, non-fundamentalist Ron Paul, 13% for Tancredo and 7% for Tommy Thompson–that’s 61% of poll voters who did not join up with the two most explicitly religious conservative candidates at Ames.  In this straw poll, it is fair to assume that the people who respond to Brownback’s rhetorical style are considerably overrepresented when compared with the party at large.  Given that Brownback is one of the least effective and weakest candidates in the field beyond his natural base of support, fundamentalist sectarianism is probably not on the verge of dominating the GOP.

Viewed another way, the quote has nothing to do with so-called ”Christianism.”  What should Brownback have said?  “Nothing for Jesus”?  “A tiny bit for Jesus, provided that it falls within the safely defined parameters of the Wall of Separation”?  “Some for Jesus, the rest for me”?  “Jesus is all right, but I am entirely secular and therefore will say nothing unduly religious during this stump speech”?  Perhaps Brownback’s remarks here, like so many things the man says, need some qualification or elaboration, but what do Christians believe except that we should, as one of the prayers in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom says, dedicate ourselves and “all our lives unto Christ our God”?  For Brownback to say this makes him as “sectarian” as any believing Christian, which is to say that he actually believes Christ’s teachings to be true and compelling.  I generally have no time for Brownback on many policy questions, but this criticism, like Sullivan’s entire categorisation of the Republicans as a “religious party,” is excessive and unfounded.  Perhaps if the GOP actually were something like a religious party, it would not, as an organisation, tolerate nearly so many atrocious policies.  On the contrary, we have something of the worst of both worlds: a thin patina of religiosity masking an agenda of corruption and violence.  This is not the fault of any “Christianism,” but the result of thoroughly secular operatives understanding how to play on the fears and hopes of conservative Christians to win their support and who then proceed to abandon everything these Christians hope to achieve in the political realm.  The proper criticism to be leveled at many Christian conservative leaders and politicians today is not so much that they are grasping or willing to compromise the Faith for power (although some may), but that they are incorrigibly gullible and willing to put their trust in princes who have no use for what Christian conservatives believe except in an election year.

In the end, Romney got 31%, and I guessed he would get 30%, so I’m fairly pleased with the outcome and the prediction as far as that goes.  Huckabee and Brownback both fared better than I expected, racking up the results that I had assigned to Paul and Thompson.  I underestimated Tancredo and ignored poll numbers that suggested he would be a contender here, while I gave too much credit to chatter that Ron Paul might pull off a major coup and Tommy Thompson’s delusions of grandeur.  Thompson will soon be gone, and Hunter’s candidacy has ceased to have much rationale.  John McCain came in next to last, but only because John Cox received fewer votes.  Giuliani was beaten by the non-candidate Fred, both of whom lost to Tommy Thompson.  Romney’s win here isn’t that valuable for him, but considering how miserably the other “major” candidates have been doing it may still be enough to put him over the edge come January.   

Isaac Chotiner doesn’t find much to like in the Kaplan article on the Partition, and points us to Pankaj Mishra’s piece in The New Yorker.  Chotiner notes Mishra’s description of Churchill as dyed-in-the-wool imperialist with harsh attitudes towards Indians and says:

Mishra’s more serious point is that by playing up religious divisions, Churchill actively encouraged the rise of political Islam in what is now Pakistan. One could say that this counts as an irony at the expense of those who mention his name every time an “appeaser” questions the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

It would be more ironic, I suppose, if the U.S. government had not been instrumental in promoting political Islam in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s and in facilitating the close relations between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban back when Washington still believed it was more important to be smashing the Northern Alliance and expanding our influence in Central Asia.  Still, I suppose it is a bit ironic that Mr. Bush et al. invoke Churchill, who was always keen to exploit religious differences, since they prefer to lump every potential foe into one, indistinct mass of Islamofascism.

For the class I will be teaching this fall, I was recently reading one of the books I intend to assign that touches directly on the reflections on the Partition and on the Putnam research on diversity described here (TAC even gets a brief mention in the article).  The book, Twice A Stranger, is an account of the history surrounding the Treaty of Lausanne, the population exchanges of 1923-24 and the experiences of the people who were uprooted as a result (as partly related by still-living survivors of the exchange).  In this book, Bruce Clark challenges the standard liberal anti-Lausanne argument (after having similarly critiqued the nationalist account):

The liberal anti-nationalist myth often suggests that relations were perfectly warm and harmonious and would have remained so if the population exchange had not been imposed as an artificial exercise in segregation.  In fact, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  As anyone who is familiar with rural society in the Balkans or the Caucasus can testify, things are never that simple.  Warm and cordial business relationships, and personal friendships, can transcend the intercommunal division in surprising ways; but that does not abolish the division–or alter the fact that in the event of a general conflagration, almost everybody tends to seek security behind the walls of his or her own community [italics mine-DL], and life becomes  uncomfortable for those who try to occupy the middle ground. (p. 172)

The connection is that people with whom you identify, whom you consider your “own,” are the people you trust and will rely on in the worst situations.  Armed conflict adds an additional dimension of the pressure to actively side and identify with your community, as well as simultaneously seek shelter and protection from that community.  It occurs to me that this is how it is possible that rampant, violent sectarianism could spring from a pre-invasion Iraq that had relatively decent intercommunal relations, friendships and intermarriages.  Sectarian labels mattered little when conflict did not force people to choose sides, and the lines of the communities were not nearly so sharp when your position on one side or the other was not so significant.  When the chips are down, however, and having people you can trust becomes a matter of survival, sticking with your own is not only the natural, instinctive move but also the one that is actually the most rational under the circumstances.  Self-serving jingo “discoveries” of the damaged social fabric of pre-invasion Iraq have sought to discredit the idea that the source of sectarian violence in Iraq is the spark of the invasion itself, when it was the transformation of the country into a war zone that precipitated the bloodletting that has followed. 

This also highlights the flaws, or at least the limits, of Putnam’s proposed “solution.”  He wants to encourage “more encompassing identities” and a “new, more capacious sense of ‘we’,” which is just swell.  The problem with “more encompassing identities” is that they are usually weaker, more brittle and usually not founded in the natural affinities that would reinforce them.  Being an Iraqi is “more encompassing,” but it is consequently that much less meaningful.  It is “capacious” at the expense of being valued.  The more encompassing an identity becomes, the easier it is for that identity to collapse in on itself.

Cathy Young is worried about “a generation that is being taught to see national greatness in a bully state that inspires fear abroad and tramples the individual at home.”  Surprisingly, she isn’t talking about the College Republicans, and the “bully state” she mentions is not the U.S. government.  She refers instead to Russian youths who belong to a group called Nashi, and the state is the Russian Federation (which has not, strangely enough for a bully state that spreads fear abroad, invaded even one other country in the last 15 years).  From her description, this group sounds as if it has many of the vices that would be associated with any group of nationalists.  It isn’t clear why it merits this much attention.  Think about it: Putin theoretically has at his disposal the entire military, intelligence and internal security apparatus of the Russian government, so how on earth could a band of occasionally thuggish nationalist youths be of greater concern to someone who opposes Putin?  

If you want to get exercised about the treatment of Estonia (whose own government’s removal of a Soviet war memorial started the whole fracas), you might focus on the massive cyber-war waged against E-stonia rather than the bussed-in protesters who threw rocks at an embassy.  But there’s no anti-Nazi cachet in that.  Drawing attention to Russian cyber-warfare would emphasise that these are not just some dusty bunch of old commie-Nazis, but represent something different.  Writing an article about “Putin’s young brownshirts” is much catchier, because it allows the audience to avoid thinking. 

Presumably Ms. Young is no more of a fan of our own President-worshipping, ”national greatness” chauvinist, rights-trampling and Constitution-shredding types in this country, but when I read things like this I am tempted to ask: “Why does this matter?”  Or, more to the point, I am compelled to reply: “Why do you suppose a generation who grew up in chaos would rally around an authoritarian populist who shakes his fist defiantly at foreigners and seeks to restore national prestige?  Could it be that incredibly bad U.S. Russia policy, the follies of Russian liberals and the rampant criminality of the ’90s taught a generation that the liberalism being offered them was designed to ruin and humiliate their country?”  It’s a bit like the growing revolt of my generation against the GOP because of its failures and corruption, but multiplied by a factor of ten.   

No doubt many of the young nationalists Ms. Young mentions here are making standard nationalist errors: you can see the reflexive attachment to the state, the confusion of government and country, the conflation of patriotic love and nationalist hatred, and the overcompensation for an awareness of vulnerability with bluster and tough talk.  Above all, the source of this nationalist zeal is a sense of rage caused by past humiliations and the focus of that rage on those who are believed to have been responsible for that humiliation.  It occurs to me that if the popularity of authoritarian nationalism in another country disturbs you, you would want to be someone who very actively denounces all of your own state’s policies that contribute to the fear, anger and resentment that fuel that nationalism.  Perhaps that will be Ms. Young’s next column.  For some reason, I won’t be holding my breath.   

India was also a real country before the British colonized it, whereas Iraq was a colonial contrivance from the outset. ~Fred Kaplan

Keeping the human losses of the Partition in mind as many throw around ideas of how to decentralise or partition Iraq is something worth doing, and much of Kaplan’s article makes for interesting reading, but I had to marvel at this statement.  Which India does Kaplan mean?  I don’t object to making distinctions between polities that have meaning for their inhabitants and those that have little or none–this is a significant difference between what we can call “artificial” states and “real” ones.  It is the difference between largely fictitious, failing states, such as Bosnia or Somalia, and more “real,” successful ones, such as a Slovenia or a Thailand.  Of course, it is important to recognise that all modern nation-states are to some extent founded on the ruin and death of other even more real countries that they gobbled up and suppressed, but even so there are nation-states today that actually have meaning for their citizens and many that mean next to nothing at all.  At some point, every nation-state is a contrivance and something imposed, because it seeks to unify any number of polities and peoples who have previously not identified or united with one another.  A crucial difference between successes and failures may be related to who is engaged in the contrivance.  With Iraq, the contrivance was largely introduced from outside, the product of gutting the Ottoman Empire and the need for an additional place on which to fob off another Hashemite on the locals.  In India’s case, the contrivance was less sudden, slightly less arbitrary and done with the participation of more of the people.  A longer experience of empire had fashioned a greater sense of identity and solidarity than could have been the case in Iraq.   

Still, Kaplan is attributing a pre-existing “reality,” unity and identity to “India” that certainly did not extend across all or even much of what is today’s India.  This may seem to be tangential to the main argument, but it is actually the crux of the issue.  What makes a state “real” and how it becomes “real” (i.e., able to inspire loyalty and something with which its members identify) are the two basic questions for Iraq today.   

It is significant that the modern nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is heavily, though not exclusively, North Indian in its definition of Hindutva and in its electoral support.  The preeminent place of the Hindi language is also representative of the connection between North Indian culture and the definition of national identity.  (Hochdeutsch played a similar role in unified Germany, and likewise the Tuscan dialect in Italy.)  While it is possible to speak of a shared Indian civilisation in which all of the Subcontinent (including Pakistan) participates, I think it goes too far to say that ”India” was a “real country” in the way Kaplan means it.  In a political sense, and as a matter of the self-identification of people living there, it was no such thing.  “India” was mostly an administrative fiction or more appropriately, as Metternich might have put it, a geographical expression in, say, 1800. 

The regions, polities, cultures and communities with which people identified (and this is true of so many places) were not on such a grand, abstract scale.  This is normal, and it even applied to our own country in the nineteenth century.  Our country, which Kaplan might grant possessed a certain reality, was a number of countries and a number of states bound together in a political federation.  In India, colonial-era railways served and increased political centralisation and more closely connected different parts of the Subcontinent; the shared experience of colonial domination also helped to forge a political-national identity across communities and regions.  Arguably, the numerous, more “real” countries of the Subcontinent were subordinated to the construction of a nation-state, which follows to some extent the model of modernisation and centralisation in Germany and Italy. 

It is true that the Mughals ruled over an expansive stretch of the Subcontinent prior to the arrival of the EIC (and it was a stretch that continued to expand up through the late eighteenth century), and it is true that the last Mughal emperor became a symbolic figurehead associated with nascent anti-colonialist “nationalism” during the Mutiny, but there are large parts of modern India (much of the Deccan, for example) where Mughal writ never ran (and where British influence took longer to be established).  Political fragmentation and weakness (the Peacock Throne didn’t up and leave Delhi on its own!) were the norm prior to colonisation, and it was the centralising, organising activity of British colonialism that created an administrative unit out of a number of very different regions, cultures, languages and polities.  Colonisation brought about administrative and political unification of a number of countries and states (which, I would hasten to add, are also not the same things), and also created the conditions for the forging of something closer to a shared identity.  There are two ways to look at this question: either the British colonisers stayed too briefly in Africa and the Near East to achieve the same results that they did in India, or they did tremendous violence to the many more “real” places and polities out of which they created what became India and Pakistan.  As the violent history after Partition suggests, war has a major role in building up nation-states as “real” states and inculcating shared national identity (which is why so many nationalists are typically very favourably disposed towards war, as they see it, to some extent correctly, as a glue for a variety of peoples who might otherwise see fewer and fewer reasons to remain in political union). 

The GOP Ames straw poll is tomorrow, which means that it must be time to make bold and foolish predictions.  The outcome will probably not be taken very seriously by most observers because of the absence of three of the four supposedly major contenders, but here are my slightly educated guesses anyway.

Romney will win a plurality, but it will be embarrassingly weak when compared with his massive advantages over the second-tier candidates in fundraising, organisation and name recognition.  Let’s say that he manages a not-so-respectable 30%.  Ron Paul will fare reasonably well, pulling in maybe 15-18%, and I think he probably will claim the second spot in what will be a fairly divided field.  Tommy Thompson will actually do much better than his dreadful debate performances and otherwise horrible national campaign would lead you to think.  He will manage 12-15%, but not the 20% he hopes to get.  He will probably drop out after this.  Brownback is making his big push here, and if he can’t make it in Iowa he can’t make it anywhere.  I’ll guess that he gets 10-12%, which will be enough to keep his campaign alive, but it will also show how limited his appeal is in what ought to be a natural environment for him.  Huckabee keeps making a good impression on voters in every debate, but he doesn’t translate this into much actual support.  He will probably scrounge together 8-10%.  Tancredo might manage 5%, and Hunter could get a smattering of support, maybe 3-5%.  Both of these candidates, while excellent on many things, seem to have gone nowhere all year.  They have both said they will stay in regardless of the result tomorrow, so we can expect them to be around at least through New Hampshire.  

Assuming Thompson is out after this, where will his supporters go?  They seem likely to drift towards either Huckabee or Romney.  The straw poll will give some indication of the strength (or lack thereof) of the Romney campaign, but will be of little use in predicting what happens in the caucus when the other three major candidates get into the mix.  All of those three have certainly damaged their appeal in Iowa by ignoring Ames, but perhaps not fatally (except for McCain, whose campaign is already dead).

Via Ross, I came across this old Ignatieff article, in which he wrote:

If Jefferson’s vision were only an ideology of self-congratulation, it would never have inspired Americans to do the hard work of reducing the gap between dream and reality.

I know it is redundant to say that the things Ignatieff says do not make sense, but this one stood out for me as exceptionally poor. 

Ideologies of self-congratulation are the ones that win support and paint flattering pictures of the people who adhere to them.  That is an essential part of any ideology, and if Ignatieff is going to insult Thomas Jefferson by attributing an ideology to him he should at least recognise that “ideologies of self-congratulation” are the kind that spread, endure and, yes, inspire better than any others.  By planting supposedly high-minded, abstract notions in the minds of adherents, modern ideology typically reassures its followers that they are on the cutting edge of progress, the pioneers of a new world and a new age or in some other way superior and unbeatable.  This then gives them the confidence to go forth and do things to make these abstractions reality, which frequently involve destroying a great many things and killing many people, which they might have shrunk from doing before they had been told that they were simply part of the direction of history.  Ideologies of self-congratulation are precisely the kinds that inspire people to action and discourage the kind of sane humility and self-criticism that is necessary for a stable, humane society.  This is why they are dangerous.    

See also Poulos’ withering critique of the Ignatieff article everyone loves to hate. 

Bill Richardson may be a joke in so many ways, and the idea of him as President fills me with unmitigated horror, but his article on foreign policy (while mind-numbingly conventional in many, many ways) is many things that Obama’s was not: focused, organised and specific.  When he talks about reforming international institutions, he lays out at least a couple specific proposals:

US leaders also must restore their commitment to international law and multilateral cooperation, which means many things. It means promoting expansion of the UN Security Council’s permanent membership to include Japan, India, Germany, and one country each from Africa and Latin America. It also means ethical reform at the United Nations so that this vital institution can help its many underdeveloped and destitute member states meet the challenges of the 21st century. Finally, it means expanding the G8 to include new economic giants like India and China.

These may or may not all be terrible ideas.  I think that an expanded Security Council, if we have to have one, is more desirable than the current anachronistic arrangement.  I might challenge the list of countries to be included, but in principle there is no reason why a country as large as, say, Brazil should be ruled out for consideration for a permanent seat.  “Ethical reform” is still too vague, but it is more than what Obama has offered.  The G8 proposal is as intriguing as it is far-fetched and unlikely to be accepted in the other G8 states.  Then again, if you are including Russia for geopolitical reasons, why not bring in the two largest countries?  The short answer for why you would keep them out is that you don’t want China dictating any part of world currency policy.  Even so, compared to Barack “Pie In The Sky” Obama’s foreign policy, where the health of every Indonesian chicken will be looked after, Richardson’s article is strangely refreshing and seems almost sane by comparison.  Richardson’s priorities are often the wrong ones, and I wouldn’t support many of the things he proposes, but at least he has some minimal grasp on what he’s talking about.  Obama had best watch out.  The “New Mexican” may surprise him before all is said and done.

The Tale has returned for another repetition, along with predictable invocations of the Divine Twins, O’Hanlon and Pollack, and even a nod to the ‘Bamster himself:

Do Democratic opposition leaders keep blaming each other for voting for the Iraq war? Or are they now talking about expanding military operations to other countries? Sen. Hillary Clinton once was damned for voting to authorize the war in Iraq. But her even more liberal rival Sen. Barrack Obama, D-Ill., now expresses his own willingness to invade nuclear Islamic Pakistan.

This is, of course, stupid.  Obama’s remarks on Pakistan are predicated on his opposition to the Iraq war and followed a fairly involved discussion of how we would withdraw from Iraq.  Whatever you think of his Pakistan remarks, they are not evidence that opposition to the Iraq war has weakened or a sense that the public mood is shifting away from the antiwar crowd.  Far from it!  On the contrary, it may reflect a new confidence that withdrawal is inevitable and that it is necessary to begin planning for the future after Iraq.  This is not simply a case of Obama framing his belligerence in anti-Iraq war terms, but it is a clear case of someone who is vehemently against the Iraq war but who is nonetheless a committed interventionist.  The Democratic debate is so far beyond getting out of Iraq that there is hardly anything left to talk about.  Thus they have moved on to debating Pakistan policy.  Using Blankley’s method, I would say that a sure sign that the “surge” is certainly failing is that so many of its domestic backers are engaging in embarrassing, desperate arguments that seek to inflate even the slightest shred of good news into a major trend that favours their position.

Update: By the way, has anyone else noticed that this is Hanson’s millionth column in which he explains to us that the current debate has happened during previous wars and that many people change positions based on the ebb and flow of battle?  I suppose this is true, but doesn’t he get tired of saying the exact same thing again and again and again?  I know I get tired of reading it. 

As I watch this clip of Dodd and Obama, I find, to my horror, that I think Chris Dodd is making sense in this particular case.  After all, what does it say for Obama’s credibility that the people who “helped to authorise and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation” (as he put it) seem to possess more common sense and wisdom than Obama when it comes to Pakistan?  If even these people understand why he was wrong, when they understand very little else, why should anyone else embrace Obama’s proposal? 

The Post rallies ’round Obama.  They note that what Obama proposed is already established policy (which makes Obama look even more uninformed than he did last week), as if something being settled U.S. policy was an argument for its wisdom and sanity!  It must be relevant that, when presented with this ”existing” U.S. policy in explicit terms, the Pakistani government has rejected the idea entirely.   

My Cliopatria colleague Ralph Luker has a round-up of responses to the New York Times Magazine article by Michael Ignatieff (yes, that Michael Ignatieff).  Yglesias makes the necessary rebuttal:

But then someone pointed out to me that the whole thing is founded on the absurd premise that his errors in judgment have something to do with the mindset of academia versus the mindset of practical politics.

This is, when you think about it, totally wrong. Academics in the field of Middle East studies were overwhelmingly opposed to the war. Similarly, international relations scholars opposed the war by a very large margin. The war’s foci of intellectual support were in the institutions of the conservative movement, and in the DC think tanks and the punditocracy where the war had a lot of non-conservative support. People with relevant academic expertise — notably people who weren’t really on the left politically — were massively opposed to the war. To imply the reverse is to substantially obscure one of the main lessons of the war, namely that we should pay more attention to what regional experts think and give substantially less credence to the idea that think tankers are really “independent” of political machinations.

I had not read Ignatieff’s article before this evening, but immediately on reading the opening paragraphs I was amazed by the stunning arrogance of the claim.  The claim was, in short, “Because I, Michael Ignatieff, an academic, was horribly, horribly wrong and misinformed because of grand theorising and abstraction, this is a general trait of academics and intellectuals as a whole.  Now that I am a politician, I now understand the superiority of practical politicking over intellectualism.”  In other words, Ignatieff may have been wrong in the past, but he is never, in the present moment, likely to be wrong.  Nice work if you can get it. 

Ignatieff’s precise words were these:

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the trouble with academics and commentators is that they care more about whether ideas are interesting than whether they are true. Politicians live by ideas just as much as professional thinkers do, but they can’t afford the luxury of entertaining ideas that are merely interesting. They have to work with the small number of ideas that happen to be true and the even smaller number that happen to be applicable to real life. In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with. In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources. An intellectual’s responsibility for his ideas is to follow their consequences wherever they may lead. A politician’s responsibility is to master those consequences and prevent them from doing harm.

I can’t imagine a more potent lie than this first claim.  Perhaps the main, if not only, thing that drives many academics and intellectuals is their interest in finding and defending ideas that they regard as true.  Naturally, you try to make them seem as interesting and relevant and applicable to your readers as you can, but if you are setting out to con your audience by spinning evidence and fabricating stories to make them more interesting you are not really engaged in scholarship or serious thought.  Perhaps of all the people on earth, politicians have one of the weakest claims to be devotees of the truth.  They are interested in what is expedient, what is popular, what is, to borrow a word from one of Ignatieff’s old pro-war confreres, “doable.”  It is Pilate, a political functionary, not Seneca or Tacitus, who asks, “What is truth?”  Princes can always find intellectual lackeys to sing their praises or write up theories justifying their crimes, but that does not mean that all scholars and intellectuals are servile lackeys who do the bidding of the ruler or the state, especially not in an era when government patronage is not as vital as it once was.   

There are good arguments that academics should steer clear of politics, mostly because politics can distort and warp scholarship, and perhaps because some academics are susceptible to this sort of Big Idea mania (see Wilson, Woodrow), but the idea that the war fever prior to the invasion was the fruit of an academic and intellectual mode rather the result of an ideological mode of thinking embraced by some academics is simply absurd.  Academics and intellectuals, though perhaps not always closely associated with what might be called “the real world,” have had a far firmer grasp of reality in recent years than most of the war supporters, among whose die-hard members there are, to put it mildly, not exactly all that many distinguished professors and public intellectuals.  Americans have always taken a sort of pride in their instinctive anti-intellectualism, so much so that some might even start to regard ignorance as a virtue, but a policy advanced by the ignorant and incompetent and cheered on by the uninformed cannot really be laid at the door of the academy.  

It occurs to me that Ignatieff’s rather bold generalisations about academia apply least of all to the discipline of history, especially when he writes:

Among intellectuals, judgment is about generalizing and interpreting particular facts as instances of some big idea. In politics, everything is what it is and not another thing. Specifics matter more than generalities. Theory gets in the way.

Yet every trend in modern historiography has been to run screaming away from generalising “particular facts” as “instances of some big idea.”  In history, specifics are not quite everything, but they are about 95% of everything.  Theory can be helpful, but it is no substitute for a solid command of the sources and a significant collection of evidence.  In some cases, theory can get in the way if the scholar follows it too rigidly and dogmatically by trying to make the evidence “fit” what he assumed beforehand must be true.  In politics, on the other hand, details are not what win elections, but rather vague, generic symbolism and empty rhetoric are what matter.  Politicians love to use commonplaces and boilerplate, and they avoid giving detailed plans as often as they can.  In a television age, politicians thrive on generalities and, as the last few years have shown, they make policy based on vague, gauzy sentiments about “values” and “security” with no concern for the practicability, wisdom or prudence of the policies being support.   

Something else struck me:

Politicians cannot afford to cocoon themselves in the inner world of their own imaginings. They must not confuse the world as it is with the world as they wish it to be. They must see Iraq — or anywhere else — as it is.

Yet large parts of our political class have been cocooning themselves for years with respect to Iraq and continue to do so.  (A majority of members of Congress persist in the illusion that something can be salvaged from Iraq.)  They confuse the world as they wish it to be for the world as it is all the time.  This is a common flaw in our politicians, and it is particularly acute because of the optimistic assumptions of our politicians and of our culture.  Certainly, the pols have enablers in the chattering classes, but the fault is mainly theirs.  If the virtue of politicians is that they have a keener attachment to reality, why is it that the politicians always seem to be the last to grasp what everyone else seems to get so much sooner?

Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama on Wednesday stressed the need for the U.S. and Pakistan to be “constructive” allies in fighting al-Qaida, but softened earlier talk in which he pledged to unilaterally hunt down terrorists in the south Asian nation.

Obama and his spokesman offered measured criticism of the Bush administration’s actions and policies on Pakistan. The candidate declined an opportunity to explain the difference between his proposals and the White House’s, but he expressed sympathy for Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who faces a growing militant backlash in his Muslim nation.

“President Musharraf has very difficult job, and it is important that we are a constructive ally with them in dealing with al-Qaida,” Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, said. ~AP

 

Fred Thompson may have a bit of a conjured image and a thin record, but I don’t believe that he was 100% produced in a factory, specifically for consumption by whatever conservative Republican primary voters  don’t have access to Google, the ability to distinguish between black and white, or a memory that extends beyond two weeks ago. ~Liz Mair

George Ajjan did yeoman’s work in actually suffering through the Sunday GOP presidential debate.  He offers some excellent commentary on that and recent events in Lebanon here.  He quotes a priceless Romney answer on promoting democratisation:

I think when there’s a country like Lebanon, for instance, that becomes a democracy, that instead of standing by and seeing how they do, we should have been working with the government there to assure that they have the rule of law, that they have agricultural and economic policies that work for them, that they have schools that are not Wahhabi schools [bold mine-DL], that we try and make sure they have good health care [bold mine-DL].   

Those universal mandates aren’t just for schlubs in Massachusetts anymore–now the Bekaa Valley can also benefit from Romney’s grand vision!  “Great Society on the Mekong” ring any bells, Willard? 

George makes many fine points about Lebanon in particular.  For starters, he notes that representative government in Lebanon did not begin in 2005, and U.S. support for the government did not seem to extend to defending it when it opposed the Israeli bombing campaign of Lebanon last summer.  U.S. acquiescence in the Israeli attacks on all of Lebanon contributed directly to the weakening of the Siniora government and the wreckage of major infrastructure.  We “stood by” all right, but in such a way as to ensure that the forces within Lebanon that the government supports would be harmed the most and those the government loathes would be strengthened.  Also, if huge numbers of your people are refugees who have been driven from their homes or into neighbouring countries, “economic policies that work for them” are not quite as important as they might otherwise be.  After watching the appropriate outrage over the I-35 bridge collapse this past week, it occurs to me that Americans might be even slightly more agitated if a foreign government blew up the port of Long Beach, knocked out the runways at O’Hare, took out multiple bridges across the Mississippi, bombed some of our military installations and displaced 25% of our population in the name of self-defense and helping the American government with its internal security.

I would have thought that Romney’s remark about Lebanon having schools that are “not Wahhabi schools” would have merited some comment from George.  I’m not saying that Saudi/Wahhabi influence in Lebanon doesn’t exist, but it is a rather strange thing to focus on in a country where Sunnis make up perhaps 25% of the population.

U.S. Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama has been trying to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

So it didn’t help when he called Canada’s leader a “president” during a debate Tuesday in Chicago.

Asked what he’d do about the North American trade deal, Obama said it needs changes, so he’d “immediately call the president of Mexico (and) the president of Canada.” ~The Edmonton Sun

But, remember, folks, he was an international studies major and has lived overseas–that’s what counts!

The soundtrack to Fanaa was playing in the background, and I was finishing reviewing the most recent Arabic lesson’s vocabulary when I was reminded of another Arabic loanword found in Sayat Nova’s poetry.  His Doon en hoorin is (You Are A Nymph) has a line where he says:

Toor, indzi spane, ikhtiar unis!

I believed that this translated roughly as, ”Come (lit., give), kill me, you have the right.”  The modern Eastern Armenian translator renders ikhtiar as iravunk’, which is where my translation of ikhtiar as “right” comes from.  In the context of the poem, this rendering might make perfect sense, since the gusan is talking about the authority of the beloved to order his death, where she plays the role of a khan or some other powerful figure.  Yet my Arabic lesson tells me that the primary meaning of ikhtiar is “choice” and the dictionary confirms that it means selection, preference or even free will in certain usages.  Fortunately, there is a way out of this contradiction.  

Ikhtiar (or ikhtiyar as Hans-Wehr transliterates it) can also mean “option” in Arabic, which would also fit the context of the poem.  It would not, however, bear out the translator’s decision to use iravunk’.  This rendering does manage to convey some of the meaning, but does not capture exactly what the poet was saying.  Still, I can appreciate the translator’s quandary, since the main Armenian word for choice is entrut’yun, which is a bit more cumbersome.  So, eight weeks in intensive Arabic have at least brought me some new insight into Sayat Nova.  Park’ Astutso!

So says Niall Stanage.

Hugo Chávez is rubbing his hands. He has a plan, and Colombian intelligence is aware of it. It seems he convinced the drug-trafficking, communist-leaning guerrillas to collaborate in a strategy that will lead the so-called Democratic Pole to victory in the next elections.

The Venezuelan colonel is willing to spend whatever is needed: $10 million, $50 million, $100 million. The gush of petrodollars is enough to bankroll those imperial spasms. After the triumph in Colombia, Peru will fall of its own weight in the next elections, maybe by the hand of Ollanta Humala — and the conquest of the Andean arch will be complete: 100 million people. ~Carlos Alberto Montaner

There is something a bit odd about describing a string of left-populist victories in democratic elections as the “conquest of the Andean arch,” as if Pisarro were back in the saddle overthrowing the Incas.  From the perspective of the backers of the populists, they are finally reclaiming their countries from the people that have (mis)ruled them.  That their policies will bring on disaster and economic ruin is all but certain, but that is actually their affair.  If more of Latin America is on the verge of sliding into democratic despotism, this is the result of the flaws of mass democracy, which might make us reconsider the importance of such “democratic values” in the first place and think on whether their disappearance from the continent–if indeed they are going to disappear in some places–would be a cause for lament. 

It seems to me that when Venezuelophobes cast their eyes across the Atlantic, the toppling of dominoes in supposedly “people-powered” revolutions is viewed as being all to the good.  Why?  The obvious reason is that the new oligarchs who take power in Georgia or Ukraine or Lebanon are believed to be U.S. puppets to one degree or another, as indeed they are.  When a democratic wave crashes, even if promoted and funded by foreign agents and pushed by foreign NGOs, these enthusiasts for democracy are supposed to be very pleased about it.  Not so when the people involved live in this hemisphere and vote for the ‘wrong’ sorts.  When foreigners aid ostensibly pro-Western forces to seize power, er, win elections, this is supporting the liberation of a longsuffering, heroic people from the domination of exploitative elites; when people who are not on “our” side aid forces in another country to win elections, this is nefarious imperialism.  I would be perfectly willing to acknowledge right now–and I do acknowledge–that Venezuela is engaged in power projection and a kind of soft imperialism, just as Washington has been doing for some time.  In fact, I consider both policies dreadful and misguided, but it would be refreshing if those warning against the growing menace of Venezuela could acknowledge that Chavez is implementing the same kinds of tactics and pursuing the same goals of power projection that our government pursues.  If we could just drop all the pious chatter about the glory of democracy or the impending collapse of democracy, we might start to understand and manage foreign affairs a bit better.   

Of course, I would argue that the prevalence of Chavista and left-populist types in Latin American politics today is good evidence that democracy is not necessarily the best form of government for every country, and it isn’t necessarily that good of a form of government in any country.  Even so, if the spread of mass democracy in Latin America ultimately means a turn towards demagogic despotism and the collapse of representative government in favour of authoritarian populism, it is unclear what shoring up the Uribe government with some military aid will matter one way or the other.  Montaner speaks of a coming hurricane, and then recommends that we help Uribe set up a nice tent on the beach.  If Montaner is right about the almost certain unsustainability of democracy in Latin America, backing Uribe’s government will be of little use in preventing the collapse of this kind of government there. 

We are supposed to be deeply shocked that Chavez is meddling in the elections of a neighbouring country (because the overthrow of Milosevic, Shevardnadze, Yanukovych et al. were all purely local operations, you see, in which no outsiders were involved).  Certainly, it would be better if Chavez didn’t do this, but he has already been backing and funding FARC rebels for years, so pushing an electoral option is a less bloody means to the same goal.  This is possibly better for the Colombian peasants who have been caught in the middle of the civil war for all these years (not that many people in favour of perpetuating the military alliance with Colombia care much for their welfare).     

Ruben Navarette should stick to his reliable shtick of “nativist”-bashing and leave the foreign policy talk to someone else.  First, he hasn’t got his facts straight:

But Obama wasn’t hatching an invasion. He was talking about going into Pakistan if our military was in hot pursuit of “high-value terrorist targets.”

In fact, the speech that caused all of this was not referring to “hot pursuit” across the border, but included talk of a “sanctuary” that would be attacked in the event that Musharraf “failed” to do so.  In other words, Obama would launch an attack into Pakistani territory, whether or not the Pakistani government gave its approval, and with no apparent concern for the aftermath of such an action.  Specifically, he said:

If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will. 

Navarette enlightens us:

There is no target of higher value than Osama bin Laden, and our intelligence agencies say that he’s in the remote tribal areas of western Pakistan. Most Americans would probably agree that this is one person we have the right to pursue to the ends of the Earth. That includes going into Pakistan.

This is typical.  Having so personalised all our conflicts and focused them on individual evil masterminds, we as a nation persuade ourselves that any action, no matter how ill-conceived or destructive it may be, would be justified for the sake of killing the archnemesis.  There is, naturally, the appeal to the mob in the final resort, since there are not many good policy arguments to hand about doing what he proposes. 

Let’s be clear: of course, Bin Laden should pay for what he and his have done.  Virtually no one in this country questions the legitimacy or rightness of this.  But, to follow Navarette’s view, this apparently trumps all other considerations and outweighs all other costs.  It’s as if Navarette says, “Who cares if the action doubles or triples the strength of pro-Taliban forces?  Why worry whether it helps bring about the fall of the government in Kabul or causes another coup in Islamabad?  If you can take a shot at Bin Laden and company, it’s all good.”  Such is the stellar strategic thinking of the Obamas and Navarettes of the world.  This is exactly the kind of short-sighted, overly personalised vendetta-as-strategy that has mired us in Iraq and which continues to exacerbate the jihadi threat.  What earns Obama’s proposal applause on some parts of the left and scorn across most of the spectrum is that it is somewhat unlike Bush’s current policy, which has plenty of its own problems.  However, simply because a policy differs from the extremely poor policies of this administration does not mean that it makes sense.   

This is a foreign policy approach that does not gauge a proposal by its merits, but rather by the people it annoys.  If a really stupid policy idea happens to annoy neocons and Mr. Bush, Obama and company might think that it is a great idea because it is simply different from what has been done.  This is actually to mimic the worst habits of the neocons.  For years, neocons operated by arguing something like the following: “If someone with regional knowledge says something that we disagree with, it is obviously biased, left-wing and self-serving, so we must actively ignore people who know something about this part of the world.  ‘Arabists’ and Foreign Service people are not on board with our agenda, and are therefore wrong about virtually everything.  Whatever “realists” recommend, we must strive to do the opposite, especially when it involves stirring up conflict and overthrowing foreign governments.  Wherever Clinton was too hemmed in by international rules and institutions, we will cast them off and do whatever we please.  Knowledge and expertise are overrated; moral clarity is what matters.”  Of course, I might very well find problems with the “realist” agenda as well, but that doesn’t mean that any and all critiques of the “realists” are equally smart or all alternatives are equally desirable.  This should be obvious, but there are some Obamaphiles who are having difficulty grasping it. 

Navarette continues: 

But the Pakistani ambassador to the United States insists that, if the U.S. military went into Pakistan after bin Laden, it would destabilize the region and hurt relations between the two countries. In fact, Mahmud Ali Durrani told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux that if the United States were to locate and kill bin Laden inside Pakistan it would so inflame the Pakistani people that it could actually hurt the war on terror.

Huh? Killing bin Laden would hurt the war on terror? And some presidential hopefuls consider these folks our friends, and others think these matters ought not even be discussed?

Suddenly, Barack Obama seems like the least-naive person in the race. 

This is pretty straightforward: when the ambassador of a country that enjoys major non-NATO ally status with the United States says that X will harm relations between the two countries, it actually will harm relations between the two countries.  This is not an empty threat, as our worsening relations with Turkey over the past four years because of Iraq should show.  If the ambassador says that X will destabilise the region (which it probably would do in this case), you have to take that seriously, even if you end up deciding in favour of X.  You might be able to argue that, taking all things into account, it is worth the risk, but to actively ignore the risk or pretend that there is no risk is absurd.  To deny that Obama said what he, in fact, said is even more absurd, and that seems to be Navarette’s tack here. 

Naturally, the Pakistani government is not going to encourage foreign military action on its territory.  There is a significant measure of self-interest in all of this, but anyone who understands even a little about the politics of western Pakistan understands that the ambassador is not simply talking to protect his job.  American military action on any large scale will stir up even more support for pro-Taliban forces, which represent a more enduring danger to the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.  Provoking an even larger groundswell of support for pro-Taliban forces, or perhaps even triggering a major insurrection, inside a major allied state would be mad.  What Obama proposed in his speech would risk doing this very thing. 

Navarette muddles the issue again with this talk of “friendship.” Allied nations are not “friends.”  States do not have “friends.”  There are plenty of people in every U.S.-allied state who are not friendly towards our government or our interests, which is what you would expect, especially in light of recent events.  The Pakistani government is telling us, quite plainly, that making these threats will weaken the position of the government there, worsen the scale and scope of the threat and ultimately make the government less reliable than it already is in fighting jihadis.  That strikes me as a pretty good list of reasons why it is a very questionable proposal. 

I would add one other thing: Obama is actually drawing a bit from the Clinton ‘92 playbook in running “to the right” of the administration by issuing bold statements on foreign policy that try to paint current policy as weak or servile.  Remember when Clinton was attacking Bush the Elder for “coddling the dictators” in Beijing?  Who was it who then became one of Beijing’s most useful fools once in office?  Naturally, it was Clinton.  Supposing for the moment that this is electoral posturing, designed to make a Democratic candidate look “tough” and “serious” enough (while managing to have the exact opposite effect), we might expect any Obama Administration to be as blind to the flaws of Pakistan as Clinton’s was to those of China. 

There is a new TAC coming out with my Pakistan column in it.  Once it is out, I’ll talk a bit more about what I think our Pakistan policy should be.

Update: Musharraf explicitly rejects the possibility of U.S. strikes inside Pakistan, and is now contemplating declaring a state of emergency.  This would be the place that Obama wants to take “action” in.  According to the AP, Obama has some small part in this latest fit of panic:

Tariq Azim, minister of state for information, said some sentiment coming from the United States, including from Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama, over the possibility of U.S. military action against al-Qaida in Pakistan “has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public.” 

Of course, the government is bound to blame someone else for their internal problems, many of which the Pakistani government has exacerbated through its heavy-handed handling of marginal regions.  Nonetheless, the possibility that careless and stupid remarks by candidates in our election might worsen already tense situations should be sobering.

Everyone’s favourite, Katherine Harris, made a small splash by having a total of four campaign managers during her Esther Resurrection Tour highly eccentric, error-ridden run for the Senate, but it seems as if Fred intends to outmatch her in sheer personnel turnover.  At the present rate, he should leave her in the dust.  He has already dropped one manager and two “temporary” co-managers and moved on to yet another, Bill Lacy.  All this comes before his much-delayed, not so highly anticipated and no longer very interesting announcement in September that he will start officially running.  Once he begins to campaign properly, we should start seeing campaign managers move in and out on a weekly basis.  Given that Bill Lacy is a veteran of Thompson’s first Senate run, he may stick around a little longer, if only for old times’ sake, but if I were mounting a bid for the Presidency I think the last person I would call on would be the one who worked as a strategist for Dole and for the Dole ‘96 campaign. 

In a time deluged by ideology — when everyone is urged to take a side and join the political battle — Shakespeare offers a different message: that the most important and dramatic choices are made in the human soul. Some steps, once taken, cannot be retraced. Some appetites, once freed, become a prison. ~Michael Gerson

I suppose it makes sense that one of the chief participants in unleashing said ideological deluge should now find deep wisdom and insight in Shakespeare.  Pity that he didn’t read more of it when he was still working for the White House.

James has a very interesting and valuable post on optimism.  We agree part of the way, in that we both seem sure that optimism is undesirable, misleading and potentially dangerous.  James goes on to say:

Optimism, in fact, is an attitude, an emotional orientation, a psychological posture, a feeling — a meta-feeling, even, a feeling about feelings, the feeling that we should  feel as if failure is impossible.

I agree that there is such an attitude, or orientation, or posture, or feeling, but I would say that this attitude is the product of an optimistic worldview, rather than the substance of optimism itself.  Just as I insist that we all recognise that pessimism is more than, and indeed quite different from, feeling gloomy and misanthropic, it is important that we understand optimism as a kind of philosophical thought.  Optimism of the kind I am describing, and which I reject utterly, is not simply unsettling cheerfulness and irrepressible giddiness, bad as these may be, but a set of assumptions about the world, human nature and the direction (or non-direction) of history.      

One of my first forays against dread optimism was early last year, when I came across this outstanding Salisbury quote in a Gimson article in The Spectator.  Lord Salisbury said:

The optimist view of politics assumes that there must be some remedy for every political ill, and rather than not find it, will make two hardships to cure one. If all equitable remedies have failed, its votaries take it as proved without argument that the one-sided remedies, which alone are left, must needs succeed. But is not the other view barely possible? Is it not just conceivable that there is no remedy that we can apply for the Irish hatred of ourselves? …May it not, on the contrary, be our incessant doctoring and meddling, awaking the passions now of this party, now of that, raising at every step a fresh crop of resentments by the side of the old growth, that puts off the day when these feelings will decay quietly away and be forgotten?

Optimism is not simply an attitude or a feeling, but an assumption that all problems, in the end, have solutions and that we can know what they are and put them into effect.  It is an assumption that no consequences are final, there is always another day to set things right, that there is always a second chance and that history is moving towards something that we can discern and, even more remarkably, we may be able to accelerate progress towards that end.  The optimist says, “It is never too late,” while the pessimist knows that people are late and they miss what they are seeking, or something else interferes and prevents you from reaching the goal.  Pessimism recognises certain limitations of finite man that do not change; optimism sees human limits as continually expanding and being redefined.  This is not simply an attitude, but a belief about the structure of reality and the nature of history.  Anyone who accepts the reality of the radical contingency of historical change cannot think that history is going in any particular direction.  Anyone who briefly scans the annals of mankind cannot conclude that human reason has the capacity to actually “solve” fundamental problems of our condition, yet this is what an optimist, be he liberal or Marxist or something else, must believe.  According to Dienstag:

Pessimism, to Schopenhauer, means not that our civilization or morality are declining, but rather that human beings are fated to endure a life freighted with problems that are fundamentally unmeliorable.

Optimism is the view that there are ultimately no problems that are unmeliorable (optimists may make a concession with respect to death, but only very grudgingly).  Rather than being filled with burdens to be endured, life may be improved virtually without end in the optimist’s view.  This is far more, and far worse, than endless self-delusion based on excessive cheer and confidence.  It is the assumption that there is good reason to be so cheerful and confident about the future.

In the end, optimism as a philosophical view is an acceptance of the reality of progress.  Here is Dienstag on the struggle between the idea of progress and pessimism:

Finally, the dismissal of pessimism reflects the continuing grip that ideas of progress retain on contemporary consciousness.  Though supposedly slain many times (Lewis Mumford called it the “deadest of dead ideas” in 1932), this beast continues to rise from the ashes for the simple reason that, first, it helps us to make sense of the linear time of our calendar and, second, there is no easy substitute for it.  However much it may be denied in principle, in practice the idea of progress is difficult to displace.  And from that perspective, pessimism is especially bewildering…..Pessimism is a substitute for progress, but it is not a painless one.  In suggesting that we look at time and history differently, it asks us to alter radically our opinion of ourselves and of what we can expect from politics [bold mine-DL].  It does not simply tell us to expect less.  It tells us, in fact, to expect nothing.  This posture, I argue below, is not impossible and not suicidal.  It is neither skeptical (knowing nothing) nor nihilistic (wanting nothing).  It is a distinct account of the human condition that has developed in the shadow of progress–alongside it, as it were–with its own political stance.       

It must be PNAC op-ed week.  If you didn’t have enough fun with Kagan/Daalder, Tod Lindberg has arrived to repeat (in The Weekly Standard, of course)the standard “centrist” charge: the evil antiwar liberals are wrongfully attacking the “serious” people in the Democratic foreign policy establishment and the DLC more generally.  “Serious” people such as, oh, maybe Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, whom Lindberg naturally defends against attacks from the blog left.  Of course, disdain for the DLC is also held up as an example of some sort of perfidy, when it is probably the main proof that even the Kossacks can get some things right in spite of themselves.

Lindberg is right about one thing: the DLC isn’t going away, or at least it isn’t going quietly.  They represent a dying ideology that is already unsuited to the times, but they retain enough institutional clout to live on despite this for many years.  The DLC continues to have an outsized influence on Democratic foreign policy thinking, if such a word can used in this context, and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, counts as its members several of the Democratic presidential candidates, naturally including Clinton.  If none of the candidates showed up at the latest DLC event, it is not because the candidates have abandoned liberal interventionism, nor have they all repudiated some of the lessons that the DLC taught to the party about appealing to middle-class and “moderate” voters.  On the contrary, the major candidates seem more wedded to the horrid interventionist idea than ever, and the main three candidates have been practically falling over themselves to remind people that they, too, believe in God.  Where the party and the DLC now disagree strongly is over Iraq, and, at least as far as foreign policy goes, they really disagree only over Iraq.  Once the war there is over (as it will be, eventually, one day), the Kossacks and the like may be horrified to discover that New Democrats, or those who have learned to follow in their footsteps, continue to dictate the terms of the debate on foreign policy for the foreseeable future.  This is because, despite all of the whining about “purges” in the Democratic Party, there have not actually been any effective purges of the foreign policy intellectuals who signed on for the Iraq war or who embrace activist foreign policy more generally.   While the Kossacks wield more influence today than in past cycles, they will not be filling out the ranks of a future Democratic administration.  The wonks tied to this foreign policy establishment will be the ones shaping and implementing policy.  In fact, in the future the Kossacks, ever a party-oriented group interested mainly in having Democrats win elections, will almost certainly endorse the bad policies of a “centrist” Democratic President, even if these policies are nothing more than a refined or slightly modified version of what is being done today.  This is a shame, since hardly anyone deserves the blog left’s attacks more than these “centrists.” 

Besides being an embodiment of everything that is wrong with foreign policy pundits and elites, the bipartisan interventionist consensus and the profoundly unrepresentative nature of foreign policy “centrism,” the entire Kagan/Daalder op-ed founders on the central problem that it is an argument over how to “sustain broad, bipartisan support for interventions.”  This is strange for a couple reasons.  First, the Obama, Clinton and Edwards campaigns guarantee that the Democrats will continue to support interventionism of one kind or another should their side win in the next election and these campaigns represent strong interventionist strains inside the Democratic Party that are, alas, not going anywhere.  The bipartisan consensus on intervention as such has hardly ever been more robust, despite the disasters this very consensus has brought on our country.  You hardly need to abandon the Security Council to maintain it–indeed, I suspect that any move towards doing so would weaken that consensus considerably, since there are many CFR types and liberal internationalists who would not be interested in this proposal.  Second, it is even more strange since they had just said this:

Throughout its history, America has frequently used force on behalf of principles and tangible interests, and that is not likely to change.  

Presumably, if intervention is a natural expression of America’s acting on behalf of “principles and tangible interests,” there should not have to be a mechanism to sustain bipartisan support for it.  The national interest and fundamental shared political principles ought to dictate that support for the interventionist option will be shared by a broad majority.  If there is such broad support, what is the need for a new mechanism?  The argument for a new mechanism suggests that the broad majority does not exist and the bipartisan consensus has to be maintained against the will of the American people (neither of which would surprise me).  That this kind of policy creates deep and powerful divisions within both parties and splits the country roughly in half (and not strictly along party lines) suggests that it may be an unnatural, abnormal kind of policy, or that it is the sort that is instinctively opposed by large numbers of Americans who do not accept the elite’s definitions of “tangible interests” or their application of force on behalf of these “principles.” 

Most of the op-ed is an argument for replacing the U.N. as font of legitimacy for armed intervention with the ridiculous Concert of Democracies.  It is ridiculous because it is a naked extension of U.S. hegemony and it is an attempt to create a parallel structure that will rubber stamp Washington’s policies, a more enduring version of the Coalition of Small, Easily Intimidated Nations.  Call it the Permanent Council of the Willing, or perhaps, given that legitimacy seems to be decided entirely arbitrarily under the Kagan/Daalder scheme, the Axis of Democracies.  Consider this statement:

Because they share a common view of what constitutes a just order within states, they tend to agree on when the international community has an obligation to intervene. Shared principles provide the foundation for legitimacy.

Obviously, there have been alliances of states that had rather different understandings of a “just order within states” from those of the hegemonists today.  Did their shared principles provide legitimacy for their invasions of other states?  Will future alliances of despotic states be free to determine their the appropriate circumstances for “intervention” based on their “shared principles”?  Or do we suppose that the U.S. and allied European and Asian states get to have one set of rules for themselves–which they get to enforce against themselves and thus never enforce–while judging the other states in the world by a much more rigorous standard? 

There is one other obvious snag, which has already been pointed out elsewhere, and this is that “fellow democrats around the world” do not always or even very often agree with the need for some kind of intervention or, if they do acknowledge the need, they are not willing to endorse the use of force.  Most “fellow democrats around the world” are strongly supportive of the United Nations and the protections provided to them by the U.N. Charterand secured by the UNSC.  Indeed, the only states that usually have an interest in subverting or overthrowing the authority of the U.N. are states engaged in aggression, the promotion of terrorism or the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  These states want looser controls on their freedom of action for themselves internally and in dealings with other states.  They are, of course, quite willing to use the U.N. as a shield or a club when it suits them, but it is the great powers in particular that tend to find international law the most constraining when they are not able to use it as a means of dominating other states. 

In post-Cold War times, cross-border invasions of small, militarily weaker states by their neighbours have usually been met with international intervention and/or condemnation.  Many of the relatively new democratic states are not very strong militarily, and they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo governing intervention.  (Then there is the small matter of being bound by treaty law to abide by the Charter’s provisions, but never you mind that.)  The “fellow democrats around the world” generally seek to abide by a principle of nonaggression.  “[F]ellow democrats around the world” tend to be the ones who are among the most outraged at what has been done in and to Iraq.  Are they very likely to sign off on another intervention in the future?  Hardly.     

Pushing this a bit further, we can see that relying on the approval of “fellow democrats around the world” would have meant, in the case of Iraq, accepting the objections of Canada, France, Germany and India, four of the “great democracies,” and holding off on the invasion and only proceeding with it with explicit authorisation from the Security Council.  By the standards that Kagan and Daalder are setting for the new Concert, the Iraq war would probably never have happened.  They would be unable to achieve those goals that they deem to be most important.  The Concert is hegemonist in purpose, but it is actually hamstrung by its own obsession with respecting the opinion of democratic governments around the world just as if it were dealing with the Security Council.  If it were true (and it isn’t) that the Security Council is lax in authorising interventions, this Concert would be no better and might even be worse (by “worse,” I mean worse from the perspective of the hegemonists).  Unlike the U.N., the Concert could not be so easily pilloried and mocked by warmongers as an assembly of despots, kings and villains.  To the extent that the democratic status of the member states would lend legitimacy in our own eyes their objections would be that much harder to ignore and reject.  Viewed another way, the Concert approach would mean that the United States would theoretically make actions that the government deemed to be necessary for national security dependent on the approval of some significant number of democratic states, some of which might have moral, strategic or other objections that would nix any proposed action.  If it was ridiculous, as the neocons would have it, to make a matter of national security dependent on corrupt and despotic governments, is it any less ridiculous to make it dependent on relatively decent foreign governments?  According to the pre-war arguments war supporters made, the government is obliged, especially if the security threat is real (as it was not in the case of Iraq), to take “appropriate” action regardless of international law, the positions of other governments or the opinions of other peoples.  The interests of democratic states, or even of the “great democracies,” do not always coincide, nor do they necessarily coincide all that frequently.  The Concert is supposed to work because there is a greater chance of common agreement on the rightness and necessity of taking action in some conflict or crisis, but there is no guarantee whatever that there will be any such agreement.  Most “fellow democrats around the world” think that international law actually exists and means something, while it is fashionable in this country among certain internationalists to doubt its significance or enforceability.  Between these views is a vast chasm that cannot be bridged simply because all the peoples  involved vote for their governments and extend some basic legal protections to citizens. 

Having said all this, I suppose you might think that I would find the Concert a potentially attractive idea.  It might conceivbably serve as a more effective check against intervention than the current system.  Even so, the Concert is a terrible idea, since it is a transparent effort to the defeat the purpose of international law in the name of providing some supposed global order.  To the extent that it is an attempt institutionalise past serial aggression in the name of “human rights” and democracy, it is an abomination that ought to be rejected completely.  

Let’s review the membership of Obama’s growing militarist fan club: Kagan, Peretz, Giuliani, the Post and even The Wall Street Journal editorial page.  Anyone who thinks Obama represents some meaningful departure from the foreign policy insanity of the last six years is kidding himself.    

Update:  Somehow I overlooked the bit at the end of the Kagan/Daalder op-ed that tells us that Daalder is an unpaid advisor to the Obama campaign.  This makes perfect sense.  Kagan likes Obama’s foreign policy, which is fairly crazy, and Daalder is probably one of the people who helped put the finishing touches on the craziness.  They really do belong together.  The only thing that is incongruous in all of this is Obama’s continuing opposition to the war in Iraq, which neither Kagan nor Daalder shared in the beginning. 

Coming so soon after the War Party’s O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed swoon, this Kagan/Daalder op-ed may be more excitement than the average jingo can handle.  I suppose this would be an example of some of the precious bipartisanship that has become so scarce in Washington.  Better yet, it must be more evidence that ”Even The Liberal Brookings Institute” has begun to come around on the question of the circumstances of when the government should use force overseas.  Why, Daalder’s co-written an op-ed with one of the Kagans in favour of interventionism!  On the editorial page of The Washington Post!  In the popular conservative imagination, the Post is only slightly to “the right” of The Nation, so this must be a significant blow to the forces of defeatocracy (or whatever they call it).  Bill Kristol’s next column practically writes itself.  That would all be the case, except that Ivo Daalder, like those “far leftie” colleagues of his, is a rabid interventionist now, and he has been for years.  The Brookings Institute, that redoubt of peacenik radicalism, is one of the most staid, establishment consensus think tanks out there.  If they are out there flacking for the war or interventionist foreign policy generally, it is not surprising in the least.     

It has been fascinating to watch the war supporters’ excitement around the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed, which continues today with Barone.  Shorter Barone: “Why, look, a brief blip in public opinion in a less antiwar direction!  Why, look, an op-ed about Iraq that is not completely filled with predictions of doom!  Things are looking up!  The Democrats are in trouble now!”  Like Continetti’s article yesterday, Barone recites the Tale of Nancy Boyda, which seems likely to become the regularly cited piece of evidence in every indictment of antiwar views from now on.  The Tale recounts Boyda’s “refusal” to hear positive news from Iraq.  Now, not only do the media not report the “good news,” but antiwar politicians won’t even stand to listen to it–that will be the theme. 

What is striking about it is that it does not represent the nature of the debate at all.  It has hardly been the characteristic trait of the antiwar side of the debate to ignore evidence that did not match with our views.  Recently, I have seen many people talking about how antiwar pols and war opponents are “deeply invested” in seeing the war end badly, which, besides being insulting, is a stupid charge to make.  If the Iraq war comes to anything resembling a decent, stable conclusion (i.e., if Iraq were almost nothing like what it is today), a great many war opponents, including myself, would actually be relieved.  We would marvel at how, in spite of the chronic lack of proper support and supply, the epic incompetence of the government, the unceasing dishonesty of the political class and the completely adverse conditions in Iraq, the outcome was not as bad as we feared.  It is, of course, because we are not so foolishly optimistic to believe, yet again, in the false hopes and misleading promises of the government and its cheerleaders that we do not expect such an outcome. 

Of course, how many times have we been told about the impending corner that will soon be turned and the “good progress” we have been making, only to see Iraq get progressively worse?  When Baghdad is getting a few hours of electricity per day and other parts of the country are cutting off Baghdad from their power plants in order to provide for their own needs, the O’Hanlon/Pollack tours of Ramadi and Ghazaliya are, at best, of marginal importance.  When the Iraqi parliament is incapable of passing any law of consequence that might provide for some political settlement that could at least lessen the fighting, optimistic reporting from Tal Afar (where there was another suicide bombing not too long ago) should hardly impress anyone.  That it seems to have deeply impressed a number of prominent war supporters is more an indictment of their judgement than it is of O’Hanlon’s and Pollack’s own credibility. 

This is something that is deeply troubling about war supporters’ handling of evidence from the very beginning: they seem to have no sense of what is significant and what is irrelevant or marginal.  For them, if a bomb goes off in the parliament building and a school is re-opened, these are events that they seem to think are of political–and therefore journalistic–importance.  Hence the constant lament about the “failure” to report the “good news.”  In this view, to focus on the former and “ignore” the latter, as if the resources of news agenices were infinite, is to express bias.  Well, I suppose it is a bias of a sort–it is a bias in favour of covering important stories rather than unimportant ones.  The O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed offers war supporters the kind of reporting they prefer: anecdotal, impressionistic, experiential and therefore often unverifiable, and above all the describing of things that are of lesser importance (or things already known for some time) and treating them as evidence of a meaningful change or a new trend that you, the idiot public, have yet to take fully into account.   

You will recall the recent craze among some on the right for a revival of teaching military history.  One day, these enthusiasts will (mistakenly) tell you how much more vastly significant a few days of battle were than whole decades that preceded it, contrary to the flim-flam from all those miserable academics.  Then they or their colleagues will come back the next day and complain that the lousy liberal journalists are reporting about primarily military and political events.  “They’re not writing feel-good stories about repaired soccer fields and kite-flying!  Obviously they hate all that is good and true.”  Something is amiss there.

Perhaps having learned their lesson from embarrassing cheerleading like this, war supporters are now once more keen to show that they are very much focused on security and any reports of declining civilian casualties.  Wasn’t it the standard talking point back in the spring that a surge in casualties was proof that the “surge” was working (because it was proof that the insurgents were desperate)?  If that was true then (which is doubtful), a decline in civilian casualties would be a sign that the insurgents are calm, relaxed and not even bothered to launch as many attacks–except, of course, that they are launching more attacks and often more devastating attacks than ever before.  In the end, the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed doesn’t tell us much at all, because the most relevant factors determining whether security and stability will be established in Iraq are precisely those that cannot be observed while strolling, without body armour, down the streets of Ramadi, because that is no longer where the main security problem is.  It is like going to a building that had already mostly burned down before the fire was extinguished, taking a good look around at the sopping wet wreckage and declaring, “Yes, sir, the fire is certainly out here!  We can therefore safely say that the danger of fire everywhere else in the country is also less than it was.”

Alex Massie points to this item from a Cheney television appearance:

“I’m totally neutral in the upcoming presidential contest. I will support the Republican nominee. And the fact that others have signed on with Fred or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, they’re all good men. I hope one of them is the next president of the United States. But I haven’t gotten involved in any of those efforts.”

Clearly, Cheney understands that Fred needs no last or other names, since his fame and reputation are already legend.  After all, he has…delayed the announcement that he will be entering the race until September and basically done none of the work needed to build a campaign organisation.  The Cheney-Fred connection becomes more clear by the day. 

The radio host interviewing Romney in this video, Jan Mickelson, raises some of the same objections to Romney’s “wall of separation” logic that I assumed conservative Christians would be making all along.  Here you have someone who wants to run as a religious conservative, but who won’t talk about his religion, and who explicitly denies that his religion is connected to his candidacy (except insofar as it allows him to portray himself as a “person of faith”).  When Romney endorses Kennedy’s handling of his Catholicism, Mickelson responds: ”the pro-life community here in Iowa call him [Kennedy] a cafeteria Catholic.”  In other words, you aren’t likely to win over religious conservatives by running away from or ignoring your religion (even if it is a religion that said conservatives may not care for).  Romney then goes on to say that he isn’t there to talk about “a religion or the principles of a religion,” but at the same time he wants to trade on the points of agreement that he has with religious, particularly Christian, conservatives, who hold the views on life that they do, at least in part, because of their religious teachings.  Romney wants to make distinctions that make it possible for him to maintain this balance, while the religious conservatives whose votes he needs and whose votes he is presumably trying to win don’t accept the validity of these distinctions.  Indeed, to the extent that they think they are real distinctions and not merely rhetorical dodges, they believe them to be misguided or perfidious.

During one of the ad breaks (while the camera kept rolling), Mickelson says: “I think you’re make a big mistake when you distance yourself from your faith.”  (As it happens, I agree with Mickelson’s point here.)  Part of Romney’s response: “There are Mormons in the leadership of my church who are pro-choice.”  I’m not sure why he feels compelled to mention this, since it clouds the issue for his potential supporters.  If Mormon church teaching permits the possibility of Mormons being pro-choice (and I’d grant that it does), Romney’s fidelity to his Mormonism will hardly reassure pro-life conservatives, since it is no way guarantees that he would remain pro-life as a matter of policy, but his awkward handling of questions pertaining to his religion gives the impression that he doesn’t think it should even be part of the debate.  He could turn this to his advantage by saying, “My church’s teachings do not require me to be politically pro-life, but I have taken this position anyway (or at least made a mildly convincing pander to that effect), so you should look at the political position I have taken and not dwell on what my church does or does not permit.”  That would be the smart way to handle it, but this is not how he handled it.  Instead, he seems offended that people keep talking about his religion.  He continues to give the impression that he finds it embarrassing or unsuitable for public conversation, as if to say, “The public square has nothing religious in it, and that’s the way I’d like to keep it, thanks very much.”

Mickelson catches him on this and, it seems to me, nails him to the wall as far as many religious conservatives are concerned: “When you bifurcate politics from religion, and you have this hermetically-sealed….you make a political category over here and a spiritual one over here.”  Shortly after this, Romney said, “My religion is for me and how I live my life.”  Perhaps that is a view of religion that most Americans share, but it is not a popular one among religious conservatives.

This is great.  In this one rather long YouTube video (via Eric Kleefeld) lie the seeds of doom for Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Update: To clarify, I don’t necessarily think that this one video will wreck his campaign, but watching Romney attempt to square the circle of running as a “person of faith” who doesn’t want to talk about his religion because he isn’t running ”as a Mormon” while saying that his opposition to abortion is a secular position is devastating to the rationale for his candidacy.  Brownback, Huckabee et al. have just had their prayers answered. 

Second Update: This exchange may help to convince people that he is, in fact, a human being who gets frustrated and angry because of criticism rather than a robot or mannequin.  This could help him win more voters who are not strongly opposed to Romney’s Mormonism, but who might find his normal plastic demeanour off-putting.  It is also fascinating to see Romney run up against hard-line strict constructionists and have no idea how to handle their views.  It’s as if he’s never even heard of the idea that judicial review is a usurpation (in fairness to him, he probably never has).

Separately, Rasmussen shows that only 35% of Republican voters think Romney is conservative, and only 54% of Republicans have a favourable view of the man.  Only McCain among the big four has worse fav/unfav numbers.  If Romney were to somehow win the nomination, GOP voters would probably be pretty unenthusiastic about his candidacy.

Update: Kleefeld receives word from Romney’s campaign manager on why the Romney campaign put this video on YouTube:

Because it shows Governor Romney standing his ground and making his case to an interviewer that took him head-on over the issues. He is confident and engaging during a tough inquiry. Folks who have seen the video says it is Governor Romney at his best, so we felt others should have the chance to see it.

This is Romney at his best?  I can’t say that I am surprised to hear that, but I find it curious that his campaign manager would be claiming it.  This episode is potentially very bad for Romney, so it is bizarre that his people would be spreading it around the Web deliberately.

…because every day everything in Iraq is getting better and better

Rich Lowry actually has a moderately interesting article on liberalism and Piereson’s Camelot and the Cultural Revolution:

American history no longer appeared to be a benign process, but a twisted story of rapine and oppression. “With such a bill of indictment,” Piereson writes, “the new liberals now held that Americans had no good reason to feel pride in their country’s past or optimism about its future.”

There are some problems with this interpretation, not least of which is that the liberal acceptance of a narrative of continuing progress did not actually end in November 1963.  The glossing over of Vietnam, as if it were incidental to the changes on the American left, seems inexplicable.  To the extent that Piereson is right that liberalism became less comfortable with a simple narrative of American history as the advance of freedom and goodness (I think Obama’s understanding of American history, shared by plenty on the left and right, proves that this thesis is actually pretty weak), the disillusionment that resulted confirms that it was the previous naively optimistic view that set liberalism up for any so-called Fall.  Only an absurd kind of patriotism makes taking pride in your country a function of its purity and sinlessness (you might call this the “moral proposition nation” view).   Naturally, no such country has existed or ever will exist in this world, and anyone who starts with the assumption that his country is such a pure and untainted one, somehow outside history or beyond the fallen state of man, will either spend his entire life deluded or will see this fantastic illusion destroyed before his eyes sooner or later.  This is a patriotism that inculcates love of an imaginary place, rather than the actual place where you live, and it encourages disappointment with the reality because it continually fails to live up to the high (and unrealistic) standards of the imaginary world.  Having embraced an insubstantial myth, such a person is unprepared to face the complex reality of his country’s history.  If he cannot see his national story as the unfolding of a morality play, he loses interest or becomes alienated from his own country’s past. 

Perversely, and this is where Piereson appears to have gotten the interpretation wrong, the disappointed optimist becomes even more obsessed with the future (which, as we remember from Camus, authorises every kind of humbug) because the past now appears to him as a string of injustices that mar the image of his country.  In the future, there is the possibility of improvement, while the past offers little or nothing.  His patriotism will be one projected towards a future country in which various “ideals” have been realised.  The more that history fails to match mythical fantasies about the past, the more the optimist will abandon more and more of his country’s past as virtually irredeemable (except for those few precursors and seeds of what came later).  Yet the one thing that the optimist will never abandon fully is the madness that is optimism itself.  Like an addict, the optimist becomes progressively more dependent on the destructive drug of optimism even as it steadily ruins his life.  The worse things get, the more that optimism is shown to be a lie, the more the optimist feels compelled to believe in the lie.

As a political and diplomatic stunt, it had all the characteristics we have come to associate with Mr Putin’s presidency. It was clumsy, childish, recklessly confrontational, and at least mildly psychotic. ~David Warren

Given that I have sometimes noted the similarities in the governing styles of Messrs. Putin and Bush, I might be inclined to agree with some of these descriptions, since I think almost all of them fit Mr. Bush perfectly.  Putin does have a tendency to be unduly confrontational.  Unlike Mr. Bush, he is also capable of adjusting and maneuvering that balances and augments his confrontational style.  This is one of the reasons why Russia’s international position has been improving and why Putin is as widely supported as Bush is widely disliked.  But clumsy?  Childish?  Certainly, it was a symbolic move, and one we might associate more with the late 19th century and the Great Game, but it is a huge improvement in subtlety and execution from the incompetent handling of the Kursk disaster.  In a country where our President has been known to offer such gems of wisdom as, “Bring ‘em on,” I find it difficult to declare this action to be childish.  Compared to what?  Rudely imperialistic?  I suppose that would be a fair description.  Most of these others do not apply. 

American foreign policy is broken. It has been broken by people who supported the Iraq War, opposed talking to our adversaries, failed to finish the job with al Qaeda, and alienated the world with our belligerence. ~Samantha Power

Remember that this statement comes in the wake of an Obama speech in which the candidate managed to outrage and, well, alienate a major U.S. allied government by making fairly belligerent noises about “taking the fight” to Pakistani territory. 

Of course, American foreign policy is broken, but it has actually been broken by people who think in very much the same way as the person who said:

In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well.

The Iraq war is the result of thinking of other people’s problems as our own.  The war is the result of mistaking distant, potential threats for approaching, gathering dangers that require immediate action.  It is the result of making foreign policy based on hopes and fantasies, rather than on solid knowledge of the world.  It is the result of audacity.  We do not need any more of this.

Over the last few weeks, Barack Obama has once again taken positions that challenge Washington’s conventional wisdom on foreign policy. And once again, pundits and politicians have leveled charges that are now bankrupt of credibility and devoid of the new ideas that the American people desperately want.

On each point in the last few weeks, Barack Obama has called for a break from a broken way of doing things. On each point, he has brought fresh strategic thinking and common sense that break with the very conventional wisdom that has led us into Iraq. ~Samantha Power

Power’s memo is a clever attempt at damage control, but I don’t think many people will be biting.  On so, so many things, Obama isn’t unconventional, fresh or challening at all–his previous statements on foreign policy before this past week mark him as a ludicrously ambitious interventionist.  Knowing that about him, his statements about “acting” in Pakistan go from appearing careless to appearing rather horrifying. 

In principle, there was nothing wrong with Obama saying that he would meet with leaders of “rogue” states and there was potentially quite a lot right with it, especially when it comes to Syria and Iran.  It was the context in which he gave that answer and the particulars of the answer that made what might otherwise be a refreshing departure from the last six years into an occasion for head-shaking.  The question he was asked was admittedly ridiculous, but he neither challenged the question for being a stupid hypothetical gotcha question nor did he say anything that suggested that he understood the purpose of top-level meetings between heads of government.  He wanted to distinguish the symbolism of an Obama Administration from that of Mr. Bush.  Besides, does any President ever have direct meetings with tinpot dictators, whether friendly or hostile, in his first year?  Generally speaking, no.  There are quite a few more important leaders for him to be meeting at that time.  Then there is the Kennedy precedent.  Bold, brash JFK thought he could stare down Krushchev in Vienna and managed to come off in the eyes of the Soviets as a fool and a pushover.  The next year was the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The good news for Obama is that none of the states he was talking about are anywhere near as powerful or important as the USSR was.  The fallout from a failed Obama-Assad meeting would be minimal.  Then again, this makes prioritising meetings with them seem especially daft.     

Simply saying or doing something rash for the sake of doing something different from what had been done previously is exactly the sort of approach that got us into Iraq.  Obama used to be against doing and saying rash things–now what is rash has been redefined as “unconventional.”  Invasion became a respectable option because there were a great many “unconventional” arguments being made against the containment of Iraq, which was the received wisdom at the time.  A few years ago, foreign policy “realism” was supposedly bankrupt, because the promoters of the war and the ”freedom agenda” said it was.  They represented the new prevailing wisdom.  The Bush Doctrine, though it had its roots in earlier interventionism, represented a fairly significant change.  Not all change is desirable, and sometimes the changes instituted as responses to events are, because they are being made quickly and recklessly, the wrong ones to make. 

That is the sort of thing you will get when you want to be seen as trashing conventional assumptions and have no good ideas with which to replace them.  Obama wants to pitch himself as the “change candidate,” and he claims that his statements reflect the “change” he’s going to bring to government.  The trouble he has is that plenty of us believe that this is the case, and the change he is bringing seems to be mostly for the worse.  Overall, the government would not be less interventionist under Obama, it would actually be less respectful of some of our major allies (if that is even conceivable) in the event that Washington deemed that those allies had “failed to act” inside their own countries to our satisfaction, and the new administration would also seem to be out of its depth in coping with the diplomatic brushfires that it would keep setting. 

There are two principal reasons why Obama’s remarks on Pakistan in particular were wrong.  First, they demonstrated the error of someone who is half-informed, someone who has just enough information (in this case, the new NIE) to be confident in pushing forward into a blunder, as he clearly has little sense of why it is that Pakistan has been unsuccessful so far in suppressing what he calls a “sanctuary.”  Additionally, they show that he believes that the sovereignty of all states, both allied and hostile, should be irrelevant when Washington says that it is.  He has made an argument here that takes for granted that all other governments exist to one degree or another to provide America with security–and why wouldn’t Obama believe that, if he believes that the security of everyone on earth is tied into the security of the United States?  Liberal internationalism of the ’90s wanted a “human rights” exception to state sovereignty, and now Obama has added to this an expansive U.S. security exception, which states that no state is really sovereign and our forces may come and go as they please in any of them if the President deems it appropriate.  Arguably, this is not so much of a change as a continuity with some of the worst aspects of the Cold War, which would make sense for a candidate who continually models himself after JFK.

Power continues:

We should judge presidential candidates on their judgment and their plans, not on their ability to recite platitudes. 
 

Yet that is exactly what almost everyone criticising Obama is doing–they are judging the merits of his proposal and find that proposal to be, well, a bit loopy.  Whether pro-war, antiwar, imperialist or anti-imperialist, most people seem to be in agreement that Obama erred badly.  It is, of course, possible for most people in this country to be wrong, but it does not necessarily follow that Obama is always right because he has a knack of siding with unpopular foreign policy views.  In the past, he took the then-unpopular view of opposing the Iraq war, as I and many others did, and he was right to do so, because the Iraq war was senseless and unjust and ruinous for our interests.  There is a virtue in being able to defy conventional wisdom and establishment assumptions (one wishes that he would challenge more of them, but do so in a less obviously ridiculous way), but rejecting conventional wisdom is one thing and proposing a different, but potentially much more dangerous course is another.  It would have been one thing if Obama had said that current Pakistan policy was unacceptable and that reflexive support for Musharraf was getting us nowhere, but instead of pursuing that kind of criticism in a much smarter direction he chose to offer a re-edited version of the Bush Doctrine.  

Incidentally, Obama’s timing is also fairly terrible–Musharraf has, I think foolishly but also at some risk to himself, resumed the deployment of soldiers to western and northwestern Pakistan in a repeat of the policy that proved so unsuccessful before.  Obama at once ignores an allied government doing something requested of it by Washington (regardless of how misguided that request may be), but he also provides Musharraf with an opportunity to shore up his own position with the administration and so ensure that any of the necessary reforms will be deferred into the future still longer.  Obama has managed to promote a bad Pakistan policy and reinforce the worst elements of the existing one, and all in one week just by giving a speech.  Imagine what he could do in four years as President.      

I suppose I understand why Rep. Tancredo has once again taken the view he has on the retaliatory nuking of Mecca and Medina, but I have to say that it makes no sense to me.  Indeed, I would have to say that it is deeply wrong.  First of all, it doesn’t function as a deterrent to a religious person to say, “If you don’t stop what you’re planning on doing, I will desecrate and destroy what you consider sacred.”  This rather confirms in the mind of the religious man, especially if he is a fanatic already inclined to violence on behalf of his religion, that you have no respect for basic civilised norms.  Whether or not you actually have such respect is beside the point–you will have telegraphed to the world that you are willing to obliterate a place considered holy by one of the major religions in the world.  This makes the probability of devastating terrorist strikes against this country more likely rather than less, because it will convince that many more Muslims that our government is warring against all of them in the most fundamental way.  Should you threaten this, or worse yet carry out your threat in the event that the situation arises to do it, you will have confirmed every worst idea that the fanatic has about you, and you will have won him a thousand sympathisers where before he had ten.  Then there is pesky international law regulating that belligerents show respect for religious sites and make every effort to spare them from being targeted in wartime.  To make the targeting of major religious sites and central shrines of a world religion a standing policy is to say that you don’t think that anything should be off-limits in warfare. 

Before he ran fleeing to hide behind Samantha Power’s skirt and declare his bold unconventionality, Obama had briefly grasped that using the strategic equivalent of a sledgehammer for a job better suited to a needle was foolish.  There ought to be some things that we are not going to do.  Nuking the Islamic holy sites and killing hundreds of thousands of people seem to fall into that category of things we ought not to do.         

This may have already occurred to everyone, but what was the casting director thinking in putting James McAvoy in the male lead in Becoming Jane?  His most recent and famous screen credit is as the lascivious Scottish doctor to Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.  This isn’t to belittle McAvoy, who did a brilliant job in a central role in what was one of the truly superior films of last year, but it is to ask a question: do Jane Austenites want Nicholas Garrigan as their heroine’s Mr. Darcy? 

(And, yes, I understand that actors by definition pretend to be other people all the time and can play a wide variety of roles, but it still seems strange.)

None of the responders [bold mine-DL] has specifically denied that the administration has been making more moderate appointments (except for valid objections regarding Negroponte’s role in Honduras, which, I agree, was anything but moderate, although in his current incarnation he has been fighting the Cheneyites). Nor do they deny that the State Department’s policies in Asia and on Iran, as well as Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates’ efforts to close Guantanamo, are policies that Democrats have been advocating for some time. The seeming inability to recognize these facts reflects a destructive partisanship that makes it almost impossible to give the other side credit for anything — and that demonizes party members (on the right and the left) who dare to break that taboo. ~Ann-Marie Slaughter

Perhaps Dean Slaughter makes the first claim because she is talking about responses from the left, and I am not on the left, so I suppose my fairly specific answers to her claim that Gates, Negroponte and Zoellick are “seasoned moderates” don’t count.  From my perspective, a fervent advocate of the Doha round of free trade talks is by definition not a moderate in his political and economic views.  His views may be conventional, but just because something is common in the establishment doesn’t necessarily make it politically moderate.   She has a point that Gates and Negroponte have been less baleful influences in their current positions, but this is to define “moderation” as the virtue of being only slightly more sane than Dick Cheney.  Saying that they are “more moderate” means that they appear more moderate when compared to, say, John Bolton or Feith, which does not necessarily make them moderates as such. 

If no one denies that the new State Department initiatives are moves towards what have been Democratic positions, how has anyone shown an inability to recognise these realities?  Her claim about these initiatives in foreign policy did not strike me as controversial, but once again it was defined poorly–it was not an example of reaching across the aisle, but one of intra-Republican policy struggles between the “realists” around Rice and the “Cheneyites” as Slaughter dubs them.  I cannot speak for anyone else, but my criticism focused on the rather bizarre definition of partisanship that Slaughter used throughout the first op-ed.  That is, after all, what most of the article was about: complaining, as the title would suggest, that partisanship was out of control and was poisoning our politics. 

Yet every example she gave was not an example of runaway partisanship, but sharp divisions within both parties over foreign policy.  Progressive criticism of the DLC is not primarily that it is excessively bipartisan, but that the policies it supports are bad and destructive policies, especially in international relations (these happen to be policies endorsed by a majority of the GOP, but their association with the other party is not the main reason why many of these critics find such policies terrible).  Likewise, Lind’s criticism of Daalder et al. was not that they were collaborating with Republicans, but that they embraced the toxic ideas of “liberal hegemonism” and “democratic imperialism” that were, according to Lind, giving liberal internationalism a bad name.  For daring to disagree with other members of their own party, several individuals merited Slaughter’s scorn for their “partisanship,” when, as Yglesias pointed out at the time, their intra-party feuding was a sign of a lack of partisan loyalty and a refusal to suppress disagreements for the sake of party unity. 

In each case, the “partisan” was reacting against a policy decision or argument or position that he thought was foolish and dangerous; whether or not it involved a move towards or away from the other party actually was a distant secondary or perhaps tertiary concern.  Those named in the op-ed otherwise had nothing in common: Bolton and Wurmser on one side represented ueber-hawks in the GOP that have been losing some strength in the administration, while Smith and Lind represented what might reasonably be called the progressive and moderate liberal critiques of the Democratic foreign policy establishment’s complicity in Bush Era foreign policy disasters.  The same process is going on in both parties, though it is less thoroughgoing in the GOP: irresponsible, incompetent and belligerent foreign policymakers are feeling a backlash from their opponents within both parties and are being marginalised as relatively more sane ideas begin to prevail.  The GOP “partisans” she cites are, for the moment, on the losing side of this battle in their party, while the Democratic “partisans” she cites are the ones attacking the irresponsible “centrists” who did enable the architects of the Iraq war and who advocate for an equally dangerous foreign policy direction in the future.  This does not mean that administration policy c. 2007 has become “moderate” or even really very bipartisan (Joe Lieberman working with the White House does not count), but simply that it has become less appalling than it was in 2006. 

In the course of a generally awful article, Byron York makes one claim that seems worth talking about:

But Reid and Pelosi lose if Bush wins. Given the position they have staked out for themselves, the best possible outcome is for Gen. David Petraeus to give a downbeat report on the surge when he comes before Congress in September. That would give tremendous momentum to those who want the quickest possible U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Perhaps this is the thinking in Washington.  Perhaps this is what the Democrats themselves believe.  Clearly, it is what York thinks will happen.  In any case, it is wrong.  A “downbeat report” on the “surge” by Petraeus and Crocker will not give momentum to supporters of withdrawal.  By the crazy logic of the ”centrist”, ISG-loving consensus developing in both parties now, a “downbeat report” on the “surge” will encourage most members of Congress to continue to support the war, but probably on the condition of changing the deployment inside Iraq.  Lugar/Warner will be up, McLieberman will be down, but support for withdrawal will continue to be found among a minority of the Democrats and hardly any Republicans. 

A “downbeat report” will mean that the security situation in Iraq is worse than “surge” backers have been claiming throughout the year (not that this will make them stop talking about how the next new plan will succeed and should be given plenty of time, etc.) and that Iraq is therefore not substantially closer to being capable of providing for its own internal security.  Since the ISG-lovers of the Lugar/Warner/Levin persuasion believe that leaving Iraq without such a capability would be “irresponsible,” they might very well push for yet another change in tactics but would become even more adamant in rejecting arguments for withdrawal.  Thus this foreign policy “centrism” guarantees that the more ineffective the current plan is, the more essential it will be to remain in Iraq until the right plan is found, which means that the war will never end.  It’s a strange concept, but one essential to understanding the idiocy of our rulers: continuing wars no matter what is the wise and prudent course, and ending them (even when they cannot be won) is dangerous.

Of course, the proper pro-withdrawal argument is that there is no “right plan” because the political track in Iraq is hopelessly paralysed and useless, so there is nothing significant that even marginal improvements in security and security training will change.  The “surge” may be ameliorating some of the symptoms of Iraq’s political ruin, but it cannot solve them, and it cannot on its own overcome the levels of violence that continue to wreck that country.  The pro-withdrawal argument is that we should come home because nothing more can profitably be done at acceptable cost to the United States.  To call this betting on failure, as York does repeatedly, is a typical misrepresentation.  For these pro-war people, American soldiers really are just chits to be thrown on a gaming table, except that, unlike in gambling, you cannot win any of your losses back.  Like a gambling addict, the dedicated war supporter will never step away from this hated table, because for this obsessive to cut his losses and stop before he loses even more is to admit failure, when failure has already been staring him in the face for a very long time. 

What is most interesting about this article is not what it says, but who is saying it. If a conservative were to write such an article, the skeptics most assuredly would immediately dismiss it as repeating White House talking points. But the fact that two severe critics of the Bush administration’s management of the war — from a think tank usually described as liberal to boot — have published such a piece in the New York Times of all places might, under normal circumstances, give opponents of the war pause. ~Mackubin Thomas Owens

Via Dan McCarthy

For those whose memories do not stretch back to that distant year of 2002, I would offer the reminder that The New York Times endorsed the invasion and its news division was one of the worst offenders in pushing government talking points as the reporting of facts about the real world.  You could quite reasonably lay a significant part of the blame for the media’s complicity in the build-up to the invasion at the door of the NYT.  With their editors having finally come out for a pro-withdrawal position over four years after the war began, the NYT is supposed to be taken as a redoubt of intense antiwar conviction.  Yeah, and Chuck Hagel is antiwar.  Tell me another one. 

Meanwhile, Brookings, which is one of the most ”centrist” of all establishment ”centrist” think tanks, is supposed to be taken as some woolly left-wing outfit, and the participation of O’Hanlon and Pollack–who have never ceased being war supporters–is supposed to impress us. 

War opponents are supposed to feel thunderstruck by the revelation that these two war supporters still hold the same basic position that they have held for years (pro-war, the war can still be won and it is absolutely vital to win it).  In one sense, I do feel a little shocked that there are still people who support the war with any of the same intensity as before, but that is not what Owens means.  Of course, criticism of the management of the war is something for which Sen. McCain, one of this NRO symposium’s participants, is quite well-known.  Criticising the management of a disastrously mismanaged war makes you no more of an opponent of the war than is a Sam Brownback or John Warner, and it actually predisposes you towards overvaluing evidence of improvement in the situation, no matter how slight it may be. 

Of course, John Warner is one of those Republican Senators with an impeccable “pro-military” record and a long tenure on the Foreign Relations Committee who has now signed on with Lugar, Domenici, et al. in saying that the “surge” is not working and that the political process in Iraq is more or less hopeless.  (On this latter point, you will find few dissenting voices.)  When solidly internationalist Republicans say these things, they are just as readily dismissed as O’Hanlon and Pollack’s remarks are uncritically embraced, because those Republicans are saying the “wrong” things as far as a pro-war audience is concerned.  These are the Republicans who are, in Owens’ estimation, “enabling” a defeat that would otherwise not happen.  Of course, if things were actually going so swimmingly, you would likely not have a stampede of these old GOP warhorses towards redeployment and declaring Iraq policy to be in need of significant change.

Finally, as Djerejian has shown to devastating effect, O’Hanlon and Pollack seem to have had a much less positive view of the situation in Iraq as recently as June in O’Hanlon’s case, and many of the descriptions in the op-ed do not seem to agree with a lot of the rest of the evidence.

At Cliopatria, Ralph Luker points to a fine post by one of our fellow Cliopatria colleagues, Manan Ahmed.  He and I seem to be on the same page regarding Obama’s recent speech at the Wilson Center and what it means for his foreign policy.  We are also mostly in agreement about Pakistan policy, or at least we are in agreement that invading Pakistan in the event that the government there “fails” to act is crazy and dangerous.  Obama likes to get a lot of mileage out of his pose as a sober-minded realist, someone who doesn’t oppose all wars, but only “rash” and “dumb” ones.  What label does he think applies to his proposed “action” in western Pakistan?   

One part of the post stood out for me as being perhaps the most important:

This national discourse comes from a deep Orientalism that has been a staple of our political lives prior to and since that “bright and beautiful Tuesday morning”. It is what enables us to question the sanity and the patriotism of anyone who dares raise the long history of American involvement across the globe as a contributing factor. It enables us to collapse real geographies from Leeds and Glasgow to Karachi and Islamabad into “wind-swept deserts and cave-dotted mountains”.

I would add one thing to this: it is not only an illusion of an undifferentiated other that confuses American thinking, but an overwhelming sense that “we” can never have contributed to anything that has ever happened to ”us.”  Not only can you not “blame America first,” you are not really supposed to blame America at all, because the nationalist story tells us that “we” as a nation are never really to blame.  This is the story we have told ourselves long before “we” ventured into the Near East or gave much of a thought to the Islamic world.  “We” are always provoked, pushed too far, attacked, insulted, forced into a fight that “we” did not want, etc.  Even though the U.S. declared war on Britain first in 1812 and invaded Canada, it is remembered and still taught as a response to provocations (never mind that the most keen War Hawks had little stake in the “free trade and sailors’ rights” of war slogan fame and wanted to grab land).  The invasion of Mexico was cast in the same light, and was more plainly a land grab.  The Spanish War, the Philippine War, and even American participation in WWI fit the pattern of the government launching or entering wars that were quite unnecessary (and, in the case of WWI, opposed by a huge majority of Americans).  Despite what might appear to the outside observer to be a record of a number of poorly justified invasions of other states, the memory is one of being bullied, put upon, victimised and threatened.  Someone is always forcing our hand, and there is always the constant lament: “Why are you people doing this to us?”  We then provide our own answer when the answers that other people give us are unsatisfactory, because the latter are unflattering and unwelcome.  Our answer is that They are essentially and in all ways opposed to our very existence, because nothing else could explain hostility to those as beneficent as “we” are.  Delusions about who “we” were and are combine with fantasies about “them” and produce the reliable consensus across most of the political spectrum that gives the same shallow, ill-considered answers to problems of diverse kinds.  Thus, “if Hussein does not act, we will” can be easily replaced with “if Musharraf does not act, we will.”  The political class in this country always speaks to other governments in what you might call the conditional of hegemony: your country’s sovereignty, or perhaps even its existence, is dependent on the degree of your subservience, and failure to comply will merit you the label of “anti-American” or “rogue” or both.

Then again, an even more important part may be this:

Why are we, four years after our indefensible invasion of Iraq and nearly six years after the attack on us, still unable to comprehend our enemies as capable, rational, modern agents?

It is reassuring to some, I suppose, when we do not allow our enemies to be fully rational or modern.  This is also an element of what Kuehnelt-Leddihn called nostrism.  It confirms in the minds of everyone in this country that, regardless of how misguided or clumsy or destructive our government’s policies may be, we will always retain this sense of superior rationality and modernity.  It is even better if we can claim that the enemy is from another time all together, people who are “from the seventh century,” when a part of the problem is, surely, that they are very much from our own time.  It is this need to cast the enemy as the embodiment of irrationality that leads to the ridiciulous overuse of the word fascist, since the labeling of others as fascist is the fast-track to denying them rationality and sanity.  Those who read history as one long march towards inevitable victory for their politics will necessarily see adversaries as throwbacks who will, must, end up on the “ash-heap of history” with the empire serving the function of progressive chimney-sweep.  Such people take no interest in the details of this other world they oppose, because they are bound to see these details as little more than curiosities and quirks of a system or civilisation that they assume is already doomed to fall.  

Poulos expertly sums up the problems with the “Kurdish option” here.  We seem to be in complete agreement.  I strongly recommend it to you all.

But if Barack is talking about sending U.S. ground forces into Waziristan or Baluchistan, why would this not leave us in another mess like Iraq, with the U.S. Army bleeding and no way out? Would not Osama bin Laden rejoice in a border crossing by U.S. troops into Pakistan, enraging the Pakistani nationalists as well as the border tribes?

After half a decade of fighting in the Islamic world, has not the lesson sunk in with the hawks of both parties? U.S. troops in an Arab or Muslim country are more likely to create an insurgency than quell one. ~Pat Buchanan

Quite right.  This confirms my sense that Obama has taken this position because he was guessing that it is the position he needs to take to appear “serious” in the eyes of the media and the public.  He never gave much thought to what it might involve to do the things he has proposed, what the consequences might be and whether it had any realistic chance of succeeding.  Presented with hard and difficult realities, Obama retreats to the optimist’s dodge: “Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”  Well, no, but if something has a low chance  of success and significant costs, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there may be a better alternative.  Hope, as they say, is not a strategy–unless your name is Bush…or Obama.  

A great one for trumpeting his own prescience in 2002-03 when he happened to be right about Iraq, he seems now to demonstrate none of the same caution, deliberation or intelligence that I thought informed his views about that invasion then.  Someone must be telling him that he has to overcome the perception that he is some wobbly, wimpy dove and has to appear strong and decisive and supportive of military action, which is strange because Mark Penn is already employed by someone else.

Let’s just say that Obama has been having a bad time of courting the desi vote this year, but at least he’s been evenhanded about it–Indian- and Pakistani-Americans have some reason to dislike him now.  Put Obama in the White House, and the Kashmir question might be resolved out of sheer solidarity against the blowhard American.  Okay, maybe not. 

The latest from South Asia suggests that any Obama Administration would have to spend its first hundred days (and probably more than that) fixing the damaged relations that Candidate Obama frayed along the campaign trail.  Candidate Bush was actually not this sloppy, but then that was because he let other people do all the thinking for him that time around.  He basically said little that was controversial about any specific country–the most controversial statements he made about specific countries related to the ones whose names and presidents he did not know (remember his crack from way back about ”good relations with the Grecians”?).  Haven’t we had enough of Presidents who cavalierly alienate other nations with sloppy and careless phrases designed for domestic consumption?  I eagerly await Obama’s “axis of quiet violence” speech.   

Goodness knows I should probably be going to sleep now to get ready to recite the life story of Sayat Nova bil arabiyya (Kaan ya makaan sha’ir ismuhoo Harutyun Sayatyan…), but I am fascinated–and gratified–by Obama’s flailing.  No one of Obama’s gaffes, errors or foolish statements would have been that damaging to his campaign at this point, and even all of them together are not fatal, but they are a series of political wounds–all of them self-inflicted–that threaten to bleed Obama of momentum, time and resources as he has to battle back against his own ineptitude.  The harder he fights to catch up to where he was before these errors, the more likely he will again overreach or misjudge a question or fire off a foolish speech.  Hillary and Edwards are laughing all the way to New Hampshire, and suddenly Richardson’s preposterous role as the “candidate of experience and foreign policy expertise” becomes much more relevant, as he becomes the logical replacement among the top three.  Richardson does not deserve this; he is, as my last column said, ridiculous and incompetent, but Obama’s confusion is his gain.  I assume resistance to another Clinton is strong enough in the party that an anti-Clinton candidate will win.  Obama was supposed to be in the process of becoming that candidate.  Perhaps this is the beginning of the unraveling of his campaign and the rise of the eventual non-Clinton nominee. 

Jim Antle has a good article that recaps and discusses Obama’s week of foreign policy follies.  Meanwhile, Jim’s AmSpec colleague and my Scene colleague, James Poulos, has an interesting post on Obama’s nuke-talk.  It appears, however, that Obama’s latest statements have put a damper on James’ predicted ‘08 showdown.

ChroniclesMagazine.org is having their fundraising drive.  Support the outstanding work they do there and help cover up Frum’s face.

I have to apologise for the delay in getting this up, since it has been available for several days.  Tom Piatak, who also often writes for Chronicles, has a superb, devastating review of Hitchens’ God Is Not Great.  If you haven’t already done so, you should read it. 

Obama waves a sabre in Pakistan’s direction, which is hardly the first time that he has sought to portray himself as more belligerent than the warmongers, further proving that he isn’t fit to sit in on National Security Council meetings, much less be the President.  I think Obama is pushing exactly the wrong line here, threatening to effectively destabilise the existing regime without having any idea of what would come next.  This is a combination of soundbite foreign policy and a “pour oil on fire to see what happens” approach to international relations.  Obama’s foreign policy position is beginning to give me an eerie feeling of deja vu.  Who was the last presidential candidate with no real foreign policy experience who set his policies according to whatever was perceived to be the opposite of the sitting President?  Who was it who framed his foreign policy pitch as that of someone who would provide leadership and measured action where his predecessor had dithered and wasted opportunities?  Oh, yes, it was Mr. Bush.  At the time, it sounded reasonably attractive to those of us fed up with Clintonian interventions.  If Bush’s “humble” foreign policy yielded Iraq, just imagine the nightmare that might come from a candidacy founded on audacity! 

My next column is on Pakistan, so I will say no more now about the specifics of the situation there, but suffice it to say that I think Obama’s statement is part of the problem with the Pakistan policy debate in this country.

Update: Obama’s full speech does not offer many reassurances.  For instance, there is this wowzer:

And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism.

Counterinsurgency in tribal regions and law enforcement against jihadis will be aided by F-16s?  He must be joking. Clearly, I read this one too quickly.