Eunomia · Near East

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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.

You might call me a pessimist on the glory of democratic Kurdistan.  Therefore, I am not exactly won over by this sort of talk:

If we rescue Kurdistan, moreover, it does retrieve a sliver of the original hope.

They will be free of Saddam; they will be a Muslim democracy deeply grateful to the United States; they will be a Sunni society that is not hostile to the West; their economy could boom; their freedoms could flourish further. The Turks and the Kurds can become an arc of hope for some Persians who want to live in a free society and lack an obvious regional role model [bold mine-DL]. I fear, alas, that Arab culture is simply immune to modern democratic norms - at least for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discourage democrats or liberals [ed.–so we should discourage them?]; but that we should have no illusions about their viability in Arab society. Mercifully, the Middle East is not all Arab dysfunction. The Turks, the Jews, the Kurds and the Persians offer much hope.

Note that Kurdistan is apparently in need of “rescuing.”  From whom?  Oh, yes, the Turks.  But not just the Turks–it is apparently in need of rescue from its own regional overlords.  That makes all this talk about rescuing Kurdistan seem a bit bizarre–if we must rescue Kurdistan from both Turk and Kurd, the “rescue” mission would appear to be as futile and senseless as the “model of transformation” theory.  The statement quoted above is also riddled with the subjunctive, ever the mood of the optimist: these things might happen and it could lead to something better.  Well, okay, there are always many different possibilities, but are any of these proposed outcomes likely?  Optimists are great ones to talk about possibilities, but seem decidedly less curious about finding out which ones are more probable than others.  Supposing that Turks and Kurds can somehow “work it out” and the massing Turkish forces on the northern Iraqi border are just out for a summer hike, isn’t Turkey (at least according to its boosters) already supposedly something like a “regional role model”?  Wasn’t the point of democratising Iraq that it was a predominantly Arab country and would therefore be a beacon (or whatever they were calling it back then) to reformers in other Arab states?  Wasn’t Turkey considered less suitable as a model for reform because Arabs and other non-Turks remembered with some resentment the Ottoman yoke?  Since we’re pretending that Turkey is some sort of free society–unless you want to, you know, speak freely–I suppose we can also pretend that these previous objections never mattered, and that the rest of the region will take inspiration from Turks (whom the other nations dislike or resent) and the Kurds (whom most of the other nations look down on).  Let the rescue begin! 

Additionally, this is a fascinating distinction between Arabs and everybody else, and it is as close to full-on essentialism as I think I have ever seen Sullivan endorse.  (Ross is appropriately skeptical of the promise of the Kurdish Eden.)  I see that Sullivan is talking about “Arab culture,” but he speaks about “Arab culture” as if it were somehow so thoroughly different from the cultures of other Near Eastern peoples as to have no meaningful relationship with them.  Especially when it comes to other largely Muslim nations, this distinction becomes even more tenuous.  What is there about Kurds that makes their culture more amenable to liberal democracy than Arab culture?  The differences are not as great as one might suppose.  It is easy to see why. 

The Kurds’ ”stateless” existence has meant that they, perhaps more than others that have had a national state(s) of their own, have melded and adopted more cultural norms of their neighbours than others.  This is also not simply a question of shared culture among Muslims, but of shared culture among all peoples of the Near East and eastern Mediterranean.  The distinctions between the different nations should certainly not and really cannot be overlooked, but Western observers’ rediscovered confidence in understanding the importance of ethnicity in foreign affairs has become a bit overzealous.  The trouble with Arab culture, as Sullivan seems to be telling it, is that it is the product of Arabs, and there’s simply nothing to be done with Arabs.  The Kurds, on the other hand, well, these are people you can work with….It doesn’t actually make a lot of sense.  Are the structures of Kurdish social and family life so radically different from those of their neighbours that they are not likely to suffer from all of the same political pathologies?  

In the past, certain optimists believed that some of the biggest problems in the Near East were a lack of democracy and the absence of a robust civil society.  Fix those problems, and things would begin going the right way–the region would be transformed!  Now other optimists (haven’t we learned by now to stop being optimistic?) wish to tell us about the Kurdish (or Turkish or “Persian”) exception to the Near Eastern rule.  It turns out, they tell us, that the Near Eastern rule is actually just an Arab rule.  Even though the new proposed “arc of hope” does absolutely nothing to address the original “swamp” question that encouraged all of the original nonsense, and even though it means that the roots of the problem are even deeper and even less easily remedied, if they can be at all, this is supposed to be some consolation.

Sullivan ends his post with a rationale for his position:

It seems to me we should be investing in those places that have a chance, rather than further antagonizing those regions that have yet to develop any politics but violence, paranoia and graft.

Well, all right, but by that standard–at least according to some the latest evidence from Kurdistan–we should be clearing out of Kurdistan.  Indeed, using that standard, we should be investing our resources more heavily in Chile and Thailand than we put into in any country between the Tauros and the Hindu Kush. 

This clan power is one of the main reasons why western democracy does not transplant into Arab societies. They are different. We have seen what has happened in Iraq, where the division between Shia and Sunni Muslim is also hugely important. But even in peaceful, relatively civilised Jordan, attempts to encourage political parties have largely failed because they keep splitting into smaller and smaller units, generally clan based. A Muslim Arab almost always owes far greater loyalty to his cousins than he does to any party or government. ~Peter Hitchens

Tony Blair’s hard line on Iraq alienated three Roman Catholics who worked for him in Downing Street. All three, who were experts in foreign affairs, were deeply worried by what they saw as the rush to war in 2003, The Independent has learnt. ~The Independent

There is something strangely depressing about this news.  It is somehow less surprising that the unreflective and incurious Mr. Bush went ahead with the invasion of Iraq, when he was surrounded by either secular careerists or fellow evangelicals with no great grounding in ideas derived from the thought of the Fathers, and further encouraged by Catholic neoconservatives who provided the moral and intellectual fig leafs to assuage any doubts.  Likewise, while it seemed to be especially misguided that the then-head of the Union in Germany, Angela Merkel, backed the war despite the Vatican’s clear objections to the conflict, Merkel’s own East German Protestant background made some sense of her indifference to these objections.  There is something a bit more disturbing about Blair, who should hardly have been entirely ignorant of or completely indifferent to the words of Pope John Paul II or then-Cardinal Ratzinger on these matters given the background of his wife, the upbringing of his children and so on, and who had the advice of such skeptical Catholic foreign policy experts, nonetheless leading the way for the invasion.  It is no less disturbing that he is now apparently coming to Rome as if it were the most normal thing, while an aggressive war that he has helped to wage has been destroying the Catholic and other Christian communities of Iraq.  (There was also his endorsement of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon last year, which is another post in its own right.)  See, for instance, the fate of Fr. Ragheed Ganni and three of his deacons, who were slain in Mosul by Muslims.  Their story is described by Pat Buchanan and discussed in multiple posts by Andrea Kirk Assaf.  There you can learn more about one episode of the new Christian martyrs of Iraq.  The blood of martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church, but there is something just a little unseemly about a man who has helped to unleash the slaughter against his Christian brethren convert to a given confession when he is at least indrectly responsible for inflicting suffering and martyrdom on that confession’s members.  It would be almost as bizarre as Bill Clinton becoming Orthodox. 

[T]he cheapest date in Washington for sleazy foreign agents posing as US citizens… ~George Ajjan on Liz Cheney

George has a great post on the leader of a “Syrian” opposition group, Farid Ghadry.  The great tradition of Likudniks and neocons collaborating with Near Eastern con-men continues unbroken, and I think we can expect that tradition to continue for some time to come.

What angers Kurds is the squandered leverage. Instead of demanding rule-of-law, the White House has subordinated democracy to stability not only in Baghdad and Basra, but in Iraqi Kurdistan as well. Rather than create a model democracy, the Iraqi Kurds have replicated the governing systems of Egypt, Tunisia or, perhaps even Syria. ~Kamal Said Qadir

Via Sullivan

It will undoubtedly shock Wolfowitz, Christopher Hitchens, Peretz and the rest of the pro-Kurdish set, but whatever Kurdish democratic political development that did take place had been taking place under highly artificial conditions and is now beginning to revert back to a regional norm.  There were probably a few things that Washington could have done differently to oppose these developments, but the Kurds cannot have it both ways: they do not get the full credit for having allegedly created a successful, prospering, self-governing region unless they are also accountable when their government degenerates into a ramshackle despotism.  Kurdistan seems to be experiencing the problems that all newly-formed quasi-democratic developing states (or, in this case, statelets) experience, and it seems to be falling into a regional pattern where the entrenched parties and their militias want to make sure that they retain all of the power that they have right now.  

Qadir also writes:

Because Iraqi Kurdistan lacks a constitution, Barzani and other senior political leaders can exercise unchecked, arbitrary power. The absence of accountability and a free press has enabled corruption, abuse, and mismanagement to increase.

Is it any wonder that two armed factions in a territory ruled only by them do not submit themselves to any legal or institutional authority?  Is it any wonder that the territory they rule is a haven for criminals and terrorists?  The attacks on Turkish targets by the PKK based in Iraqi Kurdistan are not unrelated to the political corruption of the other Kurdish parties.

Least surprising is that nepotism is widespread.  This is the Near East we’re talking about.  Nepotism is going to be a standard feature of any society in which the extended family and/or tribe plays a significant social role.  The idea that you would cut off your cousin or your brother-in-law from the plum assignments that you are capable of handing out to people , whether in government or business, probably strikes someone from a traditional Near Eastern or Mediterranean society as virtually insane.  Someone will object that it is not as useful to prefer people based on relation rather than merit, which is irrelevant to people who have no strong loyalties to institutions or abstract ideas of “the nation.”  ”Nepotists” are not interested in creating the best institutions or the greatest productivity–they are looking to make sure that their people reap the rewards of power and influence.  This is actually the common, normal way of doing things–meritocracy is a fairly rare and actually counterintuitive way of organising and managing things.  It involves many strange and admirably naive ideas about fairness.  It is something that has to be learned and reinforced on a regular basis, because the normal instinct is to make arrangements to provide for your blood relations and their families.  In a society where the bonds of social trust are weak, you don’t want the “best man” for the job–you want “your man” for the job, so that you know it is in the hands of someone you can rely on, because he has social and marital ties to your family.  Why would you want to give preferment to someone from another extended family unless he is first bound to you as part of your family? 

Qadir also notes:

Abuse of power is one of the main characteristics of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s administration. Iraqi Kurds speak often of arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearances.

And again:

Illegal treatment is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception in the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s detention centers. Disappearances remain rife.

And again:

Torture is common. Ali Bapir, the head of the Islamic Group, told Hawlati, the region’s other independent newspaper, that Kurdish security forces have crippled several dozen detainees in prison during torture sessions.

It’s a good thing Americans have gone to the trouble to “liberate” the Kurds from the oppressive master in Baghdad.  An oppressive master in Sulaimaniya is much better. 

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to support any Turkish military incursion in Iraq against Kurdish rebel bases there after a deadly suicide bombing in Ankara blamed on the militants.  

Upping the pressure on its southern neighbour, Ankara urged Baghdad Thursday to act against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) holed up in in northern Iraq.

“We expect urgent and resolute measures,” foreign ministry spokesman Levent Bilman told reporters shortly after reports of more violence with a landmine explosion attributed to the PKK killing six soldiers in the southeast.

Erdogan said late Wednesday his government would secure parliamentary authorisation if the army sought to conduct a cross-border operation targeting PKK bases.

“It is out of the question for us to disagree on this issue with our… soldiers,” he told the private ATV network. “When the time comes, we will take the necessary step, there will be no delay.” ~AFP

During the war in Lebanon last summer, I and others had remarked on the rather stark contradiction between the standard pro-Israel propaganda about opposition to “a state within a state” in Lebanon and the complete indifference of Washington and pundits to the “state within a state” in northern Iraq.  These “states within a state” both promote and shelter insurgent groups that commit acts of terrorism against U.S.-allied states, but apparently some terrorists are less objectionable than others.

Frankly, I do admire Romney’s consistency, it shows professionalism - some candidates don’t even know what talking points their campaigns communicate. However, I’d like to hear Romney’s view on the fact that democratic elections in the Middle East in the past few years have quite legally, and under US-sanctioned balloting, increased the political clout of Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine), and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt). ~George Ajjan

This was a point I didn’t get to in the post where I united two of my favourite hobbyhorses (bashing Romney, mocking people who talk about Islamofascism).  Now I can add two more of my preoccupations to the mix: questioning the wisdom of democratisation in the Near East and rejecting optimism. 

There are three consistent positions one can take on the question of democratisation:

1) Democratisation is good for the peoples of the Near East and is naturally bound to create a more pro-Western, pro-American, pro-Israel Near East (see Turkey for why this one is wrong).

2) Democratisation is probably bad for American and Israeli interests, but must be pursued for the long-term development, security and sanity of the region.  See interwar Europe, Latin America at almost any time in the last 200 years or modern Africa as counter-examples of the rather terrible results when fragile developing democracies are created in inhospitable times and climes, whether they are being established in badly tribally, ethnically or religiously-divided nations or in nations with insufficient experience with the norms and practices of democratic governance.

3) Democratisation is an inherently destabilising and all-around bad idea that is both inappropriate to the nations of the Near East now and for the foreseeable future and fundamentally dangerous to international security.  In this view, the “global democratic revolution” may even be potentially far more dangerous to the peace of the world than global communism.

Naturally, Republican elites, including Romney, have generally endorsed #1 and have been gradually moving towards #2 as they have begun to count the costs and have been forced to acknowledge that nothing pro-American is emerging in the democratic or quasi-democratic regimes arising in the region.  Those Republicans who once endorsed #1 and have since thrown up their hands in despair do not usually move over to #3, but very frequently retain their powerful faith in democracy as an engine of peace, freedom and development (looking over the hideous history of the most democratic century in history, I really have no idea why they think this).  They are incapable of doubting the virtues of democracy and soon adopt a fourth position, which might be called the Ralph Peters view or the “damn ingrates” position: democratisation in the Near East was a fine and noble idea, and we are fine and noble people for trying to implement it, but those stupid Arabs just couldn’t get their act together, so let’s just kill as many as we can.  This is sometimes hard to distinguish from the advocates of the #1 position, since the #1 folks also tend to be very vocal about killing as many Arabs as possible (see Ledeen and “crappy little country”-against-wall-throwing approach to foreign policy or Rice and “birth pangs of a new Middle East”).  It is amazing to watch the transformation of some of these unbounded optimists, who were not long ago preaching the universality of human dignity, into the most cynically monstrous of amoralists, who now believe that the Iraqis failed us, because they weren’t able to pick up on the fly in a war zone something that takes hundreds of years to nurture, cultivate and developThis is a powerful confirmation of the potential evils of optimism: no one is more savage and cruel than an optimist disappointed by the people he was going to save through his naive idealism.

Coming back to Romney, it is intriguing that he at once takes the far-out confrontational posture of a “Gathering Storm” Santorum vis-a-vis Iran, while at the same time listing the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the general jihadi foe that must be fought.  That ends up putting Romney in the odd position of defending the Syrian government as a “moderate Muslim government” as he breathes in, and then implicitly damning them by targeting Hizbullah as another part of the jihadi foe as he breathes out.  Even though the Syrians oppose one part of the ”worldwide jihadist effort” in repressing the Brotherhood, we will no doubt be told that they are also part of the “worldwide jihadist effort” because they lend support to Hizbullah, which tends to show just how useless and unwise this sort of rhetoric about a “worldwide jihadist effort” really is.  It is safe to say that anyone who thinks that there is a “worldwide jihadist effort” that includes both the Brotherhood and Hizbullah working for the same goals is playing directly into the hands of those, such as al Qaeda, who want nothing more than to convince as many Sunnis as possible that Washington is intent on indiscriminate war against Muslims everywhere.  Nothing better aids jihadi propaganda that presents them as champions of an Islam besieged all over the world than clumsy, ham-fisted descriptions of a “worldwide jihadist effort” that validates the jihadis’ own description of the nature of the war.  Romney wants us to play the jihadis’ game, and in this he is hardly alone on the right–shouldn’t someone be asking why Romney wants to fight the war on the enemy’s terms?  

Rather than exploiting the cleavages that exist between different kinds of Muslims and different groups of jihadis, as a savvy George Kennan-like foreign policy thinker might propose, the insane plan of leading Republican candidates and the party leadership is to keep reinforcing the image of a monolithic, unified “worldwide jihadist effort.”  The net result of this thinking will be that America will have that many more implacable enemies to fight and we will have missed that many more opportunities to turn jihadi against jihadi and use natural Baathist hostility to the same to our advantage.  Rather than playing on national and sectarian divisions and exploiting opposition between relatively secular Muslims and their religious counterparts, talk of a “worldwide jihadist effort” helps to push these groups into collaboration where none existed before.  Of course, having created this collaboration, it will then be taken as proof by these same clever people that these groups were “inevitably” going to ally with one another because of their fundamental agreement with one another.   

Saniora criticized the Israeli report for failing to address the destruction, estimated at more than $5 billion, inflicted on Lebanon by the IAF and naval bombardment as well as the ground incursion during the war.

The report on the “unjust war… did not make a single mention of the massive material, human losses and destruction Israel inflicted on Lebanon,” Saniora said. ~The Jerusalem Post

Helal enjoys working with Rice. He appreciates her interest in hearing all points of view on a given subject and her understanding of the details. When I ask him what he makes of the words he often translates for her, like “freedom” and “democracy,” he is polite, but wary. “I cannot imagine that you can go anywhere in the world and ask people, ‘Do you want to be free?’ and they will say, ‘No, we really love to be prisoners,’” he says. The problem is not with freedom but with democracy, a concept that evolved in differing and idiosyncratic ways in the Western historical experience. “In the Middle East, they look at things and ask, Is it halal or haram,” he explains. “Is it approved by the religion or not? If you go to a Bedouin society and you tell them that the state will determine how you’re going to settle a conflict between you and your cousin, you must be out of your mind, because the most important and powerful tool to them will be tribal law, which is unwritten.” ~David Samuels

Indeed, there is a sense in which you do have to be out of your mind to accept as normal the idea that the state settles such disputes.  Anyone who surveys history has to know just how abnormal such an arrangement is, how much it contradicts so many of our instincts and customs and how ultimately fragile and contingent upon a certain ethos it is.  It is strange to read Mr. Helal’s statement, which expresses with perfect clarity a view of the world that appears to be not so very different from my own, and try to reconcile that with his work alongside a Secretary of State who believes in the “inevitability of democratic change” in the very same region.  One of them is right, and I do not think it is Secretary Rice.

Toward the end of our first interview, I asked Rice whether the hopeful narrative of Arab countries holding free elections and moving forward toward democracy risks ignoring 500 years of tragic history in the Middle East.

“It’s not hopefulness,” she said crisply, interrupting me. “It’s a sense of what is possible, and optimism about the strength of democratic institutions.

“Let me ask you this,” she continued, wagging her head back and forth, taking pleasure in the clash of ideas. “Not that long ago—you said 500 years, but not that long ago, say, 1944, or maybe even 1946—would anybody have said that France and Germany would never go to war again? Anyone?” ~David Samuels

The more of this article I read, the more troubled I am.  I have assumed for a while that Secretary Rice just went along with whatever the boss told her to do, since there has not appeared to be any overarching or coherent theme to her foreign policy views between 1999 and today, but it becomes clear that she does have some sort of ideas about history and foreign policy and they are all terrible.  She used to be a great one for talking about balance of power and Great Power interests, and now she talks incessantly of democracy and forces of history.  Maybe the confusion was there all along and I didn’t see it. 

Just consider her response to Samuels’ question and reflect on how utterly ridiculous it is.  As a Cold War-era official, she must know that the reason France and Germany didn’t go to war again after WWII was that France and most of Germany were our allies against the far larger threat from the east, a little place Secretary Rice supposedly knew something about, the USSR, and that there was no desire and no reason for renewed conflict between Germans and French while the Soviets loomed large on the horizon.  This might have been reasonably guessed at once NATO was founded and West Germany joined the alliance.  In 2007, we are theoretically where the post-WWII leaders of Europe were c. 1949-50, and the main worry in 1949-50 was no longer a revival of Franco-German enmity but the power of the Soviet Union.  She would also presumably know that the EU has centered around a strong Franco-German partnership.  As Secretary of State, she would also have to know that France and Germany remain U.S. allies and are therefore not likely to start wars with each other.  Would anyone have predicted such a happy outcome in 1946?  Maybe not.  But the non-occurrence of major war between French and Germans was not some mythical hope that had never existed for long stretches of time in the past.  Between 1815 and 1870, there was never a shot fired in anger across the eastern frontiers of France by French and German armies, which was a situation created by the Congress of Vienna and maintained by the Concert of Europe.  What European warfare there was after 1815, with the notable exceptions of the wars of Italian and German unification, tended to center on the Eastern Question, whence came so many terrible things.  This is not an answer to the question that was asked, which is, to paraphrase, “How oblivious do you have to be to think that democratisation will succeed in the Arab world?”  The Secretary responded to a very serious question about the applicability of democracy to the Arab world (which actually understates the burden of history) with a total non-sequitur about peace in Europe that she and everyone else knows is guaranteed by U.S. supremacy and our nuclear arsenal.  In fact, the guarantee of peace through such deterrence is relatively easy and straightforward compared to the difficult task of introducing a rare and fragile orchid into the desert.  Secretary Rice is even more clueless than I had feared that she was.   

Yet even the most thinly qualified of middle east experts [bold mine-DL] must know that Islam, as with any other civilisation, comprehends the sum total of human life, and that unlike some others it promises superiority in all things for its believers, so that the scientific and technological and cultural backwardness of the lands of Islam generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilisational defeat. ~Edward Luttawak

Yet there are quite a few people who speak and act as if they were experts on the Near and Middle East who show little or no comprehension of this totalising quality of Islam.  This all-encompassing nature of Islam is not a jihadi trick or part of their propaganda–it is supposed to be one of the more appealing aspects of Islam, because it proposes to have the right answer for every sphere of life. 

Just consider how many people want to give Islamists the benefit of the doubt that Islamist rule is somehow compatible with constitutional rule.  These would be the people who think real constitutional or liberal government is possible in the Islamic societies of these regions.  It might be possible to have some sort of mass participatory Islamic republic (such as, say, Iran), replete with candidates and maybe even parties, provided that everyone involved understood the unassailable position and final authority of Islam.  A constitution in which Islam was not established and empowered as the religion of the state seems highly unlikely.

With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east [sic] should finally be allowed to have their own history—the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them. ~Edward Luttawak

Novak’s entire career has been a series of position papers in favor of “values”–the “value” of unfettered sexual activity; the “value” of egalitarian democracy; the “value” of free-market capitalism unshackled from the Church’s social teaching.  Pope Benedict, on the other hand, is not concerned with “values” but with the concrete encounter with the Risen Christ… ~Scott Richert

Scott follows up on his excellent three-part series of articles at Taki’s webzine with this post responding to Novak’s criticism of Pope Benedict’s Urbi et Orbi address, which I also commented on earlier this week.

Contact with the PFLP is not a requirement for being holed up by the Israel Defense Forces. Bethlehem University students cannot get to Jerusalem, a few minutes’ drive away, unless they sneak in illegally. The students from the separated Gaza enclave have to take classes from Bethlehem via the Internet.

Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey was at the university the same day I was, and faculty members could hardly believe a real live member of Congress was there. Smith later was given a tour of Jerusalem to see with his own eyes that the separation barrier in most places is a big, ugly and intimidating wall, not merely a fence.

Smith, an active Catholic layman, was drawn here because of the rapid emigration of the Holy Land’s Christian minority. They leave more quickly than Muslims because contacts on the outside make them more mobile. Peter Corlano, a Catholic member of the Bethlehem University faculty, told Smith and me: “We live the same life as Muslims. We are Palestinians.”

Concerned by the disappearance of Christians in the land of Christianity’s birthplace, Smith could also become (as I did) concerned by the plight of all Palestinians. If so, he will find precious little company in Congress. ~Robert Novak

How times have changed.  Today, the war in Iraq is far less justified, morally or strategically, than the Gulf War was; and yet, outside of Chronicles and Pat Buchanan, most “conservative” Catholics have supported the war unquestioningly. 


And everything I wrote above applies in spades to “conservative” American Catholic support for Israel’s attack on Lebanon last July and August. ~Scott Richert

The title of this post might well be the chilling response one might hear from some American Christians of different confessions when they are confronted with the damage their government’s policies have inflicted on their Near Eastern brethren.  The entire sad, sorry tale of general American Christian indifference to our brethren in the Near East (with a few notable exceptions) reminds me of a remark I once heard in a conversation with an H-SC alumnus, who commented on the Christian Balkan nations: “It’s like they’re not even real Christians.”  (At least he did not preface this remark, as some of the faithful might, with lectures on the justice of fire-bombing civilian populations in WWII.)  The man might be forgiven for having bought into the drumbeat of pro-Bosnian Muslim propaganda that was called “reporting” during the 1990s, since there were very few sources of information that offered a different perspective, but the readiness of American Christians to disown Christians from other parts of the world struck me as particularly depressing.  Why should it be that many of those who claim to desire the Christianisation or re-Christianisation of America so much seem unfazed at the prospect of the de-Christianisation (and consequently still greater Islamicisation) of the Holy Land and the lands where Abraham and St. Paul walked? 

The readiness of more than a few American Christians, particularly conservative Protestants and Catholics, to throw the Christians of Lebanon to the wolves of Hizbullah and the destruction of the IAF (with bombs sent to Israel by the U.S. government) was just as appalling, if rather more predictable by that point.  Obviously, I was deeply moved by the plight of the Lebanese people, especially since Lebanon has represented one of the last redoubts of Christianity in the Near East, now more than ever.  Along with Syrian Christians (who make up roughly 10% of the population), the longsuffering Copts of Egypt and the hard-pressed, shrinking Palestinian Christian population, the Christian communities of Lebanon are virtually all that remain of what was once the fully Christian Orient.  If it has not actually been part of the design of U.S. policy to destroy these communities, the ruin of many of them has been the effect.  The decline of these communities under Islamic rule was obviously very great, but the modern decline has as much to do with our interference in the region.  You might at least have thought that in a country reputed to be among the more “religious” in the world (or so we tell ourselves as a way of pretending that we are much better off than the dying Europeans) and nominally still largely Christian there would be sympathy and concern for the travails of fellow Christians rather than indifference tending towards contempt.  You would be wrong to think that. 

Make this yet another reason to oppose the ugliness of modernisation.

Via Mosaics

There’s no telling what you will discover in the world of foreign blogs.  For instance, here is a striking post from a Syrian blog (via a link at George Ajjan’s blog) that revealed to me the existence of the Arabian oryx, a creature that I normally associate only with Africa and one that I honestly didn’t know existed. 

What else do you not know about Syria?

Holy Week has come to a bright and joyful end, and I am attempting to catch up on the latest controversies. 

Most notable of these was the argument that has broken out over Nancy Pelosi’s much-discussed visit to Syria.  When cornerned about the propriety of the visit, Nancy immediately backtracked by using the one get-out-of-jail free card any American politician has in taking potentially explosive steps in the Near East: she claimed she was doing it to help Israel.  Boggle as the mind may at the, er, audacity of such a claim (which the Israelis publicly repudiated), she made it, but she also made it in a typically grandiose, overreaching Pelosian way by talking about roads to Damascus and peace in Israel with much the same stupefying carelessness that the Krauthammers of the world talked about the “road to Jerusalem” going through Baghdad.  Granted, Pelosi has not come to bring the sword, but rather talking points, on her sentimental journey to the city once known for its fine sword metal, but she wields even these with such blithe indifference to their unrealistic nature that it can only trouble a realist or any critic of Bush-style foreign policy.  It cannot end up doing any good, and it will probably do harm, if perhaps only in undermining efforts to conclude the Iraq war by lending credibility to those who say that opponents of the war are lacking in sagacity and prudence when it comes to handling hostile or potentially hostile governments. 

Now I am certainly not one of the outraged breast-beaters who think that Pelosi has committed some heinous transgression, but neither am I quite so hopeful that this trip to Syria was actually evidence of anything like a coherent “alternative” foreign policy–not that there was much danger of the Democratic leadership providing one.  I do not share the faith of the presidential cultists who think that the branches of government are profoundly unequal (they believe this about foreign policy in particular), but like everything else the Democratic House has done in the last three months I find that I would be supremely disappointed in their actions if I had ever expected anything but flim-flam and empty rhetoric, which is mostly all they have managed.  The problem is not, as Unity ‘08 centrists would have it, that there is too much divergence, but far too much convergence, especially in foreign policy.  The problem, as usual, is not that the Democrats are undermining Mr. Bush’s policies and sending contradictory signals to the world, but that they are expressly at great pains to not do either of these things–but have still managed to do so despite every effort not to.  So they have bungled twice over.  Most of them do not fundamentally disagree with anything Mr. Bush has done, but only disagree with the timing, the methods or other elements of the execution, which means that all they have left is posing and putting on shows of calculated defiance that achieve nothing.  As Tom Lantos said in defense of the visit:

In USA Today, he [Lantos] noted that she “publicly declared that she supports the administration’s goals regarding Syria.”  

Whatever those goals are (it is hard to tell with this crowd what the intended goals are), the Democratic leaders insist that they are supporting them.  Yet the only justification for what they are doing would be if they had strong objections to those goals and believed those goals to be directly contrary to the national interest.  Short of that, they are just mucking about like a bunch of high-powered tourists.

There is nothing especially wrong with Pelosi going to Syria, nor is there even anything wrong with the Speaker attempting to reclaim an appropriately robust role for Congress in the making of foreign policy, but as with everything else she has done so far the Speaker has achieved nothing while pretending to have radically changed everything.  Most of those who complain about Pelosi trying to run her own foreign policy are not usually moved by constitutional scruples, but find any hint of dissent from the standard line about the perfidy of Syria, for example, to be intolerable.  Actually going there and treating the Syrian government as a more or less legitimate government with which we have formal diplomatic relations are far worse things than dissent in this view, and so there is a lot of loose talk about treachery and illegality.  If Pelosi’s venture represented something concrete in terms of advancing a new Syria policy and beginning a brokering of an Israel-Syria peace, it might have real merit and deserve the strong defense Dr. Trifkovic has given it.  Certainly, detaching Syria from Iran is highly desirable if it can be done, and it probably can be done, but it seems unclear at this time how Pelosi going to Damascus has made it more likely rather than less.  Arguably, she has done more to set back the development of some understanding with Syria with her little display than anyone else has in months, because it gives the appearance that Pelosi is now taking control of U.S. foreign policy, when in fact she controls very little and knows she controls very little.  It is empty grandstanding for the folks back home–watch as I tweak George Bush’s nose over Near East policy, she might as well be saying.  Basically, she is to diplomacy what Chuck Hagel is to war: someone who likes the sound of his own voice and the cachet of being labeled a dissenter or rebel or “maverick,” while actually doing nothing to merit those labels. 

Therefore, Dr. Fleming makes a good deal of sense when he writes:

The best that one can say about Pelosi’s trip is that it is inconsequential. The worst is that it reveals a self-important woman who puts party politics above the American interest.

This latter point seems to be on target.  It fits into Pelosi’s preference for taking symbolic action rather than doing anything substantive.  At least she didn’t say that she was putting the Speaker’s gavel in the hands of Syrian children!  The Armenian genocide resolution is a good example of a symbolic move (which I happen to agree with) that does nothing except formally state what every honest, informed person already knows (the Ottoman government organised and carried out a genocide against the Armenians, and that this was very bad), but which will inevitably worsen relations with Ankara, committed as it is to official denialism.  Within its first four months, Pelosi’s speakership could be defined generally as one that meddles inconclusively in foreign affairs while also managing to create a diplomatic nightmare with Ankara for purely constituent-driven and ethnic lobby reasons.

I find myself increasingly torn over the genocide resolution, since it is undeniable that the genocide occurred and that the Ottoman government was behind the planning and execution of it (particularly the CUP triumvirs), while it is equally clear that American-Turkish relations will become terrible if this resolution is passed.  If there were ever any arguments advanced against the resolution that were also capable of acknowledging the profound evil of the genocide and the ongoing complicity of the Turkish state and the early National Movement in the denial of the Ottomans’ responsibility, they might be quite compelling.  Since every Realpolitik argument I have seen treats the genocide as a sort of historical curiosity (as if it were an episode about which everyone’s opinion is equally valid), I am inclined to regard realist arguments against the resolution to be rather sickening in their indifference to the truth.  There is also something to be said for resisting moral blackmail from people who put Hrant Dink on trial and who still pretend that the near-extermination of Anatolia’s Armenian population was some sort of unfortunate accident.  Were the victims not Christians, and were the perpetrators not Muslims, and were the denialists not “good” secular and “democratic” Muslims, it seems to me that we would have no problem roundly condemning both the past crimes of the state and the ongoing suppression of free speech needed to maintain the cloak of ignorance and deceit that the current government actively weaves to obscure these crimes from view.  If only to resist moral blackmail from genocide deniers and to fight the profound misunderstanding of Ottoman Turkey as some land of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, the House should pass the genocide resolution.  That does not mean that Pelosi’s foreign policy bungling is generally a good idea, but it can occasionally and accidentally come to the right conclusion (even if not necessarily for the right reasons).    

Update: Read the smart exchange unfolding over at Chronicles‘ website in response to the articles by Dr. Fleming and Dr. Trifkovic.  Dr. Fleming also has pointed us to the interesting blog of Chronicles’ contributor George Ajjan, who has any number of thoughtful posts on matters Near Eastern (plus an intriguing post about Easter in Senegal among the Maronites there). 

My once and future blogging colleague Paul Cella writes in defense of Pope Paul XII.  Taki offers an account of the achievements of Nixon and talks about Andy Warhol.  Chronicles‘ managing editor, Scott Richert, has one item on Keith Ellison and Muslims in America and another on the possible use of “tactical” nuclear weapons in the Near East.  Robert Spencer wrote on the Christians of Iraq, Justin Raimondo takes on the “homintern” over homosexuality and civil rights legislation and Richard Cummings offers the following poetic interpretation of neoconservatism:

“How do you do, Mr Podhoretz?”
“Quite well, Mr. Frum and you?”
“And where might you be going, sir?”
“I’m looking for a war, how ‘bout you?”
“Well, let me help you find it,
for I’m looking for one too.”

I’ve never seen a war I didn’t like,
the bombs, the guns, the tanks and all the planes,
and soldiers shooting everywhere and landscapes now all bare,
they tell you that the losses are not losses but are gains.

No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
with cities going up in brilliant flames,
and all the carnage and the killing and the maiming,
the battle field all strewn with human brains.

No, we’ve never seen a war we didn’t like,
the torture and the raping and the dead.
But don’t ask us to be in it, ‘cause we’ll be gone in just a minute,
and no one will know exactly where we’ve fled.

But with all the blood and gore,
the corpses all alike,
we’ve never seen a war,
no we’ve never seen a war,
no, we’ve never seen a war
we didn’t like.

One Eric Kenning also has an amusing take on Cheney:

Cheney’s strict adherence to militant Islam has also caused problems with his fellow neoconservatives, most of whom are equally devout, but adhere to a rival sect, militant Bedlam.

Republican Mitt Romney called for economic sanctions against Iran “at least as severe” as those imposed on South Africa during its apartheid era, in an effort to isolate the Central Asian nation and convince it to give up its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Addressing a security conference in Israel, the former Massachusetts governor and potential 2008 presidential contender also urged states to divest in Iran, to seek the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on genocide charges, while also making it clear that pursuing nuclear weapons “can also be a source of peril” for Iran. (AP)

So, Gov. Romney went to Israel and gave a wild, Santorumesque speech about Iran.  Leave aside the sabre-rattling, the crazy talk about divestment, which will never happen in the countries where there are investors in Iranian firms, and the far-fetched talk of genocide charges against Ahmadinejad.  The sanctions proposal is probably the nuttiest of all in its way, because, even once they are established established, they are almost certain not to work.  First, extreme isolation through international sanctions rarely achieves the policy goal that supporters seek, and second it gives the targeted government an immense boost in popularity as the population inevitably rallies around its political leadership in the face of global hostility.  Sanctions and calls for sanctions are classic examples of how governments engage in what are effectively symbolic declarations of displeasure.  These declarations have real-world consequences, almost none of them good for anyone.  In case there was any doubt, Romney has aligned himself with a reckless, confrontational sort of foreign policy that, at first glance, sounds every bit as unhinged and dangerous as anything Mr. Bush has uttered. 

Nothing better aids obedience to the targeted regime and a whipping up of nationalist outrage than the use of heavy-handed tactics to compel a government to change one of its internal policies.  This is even more the case when a broad majority of Iranians believes, correctly, that Iran has the legally-recognised right to develop nuclear energy technology.  You would think experience with Iraq and Yugoslavia sanctions would have taught us that these tactics help shore up governments that are, in fact, much weaker than anyone imagines at the time.  By providing the regime with a foreign threat and the reality of a crisis, sanctions cause dissidents to become silent of their own accord and they cause dissidents to resent the idiotic foreigners who have just made their position impossible.   At the same time, sanctions will tend to inflict terrible costs on the civilian population, whose resulting suffering simply reinforces the view that they should support the policy of their government.  Nothing is more likely to ensure that Tehran proceeds with the development of a nuclear weapon than the use of a blunt instrument like sanctions.  International isolation helps to secure the grip of authoritarian and dictatorial governments.  It plays into the hands of the people whom Gov. Romney most wants to oppose.  This tells me that his foreign policy judgement is extremely poor and that his foreign policy views are informed mainly by the understanding that he needs to appear more belligerent and pro-Israel than the next guy to secure his position in the primaries. 

No doubt his biggest fans think that his irresponsible speech is great.  These are probably also the same people who think that Santorum showed “leadership” by comparing himself to Churchill and warning us about the danger from Venezuela, among other dire threats.  I would ask the Romneyites this: is it your position that such provocative statements about U.S. policy in the Near East should be made by former governors/presidential candidates?  Do you really think that is wise?     

The Armenian leadership openly sided with Turkey’s enemies, demanded a state on Ottoman land and formed anti-Ottoman militias. Many Turks were killed by these Armenian groups.

Turkey fears an official apology for the Armenian deaths would trigger claims on its land or on seized Armenian assets. Turks cannot believe the sincerity of foreign parliaments which, usually ill-informed about the Turkish case, give in to Armenian diaspora lobbying for genocide declarations. (One such bill looks likely to pass the U.S. Congress in April.) Politics often seems to trump history. [bold mine-DL] Would the French Parliament have made it a crime last year to deny a “genocide” by the Turks if an unrelated desire to keep Turkey out of the European Union had not been prevalent? ~Hugh Pope

The first statement is a shocking overgeneralisation.  Mr. Pope has evidently written several books on Turkish history, so he ought to know better than to say broad and sweeping things about “the Armenian leadership.”  Much of the flower of Ottoman Armenian political and intellectual leadership in Constantinople (or Konstantiniye as it was still called at the time) was wiped out in the days and weeks following the mass arrests of Armenian journalists, professionals, clergy, scholars and parliamentarians on April 24, 1915 (April 24 is now the day when the genocide is now commemorated).  This leadership had remained quite loyal to the Ottoman Empire, maintaining the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal” millet in contrast with the Orthodox Christian Slavs and Greeks who had been breaking away from the empire for decades.  For their loyalty, they were rewarded with death, and the deaths of these leading figures gave the signal to the Turkish and Kurdish irregulars in eastern Anatolia to begin the massacres and forced deportation of Armenians from Van, Erzerum and Cilicia, among other locations.  The Young Turk government during WWI coordinated with these irregulars to achieve maximum destruction of the Armenians in Anatolia.  After the Ottoman defeat, there were even some trials of some of those who had participated in the slaughter.  The slaughter was unfortunately not an entirely new thing, since there had been widespread massacres  of Armenians in 1894-96 in the previous generation and no foreign war on which they could later be conveniently blamed.  What was different starting in 1915 was the scale and organisation of the killing and the official backing of the government.   

There were some Armenian nationalists in eastern Anatolia who sided with the Russians in the hopes of establishing an independent Armenian republic (a goal which was briefly realised at war’s end before it was swallowed up by the Soviets and became Armenia SSR), but to refer to these people as “the Armenian leadership” or to treat the problem as if it were one of general subversion of the empire by the entire Armenian community in time of war when it was not the case is unworthy of someone who claims the role of historian.  Indeed, Mr. Pope’s column reads very much like something out of the Turkish government’s own propaganda, including the scare quotes around the word genocide and the outrageous statement that it is somehow the Turkish government that has history, rather than politics, on its side.  It is fairly obvious to most thoughtful people, whether Armenian, Turk or some other nationality, that the massacres did happen and did constitute the first modern genocide.  It has been the political repression of the evidence and speech about this inside Turkey that has been the only real source of doubt about the genocide.  It has been this persistent denial imposed by the Turkish government that has continued to frustrate and embitter the Armenian Diaspora. 

As the late Mr. Dink had tried to argue, preoccupation with Turkish acknowledgement of the genocide has become for many Diasporans a consuming passion, even an unhealthy one.  However, I can hardly blame them for wanting official acknowledgement that this did happen and was a deliberately orchestrated state-sanctioned attempt to annihilate an entire people.  I don’t know why exactly Mr. Pope feels obliged to carry water for Ankara and the argument that “lots of people died–hey, there was a war on!”, especially when the latter is typically the refuge of the Holocaust-denier, but he lends his name to a bad cause and does not do his duty as an historian by lending credibility to the Turkish government’s self-serving justifications of a horrendous crime.  Politics often seems to trump history all right, at least as far as Mr. Pope’s misleading description of the genocide goes.  

For those interested in what a more serious historian has to say about the matter, Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act is reputed to be an excellent study.  (I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read it, but I plan to do so this year.)  It confirms, as one would expect, that the genocide was “a deliberate, centralized program of state-sponsored extermination.”  This is the work of a Turkish scholar who is keenly aware of the anxieties of Turks about acknowledging this crime, but who is also concerned to tell the truth about these terrible events.  That is the sort of historian we should be heeding.   

I have been slow in commenting on the outrageous murder of Hrant Dink, and for that I must apologise.  It was a terrible crime, and unfortunately only too representative of the state of modern Turkey.  The murder is the unfortunately all-too-logical outcome of the absurd and dreadful charges brought against Mr. Dink by the Turkish state for his alleged “insult” to “Turkishness.”  For some background, I cite from the Armeniapedia entry on Mr. Dink:

Dink wrote a series of articles in which he called on diaspora Armenians to stop focusing on the Turks and focus instead on the welfare of Armenia, said Karin Karakaþlý, an editor at Agos newspaper. Karakaþlý said Dink told Armenians their enmity toward the Turks “has a poisoning effect in your blood.” She said the court took the article out of context, wrongly assuming it meant that Turkish blood is poison.

On October 7, 2005 Hrant Dink was convicted under article 301 of the penal code of insulting Turkishness, charges that Dink said he would fight, adding that he would leave the country if they were not overturned. He was convicted and given a six-month suspended sentence, which means he will not be forced to serve prison time unless he repeats the offense. Dink has lived in Turkey all his life and was shown on television in tears as he denied the charges and vowed to fight them.

“I’m living together with Turks in this country,” Dink told The Associated Press. “And I’m in complete solidarity with them. I don’t think I could live with an identity of having insulted them in this country.”

The court said Dink’s article “was not an expression of opinion with the aim of criticizing but was intended to be insulting and offensive.”

Dink, speaking in Turkish, said the sentence was an attempt to silence him.

The assassin, who has now confessed to his crime, admitted to being motivated by the alleged “insult” to Turks and did silence him.  In a way slightly similar to the fate of Pim Fortuyn, Mr. Dink was officially vilified by the government authorities and made an object of hate in his own country based on false and obviously politically motivated charges.  Within two years of the official hate campaign against the man, he had been shot dead by some fanatic who actually took seriously the government’s claims made in service of its cynical control over its citizens’ statements.  The persistent official denial of the Armenian genocide instituted and maintained by the Turkish state has now contributed to a new murder of an Armenian dissident.  Like another April 24, a leading Turkish-Armenian intellectual has died at the hands of a Turkish nationalist thug.  If Turkey were at all serious about becoming a liberal or genuinely Westernised country, its authorities would either scrap or cease to enforce the dreadful section of the law that precipitated this awful deed.

PM Erdogan’s rush to denounce the crime is as predictable as it is cynical.  He laments that the assassination was an attack on Turkish freedom and democracy, yet the hateful charges against Mr. Dink would never have been brought and would never have existed to spur the assassin on to his horrible deed had there actually been real freedom of speech in Turkey.  His government and the entire apparatus of genocide denial in Turkey are effectively guilty as accomplices in this crime.  If anyone needed another good reason why Turkey should be kept out of the European Union, this is it.      

He fails, however, to explain adequately how Third World opposition to “a decadent American culture” led to 9/11, still less why those Americans who share his opposition to this decadent culture should support the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. To be sure, D’Souza is right about a number of things that more conventional defenses of the Bush administration are likely to get wrong: he recognizes that Muslims do not “hate us for our freedom”; that Islamic radicalism is not a form of fascism; that we are not at war with terror; that Abu Ghraib horrified the Muslim world because it involved the sexual humiliation of men, not because it violated treaties that are widely ignored when interrogating prisoners in the Middle East. And he expresses at least some skepticism, though hardly enough, about making the forcible export of democracy the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, these lapses into common sense and reality do not redeem D’Souza’s stubborn, ideological defense of the Bush administration.

“The only way to win the war,” D’Souza believes, “is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.” But he does not produce any evidence that Bush’s invasion of Iraq, rhetorical belligerence toward Iran and Syria, and dismissive dealings with Palestinian leaders of whom Israel disapproves have endeared the U.S. to traditional Muslims. The reality is quite the opposite. ~Tom Piatak, The American Conservative

Tom does a nice job separating the different strands of D’Souza’s argument in The Enemy at Home and recognising the things that D’Souza manages to get right in spite of his other biases.  Tom does very well to focus on the incoherence of an argument that requires us to believe that Muslims are revolted by the cultural imperialism of the decadent, modern West to the point of fanatical violence while also holding that the only way to stop the fanatical violence is through increased political imperialism (or at least a hegemonic position sustained by interventionist wars that is in many respects indistinguishable from empire).  In other words, if you believe what D’Souza believes about the cause of the problem, the Bush administration’s remedy appears to be not simply counterproductive but perfectly mad.

Tom rightly acknowledges that our decadence and the promotion of it around the world by cultural liberals serve to antagonise Muslims and all other sorts of people from traditional societies, but asks the obvious question: if Islamic terrorism is primarily a response to this, and not a reaction against what the jihadis themselves claim it to be a reaction against (namely, formal U.S. policy in the Near East), why haven’t they focused their greatest outrage on Amsterdam and other places in Europe that have thrown out traditional morality even more openly and forcefully?  For that matter, when targeting America why aim for symbolic and real centers of economic and political power?  Why not hit Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Francisco?  Perhaps because moral decadence is simply an aggravating factor, which may help to stoke Muslim outrage but does not make that outrage the main reason for violence.  It is not one of the principal causes of why the jihadis target America.  Recognising that jihad is integral to Islam and is not some distortion or degeneration of the religion is important (and it is almost certainly something that the distinction between “traditional Islam” and “radical Islam” is meant to obscure or deny), but even this does not explain why jihadis are preoccupied with attacking America first rather than targeting infidels and apostates closer to home.

From what Tom presents in his review, the greatest problem with D’Souza’s proposal for how to respond to jihadis seems to be his view that there is a significant difference between “traditional Muslims” and “Islamic radicals.”  If there is a difference, and I might be persuaded that there is some real difference, it is surely one of degree only.  It is unfortunately mostly the difference between the jihadis who are directly involved in the fighting and killing and those who, for whatever reason, are not directly involved but who by and large sympathise with and support what the jihadis are doing.  As poll after poll from across the Islamic world has confirmed, the surefire way to guarantee that the “traditional Muslims” around the world who routinely declare their opposition to the policies of the U.S. government will increasingly strongly sympathise with jihadis is to engage in ham-fisted invasions of Muslim lands. 

This approach has two additional liabilities.  This not only provides jihadis with the immediate pretext that they are fighting infidel occupiers of Muslim land, thus lending their cause added credibility, but tends to confirm their historical narrative that explains the weakness and failures of the Islamic world in terms of Western domination rather than because of flaws in their indigenous religious and political cultures.  To the extent that such invasions confirm the jihadi picture of an infidel world that is putting Islam under siege in an attempt to destroy it, the more readily they can call upon Muslims, be they “traditional” or “radical,” to do their duty to defend Islam and the response they receive will be all the greater. 

If there is one psychological bias that Kahnemann and Renshon did not discuss quite as much as they ought to have done in their recent FP essay, it is the tendency that people have to assume that they are never aggressors and are always the ones responding justifiably to someone else’s aggression.  This is a powerful bias that helps drive “hawkish” policies as much as anything.  Many Americans will be literally shocked and outraged when you suggest that invading Iraq was an act of aggression.  Why, just look at all the “provocations” “we” have had to endure!  I mean, the Iraqis had the nerve to fire at planes that were enforcing an illegal no-fly zone in their airspace–outrageous!  Who do they think they are?  We can find pretexts for why we did what we did–look at all those Security Council resolutions!  (Not that anyone who invoked these resolutions normally cared a whit for the authority of the U.N. the rest of the time, but no matter.)  In the same way, there are probably more than a few “traditional Muslims” who will look at 9/11 and see, at worst, a more or less justified response to the injuries they believe have been inflicted on Muslims by our government.  They will make the same chilling, monstrous arguments that some apologists for Hiroshima and Dresden make over here: “They supported the enemy regime, so they deserved what they got.”  (Has anyone noticed that the people who typically display the most demonstrative outrage over 9/11 are often some of the same people who most loudly affirm the rightness of the mass slaughter of civilians in WWII through “strategic” bombing?)  These Muslims will see it as a necessary response for the sake of defending “the weak and the oppressed,” and in this way make murder into an act of nobly defending their brethren.  Both of these positions are quite mad, but the tendency to want to refuse to see the aggressiveness of one’s own side is a habit shared by all.  It is a habit that is only overcome with great effort, and for most people this an effort not worth making.  To make such an effort is to somehow sympathise with “the enemy” and to turn against your own side.  To suggest that your “side” has engaged in aggression at any point is to be unceremoniously labeled “unpatriotic” and the like (leave aside for the moment the profound confusion of country and government that this kind of thinking requires).  When people complain about someone “blaming America first,”‘ they usually mean that he is holding America to the same standard that Americans routinely apply to all other nations.  Part of applying the same standard involves questioning the government’s official explanations for its use of military force, which historians and long-time observers of international politics will know are often fraudulent, misleading or self-serving in the extreme.    

Making the effort to break this habit can certainly undermine a war effort if the war is one of aggression.  This is why it was so important to the Germans in WWI, for instance, to engage in the collective delusion that they were fighting a war of self-defense.  There was an iota of truth to this, but not much more, so they clung to that iota for all they were worth.  Of course, when they ended up being blamed (quite unjustly) for the entire thing they were doubly incensed at the injustice of it because they firmly believed they had been fighting a defensive war all along.  Almost everyone believes he is fighting some kind of defensive war.  Well, almost everyone since at least since the 18th century has believed that, when wars for conquest and loot increasingly had to be dressed up in the finery of high principle and justice or at least in the respectable clothing of reasonable economic and political interests.  In the last two hundred years, calling wars “wars of liberation” has become the alternative justification for wars that are clearly not really wars of defense but which are supposedly nonetheless deeply admirable and worthwhile.  The invasion of Iraq is fairly unusual in that some of its supporters routinely claim that it is at once a kind of war of self-defense and a war of liberation all rolled into one.  Some might be more willing to stress its supposedly defensive character, because they are not terribly interested in liberating Iraqis, while others recognise that the war cannot credibly be described as defensive and so they must find some other way to put it beyond reproach.       

Matt Barganier at Antiwar Blog:

Historian Tony Judt, a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and director of the Remarque Institute at NYU, writes,

I was due to speak this evening, in Manhattan, to a group called Network 20/20 comprising young business leaders, NGO, academics, etc, from the US and many countries. Topic: the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The meetings are always held at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan.

I just received a call from the President of Network 20/20. The talk was cancelled because the Polish Consulate had been threatened by the Anti-Defamation League. Serial phone calls from ADL President Abe Foxman warned them off hosting anything involving Tony Judt. If they persisted, he warned, he would smear the charge of Polish collaboration with anti-Israeli anti-Semites (= me) all over the front page of every daily paper in the city (an indirect quote). They caved and Network 20/20 were forced to cancel.

Whatever your views on the Middle East I hope you find this as serious and frightening as I do. This is, or used to be, the United States of America.

The New York Sun confirms the cancellation, but not without adding its own angle on the story:

The government of Poland, moving to avoid getting embroiled in anti-Israel politics, last night abruptly canceled a scheduled speech by a professor at New York University who has become hostile to the Jewish state [bold mine-DL], just hours before the event was to have taken place at Poland’s consulate here in New York.

The decision to cancel the speech, which was billed as being about “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” is a signal of the quickening entente between free Poland and Israel, a relationship that is all the more remarkable for the fact that among the founders of Israel were Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Poland. A Polish diplomat told The New York Sun that the speech, by the NYU professor Tony Judt, would have been inappropriate for the Polish consulate.

Of course to say that Tony Judt has become “hostile to the Jewish state” is a joke.  He has become openly critical of pro-Israel influence on U.S. foreign policy, and he has proposed the (admittedly unworkable) idea of a unitary Israeli-Palestinian state.  To the Sun, it is all the same thing: criticism and proposals equal hostility pure and simple.  But thank goodness there is absolutely no pro-Israel lobby to be found, or else those sorts of conflations might become a problem for free and open debate on topics relating to the Near East!

Update: Philip Weiss has a few comments on the cancellation of Judt’s speech.

The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war.

Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.

“I will not be a political leader any more,” he told aides. “I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters.”

It is a devastating blow to the remaining hopes for a peaceful solution in Iraq and spells trouble for British forces, who are based in and around the Shia stronghold of Basra. ~The Daily Telegraph

It’s over.  Sistani’s influence was one of the last things keeping this from becoming a complete nightmare.  If anyone needed a clear sign that now was the time for us to get out, this is it. 

“I am opposed to a military strike on Iran because I don’t think it accomplishes very much in the long run,” said Mr. Gingrich, who supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has been a strong defender of Israel. 
“I think if this regime [in Iran] is so dangerous that we can’t afford to let them have nuclear weapons, we need a strategy to replace the regime,” Mr. Gingrich said. “And the first place you start is where Ronald Reagan did in Eastern Europe with a comprehensive strategy that relied on economic, political, diplomatic, information and intelligence” means. ~The Washington Times

When I saw the headline that Gingrich was opposed to a strike on Iran, I thought I must have been dreaming.  But, of course, there was a hitch.  There was no way Newt “World War III” Gingrich was going to take the more reasonable view on how to handle Iran policy, and, sure enough, he didn’t.  So what’s the plan for toppling the Iranian government?  As you would expect, it has all of the same sophistication that went into planning regime change in Iraq:

“I think our position should be that we don’t expect Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be around for very long,” he said. “But we think the Iranians are going to get rid of him. We’re not. But then I would do everything I could to make that possible.”

The old “encourage the Iranian democrats to commit treason” plan seems as unbelievable as ever.  Even while granting that these were off-the-cuff remarks on a cruise ship somewhere, Gingrich’s comments here tell us something about how the WWIII/WWIV crowd sees Iran: as a country where, apparently, Ahmadinejad is in charge of everything (he isn’t), where the Iranian people are groaning under the yoke of the man whom a sizeable number of them elected as president (they aren’t, at least not exactly) and where getting rid of Ahmadinejad will constitute some kind of regime change.  What Gingrich seems to be proposing as a concrete policy is to provoke rebellion against the Iranian government in the wild hopes that this will prompt a general uprising that will topple the government.  Even supposing that making another large Muslim nation unstable and chaotic was a desirable thing to do, what makes Gingrich think that this is going to work?  But let’s keep Gingrich’s idea in mind whenever we hear about the need to prevent Iran from getting nukes, because his is the logical conclusion of all the arguments in favour of intervention.

 In its extreme form, the Christian Zionist program identifies the Gospel with “the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism” and is “detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel”, say Jerusalem bishops in a hard-hitting statement.

The statement, signed by Catholic Latin Patriarch, Cardinal Michel Sabbah…and leaders of the Syrian Orthodox, Episcopal and the Evangelical Lutheran churches in Jerusalem, directs its attack at a belief among some Christians that the defence of the State of Israel is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.

The “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” describes Christian Zionism as “a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel.”

“In its extreme form, it laces an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today,” the Christian leaders said.

“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation,” the statement continues.

The statement goes on to reject what it describes as “the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral preemptive borders and domination over Palestine”.

“This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world,” said the statement.

Instead of advancing “racial exclusivity and perpetual war”, what is needed is “the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ,” the bishops say.

The statement calls upon Christians everywhere to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, “both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism.”

“We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land,” the Christian leaders added.

“Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the peoples of our land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace - and working for peace makes us children of God,” the statement concludes. ~Catholic News

Via The Western Confucian

Oh, my!  This is just about as strong a statement against Christian Zionism as I have ever seen, and certainly one of the strongest I have ever seen coming from those in ecclesiastical authority.  I am sorry to see that His Beatitude Patriarch Irinaios of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was apparently not a signatory, which is all the more surprising considering how insistent Israel had been in opposing his election.   

There were those (such as this newspaper) who supported the Iraq war solely because of the danger that a Saddam Hussein with a biological or atomic bomb would indeed have posed. But Mr Bush and Mr Blair refused after the war to be embarrassed by the absence of the weapons that had so alarmed them beforehand. They stressed instead all the other reasons why it had been a good idea to overthrow Mr Hussein. In Los Angeles last month Mr Blair argued that the invasion was all about supporting Islam’s moderates against its reactionaries and bolstering democracy against dictatorship.

Such arguments no longer sell in the West, let alone the Muslim world. If it was all about dictatorship, what about the dictatorship the West continues to embrace in Saudi Arabia, and the quasi-dictatorship in Pakistan? If it was about helping Islam’s moderates against its reactionaries, what is so clever about stepping in to someone else’s civil war?

Besides, the horrors of pre-invasion Iraq had nothing to do with Islam’s inner demons. Mr Hussein’s was a secular dictatorship in which Islamists of all stripes kept their heads down. It is true, and it is commendable, that once America and Britain had toppled Mr Hussein, they helped to organise free elections. They are right to support Iraq’s new government and to make the argument for democracy elsewhere in the Arab world. But portraying the whole enterprise as if it had from the start been all about an experiment in democracy just makes Muslims crosser. By what right do you invade someone else’s country in order to impose a pattern of government?  ~The Economist

The Economist was one of the last real holdouts of Iraq war loyalism in the European press, and its description of that war as a “total failure” marks a new low in the administration’s ability to convince even those Europeans who are ideologically and politically most favourable to his foreign policy that the war is going well or that he and his administration have even the foggiest idea of what they’re doing.  With the all-but-complete defection of the editorial pages of The Economist to the camp of the skeptics and critics on Iraq, one increasingly gets the sense that the whole of the British public (not just the 70% who opposed the war in the first place) is tiring of Mr. Bush’s one-trick act.  His administration’s redoubled efforts to bludgeon war critics with preposterous propagandistic references to appeasement and “Islamic fascism” will only confirm Economist types in their loss of confidence.

Hanson’s latest is filled with a few such outlandish statements that I don’t understand why anyone, neoconservative or not, takes him seriously:

First, Islamic fascism is already the creed of the government of an oil-rich and soon to be nuclear Iran.

Well, no, the creed, so to speak, of the Iranian government is Jafari Shi’ism, which is a religious creed and which is the religious source of the government’s theocratic legislation.  There is no meaningful sense in which the label fascist applies to the current Iranian government.  That does not mean that they are not committed to using whatever kind of violence will advance their interests or that they are not committed to jihad

It means that Iranian theocrats committed to jihad are not fascists, just as communists are not, properly speaking, fascists, though they possessed enough similarities with each other to be recognised as sharing many common traits of totalitarianism.  Sometimes observers at the time would call fascists brown communists while calling communists red fascists, trying to emphasise that they were two sides of the same coin, but the differences remained clear and stark nonetheless.  The incidental or tactical convergence between the two inside Germany in the 1930s or in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was surprising not because the two were diametrically opposed, but because they were competing revolutionary ideologies that despised the other as a competitor can despise his rival for pursuing a similar goal by different means. 

The jihadis do not really fit this mould of having similar goals but pursuing them by different means; their vision is of an entirely different kind of order from the one imagined by other totalitarians, and one that is not easily confused with the vision of fascists.  We call them fascists at the risk of completely misunderstanding the nature of that vision and fighting the kind of conventional war focused on toppling regimes that we fought in 1941-45.  The inclusion of Tehran as one of the centers of “Islamic fascism,” which identifies Iran as an enemy in spite of the fact that it has never had anything to do with the Wahhabi or Salafi jihadism that motivated the 9/11 attackers and Al Qaeda, is a perfect example of how our strategy and definition of the main war are being partly dictated by the stupid formulations of propagandists and fascist-obsessed ideologues.   

The entire “Islamic fascism” meme comes from a refusal to make distinctions and a refusal to acknowledge differences between the theocratic government in Tehran, the secular government in Damascus, the Shi’ite militia in Lebanon, the jihadis in Waziristan and the insurgents in Iraq.  If Hizbullah is “fascist,” so are the Badr Brigades in Iraq–but, wait, the Badr Brigades are attached to a party in the Iraqi government, which we support.  Shall we go after them as well in the great anti-fascist crusade?  These various governments and groups are not fighting for the same thing, nor are they on the same “side,” nor do they necessarily have anything to do with each other.  If we conjure up some mythical international alliance of “Islamic fascism,” we might very well succeed in forcing all of these disparate, distinct and unconnected forces to join together out of common cause against their common enemy, but what we will surely not achieve is any sort of success in combating any one of the threats that each one may or does pose.  This is coming from the same kinds of people who thought that we would win gratitude in the Islamic world by helping Muslims and Islamic terrorists in Yugoslavia (no worries about Bin Laden or Iranian sponsorship of jihad when it involved killing a few Serbs, right, Hanson?), and comes from the same kinds of people who still agitate on behalf of Chechen terrorism.  Do they really have any credibility to speak on these questions? 

Regardless, this is the same sort of short-sighted, unperceptive, clumsy thinking that classified Nehru as vaguely pro-communist because he wanted to keep India non-aligned, which later resulted in our allying with India’s enemies and forcing India into the arms of the USSR.  It is the same thinking that labeled Mossadegh as possibly pro-Soviet because he didn’t want to play ball with British imperialism over Iran’s oil resources and led us to depose Mossadegh and embitter an entire generation of Iranians against the United States thanks to our support for the Shah’s misrule.  This in turn prepared the way for the revolution and created the deep hostility between Iran and America that has only gotten worse with time.  Brilliant stuff.  Let’s just keep replicating that kind of success with more conceptual confusion and failures of strategic thinking! 

But it is right to use the concept—the traditional language is clerical fascism—about movements like the Romanian one. ~Michael Ledeen

This is one of the more remarkable errors that Michael “Scholar of Fascism” Ledeen makes in his efforts to show his alleged superior understanding of fascism in defense of the abhorrent neologism Islamofascism and the phrase ”Islamic fascist.”  As those familiar with the Legion of the Archangel Michael’s history and the career of Codreanu, the founder of this genuinely very odd Romanian political movement, will know, the Legion was in no sense “clerical,” because it was a predominantly and overwhelmingly lay movement that had no official church support nor did it have widespread clerical involvement because of the Church’s hostility to it. 

It did claim to be an Orthodox Christian political movement, made Orthodoxy an important aspect of the Romanian national identity, and modeled its ideals and rhetoric on extreme asceticism and martyrdom, which included a willingness to die–but not therefore necessarily to kill–for Romania.  Its general lack of violence and hooliganism (which is not to say that its members did not sometimes engage in political violence) marks it out as as more of a peculiar Christian nationalist group that was not very fascistic except for the uniforms the salutes.  Stanley Payne has argued convincingly that of movements typically associated with fascism in interwar Europe it has one of the weakest claims to the name.  Payne certainly never used the name clerical fascism for the Legion, and tends to avoid using that name for any of what he more accurately described as conservative authoritarian regimes.  Before it was associated with the Antonescu government, the Legion was known mostly for how many of its members suffered death at the hands of the Romanian government and others, since Codreanu maintained a very bizarre attitude towards violence for someone conventionally associated with fascism: be killed for Romania, but don’t kill.  You may be able to guess why the movement did not catch on everywhere. 

The reasons why Codreanu has been associated with fascism are because the Legion was a mass “shirt” nationalist movement (I believe green was their preferred colour) that had a peculiar obsession with death for the nation, and even went so far as to say, “You must love Romania more than your own soul.”  Even granting some license for exaggeration, this was a bizarre statement for an expressly Christian movement to make. 

It is noteworthy that in all of this the Romanian Orthodox Church had virtually nothing to do with Codreanu and condemned his movement in support of government repression of the movement.  If there were individual priests who had anything to do with the movement, they did not have the official support of the hierarchy and would have suffered penalties for associating with the movement.  Mircea Eliade, the famous Romanian writer, who fled Romania around the time of the rise of the Antonescu government, came here to Chicago and later wrote how strange he found it that the Church had persecuted the only modern political movement even remotely related to Orthodox Christianity.  Under Antonescu, Legionaries did become willing tools of the collaborationist government and took on a very different character with respect to the general use of violence than they had had when Codreanu was still alive.  But even if in this later period they might be aligned with the Nazis in their collaboration and usually anti-Jewish violence, at no point were they “clerical fascist” in any meaningful sense. 

But being a Christian movement is not the same as being clericalist, much less clerical fascist (a bogus category, in my view, primarily invented to conjure up hatred for Catholic accommodations with Mussolini, the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg Catholic corporatist and anti-Nazi regime in Austria from 1934-38 and for Franco’s regime).  The entire category clerical fascist was one invented by the sorts of people who don’t like conservative authoritarianism or Catholicism, and really don’t like them when they are combined (as they were, to some degree, in Austria and Spain)–in harping on it, Ledeen shows not so much his scholarly accomplishments (which his description of the Legion makes ever more suspect) but his own obsessions in militating against conservative authoritarian and religious regimes. 

Indeed, it is only when clerics are prominent in a political movement that it is really correct to call it clericalist, and then the system they usually hope to set up falls under a much more generic category of theocracy.  It is perfectly reasonable to describe Iran as a theocratic republic; it would be reasonable to call it clericalist, if one so desired.  But fascist? In what sense? 

There are, it is true, authoritarian, revolutionary and republican elements in the Iranian regime, but these seem to be markers not of fascism but of what might broadly be called an Islamic version of conservative authoritarianism.  If there are a few people in the entire Near East who are Muslims and also find themselves in sympathy with fascism, that’s all very interesting, but it tells us nothing about the people whom the adminsitration is labeling Islamic fascist–namely, members of Al Qaeda or Hizbullah or the government in Tehran, which are very clearly not claiming any kind of affinities or sympathies with fascism.  There may be Muslims (probably more secular than religious) who are political fascists, but if a Muslim is an Islamist he is almost by definition not a fascist, and that is what we’re arguing about. 

The truth is that U.S. forces and the IDF looked good fighting Arabs only as long as Arab political leaders insisted on fighting on Western terms. As long as they persisted in pitting tank against tank or fighter plane against fighter plane, Arabs were never going to get the better of either the Americans or the Israelis. His stupidity perhaps matched only by his ruthlessness, Saddam may well have been the last Arab leader to figure this out. ~Andrew Bacevich, The American Conservative

I am reminded of that old Italian joke that sprang up after WWII, “What is the Italian salute?”  (The very un-PC answer is holding up both your hands in surrender.)  For students of Italian military history, this is a grievous insult, since Italian arms have been famous for good reason for centuries before the unification of Italy.  This joke only makes sense in the context of the poor morale and complete lack of zeal that Italian soldiers had in fighting for Mussolini and more generally in fighting for the Republic since unification.  Why was Mario from Naples going to die for some idiotic northern Italian warmonger who wanted to conquer Greece?  Who wanted to die for fascism?  (Yet another reason, gentle reader, why Islamofascism is a very, very stupid word–most of the soldiers fighting for the actual Fascists had little zeal for the cause, much less a willingness to embrace death!)  Long after the Romans made their small contribution to military history, Italians have been legendary fighters and Italy has produced some of the greatest generals (Prince Eugene of Savoy, though of mixed heritage and in service to the Habsburg emperor, was such a one)–when they were fighting for something or someone to whom they had a real attachment and loyalty.  But to die for La Reppublica?  Who will fight to the last for that?  There may be some who will, but just as no one will die “for the free market” (in Beneton’s catchy phrase), relatively few people want to die for an artificial republic that does not necessarily have anything to do with their sense of local patriotism or religious faith. 

In the same way, the ill-fated Arab nationalist armies of 1956, 1967 and 1973 did not fail because of their method of warfare but because their morale, organisation and commitment to their respective nations’ causes were all of poor or middling quality.  What conscript really was ready to die for Nasser and the United Arab Republic?  The absurdity of the question already provides the answer.  Thus the Arab armies in these wars were not as effective, suffered from poor organisation and often suffered large scale desertion or surrender–not because the method of war they were using was faulty or because they were incapable or using this method, but because they did not have the moral elements needed to make that way of war succeed against highly motivated, well-organised and disciplined forces and, in my obligatory Clausewitz reference, we should remember that the moral is to the material element in war as three to one. 

Any state that loses air superiority as quickly as Iraq did in 1991 (by flying a large part of its air force out of the country for “safe keeping”–whoops!) cannot fight an open-desert tank war and not get slaughtered.  This may have convinced some Arabs that this kind of warfare was foolish (or at least that fighting this kind of war against Israel and America was foolish), and I’m sure it convinced a lot of Westerners that Hussein was a buffoon, but it does not demonstrate that it would necessarily be ineffective if Arab states could combine the kind of cohesion and zeal that Hizbullah possesses with the technological means and know-how that several of them do possess.  The trouble is that the governments of the Arab states typically cannot generate the loyalty or zeal that Hizbullah does because, well, they have no credibility and they represent nothing that anyone wants to believe in. 

Partisan warfare, though effective to a degree, did not make “the Western way of war” obsolete in 1944, and modern guerrilla fighters do not necessarily make it obsolete now.   If Israel had combined its air assault with a large ground invasion and if it had been willing to accept the casualties that go with such an invasion and if it had been willing to fight a much longer, more arduous campaign than it has fought in the past and if it were in the political position to continue a hot war against an Arab country for months or even years, Hizbullah might very well have been defeated once and for all.  Whether that would have “solved” Israel’s security problems in the north or not is another question, but the outcome of the Lebanon war, remarkable as it is, does not necessarily prove any obvious superiority of Hizbullah’s method of warfare.  It took them longer to not lose a war that was called to a halt by international intervention, but it is not clear that they could have ultimately “won” except insofar as winning means staying alive.  Their method is superior only in the sense that they can significantly drive up the costs of their enemy’s victory to a point where he is less inclined to continue to fight. 

As Prof. Van Creveld suggested in the same issue, Israel was in a sense fighting with at least one arm tied behind its back (that it chose to use its other arm to devastate an entire country to no clear purpose unfortunately does not rate much mention in his article), in no small part because of the mistaken model used for the attack on Lebanon, namely Kosovo.  Following the Kosovo script assumes two things: 1) air power alone is sufficient to achieve the objective and 2) that you have three months to bomb the enemy into submission.  The first was a flawed conclusion from the beginning, and as it turned out Israel was not going to be allowed that much time.  Had NATO called off its unjust bombings after five weeks, it would have had similarly disappointing results, because the “Western way of war” being employed in Kosovo and Lebanon is not the same kind of Western war that was applied in the Arab-Israeli wars or the Gulf War, because the nature of these conflicts differs significantly.  They represent trying to dislodge an entrenched force that is in its own country vs. conventional fighting in the open field with massive air superiority on one side.  Had the Germans fought in Yugoslavia with nothing but the Luftwaffe, they would scarcely have gotten anywhere.

However, I do take Prof. Bacevich’s larger points that, so long as Western governments wage wars as they have been doing for the last 15 years, the guerrillas and insurgents of the Islamic world are able to “deny us victory” and that there is not a military solution to the political problems of the Near East.  But we should take care not to assume that differences in the method of warfare are the crucial difference in the relatively greater success of Arab peoples in war; if they are dedicated and trained Muslim fighters, their motivation seems remarkably greater than any ever inspired by the nationalist cause, and if they are particularly fanatical in their religion they possess a moral advantage that, if coupled with the conventional arsenal of a modernised Near Eastern military, could be quite formidable.  That is not to run around  like a little child screaming that we face impending doom, but to bear in mind that having something worth fighting for sometimes makes all the difference in determining the outcomes of conflicts.      

Attempting to maintain military hegemony in the Middle East is not in U.S. interests and runs contrary to American values and that would be the case even if the majority of Iraqis would have welcomed U.S. troops with flowers. And Israel’s long-term interest lies in making peace with its Arab neighbors and ending its occupation of the Palestinians even if Israel would have been able to maintain its military supremacy for ever and its control of the West Bank and Gaza with minimum costs. ~Leon Hadar

Mr. Hadar delivers a succinct and correct rebuttal to Prof. Bacevich’s recent TAC article.  While I think Mr. Hadar and I are both in complete agreement that Iraq and Lebanon were blunders of the first order and should have been avoided, and while I certainly think we should depart from Iraq post-haste, there is sometimes a tendency among war critics to imagine some kind of indomitable insurgent force that is as invincible as the hegemonists believe the superpower to be.  Indeed, the hegemonists are continually chafing at the restraints that common decency imposes on the current war efforts, depriving them of the sight of fire-bombed cities and civilian casualties in the hundreds of thousands.  The unfortunate thing is that the jingoes might be right to the extent that worst of the insurgency in Iraq might end if we were willing to inflict a level of destruction and terror on the entire population comparable to what was unjustly done to the civilian populations of Germany and Japan.  There are no guarantees that even this would work, of course, since massive death and devastation did not break the Vietnamese will to fight, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that this is unusually counterproductive in counterinsurgency.  The native insurgent or guerrilla’s advantage lies in the hegemon’s inability to reshape the political loyalties of the people through the massive use of force necessary to severely weaken the insurgents and guerrillas.  That is why hegemony in the Near East is doomed to failure–not because their military resistance is so effective, but because their political opposition to our hegemony is unyielding.  

However, even if the massive use of force would “work,” I would like to think that no decent person in this country wishes to lay waste to an entire country to break an insurgency against an occupation that shouldn’t even be taking place.  Besides not being in our national interest, neither the indefinite perpetuation of the occupation nor some neocon fantasy of raining thousands of bombs (or just a few nukes) on women and children can be morally justified. 

The Boer War, or the South African War as it is less colloquially called, was won through some of the most appalling methods of its time.  Long after the Transvaal and Orange republics had capitulated to the overwhelming military superiority of the British aggressors, Afrikaner kommandos (it was the Afrikaners who gave us this word) carried on the war to the proverbial bitter end while their farms and homes were put to the torch and their displaced families rounded up in horrible, disease-ridden concentration camps.  The virtual take-no-prisoners approach to the kommandos, as represented so strikingly and movingly in my favourite film, Breaker Morant, was brutal and ugly but finally ‘effective’ (and in Morant we see again how the lowest imperial grunts are made to take the blame for the Empire’s sake).  More and more of the countryside was fenced in until the bittereinders were finally compelled to surrender.  The insurgency lasted approximately three times as long as the formal war of 1899. 

Of course, the British had a relatively larger military presence and overwhelming advantages in controlling the supply lines into South Africa that make their success harder to duplicate in a larger territory with less secure borders and a much more broadly based resistance as we have in Iraq, which is now complicated by the activities of Shi’ite militias.  But the point is that the British were able to crush the Afrikaner insurgency, but only by methods that the rest of the world, including the strongly pro-Boer American public (still not fully recovered from their fit of anti-British jingoism of 1895-96), regarded as unjust and barbarous. 

If we were willing to break out the B-52s and start carpet bombing Anbar, the Sunni insurgency might eventually break due to a lack of Sunnis willing to fight–but such attacks would today be widely and correctly regarded as war crimes.  As we saw in Lebanon, indiscriminate bombing and collective punishment often have no effect on the popularity of the insurgents and instead drive the people into their arms, if only for a little while.  Once you go down that path, you can make no pretense to being a liberator or friend, but have become very simply a conqueror of the most brutal kind.  That would undoubtedly suit the more bloody-minded of our neo-imperialists, but it would betray everything our people claim to aspire to and betray every claim the government has made about “helping” Iraq. 

More than 10,000 Iraqis - the vast majority in Baghdad - have been killed in the past four months alone, a figure that would send shockwaves through the international community were it in any other part of the world. ~The Independent

The story also tells of reports that recent Iraqi army-Shia militia fighting in Diwaniyah ended up resulting in the army being driven out:

The intense fighting in Diwaniyah will be of particular concern to British forces stationed in the Shia-dominated south of Iraq. Reports suggested that militiamen had driven government forces out of the city and had set up checkpoints in the suburbs. If the Mehdi Army has pushed the government out of the Shia-dominated city it will be a major snub to Mr Maliki, who has promised to rid Iraq of militias. 

It is minimally encouraging that the army is actually standing up and fighting the militias; it is rather less encouraging, if the report is accurate, that Sadr’s militia is beating the Iraqi army in the field.  The latest is that the government has made arrangements with the Madhi Army to withdraw from the town, but this obviously leaves this part of the militia intact. 

Only a reincarnated Chamberlain or Daladier could think that there is no Islamist commonality among the recent hostage-taking of Western telejournalists on the West Bank, Iranian threats to extinguish Israel and end the American presence in the Gulf, terrorist attacks on soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, plans of killing thousands in Britain and Germany, or plots to blow up American airliners in London — as if Japanese fascists, Italian fascists, and German fascists could not have made war in unison against the liberal democracies given their differing agendas and sects, and lack of coordination. ~Victor Davis Hanson

On the other hand, only a monomaniac who sees parallels with fascism and the 1930s everywhere (and keeps bringing them up with a ridiculous frequency) could imagine that the kidnapping of telejournalists in Gaza (no points to Hanson for accuracy), the strategic interests and anti-Israel hostility of Iran, the terrorism of alienated Pakistanis in multicultural ghettoised Britain, a resentful Lebanese man in Germany (whatever could he have to be resentful of, I wonder?), insurgents in Anbar province and the Taliban in Paktia have any substantial connection whatever beyond the fact that all of these do involve Muslims and the places where large numbers of Muslims have come into close contact with Western powers and societies.  Their common Islamic identity is relevant to understanding each one of these cases.  But does it mean that they are somehow joined together, Axis-like, in some common, coherent cause?  Hanson clearly thinks so–why else the completely inapt reference to the Axis powers?  Does it mean that they are even all generally on the same side?  Simply put, no, and only someone with the myopia of a neocon would continue to nurse this illusion.   

By the way, Hanson’s abuse of the term fascist knows no bounds–the Japanese were imperialists and militarists, yes, but to call their state fascist is really to stretch the term beyond recognition.  Theirs was a militarised, wartime form of constitutional monarchy.  It might interest the history-challenged Hanson to know that the “Japanese fascists” continued to vote during the early part of their war (which, let us remember, began in China proper in 1937), having an elected Diet up through at least 1942 (when a single-party Tojo-backed slate took complete control of the Diet), so there was no question of needing to “persuade” them to do any voting.  Whether that voting had any real significance is another question (admittedly, real party control of the Diet had ended after the assassination of Inukai Tsuyoshi in 1932), but even in his throwaway lines Hanson manages to commit errors of fact.  Someone please remind me again why anyone listens to these people. 

Iraq doesn’t have a government. It has a collection of warlords, demagogues and thieves with official titles. It’s time to put our own politics aside and face reality: If Iraq’s elected leaders won’t stop looting their country long enough to pull together and defeat the foreign terrorists, internal insurgents and militias killing Iraqis, we should not ask our troops to defend them. ~Ralph “I’m Not A Racist!” Peters

Of course Mr. Peters isn’t a racist.  Just as everyone who said before the elections that the whole democratisation plan was a terrible idea wasn’t a racist.  At the time, they were something far worse in the eyes of the administration (and Mr. Peters): realists.

Now, all of a sudden, neocons and their hangers-on have rediscovered the importance of culture.  Here is Peters, sounding more like your average contributor to TAC c. 2002 than the lunatic neo-imperialist (and author of such masterpieces as New Glory: Expanding America’s Global Supremacy) that he really is:

Arab states are another story: Their social, political, economic and cultural structures leave them catastrophically uncompetitive with the developed world. Societies divided down the middle by religion, inhibited by tribal loyalties and conditioned to accept corruption can’t build healthy democracies.

I’m shocked, simply shocked by the defeatism and lack of resolve!  Mr. Peters probably just wants us all to roll over and die, doesn’t he?  Well, no, but to listen to Mr. Peters a year or two years or three years ago, you’d know that that was exactly what he and his allies thought of people with more foresight than they had.

But if we look closer, the same contempt for normal, more traditional societies that seems to motivate everything the neocons do also fills Mr. Peters’ throat with bile when he contemplates the Near East:

Even the seeming bright spots, such as Lebanon, aren’t true democracies. The Lebanese voted for clans, tribes and faiths, not for policies and programs.

In other words, “true democracies” can only have people who are alienated, deracinated, atomised and stripped of real religious loyalties–you know, members of the “ideological nation,” the “proposition nation.”  Of course, even in modern democracies ethnic and religious loyalties have considerable significance in shaping political values and political affiliations; we pretend that we all vote based on “policies and programs” when far more of us vote according to the same natural, human attachments that people everywhere use to define their political interests, together with our irrational enthusiasms for individual candidates.  For Mr. Peters, things should organised according to a certain kind of merit, “rationality” and the idols of this world.  All of what he says might well be true of mass democracy–perhaps loyalty to clan, tribe and religion are real impediments to its success.  This is why it, as a system of organising political life, will probably fail to endure in most parts of the world that still place high value on “clans, tribes and faiths” or, as Charles Krauthammer put, “tribe or religion or whatever.”  It will thrive among those who put no stock in loyalty to kin, place and religion, but why would any people want to become the kind of miserable people for whom these attachments were not powerful and essential?  Why does any people in the world want to remain in such a miserable state?

As Fawaziah al-Bakr, a Saudi promoter of educational change and women’s rights, said, “There is no question that the US has lost morally because of the war. Even if you like the people and the culture of the United States, you can’t defend it.” 
This summer’s wars of miscalculation will cast a long shadow down the decades to come to the detriment of this county’s national interests. ~H.D.S. Greenway

What remains somewhat puzzling to me is how willing so many Americans, pundits and ordinary citizens alike, have been to give the war in Lebanon more credit and approval than just about any other group of people.  Our national reputation has been greatly sullied and marred by support for this war.  Besides the injustices of the Lebanon war, it simply never made sense to me how American interests were served by it.  Then again, I remain unclear on how invading and occupying Iraq have done anything but damage our country, its armed forces and its place in the world. 

Another fateful Israeli decision was to take the war to Lebanon - even attacking Lebanese military facilities - rather than restricting its efforts to degrading Hezbollah. Destroying the lighthouses of Beirut symbolized this campaign of counterproductive destruction to get the Lebanese to act against Hezbollah or suffer intolerable pain. Although there were many in Lebanon, and indeed the Arab world beyond, who blamed Hezbollah for all that it had unleashed, the inability of the Israelis to crush Hezbollah, plus the mounting death toll on hapless Lebanese civilians, drowned the anti-Hezbollah voices from Baghdad to Beirut, and created a legend of heroic Hezbollah resistance. ~H.D.S. Greenway, Salt Lake Tribune

Via Antiwar

The attacks on the lighthouses really were among the more inexplicable and bizarre of the entire war.  Almost two weeks, Robert Fisk wrote about one of the attacks on Lebanese lighthouses on 10 August:

We order green tea and then there’s the roar of an explosion in the sky. An Israeli missile screeches right past us and crashes into the old French Mandate lighthouse, a brown-stone tower built in 1938 from which the Vichy French once sent out their propaganda.

Never have I seen the great and the good of Beirut society hurl themselves from their seats at such speed, overturning tables amid splintered glass, racing from the café for their chauffeur-driven cars, crashing into each other’s vehicles - and failing to pay their bills. I see a panic-stricken motor-cyclist thrown on to the road. He rolls down the side of the traffic island, then runs for his life.

A second missile streaks past us into the tower. Do the Israelis think that Hizbollah’s television station is broadcasting from here?

“Fisk!” Leena roars, almost as loudly as the rocket. “Why do you always bring trouble with you?” We finish a second cup of green tea and The Independent pays the bill. I am left wondering: what has Israel got against the French Mandate?

Israel’s relationship with Turkey, its closest ally in the region, has been put under severe strain by the Israeli army’s discovery that one route Iran used to resupply Hezbollah in Lebanon ran through Turkey into Syria.

The intelligence, described by one Israeli official here as “irrefutable,” found that in the days prior to the August 14 cease-fire, a shipment of spare parts and components for mobile missile launchers was sent by truck through Turkey to Syria and then into northern Lebanon before being funneled down to front-line Hezbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon.


The American diplomat said, “Nobody was aware of” shipments through Turkey “before the war started, not us or the Israelis. It may have been a reaction by Hezbollah to find a new route. The Israelis raised it directly with the Turks. By the time we were raising it with the Turks, they said they did not know about it and asked us to help shut this down.”

He added, “They told us that this was rough terrain. If they had known about it, they would not have let it happen. I think it would be a mistake to say they were allowing the shipments deliberately.” ~The New York Sun

That last bit should set at ease the minds of those who seem all too ready to jump on the anti-Turkey bandwagon.  Of course, there are plenty of reasons why Turkey should not join the EU, and there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t trust the “reformed” Islamist government of Erdogan, and it is possible that Turkey and Iran could come to some arrangement over cooperating against Kurdish rebels that would involve making back-door deals against Israel.  But the Turkish military–which is the institution that’s really in charge–has no interest in jeopardising the alliance with Israel.  The people offended by that alliance are the fine, democratically elected Islamists of AK.  Yet more proof, if we needed it, that ever greater democratisation and the creation of governments that really reflect the desires of the people in the Near East are likely nightmares waiting to happen.

U.S. involvement in Iraq has been incredibly successful and developments there have been “nothing short of a miracle,” Sen. James Inhofe said Monday.  ~Tulsa World

Via The Plank

Oh, it’s pretty incredible, all right.  Maybe Sen. Inhofe means to say that it is nothing short of a miracle that it hasn’t gotten worse faster?  Unfortunately, no, that’s not what he means.  

The unbelievable Max Boot cooks up a new phrase, certain to enter the history books as one of the sillier propaganda phrases of the last five years, “the Quartet of Evil” (Hamas must be the cellist) and declares that Israeli preemptive war against…Syria is the only logical thing to do.  Because toppling Assad (which might very well be the result of any Israeli or American attack on Syria) would make the region less volatile, I’m sure.  Because destabilising Syria and pushing it into the arms of the Muslim Brotherhood would be a victory against jihadis everywhere.  Because bombing another civilian population and creating a refugee crisis in yet another country would solve Israel’s problems with Hizbullah.  Oh, but that’s right, stability is the problem, not the answer.  Why didn’t Metternich ever think of that one?

But then comes the big punchline:

It is, of course, hard for a liberal democracy such as Israel to contemplate war if it hasn’t been attacked directly…

It gets even harder to go to war if the democracy hasn’t been attacked at all by the country in question, but Max always finds a way to support those wars, too.

One reason al Qaeda and “al Qaeda types” seem not to be trying very hard to repeat 9/11 may be that that dramatic act of destruction itself proved counterproductive by massively heightening concerns about terrorism around the world. No matter how much they might disagree on other issues (most notably on the war in Iraq), there is a compelling incentive for states — even ones such as Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Syria — to cooperate in cracking down on al Qaeda, because they know that they could easily be among its victims. The FBI may not have uncovered much of anything within the United States since 9/11, but thousands of apparent terrorists have been rounded, or rolled, up overseas with U.S. aid and encouragement. ~John Mueller, Foreign Affairs

Via David Weigel

Here is a clear example of why cooperating with countries such as Syria and Iran against the jihadis makes more sense than antagonising those countries and provoking conflicts with them.  Syria has been reasonably cooperative with the U.S. in the past in sharing information and working to help squelch jihadism, and Iran was reasonably cooperative during the opening stages of the Afghan War before it was declared an axis member.  There is no reason why the U.S. should not cooperate with these nations when it serves the American interest, and there are many reasons why making these governments into near-permanent enemies does not serve that interest.  This article also provides another argument for why lumping together any and all Islamists, regardless of sect or objective, into the meaningless generic category of “Islamofascist” is misguided and a distraction from fighting these sorts of jihadis.

An attack of this sort is not accidental, and it also does not appear to make much sense.

Which is why this regime, as unpredictable as it is fanatical, requires a united response from the civilized world. ~Hugh Hewitt

Yes, never again will the civilised world stand idly by and allow Iran to seize a Romanian oil rig in the Gulf!  You tell ‘em, Hugh.  Now, does it really make the Iranians unpredictable if they fail to carry out the super-crazy nuclear apocalypse that some people wrongly predicted for today?  Or does it make the anti-Iranian hawks seem rather like bellicose buffoons?  I suspect that if the Iranian government issued a statement about unemployment, Hugh Hewitt would declare it to be further proof of Tehran’s madness and perfidy.

As it happens, the seizure of the rig was the result of a commercial dispute.  It seems that the Iranians have reacted in an oddly heavy-handed fashion to make their point–whatever that point might be (the Post story was remarkably unhelpful in explaining what the nature of the dispute was)–and that is all it is.  Harming good relations with relatively neutral foreign countries, oil men and investors doesn’t seem to make any sense given Iran’s interests in maintaining good relations for its oil and gas trade, so it is difficult to say what prompted this show of force.  

Well, I guess Iran hasn’t dropped a Nova Bomb into the Sun today, or whatever impossible-to-deter apocalyptic terrorist plot it was that Professor Bernard Lewis claimed in the WSJ that they were going to perpetrate on August 22 for obscure Shi’ite religious reasons.

Remind me again, who exactly are the dangerous lunatics? ~Steve Sailer

I am beginning to get that odd feeling I had in December 2002 and January 2003.  At the time, everyone who mattered–except the prominent weapons inspectors who knew what they were talking about–was positive those WMDs were there.  After hearing this stuff for months, along with other equally unpersuasive pro-war arguments, I began to think that the Iraqis just might be telling the truth.  Maybe Iraq really was disarmed.  Wouldn’t that be a hoot?  And, as it turned out, those few inspectors who rejected the official story were proved right and my strange intuition that the jingoes were full of it turned out to be correct.

Now it occurs to me, on Apocalypse Day itself, that besides being ridiculously alarmist and exaggerating everything threatening about Iran to put it in the worst possible light (that sounds familiar) the same sort of rock-solid certainty about Iran’s nuclear program is carrying the day.  Just suppose–and I know it’s difficult for those who can’t grasp the idea that some people prefer rigorous, even draconian religion to “freedom”–that Iran really does just want a nuclear program for energy.  That would make a great many important people look very foolish (again), which is one reason why nobody entertains the thought for very long. 

Of course, in Iran’s case there is a real possibility of using a civil nuclear program to create a weapons program, and Iran has strategic interests that make acquiring these weapons understandable and even, in a sense, rational.  They might, like Pakistan did, be playing the world for fools, buying time and waiting for the moment to unveil their nuke program.   But what is so amazing about the entire debate going on in the West is that none of us–including the government that supposedly “knows more than we do” as the delightfully servile phrase has it–has any reliable information to confirm this theory, except that we think their President is looney, our government despises theirs and many of us actually believe that Iranians–and we’re talking about Iranians here–are some set of wild-eyed, suicidal maniacs who will just as soon annihilate themselves in some kamikaze nuclear war as look at us.  In just the same way that the government railroaded the country into a war in Iraq on premises that were always preposterous, the administration and a sizeable part of the population of this country are once again positive that they know what Iran intends, when we are merely supposing and guessing–just as we did with Iraq.  In fact, what is going on is the making of policy based in paranoia and fear, which is by definition not all together rational or well considered.

For that matter, suppose that Ahmadinejad is just a replaceable, demagogic blowhard with no real control and whose rants have no implications for real-world policy.  His bluster could just as easily be propaganda, or a calculated scheme to intimidate neighbours or designed for public consumption to keep the ordinary folks placated.  The masses in every country love to hear their president sock it to some dastardly firenghis and show “strength” by blowing a lot of hot air about future victories.  It is probably like Arab solidarity with the Palestinians–completely meaningless, but something that all public figures are required to engage in (like a Republican in the primaries saying how much he respects the sanctity of life, for example) to retain a certain level of credibility with their populations.

Michael Totten keeps his eye on the apocalyptic ball here, here, here and here.  So far, so good.  The Twelfth Imam seems to still be in occultation, and all’s right with the world.

President Bush’s attempt to apply Hollywood’s Western genre of Good vs. Bad Guys to make sense of the complex and atavistic political animosities of the Levant area and its peripheries was a costly misjudgment, as was his decision to recruit as his adviser on the Middle East an aging raconteur of oriental fantasies, Bernard Lewis. In Lewis’ Book of One Thousand and One Nights – in the first night the United States “liberates” Iraq and discovers weapons of mass destruction – the tale of making the Middle East “safe for democracy” would figure prominently. But the vision promoted by Lewis and other neoconservative fanatics was that of a Democratic Empire, a creature that could have been conceived only through an unnatural union between President Woodrow Wilson and Queen Victoria.

Bush would have been better off killing two birds with one stone – watching a great film at the same time as he learned something about the Middle East – by watching Lawrence of Arabia. Perhaps he might have realized how difficult it would be to impose an imperial order in the Middle East – the feuding Hashemites and Saudis, the never-ending killings between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land, establishing order in divided Iraq – even without adding the Wilsonian soundtrack of democracy and free elections. Why would you want, anyway, to dispense freedom to the same people over which you seek to impose an armed hegemony directly (Iraq), indirectly (Lebanon), or through proxies (Palestine)? Why provide the stick (power through elections) to the same players who want to stick it to The Man (who happens to be you)? ~Leon Hadar,

Mr. Hadar’s analysis is very good, as usual, and his assessment of Bernard Lewis reminds us yet again why we should not take Lewis’ agitation over the significance of August 22 seriously.  Since it is already nearly midday on the 22nd in the Near East as I write this, we are halfway through Doomsday and (so far) there is a considerable lack of doom. 

On the credit side, Syria had never been guilty of a terrorist outrage comparable to the outrage of Lockerbie, yet Libya’s Gaddafi—having done his penance—has been rehabilitated. In the aftermath of 9-11 Damascus passed on to the United States hundreds of files on Al Qaeda and other anti-Western terrorist individuals and movements throughout the Middle East, many of which targeted Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others besides the United States. In an interview with the New York Times in 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said Syrian officials “gave me some information with respect to financial activities (of insurgents in Iraq) and how we can cooperate more fully on that.” In brief, Syria has the potential to become America’s more useful partner in the “War on Terror” than Saudi Arabia has ever been. Any “regime change” in Damascus remains a perilous proposition for as long as the Muslim Brotherhood represents the only likely alternative to Assad. ~Srdja Trifkovic

Lee Smith is an American journalist who moved from Beirut to Jerusalem during the Lebanon war. He likewise invited me on a walking tour of the Old City on the ill-fated date. Americans may be the only ones in the world taking this seriously. But that’s only true of Americans far from the scene. In Israel, August 22 is Tuesday, not Doomsday. ~Michael Totten

Sullivan’s guest bloggers are certainly providing some more interesting fare than is usually on offer at his blog.  As I argued before, the hawkish alarmism about August 22 doesn’t even make sense on the Shi’ites’ own terms.  It has never helped the reputation of this alarmist tale that Prof. Lewis and the Journal have their obvious biases against Iran and have been known to exaggerate the extremity of a threat to Israel and the known universe from certain allegedly unstable despots in the past.  Americans, with their love of end-of-the-world scenarios and a stunning ignorance of the actual tenets of other peoples’ religions, are unusually susceptible to the suggestions of qualified experts who will fill their heads with all sorts of dark visions of madmen unleashing doom on the world, and the spread of the August 22 apocalypse warning only confirms this.  That such a thing could have been published in a reputedly respectable American newspaper, rather than being relegated to The Weekly World News along with all the other prophecies of Armageddon, speaks volumes about the credulity of uninformed Americans and the extent to which anti-Iranian hawks are willing to go to push their belligerent policy.

The Kurdish state-within-a-state is, in some ways, more dangerous to Turkey and, to a lesser extent, Iran, than Hezbollah is to Israel because there are about 14 million Kurds in Turkey and 5 million in Iran while there are very few Shi’ites in Israel. If the Iraqi Kurds were to wind up with oil fields of northern Iraq, they could finance a lot of trouble in Turkey or Iran. After all, even without oil money, the Kurdish rebellion of the 1980s and 1990s in Turkey killed dozens of times more than the recent Israel-Lebanon war. ~Steve Sailer

Turkey and Iran here face a serious threat of destabilisation (is stability in the Near East still a problem that we need to keep solving?), and if attacks from Kurdish rebels continue they will eventually come to the conclusion that they have no choice but to establish their own security cordons and buffer zones inside Kurdish Iraq.  They will have as much (or as little, however you look at it) justification in this as any other state in a similar situation. 

The threats to the internal stability and integrity of these countries are very real, and there may come a time, especially in the case of Iran, when the U.S. and Iraqi Kurdish failure (or what will be perceived as their failure) to restrain or control the PKK inside Iraq will exhaust the patience of the two governments.  There is no love lost for America in Turkish public opinion, so if anything a Turkish intervention in Iraq–which would obviously severely damage the alliance–would make Erdogan’s government very popular, at least in the short term.  The Kurds have always been the wild card in the Iraqi equation.  If Washington really wants to keep the wider region from completely melting down, it will do what it can to coordinate with Turkey against the PKK and help secure the interests of an actual NATO ally rather than encourage the separatist sympathies of the PKK’s ethnic brethren.  Failing that, Turkey will look to its own interests and the strength of the alliance, already put under tremendous strain by the invasion of Iraq that Ankara did not want, will be greatly reduced. 

Our longstanding alliances have already suffered terrific damage because of this war.  It would be grossly irresponsible if Washington were to neglect an important regional ally in a misguided attempt to, shall we say, appease Kurdish nationalist opinion.  This neglect of the PKK problem will come back to bite the U.S. in a big way that the administration will not be expecting. 

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel should not be permitted to contribute troops to an international peacekeeping force for southern Lebanon. That would eliminate Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh — among the only countries to have offered front-line troops for the expanded force. ~AP

Via Antiwar

The tenuous cease-fire in Lebanon continues to erode, which I suppose is not very surprising considering the half-baked nature of the cease-fire in the first place, but what continues to surprise me is the Israeli resistance to having peacekeepers from any countries with which it does not have diplomatic relations.  That would, unless I am very much mistaken, include most of the Islamic world.  Many of the nations willing to put their soldiers into Lebanon (even though they will assuredly be no more effective than any other U.N. force of any composition) are Muslim nations that do not recognise or do not have relations with Israel–yet arguably this is precisely why they are considered acceptable donors by the Muslims of Lebanon.  Were they not Muslim nations with some interest in the conflict, they would be hemming and hawing over committing ground forces in any sizeable number–like Germany, France and the rest of Europe.  I can appreciate why it would be less than desirable from an Israeli perspective to have soldiers from these countries, but if Israel objects to the participation of the three largest Muslim nations in the world–including Bangladesh, which has always contributed to virtually every major peacekeeping operation for the last twenty years–it seems to be a signal that it now objects to any U.N. force, because it has already ruled out the only nations that have made it realistically possible to assemble such a force in any reasonable period of time.  A U.N. force probably will be incapable of carrying out the mandate it has been given in Lebanon, but then it causes us to ask why Israel agreed to the force only to refuse to accept it in the form that it was always likely to take (i.e., including a large number of Muslim peacekeepers).   

The conventional wisdom on Iraq is dead.  Long live the conventional wisdom on Iraq!  That seems to be the view of the two authors of a lengthy article in the Post detailing all of the potential consequences of a full slide into general civil war in Iraq.  While there are some problems with some the examples they cite in their article, that is not what concerns me so much as the assumption that the United States must remain to manage a conflict that has so far shown no signs of being manageable.  First, they admit that any effort to manage the conflict may only be postponing the inevitable, which underscores the need to get out while they getting is good. 

The authors’ estimate that 450,000 soldiers would be needed to impose a settlement of the conflicts in Iraq is probably accurate, but what puzzles me is where the authors believe we will find the necessary extra 300,000 soldiers to accomplish this and how exactly they expect any administration to convince the public, already weary of this adventure, to support a policy of managing the deteriorating situation.  Because we should be under no illusions if we go down that road–it means at least 10 to 15 years of direct management, which would involve large-scale deployment of military and civil assets to the virtual exclusion of all other foreign policy initiatives.  The country would in all likelihood have to be formally returned to the status of an occupied country (not that it has ever really ceased having that status), the sham Iraqi government that presently exists–because its military is simply a front for one side in the civil war–would have to be dissolved and the days of American soldiers putting force protection as priority number one would be gone for good.  To defeat the old insurgency and suppress the sectarian violence we would require the development of long-term working relationships between the occupying forces and the native population that would preclude frequent massive rotations and would, in all likelihood, require the end of a volunteer military as the basis for the army of occupation.  None of this guarantees success, but it would be the bare minimum required if we were going to make a serious effort to stop the collapse of Iraq into civil war.   

Clearly, as a matter of American interests, none of these necessary things is tolerable, much less desirable.  Managing an Iraqi civil war, whatever its knock-on effects in the region, would be a devastating drain on national resources.  Imagine if, even after the collapse of the USSR, Russia were still in Afghanistan today with no end in sight–that would be our future in 2020.  Imagine 15,000 more American dead and possibly six times as many wounded before it’s all over.  Iraq would become little more than our protectorate for the next generation, and possibly longer than that if we could retain control that long.  If you commit to managing the civil war and preventing the consequences of Iraq’s collapse, you are committing yourself to an endless obligation, because the longer Americans remain as ”protectors” of Iraq the harder it will be to justify leaving.  If today we have a solid core who believe we cannot have let the soldiers who have died in Iraq die in vain, we will have an even larger number in 25 years who will be even more committed to making a go of Iraq, as it will have become the national endeavour above all else.  

An Iraqi civil war will result in terrible instability, but it will in the end result in a new, stable balance of power if Western interventionists do not prolong and counterbalance against whichever side is winning at any given moment, as they did in the Balkans.  The only real reason why the foreign policy establishment grimaces at the thought of not preventing this conflict is that they refuse to accept the likely strengthening of Iran that follows from an Iraqi civil war.  Washington does not fear chaos and a vacuum in the Near East–they fear the alternative order, the alternative “new Middle East” that they have unleashed but did not plan to have.   

What, then, is America’s role in all this? Israel’s American supporters would like us to believe either that Israel is a just nation that never does wrong or that her interests are identical with or even supersede our own. Whatever the motives of these people—religious hysteria for some, fundraising for others (I think especially of the disgraceful role played by Pat Robertson), ethnic loyalty for others, none of them should be listened to by decent Americans and all of them, so far as possible, have to be eliminated from a public debate that should focus primarily on two things: the principles of justice and the American national interest. ~Thomas Fleming

President George W. Bush speaks to reporters after his annual meeting with his top economic advisors at Camp David, Maryland, August 18, 2006. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

No frustration here

“I sensed a frustration with the lack of progress on the bigger picture of Iraq generally — that we continue to lose a lot of lives, it continues to sap our budget,” said one person who attended the meeting. “The president wants the people in Iraq to get more on board to bring success.” ~The New York Times

Although fighting between Turkish security forces and PKK militants is nowhere near the scale of the 1980s and 90s - which accounted for the loss of more than 30,000 mostly Turkish Kurdish lives- at least 15 Turkish police officers have died in clashes. The PKK’s sister party in Iran, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (Pejak), has stepped up activities against security targets in Kurdish regions. Yesterday, Kurdish media said eight Iranian troops were killed. 


Frustrated by the reluctance of the US and the government in Baghdad to crack down on the PKK bases inside Iraq, Turkish generals have hinted they are considering a large-scale military operation across the border. They are said to be sharing intelligence about Kurdish rebel movements with their Iranian counterparts.

“We would not hesitate to take every kind of measures when our security is at stake,” Abdullah Gul, the Turkish foreign minister, said last week. ~The Guardian

I assume that we will be bombarded by numerous articles and television appearances by pundits declaring Turkey and Iran’s right to defend themselves against terrorism and we will hear a lot of complaints about the “Kurdish state within a state,” right?  Isn’t it obvious that their war is our war?  In fact, I think we might be on the verge of WWVI against the united forces of “Kurdish fascism.”  We certainly have to keep an eye on the Kurds’ state sponsors and the forces occupying Iraq.  What choice will Iran have but to bombard Baghdad for allowing this sort of thing to go on in their own country?  I mean, the Iraqis even have a Kurdish president, so that must mean Iraq is responsible for everything that is happening.  Really, if you think about it, this is a golden opportunity for the region.   

That is the basic sentiment of yet another self-exculpatory statement by Sullivan on the war:

I plead guilty too. I bought the democratization line and the WMD threat and was passionately pro-war. My only defense is that within days of the invasion, I started to worry about the troop levels, and the dissonance between what I had been told and what was actually being done opened up. Then Abu Ghraib; then the refusal to add more troops; well, you get the picture. 

In short, he lacked the vision and judgement to see the profound flaws in the pro-war argument when it mattered and lacked anything resembling resolve and integrity to seriously stand by the enterprise he had so vociferously backed only moments before.  There are names for people like that, and they’re not complimentary.  It is one thing to have really believed the war to be right or believed the administration to be capable and then discovered otherwise on later reflection, and something else to have been as hawkish as they come and then suddenly play the part of arch-dissenter, a part that Sullivan likes to play at in all things.  But it is a title he, who prior to the outbreak of the war was good a lackey as any, does not deserve.

In foreign-policy circles, it is sometimes claimed that past nuclear proliferation—say, to India or Pakistan—has been less destabilizing than predicted. In the case of Iran, this is wishful thinking. A nuclear Iran would mean a nuclear Middle East, as traditional rivals like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey feel pressured to join the club, giving every regional conflict nuclear overtones.  ~Michael Gerson

What prevented the 1999 Kargil War from blowing up into the fifth full-scale Indo-Pak war?  The fear of nuclear escalation on both sides.  It is that same fear of escalation that has prevented numerous cross-border provocations by Pakistan-based terrorists from turning into shooting wars.  By all rights, India should be able to smash Pakistan in any conventional war, just as she has effectively done each of the four times before, but the nuclear deterrent prevents such large-scale responses to provocations and now has maintained a continued, albeit sometimes tense, peace in the Subcontinent for several years with the reasonable prospect of many more years of peace in the future. 

But this is to take Mr. Gerson’s gloomy forecast to represent something resembling reality.  What “regional conflicts” are there in the region?  When exactly have Turkey and Iran or Iran and Saudi Arabia, much less Egypt, ever been at war with each other in the post-Versailles period?  What would be the likely causes of such ”regional conflicts”?  If, and this still remains an if, Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it might well prompt other nations in the region to acquire their own.  Like Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, it would be regrettable, but like Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons it is something that is manageable. 

In theory, every incident of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and India as a whole has the potential to precipitate nuclear war.  While Mr. Bush was spinning yarns about Iraqi mushroom clouds, the world very nearly saw India and Pakistan go over the edge in the summer of 2002 in the wake of the Parliament attack of December 2001 and escalating tensions, but Musharraf and Vajpayee alike had the good sense and self-interest to step back.  To hear Mr. Gerson and Mr. Bush tell it, the peoples of the Near East are perfectly capable of adopting every manner of Western political habit, but they are apparently incapable of acting out of basic self-interest and self-preservation if and when they acquire the means to build nuclear weapons.  The calculations of self-interest do not require a democratic or benevolent polity; according to these calculations, deterrence has worked and will continue to work. 

It would, of course, be preferable if none of these nations ever acquired nuclear weapons (it would be much better if such weapons did not exist), but there are some problems for which there are no solutions; in this case, they are not really problems, but simply realities to be borne and endured and managed as best as one can.  Now we can either manage the rise of nuclear Near Eastern states intelligently and seek rapprochement with Iran in the interests of future regional peace, or we can be fools and attempt to stop Iran from acquiring the technology that Iran sought under the Shah and will seek again when all the ayatollahs are dead and buried, because it is in the strategic interest of Iran to develop these weapons and will be as long as its neighbours possess these weapons.  The alternative is to try to stop Iran which means (and everyone knows this) full-scale war with Iran, which we do not want and which we cannot, short of a return to conscription, successfully fight.  As speechwriter, Mr. Gerson has conjured up his last bogeyman; let us ignore him, as we should have ignored Mr. Bush’s dire warnings about Iraq all those years ago.     

As the politics in Iraq have grown more polarized since the elections in December, in which many Sunni Arabs voted, attacks have soared, including sectarian clashes that have killed an average of more than 100 Iraqi civilians per day over the past two months. ~The New York Times

Reinforcing, legitimising and politicising sectarian rivalry have been some of the biggest, most overlooked errors of the occupation.  It was assumed that by going ‘gently, gently’ and not establishing the new Iraqi constitution on the basis of a shared nationality–however artificial–that Iraq would settle down into a relatively stable internal political situation, when it has resulted in politicising sectarian and ethnic identity by making them the definitive source of political loyalties and the holding of political power.  Nothing exacerbates and strengthens claims of identity and hostility towards other groups more than making group identity the basis for possessing power.  Political contestaion sharpens and hardens identity, and in a society with imperfect or nonexistent experience with political discourse this contestation will often translate into bloodletting and vendetta.   

The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Along with a sharp increase in sectarian attacks, the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January. The deadliest means of attack, roadside bombs, made up much of that increase. In July, of 2,625 explosive devices, 1,666 exploded and 959 were discovered before they went off. In January, 1,454 bombs exploded or were found.


The increased attacks have taken their toll. While the number of Americans killed in action per month has declined slightly — to 38 killed in action in July, from 42 in January, in part reflecting improvements in armor and other defenses — the number of Americans wounded has soared, to 518 in July from 287 in January. Explosive devices accounted for slightly more than half the deaths. ~The New York Times

Prime Minister Maliki today went outside the Green Zone to talk about Iraqi forces — to talk to Iraqi forces, not only to thank them for their efforts, but to encourage them. And it’s significant to note that the one thing he said was that Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Sunni, Shia and Turkmen should be united with each other to form a country united to defeat terrorism. And I think what you saw there, at least according to General Caldwell, was a very passionate speech delivered by the elected head of Iraq. ~Tony Snow

Why do we continue to tolerate the deaths and injuries of American soldiers for the sake of the Iraqi government?  Bring them home.  Come home, America.

Okay, so I have one last post to offer up before I go away for a while.  Enjoy. 

More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. “I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States,” said another person who attended. ~The New York Times

If the characterisation of Bush’s attitude at this meeting is accurate, it goes a long way towards explaining the man’s limitations: the limitations of his imagination, his knowledge and his grasp of the politics of the region.  Here is someone who seems to earnestly believe that we have done the Shi’ites a great service and that they should be appropriately grateful.  As I suggested the other day, gratitude of the sort we might expect might simply not be possible for them to give.  But in any case Mr. Bush’s frustration seems to stem from the fact that he cannot see why anyone would be terribly upset over our providing weapons and political support to the people bombing their co-religionists.  Surely their gratitude for liberation should outweigh anything so meager as religious solidarity!  Herein lies the core problem: the belief that these people will prefer their new liberated status so much more than their previous religious loyalties (loyalties which they have only just recently been able to start expressing openly and ebulliently again–thanks, indeed, to the invasion) that their gratitude to the liberator will trump solidarity with their fellow Shi’ites.  We truly have become a profoundly secular culture if Mr. Bush, supposed embodiment of evangelical religious enthusiasm, cannot perceive the reasons for Iraqi Shi’ites expressing their support for other Shi’ites in a time of conflict.  Given his anemic or rather nonexistent expression of concern for the Christians of Lebanon, perhaps this response should not surprise anyone. 

Perhaps it is easier to argue that the problem (Muslim anger) has a solution (change of foreign policy), rather than recognize that our belief in rationality and our optimism about human nature are sometimes misplaced. It is a legacy of the Enlightenment that we find it so hard to deal with madness and fanaticism. We are always inclined to seek an alternative explanation: There is a cause — our policies — there is an effect — their anger — and there is a solution — our change of policy. ~Emanuele Ottolenghi, National Review

God forbid that I ever say anything really favourable about the Enlightenment, and I have made my strong objections against political optimism known on several occasions, but I tend to find that people who are otherwise so thrilled with the promise of the Enlightenment, rationality and freedom when it comes to the blasted “freedom agenda” suddenly become very cautious and hesitant in assuming that it will, in fact, do very much good when applied by Westerners to discern intelligible causes of our policy screw-ups.  Reason will light the way across the Near East and eliminate the causes of terrorism, but it apparently cannot help us devise a better Near Eastern policy. 

On questions of policy we must remain mute, because obviously you can’t change anything with changes in policy–in spite of what Enlightenment theories about politics, society and culture claim.  When lumieres get depressed, they come off sounding more morose and pessimistic than any reactionary, because they are coming down off the big high of actually believing in their absurd theories about the innate goodness of man, the state of nature and all the rest of it. 

Maybe the Enlightenment in its entirety is a bunch of hokum (I generally think so), perhaps its concept of rationality is deeply flawed, its optimism about human nature absurd and its belief in solving every problem with recourse to reason naive and dangerous, but it is amazing how quickly otherwise steadfast believers in said hokum run for the exits the moment the possible answers conflict with their deep-set prejudices against changing policy in the Near East.  Because certain of our neo-lumieres approve of current policy, we must now devise some elaborate explanation of why this problem of resistance to our policies–unlike all of the others–has no solution. 

Now I don’t think every problem has a solution (as Burnham would say, such a thing is not really a problem anyway), but I am skeptical about the reasons for the sudden loss of confidence of friends of the Enlightenment the moment that a rational solution does seem to present itself to us.  As I have said several times this month, withdrawal and ending occupations are not the complete answers, they do not solve everything, and there are indeed some aspects of the Islamic world we will never be able to ”solve” (because these are simply realities integral to Islamic societies and not some sort of political and social structural flaws that we can repair), but I have to say that the only thing more offensive than the arrogant confidence of the hubristic Enlightenment man is his despair after he has encountered some impasse in thinking about a problem.  He suddenly adopts the most fatalistic, tragic airs and laments about his poor lot instead of rethinking his assumptions and doing something to get out of his predicament.  Reason offers him no guidance, so he must resign himself to endless violent conflict!  There is, of course, always a better guide than reason (more than one, I should think), but in this case I think Mr. Ottolenghi hardly gives the power of reason enough credit.  His is a vision that has clearly been overwhelmed by the weight of ideological presuppositions–ridiculous presuppositions, by the way, that must be laid at the door of Enlightenment rationalism–that tell him that religious fanaticism has no reason and cannot really be understood.  By defining rationality in his typically limited, dessicated way, the Enlightenment man cannot perceive the method and logic that exists even in the mind of the religious fanatic.  Needless to say, the distraction of thinking of it in terms of fascism or even totalitarianism does relatively little good. 

Let’s think about this: changing our policies, which the Islamists positively state are the causes of their violent actions, will supposedly avail nothing, because these people are fanatics…but bringing secularism (which they do indeed hate), liberty (they’re not big fans) and democracy (they like it only on certain occasions) will revamp the entire region and instill the spirit of peace and brotherhood among the nations.  Does anyone see a disconnect?  (Steve Sailer, by the way, offers a different sort of disconnect that makes a lot of sense.)  In other words, giving the region’s peoples something they claim to want–changes in foreign policy–is useless, while giving them something that they may or may not want and may actually despise in practise will reduce the scale of the problem. 

If the “freedom agenda” crowd is even 1% right about the transformative potential of the new ideas they propose on the grounds that, given the chance, most people will opt for a different set of values from the ones the Islamists offer (which is doubtful but not completely impossible), they have to grant that there is some chance that there are other incentives and changes that can be offered and made that would reduce the level of the threat from Islamic jihadis, chief among which are significant changes in policy in the region.  If they believe firmly that changing policy will avail nothing, they must also acknowledge that attempts to transform political culture will also avail nothing; they have defined the cause of jihadi attacks in such a way that there never could be any “solution” short of perpetual warfare.  If they really believe this, why do they waste our time and resources with all this babble about democratisation, which they must believe to be futile?

But at the root of all this lumiere moaning and groaning is a deeper misunderstanding: thinking of our foreign policy as if it were just some sort of abstract question no more personally or immediately relevant than the raising of taxes.  Mr. Ottolenghi displays his stunning aloofness here:

For why should it be logical or even understandable that Muslim anger at Western foreign policy solicits terrorism? Should anger at high taxes, inefficient health care, poor environmental standards, or disagreeable op-eds solicit “understandable” similar responses? Should we condone people blowing up airliners because they think the highest tax bracket should not be higher than, say, 30 percent? Should we “address their grievances”? By, say, lowering taxes? What if someone decides to blow up, say, the Guardian because they are fed up with the political inclination of its Comment section? Should the Guardian address their grievances by becoming right-wing? Can we not call it blackmail, instead, as it should be the case? Can we not say that differences of opinion are only legitimate when voiced in the peaceful forms amply provided by the open societies we are part of? That what makes people angry is no excuse for killing people?

Well, I don’t know.  Some rather famous people, with whom Americans may be familiar, who objected to tariffs and started killing people over that seemed to think there was an excuse, or rather a justification, because their disagreement wasn’t just about tariffs but about claims of right, justice and a certain sense of their own dignity and status.  They took their disagreements, as the saying has it these days, to “the next level” in the belief that they no longer had peaceful options left.  It’s all very well to say that this sort of behaviour is inexcusable, but every daft idiot who praises the liberal revolutions of the last two centuries must acknowledge that it was also wrong to take up arms over what were, in some respects, much more trivial and unimportant political disagreements.  If you are not willing to condemn Bastiat, Garibaldi and Michael Collins, spare us the lecture on the need to resolve all our differences peacefully.  And whatever you do, don’t pretend that the current round of using violence to redress perceived grievances is really that different.  Its methods may be different, but its logic is the same as the logic of every revolutionary–which is why I oppose them and the revolutionaries of every age. 

What they all have in common is a shared objection to policies that directly wound, or are perceived to wound, the community and the community’s sense of justice, its sense of how it ought to be treated.  Because foreign policy, particularly ours in some parts of the Near East, directly impacts the daily lives of millions and affects the sentiments and perceptions of hundreds of millions, it is not hard to see how the exercise of our power in their part of the world–particularly military power–rankles in a way that a change in the marginal rates never would.  Particularly if that policy leads–or is simply perceived to lead–to an allied government mistreating its people or to the use of U.S.-provided weapons on their villages or the direct use of American firepower in their country or even the mere presence of American troops in their country (regardless of why they are there), that policy will elicit a fierce and predictable response.  Removing these provocations is a first step towards eliminating the broader support and rationale of groups that feed off of the outrage over these policies.  

Of course, in another era now long gone, the suggestion of direct taxation would have been met with fierce political resistance and even violent resistance in this country–this seems irrational to the modern wage slave who trusts his government and may even want it to take more of his money “for the good of all,” but it really was that important for maintaining personal and political independence and liberty.  If men used to kill each other over this, we can surely understand why they would respond vehemently to the perceived humiliation of their peoples and their countries.  

There is far less public debate of Israeli policy in the US, in fact, than there is in Israel itself.

This is less a reflection of American Jewish opinion - which is more diverse than is suggested in the media - than it is a commentary on the power of pro-Israeli lobby groups like Aipac, the American-Israeli Political Action Committee, which bankrolls pro-Israeli congressional candidates. That, in turn, is frustrating to liberal Jews like Michael Lerner, a San Francisco rabbi who heads an anti-war community called Tikkun. Rabbi Lerner has tried to argue for years that it is in Israel’s best interests to reach a peaceful settlement, and that demonising Arabs as terrorists is counter-productive and against Judaism. ~The Independent

The media, more generally, has left little doubt in the minds of a majority of American news consumers that the Israelis are the good guys, the aggrieved victims, while Hizbollah is an incarnation of the same evil responsible for bringing down the World Trade Centre, a heartless and faceless organisation whose destruction is so important it can justify all the damage Israel is inflicting on Lebanon and its civilians.

The point is not that this viewpoint is necessarily wrong. The point - and this is what distinguishes the US from every other Western country in its attitude to the conflict - is that it is presented as a foregone conclusion. Not only is there next to no debate, but debate itself is considered unnecessary and suspect.


Often, the coverage has been hysterical and distasteful. In the days following the Israeli bombing of Qana, several pro-Israeli bloggers started spreading a hoax story that Hizbollah had engineered the event, or stage-managed it by placing dead babies in the rubble for the purpose of misleading reporters. Oliver North, the Reagan-era orchestrator of the Iran-Contra affair who is now a right-wing television and radio host, and Michelle Malkin, a sharp-tongued Bush administration cheerleader who runs her own weblog, appeared on Fox News to give credence to the hoax - before the Israeli army came forward to take responsibility and brought the matter to at least a partial close.


The hysteria has extended into the realm of domestic politics, especially since this is a congressional election year. Republican have sought to depict last week’s primary defeat of the Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, one of the loudest cheerleaders for the Iraq war, as some sort of wacko extremist anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli stand that risks undermining national security. Vice-President Dick Cheney said Lieberman’s defeat would encourage “al-Qa’ida types” to think they can break the will of Americans. The fact that the man who beat Lieberman, Ned Lamont, is an old-fashioned East Coast Wasp who was a registered Republican for much of his life is something Mr Cheney chose to overlook. ~The Independent

This is an interesting outside view, which provides another example of the way in which our perception of the rest of the world and particularly the conflicts in the Near East is shaped inordinately by what I think we can all acknowledge to be heavily slanted news and editorial coverage.  Every position starts from the assumption that Israel is basically in the right, because there is the assumption that anyone hostile to Israel is obviously in the wrong; you may be able to express sympathy for civilian victims on both sides, but there is no way, particularly on the right, that you can entertain for a moment that the cause of Israel is anything but a good one and, what is more, it is extremely difficult even to maintain the basic distinction between their cause and our own.  We like to think this is because everything is very clear and only deluded (and prejudiced) Europeans are unable to see it, but it is actually a function of the complete bias of all our sources of information and our lack of anything resembling free discourse on one of the rather more pressing issues of the day. 

What is particularly remarkable about our media is the capacity it has to put forward an almost identical message in every newspaper, every television broadcast, in ways that would and do strike Europeans as bizarre and frighteningly uniform.  Many have commented over the years on our media’s capacity to repeat, state television-like, the exact same phrases and report on exactly the same stories, but when it comes to the Near East and particularly in the last several years it has become even more noticeable. 

Somehow, perhaps thanks to the consolidation of media companies into a relatively small number, our “free” institutional media manages to come up with more or less the same analysis and reporting.  It is as if it were being centrally organised, but it is not–there is simply an understanding, an awareness of the right sort of uniformity of opinion that all should embrace, that would, if we saw it in another nation on any other issue, strike us as stunningly conformist and almost like a state of being conditioned for mindless obedience.

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a “senior administration official,” insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

“The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren’t for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It’s like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn’t work.”

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike “the law enforcement approach,” does “work.”

The official is correct that it is wrong “to think that somehow we are responsible — that the actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S. policies.” But few outside the fog of paranoia that is the blogosphere think like that. It is more dismaying that someone at the center of government considers it clever to talk like that. It is the language of foreign policy — and domestic politics — unrealism. ~George Will, The Washington Post

Will is correct to draw the lesson from the London plot that intelligence-gathering, law enforcement and international cooperation have been shown to be not only necessary elements in counterterrorist operations but the vital elements.  This makes the administration’s bizarre theories about democratisation and neocon blather about “draining the swamp” appear like so many old welfarist theories that held that changing the socioeconomic conditions of the urban environment would reduce crime.  Mr. Bush, for his part, adds to that fundamentally liberal prescription for doomed social engineering a willingness to use main force in a vain attempt to eliminate all criminals from a neighbourhood. 

Of course there will always be those jihadis who will not care about any change in policy, because they are carrying out a basic religious obligation–as they see it in any case–and will always be hostile to the non-Islamic world.  Everything we do to swell their numbers and increase their base of supporters simply worsens this basic, but far more manageable problem. 

And insofar as this unavoidable jihadi mentality is true throughout the Islamic world as a whole (that is, all Muslims are under the same obligations to make the same struggle against infidels, so all Muslims should be equally likely to be radicalised), it cannot intelligibly explain the choice of targets or the particular origins of the terrorists, which have been overwhelmingly men either from or closely connected to nations under allied, despotic governments that are, for the most, officially hostile to Islamists in politics and society (Egypt, Pakistan), or from nations that were then under the occupation of Western armies (Saudi Arabia). 

One can find outliers that can be explain with reference to the Islamic duty of jihad–a Tunisian here, some Yemenis over there–but is it not remarkable that you do not have swarms of Malaysian hijackers and legions of Azeri suicide bombers?  The Libyan terrorist, once the symbol of violent fanaticism in my childhood days, seems to be a thing of the past.  Admitting a causal connection between occupation and terrorism does not have to be treated as an admission of indirect culpability for the terrorist acts themselves–this is what people seem to get hung up on in their “never blame America” mindset–but simply an acknowledgement that occupation exacerbates the problem, regardless of whether or not the problem existed before the occupation began.  Consider: you might be interested in treating a cancer, and you might be trying very hard, but if your idea of treatment is exposing the patient to loads of carcinogens you have substantially reduced your odds of success.  If the jihadis are the cancer, reckless intervention and occupation are all those things that worsen the condition.  This is not difficult to understand, and there is nothing shameful in acknowledging one of the most obvious political truths of the modern world.    

It is the talking point of the U.S. and U.K. governments that 9/11 preceded Afghanistan and Iraq, which never ceases to amaze for its irrelevance, since everyone paying attention knows that it was the presence in Saudi Arabia that, more than any other single political cause, precipitated the attacks–something that is both tacitly and openly admitted by the departure from Saudi Arabia after the invasion of Iraq and, as Fiasco records, Wolfowitz’s arguments that the cost of containing Iraq, which necessitated a presence in Saudi Arabia, had included provoking the 9/11 attacks (as well as the attacks throughout the ’90s).  When it served their turn members of this administration had no problem admitting that occupation bred terrorist responses–not that it would stop them from inaugurating another occupation of another Muslim country with prominent sacred sites in it. 

Occupation, whether or not it is actually an occupation aimed at degrading or humiliating another nation (which is again irrelevant to how it is perceived), breeds terrorist resistance, as does resentment against allied nations with represssive governments–to the extent that those governments are seen as our puppets, we become the focus of that resenment. 

I am often curious why warmongers in this country mention all the aid the U.S. has lent to Muslims over the years in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and so on (unless it is to highlight their own stupidity in having supported all of those interventions), because in the same breath they will tell us that our presence in X country couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with terrorism because Islamic fanatics failed to be grateful for our help in Y country.  You see, it should work both ways, according to the warmongers: resentment and gratitude.  This assumes that gratitude towards us is an option for such people, which is quite an assumption, far more far-fetched in its way than a common sense notion that every people resents foreign domination.  A belief that occupation breeds resentment is rooted in a more general knowledge of the experience of virtually every occupation army in the last 200 years or more; all that this idea requires is the assumption that people will hate a foreign invader who seems to them to trample on their people’s dignity–whether or not there is any trampling going on–and will fight back by whatever means available.  The evidence for this view is copious and well-known; one would think the WWII buffs who seem incapable of making any other historical references outside of the 1938-1945 timeframe would remember the role of partisan warfare and national resistance to occupiers in various theatres around the globe.    

Now does anyone think that there would be as much Islamic terrorism in India were it not for the dispute over Kashmir?  Is it not significant that most Muslim nations tend not to send forth nearly as many terrorists as others?  For example, we do not come across a lot of mujahideen from Oman.  If Muslims targeted any and all non-Muslims indiscriminately out of their hatred for us and our way of life, why are South Africa and Switzerland not routinely targeted as well?  We should not have to be having this argument five years later, but a clunky mixture of irrational ”America has only ever wanted to help Muslims” sentiment (which, even if true, has no necessary bearing on how our “help” is perceived) and the abandonment of any attempt at discerning intelligible causes for the action of mindless “fascists” have conspired to keep us disputing something that should have become obvious on September 12, 2001.  Any foreign policy view that cannot take seriously the significance of occupation in worsening the terrorist threat is itself party to the same unrealism Will criticises in the administration. 

The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. “It’s an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.” ~Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

Kosovo has been cited publicly by Israeli officials and journalists since the war began. On August 6th, Prime Minister Olmert, responding to European condemnation of the deaths of Lebanese civilians, said, “Where do they get the right to preach to Israel? European countries attacked Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten thousand! And none of these countries had to suffer before that from a single rocket. I’m not saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But please: don’t preach to us about the treatment of civilians.” (Human Rights Watch estimated the number of civilians killed in the NATO bombing to be five hundred; the Yugoslav government put the number between twelve hundred and five thousand.) ~Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

Curious, isn’t it, how virtually nobody in this country, or anywhere else in the West, seemed to see the connections between the two campaigns?  The Israelis apparently noticed them quickly enough, and no wonder.  The two bear many striking similarities to those who paid close attention to Kosovo.  But here’s a question: if Mr. Olmert believes that 10,000 civilians died in the Kosovo War (which is higher than any figure I have ever seen cited from any source), and he believes that was justified, how many Lebanese civilian deaths would have been considered acceptable for what he considered his far more justified war?

In the early discussions with American officials, I was told by the Middle East expert and the government consultant, the Israelis repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of what Israel would try to achieve. The NATO forces commanded by U.S. Army General Wesley Clark methodically bombed and strafed not only military targets but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. “Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model,” the government consultant said. “The Israelis told Condi Rice, ‘You did it in about seventy days, but we need half of that—thirty-five days.’ ” ~Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

I am actually a little shocked that I had this right all along–what sort of buffoon would use the Kosovo War as an example of a successful air campaign?  It was, by the standards set by the administration when it started, a failure in every respect except that it did eventually result in the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo–eight weeks after it was supposed to have already been finished.  Did the Israelis really think they were going to break Hizbullah in half the time it took NATO to force concessions from Milosevic? 

The Israelis could not have been unaware that the population of Yugoslavia rallied around the despised Milosevic in just the same way that the Lebanese rallied around Nasrallah–not because they really admired or even tolerated the man, but because the people bombing them had made him the embodiment of all evil and thus, ironically, a symbol of their common resistance to the punitive measures being used against their entire country.  In defiance of such brutal treatment, people will latch onto the most disreputable figures as their champions for lack of an alternative. 

The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. ~Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

Now, I ask you, does that even remotely make sense?  Engage in collective punishment in order to separate part of the population from Hizbullah?  This is beyond stupid–the Christians and Druze already were against Hizbullah when the war started.  The bombing brought them together!  It’s not as if this was something that no one could have foreseen–people always rally around the leader or the group that represents the resistance when their entire country is under attack.  What would we do if an enemy started bombing our roads, ports, power stations and airports?  Would we say, “Thank you for convincing us to turn against George Bush”?  I should think not.  If this report is true–and it seems to me the only thing that makes sense of the general devastation of Lebanon’s energy and industrial sectors–it confirms that the Israeli government was not simply unjust in its methods but phenomenally, indefensibly stupid in the way it went about trying to achieve its goals. 

Whenever anyone says to you that the government knows more about a situation than we mere citizens do, don’t believe them.  Whatever secret intelligence they have, we at least have common sense, which seems to be more than we can say for most government leaders.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.” ~Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

Via Pith and Substance

You’d think knowing that the “demonstration effect” of Iraq lay in demonstrating how limited American power was would discourage enthusiasm for more “demos.”  What has been the result of the “demo”?  A demonstration of the limits of Israeli power and the priceless propaganda for all anti-American forces offered up unwittingly in such clever phrases as “birth pangs of a new Middle East.”  No more demos, please–we can’t afford many more ”opportunities” like this one. 

A good set of observations from Glenn Greenwald on Israel-Lebanon and the implications of Lebanon for our own war in Iraq:

These columns illustrate several important points:

1) Many Israelis are openly acknowledging that the Israel-Lebanon war has been a disaster for Israel;

2) Waging unnecessary wars, particularly when they are waged poorly, makes a nation much weaker, not stronger (see, e.g., Iraq);

3) Contrary to the reprehensible accusations in this country that opposition to, or criticism of, the Israel-Lebanon war is evidence of anti-Israel bias or even anti-Semitism, many people are opposed to the war — and critical of President Bush’s foolishly unrestrained support for it — precisely because it is so harmful to Israel;

4) Israel’s democracy is sufficiently healthy that journalists and other citizens not only can criticize the country’s leader in the middle of a war but can call for his resignation — without being branded a traitor, a subversive, a coward and all of the other slurs to which Bush critics in the U.S. are routinely subjected.

However, it should be noted that Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit’s call for Olmert’s resignation comes from the hawkish Israeli left devastatingly dissected here and mirrors neocon criticism that a good and necessary war had been bungled by timid leaders–not all of the wartime dissent in Israel is coming down on the side of objecting to the war itself.  These sorts of objections are like those of Kristol and McCain that we need to send more troops to Iraq and that we need to be more aggressive.  One wonders, though, how many Americans will continue to be “more Zionist than the Israelis,” so to speak, and fail to see Israelis themselves turning against an ill-conceived, unwise and unjustly executed war.  

Israel is more than a country; it is an archetype.  The Jewish state is the supreme embodiment of the national principle: of the desire of every people to have their own state. ~Daniel Hannan, The Daily Telegraph

Do people who say these sorts of things expect to be taken seriously?  The nation-state has had many an “archetype” like this, many of them having rather unpleasant and destructive histories in service to an ideal principle of nationality.  Now I don’t begrudge these peoples their desires to have political independence; unlike most people, I do not run in terror from those who think that a community constituted of people mostly like themselves is the sane, normal and natural sort of community to have.  By and large, these sorts of people are right, and cosmopolitans, multiculturalists and the Church of Kumbayah are dead wrong when it comes to understanding what makes for functioning societies.  But I object strenuously to taking a real country with real people, which are far more important than any “national principle,” and making them seem less important than the abstraction that they are supposed to be embodying or representing.  “America is more than a country; it is a universal nation” is the sort of statement that makes me feel queasy, and the same goes when it is applied to other nations.  That Mr. Hannan dresses up his love of abstraction with support for British Euroskepticism (where does this come from?) and somehow makes this into an argument about Europe and basic assumptions about national and cultural identity is more annoying. 

That he would make the (in my view) appalling connection between “Zionist Conservatives” and the Roundheads and Whigs of Britain’s liberal tradition only serves to strengthen my feelings of contempt for this article, which has the outrageous title, “When we question Israel, we question democracy itself”.  Now, as readers will have gathered, I have no great love for democracy (the site is called Eunomia, after all), but this is a dirty rhetorical trick that can’t go unchallenged. 

What, you might ask, on God’s green earth do Roundheads have to do with Zionism (except perhaps for the Puritans’ rather unfortunate habit of identifying their dreadful regimes with the City on the Hill)?  Well, Mr. Hannan will tell you:

They [the Roundheads] believe in democracy, however messy its outcomes. They distrust elites and their opinions, and want power devolved to the lowest practicable level.

Yes, messy outcomes like massacre, regicide and oppression–”stuff happens,” does it not?  What that last part has to do with the concentrated power of a nation-state or a heavily socialised society such as one finds in Israel, no one can tell.  Of course, Roundheads also believed in treason, rebellion and regicide leading to republican despotism and government by the military.  They believed in religious oppression and social leveling.  The Whigs for their part were wealthy oligarchs who abused their positions to shape policy to suit private interests; they were traitors to their country on at least one prominent occasion; their understanding of human nature and society was risible.  If I were a Zionist, I would be deeply offended by the comparison, especially since this is supposed to be an argument in favour of Israel.  If I were a present-day democrat, I would be appalled that my values are being compared with those of Cromwell.  Parliamentary rule and revolutionary enthusiasms did lead to Cromwell’s dictatorship, which bears some characteristics of democratic depotism for that reason, but it was first and foremost a military dictatorship ruled by force and fear.

What about the other side?  Those Euro-loving Arabists?  Well, Mr. Hannan has a story about them, too:

The Euro-enthusiast/Arabists are Cavaliers. They think that democracy sometimes needs to be tempered by good sense, order and seemliness, and worry lest the wisdom of generations be overturned by a transient popular majority.

Now, mind you, this is showing up in the Telegraph, flagship paper of Toryism.  The modern Conservatives have relatively little to do with the Tories of old (alas), but British Toryism was foursquare in the tradition of the Cavaliers and the Royalists who came after them.  The name itself derives from a slur directed at Catholic Royalists in Ulster, toraigh (Gael., highwayman).  In short Mr. Hannan says that all good Conservatives today are the heirs of Lloyd George insofar as they support Israel and “democracy,” and anyone who dissents must be a “Cavalier”–as if this were some sort of insult for people who really understood what the old Tory tradition involved!  But I am confident it is intended as an insult–what greater ideological crime is there today than to be skeptical of democracy, much less a loyal defender of absolutist kings? 

Anyone who calls himself a Conservative and isn’t worried about tempering democracy with “good sense, order and seemliness” and who doesn’t worry that it will overturn the wisdom of generations in a fit of popular enthusiasm doesn’t know what conservatism is.  He doesn’t really have much business calling himself conservative at all, much less lecturing other people about what they as conservatives should or shouldn’t believe.

But there’s more.  Get a load of this contrast:

The Roundhead is philo-Semitic: it was Cromwell himself who brought Jews back to England. When he looks at the Middle East, his sympathy - in the literal sense of fellow-feeling - is with Israel, a state that, even while fighting for its survival, has retained a boisterous parliamentary system, a free press and independent courts.

The Cavalier, by contrast, regrets the displacement of a traditional, hierarchical society by a brash and consumerist one. His sympathy is with the simple Bedouin in his flowing robes. He admires Glubb Pasha and T. E. Lawrence, and believes that Britain has obligations to its old friends - Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies.

So Mr. Hannan apparently believes that Britain has no obligations to old friends and seems to align being philo-Semitic with an enthusiasm for brash consumerism (which, if uttered by one of the Arabists, would be taken as positive proof of the man’s anti-Semitism).  Is any of this supposed to make the Arabists feel that they have gone awry?  As far as I’m concerned any conservative worthy of the name regrets the onset of brash consumerism and the departure of traditional, hierarchical society.  That does not make him an automatic friend of Bedouin sheikhs, nor does it make him into a member of the T.E. Lawrence fan club.  There is hierarchical society, and then there’s hierarchical society.  What any of it has necessarily to do with a man’s view of Israel’s campaign in Lebanon or his view of Israel in general is entirely obscure. 

But it doesn’t stop there (how could it?):

The Roundhead is pro-American. He loves the story of a nation founded in a popular revolt against a remote regime. He inclines, in particular, toward the Republicans: heirs, both lineally and ideologically, to the American Whigs. He revels in the pluralism of US democracy, where everyone from the sheriff to the garbage man is elected. The Cavalier, on the other hand, thinks that so much democracy opens the door to populism and crassness. He thinks that American foreign policy, especially in its current form, is crowd-pleasing and lacking in subtlety.

But American foreign policy is lacking in subtlety.  Whether it is “crowd-pleasing” any longer is debatable (ask the 60% who oppose the Iraq war whether they are pleased or not).  Democracy does  open the door to populism and crassness–look around you!  Now it might be that democracy has virtues, or it might be that it is the best system of government available (I deny both claims), but to deny that is encourages the mediocre and debases the culture is to deny what the last century and a half of history in the West has shown us.  The Roundheads, Whigs and Red Republicans are linked together indeed, but why on earth would a sane Tory want to have anything to do with any of them?  Mr. Hannan then tells of one of the contemporary “Cavaliers”, a Mr. Soames, MP:

Like all good Cavaliers, he values outcomes over process, and frets that Britain’s interests are being jeopardised by a dogmatic foreign policy.

But isn’t it the democratist and neocon complaint that their opponents are obsessed with process and uninterested in concrete results?  Now the “Cavaliers” are preoccupied with outcomes and not process, and this is supposed to be a mark against them?  How?  How is valuing competence and success over idealistic procedures of voting and popular government the wrong way to go?  But before  he concludes he offers a horrifying vision of the future:

Time would seem to be on Mr Gove’s side. Most younger Tories are pro-Israel, pro-Washington, anti-Brussels. A majority of the new intake has endorsed the manifesto of Roundhead Conservatism, Direct Democracy, first serialised in this newspaper, which proposes the massive decentralisation and democratisation of the British state, and whose very language is Cromwellian: the authors call for a “New Model Party”, whose politicians should adopt a “Self-Denying Ordinance” towards the exercise of state power.

I cannot comprehend why anyone would boast of his intellectual and spiritual affinity to one of Europe’s first dictators.  If they are truly committed to decentralism, surely the language of Harrington or Bolingbroke or some other member of the Country tradition would be far more suitable.   I can entertain friendly thoughts about authoritarianism now and again under certain conditions, but full-on fanatical despotism backed by no legitimacy except brute force?  That is the language and symbolism that Tories have chosen to take into the future? 

Peter Hitchens is right–the Tories ought to be dissolved, if this is the sort of hideous political morality their younger members are imbibing.  Can you imagine a Frenchman boasting that his party’s members owe their inspiration to Robespierre?  Actually, that might not be surprising–Americans wrap themselves in the mantle of Lincoln with a sickening frequency, so what’s one more cult of personality for a brutal despot?  Perhaps Cromwell represents what Daniel Pipes called a “democratically-minded strongman.”  You know, like Chiang Kai-shek, friend of democracy.

So what was the point of this torturous journey through the highways and byways of Whiggish ideological fervour?  It is, as it began, all about Israel (or rather explaining why it isn’t really about Israel, which makes everything Israel has done OK):

The current controversy isn’t only about Israel. It is about whether sovereign states can act unilaterally, whether we trust the UN and other supra-national bodies, whether the West is prepared to use proportionate force in defence of its values and, ultimately, whether democracy is worth having.

This is almost unworthy of a response.  But it seems to be typical of today’s Roundheads: if you make reasonable criticisms of Israeli excesses, you are not only subverting the entire Western world (dubious) but are also attacking our very system of government at its roots (a lie).  No one on the British (or American) right rejected Israel’s right to defend itself; no one rejected Israel’s right to “act unilaterally”; no one rejected the objective of punishing Hizbullah’s provocations.  What many people, including “Cavaliers” on both sides of the ocean, have rejected is the excessive means Israel has used and the punishment it has inflicted on all of Lebanon, which might also have some claim to the same rights under the law of nations that Mr. Hannan so vigorously upholds on behalf of Israel. 

And another thing: if Israel were using proportionate force, I would have no strong objections to the campaign itself.  Certainly, my criticisms would be much less severe.  I might question the wisdom of it and ask whether the long-term consequences would be what Israel’s government wants them to be, but I would hardly have criticised the campaign itself to the extent that I have. 

But, to use the categories that Mr. Hannan has chosen to use, Israel’s apologists here and in Britain have typically cheered on the campaign or at least looked on it with indifference with the very same spirit of cruel fanaticism and violence that inspired the Roundheads.  The moderate, humane Cavalier gentlemen, by contrast, look at this zeal with the same horror that they felt when the rebels butchered their King or sold their country to a Dutch invader; they view with disdain the paper theories of Neo-Roundheads and Neo-Jacobins and consider them the source of great misery and human suffering, and not without reason.  Why the Tories should want to go down the dark path that leads to the feet (and boot) of Cromwell, whom all decent Tories have loathed since time immemorial, is a mystery; why Mr. Hannan thinks this love affair with Cromwell is something to celebrate is baffling. 

It would truly be a shame if honest sympathy and goodwiil for Israel, such as that displayed by Mr. Hitchens, were to be yoked inextricably to the revolutionary fanaticism of Pym and Cromwell, the Covenanters and the Whigs.  It is just such a fanatical mentality that precipitates these crises and encourages the worst instincts in men.  It has nothing to do with an appreciation for democracy, which would be rooted in a respect for all men, and it has no bearing on sympathy for Israel, which may finds its roots in a genuine feeling of belonging to a common history, and everything to do with a bizarre obsession with power, of which Cromwell’s illegitimate, bloody dictatorship is the perfect symbol. 

Perhaps there is need to dig up Cromwell’s body again and stage yet another mock execution, as Charles II did after the Restoration, to drive the point home that the man was a traitor and a scoundrel.  Those who would create a Cromwellian style in politics or use Cromwellian language are not simply unconservative; they are verging on very dark and troubled ideological territory.  If the new Roundheads cannot see the evils of Cromwell, why indeed should the “Cavaliers” take seriously their arguments about the morality of the war in Lebanon or indeed about much else?   

The new proposals of the Beirut government have lit red lights in Jerusalem. The Lebanese government proposes to deploy 15,000 Lebanese troops along the border, declare a cease-fire and get the Israeli troops out of Lebanon. That is exactly what the Israeli government demanded at the start of the war. But now it looks like a danger. It could stop the war without an Israeli victory.

Thus a paradoxical situation has arisen: the Israeli government is rejecting a proposal that reflects its original war aims, and instead demands the deployment of an international force, which it objected to strenuously at the start of the war. That’s what happens when you start a war without clear and achievable aims. Everything gets mixed up. ~Uri Avnery,

Mr. Podhoretz is having none of it. “I always knew they didn’t like this policy, the Bush doctrine,” he says, speaking of increasingly vocal antagonists like George Will and William F. Buckley. “They had doubts about it going in, and not just because it violates in their view conservative principles but, you know, it’s hubris, it’s Wilsonianism, it goes beyond the limits of power, it’s nation-building, and so on. But for reasons of solidarity or because they were not willing to join with the left or the far reaches of the Buchananite right, they were careful, they voiced their doubts only through hints or veiled asides. So when they came, so to speak, out of the antiwar closet, I certainly was not all that surprised.

“They’ve declared defeat, basically,” he continues. “What can I say? I think they’re wrong. I think Iraq has gone not badly but well, is not a disaster or a crime or a delusion, but what’s more is a noble, necessary effort.” ~Norman Podhoretz in

Against such disastrous delusion, what is there left to say?  What do you say to someone who views the disintegration of a country and the ruination of its future as something that is “going not badly but well”?  Perhaps Mr. Olmert will say, “I think the campaign in Lebanon is going not badly but well.”  But of course the triumph of freedom is assured (History tells us so!), and neocons don’t exist anyway, so why worry? 

As someone on the “far reaches of the Buchananite right” (it’s the only place to be!), I think it is unfortunate and tragic that supposedly conservative men with considerable influence on the national debate who knew the war to be mistaken did not object publicly and more strenuously when it mattered.  But better to protect your “responsible” reputation and let thousands of Americans be sent to their deaths than let something as trifling as principle move you to speak when it would have made a difference, right? 

What is astonishing about Podhoretz pere is not that he has no regrets for what he and his have helped to foist on the nation, and it is not even that he thinks Iraq has basically been a success (which any ideologue would maintain under pressure), but that he thinks it has something to do with successfully fighting Islamic fanaticism.  The war that his cohorts helped push this country into has done more good for the vitality of especially fanatical Islam than anything else in the last 15 years.  In the last 50 years, it is probably fourth only to Khomeini’s revolution, the Saudis’ massive funding of Wahhabism overseas and the war in Afghanistan in the ’80s in its significance for empowering such people.  Not only was it unnecessary and criminal, but it was nothing short of mad, assuming that the goal was to weaken and undermine Islamic terrorism in the world. 

Which upsets a Bush loyalist more: Joe Lieberman’s defeat on Tuesday or the adoption of a U.N. resolution 1701 calling for end to the war in Lebanon?  At NRJoe, it would be a toss-up.  But in the case of PowerBlog’s Paul, it’s no contest:

The JPost says there’s a good chance that the wobbly Olmert government will accept this resolution. Over at NRO’s corner, John Podhoretz contends that this would mean the end of the Olmert government. I’m tempted to suggest that our government, having seemingly lost its will to oppose (or even to let others oppose) our deadliest enemies, deserves the same fate. But let’s wait until the facts are in. 

A Haaretz columnist is calling for Olmert’s resignation.  The neocons have been close to calling for the same thing for weeks, and will probably jump on the dump-Olmert bandwagon with numerous references to the treachery of Chamberlain and the need for a Churchill (read Netanyahu) to save the day.  Will the collapse of Kadima as a governing party be far behind?  In one sense, this is extremely bad news for Israel, but not in the conventional way that most will probably expect: with Olmert and Peres and, by extension, Kadima and Labour significantly discredited on managing Israeli security as people who are trigger-happy but lacking in “resolve,” this returns the initiative to Netanyahu and the sort of reckless nationalists who would have persisted with this campaign had they been in government.  If the major criticism of the Olmert government proves to be that it simply fought the war cackhandedly and ineffectively, there is no guarantee that the lesson of this war won’t be that Israel should launch full-scale invasions in response to future provocations. 

The Israeli Cabinet is set to vote on the resolution on Sunday, and Olmert will recommend accepting it.  Until then, however, the campaign continues.  The resolution calling for an end to the war is good news, but the fallout from this war will be with us for a long time.

My criticism of Israel is this. That I suspect a strong leader ( which Ehud Olmert is not ) would have refused to be provoked by the ambush and kidnapping on the Lebanese border. Terrorists operate by provoking their targets into over-reaction, and into starting wars they cannot possibly win. The only worthwhile victory for Israel in this war would be one that involved a renewed Israeli occupation up to the Litani river, the very arrangement Israel abandoned in 2000 and which I think is impossible now. No UN force would dare take on Hezbollah, and a buffer zone under UN control would quickly fill up with Hezbollah rocket sites once more. America and France have learned the hard way, by heavy casualties, that Western troops in Lebanon are more likely to be targets than enforcers.

Then there is the issue of proportion. I hate to agree with the liberals and the creepy foes of Israel who say that this war is ‘disproportionate’, but the fact that these people are what they are, doesn’t mean they are wrong. I was against the bombing of Belgrade, and the bombing of Baghdad (unlike Jack Straw, who managed to stay in the government drawing a cabinet salary while these things were going on, and whose objections to Israeli bombing are therefore worthless whining).

I was against them because I have in recent years found out what aerial bombing actually does. I grew up in a Britain which cheerfully accepted that it was right to bomb Germany to rubble, because they had started it. I entirely agreed with this view for many years. Then I began to read the full details of what happened when our bombs fell. I was particularly struck by the repeated accounts of the mad women, made insane by the loss of their homes and families, who roamed about Germany carrying their dead babies in suitcases; also by the reports of adult human figures, baked in airless cellars for so long during the Dresden firestorm that they were shrunk to the size of children; and of the great clouds of bluebottles gathered over the ruins of Hamburg after an RAF raid, so devastating that there was nobody to clear the wreckage or bury the huge numbers of civilian dead beneath the rubble. We may not have known then. We certainly know now. This is not a form of warfare that a Christian country can use. ~Peter Hitchens

On the question of proportionality and the use of aerial bombing of civilian centers, there are few better statements than this one.  It is such a relief to read a serious response to these events after the stacks of recent columns justifying the mass murders of Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, and on and on, or the ones that will keep returning to the fact that Hizbullah, a guerrilla group, hides among civilian populations, as if this freed other people of their obligations.  If a hostage-taker has a roomful of hostages, we do not typically regard it as successful or really excusable if the police storm the building and get many of the hostages killed in the process; if they cannot even manage to get the hostage-taker in the process, it is even more difficult to defend.  We wouldn’t stand for it in our own cities, so why should any of us apologise for it when one of our allies does it in another country? 

I give Mr. Hitchens quite a lot of credit for retaining his ability to discern and maintain the difference between having strong sympathy for Israel (he is a self-proclaimed Zionist) and giving approval, tacit or otherwise, to the methods of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon.  He applies a moral principle to this campaign as he has done to others in the past and shows an admirable consistency.   

In an Aug. 10 telephone interview from Beirut, the cardinal [McCarrick] said his visit was meant to be a sign of solidarity with the suffering people of Lebanon, the same kind of visit he has made in the past to Israel in the wake of terrorist attacks.

So the victims are the same? Does that mean the Israelis are morally equivalent to terrorists? McCarrick’s presence seems to play into Hezbollah’s PR campaign. If he is only there to call attention to the civilian suffering (already VERY well reported) and say “the world must do something” (that’s really his quote, believe it or not), then the most he appears to do is call attention to himself. ~”Dave“, AmSpecBlog

Wow.  Just watch this guy’s head explode at the mere suggestion that victims of the Israeli campaign might be human or deserving of the slightest charity.  How you make the leap from Cardinal McCarrick’s “showing solidarity with suffering people” in Lebanon just as he had done in Israel to the ”moral equivalence” of Israelis and terrorists is something I will never understand.  In answer to the question, yes the victims, the civilian victims, are the same on both sides: innocent victims of war.  It’s almost as if Lebanese people were human beings, isn’t it, Dave?  Anyone who cannot see that or refuses to grant it really has no business talking about the morality of this or any other conflict. 

…and he’s not going to take it anymore!  On Giuliani’s pro-Lieberman remarks:

This nonsense needs to be fought at every turn. Democrats have to make it absolutely clear, every single time somebody spouts this rubbish, that supporting the Iraq war doesn’t mean you’re “on offense against terrorism.” Nor does opposing the war also mean you oppose fighting jihadism. The truth is closer to the exact opposite, and chapter and verse should follow if necessary.

This needs to happen Every. Single. Time. We can’t allow the Rudy Giulianis and Dick Cheneys of the world to get away with this. They’ve dug us into too deep a hole already, and we can’t afford to let them dig it any deeper.

Of course, this isn’t true only of Democratic opponents of the war or even of war opponents in general, but of everyone who prefers serious analysis and understanding of our current predicament over cant, deception and nonsense.

The same goes for the Dems as a whole. Until the opposition party presents a progressive, democratic agenda to reform the Middle East - as Blair has done in Britain, for example - there’s no reason to take them seriously on national security. ~Andrew Sullivan

Very nice how Sullivan is willing to accept antiwar criticism, provided that it provides an ideological roadmap that is identical to the one he already endorsed and which is entirely fantastic in its expectations.  In other words, Sullivan refuses to listen until antiwar people say exactly what he already wants to hear, in spite of the fact that at least some antiwar people, myself included, think that creating a “beachhead of modernity and democracy” in the Islamic world is somewhere between foolish and mad. 

To the extent that “Islamist terror” is rooted simply in Islam, there is no “progressive, democratic agenda to reform the Middle East” that anyone in the West can propose that will significantly change a thing.  To the extent that it is a response to occupation and hegemony, liquidating the hegemony and ending the occupation would be significant strides forward; they might not “solve” the problem (which may not have a “solution” at all), but they would assuredly “contain” it.  To the extent that it is itself a hybrid of modernity and Islam, ”political Islam”/Islamism is not something that can be uprooted anymore than we can get the Chinese to cease being Chinese nationalists.  It is, like Islam itself, an unavoidable part of a reality that we cannot substantially alter nor should we feel as if we are obliged to alter it.  Vigilance, defense of our own country, targeted, limited responses to violent provocations and a guiding principle of avoiding all unnecessary interventions would be among the first things in my list of recommendations for an alternative approach to the entire policy area. 

There continues to be an astonishing amount of arrogance among the ideological supporters of the war that the notion of fundamentally reodering and transforming the Near East in a controlled, more or less directed way is not only still desirable but actually feasible.  If the last year has shown anything, it is that intervention has knock-on effects that we cannot control and may not even be able to foresee.  Above all, pushing this agenda in the Near East plainly has nothing to do with national security, and everything to do with ideological posturing about our devotion to modernity and democracy; the ideologues who want to push these things in the rest of the world do not wish to do so to benefit the recipients, but simply to confirm their own commitments and demonstrate their fidelity to the idea of progress.  Like all other believers in that idea before them, they will fail and produce heinous catastrophes, some of which may come back to haunt this country.  So again I ask, what does national security have to do with Sullivan’s “progressive, democratic agenda” and why should anyone opposed to the Iraq adventure have to provide a policy to try to accomplish something that may be impossible and is certainly unwise?   

To the region, America’s apparently unconditional and unbounded support for Israel and its occupation of Iraq are part of the same picture. For a military historian, the question arises: will history see Iraq as America’s Stalingrad? If we kick the analogy up a couple of levels, to the strategic and grand strategic, there are parallels. Both the German and the American armies were able largely to take, but not hold, the objective. Both had too few troops. Both Berlin and Washington underestimated their enemy’s ability to counterattack. Both committed resources they needed elsewhere and could not replace to a strategically unimportant objective. Finally, both entrusted their flanks to weak allies – and to luck. ~William Lind,

Some of the main themes in Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco are the complete lack of any sense of strategy among both civilian and military leaders responsible for the war in Iraq and the ignorance of what kind of war we were going to be fighting (and the persistence in ignoring the reality of that war when it was upon them).  In much the same way as we fought an unconventional war conventionally for years (there has been some improvement, but acquaintance with proper counterinsurgency doctrine only came on in later stages), we are supposed to be in an entirely “different kind of war” that we continue to organise and conceptualise as if we were Napoleon marching on the capitals of his enemies or Allied forces racing to Berlin. 

It is a “different kind of war,” but everything from the strategy (overthrow dictatorship, reconstruct country, establish democracy), such as it is, to the rhetoric (those Islamic fascists again) betrays an obsession with refighting WWII on the assumption that the valid strategy to win that war–the paradigmatic war of goodness and light, after all–must be the one that will triumph everywhere at all times.  It is the model: WWII seems to inspire and define the response of the administration and its backers in every situation, as if this were in any way helpful to fighting present-day jihadis, as if Jihadi Number One is hiding in his bunker as the Red Army closing in on him to finish off the resistance.   

The embarrassing obsession with this “fascist” language betrays real confusion about who and what we’re fighting and why, to say nothing of wreaking havoc with what we think the resolution should be.  When you fight “fascists,” Islamic or otherwise, you expect that once you topple the state apparatus the conflict is over.  If you are fighting jihadis, which we are, you do not make that sort of foolish assumption, since these people operate outside of any constraints or rules of the state apparatus.  But what is the typical administration focus?  They focus on particular states, to the apparent neglect of any of the things that fuel the political and ideological strength of jihadis.  There is no sense that the way that we have been accustomed to defining conflict and victory may need to be changed to meet changing circumstances.  Instead, and far worse than simply refighting old wars, victory has been defined in almost childish terms: make people free, stop fascists.  

The Stalingrad comparison is unfortunately accurate, particularly in the way that it has become a question of sheer pride and stubbornness to “hold” Iraq just as it became an obsession to hold Stalingrad, regardless of whether it was actually aiding the objectives of the campaign and regardless of whether holding the city was really necessary to obtain victory in the East.  It became a question of holding it in order to hold it, simply to prove that they could, which worked fine right until it led to complete disaster.  We are doing no different in Iraq.  But presumably the Daniel Henningers and David Brookses of the world would have advised General von Paulus to stay in Stalingrad, too, to show the nation’s resolve and show the enemy that we don’t “cut and run” (even when said running is manifestly in our self-interest).

Whatever else it may be, this is a war between palpable unequals: a giant nuclear-armed power with the most advanced western military hardware and a potential ground force of up to 650,000 trained men, against a tiny third-world guerrilla force of around 5,000 fighters, armed largely with second-hand former eastern bloc hardware (the first Katyusha rockets were developed in the early 1940s) and castoffs from Iran and Syria.

The idea that the latter can pose an existential threat to the former, under any foreseeable circumstances, is risible at best and disingenuous at worst. While it can hardly be comfortable for northern Israel’s civilian population to be forced into shelters for four weeks, the physical safety of the overwhelming majority - unlike that of their counterparts in much of Lebanon - has never been seriously at stake. And while Hizbullah’s supposed targeting of Israeli civilians has yielded relatively few victims, Israel’s repeated “mistakes” in Lebanon have maintained a civilian death rate of about 100 Lebanese to every three Israelis. The opposite side of this coin is that while Israel’s hi-tech “surgical strikes” have killed hundreds more civilians than Hizbullah fighters, the Lebanese resistance’s low-tech weapons have killed about three times as many Israeli soldiers as civilians. ~Ahmad Samih Khalidi, The Guardian

Lebanon who has just gone through its much celebrated Cedar Revolution, getting Syria to withdraw its military troops from the country, followed by the holing open democratic parliamentary elections and the gradual strengthening of its economy, has now been transformed into an basket case, with its two major economic sectors, tourism and commerce, totally destroyed. Best case scenario: A long process of economic rebuilding and political reconciliation that would involve the disarming of Hizbollah. Worst case scenario: The country collapses into another long and bloody civil war that helps Hizbollah establish gain more power.
Even if Israel succeeds in destroying the Hizbollah’s military infrastructure in southern Lebanon, it will find itself in a more vulnerable position in the Middle East. Not only would it find itself confronting a more hostile Arabs world, but its failure to win the military confrontation with Hizbollah in a swift manner – this is the nation with a military that had defeated thee Arab countries in six days in 1967 — is bound to raise major questions about its ability to deter future challenges to its survival by non-state groups as well as states in the region. American leaders are also going to begin questioning their long-held axiom that Israel is a “strategic asset” of the United States in the Middle East. Some would argue that it proved to be a “burden” for U.S. interests this time.
Hizbollah may have gained some short-term benefits from the crisis as Arabs and Moslems hail its success in standing up to mighty Israel. But the Lebanese-Shiite militias will be blamed by many Lebanese for the destruction of their country, a sentiment that could increase pressure on the Hizbollah to disarm. A refusal to do that by the militias could lead about a civil war in which the militias could find itself isolated and unable to count on outside aid. If anything, Hizbollah could prove to be the weakest link in a Shiite Crescent led by Iran and backed by a Shiite-led Iraq. ~Leon Hadar

No one knows for certain what the world will look like in detail in three years’ time, but the challenges that we will face are already reasonably clear and it is necessary for the Conservative party to spell out its strategy and analysis. Put simply, we will need a foreign policy that is Conservative and not neo-Conservative, principled but not ideological, and rooted in the real world of cultural diversity and competing interests.


But the Conservative party needs to part company with Blair in three crucial respects. First, there must be a clear recognition that the invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake that has helped the terrorists. It has also made Iran the power in the Gulf. While the government may be in denial, there is no need for the Conservative party to be. That does not mean, however, that British troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. It is essential that they remain there as long as their presence might help the Iraqis.

Secondly, Conservatives should not accept Blair’s simplistic belief that all Muslim terrorism is part of a single plot. Conservatives are rightly suspicious of a Manichaean division of the world into good and bad; terrorist and freedom-loving. The war in Chechnya, for example, is between Chechen nationalists and Russian nationalists, not between terror and freedom. The same applies to Kashmir.

The Israeli–Palestinian issue is also much more than a battle against Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism. As Yitzhak Rabin, a former general, realised, it will require a political not a military solution. Ignoring the complexity of terrorism does little to resolve the problems.

Thirdly, Conservatives should reject a philosophy of pre-emptive wars (or, as Blair prefers to call it, liberal interventionism) fought by ‘coalitions of the willing’. The alternative is not, as he implies, a policy of appeasement, nor one of indifference. War should only be initiated either if we are attacked, as with the Falklands, or if we have a treaty obligation, as with Poland in 1939. The only other circumstance where war should be acceptable for Conservatives is when there is a serious threat to the international community and no other remedy is available. This would normally require the approval of the UN Security Council, but we cannot always allow the single veto of China or Russia to prevent action supported by the rest. It was Aneurin Bevan who remarked that the one thing worse than my country right or wrong is ‘the United Nations right or wrong’.

The absence of UN approval should, however, require not a coalition of the willing but a ‘coalition of the relevant’. Estonia and the other minor states that the United States assembled for the Iraq war enhanced neither its legitimacy nor its acceptability. If, however, as with the Gulf war, neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Turkey had been part of the coalition, it would have demonstrated that Saddam was seen by his potential victims as a threat.

So a Conservative government should not offer unconditional support to the United States, but be willing to support military action when necessary, either under UN auspices or when a coalition of relevant countries believes that there is a grave threat that needs to be countered. ~Malcolm Rifkind, The Spectator

This is a quality article expressing a rational foreign policy view and a wise emphasis on the British interest, which may not always be the American interest.  It offers some mild encouragement that the Tories still retain some granule of collective common sense (in spite of selecting Cameron as leader).  Unfortunately I fear that Sir Malcolm will have a rather hard time convincing the party leaders to follow this path. 

Under David “Look at My Nice Bicycle!” Cameron the Tories will have none of this sort of sensible thinking on foreign policy.  Ever since Hague the bungler was in charge of the party there has been an increasing Republicanisation of the Tories that must make its older members rather ill, especially considering that Red Republicanism is not quite the sort of American export they experienced when Reagan was in office, and with this has gone not only an idiotic embrace of “compassionate conservatism” (also Hague’s doing) but increasingly neoconservative foreign policy positions as well.  When 70% of Britons opposed entry into the Iraq war, the Tories under Michael Howard were, if anything, more ineffectual and gutless under the new manager than they had been under the unremarkable nebbishes who had preceded him.  Tory skepticism was, like its American cousin, pushed to the backbenches and told to shut up.  So much for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.  Sir Malcolm offers a credible alternative to the neocon/New Labour glop that Americans and Britons alike have been forced to accept.  Mr. Cameron ought to stop riding his bicycle for a moment and listen up.


In practice, this results in aerial tactics which are in no major way different from those used by Nato against Yugoslavia in 1999. In Lebanon, the IDF’s aim (to coerce a foreign power by inflicting intolerable damage on its national infrastructure), the targets (roads, bridges, TV stations, and so forth), and the consequences (roughly similar numbers of innocent deaths given the comparable length of the combat), are very similar. Those who oppose Israel today but supported Nato in 1999 perhaps need to reconsider either their current opposition or their previous support. ~Paul Robinson, The Spectator

Likewise those who questioned or criticised the consequences of the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 ought to reconsider seriously whether Lebanon is not very much like the campaign they wanted to criticise in the past.  It is interesting that Mr. Robinson should cite this example, which some people think has no bearing on the matter and which scarcely anyone else but myself has invoked since the war in Lebanon began, since my view of the two conflicts has been that they are strikingly similar in their unnecessary endangerment of civilian lives and the relatively weak justifications that have been invoked to wage the campaigns as they have been waged.  Mr. Robinson’s entire article is a very intelligent consideration of the different sides of the question of proportionality, and he concludes with a valuable point:

The result of putting this ethic into practice may thus be increased opposition to the state. Perhaps, therefore, the question we should be asking of Israeli actions is not so much whether they are moral as whether they are wise.

But there is something that seems missing in the context, and I think this is a reason that some are having a hard time taking what is being said from the Vatican with the seriousness it deserves. For whatever reason, only part of the big picture is being painted - there are reasons  for the violence and terrorism that stand in oppoosition to the Gospel on every level.

So when people struggle with this, I think what they are saying is this: This is not a doctrinal issue, but we know we should still be taking the Pope seriously on this, and we want to. He has a perspective none of us as individuals have, and in his attention to global, rather than nationalistic, priorities, he teaches and challenges us. But in the statements, we don’t hear the foundations of the weight of the present threats and conflicts addressed, some of which concerns fundamental human rights of freedom and justice. So how can we receive this as a prudential judgment we should take seriously if we don’t hear all of the elements of the situation addressed? ~Amy Welborn

Via Rod Dreher

Now I am not a Catholic, so perhaps that disqualifies me from saying something about this, but what I have found striking about Pope Benedict XVI’s response to the war in Lebanon is his sense of equanimity and justice.  Like Benedict XV, I think it is fair to say that the current Pope has worked to “preserve complete impartiality in relation to all the belligerents, as is appropriate to him who is the common father and who loves all his children with equal affection.”  In this approach that eschews taking sides, I think it is also fair to say that the current Pope has worked ”to endeavour constantly to do all the most possible good, without personal exceptions and without national or religious distinctions, a duty which the universal law of charity, as well as the supreme spiritual charge entrusted to Us by Christ, dictates to Us.”  As I read over Benedict XV’s statement, he is certainly making many recommendations for how to resolve particular problems (the authority of the Pope was, at least in some countries, still something fairly potent even during the insanity of the Great War),  but I see none of the deep structural or causal analysis of why the war happened in the first place that Ms. Welborn seems to be looking for.  I suspect that the modern Vatican is reluctant to make specific proposals, because even when it ventures to speak on questions of war and peace in any way its statements are frequently dismissed as ultimately irrelevant (it is up to the “prudential judgement of the magistrate!”).  More than that I suspect it is doubly reluctant to weigh in on theorising about the causes of violence in the way that Ms. Welborn seems to want.  From a Christian perspective, the causes of violence are always in the corruption of human will and intention away from the goods proper to his nature–everything else is ultimately secondary and incidental–and the remedy for this disordered will is the proper mix of charity and justice.  It is the bishop’s task to exhort and teach what the Gospel tells us, particularly with respect to mercy and charity in circumstances such as these, and from what I have seen this is what Pope Benedict has done.  He has held both parties accountable because both are accountable, and he has excused the crimes of neither side.  He has summoned them to make peace, and they have, predictably enough, ignored him.  If we expect Pope Benedict to speak in terms of the narrative that we use to describe events in the Near East, or expect him to categorise the problem in the terms to which we are accustomed, we are likely to be repeatedly disappointed.  At bottom, people dissatisfied with Pope Benedict’s stance on this war seem to want him to take sides in some small way, and I do not believe he believes himself free to do that and I expect that he would believe such an approach would be unwise and possibly detrimental to the establishment of peace.  That is my speculation on why the Vatican has not been more forthcoming in its criticism of the role of Islam in all of this and why the response may seem lacking. 

This vast city of seven million people, almost the size of London, is breaking up into a dozen cities, each one of which is becoming a heavily armed Shia or Sunni stronghold. Every morning brings its terrible harvest of bodies. Many lie in the street for hours, bloating in the 120F heat, while others are found floating in the Tigris river.

In June, 1,595 bodies, often tortured with an electric drill or by fire, were delivered to the Baghdad morgue. In July, the violence was far worse.

In all of Iraq, in June, 3,149 civilians are known to have been killed, more in one month than the total death toll in Northern Ireland in 30 years of violence. ~Patrick Cockburn


Why did the pilot target this particular house [in Qana]? I don’t know. What can be said is that the overall level of civilian casualties indicates that the air campaign is being fought with nothing like the precision and carefulness that Israel has claimed [italics added]. Certainly the civilians I have spoken to who have been attacked in their vehicle convoys — and there have been many [italics added] — would find it impossible to accept such an assertion.


We are good people. What have we done to them?’ one Maronite woman asked as we both cowered under Israeli shelling in the largely Christian village of Rmeich. A few minutes earlier I had descended into the basement of the church of St George to find several hundred terrified and hungry refugees. Many Christians do not like or trust Hezbollah but they are furious at being driven from their homes and at the huge cost in civilian lives. When you are being shelled in your village and then again as you try to flee, you are not inclined to go back along the chain of responsibility and blame Sheikh Nasrallah for ordering the original attack.

The bad news for Mr Bush and Mr Blair is that the people of the ruined villages rail against them too. There was bitter ironic laughter when the American ambassador appeared on television donating humanitar-ian aid for the refugees. It did not escape the notice of the Lebanese that at the very same time the Americans were sending, via Britain, fresh supplies of bombs to be dropped on them by Israel.

No phrase in recent memory has caused so much offence in Lebanon as Condi Rice’s ‘new Middle East’. I have had it thrown in my face by elderly refugees trudging around the massive craters in the roads that lead from the town of Bint Jebiel, a place bombed into the stone age during fighting between the Israelis and Hezbollah. ~Fergal Keane, The Spectator

Mr. Keane’s article has done a good service in firmly rejecting the attempts of apologists to change the story of what happened at Qana. 

It is only natural that Condi’s appalling phrase should cause outrage, as all sane people will be disgusted at having death and destruction likened to birth in the terms of the language of revolutionary fanaticism.  As a matter of rhetoric, it is not much better to say that these are the “birth pangs of the new Middle East” than it is to say about the violent deaths of human beings ”you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.”  Goodness knows what that makes the suffering people of Lebanon in Condi’s mind.

Figures compiled by the city morgue indicated Wednesday that the number of killings in the Iraqi capital reached a new high last month, and the U.S. military said a new effort to bring security to Baghdad will succeed only if Iraqis “want it to work.”

The Baghdad morgue took in 1,815 bodies during July, news services quoted the facility’s assistant manager, Abdul Razzaq al-Obeidi, as saying. The previous month’s tally was 1,595. Obeidi estimated that as many as 90 percent of the total died violent deaths. ~The Washington Post

1,600 people one month, 1,800 the next, almost all of them violent deaths–what sort of horror will come when the “real” civil war starts?

Let that be a lesson to those who wait for the collapse of regimes in Iran, North Korea, or Palestine because of long-term economic failure and/or economic sanctions. Yes, popular uprisings happen (as in Iran against the Shah). Yet it’s also clear that a posture of anti-Western defiance, combined with nationalism, ideology, and dictatorial rule is perfectly capable of sustaining a miserable, poverty-stricken, failed system far, far beyond the point that Westerners would consider tolerable or believable. ~Stanley Kurtz, National Review

Via Rod Dreher

Does this mean that Mr. Kurtz, the “gloomy hawk,” will be supporting a lifting of sanctions on any of these regimes as a means of integrating them into the world and destroying the powerful drug of solidarity in isolation and adversity that their governments have used to keep them in line?  Certainly not–you can’t go around “appeasing” people like this, because they are unappeasable!  Yes, it’s very troubling when you put yourself on the horns of a false dilemma–I would get gloomy, too. 

There is actually not one example where sanctions brought down a regime.  Sanctions can weaken regimes in some ways, but they are usually incapable of doing this in the way that matters most: it does not undermine the legitimacy or popularity of a regime, but tends rather to reinforce both as the regime can plausibly point to foreign interlopers as the cause of the people’s distress.  The more isolated the people become from the outside world, the easier it is for them to credit everything the government says about itself, the conditions in the country and the outside world.  (Here in the States, the people manage to isolate themselves from the outside world through a devotion to stunning ignorance about foreign countries and a steady diet of FoxNews, which has much the same effect in reinforcing credulity and obedience.)  

If the entire world seems to be ganging up on your country’s government, you will probably be prone to see this as unfair and excessive, especially if you believe as, say, a majority of Iranians do that developing nuclear technology is a sort of “inalienable” national right.  It is almost impossible to overstate how infuriating some Iranians will find Western attempts to dictate the use of their internal resources and the running of their internal affairs, since this has been the theme of modern Iranian relations with Great Powers in the last century from the Anglo-Russian division of the country into spheres of interest to Mossadegh’s overthrow to today.   

In time, contact with foreigners and interest in their countries or languages become grounds for suspicion of being an enemy agent, and the government makes the world’s relative isolation of it into an advantage for retaining control (which is, of course, the main thing they care about).  The obsession of the Soviets with foreign currency, spoofed so brilliantly in The Master and Margarita, was an example of rooting out such “contamination,” as if the economic woes of the 1920s had been caused by foreign currency.  But given a state of relative isolation, or given a state when the entire world seems bent on vilifying your country, do we expect the people in these countries to respond in any way other than rallying around their governments out of a sense of national and ideological loyalty?  Would we do any differently, even under the most difficult circumstances?  It puzzles me how solidarity and persistence in adversity seem to be virtues to many Americans when, say, the Brits endured the Blitz or the Russians resisted Nazi depredations, but we seem incapable of understanding that the same reaction–and the same virtue–is present in the peoples of hostile states and that this genuine reaction bolsters the regimes we are trying to overthrow in such a way as to make future conflict increasingly likely.

However, I should acknowledge that Mr. Kurtz has hit on something here that I agree with strongly, namely the power of a potent ideological cokctail of national solidarity, anti-imperialism (however that might be defined) and postcolonial resentment can not only make people endure terrible hardships but convince themselves that the austerity and harshness of conditions in their country make them morally and perhaps spiritually superior to the decadent bums of the West.  In the sense of acquiring a certain powerful virtu that is the will to endure and resist, they may have a point there.  The implacability of the ideologically committed, who are by definition more resilient after setbacks and repudiations because they are certain that they are right and because they view life in terms of struggle against long odds, is as notorious as it is powerful. 

This is one reason why I am convinced that persisting in confrontations and punitive policies with these militarily weak, economically chaotic, second or third or fourth-rate powers can only bolster the regimes that we find so obnoxious, prolong the misery of their peoples and guarantee senseless and destructive conflicts down the line.  We are not going to “break” them psychologically or politically with sanctions, and we will not intimidate the others with another “preemptive” war, because we have signally failed to intimidate anyone with our first “preemptive” war.  Frankly, Mr. Kurtz is wrong that there is no possibility of bargaining with these people, and it is this ideological commitment to the notion that hostile regimes are purely irrational enemies that continually blinds Mr. Kurtz and friends to the possibility of reaching an arrangement with them. 

There has probably never been a political movement more insane and destructive than Maoism, yet we managed to broker a deal with Mao that helped force the USSR into a corner and reduced the possibility of an outbreak of war.  We can wait, as we did with China, until Iran has nuclear weapons, or we can seize the initiative and strike a deal with them while it will still seem as if we are conceding their development of nuclear technology.  Once it is a fait accompli, our options will be much more limited.    

As I have argued before, there would be no better time for a grand rapprochement with Iran than at this time.  To minimise or neutralise Iranian hostility and take the steam out of the general pan-Islamic solidarity that Iran and Hizbullah are managing to cook up now, the time to make the Nixon-to-China move is now.  It would be bold, daring and risky, but Iran, which is still ultimately ruled by the Ayatollah and not by Ahmadinejad, would take the deal rather than face international ostracism and opprobrium that the regime does not want.  For his part, Ahmadinejad needs to avoid an economic meltdown if he is to carry through on his domestic policies, which are the source of his political power and the main reason why he is President, and this cannot happen if Iran is put under a strong sanctions regime. 

I have come to distrust profoundly claims about hostile regimes’ sheer irrationality, because each time it has been invoked in the past to justify some sort of confrontational policy–in Yugoslavia and Iraq most notably–it has been shown to be an erroneous assessment of the self-interest these regimes have in self-preservation.  “Don’t let the madman do this!  Don’t let the madman do that!” earnest voices cried at the time, when the man was neither mad nor likely to do the things in question.  Now that we have a religious “madman” in view, the rhetoric has doubled and trebled in intensity, because we purport to know Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic vision and we assume that his apocalyptic vision has something to do with Iranian security policy. 

When Khatami was president, the hawkish line was that the Iranian President had no power and no control over anything and that it was stupid to treat him as anything other than a figurehead (which was a fair point, but typically one used in the service of agitating for conflict with Iran), but now that Ahmadinejad, whom the clerics opposed in the election, is in charge the Iranian Presidency is the font of apocalyptic doom and nuclear nightmares.  Pardon me if I don’t take this very seriously at all.  The histrionics of the usual suspects who have pushed for every war in living memory rather confirm that this alarmism is wrongheaded and dangerous. 

It seems as if for the past fifteen years we have had a new Hitler every year or so, and every year we were assured that he was unstoppable, could not be contained or checked or reasoned with, and on the basis of these tired analogies and sloppy thinking we entered into a conflict or confrontation.  In every episode, realistic incentives and disincentives would have elicited some measure of cooperation, but our political class was convinced in each case that there could be no bargaining or reasoning with the regime because of just this sort of stark, apocalyptic rhetoric about this or that dictator being the very essence of evil.  Far from being right or productive, this sort of thinking has gotten us into at least two significant wars that were entirely unnecessary.  If we heed the voices of the Kurtzes of the world, there will be more unnecessary wars that might have been avoided had we given these people the slightest credit for being rational, self-interested actors. 

No politician or revolutionary leader gets into the business of politics or leading a revolution because he wants to die for his cause (he may want other people to die for his cause, but his instincts of self-preservation are quite intact), but because he wants power and wants to stay in power, which is a powerful check on any supposed fanatically suicidal motivations he might have.  

If Israel thought that by slowly strangling the life out of the Lebanese capital, by blockading it from land, sea and air, it would turn Christians against their Muslim neighbours it appears to have miscalculated. The tragedy on Hajjaj Street, which killed at least 31 and wounded 60, was Beirut’s single biggest loss of life since the war began, bringing the total to more than 1,000. It hardened the public mood. Even those in the Christian half of the capital, who were beginning to call for a ceasefire at any price, spoke yesterday of their disgust at what Israeli warplanes were doing to their city.

George Serrin, 42, a businessman, has no love for Sheikh Nasrallah and his militia, but said: “Of course I care for my family’s safety and want this war over now. But I am sickened at the needless ruination done to my city, our city.”  ~The Times Online

In the first days of the war, Israeli air strikes hit a major Lebanese army base on the hills above Beirut, killing several soldiers. A radar station was demolished near the northern city of Tripoli. Twenty-nine Lebanese soldiers have been killed by Israel in this war so far, the vast majority in attacks in the north of the country.

In the past few days, Lebanese army posts have been struck south of the Litani river, the very region which Israel wants as a buffer zone and from which it says Hizbullah must be excluded. Israeli officials believe the Lebanese army at best turns a blind eye to Hizbullah’s military operations and at worst supports them. ~The Guardian

The damage inflicted on it is colossal. More than 70 bridges and 60 big factories have been destroyed. Fishing fleets have been sunk. Hospitals turn away patients for want of fuel, beaches are deserted and scarred by oil slicks from bombed fuel tanks. There is a pervasive sense of isolation. ~The Times Online

It was preposterous, scandalous, shameful to listen to these robed apparatchiks - most of them are paid, armed or otherwise supported by the West - shed their crocodile tears before a nation on its knees. The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, had already said in Cairo that the Beirut meeting “is a clear message to the world to demonstrate Arab solidarity with the Lebanese people”. In the southern suburbs - where they do not take this nonsense seriously - Abbas was telling me of a female neighbour who had supported the rival Shia Amal movement until her house was destroyed by the Israelis. “She told us, ‘We are all Hizbollahi now’,” And I recall that less than three years ago, we - we Westerners, we brave believers in human rights - were saying that we were all New Yorkers now. ~Robert Fisk, The Independent

If anyone wanted to raise the status of Hizbullah and give it a new dose of political credibility with all Lebanese, I know of no better way than the way Israel has been proceeding over the last four weeks.

And why was the building struck? The Israelis have slaughtered hundreds of civilians, attacking convoys of refugees they themselves ordered to leave. But Saadieh, Ali Rmeiti’s sister-in-law, has a story which matches those of two other survivors. Before the missiles exploded, she said, an Israeli drone flew over the Shiyyah district, a pilotless reconnaissance aircraft which sends live pictures back to Tel Aviv. “Um Kamel”, as the Lebanese call them, whined around for a time and then, without warning, someone drove down Assaad al-Assad street on a motorcycle and fired into the sky with a rifle opposite the Rmeiti home.

Then he left, some youth who wanted to prove his foolish manhood. You can’t destroy drones with a rifle, as any Hizbollah member knows. But not long afterwards, the two missiles came streaking down on the homes of the innocent. ~Robert Fisk, The Independent

So much for Ehud Olmert’s “humanitarian corridors”. Two weeks after the Israeli Prime Minister’s comforting assertion - which no one in Lebanon believed - the Israeli air force has blown up the last bridge across the Litani river, in effect ending all humanitarian convoys between Beirut and southern Lebanon. Requests from humanitarian organisations for clearance from the Israelis are now being refused. Even the Red Cross admits there is now, in effect, a blockade on a vast area along the Lebanese border where thousands of civilians are still cowering in their homes.

David Shearer, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in Lebanon, has pleaded with the Israelis to end their attacks against the country’s infrastructure and end all activities which threaten the transport of humanitarian aid to the displaced. But convoys since have been cancelled or forced to make long detours across the country and along the edge of the Lebanese-Syrian border. Truck drivers are frightened to risk their lives under Israeli air attack. I myself was on a Red Cross field trip from Qlaya to Jezzine when, close to the village of Arab Selim, an Israeli jet dropped a bomb on the road 80 metres in front of us. On the Litani river, north of Tyre, the main road bridge had been blasted away but the Lebanese army had constructed a temporary bridge over the water to the west. Now that, too, has been ripped to pieces by Israeli bombs. ~Robert Fisk, The Independent

The problem with Bush’s freedom rhetoric is that it appears to not be true. Hezbollah and Hamas, and the populations that support them, desire the destruction of Israel above all, and are willing to endure warfare and dysfunctional societies to bring it about. The Sunni insurgents in Iraq want power more than anything else, and are willing to kill and maim to gain it. The Shia militias, in turn, desire revenge against the Sunni. ~Rich Lowry, National Review

Via Doug Bandow

Let me say first that it is extremely rich that the callow, ridiculous editor of National Review would presume at this point to speak about deeply held conservative principles and understandings about the fallen nature of man, since these things hardly ever came up at NR c. 2002-03 when wiser counsel about the complexities of culture and the passions of men might have availed something.   

But there is something a little odd and more than a little condescending about this.  It is as if the liberal universalist yuppie has taken his first steps out of his own, sheltered neighbourhood to meet with a brusque reception at the local bar full of people he has never seen before (except maybe on TV) and does not really understand.  After an evening at the bar that sees him get into a nasty brawl with someone over an ill-chosen phrase about liberation, he is confident that ”those people” are simply savages who simply want to obey their lower desires.  That must be what they want more than anything else.  Nobody likes people like this yuppie, because he makes no effort to understand the motivations of his fellow man.  “If they do not respond as I do, or as I would wish them to, they must be bent solely on evil or destruction or vengeance–that’s the only explanation!”

For the dedicated Hamas and Hizbullah types, destruction of Israel is probably high on their to-do list, but I think we would make a terrible mistake if we assumed that this is what even many of these fanatics desired “above all.”  Presumably many of them do desire power, of course, and wish to lord it over their neighbours and avenge old slights, and this is true in the Iraqi context as well, but then every man desires power of some sort.  Even the urge to “be free” is a desire for a certain kind of power, an autonomy, an immunity from mistreatment, a means to express one’s will and, in a democratic context, a desire to participate in government.  To speak of equality is also to make a claim about power–you believe that no one else should really, ultimately have more power than you, at least not permanently.  You believe there is a certain minimum level of power that you should always retain–over yourself and vis-a-vis other people.  That is what “rights” are supposed to be–embodiments of power that you are able to use to protect yourself.  No one wants to have a vote unless he also wants some measure of power–but it is typically power as a means to something else. 

Thus it is with most men.  Rare is the maniacal lunatic who simply wishes to keep acquiring power; most seek power and use violence to achieve certain ends, of which the destruction of their enemies may be only one and perhaps not even the most significant.  Most often we can tell what motivates a man by looking at his loyalties, associations and actions.  Hizbullah has changed and morphed over the years to become a Syro-Iranian front group, no doubt, but its members and sympathisers presumably see in it something more than that and understand their allegiance to it in terms beyond the old “death to Israel” motto.  Whether they are profoundly mistaken or not does not matter if we are trying to understand their motivation–even if they are profoundly mistaken, as indeed they are, they have committed themselves to an idea that will not permit them to so easily acknowledge this in any case.  And so we must try to understand what function this allegiance plays in winning the loyalties of so many people.  Read the rest of this entry »

The article also fails to mention that, while Syria has the appearance of a democracy, the Sunni-dominated country is essentially an authoritarian regime and it would be quite difficult for a Christian, or anyone for that matter, to speak freely on religion without risking the wrath of the majority. This type of conditioning has been going on for hundreds of years. ~Daniel Pulliam, GetReligion

Mr. Pulliam objects to Reuters’ coverage in this story.  First of all, while it is important to keep the context of Baathist Party rule in mind, as an explicitly secular state that has been historically hostile to Islamic fundamentalism it affords the Christians of Syria rather more latitude in their ability to practice their religion and to speak candidly about it.  The Christians in Syria are decidedly not living under Islamic law, do not pay the jiziya or suffer from the sorts of restrictions that they would if, say, they lived in certain parts of “liberated” Iraq. 

Then there is the “context” of Syrian Christians being Arabs, who are reasonably more likely to sympathise with fellow Arabs, especially when there are Christians among them, when these people appear to them to be (and indeed are) under attack.  Since Christians in Lebanon, including no less than Gen. Aoun, are taking an increasingly pro-Hizbullah stance, why is it that incredible to believe that Christians in Syria are taking the same view?  Why the need to attribute it to Islamic intimidation?  There may be such intimidation on a private level, but Mr. Pulliam’s criticism assumes that this, together with anachronistic ideas about Islamic law, must be the main explanation for the sympathy being shown Nasrallah.  Arguably, the article could have provided more context to give a more complete picture of the situation, but there is nothing terribly lacking in the coverage itself, which is obviously a collection of anecdotal accounts.  There is no reason to lend this report undue importance if a reporter has managed to find a handful of Christians in Syria who say extraordinarily complimentary things about Nasrallah, but why should it surprise us that Christians are saying complimentary things about a man whom 80% of Lebanese Christians now support

The theme of the story was how the war on Lebanon was forging solidarity across sectarian and religious lines, citing Christian sympathy for Nasrallah and Hizbullah as an example of this trend.  Furthermore, the historical context of the rise of Arab nationalism, which was an ideology virtually invented by Syrian and Lebanese Christians as a means of transcending sectarianism, might tell us something about why Christians in the Near East feel particularly strong affinities to pan-Arab claims and the causes of other Arabs, even when they are not Christian.  Even though Arab nationalism has failed across the region, there is a tradition among the local Christians to think in these terms. 

Then there is the problem with the phrase “Sunni-dominated country.”  First of all, it does not explain very much if the thing to be explained is Christian sympathy for a Shi’ite militia.  It is a majority Sunni country, but it is precisely not Sunni-dominated, because the entire elite of the country comes from a branch of Shi’ism.  If the country were Sunni dominated, and we assume that this is very relevant to determining how Syrian Christians view the fighting in Lebanon, are they more or less likely to sympathise with Hizbullah?  The relevant point, surely, is that the government is dominated by a branch of Shi’ites, the Alawites, which makes more sense of Damascus’ connections to Hizbullah and Tehran. 

The fact that the government is a sponsor of the group in question would probably have far more influence on what Syrian Christians think than any anachronistic recourse to an explanation according to jiziya and the official second-class status that Christians endure in non-secular Islamic countries.  That being said, we rule out Christian sympathy for Hizbullah and the cause of all Lebanon at peril of making outlandishly incorrect statements like those contained in Mr. Pulliam’s post.  I should think an outfit like GetReligion would take more care to make sure that they themselves “get” what they are talking about before they find fault with other journalists for their errors or otherwise poor coverage of a religion-related topic.   

Reading Fiasco is a strange experience, as I keenly remember many of the public debates and incidents recounted in the book and thinking to myself, “We knew all of that at the time–how is it that people think this is a revelation?”  Of course, not everything in Fiasco was public knowledge, but it is shocking to find that on every important point the early antiwar critics on left and right had the main problems pegged from early on in 2002.  Back then, pre-blog, I was a frenetic writer of letters to the editor, and I finally managed, after the war had begun, to get a letter published inside the enemy camp, so to speak, at The Economist.  Here is a letter I wrote to The Economist, published 31 July 2003:

Your continued defence of the war is grounded on the assertion that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was “dangerous” (”The case for war revisisted”, July 19th). Dangerous to whom? In light of the conviction of several former weapons inspectors that Iraq was substantially disarmed after 1998, the burden of proof has always been on those advocating intervention.

Yet The Economist has always given the pro-war arguments every benefit of the doubt and hawkish assumptions far more credibility than the evidence warrants, and in so doing has lent support to governments that have probably swindled the public and started an unnecessary war. Lacking in every hawkish argument has been the common-sense understanding that the chance of massive and overwhelming retaliation would deter any third-rate state from an attack.

You say that if George Bush and Tony Blair lied “it would be a huge scandal and would destroy their governments’ credibility for future interventions overseas.” What is Vice-President Dick Cheney’s claim that Iraq had “reconstituted nuclear weapons” if not an outright lie? What of Mr Bush’s claim that there was “no doubt” of the existence of the weapons that now cannot be found? Finally, considering the American public’s confusion over the real relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda, what else other than lies can you call Mr Bush’s repeated claims about Iraq’s “harbouring” members of al-Qaeda?

Maybe western intelligence agencies are so amazingly incompetent that they cannot provide correct information properly to inform a policy of pre-emption, in which case such wars are even more dangerous and wrong. Or perhaps the governments of Britain and the United States made a host of false statements without any suitable explanation for these errors, in which case a responsible democratic society must assume that the governments have lied and in so doing have abused their powers.

Daniel Larison

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Fortunately, this is a line of inquiry that has answers. Human Rights Watch reported in February, 2000 that “About five hundred civilians died in ninety separate incidents as a result of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia last year.” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth, who was generally supportive of the enterprise, found this result worth criticizing: “Once it made the decision to attack Yugoslavia, NATO should have done more to protect civilians. All too often, NATO targeting subjected the civilian population to unacceptable risks.” Obviously, 500 is a lot less than 10,000.

What’s more, I don’t really see the point in trying to compare the two wars which simply don’t seem very similar to me. ~Matt Yglesias

Well, I don’t know what to tell Mr. Yglesias, except that his numbers–and those of Human Rights Watch–are mistaken.  The dead in Yugoslavia were in the thousands.  The figure of 500, according to the Serbian government, had already been reached by mid-April, approximately one month after the war began.  I have normally seen numbers around 5,000 civilians killed during the bombing campaign.  It may have been lower than that, but I feel fairly confident that it was significantly higher than 500.  There were also several thousand Yugoslavian soldiers killed, which is not a light thing considering the aggressive and illegal nature of the war.  Of course, the number killed in a completely unjustifiable war does not somehow make the crime any less heinous or inexcusable–when you launch wars of aggression, any deaths, particularly those of civilians, have no justification.    

But the bigger problem is that Mr. Yglesias sees no parallels between the two campaigns, when the parallels are many and rather obvious.  The first is that both seem to have been campaigns in search of a pretext.  The rejection of the Rambouillet negotiations was Mr. Clinton’s pretext for attacking Serbia, which had returned to Mr. Clinton’s agenda by at least the year before when Washington ceased calling the KLA terrorists and began agitating over Kosovo; the myth of Racak helped lend moral credibility to his dubious enterprise.  In the case of Lebanon, the provocation and attack by Hizbullah provided the immediate pretext to launch a plan that had been prepared for some time.  In both cases, air wars aimed at punishing an entire for the crimes of a relative few were waged with limited success in degrading the military capabilities of the very people whose operations the campaign was supposedly aimed at, while the civilian populations suffered the brunt of the damage.  In both cases, the world allowed the terrorisation of a civilian population for allegedly justifiable ends (stopping “genocide”/fighting terrorism) by the militarily superior forces of one side.  In both cases, the bombings produced floods of refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  The difference was that in Kosovo the government was able to circulate the lie that the Serbs had been the ones to drive the refugees out of Kosovo, when it was NATO’s campaign that had done it.  In Lebanon, no one could be deceived that the refugee crisis had been created by anyone but Israel.  The attack on Yugoslavia was criminal, immoral aggression; the war on Lebanon, particularly considering the way it has been carried out, is only marginally better. 

If Prof. Bernard Lewis were not a dedicated proponent of any and all wars in the Near East, a general alarmist when it comes to modern political questions and, in fairness, a super-partisan of Israel and close associate of Likud, I might take it more seriously when he warns again in alarmist fashion that Ahmadinejad, who as President directly controls literally none of Iran’s actual military assets, has fixated on the date August 22, which happens this year to correspond with the day commemorating Muhammad’s Night Journey.  Are you scared yet?  Let me try that again, Dave Barry-style: this is the Day When They Commemorate Muhammad’s NIGHT JOURNEY!  Now it’s sinking in, right?  The thought is that this date will carry some special significance for Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic expectations of the Mahdi and Twelfth Imam’s return from occultation (one can only guess how shocked Mr. Bush would be to learn that there are multiple sects of Shi’ism–”I thought they were all Shi’ites!”). 

Since the excerpts from the WSJ op-ed where Prof. Lewis’ warning appeared do not include any explanation of why the date has any necessary connection with the other, I am, to put it mildly, not exactly anxious about what is going to happen on August 22. 

This is not to rule out the significance of sacred dates or anniversaries of important historical events as signs of what a people particularly attentive to such past events might do in the present (it came to my attention recently that the Tanzania and Kenya bombings in 1998 came eight years to the day of the arrival of American forces in Saudi Arabia), but I have to confess that the connection of the Night Journey to the appearance of the Twelfth Imam is a bit obscure.

First, there is the problem of the Mahdi himself.  The Mahdi is supposed to return at the command of Allah, which is something Ahmadinejad presumably does not believe he can control or hasten by doing provocative or violent things.  Now, is Prof. Lewis claiming that Ahmadinejad (whose first name is Mahmoud, which is one of the technical requirements of any claimant to Mahdi status) believes himself to be the Mahdi?  That would be quite a thing to suppose, especially since the Mahdi is supposed to come out of Arabia.  It is also worth considering that if he were claiming such a thing, his life would very likely be forfeit in Iran in no time at all.  Aside from threatening the power of the clerics, the claim itself would be viewed as impious.  All other claimants of being the Mahdi have come to a sticky end, and each time they have been met with the disapprobation of all Muslims who knew anything about Islamic doctrine.  Muhammad Bayram V of Tunisia was just such a one who looked down on the rising of the Mahdi in Sudan and called for Anglo-Egyptian forces to crush his rebellion.  An anti-colonial intellectual, he was no fan of empire, but for various reasons, including religious contempt for the claims of this false Mahdi, he felt obliged to support the British cause.

Now I see the obvious connection between the Night Journey and Jerusalem, where Muslims believe Muhammad went on his winged horse (and whence the special claim on the Dome of the Rock, where Muhammad was supposed to have set foot when he landed, according to this apocryphal tale), and so I suppose in the most conspiratorially-minded view you could imagine someone timing an attack on Israel on the day of the Night Journey, but this seems to have one large, overlooked problem. 

If August 22 of this year is the day when Muslims specifically remember the association of Muhammad and Jerusalem, wouldn’t that almost guarantee that of all the days of the year that Muslims would not launch a major attack on Israel and, with it, Jerusalem?  If the big fear is Iranian nukes, what sort of complete cynic and irreligious fellow would Ahmadinejad have to be to use the particular day when Jerusalem’s importance is in the mind of all Muslims to launch an indiscriminate nuclear attack on Israel–thus devastating Jerusalem and killing numerous Muslims in the process?  We might say that Ahmadinejad is a cynic and an irreligious fellow, but that rather ruins the whole, “he is going to attack on August 22 because he is a religious fanatic obsessed with sacred dates” angle.  I know hysteria and talk of WWIII and Armageddon are all the rage these days, but might be able to manage a little more sensible analysis?  

Andrew Sullivan gets goose bumps from the bloviating Frenchman himself, Bernard Henri-Levy, who begins his account of arriving in Israel with (what else?) a remembrance of the Spanish Civil War.  Because you see we are again in a war with fascism or Islam or Islamic fascism, or international fascistic Islamism…Sullivan for his part uses it as another club with which to beat any and all politically active religious people.  Because, you see, it’s just a hop skip and a jump from political engagement to Nasrallah and the boys.  If you believe that, analogies to the 1930s and BHL’s babbling will also seem like statements of impeccable genius to you.

It is true that “this is a religious war” for Hizbullah, because, well, every war is a religious war for the “Party of God.”  No kidding.  That does not mean that anyone in Israel or here should feel obliged to apply the same ruthless, maximalist logic to waging war against them–since that is supposed to be what makes them evil, n’est pas?

However, Gen. Michel Aoun, a former commander of the Lebanese army and now a leading Christian member of parliament, has come out against the deployment of a multinational force in Lebanon. He has argued it would revive sectarian tensions.

And unlike other Lebanese Christian leaders, Aoun supports an alliance with Hezbollah in an effort to reduce the confessional basis of Lebanon’s conflicts. ~Roxana Saberi,

To date nearly 1,000 Lebanese civilians have been killed by Israeli bombs; thousands more have been injured, many severely, and nearly 1 million people, mainly from the south and the southern suburbs of Beirut, have been rendered homeless. That is an astronomical number in a country of only 4 million people. By comparison, it would be the equivalent of 75 million Americans being forced to leave their homes. Hurricane Katrina forced the evacuation of roughly 1 million.

In retaliation, or maybe the bombing of the bridges was in retaliation — does it really matter anymore who ‘retaliates’ first? — Hezbollah fired more rockets into Israel. The death toll in Israel stands at 85, including some 43 soldiers.

Meanwhile, an entire country is being systematically destroyed as the world sits idly by, and politicians watch Lebanon burn. All that’s missing are the lyres and the crowns of laurel. The fires are plentiful, compliments of the bombs. Lebanese police counted nearly 4,000 Israeli artillery shells being lobbed on the country just this past Saturday. ~Claude Salhani

On July 12, in other words, Hizbullah fired the first shots. But that act of aggression was simply one instance in a long sequence of small incursions and attacks over the past six years by both sides. So why was the Israeli response so different from all that preceded it? The answer is that it was not a reaction to the events of that day. The assault had been planned for months.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that “more than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and thinktanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail”. The attack, he said, would last for three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that “of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared … By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board”. ~George Monbiot, The Guardian

In some circles this changes nothing.  “Of course, Israel had to have a plan!” they’ll say.  “Of course Israel took advantage of the provocation to implement the plan!”  What it means, however, is that “the plan” all along was to wage war on all of Lebanon, which they must have known would displace her people by the hundreds of thousands on account of the air war–Hizbullah’s subsequent firing of rockets has simply provided ideal cover for the continuation of the campaign that was already intended the moment there was the slightest incident.  It was, like Kosovo and Iraq ‘03, a war that was seeking a pretext, which I daresay throws into doubt the Israeli government’s right intention, which is a vital criterion of just war. 

President Bush has repeatedly spoken of the capacity of “liberty” to transform “hostile regions.”  Transform them, I wonder, into what?  Permanent centers of perpetual, white-hot hatred?  But by the man’s own standard, his own express assumption about the strategic value of democratising the Near East, democratisation has not only backfired (and could have been predicted to do just that) but completely exploded in “our” hands.  It is high time to run democratists out of their positions of influence, vote them out of office and show their “Freedom Agenda” to be the colossal fool’s errand that it is and always has been.  Enough, I say, of nonsense like this:

And the best proof of how dangerous democracy is to Islamic fascists is the energy with which they are trying to defeat it.

A very few Islamic terrorists are trying to defeat the new Iraqi government in Iraq, but otherwise the persistent efforts of the so-called “fascists” on the whole have been towards putting up candidates and winning influence in this way.  This is arguably a short-term strategy, and they will throw out elections and all the rest of it as soon as they are in power, but “democracy” is not a danger to them–they represent, God help us, the prevailing, vibrant ideology of their time in the lands where we are providing them the mechanisms to rise to power without firing a shot.  Democracy in the Near East is dangerous to no one so much as us and our allies in the region.  A group that believes in this would have to be a band of historically ignorant, hubristic buffoons if they think that this would work out to our advantage.  Oh, wait, that’s exactly what they are.

Free elections are not sufficient, but they can be catalyzing.

Yes, like the precursor to an explosive!

It’s also worth emphasizing that democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. 

This is true, and entirely to be expected, which is why Near Eastern democracy will as often as not be authoritarian, illiberal, majoritarian and tyrannical.  Which is why it has always been a bad idea to spread this particular regime to this part of the world.

Do they believe that Iraq, which consists of a freely elected, multiethnic government whose leadership is fighting terrorism instead of supporting it, was better under Saddam Hussein than it is now?

Well, it’s rather obvious that Iraq was better off in terms of security and, for the most part, in the relations between the different sects.  If the first purpose of government to ensure civil order, Hussein’s government was better than the current government.  If the purpose of government is to have elections and watch impotently as citizens are blown up in the street, then, no, Hussein’s government clearly loses the contest.

Do they believe that it was better to have the Taliban control Afghanistan, not Hamid Karzai?

And what exactly does that have to do with anything in the Near East?  This is an attempt to swindle the audience–Karzai was installed as our man after we took out a regime that was hostile to us.  As anyone remotely familiar with the current scene in Afghanistan knows, Karzai controls his bedroom and office in Kabul and not a lot else; the country is, as it normally is, ruled by the local warlords and “democracy” is a front for their interests.  That’s to be expected, but spare us the comparison, as if the purpose of installing Karzai was to promote democracy–it was to conciliate the Pashtuns so they wouldn’t revolt en masse against the Tajik warlords whom we used to throw the Taliban out of the country.  This was fairly smart, unusually so for this crowd, but had literally nothing to do with the democratisation schemes for the other countries and nothing whatever to do with a Freedom Agenda.

Do they believe we should support more repression within Arab societies?

Well, no.  Why we should revert to one bad scheme of imperial management because the new one is failing has never been clear to me.  Perhaps we should get out of the imperial management business all together.  We believe, or at least I believe, that we shouldn’t be very closely involved with any of the governments in the region, so that our country does not become a target of the rebels and dissidents in any of those countries.  I happen to think, oddly enough, that the Arabs’ countries are their own (rather than being the playthings of Washinggton poli-sci guys and undereducated business majors) and that they will make of them what they can; we should wish them well and leave them to it.  If they can make a go of sane, orderly representative government, good for them, but what that really has to do with us will always remain a mystery to me.

Democracy and the accompanying rise in free institutions are what they deserve, and what our own security demands.

Actually, no nation automatically ”deserves” democracy or free institutions.  These are things that must be developed and earned by each people that obtains them.  Even the nations that possess them must keep earning the right to have them again and again–they must demonstrate that they are worthy of such an inheritance (sadly, I think most Western countries would fail any such test), and if found wanting they can lose what it took centuries to build. 

These things are earned over a long process of becoming habituated to the practises necessary to sustain such institutions–otherwise, the institutions will break down and fail.  Without being able to make these things their own, democracy and “free institutions” are not only meaningless, but they are not really theirs and they will not risk very much or make any sacrifices to secure things that are not really part of their world.  The preeminent problem of Arab nationalism was that it created nation-states and ideals to which none of the people felt any loyalty; being able to vote will not engender any greater loyalty in the people of the modern Near East, and when a crisis comes they will abandon the institutions of their precious democracies just as Arab armies deserted their worthless Arab nationalist masters in the various Arab-Israeli wars.  No one will really fight and die for chimeras and abstractions, and if the new democratic order cannot offer something more than that it will fail just as Nasser’s revolutionary Arab nationalism and Baathism have failed before it. 

These things, democracy and “free institutions,” are built on a chain of abstract concepts and loyalties that most normal peoples throughout history have never held and, given the chance, have typically found deficient when compared to the real connections of concrete loyalties that they possess in other political ties of kinship and religion.  When these two sets of loyalties conflict, as they will inevitably conflict, the latter will always win out among sane, normal people.  It is actually, in a sense, to the credit of the peoples in the Near East that they do not buy into these abstractions with the eagerness of some other peoples.  But if we are premising our security on their embrace of such things, we had better be prepared to be very insecure, because either democracy will work and create enemies or it will fail and the supposed “security” a democratic Near East will bring us will evaporate.

In the words of President Bush, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”  Those who disagree with him must believe, by the power of their own logic, that continued tyranny is the route to a better world. 

Um, no.  That’s quite a stunning conclusion, and one that suggests a certain degree of illiteracy.  Mr. Bush posits a necessary connection between the survival of liberty in this country and its success in others.  Not to get all paleo on you, Mr. Wehner, but the argument could be made that America has actually become progressively less free as “freedom” and “democracy” have spread around the world, which would suggest that there might almost be an inverse relationship.  But that is not the main problem with Mr. Bush’s formulation.  He is mistaken about the relationship, because he thinks there is one.  Liberty in the United States is contingent on three things: the virtue of the people, the size of the government and the ability of the people to resist the usurpations of the government.  None of which really has anything to do with whether they are voting in Tikrit and Gaza.  It is almost impossible to believe that educated men can believe in this fairy-tale, but I will not assume that Mr. Wehner is engaged in pure cynicism, even though he does work for the President’s propaganda office (the Office of Strategic Initiatives). 

He may actually believe this stuff, which is perhaps much more worrisome than if he were simply trying to put one over on us.  What is worrisome is how, in almost zombie-like fashion, Mr. Wehner regurgitates every talking point Mr. Bush and his propagandists have used to date, as if no one had ever heard these ridiculous claims before.  Don’t they ever get new writers over at the Ministry of Propaganda?  Perhaps they should try out Blair’s speechwriters with their wacky phrases (”renaissance of strategy” and “alliance of moderation”)–equally vapid, but at least it’s different!  Do they expect people to say, “Oh, so freedom transforms hostile regions–why didn’t you say so before?  I completely agree now.  It’s so obvious after hearing it for the 5,732nd time!”

The president has a fundamentally different view, and his remarkable effort to promote human liberty and American security sets him apart from his critics. 

It also sets him apart from a little thing we’d like to call the real world.

Perfection cannot be the price of support for democracy, and the fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for the effort to promote liberty.  Freedom has a remarkable track record, including in regions that were once thought to be inimical to it.  ~Peter Wehner,

Who wants perfection?  How about anything better than empowering Islamists in every single case of a free and open election in the Near East in the last three years?  The point isn’t that things haven’t gone as well as one might have hoped–they have flatly contradicted the hopes and predictions of the democratists in every case and have not brought us any closer to regional peace, but have, on the contrary, been empowering people whom the very same democratists are perfectly happy, in other contexts, to describe as madmen.  I don’t much care for Ahmadinejad, and the democratists hate the guy, so why do they want to have more elections and more democracy in lands where the majority seems inclined to elect people just like him? 

Notice how he doesn’t make any mention of which “regions” he’s talking about.  Freedom has a remarkable track record, provided that we don’t have any way of checking that record or scrutinising the claims of misty-eyed democratists.  Of course “elections” and “democracy” have nothing as such to do with promoting liberty.  If the results of the last few years from all over the world are any indication, elections and democracy are the fast track to the end of what liberties there were in many of these countries.  They also appear to be the fast track to politicising and aggravating sectarian and ethnic divisions and pushing otherwise potentially manageable countries over the brink.  I don’t need perfection–something better than catastrophic failure and blowback might be nice, though. 

What is it that drives people to say things like this?  I have made a few suggestions here.

According to Newsweek, a “senior Bush aide” said, “If there’s a full-blown civil war, the president isn’t going to allow our forces to be caught in the crossfire.”  If correct, this would be the first indication in years that some measure of sanity had crept into the foreign policy decisionmaking in this administration.  Finally, perhaps, the national interest might take precedence over dreams of hegemony and loopy fantasies about democracy and regional transformation.  Naturally, someone at The Corner was upset by this statement, prompting a perceptive critique from Spencer Ackerman at TNR’s The Plank:

He [Michael Rubin] calls his post at the Corner “How To Lose Iraq,” thereby implying that Iraq is “lost” not because of civil war but because of a U.S. withdrawal. Which makes sense–provided you believe that success in Iraq means occupying the country forever, or until the Hezbollah-and-Iran-sympathizers in the Iraqi government succeed in liquidating the Sunnis, which may as well be forever. And that’s as good a description as any of what U.S. troops would be dying for: to promote one faction of Islamists against another. I can see why Mike thinks we should stay the course.


Bonus Fun Fact: What really gets Rubin’s goat is the anonymous quote from a senior White House official to Newsweek, who told the magazine that “If there’s a full-blown civil war, the president isn’t going to allow our forces to be caught in the crossfire.” Rubin ripostes, “She might as well have hung a banner declaring, ‘You’re within inches of victory. Set off just a few more suicide bombs and we’ve had it.’” Why did Mike use the feminine pronoun? No, he’s not trying to be gender-neutral; he’s sending the subtle hint that he believes Newsweek’s source is Meghan O’Sullivan, the National Security Council official in charge of Iraq. O’Sullivan, a Richard Haass protégé, is a bete noire to Rubin’s fellow neocons, who for years have blamed her–rather than their own disproven fantasies about Iraq and the Middle East–for the fiascos that the Iraq war and the ”freedom agenda” are. Given the choice between pinning the tail on O’Sullivan or asking myself hard questions about war and peace in the mirror each morning when I shave, I’d make O’Sullivan my scapegoat, too.

It seems obvious to me that if there were a large-scale civil war, the sort that even the administration would admit to be a civil war (sectarian killings with dozens of casualties every month, you see, are just strong disagreements), leaving our soldiers in the middle of that for any reason would be as irresponsible as the decision to send them there in the first place.  Evidently the realists with any influence in this administration have had some success in driving that point home.  Withdrawal in the event of civil war would admit that the fantasy of transforming Iraq into a happy democratic land of peace and brotherhood was always just that, a fantasy, which many of us knew at the time and which some, such as Mr. Rubin, have yet to grasp, but it would be the only sane thing to do under the circumstances.  For that matter, withdrawing out of the middle of the current low-level civil war seems like an equally good idea, but one that Iraq hawks from both parties will never allow.

A nice send-up of the WWIII/WWIV crowd …

Lebanon’s costs of war

The notion that we invaded Iraq for “lots of reasons” — like so much else in the discussion of Iraq — misses the point. There was only one “reason” that permitted the President to take the country to war: the presence of weapons of mass destruction. The American people were and are viscerally opposed to the idea of pre-emptive war. In the absence of a threat, pre-emptive war looks to them very much like naked aggression. (In the absence of a threat, even the argument from principle would collapse. The administration’s stated preference for democracy was based on the asseveration that democracies don’t attack other countries.) It’s important to remember that WMD was not just one of a cluster of fungible “reasons” for war. It was the only reason for war. ~Neal Freeman, The American Spectator

Via Daniel McCarthy

For those who are not members of Hezbollah, who do not subscribe to the ideology of the Party of God and who do not have blind faith in the group’s leadership, this war is heartbreaking.

They are furious at Hezbollah for dragging Lebanon into this destructive war.

But they are also raging against Israel for imposing this collective punishment on the country.

Seeing Lebanon’s infrastructure destroyed over the course of the last three weeks has been painful.

After the civil war ended in 1990, the Lebanese did an amazing job rebuilding their country, despite political assassinations and the occasional Israeli air strikes.  ~BBC News

It is absolutely true that most Lebanese resent Hizbullah for provoking this fight, and therein lies the greatest tragedy: Hizbullah was the one that overreached and exposed itself to Israeli retaliation that would likely have been welcomed by the rest of the country, and Israel had its best chance to isolate Hizbullah politically in years.  Instead, all of Lebanon has become the target and its people are bearing the costs of Israel’s errors and excesses.  War is always miserable, but this war is particularly grim in its futility.

That the Western press consistently characterizes the Israeli actions as immoral is anti-Semitism. ~David Mamet, The Chicago Tribune

A classic retreat when the chips are down and the argument isn’t going your way.  The damage inflicted on the rest of Lebanon is so excessive, considering the limited nature of the original provocation, that it surprises me that anyone would still have the gall to accuse critics of Israeli methods of anti-Semitism.  Most of the article is dedicated to rehashing all the old favourite charges of anti-Semitism–Europeans have always wanted to destroy the Jews, it’s all the Gospels’ fault, and so on and so forth.  Of course, Mel Gibson gets a mention, too.  People who cannot accept reasonable criticism of morally dubious policies without screaming about how the entire world is out to get you are not serious interlocutors; there is no dialogue with people like this, when arguments are answered with shouts of abuse. 

This obsession with the West’s supposed eternal, unchanging anti-Semitism is almost as remarkable as this striking claim:

The Israeli aim is not to invade Lebanon (Israel left Lebanon) but to force Hezbollah to stop killing the Jews.

Yes, Israel did leave Lebanon, but seems to have had a large-scale military operation in place to devastate Lebanon the moment there was a provocation from Hizbullah.  Perhaps Israel does not want to invade Lebanon, all things being equal.  But Israel is invading Lebanon and bringing destruction to the entire civilian infrastructure in the name of cutting off Hizbullah.  What they are achieving is the displacement and embargo of the Lebanese people.  Their plight, of course, goes unnoticed by Mamet, smug in his self-confidence that Israel cannot possibly have made any serious mistakes.  There is apparently no moral culpability for the perpetual victim.

The refusal to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is usually associated with more moderate critics, for whom “the occupation” refers not to the entire state but to the land Israel took over in the Six Day War, including the eastern part of the city, which has been officially incorporated into Israel.  The continuing dispute over the status of East Jerusalem is the reason most countries (including the U.S.) still have their embassies in Tel Aviv. But for Nasrallah, who sees the entire state as illegitimate, what’s the point of pretending that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is the capital? ~Jacob Sullum, Hit and Run

Since most other nations don’t officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, because, well, half of the city is an occupied territory and the city itself is a highly charged symbol to all three major religions in the area, it is not surprising that the leader of Hizbullah does not consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel.  In this he is not ”pretending” anymore than our State Department is.  If you put Secretary Rice  on the hot seat tomorrow, she would have to hedge on the question of what Israel’s capital was.  Besides, last I checked, Muslims considered Jerusalem a holy city and have the spurious tradition that Muhammad went there on his so-called Night Journey–what sort of a moronic Islamic guerrilla would threaten to shoot rockets at a city he is supposed to consider sacred?  Now, Israel can consider any city it likes to be its capital, and it will inevitably select Jerusalem as its “eternal” capital for obvious reasons, but if it claims a powerfully symbolic and disputed city no one should be surprised if the claim is not accepted or acknowledged.  If West Germany had claimed Berlin as its capital, that would have been all well and good, and would not have changed the divided status of the city one bit.   

In other words, whatever one might think of Hezbollah’s reactionary ideology and its sordid history, the group did not constitute such a serious threat to Israel’s security as to legitimate a pre-emptive war.

Having ousted Syrian forces from Lebanon in an impressive nonviolent uprising last year, the Lebanese had re-established what may perhaps be the most democratic state in the Arab world. Because they allowed the anti-Israel and anti-American Hezbollah to participate in the elections, however, the Israeli government and the Bush administration—with strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill—apparently decided that Lebanon as a whole must be punished in the name of “the war on terror.” ~Stephen Zunes

You do have to admire the agility of the war’s supporters, who at once claim the war is aimed at helping the Lebanese government free itself from Hizbullah while simultaneously blaming all of Lebanon for having the temerity of letting Hizbullah into government…after its political wing won seats in a democratic election that, in any other country, the war supporters would applaud and cite as an example of the universal potential of democratisation.  The message seems to be: we insist that you have democracy, but you cannot actually have a coalition government that includes parties of which we disapprove and all of you are all culpable for anything members of one party in the coalition do.  Imagine if, somehow, Sinn Fein were ever to be included in a British cabinet and the IRA then set off an attack on British targets–would the British be obliged to start bombing Manchester and Leeds to punish the British people for having “allowed” Sinn Fein into government?  The people of Lebanon did not “allow” Hizbullah into government–the rules of the processes of election and legislative representation “allowed” them in by making them such a sizeable contingent in the parliament that they could not simply be excluded.  The rest of Lebanon is being laid waste because it was too respectful of election results.  Unlike advanced democracies, such as Belgium or Germany, the Lebanese do not ban parties whose ideas they find offensive (not, of course, that the other sects had the effective means to disarm Hizbullah had they wanted to proscribe it).  Obviously, they must be punished for their lack of vision.

Beirut, before and after.  Via Juan Cole

Was World War II ended by cease-fires or by annihilating much of Germany and Japan? Make no mistake about it, innocent civilians died in the process. Indeed, American prisoners of war died when we bombed Germany.

There is a reason why General Sherman said “war is hell” more than a century ago. But he helped end the Civil War with his devastating march through Georgia — not by cease fires or bowing to “world opinion” and there were no corrupt busybodies like the United Nations to demand replacing military force with diplomacy. ~Thomas Sowell

Perhaps Dr. Sowell would also like to make Lebanon howl for the sake of “peace.”  It is quite one thing to say that, in a given situation, a cease-fire would be imprudent for the long-term interests of establishing peace.  That could be debated on the merits.  What Dr. Sowell does instead is effectively declare this to be a total war, a war in which crushing the enemy population under the boot may be necessary and should be tolerated.  He seems to be implying that we should be willing to see Israel inflict any number of war crimes on Lebanon, just like Sherman did, because we, too, have had ugly chapters in our military history in which our forces also committed war crimes, supposedly for the sake of “peace.”  The particularly nasty lie comes in pretending that these were militarily necessary or that, even if necessary, they were somehow justified by necessity, when in each case the war crimes committed in the bombings of German and Japanese cities or in the rapine of Sherman’s forces were both unnecessary to end the war and, even if supposedly “necessary,” would have failed every test of justice. 

It is perverse in extreme to believe that the March to the Sea was necessary to end the war–defeating or outmaneuvering the Confederate armies in the field was what led to the surrender at Appomattox.  There had, of course, been opportunities in 1864 to negotiate peace, which the Yankees spurned, but by this time Lincoln was committed to the vicious logic of “total victory.”  The atrocities of Sherman and Sheridan were simply the gratuitous violence of a barbaric invader, and it should embarrass any serious conservative, if he is not just a cheerleader for government brutality, to speak of these things without profound shame that they were done in the name of the United States.  Whatever you think about the War of Secession, the amoral Machtpolitik of Dr. Sowell and his ideological confreres Podhoretz and Krauthammer should disgust you. 

I am unclear why men who adopt positions such as these go to the trouble of calling themselves conservatives, since they clearly lose all interest in questions of restraint or virtue when it comes time to start dropping bombs or laying waste to entire regions.  They could just call themselves amoral nationalists and save everyone the confusion.


The second reason that using the term “disproportionate” is silly is that most of the major and earth shattering events of history seem to be disproportionate responses to apparently trivial incidents. Only a fool thinks that the American War of Independence was launched by a tea tax or a shot fired on a village green in Lexington. Only a fool thinks that the War Between the States was launched by Confederate fire on a fort in Charleston Harbor.

Of course we all realize that those seemingly trivial incidents did not really trigger great upheavals all on their own. They might have been the proverbial straw that pushed things one step too far. The little incident is merely the small visible part of the iceberg. Only a fool would say that World War II was England’s disproportionate response to Hitler. ~Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Lapin is right that proximate causes are not the only causes of wars.  There are long-term political tensions that predate the firing of the first shot, and there are economic or ideological interests that are at stake that push governments over the edge into the abyss.  But this little lesson in causality tells us nothing about the question at hand.  If I read this annoying article correctly, Rabbi Lapin seems to be saying: all great conflicts start with a single, small incident, so why worry if Israel escalates a small incident into a large-scale war that inflicts terrible, unnecessary and, yes, disproportionate damage on Lebanon?  As I said some time ago: gone is the trope of Israel’s tremendous restraint; now we have the idea of the virtue of her disproportionate violence.  If Israel’s apologists want to embrace disproportionate violence as a virtue, they are welcome to do so, but they can expect the criticism and opprobrium of those who still take principles of justice seriously. 

Early in the summer of 1914 an obscure European aristocrat, Archduke Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo. Within a few weeks England declared war on Germany and millions died in muddy trenches. That was a disproportionate response.

On September 1, 1939 Hitler declared war on Poland because, he claimed, some Poles attacked a minor German radio station on the border. That was a disproportionate response too. Two days later, England declared war on Germany. That was also a disproportionate response.

There are three reasons why those who call any nation’s response to anything “disproportionate” are not being statesmen they are just being silly. ~Rabbi Daniel Lapin


Rabbi Lapin’s treatment of proportionality shares two things with that of many of the Lebanon war apologists: an appalling abuse of history and a reckless disregard for the proper meaning of the principle of proportionality as a measure of ius in belloMark Shea helpfully reminds us where Catholics can find a clear statement on proportionality as a measure of just war:

the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2309)

The displacement of massive civilian populations, the wreckage of a country’s infrastructurre and deaths of hundred civilians seem to constitute producing “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”  Using a serious definition of proportionality, it is hard not to measure the Israeli response as disproportionate.  In case anyone feels that I or other critics have been ganging up on Israel, let me add that I think that the first Gulf war, the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq also produced evils and disorders graver than the real or alleged evil to be eliminated in each case (two of these were also entirely without just cause–what real damage had Yugoslavia or Iraq committed against the “community of nations” that merited attacking them?).  I do not regard these to be close calls.  As things stand now, I don’t consider the war on Lebanon to be a close call, either. 

Under a secular definition of proportionality, which is necessarily historically related to the Christian just war tradition but still distinct, the disproportionate use of force means any use of force that exceeds what is necessary for remedying the evil in question.  (The evil here is the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, not the existence of Hizbullah itself.)  Do we really find Israel’s current response, especially in its new expanded phase, to be within the boundaries set by these definitions?  It is difficult to see how it could be.    
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IMAGE: Destruction at Lebanese marina

Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
Fishing boats lie wrecked Friday at the port of the southern Beirut suburb of Ouzai, Lebanon, after an Israeli airstrike. About 300 boats were destroyed. Why Israeli forces targeted the boats is unknown.
[DL: Well, these fishing boats will certainly never harm anyone ever again.  What their owners are supposed to do to make a living once the war ends is anybody’s guess.] 
It seems to show that there is an expansion of the air war on the part of the Israelis into the northern part of the nation. What is catching some people off guard is that the targets of these attacks are traditionally Christian areas.
Those were always thought to be safe and out of harm’s way from the Israeli airstrikes because they don’t support Hezbollah. But, it just so happens that the Christian areas are in the same neighborhoods as a number of bridges that are a vital part of the infrastructure of Lebanon.
Lebanon’s President Emile Lahoud is claiming that Israel is waging a war of starvation — that by shutting off what was a major supply route for relief aid to come in, that now things will really get desperate in Lebanon. ~Martin Savidge, NBC News

Certainly in this age of constant corporate pressure on earnings, news organizations can’t be everywhere at once or give every issue the coverage it merits. But the wall-to-wall coverage of the war in Lebanon, and the harrowing footage being broadcast from both there and Israel makes one wonder why, with a trillion dollar investment and more than 2500 dead, America’s number one national security issue-however depressing-does not warrant at least as much attention as a foreign war against an enemy that never even threatened us. After all, our war, not Israel’s, is one where Americans are fighting and dying, and upon which our future-and perhaps our next election-rests. ~Eric Alterman

Obviously Mr. Alterman didn’t get the memo from headquarters telling so many other pundits that Israel’s fight in Lebanon is our fight and must take priority over both moral sense and national interest.  It’s the 1930s redux, you see.  In fairness, as gruesome as Iraq has continued to be, and even though the Iraq war should be the top policy priority of American politicians and journalists, there is some good reason why an ally’s war that has now displaced perhaps as many as one million people has bumped Iraq off the front pages for the past few weeks, especially when the administration has been so willing to implicate America fully in this campaign’s goals and excesses.  But Mr. Alterman does get at a more basic point: why is it that our media seem to be treating an Israeli war as something not only of vital significance for us, which it may well not be, but also as something that takes precedence over every other problem in foreign policy?   

When she says something like this:

The Shiite mullahs who rule Iran and have seized the leadership of the Islamofascist war against us are as dangerous an enemy as America has ever faced. 

As dangerous as the Soviet nuclear arsenal?  As dangerous as Nazi Germany?  Please.  Iran is a small fry by comparison, and Americans would be fools to heed this sort of talk.

But just who is a “civilian” in the age of terrorism, when militants don’t wear uniforms, don’t belong to regular armies and easily blend into civilian populations? ~Alan Dershowitz, The Los Angeles Times

The cynicism of some people still manages to stun me even after all these years of following politics.  Dershowitz’s purpose with this article is to seize on the blurry category of guerrilla fighter, who is sometimes a civilian or who uses the civilian population for cover, as a reason for effectively obliterating the distinction between noncombatant and combatant and to justify attacks in the current campaign that have failed to maintain this principle of discrimination.  The principle of discrimination is an essential one in the waging of a just war.  Dershowitz’s cynical attempt to overthrow it by means of sophistry is a moral obscenity, and his attempt should be universally shouted down.  And so should this other statement:

Hezbollah and Hamas militants, on the other hand, are difficult to distinguish from those “civilians” who recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and teenagers to play important roles in their attacks.

Actually, all of these people are not “civilians” but really are civilians, even if they are cooperating with terrorist groups.  They do not cease to be civilians, because they are still not members of any military organisation.  But, more importantly, if they are not combatants they cannot be harmed in time of war.  How they are being “used” in terrorist attacks makes all the difference–the women and children asleep in Qana, for example, were not being “used” for terrorist attacks, but were noncombatants who were slaughtered by a bomb.  Dershowitz wants to blur this distinction between noncombatant and combatant and finally collapse it.

Bolton’s disregard for Lebanese casualties pales in comparison to the policies advocated by Jed Babbin, former undersecretary for defense for President George H.W. Bush. As a guest on CNN’s Paula Zahn Now on July 28, he declared, “I’m willing to kill as many people as it requires to take out Hezbollah.” How did Babbin account for the increasing support for Hezbollah in Lebanon across sectarian lines since Israel’s invasion began? He claimed the entire country was “enslaved by a sort of Stockholm Syndrome” that could only be cured by Israeli attacks. By labeling an entire population as pathological, Babbin revealed the underlying racism of the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. He also demonstrated how cruelly and consistently American officials and experts tend to blame the victim when their delusional policies prove to be an abysmal failure. ~Osamah Khalil,

Of course, Jed Babbin can make his declarations in the confidence that he doesn’t have to do any of the killing.  But, boy, does he approve of killing, or what?  Note the perfect indifference to indiscriminate violence–whatever it takes to get rid of Hizbullah is fine by him.  I am reminded of a line from Babylon-5: “If a billion must die so that our empire will flourish, then so be it!”  Jed Babbin would apparently sympathise with the sentiment.  Apparently he also thinks that a way to cure someone suffering from Stockholm Syndrome is to kill or brutalise the hostage in the process, if his views about the war on Lebanon are any indication.

As Israeli ground troops flood into southern Lebanon in a bid to create a buffer zone to protect its territory from rocket attacks, some military analysts believe Israel has made the same mistakes as the US in Iraq. They say its focus on high-technology warfare and tactical advantage has led it to underestimate the strategic importance of public opinion.

“Local, regional and global perceptions of the conflict will be as important in sustaining a war, and in terminating a conflict on favourable and lasting terms, as the numbers of enemies captured or killed,” Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington wrote. ~The Financial Times

One of the recurring themes in Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco is not only how the administration completely failed to plan and provide sufficient forces for the contingency of any kind of insurgency, but that the military failed to prosecute a correct counterinsurgency strategy once the insurgency started.  In counterinsurgency, as Ricks keeps drilling home again and again, the center of gravity is the people.  If you lose the sympathies of the people and drive them to the side of the insurgents/terrorists, you have lost the war.  In making all Lebanese the enemy, driving one million people from their homes and hitting civilian targets in a campaign that was supposed to hit and weaken Hizbullah, Israel has guaranteed that the only lasting solution to the problem–a cooperative Lebanese population willing to work to disarm and, perhaps if need be, fight Hizbullah–will be all but impossible.  It has managed to remake the villain of the piece into the Lebanese national resistance movement and guarantee continued hostility from all parts of Lebanese society.  Worse than a crime, the Israeli campaign has been a colossal mistake like our war in Iraq.  We are paying the price now for Mr. Bush’s careless commitment to that war, and Israel will continue to pay the price for Mr. Olmert’s equally reckless course of action.  

Yet the present Western apology to all this is often to deal piecemeal with these perceived Muslim grievances: India, after all, is in Kashmir; Russia is in Chechnya; America is in Iraq, Canada is in Afghanistan; Spain was in Iraq (or rather, still is in Al Andalus); or Israel was in Gaza and Lebanon. Therefore we are to believe that “freedom fighters” commit terror for political purposes of “liberation.” At the most extreme, some think there is absolutely no pattern to global terrorism, and the mere suggestion that there is constitutes “Islamaphobia.” ~Victor Davis Hanson

This is a clever rhetorical move by Hanson, since it would make it seem as if anyone who would cite occupation as a cause of terrorism also can have no grasp of the Islamic nature of the terrorists fighting occupation.  That would be a good point, if he weren’t as horribly wrong as he usually he is.  There may be wine-and-cheese liberals who will never say a bad word about Islam and who also tut-tut about the Occupied Territories (the neocons really don’t like it when you call them that, because it reminds everyone that this is exactly what they have been), but they are hardly the only ones making the argument the occupation breeds terrorism.  There are those of us perfectly willing to recognise the violent inheritance of Islam, its ready justifications for violence and the use of outrageous tactics shared by all Islamic terrorist groups who at the same time also are capable of seeing that occupations do contribute to the rise and success of these groups by giving them grist for their mill and creating real grievances that they can exploit.  Only an idiot or a child would presume to speak on this subject and be unaware of the gruesome crimes that have been committed against civilian populations in Kashmir or Chechnya in the name of counterinsurgency and antiterrorism.  That does not mean that we, like some of Hanson’s political allies, start rooting for the Chechens and hoping for Russian humiliation in some insane burst of Russophobic prejudice mixed with old Cold War obsessions, but that we do acknowledge that the Russian war there, while it is certainly their internal business, is counterproductive in bringing an end to Chechen terrorism.  The abuses in Kashmir were mostly many years in the past, but the memory of these abuses and the continued dissatisfaction with Indian rule (regardless of the fact that most Kashmiris would not prefer Pakistani or jihadi rule) stoke support for Islamic and Kashmiri separatist terrorists. 

Consider that there was nary an incident of Islamic, anti-American terrorism before Americans intervened in a Near Eastern conflict.  The supporters of the current Israeli campaign are quick to remind everyone of the terrible 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.  Hizbullah killed 241 (corrected) Marines with that bombing.  Everyone knows that, and everyone deplores the evil of it.  Relatively few talk about the colossal stupidity of putting the Marines there in the first place.  What we don’t get into is why those Marines were there in the first place (as a ’stabilisation’ force following the previous and definitely aggressive Israeli invasion of Lebanon), or that our Navy earlier shelled Lebanon in support of the Israeli campaign–these things may have created some dissatisfaction with our presence.  Until our soldiers were stationed in large numbers over there, America was not attacked by Islamic terrorists of any kind.  Yet what has Washington done in the last 23 years?  It has become more and more entangled in the Near East, sending more and more soldiers to be stationed in Muslim countries, gradually provoking horrific terrorist responses.  The response to that?  Become even more embroiled in the Near East and establish a full-on occupation of at least one Muslim country.  But, no, occupation can have nothing to do with any of it. 

Yes, Islam is part of the problem, and a significant part, but Islam and the United States coexisted in the world for 194 years without much incident (with the notable exception of the Tripolitanian War) and only became locked in mortal conflict when American armies started deploying to the center of the Islamic world.  You don’t have to be a genius to make the connection, but apparently it helps to not be a neocon.

Our present generation too is on the brink of moral insanity. That has never been more evident than in the last three weeks, as the West has proven utterly unable to distinguish between an attacked democracy that seeks to strike back at terrorist combatants, and terrorist aggressors who seek to kill civilians. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Hanson’s article is textbook neocon alarmism, complete with random citations from Col. Lindbergh and Fr. Coughlin included for no other reason than to obliquely hit critics yet again with the charge of anti-Semitism (the message is not subtle: if you criticise the current campaign, you are probably just like Fr. Coughlin).  Elsewhere there are the predictable Chamberlain and Munich references (there always has to be a Munich reference in these things, or else you get fined $50 by the neocon union).  Then there is the trope of moral clarity and moral equivalence: Hanson and friends have the former, because they support the policy in question, and adversaries and critics engage in the latter and are on the brink of “moral insanity” for their alleged lack of discernment.

Frankly, the moral judgement of some supporters of the Israeli campaign has become so warped that I would almost welcome the charge of moral insanity from the likes of Hanson.  People who have no appreciation or understanding of the principle of proportionality in war, the relation of proportionality to justice, or the solemn obligation of every belligerent to safeguard the lives of civilians have no business dishing out lectures in moral sanity.  People who cannot discern the injustice of targeting all of Lebanon for the crimes of Hizbullah have no business accusing anyone else of a lack of moral sense.  Critics of the Israeli campaign can distinguish between the democracy and the terrorists, perhaps better than its supporters, because their criticisms presuppose that the Israeli democracy at some level actually does respect the difference between noncombatants and combatants and that it has the moral sense to refrain from wreaking mayhem on civilian populations.  Israel is being given an amazing benefit of the doubt that the actual results of its campaign (900 dead civilians and one million displaced) are not some of its intended goals, but unhappy accidents–we give them this benefit of the doubt only because we assume that they are indeed far better than the people whom they are fighting and that they do have the will to discern between noncombatant and combatant.  

But perhaps we critics have given the Israeli government too much credit.  Perhaps we should simply treat this according to the law of the jungle and let the most savage man win.  Sadly, the truth is that Hanson would probably still be defending the Israeli campaign even if the IAF were carpet-bombing the entire country from end to end and killing tens of thousands of civilians (unintentionally, of course), because the democracy must be allowed to “defend itself” against terrorists.  Hanson would drearily invoke the same WWII precedents that Podhoretz and Krauthammer have already invoked to justify any excess, which would be appropriate enough, since we are supposedly back in 1938.   

The critics are the ones who cannot tell the difference between the democracy and the terrorists?  No, I’m afraid that it is quite the other way around, as the supporters of the campaign are increasingly incapable of recognising the democracy’s employment of tactics that are scarcely better than terrorism–the use of violence against civilians for political ends– (regardless of what their “intent” may have been) and are unable or unwilling to see that this campaign is doing more to actually undermine the distinction between the democracy and the terrorists than the so-called “moral insanity” of the critics.  No, the critics recognise the difference between the two well enough, and they also recognise that the difference is growing smaller, which is a shame.  Even more shameful is the reflexive support this degradation of Israel’s reputation receives from the “pro-Israel” circles in this country.  Supporters of Israel should consider that further damage to its reputation to be as serious a threat to the integrity and long-term security of Israel as Hizbullah’s rockets.

But what is lost sight of is the central moral issue of our times: a humane democracy mired in an asymmetrical war is trying to protect itself against terrorists from the 7th century, while under the scrutiny of a corrupt world that needs oil, is largely anti-Semitic and deathly afraid of Islamic terrorists, and finds psychic enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress.

In short, if we wish to learn what was going on in Europe in 1938, just look around. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Via Rod Dreher

Pardon the flip question in the title, but as someone who studies the seventh century in particular I do sometimes grow tired of hearing how we are fighting people from the middle ages or from the seventh century.  They are actually from our own time, as hard as it may be to believe.  I suppose I know what people who say this are trying to say: they are backwards, they have values from “the dark ages,” etc. 

But even when I realise that they are trying (and failing) to say this, I am unimpressed, because there is nothing more modern than guerrilla insurgents and ideological terrorism.  While Islam has been violent since its inception, and violence is written into its genes, so to speak, it is obscure at best to say that Israel or anyone else is fighting people from the seventh century, as if Muhammad himself were firing off the Katyushas (to a Muslim audience, this would make Hizbullah look even better than it already does!).  In fact, most Islamic revival movements desperately seek to restore the “purity” and “nobility” of the original Islam of the seventh century, so referring to Hizbullah as being from the seventh century is probably unwittingly a compliment of the highest order.  (That this sort of rhetoric about the medievalism of our enemies is often followed by invocations of the glories of Cordoba and the wonders of the Islamic Golden Age, which were nothing if not medieval, only makes things worse.)  

If it were literally true that the terrorists were from the seventh century, the modern folks ought to have a notable military advantage over people who would have to be getting up there in years and who would still not have figured out gunpowder.  It is a sloppy, stupid expression, the sort that I have come to expect from Mr. Hanson and many of his colleagues, because it betrays the sloppy thinking that leads them to conclude that we are re-living 1938 or 636 or whichever year is most convenient for scaring thinking people into quiet submission and acquiescence to an excessive military campaign.  This campaign has done nothing so much as to renew in the eyes of the Arab world Hizbullah’s hitherto defunct claim to be a resistance movement, thus doing more long-term damage to the interests of the “humane democracy” and more long-term good for those time-travelling terrorists than any “appeasement” (the word Mr. Hanson and many associates use for any policy that does not involve bombing someone) could have done.  Indeed, the deaths of approximately 900 civilians and the displacement of perhaps as many as one million Lebanese is so startling an example of overkill and overreaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers that Hanson must have recourse to the old remedy of shouting appeasement, because even he must know that the cause for which he is shilling has lost what honour it had.

Though the comparison is overused, it’s nevertheless hard to avoid comparisons between now and then. Earlier this year, speaking at the Pew Forum, Bernard Lewis remarked that to him, it feels like 1938 all over again, with the spirit of appeasement in the air. ~Rod Dreher

The comparison is overused, but I think it actually exceedingly easy to avoid comparisons between 1938 and 2006.  I have managed to go the entire year so far without making one such comparison, and I feel confident that I can hold out until the end of the year.  Besides the significant differences in geography, geopolitics, the relative disparity of power between the two sides, the ideology of the adversary (in this case, Hizbullah and, at a remove, Iran), the probability of the adversary annexing or conquering other countries (which at present for Hizbullah and Iran is zero), and the military-industrial capacity of the power we are ”appeasing” (which, in Iran’s case, is miniscule compared to our own), there is also the reality that history is a series of unrepeatable, unique events that will never be duplicated at any other time.  It cannot ever be “1938 all over again,” and it will not even be that close.  The number of contingencies that would have to repeat themselves to create circumstances even remotely similar boggles the mind, and this is true even when we set the bar low enough to allow for the repetition of the pattern “nasty authoritarian regime threatens others and embarks on series of wars.”  In fact, this is not making use of history at all, but the eternal replaying of the modern democratic morality play that itself caricatures history in which the besieged democracy or democracies are reluctantly dragged into conflict by yet another kooky authoritarian: Athens is forever under attack by Sparta and/or Persia.  It is a powerful construct, emphasising at once vulnerability and danger from the outside and the basic nobility and superiority of our institutions and people, which is why so many people accept it and wind up following the next Pied Piper to their doom.  The morality play may occasionally contain some truth (sometimes democracies are besieged by aggressive regimes, whether oligarchic, despotic or other), but it usually creates a fortress mentality among Westerners and causes them to make all sorts of dire apocalyptic pronouncements about present-day conflicts that are entirely out of proportion to the reality.   

Unrepeatability is one reason why history is not a science, because its phenomena cannot be reproduced and so cannot be subjected to the scientific method.  It is a common human impulse to want to see similarities and patterns, because they want to believe that we can avoid the mistakes of the past on the assumption that we know which past episode we are currently ”re-living.”  But we cannot avoid the mistakes of the past–for one thing, they are in the past.  We can only avoid the mistakes of the present, and we do this by making sober assessments of the dangers that exist, not conjuring up spectres of threats long dead and superimposing them on new threats so as to make them seem more dangerous than they really are.  Typically, those who engage in this summoning of spirits have a particular purpose in mind, and their agenda may not be the wisest course of action.  Three years ago, it was also 1938 in Iraq and we had to “do something” to stop the crazy dictator, except that it turned out to be much more like ”1920″ instead and we found ourselves to be imperialists in the middle of a Mesopotamian rebellion.  The 1938-ites were wrong then, and they are, alas, wrong again now, at least insofar as it concerns the scope and gravity of the threat, whether from Iran and Hizbullah or from another source. 

Past events do give us rough guidelines, the occasional hints for how we should proceed, but they do not provide us with ready-made models or paradigms for policy, and it is likely that an excessive obsession with viewing all crises through the lens of 1938 will cause people to miscalculate and make tragic errors that need not have happened but for their own overeagerness to stop the next Hitler.  The sentiments of never again have managed to bring quite a lot of unnecessary death and destruction to places as various as Yugoslavia, Iraq and perhaps also Lebanon, which is hardly what the people who first spoke them probably intended and which hardly does this sentiment much credit.  For his part, Prof. Lewis should know better than to say things like this, but his biases are, I’m sorry to say, hardly a secret when it comes to the contemporary politics of the Near East. 

Israel’s three-week-old offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon has killed more than 900 people and wounded 3,000, with a third of the casualties children under 12, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Thursday.

Siniora, in a video message to a summit of leaders of the Muslim world, added that a quarter of the population, or one million people, had been displaced. ~Haaretz

It might be worth noting something.  When half a million Muslims in Darfur are forcibly displaced by other Muslims, everyone and his brother, particularly The New Republic, calls it genocide and quite a few demand international action.  “Never again!” the boys at TNR yell at us.  When possibly as many as one million Lebanese are forcibly displaced for the sake Israel’s “self-defense” in a war that crosses international lines?  Suddenly it it not only not anything remotely close to genocide, nor is international intervention required, but it is good, it is right, it is necessary, and the consequences be damned. 

I suppose I can’t really blame TNR for not taking Israel to task: Israel is a state of which they approve, which means by definition that it cannot do anything sufficiently unjust to merit real condemnation; the Sudan is just some tin-pot Islamist basketcase of a country that no one likes anyway, so it is much easier to get into high dudgeon about how it handles its internal affairs.   But pardon me if I don’t take seriously anything such people say about human rights, international law or morality.    

An Israeli airstrike Friday hit dozens of farm workers loading vegetables near the Lebanon-Syria border, killing 28, the workers’ foreman and a Lebanese official said. At the same time, Hezbollah renewed attacks on northern Israel, killing two civilians with a barrage of 120 rockets.

Israel expanded its assault on Lebanon by launching its first major attack on the Christian heartland north of Beirut and severing the last significant road link to Syria. ~MSNBC

Glad to know that Israel is taking care of the serious threats from foreign produce and Lebanese Christians. 

Within the general crisis there are also fears about the future of the country’s Christian community. Some suggest that up to 70 per cent of the Christians that are still left in Lebanon is ready to leave as soon as Beirut airport reopens.

According to Mgr Bechara Rai, Maronite bishop of Jbeil, it is a real crisis for Lebanese Christians. If the “New Middle East” project that some have envisaged is implemented it may be too late for Christians.

The concern though is not limited to Lebanon but touches Christians across the Middle East. Pope John Paul II himself said that “the Christian presence in Lebanon is a necessary condition for the presence of Christians in the Middle East”. ~AsiaNews

Via The Western Confucian

More importantly, if there is a mass exodus of Christians from Lebanon, that country will be even more in thrall to Hizbullah and even more under the influence of Hizbullah’s patrons.  If it results in the exodus of a significant part of the Christian population and the relative empowerment of Hizbullah, it is the very definition of a counterproductive military campaign.  If Hizbullah’s becoming stronger was what the supporters of this campaign wanted to stop from happening, they couldn’t have chosen more poorly.  If Christians in this country had wanted to find a more effective means of uprooting the Christian communities of the Near East, they could not have done better than to endorse the Israeli offensive in its entirety.  Without a relatively strong Christian presence in Lebanon, as the quote from John Paul II suggests, the further marginalisation of Christians throughout the region will proceed even more rapidly (and democratisation will only hasten their complete marginalisation).

The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later. He has allowed his war cabinet meetings to become fully public through the kind of leaks no serious wartime leadership would ever countenance. Divisive cabinet debates are broadcast to the world, as was Olmert’s own complaint that “I’m tired. I didn’t sleep at all last night” (Haaretz, July 28). Hardly the stuff to instill Churchillian confidence.

His search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation but America’s confidence in Israel as well. That confidence — and the relationship it reinforces — is as important to Israel’s survival as its own army. The tremulous Olmert seems not to have a clue. ~Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post

This article got my attention for two reasons.  First, it raised the possibility that Israel’s strategic value to the United States may not necessarily be so great and that it could be, in the present age, a real liability.  National interest might dictate a reassessment of the whole relationship and the latitude America gives Israel.  I doubt Krauthammer believes Israel to be a liability, and he is probably horrified at the prospect of any significant change in American policy towards Israel, but there is clearly the worry that other people in the country, and maybe in Washington, are beginning to see things that way–and it is no longer off-limits to talk about such things publicly. 

The second thing that caught my eye was the strident contempt Krauthammer had for Olmert.  It is becoming fashionable among supporters of the campaign, such as Bret Stephens earlier this week, to ridicule the Olmert government for missing opportunities and poor leadership, and there is certainly something to all of this (though I am critical of the Olmert government for having done as much as it has done, not for failing to do more!), but coming from someone who typically regards wartime criticism of American government leaders as vaguely treasonous this is more than a little surprising.  If he were talking about America, and you replace Olmert with Bush and Lebanon with Iraq, it is difficult to imagine such intense criticism of even so markedly incompetent an administration as Mr. Bush’s–certainly not this early in the war!  But with the Krauthammers of the world there is always the possibility of invoking Chamberlain clause: if you fight hesitantly or ineffectively, we will trash you and look for our Churchill in the backbenches. 

While we’re at it, let’s be clear about something else: if this were any other government than a Kadima government, whose peace policy Krauthammer and the neocons despise and whom they blame for the policy leading to these conflicts, the criticism would be a lot less intense.  Olmert broke with Likud and helped Sharon reduce that party to the insignificant status it now enjoys, and this has got to rankle the Stateside friends of Likud; as much as they lament Olmert’s incompetence, I think they are also relishing this chance to discredit and mock him.

In the confidential memo obtained by the BBC, William Patey, Britain’s top civil servant in Baghdad until last week, wrote that “the prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy.”

“Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq — a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror — must remain in doubt,” Patey said, adding that “the position is not hopeless” and the “next six months are crucial” although Iraq would be “messy and difficult” for the next five to 10 years. ~The Washington Post

Mr. Bush’s policy has failed.  If securing a united, democratic Iraq is the goal, which is what he has said the goal is, his war is failing and is dragging the country down with it.  If Iraq is headed for civil war and effective partition, this will be a problem for the region, but it does not seem to be one that America will be able to prevent.  Why we should continue to endanger our soldiers in pursuit of chimerical Iraqi democracy at this late date is a mystery.   

The capture of a soldier from an occupying army in Gaza, and of two soldiers on the Lebanese border by local resistance, in an attempt to force the release of thousands of illegally detained Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, should have been dealt with by Israel in the framework of the laws of war and with a proportional response. Instead, by launching this massive attack, Israel has destroyed the social and economic infrastructure of a sovereign nation, Lebanon, just as it is destroying the infrastructure of a democratically elected administration in occupied Palestine.

It is producing generations of refugees who will also resist. Power stations, bridges, key manufacturing and food factories in Lebanon are ruined, the entire industrial estate of Gaza pulverised. The ancient city centre of Nablus has been demolished. Whole villages in south Lebanon and sections of refugee camps in Gaza have been obliterated. These too are war crimes. If Britain will not stop Israel, nor condemn it, then under the Geneva conventions it is complicit in those crimes. ~Karma Nablusi, The Guardian

Two top U.S. generals said yesterday that the sectarian violence in Iraq is much worse than they had ever anticipated and could lead to civil war, arguing that improving the situation is now more a matter of Iraqi political will than of U.S. military strategy.

“The sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it,” Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war.” ~The Washington Post

Reading the senators’ questions for Abizaid and Pace, one is struck by how elementary their grasp of the situation seems to be.  Thus we have this gem from Lindsay Graham:

“There’s something more going on in Iraq at a deeper level . . . for this violence to be sustained so long and grow, not lessen…What do you think that something is?”

It may have something to do with three years of civil disorder,  regular bomb attacks and the formation of sectarian militias.  But those are just proximate causes.  It also probably has something to do with “tribe or religion or whatever” to which these people belong.  You know, they were those things that were supposed to matter less to Iraqis than sweet, sweet freedom, according to such wise men as Charles Krauthammer.  Everyone yearns for liberty, they tell us, which may or may not be true.  (It is also sometimes said that everyone wants to be rich, or everyone wants to be happy–but wanting and knowing how to become these things are so completely different that it is stunning that people think this is some sort of argument for this or that policy.)   What is true is that most people around the world put a lot more store by their relationships, their honour (however that is defined locally), their homes and their community than they do by somebody’s paper scheme for a better government or, even more worthless for most folks, the opportunity to mark a paper ballot that will change nothing and empower thieves.

A lot of fairly smart and not-so-smart people have pondered why many Islamic and Arab countries seem to have a much more difficult time fashioning the sorts of representative institutions and rule of law that obtain to varying degrees in most other kinds of countries, and they have come up with all kinds of reasons (Islam, lack of a large middle class, lack of economic development, etc.), but perhaps this has always been the wrong question. 

The question we might ask instead is why anyone thinks that there is something aberrant about people who prefer traditional loyalties to religion, clan and family over the dubious benefits of the nation-state, “rational” legislation, social atomisation and secular democratic politics.  We may find their religion deficient and see other problems in their political culture, but that is beside the point. 

At bottom the democratists are puzzled by the peoples of the Near East not because the latter are an aberration, a glitch in the universal progression towards global liberal democracy, but because they are far closer to the normal human experience found throughout recorded history.  It is an experience from which the democratists have been divorced for a fairly long time; it is a kind of experience they have grown up learning to look down on and ridicule as primitive or regressive.  To find people for whom the usual god-words (democracy, equality, rights, etc.) have no real meaning in the final analysis is a bit like landing on an entirely foreign shore to encounter people almost beyond your understanding.  How could they not want freedom more than anything, after all?  But for such people, avenging slights to honour, protecting hearth and home and fighting your kin’s ancestral or new enemies are the stuff of life; they are things that endure regardless of the regime, regardless of the laws on the books, and they count for a lot more than what any new Iraqi government or “free society” has to offer them.  Indeed, if they knew what “rational” legislation and “free society” entailed for their traditional loyalties and customs, they would probably stop killing their sectarian enemies and direct all their efforts to preventing these things from coming to their country.   

First Maliki started saying things about the catastrophe in Lebanon, and now the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, is making angry noises about U.S. inaction.  Who are these guys?  Some sort of Shi’ites?  Maybe some sort of Islamists?  Oh, right, that’s exactly what each is respectively.  Maliki, as many know, is the Shi’ite prime minister of Iraq.  Gul is a member of AK, basically the same as the old Justice Party that became the old Motherland Party.  To use a euphemism from the post-1989 east of Europe, AK is a “reformed” Islamist party, which means that it is an Islamist party that knows how to keep its mouth shut when necessary to avoid being outlawed.  This is what Islamic democracy gets you–and these are the people Mr. Bush has been pushing on the Europeans for the last five years!  No wonder the Europeans have a bad attitude about the man.

Here’s the thing: Maliki and Gul may happen to be right about what’s happening in Lebanon right now (Gul makes a few good points in the midst of his otherwise standard diplomatic boilerplate calling for American leadership), but they represent the fundamental truth that all of the war critics stated again and again, but which the Pollyanna warmongers wouldn’t heed: democratisation of Islamic countries will undercut American interests and those of our allies, because the vast majority of the people in all these countries despise us and the governments allied with us.  Turkey is an allied government, and in the old days of secular leftist rule Turkey was developing close ties and cooperation with Israel.  Those days are rapidly vanishing as Turkish governments begin to reflect more and more the opinions of the ordinary Turk, who is not all together Israel-friendly.  Neither is the ordinary Turk a big fan of Washington or its policies.  There is a reason why a novel depicting anti-American Turkish nuclear terrorism, Metal Storm, was a big hit in the reading public there: the general population views our government with contempt.  What is Mr. Bush’s answer?  More democracy! 

According to survivors of the strike, two extended families had taken shelter in the building. The survivors said that the Shalhoub and Hashem families remained in the building because they were unable to afford the cost of traveling north. The families also assumed that the Israeli drones that were patrolling the skies above the village had seen that the building was occupied by numerous children.The survivors spoke of two bombings: one at 1 A.M., and the second some 10 minutes later. However, what appeared to the survivors as a second bombing may have been the sound of the building coming down. None of the survivors said that the building only collapsed several hours later.  ~Haaretz

Via Antiwar Blog

I don’t know which is more depressing: the idea that if the IDF were responsible for the civilian deaths, the people trying to deny that responsibility would simply cook up another justification, or the idea that there are actually people out there so obsessed with justifying this military campaign that they would readily embrace the notion that the entire thing had been faked.  Not surprisingly, chief among those entertaining the theories of the Qana deniers is Jonah “Lie for a Just Cause” Goldberg.

Dan Larison has some typically thoughtful criticism of my recent DMN column defending Israel in its fight with Hezbollah. He takes issue with my use of Psalm 83 as a lead-in to my piece (by the way, when I wrote the piece, I was not aware of the update the Irish museum authorities issued correcting the number of the Psalm found in the peat bog; had I been I would not have cited that Psalm).  I want to be clear that I was not citing the Psalm to set Israel up as a Davidic monarchy in the present situation, but only to make the general point that the struggle of the nation of Israel with its regional enemies is an ancient one. That is, nothing changes under the sun. I honestly believe that this fight between Israel and Hezbollah is, as Amir Taheri wrote, an existential wars, and that Israel is a proxy for the West against radical Islam. I thought it was pretty clear from my piece that I’m not advocating the extermination of Arab peoples, nor do I think that the West, including Israel (which is culturally of the West), is always and everywhere right. In fact, we are under God’s judgment too. But I do believe that Israel’s fight against the forces of radical Islam is our fight too, and I believe that the Psalmist prayer from ancient times should be ours too. ~Rod Dreher

I appreciate Rod’s response to my original post.  I thought it important to point out the rhetorical problems of using Scripture and the potential for falling into the error of oraculum (speaking for the gods) that Bradford repeatedly chastised his conservative contemporaries about.  I also wanted to raise a red flag about what I thought might be a dangerous conflation of Biblical and modern Israel, which can, if taken seriously, lead to all sorts of unfortunate violent politico-religious enthusiasms regarding Israel’s appropriate relations with her neighbours.  The lead-in could give the reader the impression that the current war in Lebanon is supposed to be a fight against Arabs generally, which undermined Rod’s focus on radical Islam and detracted from his argument.  We will still differ on whether or not the current campaign is being conducted in the right way to fight radical Islam in Hizbullah, but that is to be expected.  

Haass, the former Bush aide who leads the Council on Foreign Relations, laughed at the president’s public optimism. “An opportunity?” Haass said with an incredulous tone. “Lord, spare me. I don’t laugh a lot. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what’s Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?” ~The Washington Post

Via Kevin Drum and American Footprints


Tony Blair called for a fundamental reappraisal of British and US foreign policy yesterday, admitting that excessive emphasis on military power and failure to address the Palestinian issue had left the west losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East.

In a speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, the prime minister admitted “we are far from persuading those we need to persuade” that western values were even-handed, fair and just in their application. He said there was no point disguising the damage being done to the cause of peace in the Middle East by the war on the Lebanese border, but suggested that when the war finally ended “we must commit ourselves to a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us”. ~The Guardian

Via Kevin Drum

Seriously, who writes Blair’s speeches?  “Renaissance of our strategy”?  What Blair seems to want to say is a complete revision or reformulation or rethinking or indeed reappraisal, as the Guardian translates for us, since a renaissance (rebirth) will simply revive something that has been neglected or dead for a long time.  If the old strategy has achieved so little, if it has fallen into disrepair, why should we want it to be born anew?

And what will Mr. Blair’s reborn strategy involve?  Apparently, an “alliance of moderation” that “paints a different future,” perhaps backed up by a non-aggression pact with temperance that sketches a better tomorrow and an arms reduction treaty with fortitude that traces the outlines of a brand new day.  But fear not–we will not appease virtue or receive the ambassador from justice, and on no account will we open negotiations with apragmosyne (minding our own business)!  That would clearly be wrong. 

Lebanon’s shoreline is now covered in thick black oil. An estimated 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil have spilled into the Mediterranean Sea along our coast. The marine ecosystem is slowly suffocating under the sludge that is creeping down the coastline.

Young forests have gone up in flames. The damage to the agriculturally fertile areas of the Bekaa Valley and the South is immeasurable. Three of Lebanon’s primary fuel reservoirs were hit by Israeli rockets, creating massive plumes of thick, noxious smoke that stood still for days under their own weight and mass. The cloud cover and stench are almost unbearable.

Everything those of us in Lebanon’s environmental movement have striven so hard to achieve has unraveled in just two weeks. We are helpless to prevent this mutilation of our physical environment.

Nothing is unaffected by this war. Innocent people are dead, wounded and made refugees in their own country.

Our land has suffered irreparable harm. And still the airplanes invade our skies, their bombs pummeling us without relief. ~Rana El-Khatib, Chicago Tribune

Though Israel is dissembling now, Gillerman spoke the truth then. No sooner had Hezbollah taken the two Israeli soldiers hostage than Israel unleashed an air war — on Lebanon. The Beirut airport was bombed, its fuel storage tanks set ablaze. The coast was blockaded. Power plants, gas stations, lighthouses, bridges, roads, trucks and buses were all hit with air strikes.

Within 48 hours, it was apparent Israel was exploiting Hezbollah’s attack to execute a preconceived military plan to destroy Lebanon — i.e, the collective punishment of a people and nation for the crimes of a renegade militia they could not control. It was the moral equivalent of a municipal police going berserk, shooting, killing and ravaging an African-American community, because Black Panthers had ambushed and killed cops.

If Israel is not in violation of the principle of proportionality, by which Christians are to judge the conduct of a just war, what can that term mean? There are 600 civilian dead in Lebanon, 19 in Israel, a ratio of 30-1, though Hezbollah is firing unguided rockets, while Israel is using precision-guided munitions.

Thousands of Lebanese civilians are injured. Perhaps 800,000 are homeless.

Yet, whatever one thinks of the morality of what Israel is doing, the stupidity is paralyzing. Instead of maintaining the moral and political high ground it had — when even Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were condemning Hezbollah, and privately hoping Israel would inflict a humiliating defeat on Nasrallah — Israel launched an air war on an innocent people. Now, 87 percent of Lebanese back Hezbollah, and the entire Arab and Islamic world, Shia and Sunni alike, is rallying behind Nasrallah. ~Pat Buchanan

As the Israel Air Force continues to investigate the air strike, questions have been raised over military accounts of the incident.

It now appears that the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence of Hezbollah men at the time.

The Israel Defense Forces had said after the deadly air-strike that many rockets had been launched from Qana. However, it changed its version on Monday.

The site was included in an IAF plan to strike at several buildings in proximity to a previous launching site. Similar strikes were carried out in the past. However, there were no rocket launches from Qana on the day of the strike. ~Haaretz

Mistakes happen in war.  Realists understand this.  But there are some mistakes that have no good excuse, no ready justification.  Based on this latest information, it seems to me that the bombing at Qana is one of these inexcusable mistakes, because it was not the result of an accident or a ‘miss’.  With dozens of children and other civilians dead, supporters of the campaign were forced at least to acknowledge that this bombing was tragic.  Now they must acknowledge that the bombing was misguided and wrong. 

 The first tragedy of Qana was the killing of those innocents; the second has been the willingness of Westerners to conjure up every conceivable reason why the bombing of Qana was not the fault of the people who bombed it. 

I remember the same depressing zeal to justify the continuation of the NATO campaign against Kosovo in 1999 after some 70-odd Albanian refugees were killed by a bomb in the early days of the attack (I also remember the late, admirable Balint Vaszonyi’s sad assessment of this terrible event); or again after a civilian train was destroyed; or again when NATO targeted the journalists at a Belgrade TV station; or again when NATO began attacking the completely uninvolved civilians of the Vojvodina, and so on.  When it came to the Serbs, no abuse was too great that it could not be explained away as something that was “necessary.”     

In a sense, the defenders of Israel’s campaign are creating more critics and opponents of the campaign than the campaign itself with their snappy, ready-made talking points aimed at preventing Israel from having to take any public responsibility for what the Israeli armed forces actually do.  Normally, I would not take such a prolonged, extensive interest in a foreign conflict that should, by all rights, have next to nothing to do with us, but Washington has made it our business and implicated all of us by openly and fully supporting the campaign.  The chorus of American supporters further implicates America in the unfolding disaster of the attack on Lebanon, which makes it all the more imperative that voices of restraint prevail here.  

It does no credit to Israel to give the impression that it does not have to bow before certain fundamental moral obligations in wartime.  It is strange to me that professed friends of Israel would continue to indulge and defend Israel almost no matter what the government there does because they believe this is what support for Israel entails.  I suspect that this is a product of the same frequent confusion of nation and state that afflicted so many hawks on Iraq when our government’s policies were being criticised so harshly–the hawks took this to be hostility to America herself.  There seems to be a common assumption among such types that what some governments, the kinds of governments that they approve of, do is in always in the best interests of their countries, and to oppose a given government policy is to be hostile to that country.  In some cases, the government, either knowingly or not, begins to work against the best interests of the country it governs.  In these cases, someone who considers himself a friend of the people of that country should speak up against the government.  We have no problem doing this when the government in question is an archetypical despotism or tyranny, but we seem strangely reluctant to draw this distinction with more or less democratic allies.   

Regardless of that, if you see a friend or ally going down a treacherous path, you should warn him against it if necessary, not simply cheer him on as he successfully negotiates the dangers along the way.  If he has jumped into a snake pit, it might be better to help him out of the snake pit rather than enthusiastically approve of his fight against the snakes, especially if that fight somehow causes the death of innocents.  This is what America’s allies attempted to do as our government rushed into invading Iraq, and we all know the contempt that they received for their trouble.  But I would rather have a friendly or allied nation speak plainly to us about American errors, because they expect more of us in respect and admiration, than have cant-ridden lackeys who will smile and praise us regardless of what we do.  In turn, we should be frank with our allies if we believe them to be going down the wrong path or believe they are using the wrong methods.  Israel is sorely lacking in true friends–it does not need a panegyrist to always tell it how good it is.  The third tragedy of Qana is that those who claim to be most fervently supportive of Israel have shown that they have lost the ability to tell the difference between genuine goodwill for an ally and blind support of every aspect of the reckless policy of that ally’s government.    

Update: The newest buzz from the Qana apologists is that it was “staged,” by which they mean that the IAF definitely bombed the building, but the building didn’t collapse until later.  So that’s sort of like a mulligan, right?  It may be that Hizbullah exploited the bombing to maximal advantage, which would, of course, be despicable (and not much different from the truly KLA-staged massacre at Racak in 1999 in Kosovo, which helped prompt and ‘justify’ NATO intervention).  What remains to be seen is how the apologists will defend the original bombing.  How about this: “We tried to destroy the building, but we didn’t entirely succeed, so our hands are clean.”

Israel is losing this war.

This is not to say that it will lose the war, or that the war was unwinnable to start with. But if it keeps going as it is, Israel is headed for the greatest military humiliation in its history. ~Bret Stephens,

Via Leon Hadar

This comes from the same outfit that still decries as defeatist anyone who suggests that the Iraq war has turned or is turning into a strategic defeat for the United States.  As with the accusations against war opponents in the Iraq debate, the Journal’s editors (Mr. Stephens is one of them) have lost their grip and have become, as Leon Hadar correctly noted, hysterical.  Israel’s “greatest military humiliation”?  Greater than the Lebanese quagmire of the 1980s?  Greater than nearly being overrun by inferior-quality forces?  Greater than needing to be bailed out by massive American armour shipments in 1973?  If Israel is suffering humiliation now, what state of abject degradation was it in back then? 

It will not surprise CC readers that I side with Robert [Miller] in this matter, and note that it would have been unthinkable for the pontiff to have called on both sides to stand down when the Turks stood on the outskirts of Vienna, ready to take the Christian city for Islam. ~Rod Dreher

Rod refers here to a disagreement between Robert Miller and Frederica Matthewes-Green at First Things over Pope Benedict’s call for an immediate cease-fire.  I appreciated Matushka Frederica’s appropriate recognition of the inversion of worldly values that we, as Christians, are called to embrace and live.  It was a timely reminder, and stated something that everyone involved in the debate about this campaign sometimes loses sight of: that the Way of the Cross is not one of glory, honour or power, but of humiliation, suffering and kenotic love.  The Cross militates against any zeal for Macht. 

I was less impressed by the predictable anti-Vatican refrain of yet another First Things contributor on a question of war and peace made in the name of prudential judgement.  Invariably, whenever the Vatican pronounces on a question of war, someone at First Things will start shouting, “Prudential judgement of the magistrate!”  Which has tended to become, unfortunately, little more than a loophole to get out of having to provide serious moral justification for the use of force, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.  The bottom line is always this: bishops can’t really say much about these things, because they don’t know enough and aren’t in the position to make the decision, so they really ought to just keep their mouths shut, unless it is to offer benedictions for the invasion. 

Strictly speaking, it is not the concern of Pope Benedict or indeed of any other hierarch whether a cease-fire seems to benefit one belligerent more than another: their concern is to preach the Gospel and teach in Christ’s name, and this will extend to calling for an end to hostilities, particularly for the sake of sparing noncombatants the horrors of war.  This is a question of Christian charity towards our fellow men, which is the preeminent virtue and the second greatest commandment.  If Rome had had some means to convince Suleyman to stop attacking Vienna simply by calling for peace, I believe the Pope would have done so, since the Christians were the ones who were hard-pressed in that siege and in need of relief.  But, then, Vienna was a Christian city under attack and in danger of falling, which might have made it seem more important to Rome, not a non-Christian state bombarding and displacing Christian and Muslim populations alike.  Moreover, if the Vatican views the current attack on Lebanon as unjustified, why would Pope Benedict time his call for a cease-fire in such a way as to benefit a campaign that he does not believe is justified?  I believe Pope Benedict is on very solid moral ground in refusing to endorse either side and calling for an end to hostilities.  If that position seems wrong to some of us, the problem probably does not rest with Pope Benedict.

Last week brought an amazing discovery in an Irish bog: an ancient Book of Psalms that had been lost about a millennium ago. The psalter was opened to Psalm 83, which – and this is startling – is a prayer asking God to deliver Israel from the Arab peoples of the north who, according to the Psalmist, “say, ‘Come, let us wipe out their nation; let Israel’s name be mentioned no more!’ ” ~Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News

Via Rod Dreher 

Suffice it to say that Rod and I have a difference of opinion about the current campaign in Lebanon, as my posts and his posts over the last three weeks will have made clear to everyone.  I appreciate why so many conservatives, including Rod, support the current Israeli campaign, and I am not going rehash now all the reasons why I believe it has been a colossal mistake that has not only resulted in senseless and avoidable civilian deaths but has also not really enhanced the long-term security of Israel.  What I do want to question is the easy identification of the Ishmaelites and Hagarenes, among many others, of Psalm 83 (LXX 82) as “Arab peoples.” 

This identification rhetorically accomplishes three things, none of them good, in order to set up the rest of the article.  First, it telescopes ancient conflicts of Biblical Israel into the current Israeli-Lebanese war (which is what it has unfortunately become) in a way that is convenient but not really exegetically accurate: it implies divine sanction for the State of Israel against her enemies, who have already been aligned with the ancient tribes pressing down upon the Chosen People of the Old Testament just as the State of Israel has been identified with Biblical Israel.  A basic problem: the State of Israel is not the Davidic monarchy.  In Christian theology, it is doubly hazardous to elide the two, since it is the Church that is the New Israel, and not any temporal kingdom (the moral hazards of the modern identification of various nation-states as the New Israel are plain enough).  This also savours of the rhetorical error of oraculum that M.E. Bradford warns against.  Second, it sets up the current war as part of some eternal tribal war between Jews and “Arab peoples,” when according to the Israeli government and its defenders the target and enemy is supposed to be an Islamic guerrilla terrorist group and not all the Arabs of Lebanon.  Third, it makes an historical claim that is not really correct: it takes the traditional origin stories that identify Arabs as descendants of Hagar and Ishmael, and then reads back an Arab identity that was virtually unknown before the ancient Nabataean kingdom onto myriad tribes, only some of which even fit the Ishmaelite designation, which in turn suggests an essentialist view of the Arabs as perpetually anti-Jewish.  It says to the reader: “the Arabs” have always wanted to destroy the Jews, so if there is to be any peace for Israel “the Arabs” must be destroyed instead. 

This is a densely packed use of Scripture that seeks to make the reader believe that this war is the same kind of conflict to which the Psalmist refers, in which the “Arab peoples” are seeking to annihilate the Jews.  It urges the audience to desire the destruction of this Israel’s enemies who have been described as “Arab peoples”–we are therefore urged to desire the destruction of modern Arabs in general, when the broad majority of the Arabs in Lebanon did not have any say in entering this conflict and when two-fifths of the people in Lebanon are Arab, Greek, Armenian or other Christians, who despise Hizbullah but nonetheless have suffered greatly from the current campaign.  If Rod is right in the rest of his article, this is a war with Hizbullah and Islamic terrorists, not a tribal or ethnic war with ”Arab peoples.”  Indeed, if this is a tribal or ethnic war, it is a fight in which the United States has no particular stake–it is only in the strategic context of combating rising Islamist powers that America would have much reason to closely align itself with Israel’s current campaign.  If the fight is against Hizbullah alone, why invoke scriptural authority calling for the destruction of Israel’s enemies and then identify Israel’s enemies as “Arab peoples”?  Is it to call for the destruction of Arabs?  I do not believe that Rod wants anything of the sort, so why use Scripture in such a way as to give precisely that impression?   

Update: The National Museum of Ireland has issued a clarification that rather negates the impressive synchronicity of the discovery of the manuscript:

In the press release issued by the National Museum of Ireland on 26th July the following reference was made to Psalm 83:

“While part of Psalm 83 is legible, the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved will only be determined by painstaking work by a team of invited experts probably operating over a long time in the Museum laboratory”

The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with “the wiping out of Israel”.

The Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr. Patrick F. Wallace, would like to highlight that the text visible on the manuscript does NOT refer to wiping out Israel but to the ‘vale of tears’.

This is part of verse 7 of Psalm 83 in the old latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) which, in turn, was translated from an original Greek text would have been the version used in the medieval period. In the much later King James version the number of the Psalms is different, based on the Hebrew text and the ‘vale of tears’ occurs in Psalm 84. The text about wiping out Israel occurs in the Vulgate as Psalm 82 = Psalm 83 (King James version).

Time after time, Israel strikes at civilian homes and civilian vehicles attempting to flee the besieged southern border zone, killing families without any military objective in sight.

In an extraordinary, and extraordinarily revealing comment, the Israeli Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, reportedly said, “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hizbullah.” So if you take to the roads to flee, you are a terrorist - who else would travel the southern roads now? And, if you stay at home because the danger is so great, you are also a terrorist. For the innocent civilian, there is literally no way out.

Take the example of Manal, a 22-year-old housewife, who had just arrived in Beirut when I met her a few days ago. For nearly two weeks, Israeli warplanes struck Manal’s border village of Aitaroun, obliterating homes and families. A Canadian-Lebanese family vacationing in the village was killed; the next day, another rocket destroyed a home 100 meters away from Manal’s house, killing at least nine members of a family. So many were killed in her village that she finds it difficult to remember all the names.

When the Israelis dropped leaflets instructing all villages south of the Litani River to evacuate immediately “for your own safety,” Manal and dozens of her neighbours set off in three cars, waving white flags. As they left, an Israeli warplane dropped bombs 10 meters in front of and behind the convoy, which raced on. As far too many Lebanese civilians have found, Manal’s experience is not exceptional, on the contrary. ~Peter Brouckaert, The Guardian

I’ve always maintained that the “pro-Israel” position of the Bush administration, formulated and influenced by hardline American Likudniks (whom, it must be said, are hardly representative of mainstream Israeli thinking) is actually fundamentally bad for Israel. Its infantile, aggressive maximalism precludes Israel from doing what it will take to live at peace with its surroundings, instead demanding a confrontational approach in keeping with Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” in which Israel’s survival depends on crush and humiliating the Arabs. Bush may talk the language of “Arab liberation,” but his contempt for Arab democracy is plain — just look at his response to the Hamas election victory. His administration appears to be dedicated to a remaking of the Middle East on America’s terms through violent social engineering. The depth of their failure in Iraq appears not to have deterred them from another adventure in Lebanon, this time using Israel as their agent of “change.” And if hundreds of Lebanese children are killed in Israeli air strikes, they’re just victims of the “birth pangs of a New Middle East.” ~Tony Karon

Via Leon Hadar

It would be slightly, but not entirely, baffling if Washington believed that destroying Lebanon would somehow contribute to the general transformation of the region in some way that wasn’t disastrous, especially given how much hot air the administration and its hangers-on blew at us during the “Cedar Revolution.”  If the Cedar Revolution with its anti-Syrian protests in the streets of Beirut really was Washington’s right answer for Lebanon last year (and you would be right to be very skeptical of that claim), why would leveling Beirut and discrediting the elected Lebanese government be part of the new goal?  In any event, as The Economist noted last month in its article on the retreat of democratic reform across the Arab world, Lebanese politics did not become more “democratic” with this so-called Revolution, but instead the “Revolution” simply empowered the local bosses, who are divided along sectarian lines, and obviously empowered and emboldened Hizbullah.  Perhaps in some convoluted way democratising Lebanon was always intended to empower Hizbullah, all the better to provoke a conflict? 

If we considered all of the hot air about democracy to be propaganda covering Washington’s hegemonic and “pro-Israel” goals (which, as Mr. Karon correctly notes, may not be doing Israel any real good), things make a little more sense, though it remains unclear why Washington would actually go ahead in encouraging elections, whether in Lebanon or Iraq, that would almost by definition bring governments to power that are hostile to the interests of Israel.  Perhaps there the government is seesawing between the two neocon poles of ludicrous democratism and irresponsible hegemonism, and we happen to be in the middle of a hegemonist phase?  With this administration’s incompetence, it is often difficult to gauge what they intended to do, since they so very often fail in realising their stated goals. 

Andrea Kirk Assaf has a couple other posts worth looking at: she cites an article from Christianity Today by the dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Martin Accad, who makes an impassioned plea on behalf of the people of Lebanon and does not accept the easy justifications of any party to the conflict.  She also notes the Maronite bishops’ call for peace.

 I was talking today with a former U.S. diplomat and a Washington “insider” who made the following comment: “I’m beginning to suspect that the Israeli military has been ‘Americanized.’ They seem to repeating our mistakes in Iraq. Very discouraging for them and for us.” This is coming from someone who is a critic of the Bush administration’s policies and has been opposed to the Israeli response in Lebanon. My guess is that the Bushies and the neocons are hysterical. After all, much of what the neocons have been pushing for has been the “Israelization” of Americnan foreign policy and national security, in a sense that the Americans should adopt the tough Israeli methods in dealing with global threats, especially vis-a-vis the Arabs who supposedly “only understand force.” The problem is that both in Iraq and Lebanon (now and earlier) and in the West Bank/Gaza this approach has proved to be a total failure in terms of policy (forget for a moment about moral dilemmas).


Indeed, as I suggested in an earlier post, it’s all looking more and more not like 1967 (the historical analogy being that Nasrallah will end up as a loser like Nasser) and more like 1973 when although the Sadat and the Egyptians were defeated in military terms, the perception was that they triumphed over Israel. This is the result of the “game of expectations,” when one side does better than expected. ~Leon Hadar

It is easy to say so now, but does it not seem clear that the parallel moves of the Americanisation of Israel’s military and the Israelisation of our policies were doomed from the start?  Air superiority is very good to have in its proper role, but it is never going to change fundamental political realities, much less transform a political culture.  Viewing American policy in the Near East as a matter of demonstrating resolve through force to cajole “the Arab mind” into obeisance (and to “drain the swamp” as Israel has always succeeded in doing, viz. Hamas, Hizbullah, etc.) is a recipe for perpetual war that cannot serve the American interest.  Unhinged people who think a border war in the Near East is manifestation of a global war for the entire West have imbibed the idea that we are in a war for our very survival, as if the sea into which the Arabs are always supposed to be wanting to push Israel were the Pacific and not the Mediterranean.  The confusion of the interests and methods appropriate to each nation and its needs has resulted in failure and calamity for both.  Perhaps distinct nations with their own particular needs and goals should adapt themselves to operate in distinct and sometimes divergent ways; the convergence of our technical expertise and their perspective has been largely unsuccessful in securing the interests of either country.

This blindness on the part of “conservative” American Catholics is partly ignorance; even many of those who have heard the words Melkite and Maronite have no particular interest in trying to learn anything about either rite, must less trying to grapple with the history of these Christian populations or even being bothered to find out who lives where or how they worship.

More importantly, though, it reflects a growing political reality. Since at least the Six-Day War, the presence of Christians in the Middle East has been a sign of contradiction that has stood in the way of American and Israeli attempts to reduce the broad conflict in the Middle East to the dualism of Judaism/Israel versus Islam/Arabs. The inconvenient reality of Middle Eastern Christianity has been a stumbling block to remaking the Middle East in a particular ideological image.

I started to write the “irreducible” (instead of “inconvenient”) “reality of Middle Eastern Christianity,” but, unfortunately, it is not so. By acting as if they were dealing only with Muslims, both the United States and Israel have changed the demographic reality in the Middle East. Palestinian Christians have left in droves. Much of the Maronite population is now in the United States. The Chaldean and Assyrian Christians in Iraq have, as Wayne Allensworth predicted before the war, largely fled the country. ~Scott Richert

I appreciate Scott’s comments, and I share his frustration with most Americans’ general ignorance of or indifference to Near Eastern Christian brethren of all confessions (for what it’s worth, there are also some Protestants in Lebanon, the fruit of the largely forgotten humanitarian and evangelical work of American missionaries in the Near East across the old domains of the Ottoman Empire).  I would also like to join him in pointing out the blog of Andrea Kirk Assaf, Russell Kirk’s daughter and a Catholic currently living in Italy, who is married to a man from Lebanon.  She has been blogging extensively on the situation in Lebanon, the Vatican response to the crisis and ongoing Vatican efforts to mediate the conflict.  Today she reports on the Israeli bombing of a Catholic radio station, and has a long post on the bombing at Qana.  Thank goodness that Israel is not targeting civilian sites, is not attacking all of Lebanon and is only going after Hizbullah. 

There has long been scant attention paid to the extremely delicate and dangerous  situation Arab and other Near Eastern Christians face, even in the officially secular states where they live and where they are supposed to be (and often, though not always, are) protected by law.  What is striking about the Western interventions of the last 16 years is how disastrous they have been for the region’s Christians.  It might be worth considering that the two major interventions in the Near East in my lifetime have been under GOP Presidents, and it has typically been their constituents who have, more than anyone else, endorsed these reckless and wrongheaded policies; many of these constituents are the same people who believe that we either live in or should live in a Christian nation.  But these folks should consider that if they want to have a Christian nation, or at least help create a nation that takes its Christian Faith seriously, they cannot really continue to endorse a party that embraces a foreign policy that has such serious anti-Christian effects (to say nothing for the moment of goals).  For that matter, any party that has people who are effectively apologists for Chechen terrorism among its prominent members is a party with which no self-respecting Christian should associate if he can possibly help it.   

Not only are these Christians, as Scott has said, the ”forgotten victims” of these conflicts, but the indifference with which Western governments greet the destruction or radical diminution of their communities is equalled only by the cynical, “humanitarian” crocodile tears that the same governments and their apologists shed for the ethnic and sectarian victims of governments they have chosen to eliminate.  If the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians are driven from Iraq en masse to scratch out a living in another country, that’s a tough break (stuff happens, after all), but for 15 years there has never been a cessation of lamenting the longsuffering Kurds, with whom we in the West have nothing in common except a similar linguistic structure.  There has been an ongoing disproportionate response of a different kind to the suffering of Near Eastern Christians: the rule seems to be that the more they are like us Americans (in their Christianity), the less interested “we” are in their fate, while you can’t turn around in this country but find a Christian who cares deeply for the fate of Israel or, even more incredibly, Darfur.  Roger Scruton recently coined the term oikophobia to express the idea of fearing and loathing that which is your own (as opposed to xenophobia), so we are either seeing an outpouring of oikophobia with respect to our Christian brethren, a startling demonstration of American ignorance, or a widespread admission that “we” are not really like the Christians of the Near East but apparently have more in common with their persecutors with whom we unwittingly or knowingly align ourselves.   

I do not dare assume that Mr. Bush has a significant working knowledge of the region he has proposed to transform into a beacon of human progress (this is the man who reportedly needed to have the whole Kurd-Sunni-Shi’a business in Iraq explained to him as late as the winter of ‘02-’03 and who was surprised to find black folks in Brazil), so I do not assume that he knows about the Christians of the Near East in any detail and has simply decided they are unimportant or expendable.  What some of his advisers know and think about Christians in the Near East may be a very different story (I do not think any secular neocons care a whit for what has happened to these people).  Still, it is ironic in the extreme that this administration has been conventionally (albeit mostly wrongly, in my view) associated with a strong emphasis on Christianity and the interests of evangelical Christians and yet has presided over the displacement of so many Christians and the cleansing of Muslim countries of sizeable sections of their Christian populations and has undertaken policies that have hastened this cleansing.  There was a time when a President of the United States would take particular interest in the suffering of Bulgarians and Armenians being massacred in the Ottoman Empire and would make it an issue of international concern; there was a time when Western peoples viewed with horror Kurdish atrocities against the Assyrians of Iraq, who suffered grievously during the last round of liberating Iraq.  Now, if there is an awareness of these suffering people, there is an unprecedented indifference to their fate and their fears of Islamic oppression combined with a weird activist concern for other victims of Islamic frenzy.  Everyone and his brother on the blogging right seems to belong to the Save Darfur Coalition, but when did you ever even hear of a Save Middle East Christians Coalition? 

Why this ignorance of or contempt for people who are more “our own” than the myriad nations our government is supposedly intent upon freeing and democratising?  Is this a function of secularism having taken such root in the culture that Christians are afraid or embarrassed to speak out for co-religionists on explicit grounds of Christian solidarity?  Is this some strange leftover animus among the Protestant majority towards other confessions, an expression of an old prejudice that these people aren’t really Christians at all?  I know there are some American Christians who take an active interest in the suffering and persecution of Christians around the world, including in the Near East, but why are they such a distinct and small minority?        

How, exactly, publicly humiliating Maliki and making him look like an American and Israeli stooge would enhance his “leadership” was never explained in the missive. But of course Reid’s letter wasn’t really about strengthening the Iraqi government at all; that’s George W. Bush’s problem. It was about appearing more pro-Israel than the White House and thus pandering to Jewish voters. ~Peter Beinart, The Washington Post

If I gave the Dems any credit for being smart, I would say that their plan here was exactly to undermine Maliki (whose failure at home will in any event be attributed to their political rivals and Bush himself) while at the same time maintaining their predictable enthusiasm for the cause of Israel.  They do have to keep their priorities straight, and securing the American-backed government in Iraq obviously has to take second place to the much more important business of Israel bombing Lebanon without criticism or interference.  On the other hand, it may be that the Dems assume that Maliki, like our other lackeys around the world, really is just a lackey and will fall in line if he is told in no uncertain terms that his own views are unacceptable.  In this, they seem to be mistaken, which is good news for Maliki and generally bad news for us. 

This brings me to a separate point that has been brought up before here and elsewhere: if Iraq really were vital to American interests, as Mr. Bush claims, why have the party and administration supposedly renowned for their advantage on understanding and handling national security policy essentially committed allegedly vital national interests into the care of the apparently independent actor Mr. Maliki?  It is fortunate that Iraq is not vital to the national interest, so our vital interests are not in the hands of a Shi’ite demagogue whose faction is backed by Tehran.  If they were in his hands, a few Democrats being rude to him would be the least of our problems!   

When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel “proportionate” attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders, and turned the Japanese home islands into rubble and ruin.

Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right — legal and moral — to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one’s security again. That’s what it took with Japan. ~Charles Krauthammer

Via Rod Dreher

Let’s consider the first obfuscation Mr. Krauthammer uses: likening the kidnapping of two soldiers to Pearl Harbor.  Talk about losing all sense of proportion….Second is the refrain we heard earlier in the week, invoking the wonder of total war and citing major war crimes as the appropriate ultimate response to any kind of attack.  How is this a credible argument?  Why are Podhoretz and Krauthammer able to get away with making arguments like this, as if they were the morally responsible ones, when they are the ones approving of civilian holocausts (which, as it happens, were gratuitous slaughters entirely unrelated to defeating the Japanese military in the field)?  No wonder they think the abuse of the Lebanese civilian population is unimportant, the creation of a humanitarian crisis irrelevant and the targeting of refugees beside the point–in Mr. Krauthammer’s sad little moral universe, the targeting of civilians is the means to victory!  Now, who else believes that is the way to win a conflict?  Hm…let’s see. 

What is the rationale for all this?  It worked with Japan, after all, so we should always unthinkingly repeat whatever the Allies did in WWII.  That’s what morality means to Mr. Krauthammer: a moral universe governed by eternal recurrence in which fighting the eternal Axis by any means, fair or foul, will be justified.  Still, it is interesting how the proponents of the argument from war crimes never cite Soviet brutality as examples to be followed (so far, no one has said that southern Lebanon should receive the Red Army treatment of Germany in 1945, but I assume this is just an oversight).  I guess it might be impolitic to start praising commie atrocities as a means to justify Israeli excesses.  Let’s also think about what Mr. Krauthammer’s standard of what is appropriate response for the Lebanese, who were “wantonly” attacked in 1982 and have thus far been deprived of disarming and disabling the aggressor for all these years.  I expect Mr. Krauthammer won’t be crying over their inability to exact retribution on the original aggressor.  

By bombing all of Lebanon rather than merely the concentrated Hezbollah strongholds, Israel is putting extraordinary pressure on Lebanese society at points of extreme vulnerability. The delicate post-war democratic culture has been brutally replaced, overnight, with a culture of rage and terror and war. Lebanon isn’t Gaza, but nor is it Denmark.

Lebanese are temporarily more united than ever. No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel — and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine — no longer do.

This will not last.

My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.  


Israeli partisans may think this is terrific. The Lebanese may take care of Hezbollah at last! But democratic Lebanon cannot win a war against Hezbollah, not even after Hezbollah is weakened by IAF raids. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab fighting force in the world, and the Lebanese army is the weakest and most divided. The Israelis beat three Arab armies in six days in 1967, but a decade was not enough for the IDF to take down Hezbollah.

The majority of Lebanon’s people were wise and civilized enough to take the gun out of politics after the fifteen year war. Lebanon was the only Arab country to do this, the only Arab country that preferred dialogue, elections, compromise, and debate to the rule of the boot and the rifle. But Hezbollah remained outside that mainstream consensus and did everything it could, with backing from the Syrian Baath and the Iranian Jihad, to strangle Lebanon’s democracy in its cradle.

Disarming Hezbollah through persuasion and consensus was not possible in the first year of Lebanon’s independence. Disarming Hezbollah by force wasn’t possible either. The Lebanese people have been called irresponsible and cowardly by some of their friends in America for refusing to resume the civil war. Unlike Hezbollah, though, most Lebanese know better than to start unwinnable wars. This is wisdom, not cowardice, and it’s sadly rare in the Arab world now. They are being punished entirely too much for what they have done and for what they can’t do. ~Michael Totten

Via Andrew Stuttaford

A rare exception to the talk-for-talk’s-sake norm of recent years is Washington’s approach to the Israeli conflict with Hizbollah. But all signs point to a weakening of resolve inside the Bush administration. Earlier this week, trial balloons began floating from Ms Rice’s mission to the Middle East: perhaps talks in Rome could bring a call for a peace-making force and a ceasefire. Talks are likely to bring little more than concerted pressure on the US and Israel to back down on the ultimate disarmament of Hizbollah. A ceasefire under any circumstances other than Hizbollah’s complete disarmament would be construed as another victory for the terrorist agenda.

Throughout the Middle East, American priorities have lost steam. Mr Bush’s signature issue democracy promotion has been thrust aside by resurgent dictators, with few real consequences. Egypt’s abrogation of municipal elections and a brutal crackdown on civil rights and press freedoms, for example, brought a threat from the US Congress to cut Egyptian aid but little more than limp language from the administration. ~Danielle Pletka,

Via Doug Bandow at 4Pundits

There’s just no pleasing some people.  How much more latitude would Mr. Bush need to give Israel to satisfy Ms. Pletka?  The mind boggles.  Also, while I’m sure this is perfectly clear to those ensconced in the shining halls of AEI, what does it mean when she says “the terrorist agenda,” as if all terrorist groups had the same agenda?  Shi’ite terrorists in Lebanon have one set of priorities and the agenda their masters give them; Salafist terrorists likely have very different priorities, one of which probably involves killing Shi’ites.  Perhaps the very vagueness involved in describing our enemy as “terrorism,” which was once useful for covering a multitude of groups and states entirely unrelated to one another, has become a burden that is dragging down neocon rhetoric and depriving it of its previous influence.

Perhaps because “democracy promotion” isn’t really an American priority, but an ideological one cultivated by AEI members and their friends, its importance is no longer what it once was.  But does Ms. Pletka really think that an unfettered democratic process empowering the Islamic Brotherhood across Egypt is the recipe for more stability and the security of American and, for that matter, Israeli interests?  How did that work out in Lebanon?  Oh, that’s right, it didn’t.   

On a minor note, why can we not establish some standard transliterated spelling of Hizbullah?  Most news accounts spell it Hezbollah, which I believe does not really transliterate the pronunciation of the word correctly.  Now we have the hybrid Hizbollah.  As my readers may be aware, I’m in favour of orthographical diversity, but surely we could have a little more accuracy.

The Prime Minister’s views and even more inflammatory statements by other Iraqi officials — including a parliamentary resolution branding Israeli attacks “criminal aggression” — prompted 20 congressional Democrats to call for the cancellation of Mr Maliki’s invitation to address a joint session of Congress overnight, Melbourne time.

While Republican leaders refused, they also expressed concern at Mr Maliki’s statements. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said: “Maliki’s criticism of Israel’s right to defend itself is unacceptable. Unless Mr Maliki disavows his critical comments of Israel and condemns terrorism, it is inappropriate to honour him with a joint meeting of Congress.”

Some Democrats were weighing a boycott of the speech, but Democratic leaders were expected to attend and were not encouraging absences. ~The Age

The Democrats certainly know how to keep the colonials in their place, don’t they?  When it comes to endorsing Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force or tolerating excessive Iraqi rhetoric, they will choose the former every time.  

There’s practically a holy consensus right now that the war in the North is a just war and that morality is on our side. The bitter truth must be said: this holy consensus is based on short-range selective memory, an introverted worldview, and double standards.This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy, whose sole purpose is extortion. That is not to say that morality and justice are on Hezbollah’s side. Most certainly not. But the fact that Hezbollah “started it” when it kidnapped soldiers from across an international border does not even begin to tilt the scales of justice toward our side. ~Ze’ev Maoz, Haaretz

Via Thomas Fleming at Cultural Revolutions Online  


In a recent radio interview (transcript here), after very ably reviewing the nature of Hizbullah and the woes of Lebanon’s dysfunctional polity, Dr. Srdja Trifkovic adds:

The only mystery in this sad story is why are the Israelis being so indiscriminate in their response. Two decades ago they were capable and skillful in separating the Druze and Sunni and Shia Muslims from the Christians. In southern Lebanon they had allies like Major Haddad controlling the border and the area to the Litani river, thus preventing attacks on Israel proper. Current attacks by the Israeli Defense Force on anything that moves in Lebanon are generating support for the Hezbollah not only among Muslims—including those who are not Shi’ites—but also among Lebanon’s Christians. Once the rockets start falling and the infrastructure is targeted, you don’t blame the force that has inserted itself into your daily life, you blame those who press the trigger that releases the missiles.

On a couple different occasions, I have drawn parallels between the American response to the limited Yugoslavian anti-terrorist campaign of 1998-99 (NATO bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days in 1999 for having the audacity to fight terrorists on their own territory) and the official response from Washington to Israel’s wide-ranging strike against Lebanon that came in response to Hizbullah’s kidnapping of two soldiers (a general outpouring of initial support).  Our bombing of a Christian country has an eerie parallel with Israel’s bombing of a country that is roughly 40% Christian; the flood of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Kosovo, precipitated by our bombing campaign, bears a striking resemblance to the flood of refugees from Lebanon: both are primarily large Muslim populations (in both cases, there were many Christian refugees as well) uprooted by the attacks of the benevolent, freedom-loving bombardiers.  Last time, NATO was supposed to be helping the hundreds of thousands of refugees; this time, the refugees seem to be targets just the same as everyone else.  Last time, it was an anti-genocide campaign that caused massive displacement and what would otherwise be called ethnic cleansing; this time, it is an anti-terrorist campaign waged by terrorising civilians.  The mendacity and doublespeak defending the attacks on civilian targets remain the same–the real villain is always someone else who is “forcing” the benevolent bombardiers to blow up Belgrade or Beirut.  Bombardment shall lead to disarmament and glorious liberation.  We have heard it all before, and it is, by and large, a pack of lies.  But keeping the two wars in mind together is helpful in understanding American indifference to Lebanese suffering: Americans were equally indifferent when our own airmen were blasting innocent civilians for the crime of being Serbian.

“Bleeding Lebanon” is the ripest fruit of the Bush administration’s catastrophic foreign policy. In similar crises, previous administrations at least pretended to make diplomatic efforts to arrange cease-fires and find grounds on which a tenuous peace might be maintained. As my friend Ron Hatchett points out, in a Dallas Blog article posted on this site, Ronald Reagan, though a strong supporter of Israel, took effective measures to discpline Israel during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In the present case, however, both President Bush and his Secretary of State have openly supported Israel and chosen to treat the invasion of Lebanon as a morally responsible act of self-defense. It is only as an afterthought and in response to international criticism that Secretary Rice has seen fit to visit the region, but the best she can offer is a peace-keeping mission to be sent just after the nick of time, that is, after the IDF has accomplished its mission.

If there had ever been any doubts that the security of Israel was Bush’s primary motive for invading Iraq, those doubts have been dispelled by his unequivocal support for a war against Lebanese civilians that is being condemned around the world.  Our Iraqi “allies” seem to understand. A headline in the LA Times tells the story: “Iraqis find rare Unity in Condemning Israel.” Even some Iraqi Christians have joined with Sunni and Shiite Muslims in condemning Israel and her bullying big brother. Perhaps they have seen the news stories describing Israel’s inexplicable attacks on Christian neighborhoods.


The temptation, in any conflict that engages the attention of Americans, is to choose a side and believe the propaganda told about it. If we are Christian Zionists, then Israel is a righteous nation doing too little to defend its people from Islamic terrorists. If we are tired of our Zionist foreign policy, then we may conclude that Israel is a bellicose national socialist state, guilty of war crimes against the unoffending Lebanese. If truth be told, however, none of the sides (Israel, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria, Iran) is guiltless. Hezbollah, undoubtedly, incited the current conflict, with a manifest disregard for the lives of the Lebanese people. While Hezbollah is, from one point of view, a legitimate political organization and a recognized party in Lebanon, it also has a long history of violence and terrorism. I say “violence and terrorism,” because not all of Hezbollah’s violence can be described as terrorism. Killing or kidnapping Israeli soldiers is an act of war, not terrorism, while randomly shelling Israeli cities is terrorism.

But if Hezbollah’s initial missile strikes were acts of terrorism, so is the much greater Israeli campaign that has so far killed nearly 400 Lebanese, mostly civilians. This is ten times the number of Israelis who have died in the conflict. If sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, that makes Israel ten times more terrorist than Hezbollah. If the Muslim terrorists are recklessly sending missiles every which way into Israel, the IDF is deliberately targeting civilian neighborhoods. They say it is because they believe they have located missile launchers or military installations or vehicles carrying weapons. In many instances, this belief was mistaken. Everyone is now a target, whether they are residents of formerly peaceful neighborhoods or fleeing refugees. ~Thomas Fleming


The British did it to the Scots Highlanders after the 1745 rising, and to the Acadians of Canada after the Seven Years’ War; Ataturk did it to the Greeks of Asia Minor in 1922; and the Czechs did it to the Sudeten Germans after 1945. It seems to be happening again, as half or more of Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shi’ites flee their homes. To de-fang Hezbollah implies the effective dissolution of the Shi’ite community, a third of whom live within Katyusha range of Israel.


Blame George W Bush for this grim necessity in Lebanon, where the refugee count already has reached 15-30% of the total population. In the name of Lebanese democracy, Washington brought Hezbollah into mainstream politics, and the newly legitimized Hezbollah in turn became the focus of life for Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shi’ites. To uproot Hezbollah, one has to uproot the Shi’ite community. ~Spengler

I am not as sanguine as Spengler about chaos working to American and Israeli advantage.  It has typically not worked to U.S. advantage in Iraq, and I see little reason why a destabilised Lebanon and Syria would produce any better results.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Lebanon on Monday at the start of a trip to calm violence in the Middle East, Lebanese political sources said.Rice met Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora after her heavily guarded motorcade sped through Beirut from the U.S. embassy to the north where her helicopter had landed from Cyprus.
“Thank you for your courage and steadfastness,” she told Siniora, who has repeatedly pleaded for an immediate cease-fire. ~Haaretz

Of course, PM Siniora would need a good deal less courage and steadfastness if a certain government were not heavily bombarding his country with the approval of Secretary Rice’s government.

Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial “target bank” has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it. ~Gideon Levy, Haaretz

Via Kevin Drum

Even the lesser irrationalities on the subject of Israel disturb. It is smaller in area than Sardinia or Wales, with only half the population of Mexico City, but its potency, like that of the allegedly world-conquering Jews themselves, is inflated to an inordinate degree. Conversely, the notion that Israel is presently engaged in ‘a fight for its very existence’ is an equally irrational assertion. With its formidable military arsenal, and armed forces which can easily outgun its local foes, it is not, or not yet, in such danger. But similarly irrational is Israel’s vow to ‘destroy Hezbollah’. The right arm of the advancing power of Iran, the so-called ‘Party of God’, cannot now be ‘destroyed’. ~David Selbourne, The Spectator

Parts of Mr. Selbourne’s article help recover some perspective on this conflict (other parts are less helpful), which is, from the perspective of geopolitical grand strategy, about very small potatoes.  Indeed, a great deal of grief and gnashing of teeth might be avoided if we all admitted just how practically irrelevant Israel’s wars are to most of the world.  Now, if they are your small potatoes you will take the conflict very seriously, so I can understand why the Israelis are prone to exaggerate the dangers to themselves and why they have every incentive to make their conflicts seem much more important to the rest of the world than they actually are.  What I don’t quite understand is why the rest of the world buys into it, whether one is “for” or “against” Israel.  There ought to be a very large camp all around the world that should be able to say about this conflict, and not only about this conflict, “Pity about the war you’re having, but it’s not really any of my business.” 

If you live in Haifa, talk of “existential threats” probably makes a lot more sense, but to most people outside of the war zone it comes off sounding like tawdry agitprop (which, in the mouths of more than a few commentators, is often all that it is), especially when the people whose existence seems imperilled are those civilians being bombed and driven from their homes in Lebanon.  I know, I know, I’m missing “the big picture” as seen with “moral clarity,” which makes displacing half a million people one of those unfortunate prices to be paid for somebody or other’s freedom.  Freedom isn’t free, after all, and “we” will make them pay for it–such seems to be the profound moral vision on display.   

Four times as many people died in Mumbai in one day at the hands of Lashkar-e-Taiba earlier this month as have perished in Israel since the beginning of Hizbullah’s attacks, and surely this was just as heinous an attack as those now being aimed at northern Israel, yet there is not an army of pundits running hither and yon declaring India’s “right to self-defense.”  Why?  Well, for starters, the Indian government has the good sense not to make a limited conflict into a general conflagration and has refrained from launching attacks against the bases they must know exist inside Pakistan, even though much the same justifications could be trotted out about “states within states” and Pakistan’s government being unable to enforce its sovereign authority over its own territory (Hamid Karzai would undoubtedly love to be able to use this rhetoric to strike at his government’s enemies in the Northwest of Pakistan).  It is also because New Delhi does not have a reliable corps of yes-men speaking on their behalf in the American press, constantly pumping the American people with slogans of civilisational solidarity and antiterrorist unity.  Because of these things, it is almost as if we recognise, when it comes to India, that there are some problems that cannot be solved with simple recourse to the use of force, and that unleashing the brunt of a war machine on the country from which these attacks are launched will accomplish next to nothing in the long term.  It is almost as if we recognise that a train bombing cannot be allowed to throw an entire region into chaos, from which radicals and warmongers are the most likely to benefit.     

What really mystifies me is why people who live on the other side of the planet believe they have some profound stake in what would normally be considered a minor border dispute that is nonetheless threatening to erupt into full-scale war.  (Don’t even get me started on people who say ”we are all Israelis now,” which is mindless pablum–were we all Indians three weeks ago?)  I read this morning about a demonstration and counter-demonstration, one in favour of Israel, the other in favour of Lebanon and Palestine, taking place in Skokie, of all places, and my response was much the same as it was when I saw similar protests here at the University at the beginning of the second intifada: why are Americans so strongly taking sides in a conflict that has nothing to do with them?  This is a question that keeps coming up when I read things offered up by the buffoonish neo-Jacobin “Right” (yes, that is a legitimate and meaningful category!) and the lunatic FrontPageMag.  Of course, for those who think our nation has universal significance and a universal mission, everything has something to do with America and everything becomes our business–all the more reason to repudiate and reject shallow universalism and the cheap sentimentality that usually goes along with it. 

Today, with one Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and two others by Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel has responded with airstrikes, naval blockades and ground action. As a soldier, Hannibal gave me confidence and boosted morale among my comrades. And today, I believe that deploying our military to stop Hezbollah’s rocket attacks and to obtain the return of our troops is fully justified.

However, I fear that we might not stop there, and that we might succumb to the delusion that military action can transform Lebanon’s political and social realities. That same delusion led Israel to occupy Lebanon for an agonizing decade and a half in which hundreds of our troops — and many more Lebanese and Palestinians — were killed. ~Haim Watzman, The Washington Post

Perhaps a limited, punitive campaign would have made more sense, but it appears that Israel, indulged if not actually egged on by Washington and the usual cheering sections in the American media, may be succumbing to these very delusions that Mr. Watzman warns against.  The delusion that war can reliably transform social and political realities for the better is the preeminent delusion of our time.  It is the folly that inspired the invasion of Iraq and all of the loose talk of regional “transformation” and it is a delusion that still taints Mr. Bush’s foreign policy speeches with ridiculous claims about the ”capacity of liberty to transform hostile regions.”  However, Mr. Watzman’s “solution” of “a multinational campaign against Iran and Syria,” is no less delusional and based on even more unrealistic assessments of what military victory over those states would yield in terms of regional stability.

A number of breathless pundits have described the Iranian challenge to the U.S. as the modern equivalent of of the old Soviet challenge. So, I’ve been trawling for estimates of the size of Iran’s annual subsidy to Hezbollah, Iran’s primary foreign beneficiary, and I’ve come up with a range of $25 million to $200 million, with a modal guess of $100 million (and even that paltry sum is arousing resentment among Iranian voters). In comparison, the annual Soviet subsidy to Cuba alone in the 1980s is said to have run between $4 and $6 billion, or at least 20 times larger. Hezbollah is thought to have 5,000 men at arms in its home country of Lebanon, which contrasts with the 65,000 that Cuba deployed in 17 African countries at the behest of the Kremlin. ~Steve Sailer

Mr. Sailer has his numbers right.  According to the Timesarticle on Hizbullah, the subsidy level is towards the low end of the range Mr. Sailer proposed:

It has not even cost Iran very much. Hezbollah was launched with just £13m. After that, according to best estimates, Iran spent £32m to £54m a year on its Lebanese assets. Even if we add the cost of training Hezbollah fighters and equipping them with hardware, Hezbollah (the strongest fighting force in the Middle East after Iran and Israel) has not cost Iran more than £1.3 billion over two decades.

The epic battle of our time this is not.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush’s position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.” ~The New York Times

Via Leon Hadar

Never let it be said that Mr. Maliki is simply a toady for American interests! Read the rest of this entry »

Just a thought: There’s a recent precedent for an administration sitting tight while one military force knocks the hell out of another (with a not inconsiderable humanitarian cost), in the hopes that it would eventually advance the cause of a diplomatic settlement. It’s what the Clinton administration did in the summer of 1995 when the Croats launched an offensive against the Serbs that involved something like 200,000 Serbs being driven from Eastern Croatia. The smarter Clintonistas realized that in the long run this burst of war served the cause of peace. Richard Holbrooke and his negotiating team encouraged the Croats to keep going. “The map negotiations are taking place on the battlefield right now,” he explained. Similarly, the negotiations over who ultimately gets to control Southern Lebanon—Hezbollah or someone else?—are now taking place on the battlefield. ~Rich Lowry, The Corner

This “burst of war” to which Mr. Lowry so casually refers was the ethnic cleansing of the Serbian population of the Krajina, which was as much a war crime as anything committed by any side in the Balkan Wars, and it followed active U.S. training and support for the Croatian army.  The Serbs of the Krajina remain displaced to this day.  That is the kind of solution Mr. Lowry would like to see in Lebanon: war crimes for peace!  Do these people really wonder why most of the world finds their vision of the world so dreadful?

Update: Mr. Lowry may be pleased by the displacement of population that has already taken place.  From Monsters & Critics:

United Nations relief coordinator Jan Egeland on Sunday condemned the devastation caused by Israeli airstrikes in Beirut describing it as ‘horrific’ and terming it ‘a violation of humanitarian law.’

‘The whole thing has to stop. It’s no natural disaster, but a man-made crisis. This is a senseless war,’ Egeland said as the bombing campaign by the Israel Air Force and missile attacks by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement continued unabated for the 12th successive day.

The nadir may have come in February 2003, during the agitation before the invasion of Iraq, when Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s deputy prime minister, was brought to Italy to be feted at St. Francis’s church in Assisi and treated to an audience with John Paul II in Rome. But you can see the same impulse in the Vatican’s current secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who announced on Vatican Radio last week: “As it has done in the past, the Holy See condemns the terrorist attacks of one side as well as the military reprisals of the other. In fact, the right to defense of a state is not exempt from respect for the norms of international law, especially as regards the safeguarding of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See now deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation.”

The moral equivalence between terrorism and the response to terrorism was troubling–and, indeed, Sodano was indulging in more than moral equivalence, for he singled out the Israelis for blame “in particular.” The problem Israel faces is precisely that Lebanon is not “a free and sovereign nation,” but a weak and captive nation, unable to assert its sovereignty over areas dominated by a terrorist organization. ~Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard

Via Rod Dreher

I do enjoy how flexible international law can be for some people.  Apparently, “free and sovereign nation” is not a legal definition that invokes protections of the U.N. Charter, making aggressive war against it illegal, but a matter of perspective.  Apparently obligations under international law to safeguard civilian populations are all relative.  Isn’t it also convenient that the terrorist guerrilla movement of Hizbullah, now being held up as the reason to circumvent the protections Lebanon is owed under international law, is a direct product of the original, illegal invasion of Lebanon 24 years ago?  To strip a neighbour of his rights, the trick is to invade his territory once, stir up a violent resistance movement and then use that movement’s continued existence as a pretext to invade the territory again.  

Read the rest of this entry »