The Long View: The Enemy at Home

I’m not sure it was even fair in 2007 to describe Dinesh D’Souza like this:

Dinesh D’Souza, a noted public policy expert now resident at the Hoover Institution

But by now, it is clear that D’Souza is a hack, but at least he maintains a reasonable sense of humor, as the tweet below demonstrates.

Still funny

Still funny


The Enemy at Home:
The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11
By Dinesh D’Souza
Doubleday, 2007
333 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN 978-0-385-51012-7

Dinesh D’Souza, a noted public policy expert now resident at the Hoover Institution, has been regaling his readers for years with tales of the political and cultural depravities of the American left. In The Enemy at Home, he takes this polemic to a more cosmic level. The result is a thorough, thoughtful book that mixes many valid points with others that are, at best, problematical. The author’s critique of the left has a subtext that conservatives might want to think twice about before signing on for his planetary culture war.

“Why do they hate us?” spokesmen for the cultural left asked immediately after the attacks of September 11. Then they pointed their fingers at their allegedly bigoted and militaristic conservative countrymen. D’Souza’s thesis is that the fingers should have been pointed in the opposite direction. The essentially bohemian cultural and family mores of the cultural left have been foisted for two generations onto American society as progressive social policy; more recently, the left has used popular culture and the increasing coercive power of the UN and transnational agencies to impose these policies abroad. The effect has been to incite outrage among traditional peoples worldwide. In the case of Islam, the outrage created a violent radical faction that struck back. This is the state of things today:

“So, realize it or not, American conservatives are fighting a two-front war. The first is a war against Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism. The second is a political struggle against the left and its pernicious political and moral influence in America and around the globe. My conclusion is that the two wars are intimately connected. In fact, we cannot win the first war without also winning the second war.”

The book is very precise in identifying the cultural left. In fact, towards the end, there is a helpful list of the politicians, academics, artists, and organizations who are its most well-known proponents. As a matter of definition, though, the cultural left consists of those people who look to their subjective intuitions for moral standards, rather than to a pre-existing standard outside themselves. The latter is the mark of traditional peoples the world over, including Christians. These traditional moral systems, we are assured, differ only in detail. Cultural leftists do have a morality, but a modern, highly aggressive morality based on personal autonomy. The author never ceases to remind us that cultural leftists love America and wish to spread its ideals universally. The problem is that the America they love is exclusively their own:

“Here in America, a longtime man of the left, Christopher Hitchens, argues that modern America represents the values of secularism, feminism, and homosexuality. An outspoken atheist, Hitchens is the author of a book vilifying Mother Teresa entitled The Missionary Position. It is ‘godless hedonistic America’ and the state of Massachusetts’s recent sanction of practices such as homosexual marriage, Hitchens gleefully points out, that provoke the ‘writhing faces and hoarse yells of the mullahs and the fanatics.’ It is in defense of this godless, hedonistic America that Hitchens supports the Bush administration’s war on radical Islam.”

The author supports that war too, including the war in Iraq, in part because America’s enemy in that war is what he calls “radical Islam.” The latter is a modern deformation of traditional Islam, though these two differ in tactics and political temperament rather than theology. Only through alliance with traditional Islam is there hope for traditional, Red State, Christian America. (Late in the book, traditional Judaism gets a friendly nod, too.) The author contends that though “liberalism” in the Hollywood sense is repulsive to traditional people, classical liberalism is not. Islam, in the author’s telling, is entirely consistent with democracy, market economics, the rule of law, and the decent treatment of women. If America again becomes known in the world as the chief proponent of those things, as well as for respect for religion, the popular base for the radicals will evaporate.

The author is a Catholic from India, a country whose Hindu heritage is quite as traditional as that of Islam. Muslims are tempted to fly airplanes into American skyscrapers but Hindus are not, if I understand the argument correctly, because the Islamic world is governed by “liberal tyrants.” These regimes curry favor with transnational institutions by importing the latest ideas about family law and homosexuality from the West, and particularly from America. By the end of the 1980s, the domestic opposition to the liberal tyrants had despaired of overthrowing them. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then the apparent unwillingness of the Clinton Administration to suffer military casualties, persuaded the radicals that America itself might easily be intimidated into a retreat from the Muslim world, thereby leaving the American client-regimes vulnerable.

Once the attacks began (and remember, they began in 1993 with the first bombing of the World Trade Center), the cultural left has either opposed any forceful American response to them, or has insisted that the response be restricted to futile law enforcement. There are several reasons for this opposition, none of which is connected with pacifism. For one thing, some members of the left immediately imagined that their own critique of American society was also held by its enemies, and so they pronounced the attacks justified. Another reason for opposition, at least according to the author, is that the Bush Administration has sought to spread democracy. The left has soured on democracy as a method of implementing its cultural agenda; it is much happier working through the courts and through transnational institutions. Finally, and most important, the attacks of the radical Islamists may be directed at America in general, but they are not directed at the cultural left in particular. Indeed, Osama bin Laden has increasingly adopted the rhetoric of the antiwar left. American conservatism, in contrast, represents an existential threat to the cultural left. If the Republicans won the war in Iraq, there might be no getting rid of them. Thus, the cultural left is in a de facto alliance with radical Islam against Red State America.

Yikes.

Regarding the author’s most sensational charge, we may note that there is some sentiment among the European left, particularly in France, to nominate Islam as the successor revolutionary ideology to Marxism. That is not quite what he accuses the cultural left in the United States of, which is just as well, since there seems to be little of that sentiment in America. As for the strategic alliance he discerns between radical Islamists and the cultural left, one could see how that might make sense from their point of view. Still, it’s not clear who, if anyone, has actually thought these things. The current antiwar left differs from its Vietnam era counterpart in that it has little to do with revolutionary ambition. Rather, it is founded on incredulity at the proposition that the United States might actually be in danger.

Some of the most provocative elements of the author’s thesis are true. The cultural progressivism that is promoted by transnational organizations really is an annoying hoax, often promoted with the aid of front organizations designed to give a Third World veneer to the latest clap-trap from the American law schools. It is also true than many of the creations of American culture, both high and low, raise doubts not just about their creators’ virtue, but about their sanity. The cultural left really does make America look ridiculous and repulsive abroad. At home, of course, the cultural left is a menace because of the ever-present danger that a majority of the people might accept its transgressive view of the world. A transgressive culture is not worth dying for, or even perhaps worth living for. (We get only a brief mention of the phenomenon of the demographic collapse of culturally liberal societies; maybe that is another book.)

Be that all as it may, the author does the Islamists, and particularly al-Qaeda, too much honor in accepting their own account of their grievances. Osama bin Laden’s statements in particular about the dealings of the United States government with Muslims societies over the past two decades are Big Lie propaganda. The behavior of the Islamist radicals does not suggest desperate defense, but confident ambition. Yes, they think America is vulnerable, but getting rid of America is only a step in a program that includes winning a civil war against the House of Saud. Perhaps the dazzling prospect of Islamic revival blinds them to reality, but they are not acting because they are frightened. A less contemptible America would not necessarily draw less fire.

Readers of The Enemy at Home will note points that are familiar from other writers. The idea that the United States should seek out allies among traditional Muslims is unexceptionable. The point was mentioned, for instance, in Walter Russell Mead’s Power, Terror, Peace, and War (2004). In many ways, though, D’Souza’s more thorough development of this strategy updates the proposal that Peter Kreeft made in Ecumenical Jihad(1996) for an alliance of all people who believe in natural law against the degenerate aspects of the West. As the title suggests, Kreeft had particularly high hopes for an alliance of Muslims and conservative Christians.

D’Souza goes even further with the principle that the traditions of the world’s “traditional peoples” are fundamentally the same, and therefore the people who retain these traditions should be in active alliance against an aggressive and implacable modernity. When “tradition” is spoken of in this way, one will sometimes find that the speaker does not use the term in the conventional sense of “cultural inheritance.” Rather, the speaker means “Tradition” in the sense of René Guénon. That French mystic held that each of the world’s great religions was linked primordially to the Transcendent, that each was equivalent in dignity, and that each was radically at odds with a demonic but transitory modern world. There is no reason to suppose that D’Souza is a thoroughgoing Guenonian. Still, we should note that, in this book, the chief authority on Islam and its relationship to the West is the noted Iranian cultural historian, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who also happens to be the most eminent contemporary Islamic proponent of Guenonian Tradition.

D’Souza frequently finds not just that recent outbursts of Muslim outrage are explicable, but that the Muslim point of view is the correct one. The Danish cartoons of Mohammed, for instance, really were an assault on Islam, and the outrage they occasioned was justified, even if the violence was not. Saudi women, we learn, are not in the least annoyed by the legal prohibition against their driving a car. The author does not quite condemn Benedict XVI for his remarks at Regensburg, but he deplores the remarks themselves. He also gloats a bit over the continuing discomfiture of Salman Rushdi, the provocateur who went into hiding when someone was actually provoked. The Afghans had a right to be aggrieved when the United States imposed its notion of tolerance to prevent the execution of a convert to Christianity. The degree of sensitivity that this book evinces is consistent with the Traditional principle that no primordial tradition may be criticized from outside. Actually, this degree of sensitivity would be consistent with a mild form of sharia.

D’Souza is correct to note that there are resources within Islam that are friendly to democratic governance. It is also true that the Islamist radicals are a modern innovation: if anything, he underestimates their disruptive effect on traditional Islamic society. Despite these points, however, it is not at all clear that Islam of any description can adequately make the distinction between leftist cultural liberalism and ordinary Western culture.

The book frequently cites Sayyid Qutb, the great theoretician of modern Islamic radicalism, whose descriptions of the pervasive depravity of American life form the basis of the Islamist critique of America to this day. The problem is that Qutb’s horrified account of his sojourn to America is a surreal reworking of his experiences in the 1940s. That was a long time before the point in the 1960s when, as D’Souza would have it, leftist America departed from the universal traditional consensus. It is one thing to object to a cultural milieu that finds Kill Bill to be normal entertainment; it’s another to call a society depraved where a typical film is It’s a Wonderful Life.

We are assured in this book that there is no “clash of civilizations.” That is because, in D’Souza’s telling, Western civilization really no longer exists, or shouldn’t: American conservatives are advised to abandon Europe to its debauched fate. Even America is no longer really one country, and conservatives should not hesitate to accuse individual members of the cultural left of giving aid and comfort to the radical Islamist enemy. The solution we are offered, in fact, is to abandon “tradition” in the conventional sense of the word and join a league of the world’s “traditions” in a somewhat more exotic sense.

Just how is this different from surrender?

End

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-11-13: TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

2004 Madrid Train Bombings

It has genuinely been long enough that a terrorist attack that I have no personal stake in, like the Madrid bomadmbings of 2004, with 193 people killed and 2,000 injured, seems like it happened in another lifetime. At the time, I remember reading hot takes [which wasn’t a thing then, if I remember aright. Merriam-Webster backs me up.] like Steyn’s that credited that bombing with redirecting Spain’s involvement in the Middle East.

I don’t have any idea whether that is actually true, and I don’t care to find out at this point. It is more interesting to me to reflect upon what John J. Reilly said here:

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said.

At lot of what happened in the United States post 9/11 has clearly been useless or worse, but also we haven’t had anything on that same scale since. In retrospect, our enemies really are stupid and feckless, and incompetent as well. 9/11 was shocking, but it also seems to have been sui generis. Unfortunately, there was a whole cottage industry of people turning out purple prose about the imminence of another terrorist attack on the United States for quite some time afterwards. Most of them haven’t really owned up to that foolishness, with a few notable exceptions. Despite writing things like this, John J. Reilly himself perpetuated some of this foolishness.

This quote is still useful twelve years later:

In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Both of the despicable frames mentioned here are still going strong in 2018.


TXT, Steyn, Spengler, Tridentine

Yet another educational jurisdiction is accepting text-messaging conventions on exams, and Simon Jenkins could not be more pleased:

Thank you, Scotland. First John Knox, then the Enlightenment and now the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In a direct challenge to the English at their most reactionary, the authority has declared that it will accept text-messaging short forms in school examinations. The dark riders of archaism will protest and the backwoods will howl. No spell is cast as dire as spellcheck. But the champions of reason are massing north of the border and need our support...I have no quarrel with grammatical authoritarianism. Grammar is a vehicle that needs a highway code of human communication. To parse is to prosper. Grammar evolves to reflect the new uses that language requires of it, as dictionaries include new words. Adverbs and adjectives fight the good fight against poverty-stricken nouns and verbs. Prepositions and conjunctions are hurled into the fray. A controversial time is had by all.

In contrast, spelling has become a no-go area, an intellectual tundra. While plain writing is considered a stylistic virtue, plain spelling is a vice. English orthography is an edifice of unreason. Word endings are the last gasp of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, embedded in the cultural DNA of literary Brahmins. Not to spell properly is a sign of being common, as once was ignorance of Latin. Knowing your "ie" from "ei" or -ible from -able does not affect a word's meaning one jot. It is a caste mark, its distinction deriving from its very obscurity....The Scottish examiners are adamant that they are not rewarding text spelling, since there will be no marks for it, only for accuracy of meaning. Pupils will be credited for quoting "2b or not 2b" but will get higher marks if they spell it conventionally. That they should be penalised for an offence that Shakespeare himself committed is strange.

From the point of view of orthographic reform, we should applaud this development only conditionally. The text conventions that Scotland is now tolerating are often suboptimal. It also really isn't true that Sam Johnson's Dictionary became the basis for the current conventional spelling in order to grind the faces of the poor: the striving classes required a teachable standard, and Johnson's Dictionary was the only resource on the shelf. Still, as Jenkins notes, texting is the first mass-experience of an alternative orthography for English. It is news to many people that such a thing is even possible.

* * *

Mark Steyn is disenthused about the results of last week's election; he argues that the U.S. must prove it's a staying power:

On the radio a couple of weeks ago, Hugh Hewitt suggested to me the terrorists might try to pull a Spain on the U.S. elections. You'll recall (though evidently many Americans don't) that in 2004 hundreds of commuters were slaughtered in multiple train bombings in Madrid. ... they employed a craftier strategy. Their view of America is roughly that of the British historian Niall Ferguson -- that the Great Satan is the first superpower with ADHD. They reasoned that if you could subject Americans to the drip-drip-drip of remorseless water torture in the deserts of Mesopotamia -- a couple of deaths here, a market bombing there, cars burning, smoke over the city on the evening news, day after day after day, and ratcheted up a notch or two for the weeks before the election -- you could grind down enough of the electorate and persuade them to vote like Spaniards, without even realizing it. And it worked. ...On Tuesday, the national security vote evaporated, and, without it, what's left for the GOP? Congressional Republicans wound up running on the worst of all worlds -- big bloated porked-up entitlements-a-go-go government at home and a fainthearted tentative policing operation abroad. As it happens, my new book argues for the opposite: small lean efficient government at home and muscular assertiveness abroad. It does a superb job, if I do say so myself, of connecting war and foreign policy with the domestic issues. Of course, it doesn't have to be that superb if the GOP's incoherent inversion is the only alternative on offer...

I think that if the jihadis had been able to blow up subways and airliners in the US, they would have been doing so right along, no matter what the tracking polls said. However, it does seem to me that now they have an added incentive to accelerate whatever plans they have: they believe they have the US on the run, but from their perspective, a collapse would be far better than a staged withdrawal. One of the effects of the election, ironically, is that any attacks that do occur in the US will now be blamed on Democratic capitulationism, rather than on the Administration (which of course is actually responsible for preventing terrorism).

It really is not true that the national-security vote evaporated on the first Tuesday in November. The Bush Administration made a deliberate decision after the president's reelection to make the war politically sustainable by lowering its profile, which meant making it just another of the many important items in the president's second-term agenda. The Republicans lost the benefit of the national-security vote because they had long ago stopped cultivating it.

Steyn is right about the catastrophic effects of the congressional Republicans' bovine certainty that raiding the treasury was the same as good constituent-service. However, that has nothing to do with the "big government/small government" dichotomy, a rhetorical device that increasingly impedes thought. In the Reagan Administration, "small government" had semantic content: it meant the deregulation of banks, airlines, and telecommunications. That project was necessary and largely successful. However, the term "small government" has outlived its referrent. Now, like "nondiscrimination," it is used in contexts where its application means anarchy facilitated by fraud.

Readers will know that I am a great fan of Steyn's America Alone, but as I have also observed, his attempt to link the defense against the Jihad with domestic policy is the book's great weakness. You cannot fight Churchill's war abroad and maintain Coolidge's Normalcy at home. That is exactly what the Bush Administration tried to do.

Steyn further tells us:

Whatever it started out as, Iraq is a test of American seriousness. And, if the Great Satan can't win in Vietnam or Iraq, where can it win? That's how China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and a whole lot of others look at it. "These Colors Don't Run" is a fine T-shirt slogan, but in reality these colors have spent 40 years running from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the helicopters in the Persian desert, the streets of Mogadishu. ... To add the sands of Mesopotamia to the list will be an act of weakness from which America will never recover.

For the near term, we must remember that the outcome in Iraq has not yet come out. There is no equivalent there of North Vietnamese heavy infantry waiting to pour across the borders when US forces leave. Neither, for that matter, is there really much sentiment in the US for total withdrawal, especially from secure areas like Kurdistan. For the longer term, I would point out that the era of half-measures, bad deals, and actual defeats began with the Korean War in the Truman Administration and extended through the Clinton Administration, which did one damned stupid thing after another, with no discernible diminution of US influence. It's not that the US is so splendiferous as that the world seems to have lost capacity to generate an alternative.

* * *

Spengler takes these things in stride, noting from his perch at Asia Times that Halloween came late in Washington

The sina qua non of a ghost is that it is condemned for eternity to reenact the delinquencies of its past life. That is just what we should expect from Robert Gates [the nominee for Secretary of Defense]. As chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Soviet desk during the early 1980s, Gates shared the consensus academic view that the Soviet economy was strong and stable. A prosperous Russia, he reckoned, would respond rationally to management by carrot and stick. Fortunately for the United States, then-CIA director William Casey recruited outsiders such as journalist Herbert E Meyer, and listened to them rather than to Gates...

If the Soviet economy was crumbling, some leftist commentators object, what justified the Reagan administration's military buildup of the 1980s? The answer is that a failing empire is far more likely to undertake dangerous adventures than a successful one. That was true of the Soviet Union, whose 1979 invasion of Afghanistan threatened US power at the moment of its greatest vulnerability. It is equally true today of Iran, which faces demographic implosion and economic ruin during the next generation...we cannot easily imagine a world in which we will not exist because the world has no use for us. Self-styled power brokers of the James Baker ilk have no place in the world when power asserts itself in its naked form and there is nothing more to broker. The realists fancy themselves the general managers in a world of hierarchy, status and security. Replace these with insecurity and chaos, and there no longer is any need for such people...For the past five years I have counseled the United States to learn to live with the chaos that it can do nothing to prevent. No matter: Americans will learn, late and at cost, the way they always do.

Actually, i was having thoughts along these lines a few weeks back when I saw Zbigniew Brzezinski on the PBS New Hour explaining that there is no such thing as Islamofascism. When he was President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, he never quite said there was no such thing as Communism, but there was a certain resemblance between his policy of disengaging from the Cold War and his attitude toward the Middle East today.

* * *

The Tridentine Restoration approaches, or so we may judge from this report:

Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the most popular and powerful Vatican officials to visit St. Louis since Pope John Paul II's 1999 visit, told more than 250 people at the Chase Park Plaza Saturday morning that Latin should be used more frequently in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The Latin language now, he said "is in the ecclesiastical refrigerator ... Mass today should be in Latin from time to time." ...In an hourlong, often humorous, address that received several standing ovations, Arinze suggested that, in order to give Catholics options, large parishes offer the Mass in Latin at least once a week, and in smaller, rural parishes, at least once a month. (Homilies, he said, should always be in the faithful's native language.) Latin "suits a church that is universal. It has a stability modern languages don't have," he said.

It is in the nature of restorations often to be substantial improvements on what they purport to restore. This variety of usage that the Cardinal describes is precisely what should have happened in the 1960s. Doing it now will not eliminate the vernacular liturgy; it will shame it into perfection.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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Repost: The Long View: An End to Evil

On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, it is worth reflecting on what happened, and what we did in response.

This is Exhibit A in the story of what went wrong during George W. Bush's response to 9/11. In retrospect, I see both how it seemed emotionally appealing, and how not everything Frum and Perle advocated is stupid. It is just the whole package that is stupid, but you need to know a lot to really get there.

Hindsight is 20/20, although in theory this is what experts are supposed to do: give us advice when we need it most and want it least. Frum and Perle clearly failed by that standard. For example, here is the definition of the problem of terrorism from this book:

For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.

No. No, it isn't. There is no possible way al-Qaeda then, or ISIS now, could possibly destroy America or the West. Their objective strength is 10,000 times less than the last mortal adversary the United States faced, the USSR. Bad things will happen, and have happened, but the time and money we have spent on this is vastly disproportionate to the problem.

Thanks, Frum and Perle.

I don't have any idea how to truly 'fix' the problem, by which I mean eliminate the ability of terrorists to do things like fly planes into the World Trade Center or shoot and bomb people in Paris on a November evening. But I do know that the usual way of putting it is exactly backwards: it doesn't matter how many of us they kill, our civilization cannot be killed by the likes of them.

9/11 was almost a decade in the works. The actual field strength of ISIS is less than 30,000 men. That isn't what a life or death struggle looks like. Almost 50,000 men died in the battle of Gettysburg alone. No one is all in here. Get a grip.


An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum and Richard Perle
Random House, 2003
284 Pages, US$29.95
ISBN 1-4000-6194-6

 

“But what did Mrs. Karswell say?”

“She was so excited I scarcely understood her. She kept repeating, 'All evil must end.' But how could it?”

---Curse of the Demon (1957)

 

By its own account, this book is a “manual for victory” in the War on Terror. It's probably just as well that the book delivers somewhat less than its title promises. Nonetheless, the strategy it does set out is more hopeful than George Kennan's “containment” policy must have seemed at the beginning of the Cold War. Certainly it is more proactive.

The authors are David Frum, who was George W. Bush's presidential assistant, and Richard Perle, who recently was chairman of the Defense Policy Board in the Department of Defense. (He is also remembered in policy circles as the “Prince of Darkness” because of his hard anti-Soviet line during the Reagan Administration, but that is another story.) Both authors are Resident Fellows at the American Enterprise Institute. They would be members of the Neoconservative Politburo, if the neoconservatives had a politburo, which the authors insist they don't. They assure us that the cabal you keep hearing about is really just four independent analysts who hardly anyone at the State or Defense Departments ever talks to.

In terms of literary form, “An End to Evil” falls under the category of “memorandum.” Much of the text employs the special White House mood that might be called the Presidential Declarative. It's quite without index or bibliography; the rare footnotes are chiefly to websites and a few magazines. For that matter, the lines of text are widely spaced, to make them easily readable by people too busy to read an ordinary book format. The effect is not like an ordinary political polemic. It's like being briefed.

But enough form criticism. The memorandum defines The Problem thus:

“For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.”

The problem within the Problem is that, sometime in the Spring of 2002, the elites of the West began to tire of the War on Terror. This includes the US State Department, which the authors sometimes seem to suggest is just marginally less of a menace to American security than is Al Qaeda. Certainly the foreign-affairs establishment opposed the war in Iraq, by means overt and covert.

The authors defend that war in detail. They note that, despite the lack of stocks of weapons of mass destruction, the Baathist regime had numerous weapons programs, and that the mere existence of the regime was an ongoing human-rights violation. The authors' main point, however, is that pursuing the War on Terror requires a strategy broader than the pursuit of the actual perpetrators of terror.

The reasons for the jihad against the West are largely autochthonous, though it is funded with oil dollars and facilitated by Finnish cellphones. The authors ascribe the root cause to the conceptual inability of Muslim societies to cope with their relative decline in the world, aggravated by the season of fantasy made possible by the sudden infusion of oil money. A terse characterization of the current situation (though not one that the authors give) is that the jihad is an Islamic civil war being fought in part on Western soil.

The strategy of the terrorists is not at all irrational. By spectacular acts of carnage, they hope to cow Western publics into deference to their goals, and to promote the prestige and credibility of Islamists in Muslim countries. By the same token, however, if the Islamists are seen to be losing, if their terror attacks are thwarted and their sponsors are being overrun, then the terrorist networks will disintegrate. “Nobody wants to die on a fool's errand,” the author's note. The War on Terror is difficult, but it is winnable.

The perpetrators are just the final product of a system of financial support, logistical assistance and, ultimately, of physical protection that only states can provide. It is nonsense to assert, as some opponents of military action apparently do, that the 911 attacks were accomplished using fewer than two-dozen men at a cost of a few thousand dollars. In fact, the system that recruited and trained the hijackers extended over several countries. It took more than a decade to build, at great expense. Most important of all: Al Qaeda is just a special case. Despite differences in ideology and theology, the Baathists and Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are in fact in continuous contact, and sometimes hold general conferences in friendly countries. In the final analysis, nothing will serve but to change the nature of those regimes that actively support these groups, or are too weak to resist them.

That said, we are still left with the question: “Why start with Iraq?” Iraq does have a history of supporting terrorists, notably Abu Nidal. However, the Baathist regime has clearly been far less active in this regard since the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Though the authors never quite say so, one gathers that Iraq was simply the best choice in legal and logistical terms. I find that justification persuasive. It is also scarcely a secret: preemption was the chief theoretical reason the Bush Administration gave for pursuing the Iraq War. However, the Administration did not trouble to keep this theory before the public.

Emphasizing preemption would have been difficult for the Administration, since the logic of the theory makes Saudi Arabia the real target. That may not be what the Administration intends. Nonetheless, the authors make a good case that something even beyond regime change is necessary in the Arabian peninsula: the elimination of the Saudi state. The authors repeat certain embarrassing facts. Saudi-funded religious schools have radicalized a generation of young Muslims, from the Gulf to Indonesia to American prisons, with an ideology of jihad and a worldwide caliphate. Saudi money supports front groups in Western countries that deflect the authorities from investigating the terrorist connections of many mosques and academics. Saudi money has corrupted an appreciable fraction of the diplomatic corps in the United States, where the easy transformation from career diplomat to splendidly compensated lobbyist for Saudi causes is a scandal that dwarfs private-sector influence buying. And let us not forget: the suicide bombers on 911 were mostly Saudis.

The Saudi monarchy is not particularly malicious. It is dangerous because it is weak. The monarchy can maintain itself only by buying off radical Islamists, who then use the money for purposes that are very malicious indeed. The Saudi state is so grossly corrupt and incompetent that its survival is problematic at best. While the authors do not exclude the possibility that the monarchy might be reformed, they say that US should be focusing on the fact that the kingdom's Eastern Province, where most of the oil is located, is also largely Shiite and notably restive. Presently, the authors imply, the opportunity may come to redraw the map.

Breaking up Saudi Arabia is the single most dramatic suggestion in the book. Regime change should also be the goal in Iran, they say, but that can be accomplished by economic pressure, the support of dissidents, and the promotion of Western media. The one thing to avoid is to treat the Islamic Republic as a democracy, or even as legitimate. Regarding the other great intractable, North Korea, the authors note that there are no attractive options, but insist that some are better than others. We should disabuse ourselves of the idea that North Korea can be trusted to negotiate away its nuclear weapons. The US should take steps to make a war on the Korean peninsula less catastrophic, by redeploying its own troops and installing artillery suppression and antimissile systems. The key to Korea, however, is China, which can close down the North Korean regime almost at will. At least in the middle term, the US goal should be a North Korea that is more subservient to China.

“An End to Evil” sometimes waxes surprisingly irenic. Although Pakistan is in some ways even more frightening than Baathist Iraq was, the authors are inclined to attribute the radicalization of the Pakistani public square to Saudi subventions. The Pakistani government was unable to fund a comprehensive public-education system, so the Saudis stepped in with what in effect were missionary centers for Wahhabism. Moreover, the Saudis provided about three quarters of the funds for the Pakistani atomic bomb. There is no hope in the immediate future of persuading Pakistan to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The same is true of India. It is, however, possible to make the situation much less dangerous by rescuing the Pakistani state and economy. Normalizing economic relations between India and Pakistan can do that. The policy can be promoted by three-sided agreements with the US: India and Pakistan get to trade with America, if they agree to trade with each other. Again, the predicate for such a policy is cutting off the flow of poison money from the Arabian peninsula.

After the tools of War and Trade comes the Calculated Slight. Russia, for instance, should lose its courtesy seat in the Group of Eight if it continues to act as it did in the buildup to the Iraq War. France should be shut out of military and intelligence structures in which the US has a decisive say. More generally, the US should contemplate the possibility that increased European integration might not be in America's interest. Certainly it is not in US interests for Great Britain, with its deployable military forces, to become inextricably bound up with a confederacy dedicated to “counterbalancing” the US. This is not to say that the US should promote the dissolution of the EU, much less of NATO. The US should encourage as many new members as possible to join both organizations. The newbies can be counted on to be friendly to the US, and will soon put the French in their place.

The authors know that all these other steps will work only if the US wins the war of ideas. Richard Perle (like Caesar, he is often referred to in his own book in the third person) relates his experiences on talkshows and radio forums that suggest the US is doing a dismal job at this. There should be an all-media infrastructure by now that broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi, like that which served Eastern Europe during the Cold War. (The book does not have a clue about networks, incidentally: the authors regard the Internet as just another kind of cable television.) The US should turn away from supporting stability to supporting democracy in the Islamic world. A large part of this strategy would be the improvement of the position of women, both educationally and economically. All in all, the US should not be shy about creating a Middle East that looks like America:

“We do not show our respect for human difference by shrugging indifferently when people somehow different from ourselves are brutalized in body and spirit. If a foreign people lack liberty, it is not because of some misguided act of cultural choice. It is because they have been seized and oppressed and tyrannized. To say that we are engaged in 'imposing American values' when we liberate people is to imply that there are peoples on this earth who value their own subjugation.”

This is more right than wrong, but the authors are blind to the fact that some of the supposedly universal values being promoted by international bodies these days are quite as intolerant and oppressive as anything the Wahhabis endorse. Particularly in the area of women's rights, institutions that were originally created to ensure the civil equality of women and to promote women's health have been taken over, in large part, by ideologues. Their chief interests are population control and the normalization of homosexuality. Humanitarian organizations founded to promote the well-being of children are now often more interested in ensuring that fewer children come into existence.

The authors applaud the fact that, soon after 911, the president rejected a proposal that he issue an apology for aspects of American culture, along the lines of “America is not always proud of its media.” That was a wise move: the last thing the US needed after attack by an ambitious and self-confident enemy was more introspection. Be that as it may, if the West wants to export its political culture to the Middle East, the West must recognize that there are aspects of Western modernity that really are repulsive. Not only would-be suicide bombers think that much Western popular culture is sadistic and leering, and that much Western high culture is not neutrally secular, but willfully blasphemous. A war of ideas that overlooks these issues could be lost.

The authors do recognize one truth uncongenial to the liberal West: the essential irrelevance of the Palestinian issue to the War on Terror. The US might receive some plaudits, even from Islamists, if it actually dismantled Israel and evacuated its people from the region. In reality, though, any Palestinian state that is likely to emerge in the Middle East would be an embarrassment: over-policed, corruptly governed, with a political culture based on evasive grievances. As far as the War on Terror is concerned, the US would achieve nothing by pressuring Israel to acquiesce in the establishment of such a state.

A democratic Palestinian state with a liberal economy would be a good idea: both for its own sake, and as a demonstration project for the rest of the region. However, the authors believe that the best place for such a demonstration is Iraq. If that works, then maybe Palestinian civil society will be emboldened to demand better governance.

The authors recommend some very specific steps at home to support the war. They have pretty much given up in the CIA: it should be stripped of all functions but collecting and analyzing intelligence. Similarly, the FBI should go back to crime fighting, while domestic security is put in the hands of a new agency. The authors seem to have trouble taking on board the fact that all persons located in the United States, even those here illegally, must have some rights under the Constitution; that's what “jurisdiction” means.

The book seems to take special delight in redesigning the State Department. All those pesky regional bureaus must go, for a start. To add outrage to injury, the authors recommend more political appointments, especially at the policymaking level. Foreign Service officers are patriotic public servants, the authors concede. However, unlike the patriotic public servants in the military, they have no compunctions about sabotaging policies that are not to their liking.

Quite aside from the motives of the Islamists, the authors detect a deeper explanation for why the US was attacked on 911.

“The 1990s were a decade of illusions in foreign policy. On September 11, 2001, this age of illusion ended. The United States asked its friends and allies to join in the fight against terror – and discovered that after the first emotional expressions of sympathy for the victims, those friends and allies were prepared to do little. September 11 revealed what Americans had been concealing from themselves for far too long: The end of the cold war and the emergence of the United States as the world's superpower had not put an end to the rivalries and animosities of nations. It had simply misdirected them – often against the United States.”

At the end of the book, the authors make many criticisms of the UN. Most important is the accusation that it is anachronistic. The UN was designed to prevent a Blitzkrieg. Today, however, the UN's concepts of aggression and defense actually prevent rational action against international terrorism and its state sponsors. Maybe the definitions of the UN system could be expanded to accommodate the new reality. If not, however, the authors are quite willing to dispense with the system, even if many well-meaning people do regard the United Nations as the parliament of man.

This is not enough. No doubt the UN is due to be scrapped. However, the authors leave nothing to replace it, except for the unfettered discretion of the United States. That's not even an American Empire, which the authors agree would be a bad idea in any case. The authors are probably right that that War on Terror can be won at reasonable cost and in a reasonable amount of time. But what happens then? They may create a vacuum and call it peace. That would not be the end to evil, however. Evil is the absence of good. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum, Richard Perle

The Long View: Imperial Hubris

Imperial President

Imperial President

My favorite paragraph from this review:

The Bush Administration has rejected withdrawal. It has also declined the option of butcher-and-bolt. Anonymous says we will rue these decisions, and maybe he is right. Be that as it may, the policy the U.S. has actually adopted is sometimes called “draining the swamp,” meaning that the United States does not seek to destroy the Muslim world, or to ignore it, but to transform it. This is really just a concrete application of the Clinton Administration's doctrine called “Democratic Enlargement.” Under whatever name, what we are dealing with here is Wilsonianism; it is difficult to imagine any successor to the Bush Administration that would really reject it.

John correctly foresaw that the successor to George W. Bush would be incapable of really doing anything different regarding foreign policy in the Middle East and Islamist terror. This is because to do so would require rejecting the bi-partisan consensus in the American ruling class about how things are done.

Now that we have the successor to the successor, I haven't got any clue what he might do. The Trump administration very much rejects the conventional wisdom here, but that is a pure negation. I haven't tried to discern what they might try to do.

Hopefully, they won't listen to Michael F. Scheuer, who gives me a really odd impression. After reading this review, I looked his Wikipedia article, and then his website, Scheuer strikes me as a nut. In 2004, I could see making the argument that allowing Islamists to take power in the Middle East might be better than the dictators we had been supporting.

We tried that, albeit in a way that attempted to make the Middle East more democratic, and we got chaos and war. And Lo, in 2017 Scheuer is still making the same arguments he made in 2004 without reference to intervening events. No thanks.


Imperial Hubris


Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
By Anonymous (Michael F. Scheuer)
Brassey's, Inc., 2004
307 Pages, $27.50
ISBN 1-57488-849-8

A Review
By
John J. Reilly

 

What do we mean by hubris?

In this book, and apparently also in the author's previous one, “Through Our Enemies' Eyes” (2001), we are told that it means the tendency of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Americanize the data,” so that anything alien about alien societies is disregarded, combined with the assumption that the U.S. is so powerful that it must also be invulnerable. The anonymous author is Michael F. Scheuer, a CIA analyst specializing in South Asia and Afghanistan. (I should mention that he made his identity public in a letter to the 911 Commission.) If he says this is how American intelligence works, there is little in its history to contradict him. Having read Anonymous's latest delightful rant, however, I cannot shake the conviction that what he really means by “hubris” is that the American government dared to reject his advice:

“And the thing that these American experts on Afghanistan knew best and above all others was that there was no possibility of installing a broad-based, Western-style, democratic, power-sharing central government in Kabul.”

Nothing, in this world or the next, is more certain to Anonymous than that the ministers of the American-backed government must someday choose between escape by helicopter or impalement on meat hooks in the streets of Kabul. In the author's estimation, this is very bad news, because it is hard to exaggerate the importance of Afghanistan to the worldwide Muslim insurgency that has arisen against the West. We are told that Osama bin Laden regards Afghanistan as the only true Muslim state, and the model for a revitalized Islamic civilization. He will not rest until that country is once again secure under Mullah Omar, though of course that is only a part of the larger program that bin Laden has been pursuing since at least the early 1990s.

And what exactly does Osama bin Laden want? Anonymous tells us more than once:

“These attacks [of 911] are meant to advance bin Laden's clear, focused, limited, and widely popular foreign policy goals: the end of U.S. aide to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state; the removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian Peninsula; the removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands; the end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India; the end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera, and the conservation of the Muslim world's energy resources and their sale at higher prices.”

“Clear, focused, limited”? Those are not the first adjectives that even analysts who generally agree with Anonymous might have chosen to describe the Islamist agenda, but he uses these terms to combat two alleged misapprehensions that are common at both the popular and the policymaking levels.

The first is that al Qaeda represents the mere impulsive backlash of a failed civilization. He is willing to concede the thesis, propounded by such stout fellows as Bernard Lewis, that, in some sense, Islamic civilization has failed. He insists correctly, however, that this in no way implies anything irrational about bin Laden or his goals.

The second misapprehension is more debatable, which is that al Qaeda's aims are “apocalyptic.” Anonymous says they aren't, and if by that he means that the Islamists are not seeking indiscriminate destruction, he has a point. On the other hand, as he also notes, al Qaeda does not expect to be able to defeat the West itself, but rather to spark a pan-Islamic revival under Allah's guidance. Historical goals of that scale are eschatological, in the sense of relating to the structure and goal of history. That would be true even in an ideological context that attempted to be rigorously secular. Islamism, of course, is self-consciously anti-secular. It seems likely to me, at least, that the Islamist agenda is informed by Islamic eschatology, orthodox and otherwise.

Readers will note that the list of al Qaeda's grievances seems a bit self-generating. The U.S. is in Afghanistan, for instance, because of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11. (That's also true of Iraq: irrespective of the Baathist regime's role in 911, there was no way a comprehensive response could have been made without resolving the Iraq question, though Anonymous will have none of this line of argument.) We find the same damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don't quality in Anonymous's extended list of things that the U.S. does to annoy Muslims. For instance, we are told:

“America has declared that waging jihad against Islam's attackers is a criminal act and seized and incarcerated—often without trial—hundreds of suspected mujaheddin around the world. For a Muslim to refrain from joining a defensive jihad to protect Islam means disobeying God's law and earning damnation.”

This is a head-scratcher. Apparently, arresting an aspirant martyr as he tries to smuggle explosives over the Canadian border is not just a disappointment, but a grievance. In fact, it's a legitimate grievance, since Anonymous accepts the characterization of al Qaeda's project as a “defensive jihad.” When Osama bin Laden says that Muslim lands are under assault all over the world at the behest of the U.S., he is describing reality. That is why the United States was struck on 911.

Other observers may find bin Laden's list of “attacks” against Islam to be, at best, unevenly persuasive. It includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic on which differences of opinion sometimes occur, but at least Anonymous is clear that no solution that includes the existence of Israel would be acceptable to al Qaeda or other Islamist groups. It includes the independence of East Timor, which I had thought of as a Catholic country that Islamic Indonesia had tried and failed to assimilate, but I can see how other people might think differently. As far as I am concerned, however, there is only one sane opinion about this complaint from bin Laden:

“What documents incriminated the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina and warranted the Western Crusaders, with the United States at their head, to unleash the Serb ally to annihilate and displace the Muslim people of the region under U.N. cover?”

Perhaps an isolated villager in the Hindu Kush could be forgiven for believing that the United States tried to use Serbia to de-Islamize all or part of the Balkans. However, as Anonymous never ceases to remind us, Osama bin Laden is a well-informed man, with a sophisticated understanding of the world. In the case of this grievance, at least, we are not dealing with a culturally different perception. We are dealing with what Joseph Goebbels used to call “The Big Lie.”

Does that mean that bin Laden has no gravamen against the U.S.? By no means: until the recent Iraq War, American policy the since end of the Second World War has been to preserve the regimes of the Middle East. This was done chiefly with an eye to maintaining the oil supply, and the effect was indeed to prop up regimes that were, in varying degrees, corrupt and tyrannical, though whether any of them was ever entirely apostate is a matter of opinion. What the Islamists want the U.S. to do is stop propping up those regimes. Then, the Islamists can establish regimes more to their liking. In due course, they will re-establish the caliphate.

There is a term for this sort of project. It is not “jihad”; it is “civil war.” Moved by some mixture of piety and adventure, Osama bin Laden is trying to overthrow the government of his homeland and those of the neighboring states. Anonymous recognizes that the attack on the United States was only incidental to this endeavor. Indeed, he praises bin Laden for the strategic brilliance of this strategy. Feeble though they are, the states of the Middle East are still too substantial for groups like al Qaeda to conquer, at least as long as those states are supported by the West. By making the United States the unique enemy, al Qaeda accomplishes two things. First, it gains credit in Muslim countries for defending Islam, while avoiding the opprobrium that might result from waging jihad locally. Second, by signaling to Europe that its quarrel is only with the United States, it makes it more likely that the U.S. will receive no substantial assistance in waging an increasingly burdensome string of small wars. Eventually, when the U.S. goes away, the region will fall into the lap of bin Laden or his successors.

Anonymous is correct that this strategy is not irrational, but that does not mean it will or could work. Al Qaeda's “policies” confuse overturning the existing state of things with achieving power. Where Islamism flourishes, it turns civilization to rubble. Still, even if the enterprise of the caliphate is doomed to miscarry, that does not mean that the United States will not be subject to devastating attacks meant to drive the West out of the Middle East. How, then, goes the war to date, and what strategy should the U.S. follow?

Regarding the war so far, Anonymous says that the American position is steadily deteriorating, outside of a corridor that runs from Amman to Islamabad. Indeed, in the author's estimation, pretty much anything that the United States does in response to the jihad counts as a loss: “Steps we take to protect ourselves and save the lives of others—immigration and precision bombing—are seen by our Muslim foes as evidence of racism, hypocrisy, and a lack of courage to save U.S. lives. The measures we take in self-defense or to protect others unfailingly empower our Muslim enemies to hate us all the more, and to attack us with greater impunity.”

This assessment is of a piece with his relentlessly positive account of the prowess of Islamist organizations and personalities. He compares al Qaeda to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia: high praise from a history-minded American. He finds in both the same qualities of determination, resilience, and ingenuity. Indeed, not only does he see the spirit of the Old Cause among the Islamists; he even catches a glimpse of Robert E. Lee: “Viewed from any angle, Osama bin Laden is a great man, one who smashed the expected unfolding of universal post-Cold War peace.” Bin Laden is compared to an “Errol Flynn” character, or to Robin Hood, because of the way that bin Laden's persona fits the Arab archetype of the pious bandit.

How did Anonymous formulate these conclusions? In large part by reading what Islamic groups have to say about themselves on the Internet, notably in such cyber journals as Al Ansar. It is, of course, valuable to know what one's opponents say about themselves, and even to know what they want you to think about them. Nonetheless, this material is presented in this book in a way that often does not distinguish Anonymous's sober assessment of the Islamist threat from the Islamists' own spin-doctoring, wishful thinking, and general mendacity.

As for what the U.S. can do, there are just two options. First, we can elect to pursue the war in the way we have begun, without changing our attitude toward the Muslim world. In that case: “A policy of status quo, in essence, leaves America no choice but a war of annihilation.” The other option, which Anonymous endorses, is that we give al Qaeda what it wants. Maybe that is why these books were written on Anonymous's own time, since there is a statutory prohibition (Title 50 United States Code Section 407) against spending federal money to figure out how the United States could surrender.

Let us first take a look at how to conduct what the Germans call a Vernichtungskrieg.

Anonymous seems to have no patience at all with “the revolution in military affairs,” or at least with the tactics that have developed to take advantage of the new technology: “[W]hat has the U.S. military produced since 1990? Victories that are asserted, subjective, arguable, and unrecognized by the enemy—none of which had even a second-rate military—as anything more than the loss of one round in a multi-round war.” Oddly for a man who cites Clausewitz, Anonymous seems to think that the only real war is a “pure war,” one that aims solely at destroying the enemy, without regard to political considerations, or even to one's own casualties.

Given the state of things on September 11, 2001, there was no choice but for the United States to strike at al Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan. In fact, Anonymous insists that the only measure that might have mitigated the disaster of the attacks was a same-day decapitation strike, aimed at everyone and everything in Afghanistan that even might have been connected to al Qaeda. If I understand him correctly, massive numbers of U.S. troops should have been introduced immediately. Rather than try to work with local allies, the U.S. should have sealed the borders and hunted down the enemy leadership. Then the U.S. should have left, leaving behind admonitory piles of corpses.

The British had a name for this strategy: “butcher and bolt.” Anonymous, predictably, is an admirer of Kipling, so I wonder that he does not use the term.

Even worse than America's social-worker military leadership, we are told, is the international community. Among the bad habits America will have to break is the impulse to immediately seek partners and coalitions whenever anything goes wrong. After 911, that meant delay in proceeding against Afghanistan, which he believes lost the United States its only chance to win the war. He dismisses the idea of “sharing the burden” with the U.N. or N.A.T.O.: “The lesson is not only that others will not do our dirty work, but that others will stop us from doing our dirty work as completely as possible.”

In some ways, the most interesting part of the book is the author's critique of “the intelligence community.” This is particularly so now, when a proposal to consolidate all the intelligence services under a Grand Spook is all the rage in Washington. Anonymous says that “intelligence community cooperation” is an ideology; like any other form of political correctness, it gums up the works when put into operation. The FBI is particularly clueless at handling national-security information, and its expansion overseas is a waste of money. More generally, he can barely maintain his composure about the disregard by the intelligence chiefs for any information that is not secret. The sort of information that warned against 911 was in the public domain, or in the academy. An intelligent newspaper-reader would have been better informed about the Islamist threat than someone who depended on the high-level intelligence assessments.

As for “counterterrorism,” Anonymous says that it was invented in the mid-1970s precisely to avoid the necessity of attacking terrorist states: “As practiced by the U.S., counterterrorism is appeasement.” He finds the whole “counterterrorism community” to be “bloated, risk-averse, and lawyer-palsied.” It would be better to scrap the whole thing.

And speaking of appeasement, we come to the surrender option.

There is no way to end the jihad immediately. Perhaps, after the next massive attack on the homeland, we can get started on the butcher-and-bolt raids. However, if we do not want to continue that strategy for the foreseeable future, Anonymous advises, we can make some long-term policy changes.

The simplest is the abandonment of Israel. One may quarrel with how much more favor that would curry for the U.S. in Muslim lands, or even whether Osama bin Laden himself really cares much about it, but it's on every Islamist's wish list.

Then there is the achievement of oil independence from the Arabian Peninsula, and a complete Western withdrawal from the area. Regarding oil independence, that sounds like an obvious good, but the matter is more problematical. The fact is that the world has a petroleum economy, not because of American machinations, but because petroleum was an economically optimum fuel source, at least until recently. Also, no matter what the posters to Al Ansar may say, it just isn't true that petroleum suppliers are being undercompensated: you can ask the Russians. As for the successor states after an American withdrawal from the Middle East, Anonymous is almost surely wrong to claim that an al-Qaeda regime in Saudi Arabia, or even a new caliphate, would be no more hostile to the United States than the current governments are. Again, as I have remarked, a caliphate is not likely to materialize. Still, even the bare possibility is not something any sane Western government would encourage; neither is the regional chaos that is far more probable.

The Bush Administration has rejected withdrawal. It has also declined the option of butcher-and-bolt. Anonymous says we will rue these decisions, and maybe he is right. Be that as it may, the policy the U.S. has actually adopted is sometimes called “draining the swamp,” meaning that the United States does not seek to destroy the Muslim world, or to ignore it, but to transform it. This is really just a concrete application of the Clinton Administration's doctrine called “Democratic Enlargement.” Under whatever name, what we are dealing with here is Wilsonianism; it is difficult to imagine any successor to the Bush Administration that would really reject it.

Anonymous likes this not at all. He quotes Patrick J. Buchanan about the cause of 911: “They are over here because we are over there.” Anonymous quotes John Quincy Adams's famous statement in 1821, when he was Secretary of State: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” As with Washington's Farewell Address (which seems to be Patrick Buchanan's favorite thing ever said by an American president who was not actually Ronald Reagan), this was sound advice when it was given. The U.S. could have done little in the second decade of the 19th century to aid the cause of democracy in the world. Even today, the United States would not be justified in pursuing democratic regime change abroad, even in hostile countries, simply because Americans believe that liberal democracy is the best form of government.

The fact is, though, that the Bush Administration's policy of transforming the Middle East is not based on mere friskiness. Kant was onto something: liberal republics really are much less likely to threaten each other than are other sorts of regimes. To this, of course, one could argue that democracy is a rare, fragile flower. Anonymous repeats the familiar argument that democracy is not transferable, because it was created by a peculiar history. That's true, but it's true of a lot of other things that turned out to be universally exportable, from mechanical engineering to double-entry bookkeeping. For that matter, electoral democracy was in fact successfully exported to India and much of East Asia, regions whose hierarchical civilizations might be thought less amenable to it than is Islam, with its traditions of egalitarianism and consensus. The United States is, I think, obligated to attempt democratization first, before we start talking about surrender or Annihilation War.

And finally, there is this: John Quincy Adams could be sanguine about the monsters abroad, because none ranged globally, and there were many regional champions around the world to handle the local ones. Neither is true today. The dragons can fly around the world in a day for the cost of a passenger fare, and all the local champions retired during the 20th century. It is not hubris to recognize that the United States is uniquely vulnerable because it is uniquely responsible.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-03-12: Winds of Black Death

This post from twelve years ago reminds us that horrible things continue to happen.

Requiescat in pace.


Winds of Black Death

 

Debate continues about who committed yesterday's commuter-train massacre in Madrid. The most dramatic "evidence" so far is this claim:

An email to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper said the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri was responsible for the worst terrorist attack on a European city since the second world war...

"The death squad (of the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades) succeeded in penetrating the crusader European depths and striking one of the pillars of the crusader alliance - Spain - with a painful blow," the email said.

Some physical evidence found in a van near the point of departure for the trains also indicates an Islamic connection. Although the explosives used, and the choice of a train as a target, point to Basque separatists as the culprits, the simultaneity of the attacks and the scale of the carnage are the marks of Al Qaeda. The Basque ETA does targeted assassinations; the Islamofascists stage spectacles.

The ETA and Al Qaeda hypotheses are not necessarily exclusive, as we see from this report in October of 2001:

The Basque terrorist organization ETA and bin Laden's al-Qaeda cells have joined forces. Their shared goal: to organize and carry out an attack on the EU meeting scheduled for March 2002 in Barcelona, according to two Spanish publications, Tiempo and El Mundo.

If such a link was really made, it has not been conspicuous during the Spanish government's largely successful anti-terrorist campaign against the ETA. In any case, the main piece of evidence about yesterday's bombing comes from an unreliable source. The Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades have a history of taking credit for things they clearly didn't do, such as last year's blackout in the northeastern United States. Also, the email to the London newspaper was melodramatically apt to a degree that makes it less credible:

"We bring the good news to Muslims of the world that the expected 'Winds of Black Death' strike against America is now in its final stage...90 percent (ready) and God willing near."

That sounds like an allusion to a radiological bomb. Such an attack is perfectly plausible, but I know of no particular reason why Abu Hafs would have anything to do with it. The Madrid bombing could have been done by an Al Qaeda affiliate that has yet to be publicly named.

* * *

The Times of India tried to place the incident in the context of the wider Terror War:

As four powerful bombs [actually 10 bombs on four trains] bloodied the Spanish capital Madrid killing 173, in Europe’s deadliest act of terror after the Lockerbie bombings, major European capitals have begun to wonder if 3/11 - the 11th day of the third month is meant to be the Old World’s 9/11?

The [ETA's] denial of responsibility, said ETA expert Professor Paul Heywood, was unusual. ETA has nearly always claimed responsibility in 35 years of attacks, which claimed 800 lives altogether. If ETA were proved to have pulled off the Madrid spectacular, it would be assured undreamt-of publicity.

The Basque blame for "Arabs" blew a chill wind threw European chancelleries. But, some leading British security analysts said there was a risk of terrorist groups using al-Qaeda and Islamist resistance as a fig leaf for their actions.

Whoever planted the bombs was obviously trying to influence the upcoming Spanish elections. The conventional wisdom is that, if the public believes the ETA was responsible, then the current center-right Popular Party will be favored. On the other hand:

If, however, some indications al Qaeda could have been behind the attacks gain credence, many Spaniards might point a finger at the PP for stirring Muslim wrath by backing Washington and London in Iraq.

I suppose that's possible. On the other hand, I have trouble imagining how an electorate could react to this perceived retaliation by immediately surrendering to those whom they believe to be the perpetrators. You can follow local reaction on Iberia Notes.

* * *

President Bush should be visibly focusing on the Madrid attacks. He is supposed to be conducting a world war. A special meeting of the leaders of the NATO countries might be in order; a meeting of the G8 would be even better. By the same token, his campaign should not be the least shy about invoking 911. As David Broder noted in yesterday's Washington Post, the precedents favor him:

But is it, as supporters of John Kerry and other critics suggest, wrong for Republicans to convert the emotions of [911] into grist for a political campaign?

To answer that question, I went back, with help from Washington Post researcher Brian Faler, to 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, almost three years after Pearl Harbor, was running for reelection. What you learn from such an exercise is that Bush is a piker compared with FDR when it comes to wrapping himself in the mantle of commander in chief....

Item: Roosevelt delivered his acceptance speech to the convention by radio from where? From the San Diego Naval Station, because, he said, "The war waits for no elections. Decisions must be made, plans must be laid, strategy must be carried out."

There is something deeply perverse about the Democrats' attempt to put 911 off limits as a national symbol. The Republicans don't own it, but then neither do the families of the 911 victims.

* * *

It's still chilly here in New Jersey, but daffodils are beginning to spring quickly out of the soil. Maybe too quickly:

Plants need carbon dioxide in the way that animals need oxygen - but the 30% extra carbon dioxide in the last 200 years has begun to accelerate growth and change the composition of the world's biggest rainforest, according to a study published today in Nature.

The acceleration is quite dramatic in plants that grow fast naturally: up to 50%. I have not heard similar reports from the temperate zones, but that may be just a matter of time.

Of course, it's just the party line that CO2 is to blame, or that the effect is confined to plants. Those of you with kittens, puppies, and small children should keep an eye on them.  

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly 

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The Long View 2004-03-02: Reforms; Diversity; Red-Brown-Green

John has a tongue-in-cheek suggestion here that perennial basket-case countries like Haiti might be better served by a form of government like the city manager model of medium-sized American municipalities. 

I think he is on to something. There is an unfortunate belief in the US that majoritarian democracy is identical to liberalism and human rights. The Arab Spring should have made it abundantly clear that it isn't, in most of the world.

The city [country] manager allows you to keep the polite fiction of a mayor [head of state] and a city council [legislature] that decides policy, while the city manager is a city employee who just runs the bureaucracy. In reality, the city manager tends to be the sober adult in the room while the elected officials bloviate and grandstand.

My own city has a city manager, and I am rather fond of this model of government for American cities at least. I doubt it would actually work in Haiti, or any of the other shitholes of the world, but it probably couldn't fail any worse.


Reforms; Diversity; Red-Brown-Green

There is no way for me to tell whether Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide left his capital wistfully but voluntarily when he understood the US would not protect him, or whether he was tied up in a gunny sack and carried bodily to a waiting plane by unsympathetic Marines. I incline to the former view; the fact that he did not make a departing statement suggests that he simply did not want to make a public acknowledgment of defeat. He appears to hope to make yet another comeback in the future.

Might I suggest that the problem with places like Haiti is that the stakes in politics are too high, while the potential rewards are too small? You have to become absolute dictator just to make sure that people don't break into your backyard and steal your bicycle. Obviously, people in such places should rule themselves, but need the price of self-governance for small, fractured societies be a politics of life or death?

There is a solution to this dilemma. The medieval Italian republics were often ruled by foreign magistrates. The local senates, seeing that their factions could never agree on a single chief executive, would hire some learned and experienced person from out-of-town to govern the city. The magistrate got the respect and the authority that his position required, but he was not a head-of-state. He was scarcely even a head-of-government. He was just a respected expert who ran the bureaucracy.

We have this today, of course, in the institution of the city manager. In the city-manager form of government, there may be a nominal mayor, but the city is actually run by an administrator, who is hired by the city council. Any form of government is subject to abuse, but city managers are part of a profession, with recognized standards and qualifications. You can tell a good manager from a bad one objectively. For middle-sized municipalities, the city-manager structure may be the best form of government.

Surely something similar could be arranged for Haiti. Let there be an elected parliament, but let its functions be limited to choosing a foreign manager and approving the budget he prepares. Politics would cease to be interesting to ambitious people. If the experiment works, then other small countries might adopt it, and an international profession might spring up.

* * *

For you enthusiasts for spelling reform (and I know you are out there) here are two recent links on the subject. The first is a disrespectful account of the spelling reform bill that actually passed the British parliament in the middle of the 20th century. Had a reform started then, we would now be enjoying the benefits of higher literacy rates and more substantive education. (It takes about a year for a child to learn to read a typical European language; English takes about three.) The problem is that the proponent of the bill favored a proposal that would have scrapped English spelling rather than regularizing it. The legislative effort was therefore sidetracked into phonics education.

The other item is yet another version of The Chaos, the famous poem that illustrates The Problem.

* * *

Unlike some people, I am relatively sanguine about affirmative action. For the most part, it's really just a patronage racket. It will go away when the political system figures out a way to buy off the affirmative action industry. (Could it be set to promoting spelling reform? Now there's an idea.) However, some versions of affirmative action are nastier than others. Lebanon, for instance, has found that its intractable communal tensions had to be accommodated when the country recently reintroduced capital punishment:

The differences were underscored by the three men executed. Under pressure to punish a Shiite Muslim accused of killing eight people, all but one of whom were Christians, the government of President Emile Lahoud also chose to execute one convict from each of the nation's two other main creeds, a Christian and a Sunni Muslim.

Now that's diversity with teeth.

* * *

Regular readers of my website will know about my continuing interest in the links between Islamism, Neo-Nazism, and the occult. However, my study of these things is largely confined to theory. Now comes William Grim, with some provocative examples of Al-Qaeda's Neo-Nazi Connections.

Some of these assertions are less than compelling. Neo-Nazi leaders may well write supportive fan mail to Islamists, but what of it? It is plausible that Timothy McVeigh had Neo-Nazi encouragement and even material support in blowing up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, but the alleged Islamist components are much more hypothetical. Nonetheless, there are deep historical connections between Islamism and Fascism, and this association is expanding to include elements of Left-Anarchism. I don't find this prospect altogether unimaginable:

The next 9/11-style terrorist attack may not be attempted by a keffiya-wearing Arab terrorist spouting quotations from the Koran, but by an IRA terrorist whose services were purchased by a left-wing European intellectual attending a Middle Eastern Studies caucus of some leftist academic group during an annual conference in Omaha or Chicago or San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the ever-perspicacious Belmont Club had this to say on February 25 about CIA Director George Tenet's recent congressional testimony, which described the threat arising from the collapse of much of the world into barbarism:

It was in many ways a rabble waiting for a leader. In the two generations since the end of the Second World War more than a billion people were abandoned to anarchies and tyrannies euphemistically called "developing nations". Most of them, little more than a stamp and a seat at the United Nations, have already ceased to function -- the 50 "stateless zones" of Tenet's speech. If left to the leadership of men like Osama Bin Laden, these steerless multitudes can snuff out the living nations, as growing entropy blots out a system. The logical response would be to seize control of the movement ourselves, to raise the disaffected masses against their own tyrants. It is a step President Bush has vowed to take but it is so audacious and regarded so cynically by the left that it would be a wonder if the world actually took the only path that can save it.

Finally, cranky old Spengler has this to say about seventy years ago, towards the end of The Hour of Decision:

But the greatest danger has not yet been even named. What if, one day, class war and race war joined forces to make an end of the white world? This lies in the nature of things, and neither of the two Revolutions will disdain the aid of the other simply because it despises its supporters. A common hate extinguishes mutual contempt. And what if some white adventurer - and there have been many such - whose wild soul cannot breathe in the hothouse of civilization and seeks to satiate its love of danger in fantastic colonial ventures, among pirates, in the Foreign Legion - should suddenly see this grand goal staring him in the face? It is through such natures that history springs her great surprises. The loathing of deep and strong men for our conditions and the hatred of profoundly disillusioned men might well grow into a revolt that meant to annihilate. This was not unknown in Caesar's time.

Sometimes I get this falling-elevator feeling. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: An End to Evil

This is Exhibit A in the story of what went wrong during George W. Bush's response to 9/11. In retrospect, I see both how it seemed emotionally appealing, and how not everything Frum and Perle advocated is stupid. It is just the whole package that is stupid, but you need to know a lot to really get there.

Hindsight is 20/20, although in theory this is what experts are supposed to do: give us advice when we need it most and want it least. Frum and Perle clearly failed by that standard. For example, here is the definition of the problem of terrorism from this book:

For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.

No. No, it isn't. There is no possible way al-Qaeda then, or ISIS now, could possibly destroy America or the West. Their objective strength is 10,000 times less than the last mortal adversary the United States faced, the USSR. Bad things will happen, and have happened, but the time and money we have spent on this is vastly disproportionate to the problem.

Thanks, Frum and Perle.

I don't have any idea how to truly 'fix' the problem, by which I mean eliminate the ability of terrorists to do things like fly planes into the World Trade Center or shoot and bomb people in Paris on a November evening. But I do know that the usual way of putting it is exactly backwards: it doesn't matter how many of us they kill, our civilization cannot be killed by the likes of them.

9/11 was almost a decade in the works. The actual field strength of ISIS is less than 30,000 men. That isn't what a life or death struggle looks like. Almost 50,000 men died in the battle of Gettysburg alone. No one is all in here. Get a grip.


An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum and Richard Perle
Random House, 2003
284 Pages, US$29.95
ISBN 1-4000-6194-6

 

“But what did Mrs. Karswell say?”

“She was so excited I scarcely understood her. She kept repeating, 'All evil must end.' But how could it?”

---Curse of the Demon (1957)

 

By its own account, this book is a “manual for victory” in the War on Terror. It's probably just as well that the book delivers somewhat less than its title promises. Nonetheless, the strategy it does set out is more hopeful than George Kennan's “containment” policy must have seemed at the beginning of the Cold War. Certainly it is more proactive.

The authors are David Frum, who was George W. Bush's presidential assistant, and Richard Perle, who recently was chairman of the Defense Policy Board in the Department of Defense. (He is also remembered in policy circles as the “Prince of Darkness” because of his hard anti-Soviet line during the Reagan Administration, but that is another story.) Both authors are Resident Fellows at the American Enterprise Institute. They would be members of the Neoconservative Politburo, if the neoconservatives had a politburo, which the authors insist they don't. They assure us that the cabal you keep hearing about is really just four independent analysts who hardly anyone at the State or Defense Departments ever talks to.

In terms of literary form, “An End to Evil” falls under the category of “memorandum.” Much of the text employs the special White House mood that might be called the Presidential Declarative. It's quite without index or bibliography; the rare footnotes are chiefly to websites and a few magazines. For that matter, the lines of text are widely spaced, to make them easily readable by people too busy to read an ordinary book format. The effect is not like an ordinary political polemic. It's like being briefed.

But enough form criticism. The memorandum defines The Problem thus:

“For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win – to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.”

The problem within the Problem is that, sometime in the Spring of 2002, the elites of the West began to tire of the War on Terror. This includes the US State Department, which the authors sometimes seem to suggest is just marginally less of a menace to American security than is Al Qaeda. Certainly the foreign-affairs establishment opposed the war in Iraq, by means overt and covert.

The authors defend that war in detail. They note that, despite the lack of stocks of weapons of mass destruction, the Baathist regime had numerous weapons programs, and that the mere existence of the regime was an ongoing human-rights violation. The authors' main point, however, is that pursuing the War on Terror requires a strategy broader than the pursuit of the actual perpetrators of terror.

The reasons for the jihad against the West are largely autochthonous, though it is funded with oil dollars and facilitated by Finnish cellphones. The authors ascribe the root cause to the conceptual inability of Muslim societies to cope with their relative decline in the world, aggravated by the season of fantasy made possible by the sudden infusion of oil money. A terse characterization of the current situation (though not one that the authors give) is that the jihad is an Islamic civil war being fought in part on Western soil.

The strategy of the terrorists is not at all irrational. By spectacular acts of carnage, they hope to cow Western publics into deference to their goals, and to promote the prestige and credibility of Islamists in Muslim countries. By the same token, however, if the Islamists are seen to be losing, if their terror attacks are thwarted and their sponsors are being overrun, then the terrorist networks will disintegrate. “Nobody wants to die on a fool's errand,” the author's note. The War on Terror is difficult, but it is winnable.

The perpetrators are just the final product of a system of financial support, logistical assistance and, ultimately, of physical protection that only states can provide. It is nonsense to assert, as some opponents of military action apparently do, that the 911 attacks were accomplished using fewer than two-dozen men at a cost of a few thousand dollars. In fact, the system that recruited and trained the hijackers extended over several countries. It took more than a decade to build, at great expense. Most important of all: Al Qaeda is just a special case. Despite differences in ideology and theology, the Baathists and Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are in fact in continuous contact, and sometimes hold general conferences in friendly countries. In the final analysis, nothing will serve but to change the nature of those regimes that actively support these groups, or are too weak to resist them.

That said, we are still left with the question: “Why start with Iraq?” Iraq does have a history of supporting terrorists, notably Abu Nidal. However, the Baathist regime has clearly been far less active in this regard since the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Though the authors never quite say so, one gathers that Iraq was simply the best choice in legal and logistical terms. I find that justification persuasive. It is also scarcely a secret: preemption was the chief theoretical reason the Bush Administration gave for pursuing the Iraq War. However, the Administration did not trouble to keep this theory before the public.

Emphasizing preemption would have been difficult for the Administration, since the logic of the theory makes Saudi Arabia the real target. That may not be what the Administration intends. Nonetheless, the authors make a good case that something even beyond regime change is necessary in the Arabian peninsula: the elimination of the Saudi state. The authors repeat certain embarrassing facts. Saudi-funded religious schools have radicalized a generation of young Muslims, from the Gulf to Indonesia to American prisons, with an ideology of jihad and a worldwide caliphate. Saudi money supports front groups in Western countries that deflect the authorities from investigating the terrorist connections of many mosques and academics. Saudi money has corrupted an appreciable fraction of the diplomatic corps in the United States, where the easy transformation from career diplomat to splendidly compensated lobbyist for Saudi causes is a scandal that dwarfs private-sector influence buying. And let us not forget: the suicide bombers on 911 were mostly Saudis.

The Saudi monarchy is not particularly malicious. It is dangerous because it is weak. The monarchy can maintain itself only by buying off radical Islamists, who then use the money for purposes that are very malicious indeed. The Saudi state is so grossly corrupt and incompetent that its survival is problematic at best. While the authors do not exclude the possibility that the monarchy might be reformed, they say that US should be focusing on the fact that the kingdom's Eastern Province, where most of the oil is located, is also largely Shiite and notably restive. Presently, the authors imply, the opportunity may come to redraw the map.

Breaking up Saudi Arabia is the single most dramatic suggestion in the book. Regime change should also be the goal in Iran, they say, but that can be accomplished by economic pressure, the support of dissidents, and the promotion of Western media. The one thing to avoid is to treat the Islamic Republic as a democracy, or even as legitimate. Regarding the other great intractable, North Korea, the authors note that there are no attractive options, but insist that some are better than others. We should disabuse ourselves of the idea that North Korea can be trusted to negotiate away its nuclear weapons. The US should take steps to make a war on the Korean peninsula less catastrophic, by redeploying its own troops and installing artillery suppression and antimissile systems. The key to Korea, however, is China, which can close down the North Korean regime almost at will. At least in the middle term, the US goal should be a North Korea that is more subservient to China.

“An End to Evil” sometimes waxes surprisingly irenic. Although Pakistan is in some ways even more frightening than Baathist Iraq was, the authors are inclined to attribute the radicalization of the Pakistani public square to Saudi subventions. The Pakistani government was unable to fund a comprehensive public-education system, so the Saudis stepped in with what in effect were missionary centers for Wahhabism. Moreover, the Saudis provided about three quarters of the funds for the Pakistani atomic bomb. There is no hope in the immediate future of persuading Pakistan to get rid of its nuclear weapons. The same is true of India. It is, however, possible to make the situation much less dangerous by rescuing the Pakistani state and economy. Normalizing economic relations between India and Pakistan can do that. The policy can be promoted by three-sided agreements with the US: India and Pakistan get to trade with America, if they agree to trade with each other. Again, the predicate for such a policy is cutting off the flow of poison money from the Arabian peninsula.

After the tools of War and Trade comes the Calculated Slight. Russia, for instance, should lose its courtesy seat in the Group of Eight if it continues to act as it did in the buildup to the Iraq War. France should be shut out of military and intelligence structures in which the US has a decisive say. More generally, the US should contemplate the possibility that increased European integration might not be in America's interest. Certainly it is not in US interests for Great Britain, with its deployable military forces, to become inextricably bound up with a confederacy dedicated to “counterbalancing” the US. This is not to say that the US should promote the dissolution of the EU, much less of NATO. The US should encourage as many new members as possible to join both organizations. The newbies can be counted on to be friendly to the US, and will soon put the French in their place.

The authors know that all these other steps will work only if the US wins the war of ideas. Richard Perle (like Caesar, he is often referred to in his own book in the third person) relates his experiences on talkshows and radio forums that suggest the US is doing a dismal job at this. There should be an all-media infrastructure by now that broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi, like that which served Eastern Europe during the Cold War. (The book does not have a clue about networks, incidentally: the authors regard the Internet as just another kind of cable television.) The US should turn away from supporting stability to supporting democracy in the Islamic world. A large part of this strategy would be the improvement of the position of women, both educationally and economically. All in all, the US should not be shy about creating a Middle East that looks like America:

“We do not show our respect for human difference by shrugging indifferently when people somehow different from ourselves are brutalized in body and spirit. If a foreign people lack liberty, it is not because of some misguided act of cultural choice. It is because they have been seized and oppressed and tyrannized. To say that we are engaged in 'imposing American values' when we liberate people is to imply that there are peoples on this earth who value their own subjugation.”

This is more right than wrong, but the authors are blind to the fact that some of the supposedly universal values being promoted by international bodies these days are quite as intolerant and oppressive as anything the Wahhabis endorse. Particularly in the area of women's rights, institutions that were originally created to ensure the civil equality of women and to promote women's health have been taken over, in large part, by ideologues. Their chief interests are population control and the normalization of homosexuality. Humanitarian organizations founded to promote the well-being of children are now often more interested in ensuring that fewer children come into existence.

The authors applaud the fact that, soon after 911, the president rejected a proposal that he issue an apology for aspects of American culture, along the lines of “America is not always proud of its media.” That was a wise move: the last thing the US needed after attack by an ambitious and self-confident enemy was more introspection. Be that as it may, if the West wants to export its political culture to the Middle East, the West must recognize that there are aspects of Western modernity that really are repulsive. Not only would-be suicide bombers think that much Western popular culture is sadistic and leering, and that much Western high culture is not neutrally secular, but willfully blasphemous. A war of ideas that overlooks these issues could be lost.

The authors do recognize one truth uncongenial to the liberal West: the essential irrelevance of the Palestinian issue to the War on Terror. The US might receive some plaudits, even from Islamists, if it actually dismantled Israel and evacuated its people from the region. In reality, though, any Palestinian state that is likely to emerge in the Middle East would be an embarrassment: over-policed, corruptly governed, with a political culture based on evasive grievances. As far as the War on Terror is concerned, the US would achieve nothing by pressuring Israel to acquiesce in the establishment of such a state.

A democratic Palestinian state with a liberal economy would be a good idea: both for its own sake, and as a demonstration project for the rest of the region. However, the authors believe that the best place for such a demonstration is Iraq. If that works, then maybe Palestinian civil society will be emboldened to demand better governance.

The authors recommend some very specific steps at home to support the war. They have pretty much given up in the CIA: it should be stripped of all functions but collecting and analyzing intelligence. Similarly, the FBI should go back to crime fighting, while domestic security is put in the hands of a new agency. The authors seem to have trouble taking on board the fact that all persons located in the United States, even those here illegally, must have some rights under the Constitution; that's what “jurisdiction” means.

The book seems to take special delight in redesigning the State Department. All those pesky regional bureaus must go, for a start. To add outrage to injury, the authors recommend more political appointments, especially at the policymaking level. Foreign Service officers are patriotic public servants, the authors concede. However, unlike the patriotic public servants in the military, they have no compunctions about sabotaging policies that are not to their liking.

Quite aside from the motives of the Islamists, the authors detect a deeper explanation for why the US was attacked on 911.

“The 1990s were a decade of illusions in foreign policy. On September 11, 2001, this age of illusion ended. The United States asked its friends and allies to join in the fight against terror – and discovered that after the first emotional expressions of sympathy for the victims, those friends and allies were prepared to do little. September 11 revealed what Americans had been concealing from themselves for far too long: The end of the cold war and the emergence of the United States as the world's superpower had not put an end to the rivalries and animosities of nations. It had simply misdirected them – often against the United States.”

At the end of the book, the authors make many criticisms of the UN. Most important is the accusation that it is anachronistic. The UN was designed to prevent a Blitzkrieg. Today, however, the UN's concepts of aggression and defense actually prevent rational action against international terrorism and its state sponsors. Maybe the definitions of the UN system could be expanded to accommodate the new reality. If not, however, the authors are quite willing to dispense with the system, even if many well-meaning people do regard the United Nations as the parliament of man.

This is not enough. No doubt the UN is due to be scrapped. However, the authors leave nothing to replace it, except for the unfettered discretion of the United States. That's not even an American Empire, which the authors agree would be a bad idea in any case. The authors are probably right that that War on Terror can be won at reasonable cost and in a reasonable amount of time. But what happens then? They may create a vacuum and call it peace. That would not be the end to evil, however. Evil is the absence of good. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror
By David Frum, Richard Perle

The Long View 2004-01-08: The Martian Frontier

If you needed some proof of my contention that it wasn't only right-wingers that were crazy after 9/11, here is Thomas Friedman, nobody's idea of right-wing nut, calling 9/11 the start of World War III. While not right-wing, he was a nut. There isn't anything in Salafi terrorism that is even remotely close to the impact of the First or Second World War or the Cold War. Fortunately, I think Friedman came to his senses.


The Martian Frontier

As part of its continuing mission to send Tinker Toys where only somewhat smaller Tinker Toys have gone before, NASA's website now features the mission of the rover, Spirit. It's a great site, and I would like it even more if I had high-speed Internet access, which is what it is principally designed for.

I am mesmerized by Spirit's adventures. I, too, have a list of topographical features, revealed by the first panoramic photos, that I want the little critter to go and look at more closely. On the other hand, I cannot help but reflect that I was mesmerized in 1976 by the landing of the two Viking probes, which were in some ways more capable than Spirit and whose results are still disputed. Frankly, I will not be much impressed unless Spirit finds the wreck of a Martian gunboat on the floor of that dried-up lake, if the region is a dried-up lake.

We can only hope,

* * *

Speaking of Mars and gunboats, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has begun to favor his readers with a seven-part series about how to win the war of ideas against Islamic terrorism. In Part I, published today, he distinguishes this geopolitical contest from prior ones:

What you are witnessing is why Sept. 11 amounts to World War III, the third great totalitarian challenge to open societies in the last 100 years. As the longtime Middle East analyst Abdullah Schleiffer once put it to me: World War II was the Nazis, using the engine of Germany to try to impose the reign of the perfect race, the Aryan race. The cold war was the Marxists, using the engine of the Soviet Union to try to impose the reign of the perfect class, the working class. And 9/11 was about religious totalitarians, Islamists, using suicide bombing to try to impose the reign of the perfect faith, political Islam.......

As my friend Dov Seidman, whose company, LRN, teaches ethics to global corporations, put it: The cold war ended the way it did because at some bedrock level we and the Soviets "agreed on what is shameful." And shame, more than any laws or police, is how a village, a society or a culture expresses approval and disapproval and applies restraints.

But today, alas, there is no bedrock agreement on what is shameful, what is outside the boundary of a civilized world.

I would qualify this by suggesting that, though the Islamist vision may be universalistic, that vision does not consider the non-Islamic world as part of civilization. The West, in contrast, has detached the notion of "civilized world" from religion, and even from culture. It has come to mean something close to Teilhard's idea of the "Noosphere," the region of mind.

To put it another way: it used to be said, during the Cold War, that if the Martians attacked, the Russians and Americans would forget their differences and automatically be on the same side. I am not altogether certain that would have been true; Poul Anderson, for instance, wrote several plausible stories about extraterrestrials picking favorites in the Cold War. However, there is some reason to suppose that the West and the Soviet Block would have thought about an alien incursion in much the same terms. At least they would have understood that it was a new situation that might require a novel response. That is likely to be untrue with respect to Islamists.

If H.G. Wells's Martians had reached the Middle East, they would scarcely have noticed a Jihad against them.

* * *

Here's a bit of information on the continuing attack on the use of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In good Biblicist fashion, the opponents of the words often point out that the US Constitution does not refer to God at all. From this, they infer, the Framers intended to establish a wholly immanent theory of legitimacy, one that in no way relied on transcendent justification. The objection to this reading is that the Declaration of Independence has that bit about men being "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," but then the Constitution was drafted over a decade later by a somewhat different group of people, so one might argue that the intent of the Founders and the Framers should not be too closely identified.

If so, the argument has problems. We should not forget that the Constitution we have today is the second United States constitution. The first, the Articles of Confederation, was drafted just a year after the Declaration of Independence, and it is even sparer with references to religion than the constitution drafted at Philadelphia in 1787. The closest it comes is in the attestation clause, which begins:

And whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said articles of confederation and perpetual union.

This is boilerplate, not theonomy, but it was written and approved by the same people who had made clear in 1776 that they considered government a divine institution. The absence of evidence need not be evidence of absence.

* * *

By the way, regarding updates to my main site, yes, I am still writing book reviews. However, I am being a bit more systematic about submitting them for publication in print journals, so I have to delay putting them online. For instance, First Things says they will publish a review I did of Paul Johnson's Art: A New History, probably in the March 2004 issue. Since they ask for exclusive use of the material for three months, I cannot put it on my site until nearly midyear.

I picked up that book while Christmas shopping, justifying the purchase to myself with the argument that I know several people who would like it as a present. Once I got it home, of course, I bent the spine while reading it and smudged a few pages, so it was no longer in mint condition. Well, I obviously couldn't give that copy as a present, could I?

A surprisingly large fraction of my library has accumulated through just this specious reasoning. So have all my lamps.

* * *

What I find most interesting about the reaction to President Bush's new immigration policy is that anyone in the labor establishment objected at all. On the AFL-CIO site we read:

The proposed changes in the nation’s immigration laws President George W. Bush announced Jan. 6 are "a hollow promise for hardworking, undocumented workers, people seeking to immigrate to the U.S. and U.S. workers alike," says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. The plan "creates a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to fully participate in democracy."

The objection, at least nominally, is not the traditional one that immigration depresses wages. Rather, as my former state senator used to say about the death penalty in New Jersey, the proposal does not go far enough:

While the Bush plan would give some legal status to undocumented immigrants, it does not provide undocumented workers an opportunity to earn citizenship, SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina says.

Traditionally, labor unions were leery of immigration, because of the well-founded belief that it depressed wages. Now, of course, the same unions that vociferate against competition from foreign workers abroad are eager to bring the same workers to the US. This is sad, really. US labor unions gave up on native-born workers sometime ago. Now the unions believe that importing prospective members is their only chance of survival.

* * *

History suggests that everyone involved in the immigration debate will be proven to have been gravely wrong about the future, by the way. Here's a story to think about from Germany. It seems that people living in the economically depressed eastern region of the country have begun to find work in Poland. That country is less developed than Germany, but it is more friendly to low wage, labor-intensive jobs.

Just after the end of the Cold War, the Germans nicknamed the Elbe River "the Rio Grande," because so many illegal immigrants were crossing it. Now the situation has reversed. But that could never happen in the American Southwest.

Could it? 

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly 

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Art: A New History
By Paul Johnson

The Long View 2003-09-11: There is Progress

In my re-posting of John Reilly's book review of Robin Wright's Nonzero, I criticized Wright's terminology when talking about causation. If Wright combined his high level final causes with something like the article in Evolution linked below, I would have been happy. It is not that there is nothing to Wright's ideas, it is that you need to understand the details to get it right. 


There is Progress

 

Perhaps the most interesting take on the significance of 911 on this second anniversary came from Robert Wright. In an Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times, entitled Two Years Later, a Thousand Years Ago, he points out that 911 and subsequent events are entirely consistent with the model of history that he advanced in Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny in the year 2000. In that book, he argued that cooperative behavior has a Darwinian advantage, in the broad sense that mutually advantageous relationships will generally last longer than winner-take-all ones.

Though the general trend in history, Wright cautions, is toward larger networks of trade and governance, this trend is necessarily punctuated by crashes. This is because any given network provides opportunities for cheating and looting. That is what happened when the barbarians used the Roman roads to overrun civilization. It is also what happened on 911, when aircraft designed as instruments of global commerce were turned into cruise missiles. However, these crashes are also the occasions of progress. The old networks are eventually improved or replaced by new ones, which are larger and more resilient.

There is more to history than this, of course. Even in the case of the Roman Empire, the collapse had as much to do with the hollowing out of the body politic as with the invasions. Still, there is little I would add to Wright's piece today.

There are, however, some things I would subtract. While not unreservedly critical of the US response to 911, Wright does say this:

"Still, only if we see the growing power of grassroots sentiment will we give due attention to the subject that hawks so disdain: 'root causes.' With hatred becoming Public Emeny No. 1, a successful war on terrorism demands an understanding of how so much of the world has come to dislike America. When people who are born with the same human nature as you and I grow up to commit suicide bombings -- or applaud them -- there must be a reason. And it's at least conceivable that their fanaticism is needlessly encouraged by American policy and rhetoric."

That's perfectly true, and the root cause is suggested by Wright's own theory. Globalization created immense opportunities for plunder, at just the time when US policy and rhetoric showed that the US would retreat when challenged. US rhetoric got softer and softer through the 1990s, as the terrorist attacks got bigger and bigger. There is a lesson here.

* * *

I stayed up way past my bedtime on Monday night to watch Ric Burns' three-hour documentary about the World Trade Center, The Center of the World. This was actually an addendum to his series on the history of New York City: New York: A Documentary Film, which antedates 911. The series has its merits, though it's much too long, maybe because it was grasping for closure and not never quite finding it. The series wanted to end in the 1970s, when whole neighborhoods were burned down or abandoned, and municipal finances collapsed. However, the filmmakers could not quite hide the fact the city survived to the 21st century, and underwent a spectacular revival in the 1990s. What they could do was refuse to acknowledge that the revival was largely the result of no-nonsense policing, lower taxes, and the dismantlement of the welfare state. Instead, they chalked it up to "commerce" and hip-hop music.

That attitude necessitated the extra episode. In the last episode of the original series, the filmmakers could not bring themselves to actually mention the World Trade Center, which was immensely unpopular in artistic circles. Instead, when they got to the late 1960s and early '70s when the Towers were built, they just showed shots of the buildings under construction, while the narrator talked about the disastrous effects of blockbuster urban renewal. The new episode recites all the early criticism the World Trade Center, but it goes on to concede the Towers eventually worked very much as the original planners had hoped.

There was one strange omission, though. The filmmakers talked to the architects. They talked to that French guy who walked between the Towers on a highwire. They talked to the construction workers. What they did not do was talk to people who had worked in the buildings about what it was like to work there. Instead, they talked to one architect who was still cranky about the project, who said "of course everyone hated to work in the Towers." I had always heard the opposite, but maybe I speak to the wrong selection of people.

* * *

Readers will have noted that, while I am not the most partisan writer on the Web, I am a registered Republican, and I am not altogether averse to spouting the party line. Nonetheless, every so often I come across items that make me reconsider whether the Democrats are really unsalvageable. One such piece of information was the news that Congressman Ernest Istook (R-OK) has reintroduced the Balanced Budget Amendment (H.J. Res. 22). The idea seems to be that, after two years of cutting taxes and pushing military spending through the roof, the way to reduce next year's half-billion-dollar deficit will be for Congress to approve a constitutional amendment telling it to do so.

This was crooked when it was part of the Republican platform in the 1990s, and it's crooked today. The proposed amendment served to allow politicians to put themselves on record as favoring fiscal responsibility while absolving them of the need to actually do anything about it. There are good reasons for running big deficits now, and keeping the Democrats out of the White House may be necessary for national security. However, if the Republican Party adopts this bit of nonsense again, we will know that it is a decadent organization.

* * *

The enemy is not decadent, whatever their other failings. A sample of them recently assembled at Assisi to plot against civilization. Old-style Marxists, new style anarchists, and equally new-style Islamists: surely this was an attempt to constitute the transnational multitude that Hardt and Negri talked about in Empire? Even the meeting at Assisi is significant, since Negri has used the Franciscan Order as a metaphor for the new forms of post-political direct-action he hopes to see arise.

It has frequently been argued that the Terror War differs from the Cold War in that the new enemy could have no support in the West, except perhaps in Muslim communities. Guess again.

* * *

Speaking of movements that could damn a world, I see that some new work has been done on the development of the Greenhouse atmosphere on Venus. According to David Greenspoon of the Southwest Research Institute at Boulder, Colorado, Venus may have had habitable surface temperatures for at least 2 billion years, far longer than has usually been thought. This could actually explain why the surface of the planet is relatively new. In this scenario, the drying up of the oceans halted plate tectonics, which deprived the planet of its chief way of venting heat. The result was that vulcanism erupted suddenly and catastrophically about 700 million years ago, creating the surface we see today.

I might note that, though this would have given Venus more than enough time to develop life, it would not have been very interesting life, if the pace of development on the contemporary Earth is any guide. In any case, where was the famous Gaia Effect when the planet needed it? Or did the biosphere decamp to the stratosphere, where it now creates those hydrochloric-acid anomalies that trouble some planetologists?

Some days, I find the thought of flocks of huge acid-breathing airborne stingrays oddly comforting.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2002-10-10: Diversions & Obfuscations

It seems like John was dancing around an idea here that I want to expand upon. Near the end of the piece, he says:

On 911, the least of calamities occurred. There was an attack on American soil, but the state sponsor was weak; it did not have the ability to threaten massive retaliation against the US or its allies if the US tried to remove its government. This will soon no longer be true of Iraq and a class of other countries. Nonetheless, large sections of the American political class are still trying to retreat into their delusions. They talk about the eternal effectiveness of deterrence. They argue that 911 was an anomaly. Some acknowledge the threat in principle, but say that it is crowding out an equally important social-welfare agenda.

I think this is half-right, in that weak states have allowed terrorism to flourish. What I think John missed [along with almost everyone else] is that terrorism post 9/11 really has nothing to do with states any longer. Sure, Wahhabism is funded by Saudi oil money, but the Saudis do that to keep themselves in power, not because they are interested in it. All that money goes to fund young men making trouble somewhere else. ISIS operates in the power vacuum created by the weakness of Syria and Iraq. They are small and weak in their own right. Boko Haram only has a few thousand fighting members, in a country with a population of 177 million.

The real question is why do such small groups seem to wield such power? Partly, this is due to the attention the Western media provides them, but it also has something to do with the incompetence of the states involved. I think this is difficult for Americans to grasp. The NYPD alone is a big enough army to deal with Boko Haram. In an actual shooting war, it would be simple for the Federal government of the United States to suppress such a small group of insurgents, given sufficient political will. In most of the world, it is not will, but capability that is lacking.

Groups like ISIS and Boko Haram probably share more in common with the kind of bandits and barbarians that have always lived on the fringes of society than with the politically motivated terrorists of the Cold War era. As we move towards the imperial future, this sort of thing is going to spread. When you hear that Brazil is the country of the future, remember that means a decent country with terrible inequality that lacks the power to police everything inside its borders. That is a metaphor for the world our grandchildren will live in.

Diversions & Obfuscations

 

No truer word was ever spoken than that US Iraq policy is a long tale of diversion and attempts to change the subject. The Bush Administration does have something to answer for on this score. However, the charge that the Administration is trying to divert attention from pressing domestic issues actually reverses the truth.

The American political class spent the 1990s refusing to acknowledge the sort of world in which the United States lived. Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992 by promising to pay less attention than his predecessor to foreign policy. When the Clinton Administration did think about foreign policy, it strove mightily to treat it solely in economic terms. Its preferred theme in military reform was gender equity. When it had to use force, as in the Balkans and in response to actual attacks on US military assets, it avoided drawing strategic inferences. The Clinton Administration actually won a significant war, against Serbia, but could barely be induced to discuss the matter.

To some degree, that Administration knew abut the impending era of globalized terror, and what it would mean when sovereign hosts for the terror system acquired weapons that could deter retaliation. The subject seems to have occasioned some long, purposeless seminars in the late Clinton White House. Perhaps the president's notes can be found on the back of pizza boxes awaiting cataloging at the National Archives.

The Republicans, to the extent that they were able, were no better. In some ways, they were worse. Their tax-reduction fetish overrode whatever interest they had in strategic issues. Certainly they never gave any thought to adjusting their fiscal policy with an eye to national security concerns. For the most part, their approach to foreign policy was just as economistic as the Democrats'. (The exception was China, with which they kept trying to pick a fight by joint resolution.)

Then there was the persistent personal hounding of President Clinton personally. No doubt he deserved this, karmicly and maybe legally. There was great reluctance to belittle the presidency for partisan purposes during the Cold War, even with regard to Richard Nixon. The consensus was that the United States could not do without a 24/7 president, even a bad one. In the 1990s, people thought that mere statecraft was so obsolete that the Executive Branch could be taken out of service and disassembled over the course of a year or two. This was a mistake, particularly with Bill Clinton, who was too easy to distract in the first place.

The Administration of Bush the Younger came in with much stronger military and foreign policy teams. Quite early on, and long before 911, they realized the sort of dangers the United States would be facing in the early 21st century. They took some serious steps toward planning for a difficult future. However, the Administration does not seem to have taken its own sound analysis altogether seriously. Again, Republican fiscal policy and Republican foreign policy were never introduced. The Administration did talk about the threats of the new era, but not enough, and not as insistently as should have been done. George Bush entered office knowing that his Administration was likely to be chiefly concerned with strategic issues. He might have acted on that surmise before events forced him to do so.

On 911, the least of calamities occurred. There was an attack on American soil, but the state sponsor was weak; it did not have the ability to threaten massive retaliation against the US or its allies if the US tried to remove its government. This will soon no longer be true of Iraq and a class of other countries. Nonetheless, large sections of the American political class are still trying to retreat into their delusions. They talk about the eternal effectiveness of deterrence. They argue that 911 was an anomaly. Some acknowledge the threat in principle, but say that it is crowding out an equally important social-welfare agenda.

To humor these people would be a lethal error.

Copyright © 2002 by John J. Reilly


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The Long View 2002-08-08: War Talk

US Military Bases Worldwide in 2007This post of John's is a good reminder of how we got ourselves into this mess. The first Gulf War was a rousing success. In the lead-up to that war, lots of respectable people said the war would devolve into a messy guerrilla campaign and there was nothing in Iraq worth American boys dying for.

All of those people were discredited when the first Gulf War turned into a quick and easy rout of the Iraqi army. Some of the things that were said were silly, such as the suggestion that America would bomb Iraqi cities flat like we did to Japan and Germany in WWII. However, now all the critics of war can plausibly say: I told you so. What is less clear is what would have actually happened had the critics of war in Iraq prevailed.

Part of the reason that John took the stance that he did was that he felt 9/11 was fostered by an attitude of indifference to the petty territorial squabbles and the multitude of terrorist organizations that characterize not only the Middle East, but the whole Third World. John felt that the "mind our own business" solution to attracting the lethal attention of terrorist organizations had already been tried in the 1990s, and found wanting.

I'm sympathetic to the "mind our business" point of view. I think the most memorable version of this is Steve Sailer's "Invade the World, Invite the World." What stops me from embracing it wholly is John's counter-factual: "okay, what else then?" In order to realize the posited alternative, we would need to completely change American policy and attitudes towards immigration, as well as roll up some or all of our overseas military commitments. How likely is this to happen? And if we succeed, what kind of world will result from our decision?

War Talk

 

The build-up to Gulf War II has this advantage over the build-up to Gulf War I: at least now we know who to ignore. To take a particularly egregious example, National Public Radio's coverage was so tendentious the last time around that Scott Simon did a very funny apology after the war was over.

No, the treads did not fall off the tanks, as NPR interviewees suggested they would. No, cities were not leveled by carpet bombing. No, the war did not drag out into a guerrilla campaign. In fact, though the failure to remove the Baathist government did mar the victory, it became impossible to disguise the fact that Gulf War I was a war of liberation. A surprising amount of the old peace movement had been able to mobilize to prevent US intervention, but it was so discredited by the outcome that little of it survives today.

Perhaps the saddest case is the veteran columnist, Mark Shields. He would appear on the McNeil/Lehrer show night after night in 1990 to make plausible predictions of catastrophe if the US advanced into Kuwait. Speaking as a war veteran, he insisted that there was nothing at issue in the Gulf that was worth young Americans dying for. Again, his warnings about the course and outcome of the war turned out to be wrong, but it was hard to dismiss their sincerity.

It's not hard anymore. Shields is a liberal Democrat, but he had once been able to break ranks and say things that were novel and often important. Like most of the commentariat, he lost that ability during the Clinton Administration. Republicans are often just as unthinkingly partisan, but Shields had once been worth listening to.

What brought this to mind was a recent appearance of his on the Jim Lehrer New Hour (McNeil having long-since retired) to make almost the same arguments he had been making a dozen years ago. He praised the strange stories that the New York Times has been running. These stories claim to report leaks that show the US military is against an invasion of Iraq, and that it will agree to an invasion only if huge forces are used that take at least six months to prepare. Shields insisted vehemently that this attitude is the correct one for the military to take: it's the men and women in uniform who are going to be on the line, not the civilian hawks in the Defense Department, he insisted.

That is backwards. It is precisely American civilians who are on the line in the terror war. In fact, the civilians in the Pentagon turned out to be in more danger than the armed forces on September 11. Thousands of American civilians were killed on that day; hundreds of thousands will be killed at no distant date, if the regimes of the Axis of Evil are not changed in short order.

It is actually very unlikely that the Times stories represent thinking inside the military. General Tommy Franks of the Central Command has been tarred with a reputation for obstructionism that he does not deserve. However, it is true that a replay of Gulf War I would not be good enough. If it were really true that the best the military can do is promise to build the Maginot Line on the Euphrates by 2005, then it would be time to take the institution apart and rebuild it from scratch.

Let me put it this way: the plausibility that force will be used is a force multiplier. The Maginot Line is actually a good example. When the Germans sent a token force into their own Rhineland in 1936, an area that was supposed to remain demilitarized, the French prime minister asked the army commander-in-chief to dislodge it. The commander was rather shocked. He said he could order a general mobilization, but he had nothing like the standby expeditionary force the prime minister seemed to be contemplating. The Germans knew this too, so they risked reoccupation, despite the overwhelming superiority of the French at the time. The fact is we need a military that can deploy a war-winning force anywhere in the world in a week or two. We also need a political situation in which this can happen routinely, scarcely making the front pages.

The constitutional objections to presidential war-making authority are chimerical. Though the Constitution says that only Congress can declare war, the Constitution also says that only Congress can grant letters of marque and reprisal. Letters of marque and reprisal were creatures of the law of nations that became extinct in the 19th century; the declaration of war pretty much disappeared in the 20th. The power of Congress over the military is now chiefly through the budget, and it is quite enough.

As for deployment anywhere in the world within two weeks, the idea is nonsense on it's face. It's still necessary.


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The Long View 2002-06-16: Ministers of Terror

John's surmise here about Jose Padilla was very much correct. Once the Department of Defense had custody, they sweated him for three years, and probably only put him back into the criminal justice system because he had no further information of value. The civil rights issue was willfully delayed until the national security issue was taken care of, which is probably appropriate.

I like John's suggestion that the Department of Homeland Security be renamed the Department of Public Safety, and then we put someone in charge of it who is half a general and half a secret policeman. The image I get is of a very patient spider, waiting in the middle of its web. The kind of man you want running it probably looks a lot like J. Edgar Hoover. On the other hand, maybe you don't want to give that much power to someone that competent.

Ministers of Terror

 

Perhaps I am alone in thinking this, but it seems to me that the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla is far more defensible than the trial of John Walker Lindh. Both are American citizens with connections to Al-Qaeda, and both are now being held in the United States. Lindh, however, is going through the conventional criminal justice system, while Padilla is being held as an enemy combatant "for the duration" of the war against terrorism.

I discussed the Lindh prosecution in January, and nothing has happened since to change my mind. From what I can tell, he was apprehended outside US jurisdiction while doing nothing demonstrably illegal, unless membership in a foreign militia is illegal, and that's not what he's charged with. Prosecuting Lindh does nothing to advance either the rule of law or national security. With Jose Padilla, matters are quite otherwise. If the information we have is correct, he was actively engaged in a conspiracy to set off particularly loathsome terror weapons in American cities. In his case, it is irrelevant that the evidence against him might not support a conviction for conspiracy. His detention is a national security issue, not a question of law enforcement.

Of course, the arrest and indefinite detention of an American citizen on American soil should give us all pause. Laurence Tribe argues in today's New York Times that Padilla and persons similarly situated should get at least a hearing in federal court, including access to attorneys. Tribe tells us that:

The administration cites decisions from 1942 and 1946 in support of military detention of combatants who are United States citizens. But there's an obvious point worth noting: these decisions arose only because the federal courts were considering the constitutional claims in the first place.

That's perfectly true, but there is another point worth mentioning. Padilla's case is most like that of the German-American saboteurs during World War II. They were tried by military tribunals, but appealed in the federal courts, arguing in part that they should have been tried in civilian court. The convictions were upheld, but certainly Padilla could appeal to the federal courts if he were ever convicted in military court. Anyone tried before a military court can. However, he will not be in that posture unless he is first tried. The Department of Defense seems to have little interest in doing that. They don't want to punish him. They want him to tell everything he knows.

A book I recently reviewed about Francis Parker Yockey, Dreamer of the Day, has quite a lot about the German underground in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. Yockey was a member of that underground, and later of the Communist one. One thing I did not mention in my excessively long review was that the FBI acted as a recording angel throughout Yockey's mysterious career. Though we also have some reminiscences by friends and family, we see Yockey in large part from the reports of informers and undercover agents. The FBI never did a better day's work than when it kept tabs on the German-American Bund, which it started to do long before the outbreak of World War II. A little more fruitful snooping of this sort would be in order now.

It is because of the important distinction between law enforcement and national security that I must take issue with Peggy Noonan's endorsement of Rudolph Giuliani to head the new department of homeland security. She makes this endorsement in her column of June 14, Rudy's Duty, and for once she is quite wrong. (This is something of a first for her in this area: her column about the Terror War that everyone should read appeared on June 6, The Other Shoe.) Rudolph Giuliani is a terrifying prosecutor. He's a forceful administrator. He's a riveting public presence. What he is not is a general, or a secret policeman.

The head of the new security department has to be a bit of both. His mission is not to get the bad guys, or to uphold the law. His mission is to prevent the mass murder of American civilians. The department will not fight crime. It could succeed if not even a single terrorist is ever brought to trial. Victory might also require the death of a thousand terrorists in pre-emptive raids. Most of the department's duty will be to simply watch. Rudy would not be good at this.

Finally, we come to the question of what the security department is to be called. For myself, "Department of Homeland Security" sounds fine. Many people, however, including Peggy Noonan, think that "Homeland" sounds too German. (The word ultimately responsible for their discomfort is "Heimat," which makes Germans become misty-eyed about haystacks and lederhosen and the indestructible peasantry.) Noonan's own suggestion is "Heartland Security," which she admits may be too precious.

The obvious solution would be something like the "Home Office," the department of the British government responsible for internal police. In most countries, that function is handled by a "Ministry of the Interior." One of the trials of diplomatic protocol officers in Washington is that they have to explain to visiting dignitaries that, yes, of course they may meet the Secretary of the Interior, provided they want to talk about the national parks. Of course, "Home Office" might be difficult to fit into federal nomenclature. Would the head of the department be called the Secretary of Home?

Another possibility would be some variation on "Committee of Public Safety," which has a historical ring but is not ominous. In many jurisdictions in the US, the police and fire services are managed by a "Commissioner of Public Safety." So, for the national department, I would suggest a "Department of Public Safety." This would better reflect the department's function, which would also include disaster relief. The department would be headed by a "Secretary of Public Safety."

To some people, this might sound like a fitting title for a national crossing-guard. If so, then let the innocent be comforted, and the wicked misled.


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The Long View 2002-05-21: The Office of Evil

The Oatmeal clearly agrees with JohnOne notable disagreement of mine with John was the competence of the terrorists who struck the United States on 9/11. I'm sure lots of people, especially at the time, saw bin Laden as a terrorist mastermind, but in retrospect it seems like he got lucky. It is probably the kind of books I read, but a real mastermind would have followed up with something else a little sooner. There certainly were some foiled plots that made it into the news after 9-11, but most of the subsequent attacks were in other countries, such as the London subway attacks, the Beslan school hostage crisis and the Bali nightclub bombing.

It is at least conceivable that the vast new powers given to the American intelligence agencies after 9/11 have kept us relatively safe, but I'm not terribly impressed by this idea. The rate and scale of pre- and post-9/11 terrorist activity seems about the same in the wider world. And most of that activity happens in Third-world shitholes, just like it always has.

The Office of Evil

Thomas Friedman suggested in the New York Times of May 19 that we could use an office like this. The column in question, "A Failure to Imagine," was actually a backhanded exoneration of the Bush Administration for failing to take more radical action last summer, when there was an uptick in information from intelligence sources suggesting that an major attack from Al Qaeda might be impending. He rightly points out that the sort of imagination needed to consider suicide attacks seriously is rare in America. He was probably kidding when he said that a special bureau might be created to cultivate malice at that level, so we are not blindsided again. Most of Friedman's piece, however, is devoted to bemoaning the Administration's "failure to imagine good," meaning in this case the mobilization of youth for progressive causes and the institution of a post-fossil-fuel industrial revolution.

Thomas Friedman is not the stupidest man who ever lived, but he does not seem to grasp how far from "over" the 911 era is. He has company, of course. The Democrats last week jumped on some quite minor disclosures of internal intelligence documents from just before the attacks to go into full Watergate mode. "What did he know and when did he know it?" they demanded to know, reacting to word that the president received a rather anodyne analysis last August that suggested some sort of attack might be in the offing, perhaps involving airline hijackings. The answer to the question, of course, is "not enough" and "too late," for which the Administration is indeed to some degree at fault. Ironically, the partisan way in which the question was raised seems to have done those who raised it more harm than good. In any case, those who look on 911 as a lost opportunity of some sort can take heart. Similar opportunities may come along any time now that they could find just as useful, assuming they survive the attacks.

One need not be altogether cynical to surmise that the latest statements coming from the Administration about new threats for the near future are colored by the desire to change the subject from the Democrats' implied accusations of negligence. However, there is no reason to think that the new threats themselves are imaginary: stories about terrorists having recently been brought to the US in cargo ships, for instance, appeared before last week's disclosures. So did the reports that shopping malls could be in particular danger. Actually, cynicism might be in order if you thought that the president's partisan opponents knew about the new dangers. Did they take care to get their accusations on record before possible new attacks? That way, they could position themselves for this fall's Congressional election, when they might raise questions about the Administration's competence. But no, that way madness lies.

We do seem to be moving into a new situation. Al Qaeda has a track record of launching simultaneous attacks against large, geographically distant, landmark structures. These attacks are made with novel tactics determined by the nature of each target, at intervals of from several months to over a year. The new pattern of terrorism in the Middle East, however, as developed in the intifada against Israel, involves numerous attacks at short intervals. They follow one or two patterns, and they are intended to create casualties. It is reasonable to expect that a synthesis of these methods will be deployed in the United States, by an alliance of hitherto only loosely connected groups. Places of mass public accommodations have been mentioned as possible targets. So have such structures as high-rise apartment buildings, where preparations might be made over time. For what little it's worth, I doubt that landmarks or the transportation systems are very attractive targets anymore. Then again, that's what people said about the airlines until last September.

Public reaction to new attacks could differ significantly from last year's. For instance, it will be clear that government has only limited ability to protect the people from attack, even when government is paying attention. The Administration would be criticized, not for over reacting in terms of new security measures, but for having done too little. Additionally, depending on where the attacks take place, they could disabuse some parts of the country of the impression that the 911 war is primarily a concern of the Northeast.

We might even get a bit of a social revolution, though maybe not the one Thomas Friedman was thinking of. Nicholas Kristof, another New York Times columnist, has a piece today entitled "Following God Abroad." It's a glowing report on the new political engagement of American evangelicals, who have been energized by 911 and by the threat to Israel. Kristof praises their practical foreign assistance projects and keen interest in the defense of religious liberty internationally. As evangelists, they are, naturally, evangelizing, and not least in NGO Land:

 

"The evangelical movement encompasses one-quarter of Americans and is growing quickly. One measure of its increasing influence is that a newsstand in the United Nations has carried the Left Behind series of religious novels by [Jerry Jenkins and] Tim LaHaye. These books, which have sold 50 million copies so far, describe the battles that precede the Second Coming, and there is indeed a United Nations connection: In the novels, the Antichrist is the secretary general."

Speaking of Left behind, I finally got around to seeing the movie version, by the Lalonde brothers of Cloud Ten Productions. The authors were displeased with the quality of the film, and it does in fact seem to be the kind of thing that HBO produces for broadcast during the summer, when few people are likely to watch.

One thing that struck me about the film was the number of pets. After the Rapture, the world was filled with despondent dogs sitting by the empty clothes of their departed masters. While I recognize that this idea would be theologically awkward, I could not help but think how much more affecting those scenes would have been had there been empty collars and dropped leashes lying next to those abandoned clothes.

The cats would have been left behind for the Tribulation, however. They would have worn little red capes and sprung about in evil glee, knowing that their hour had come.


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The Long View: Questions and Answers on 9/11

If I were on the ball, I would have posted this on 9/11.

Part of the reason I foster John's memory is that he perceived the structure of events so acutely. He knew the worst outcome of 9/11 for the United States would be a universal loss of will, rather than any kind of actual military defeat, which no terrorist group has ever been able to do. The United States has many sins to answer for, but the world would likely be a far worse place without us filling the role that we do.

There is a prediction buried in this post that seems like it has come true: security institutions have expanded to fill the gaps exposed by 9/11 and the Global War on Terror. Partly, this is due to an increase in trained personnel who need something to fill their time.

Questions & Answers on 911

 

Q: Why was the World Trade Center attacked on September 11, 2001?

A: For glory, in this world and the next. The attackers wish to create an aggressive theocracy in the Persian Gulf. The presence of the United States in the region thwarts that ambition.

 

Q: Are there contributing factors?

A: The US neglected the region after the Gulf War in order to deal with domestic matters. The US response to attacks on US installations and personnel has been symbolic and ineffective. This was good evidence that the US is unable to retaliate seriously.

 

Q: Why do the people of the Middle East hate the US enough to do this?

A: They don't. Hate is not the explanation. Brutal acts will be committed when they seem likely to be profitable and to go unpunished. As the decline in domestic crime in the US during the 1990s demonstrated, the search for "root causes" is an evasion.

 

Q: Is it arrogant for Americans to seek to enlist the whole world in the conflict?

A: The necessary is never arrogant. True arrogance consists in the attitude of some Americans that they are so safe that they need not concern themselves with mere questions of survival, but need focus only on ascertaining their own degree of culpability for the attack.

 

Q: Is this the end of globalization?

A: In effect, September 11 signifies an attempt to export Middle Eastern political culture to the rest of the world. When commerce expands beyond the range of law enforcement, piracy is the result. September 11 probably initiated a decade-long process of expanding security institutions to cover the global economic system.

 

Q: Was September 11 the beginning of a war between civilizations?

A: Yes, though the conflict is an asymmetric encounter between states on the one hand and private adventurers on the other. The conflict will continue to be asymmetric, even if states join the adventurers. To put the matter briefly, the West is approaching a phase of unity, while Middle Eastern civilization continues the disintegration that began with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The conflict will accelerate both processes.

 

Q: Is this the end of "The end of History"?

A: Not in the sense that Francis Fukuyama meant in his book by that name. The conflict that began on September 11 does not present the question of which ideology will prevail within Western society. Those issues have been settled. The September 11 conflict is just a fight for the survival of Western society.


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The Long View 2002-02-27: Getting Back to Normal

Thirteen years later, and we don't really seem back to normal. The immediate, searing impact of 9-11 on most American's consciousness has faded, but by and large we seem resigned to the changes it wrought on our country. We gripe about the TSA, but we still have it. The NSA still keeps absurdly detailed track of everything and everyone. Domestic politics has returned to the forefront after the Housing Bubble, but even President Obama cannot escape political fallout from events in Syria and Ukraine.

Getting Back to Normal

Here we are at nearly six months after September 11, and many people are saying that the time has come to get back to normal. They are not saying this because the security situation has changed fundamentally since then. The international terrorist network still exists. The clock is still ticking while states lethally hostile to the United States develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The problem is that the emergency changed the subject for almost everyone with a political agenda. Now the people with agendas want it changed back.

The bulk of the unrest is among partisan Democrats, of course. They want to talk about HMO regulation, women's issues, reparations for slavery, anything at all but foreign affairs and military strategy. The biggest effort to break free is the investigation, indeed the dozen investigations, into the Enron affair. This is showing signs of becoming the Democrat's version of the Vince Foster suicide: there comes a point when the the persistence of the investigators becomes the scandal.

That said, though, there are also quite a number of "conservatives," variously defined, who also wish to have done with post-911 politics. Moral reformers are frustrated that the Bush Administration has scarcely a word to say in opposition to abortion these days. The general drift of the Administration's social-service policy is pro-family, so the reformers' unhappiness is not acute. Among the most unhappy people in America, however, are Libertarians and some business groups.

War may or may not be the health of the state, but it certainly makes discussions about supply-side economics and privatization irrelevant. It is possible that the tax cuts the Bush Administration got enacted in its first few months will remain in place, but there will be no more. Since cutting taxes is the only reason some Republicans run for office, the Administration has not had a particularly easy time with its own party.

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The Long View 2002-02-11: The American Prerogative

This is another short one. I'll copy the whole thing here again, because it illustrates some interesting points in John's thinking, and some interesting developments in the last decade.

Kyoto HoaxThe Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax, and it is good someone finally said so. By way of reminder, look at this image from Wikipedia. Most of the world, and most of the worst polluters, had no actual obligations under the treaty, only the West minus the US and Canada had targets to meet [marked in dark green].

The Durban Conference was not a hoax, but rather more like a protection racket raised to an international level. There really is no upside in humoring ideas like this, although I find the argument comparing Israel with South Africa more compelling than I used to.

Twelve years ago, when John wrote this, I was not Catholic. Since converting, I have noticed that more political support in America for Israel comes from Evangelical Christians than Jews. Catholics are noticeably cooler than other American Christians, partly for domestic political reasons, but also because of the less than polite treatment Arab Catholics have received in Israel.

Zionism is not apartheid, although I can see why you might think so. John Kerry didn't actually say this recently, what he actually said was:

A unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

While whites were able to dominate the governments of both Rhodesia and South Africa for extended periods of time, in the democratic twentieth and twenty-first centuries, you cannot long remain in power without some sort of popular will supporting you. The white population of South Africa decreased from 20% in 1960 [stable since 1904] to less than 10% 2011. Rhodesia had a peak white population of about 200,000, give or take, but between 1960 and 1978 the black population had doubled from 3 million to 6 million. Demography contributed as much to the downfall of each government as boycotts and other political events did.  Israel plays it pretty smart, and I think the Israelis have avoided the fate of South Africa and Rhodesia by not becoming a minority in their own state. Jews went from a minority to a majority in Israel between 1946 and 1948, by displacing between 700,000 and 800,000 Arab Palestinians. Without doing that, Israel would likely have faced the same demographic doom that overwhelmed the intransigence of the white settlers of Africa. If you pay attention, you can see the Israelis are doing their best to keep their country majority Jewish.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was a Cold War coup for the Soviets, who managed to build a functional missile defense system before signing a treaty with the US. Abrogating this treaty was an important step in moving beyond the Cold War, although at this point it is hard not to see how we are kicking Russia when they are down.Encircling the Bear

However, the point of all this for John was that the international system was actually functioning well. John was a fan of the international system. He pointed out that international bodies that do what they are supposed to do rarely make the news, for example the Universal Postal Union. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, they also function as an amorphous and unelected legislature of the world.

America functions as the equally unelected executive, in addition to being the security utility of the world. This restores some balance to the system, as John noted.  Eventually, things will even out, and the system will seem more rational. However, we are in for interesting times until that happens.

The American Prerogative

The World Economic Forum ended its meeting in New York City last Monday. The organizers changed the venue from Davos to Manhattan after 911 to show support for the injured city. The hotel and restaurant industries were indeed glad of the business, but the Forum will probably regret the one-time relocation. When the conference was held in an isolated Swiss fastness, it was easy to imagine the event as Night on Bald Mountain with cell phones. Now everyone knows it's the Academy Awards, but without the intellectual seriousness. No good deed goes unpunished.

Nonetheless, the conference was roused from its fashionable slumber as the full implications of last week's State of the Union Speech sank in. Naturally, most critical comment was about the apparent willingness of the US to conduct open warfare without reference to the UN or NATO. More generally, speakers suggested that the Administration was returning to the policy of unilateralism with which it began.

Since the Bush Administration came to office, three of its acts have been most frequently cited as evidence of unilateral arrogance. These are: (1) the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocols on Global Warming; (2) the refusal to attend last summer's Third United Nation's Conference on Racism held at Durban, South Africa; and (3) the withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. Let me very briefly address these three questions individually and then tie them all together.

(1) The Kyoto Protocols were an unenforceable hoax that no major country could ever have implemented. President Bush said this in public when he visited Europe last year. The leaders of the European Union were deeply offended by the charge of hypocrisy, and the protocols were quickly renegotiated to make them easier to enact. They are still a hoax.

(2) Most of the poverty in the world is caused by looters in office, people who look on government as a license to prey on sources of wealth. The agenda of the Durban Conference was to take this practice international by establishing the principle of reparations for the African slave trade. Additionally, the conference equated Zionism with apartheid. There is no upside to humoring ideas like this.

(3) Defenses against ballistic missiles are necessary if decisive conventional force is to be used against hostile regimes that possess strategic nuclear weapons. Deterrence is irrelevant when the Rangers are rappelling into the Presidential Palace. It is true that strategic defenses do not stop terrorist attacks. They do make countries that harbor or support terrorists subject to retribution.

The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

The merits and demerits of these ideas can, of course, be debated. There is substantial international sentiment to the effect the US should have done just that, in the forums provided by the international system, rather than acting unilaterally. However, this criticism misconstrues the situation.

When the president of the United States refuses to promote something like the Kyoto Protocols, he is not seceding from the international system. Quite the opposite: he is, in effect, acting as the executive of the system by vetoing a proposal from the tangle of institutions that act as its legislature. As with the presidential veto domestically, such acts are not final, and the power involved is essentially the power to stop things. This is true even of the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; in a world with an increasing number of small nuclear powers, the old Cold War agreement had come to mean something new. This veto authority is a real, organic development of the international system, far more important than the commissions and special tribunals organized by international activists.

This American prerogative really is terribly uppity. It would be insupportable, if it were in derogation of democratic institutions, or even of the rule of law. Those features are, however, precisely the features that the "international legislature" lacks. The world's international institutions often do good and necessary work, but they are appointed bodies of experts. The pretenders to democracy in the international system are the non-governmental organizations. These are run by self-designated persons who turned to the international arena because they could not get their agendas accepted domestically.

As for international law, it has been fatally undermined by international legal experts. Historically, customary international law was a description of how governments actually behaved. Now, increasingly, it means norms devised by international jurists on the basis of nothing more than their own ideology. Some of these norms are good and some are bad. None of them, however, deserves special deference from a responsible elected official.

The current situation is unstable because existing international institutions lack legitimacy, and sometimes even a name. (As the astrophysicists say, no fact will be accepted until we have a theory to confirm it.) Still, it is not hard to see how things will evolve. Extensive democratization of the international system is probably impractical. However, its predictability will increase when the legislature becomes less irresponsible. The American Prerogative is essential to making that happen.

 

The Long View: The Fourth Turning

There was something magical and terrible about the end of the nineteenth century. The term coined to describe it, fin de siècle, itself accelerated the process already underway. Apocalyptic expectations can become feedback loops in certain situations. You might call it self-fulfilling prophecy, but in English this term carries a connation of self-deception. What I am describing is far more real. Sometimes, when you expect the world to end, it obliges you.

In John's book, The Perennial Apocalypse, he describes several civilizations that expected the end so fervently that they imploded when a reasonably close facsimile came along. The destruction of the Aztec Empire is a good example of this. What, you really thought 300 Spaniards conquered a highly militarized nation of millions of people?

The Fourth Turning is the book that predicted an American crisis sometime in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Hopefully the authors got better speaking fees afterward. They really got a double-whammy with 9-11 and the Housing Bubble together. John predicted it would start with an international issue, and end with a domestic one. Remember, this was written in 1997. However, it is also too soon to expect resolution. A turning lasts 20-25 years. We are only 13 years in, and 9-11 came a little early. Furthermore, we should expect something of a golden age of peace and prosperity to come after the successful revolution of the Crisis. Clearly, no one feels like that now.

John wanted to give this book another review in 2020. He is no longer with us, but I think it will make for an interesting retrospective in another 5-10 years.

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy
by William Strauss and Neil Howe
Broadway Books, 1997
$27.50, 382 pages
ISBN 0-553-06682-X
URL: http://www.fourthturning.com

The Next Scheduled Performance of the Book of Revelation is in 2020.

The sense of impending wonder and catastrophe that began to percolate through western civilization toward the end of the nineteenth century did not come to an end when the century year arrived. Rather, in the decade and a half that followed the turn of the century, these intuitions evolved from fantasies in the minds of philosophers and millenarians to become concrete threats visible in broad daylight. When the First World War did break out, almost everyone was surprised by the actual sequence of events. Nevertheless, many people, from Hermann Hesse to H.G. Wells to the Jehovah's Witnesses, immediately knew that this was what they had been waiting for. If the evolution of apocalyptic expectation after the turn of the millennium follows the same pattern, this book could go down as one of the influences that made the sense of impending apocalypse reasonable.

The major reason it could do this is that the authors' theory of history really is reasonable, at least as theories of history go. "The Fourth Turning" expands on the cyclical interpretation of American history which the authors proposed in their 1991 book, "Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069." (Before the publication of that book, William Strauss was best known as a cofounder and director The Capitol Steps cabaret group. Neil Howe is an economist and senior advisor to the Concord Coalition. Now, of course, they are both best known as the authors of "Generations.") It has never been a secret that American history does show some striking periodicities. Most notable is the fact that the major "crises" of American history are all the same distance apart. That is, the Depression/World War II era occurred about as long after the Civil War as the Civil War did after the War of Independence, which in turn occurred about as long after the era of colonial disorders incident to King Philip's War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Similarly, there is a somewhat looser regularity to the peculiar episodes of spiritual and cultural ferment that characterize America history. The best known on these was "The Great Awakening" of the 1720s and 1730s. A similar or at least analogous era occurred just about a century later, in the "Second Great Awakening" or "Transcendentalist" period. This episode saw not just outbreaks of millenarian fervor, but the beginnings of such hardy perennials as the abolition and women's suffrage movements. Somewhat anomalously, another such period occurred in the final years of the nineteenth century, leaving as its permanent monuments the Fundamentalism of the Bible Belt and the Bohemianism of Greenwich Village. The last such episode was the period colloquially known as "The '60s," most of which, of course, actually happened in the 1970s.

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The Long View 2002-01-30: The State of the Union 2002

Twelve years on, it really does seem that John, and also William Strauss and Neil Howe, were on to something when they predicted an American crisis occurring sometime around 2007. At the time, John was writing about 9-11, but then we had the Housing Bubble appearing as if on cue.

John in 2002 felt that George W. Bush did the right thing in response to 9-11. So did almost everyone else. Now, many have soured on the Global War on Terror, and W gets the blame for it. There is some truth in that, but one might also notice that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama exhibit a foreign policy oddly similar to George W. Bush. In all likelihood, President Gore would have invaded Iraq too, because that war was overdetermined. We would have just needed to find another motive to blame later.

There have been advances. President Clinton ineffectually bombed training camps with cruise missiles. Bush invaded Iraq. Obama went back to remote bombing, but our technology is a lot better now. The technology changed, but the goal is the same.

John was a judicious critic of FDR.; he preferred his cousin Teddy. John was always on the side of civilization, and so the New Deal gets praise because it restored public confidence despite its technical flaws. John always felt that civilization is fragile, and deserves our support. Wonkish details can be fixed later, but sometimes you just need an effective cheerleader rather than a capable bureaucrat.

One of John's criticisms of W was that he was fixated on a doomed domestic agenda rather than the looming civilizational crisis. In retrospect, it seems John was right here. John predicted that this crisis may have a strong beginning, and a weak middle, and that seems true. The War on Terror started off really popular, and now after a decade of war and a recession, everything is uncertain. John's final prediction, still to be verified, was that the end of the crisis period would see greater clarity about our national confusion. Here is what John had to say:

...the president's program of winning the clash of civilizations by spreading democracy to Islamic countries requires a rollback of American multiculturalism. American cultural leaders are ready for that emotionally, but a new consensus still has to be worked out in detail. Also, let us not forget that the war is putting many domestic inevitabilities on hold, from a national health insurance system to a reform of the electoral college. All these things will become issues again later in the Crisis, when the initial terrorist phase is concluded.

A national heath insurance system is indeed something we are now investigating, although I haven't heard much about the electoral college recently. I wouldn't agree that American cultural leaders are ready for a rollback of multiculturalism, then or now, but there is a certain humor in the recent support for "democracy" in places like Egypt and Syria, where a popular vote would be certain to enact everything that American cultural leaders find horrifying in American politics.

The State of the Union 2002

 

The great prophets, William Strauss & Neil Howe, may rightly claim to have predicted the phase of American history that began last year. There is real merit to their notion that there are periodic generations of crisis in American history, such as the Civil War-Reconstruction Crisis of the second half of the 19th century and the Depression-World War II Crisis of the first half of the 20th. The notable feature of the current Crisis, aside from the fact it arrived about five years earlier than Strauss & Howe's model predicts, is the vastly superior quality of the political response.

Contrast the coherence and broad popularity of George W. Bush's State of the Union address of January 29, 2002, with the confusion that attended the beginning of the last Crisis in 1929. The Hoover Administration had no idea what to do about the collapse of the national economy. Neither did anybody else, of course, but the administration took the blame. Chaos grew for almost four years. Only when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in1933 did a broad policy-consensus appear. Elements of that consensus would exacerbate the Crisis later on. The United States came very close to mothballing its military during Roosevelt's first term, and the administration's economic nationalism ensured that the United States and its trading partners would recover far more slowly than they would otherwise have done. Nonetheless, the New Deal did what governments are supposed to do during such a time; it restored confidence in public institutions.

 

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The Long View 2002-01-22 Heroes & Nitwits

It was 9-11 that initially brought me to John's site. As I've said, John was one of the most reasonable people I ever knew, and his home in New Jersey was right across the Hudson from the WTC. John was a voice of sanity in those times.

Heroes & Nitwits

The firemen's memorial for the World Trade Center has kicked up a fuss. The statuary group was supposed to depict three firemen raising an American flag over the disaster site soon after the catastrophe of 911. The incident actually happened: a now-famous photograph recorded it. The problem was that the sculptors decided to improve on history by making the firemen ethnically diverse: black, white and Hispanic, respectively. The actual firemen were all white. The monument has caused quite a bit of embarrassment, not least to the firemen in the New York City Fire Department who belong to minority groups. They had not asked for any such thing.

As a fireman's son, I can't say that I am outraged, but I am a little exasperated. I see too much of this kind of thing. Not far from me (I live in downtown Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan) there is a half-body statue one George P. McCulloh, the businessman who organized the building of the Morris Canal in 1822. This canal connected the Hudson with the Delaware River until 1924. The statue stands on what had been the canal's eastern end, which now is just a malodorous inlet in the riverbank. It's reasonable to a put up a little statue to commemorate local history like this. The bizarre thing is that someone decided the monument needed a racial-minority element, so George P. McCulloh has a tiny, bronze family of fleeing slaves in his lap. The idea is that the Morris Canal was an important link in the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. If it was, maybe the fact should have gotten its own statue.

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