Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion Book 2 Review

In Iron Wolves, we get to see a part of the Legion inhabited by men less high-minded than Cohen Chhun or Subs, the Dark Ops legionnaire from Order of the Centurion. Men on the borderline of control. Men interested in chasing skirts. Men who might have trouble adjusting to civilian life again, if they live that long.

Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion #2 by Jonathan Yanez with Jason Anspach and Nick Cole Kindle Edition, 198 pages Published March 5, 2019 by Galaxy's Edge ASIN B07MV1H51G

Iron Wolves: Order of the Centurion #2
by Jonathan Yanez with Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 198 pages
Published March 5, 2019 by Galaxy's Edge

Sergeant Sam Samson [who knows, maybe back on lost Earth, his distant ancestors were from Iceland] can KTF with the best of them, but he gets a little too enthusiastic about it. Since this isn’t exactly what the Legion is looking for in a recruitment holo, Sam has been promoted to Sergeant and busted back down more times than he would probably like to think about. I get the impression that if Sam ever gets out of the Legion alive, he is going to find civilian life bewildering, at best.

Yet, Sam isn’t a heartless monster who’ll coolly [or heatedly] pull the trigger on anyone he is ordered to, or someone who looks at him funny. His problem is a lack of control, not a lack of a conscience. Sam Samson is not a nice guy, but he does at least try to be good, even if he frequently fails. Guys like him can find a place in the military sometimes, which can put that impulsiveness to use in the field. I bet Sam would be a nightmare on barracks duty though.

Going back 95 years to Beau Geste, or alternatively in the more modern They Shall Not Grow Old, men like Sam have been seen as the foundation of the armed forces. Whether in the conscript armies of the early twentieth century, or the volunteer services we have now in the Anglosphere, men like Sam, crass but loyal, with no real home outside of military life, have been the solid core. They provide the cultural continuity that makes an army work.

But to be a Legionnaire in the waning days of the Galactic Republic is to find your loyalty tested. I take Iron Wolves, like all of the Galaxy’s Edge books, to be a reflection on the lived experience of the men who served. In this book, the central question is: how do you know when following orders is not the right thing to do? When it comes down to it, to whom are you truly loyal?

A persistent problem over time with militaries with strong esprit-de-corps is that the men tend to be loyal to each other, and their commanders, far more than their political masters. In the United States, the strong tradition of civilian control of the military is intended to counter precisely this tendency. At Galaxy’s Edge, the points, appointed officers, are likewise intended to subvert this, for the Legion was intended from the beginning to be inward-looking.

An interesting wrinkle is that professional soldiers like Sam often find themselves growing fond of the peoples and places where they are stationed. They can find a home in many ways more welcoming than their own. Thus when the politicians no longer see benefit in these remote places, and cynically withdraw support, it is not just abstract honor that is offended, but a very real love of place and a sense of belonging. The very things that make men fight.

What Sam Samson and the rest of the Iron Wolves do in response to political cynicism is simply what they do best: kill the other guy before he kills you and let the chips fall where they may. This was the first Order of the Centurion book primarily written by someone other than Jason and Nick, and so far I pleased with how their experiment is turning out.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Galaxy’s Edge season 1:
Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review
Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review
Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review
Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review
Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review
Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review
Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review
Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review
Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8 Book Review
Retribution: Galaxy’s Edge #9 Book Review

Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations:
Requiem for Medusa: Tyrus Rechs: Contracts & Terminations Book 1 Review

Takeover: Part 1 Book Review
Takeover: Part 2 Book Review

Order of the Centurion
Order of the Centurion #1 book review

The Long View 2006-12-20: Space Marines; Dissimulation; The Fall of Civilization

Space Marines, Anspach and Cole Style

Space Marines, Anspach and Cole Style

John Reilly links to Orson Scott Card’s Ornery American website in this post, which I hadn’t thought about in a very long time. When I see Card mentioned on Twitter, usually it is in combination with an adjective like “deplorable”, but in today’s context that mostly means he was insufficiently enthusiastic about gay marriage fast enough. I doubt many people mean essays like this one, which was written by a lifelong Democrat who was pretty jazzed about the War on Terror in 2006.

Which, I suppose makes sense, since the Democratic Party in practice has turned out to be as enthusiastic about projecting American power abroad as the George W. Bush administration was in 2006. Being on board with that isn’t a problem, although the timing might be awkward if anyone other than me read old stuff. Card is now beyond the pale for reasons entirely other than foreign policy.

Space Marines; Dissimulation; The Fall of Civilization

Space Marines? Very zippy. (HT to Instapundit):

The proposal, part of the Corps’s push toward greater speed and flexibility, is called Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion, or Sustain. Using a suborbital transport—that is, a vehicle that flies into space to achieve high travel speeds but doesn't actually enter orbit—the Corps will be able, in effect, to instantaneously deliver Marine squads anywhere on Earth. The effort is led by Roosevelt Lafontant, a former Marine lieutenant colonel now employed by the Schafer Corporation, a military-technology consulting firm working with the Marines. Insertion from space, Lafontant explains, makes it possible for the Marines—typically the first military branch called on for emergency missions—to avoid all the usual complications that can delay or end key missions. No waiting for permission from an allied nation, no dangerous rendezvous in the desert, no slow helicopter flights over mountainous terrain. Instead, Marines could someday have an unmatched element of surprise, allowing them to do everything from reinforce Special Forces to rescue hostages thousands of miles away....

The Marines expect to fly a prototype in 15 years, most likely a two-stage system using a carrier aircraft that will launch a lander into orbit from high altitude....According to international agreement, a nation’s airspace extends 50 miles from the Earth’s surface, just short of low orbit. A spacecraft would allow the U.S. to step over other countries and insert forces where they’re needed.

As that article points out, there would probably be some sentiment for redefining sovereign air space upward if the technology really existed to deploy conventional force over the 50-mile limit. As for the suborbital-transport concept itself, the term "flying brick" comes to mind. This is not so different from proposing to shoot the infantry out of a cannon and hope they will meet a friendly reception at the point of impact.

* * *

Here's a bit of fraud that is easily disposed of:

Some Muslims in Baltimore County say lessons involving Islam being taught to seventh- and 10th-graders in public schools are inaccurate....The [school] resource sheets state the Muslim prophet's "main goal was to get people to accept Allah and to spread the faith of Islam. Muhammad justified his attacks to his followers by explaining that to weaken those who opposed the spread of God's word was a virtue, and that those who fell in battle would be rewarded in heaven. Thus, the idea of the jihad became the holy war of the Muslims against 'the unbelievers.'"

This reference [says a representative of the Baltimore chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee]inaccurately portrays Islam as a religion that embraces the use of force.

"Islamic teachings explicitly forbid coercing others to adopt the Islamic religion. Suicide is forbidden. The taking of innocent lives is forbidden. Yet the curriculum would have students believing otherwise," [the representative] said.

The concept of "forced conversion" in this context does not forbid the imposition of special taxes and civil disabilities on non-Muslims. In other words, pressure to convert is not proscribed. Quite the opposite: the jizya tax [also spelled jeziya or jizyah] on dhimmis is a feature of orthodox Muslim statecraft. The point is by no means theoretical. Hamas, for instance, is keen to impose the jizya on non-Muslims in the Palestinian territories, not least in Bethlehem.

* * *

How Our Civilization Can Fall is the title of a useful essay by Orson Scott Card. He takes his readers on a brief excursion through the twilight zone of postmodern historiography, which tried to argue, during the 1980s and '90s, that civilizations do not "fall"; they just become differently civilized. He gives that nonsense such answer as it deserves. He then goes on to consider the case of fifth-century Rome and of the Eastern Mediterranean at the time of the Minoan collapse. Neither provides a precise parallel to anything that can happen in the modern world. He does, however, find particular significance in the collapse of a society's strategic hinterland, the areas that are normally affected the least by catastrophe. Then he offers this scenario:

For a century, America has been the great cushion to absorb the shocks that might have brought down western civilization. ...As with Rome, the American military has been the wall behind which a system of safe trade has allowed an extraordinary degree of specialization and therefore mutually sustained prosperity....

Here's how it happens: America stupidly and immorally withdraws from the War on Terror, withdrawing prematurely from Iraq and leaving it in chaos. Emboldened, either Muslims unite against the West (unlikely) or collapse in a huge war between Shiites and Sunnis (already beginning). It almost doesn't matter, because in the process the oil will stop flowing.

And when the oil stops flowing, Europe and Japan and Taiwan and Singapore and South Korea all crash economically; Europe then has to face the demands of its West-hating Muslim "minority" without money and without the ruthlessness or will to survive that would allow them to counter the threat. The result is accommodation or surrender to Islam. The numbers don't lie -- it is not just possible, it is likely.

America doesn't crash right away, mind you. But we still have a major depression, because we have nowhere to sell our goods. And depending on what our desperate enemies do, it's a matter of time before we crash as well....What we don't make for ourselves anymore is ... everything else. We don't produce steel. We don't make most of our own computer equipment. We have exported our textile industry... That's when we find out just how much of our new "service" economy is smoke and mirrors, dependent entirely on the surpluses generated by the global system of trade.

And our own oil production cannot meet the demands of transportation and production at current levels...

We will go back to the rails. Only we won't have the money to rebuild and refurbish the railroad system -- it will only be able to limp along.

It will look, even inside the United States, amazingly like the shrinkage that happened at the time of the fall of Rome.

Then, and only then, will America look -- and be -- vulnerable to any kind of intervention from the south. Economies that are still somewhat primitive will recover faster than economies that are absolutely dependent on specialization.

It takes two generations for the dark ages to reach America. But they will come, if we allow this nightmare to begin. Because once you reach the tipping point, there's no turning back, as the Emperor Justinian discovered.

This is too economistic, I think, and the economic model misstates the case. It conflates depression with famine. A depression is a phenomenon of chaotic systems, essentially an information crisis. Recovery is difficult, because the control mechanisms have been corrupted. At any rate, that was the experience of the United States in the 1930s and Japan in the 1990s. In a genuine famine (as distinguished from one created as state policy) the price system is likely to convey information just fine, and the message that it conveys is "You are all going to die unless you do something clever right now." As a rule, people respond to this information with alacrity.

Let me put it this way: no civilization ever fell from lack of stuff.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-10-10: Remove Barriers; Shoot the Hostage; Breed Like Rabbits

Kim Jong-um  By Cheongwadae / Blue House -, KOGL Type 1,

Kim Jong-um

By Cheongwadae / Blue House -, KOGL Type 1,

Here is something to ponder. New York City took down its post-9/11 vehicle barriers, intended to prevent truck bombings and the like, in 2006. Ten years after that, European cities have added them. Of course, the state of the art changed quite a bit. Truck bombings take hard work and skill. Running pedestrians down with a vehicle just takes an acceptable credit rating.

Also, a prediction that didn't pan out: Kim Jong-un did indeed succeed Kim Jong-il.

Remove Barriers; Shoot the Hostage; Breed Like Rabbits


Security Barriers of New York Are Removed, reports the New York Times, and none too soon if you ask me:

They started appearing on Manhattan streets immediately after September 11: concrete and metal barriers in front of skyscrapers, offices and museums. Some were clunky planters; others were shaped artfully into globes. They were meant to be security barriers against possible car or truck bombers in a jittery city intent on safeguarding itself.

But now, five years later, their numbers have begun to dwindle. After evaluations by the New York Police Department, the city’s Department of Transportation has demanded that many of the planters and concrete traffic medians known as jersey barriers be taken away. So far, barriers have been removed at 30 buildings out of an estimated 50 to 70 in the city.

It will take a while to fix this. The whole region is full of slabs of concrete defacing the entrances to buildings and making the many fine new plazas look like construction sites. As the Times piece notes, some of the barriers have proven to be happy accidents: the bollards, the short, thick pillars set into the ground, make convenient stools and give a geometrical accent to open urban spaces. For the most part, though, the barriers detracted from aesthetics while adding nothing to safety. Good riddance.

* * *

Why did the North Koreans shoot the last hostage? That is essentially what they did with their recent nuke test, if that's what it was. Since the end of the Cold War, the whole of North Korean diplomacy has consisted of extracting tribute from its neighbors and the United States, based on the threat to develop nuclear weapons and an ICBM. Now that they claim to have actually exploded a bomb, what further leverage do they have?

Of course, the really strange thing here, even for a North Korean story, is that their WMDs are apparently duds. That was certainly the case with the recent, failed ICBM launch. As for the weekend's nuke, it may be that the explosive yield was so small because the test was of a tactical weapon, suitable for terrorist use. More likely the bomb was supposed to be a typical first nuke of a few kilotons, but it misfired. Some American analysts are suggesting it was a conventional explosion that the North Koreans are just claiming to have been nuclear. Even Team America would not have suggested such a thing.

It would be reasonable to anticipate that the Dear Leader will suffer a mishap at no distant date; perhaps one of his trains will explode again. When that happens, his likely successor will not be one of his lamentable offspring (not that the offspring won't try), but one of those funny-looking generals he likes to appear in public with at times of crisis, a general whom the Chinese find acceptable. What happens then is that the reunification of Korea becomes a real possibility, with the Chinese offering Seoul an orderly transition, contingent on the demilitarization of the peninsula.

* * *

Rich people are breeding like rabbits. Well, some of them are, if you believe The New York Times:

It's barely a blip on the nation's demographic radar — 11 percent of U.S. births in 2004 were to women who already had three children, up from 10 percent in 1995. But there seems to be a growing openness to having more than two children, in some case more than four....

The families involved cut across economic lines, though a sizable part of the increase is attributed to a baby boom in affluent suburbs, with more upper-middle-class couples deciding that a three- or four-child household can be both affordable and fun...

Clark, 38, is aware of the buzz that large families — in the suburbs, at least — are a new status symbol.

"I thought it was kind of funny," she said...

Since Strauss & Howe's model of history suggests some such development, and since I know a couple of families to whom this story applies, I can't say that I find the Times story altogether surprising. That's not to say I don't find it slightly surreal. Maybe you have to be a babyboomer or older to appreciate how strange it is for large families to be regarded as status symbol. I can remember when it was like smoking is today.

There is even a website.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-03-19: Iraq after Three Years; Life's Solution; Reading Habits

Three years later, John was honest enough to find a rather embarrassing prediction he had made about the course of the Iraq war. With the benefit of hindsight, I've found a few more,  but the point of that exercise here is to remind us how easily we can fool ourselves, rather than congratulate our good judgement in hindsight.

Iraq after Three Years; Life's Solution; Reading Habits


W.B. Yeats once famously asked whether any man had ever been taken out and shot because of something that Yeats had written. Actually, I suspect that Yeats was more worried about whether he had ever written anything for which he himself should have been shot on stylistic rather than politics grounds. Still, anyone who expresses political opinions in public must wonder from time to time whether anything they have said made the world worse, even in a case such as mine, when the opinions are derivative and whatever effect they have had derives from their having been first expressed by more prominent people.

In that spirit, I have been looking over my blog-postings for 2002 and 2003 to see whether there is anything I would want to unsay about my support for the invasion and my analysis of the situation. Readers are invited to search my Archives for items that now appear ridiculous, but here is the one paragraph that caught my eye. It's from September 26, 2002, in a critique of an article that appeared in The American Conservative. I said there about the course of the invasion still under consideration:

At risk of jinxing the operation, a happy outcome is by far the most likely. The fighting will be short. The country will not break up; it will be cantonized and demilitarized. The Iraqis will sing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and get back to business, which is good: the country's GDP grew 15% last year. The democratic movement in Iran will be bolstered and the Syrians will stop funding terrorist organizations.

Perhaps the allusion to The Wizard of Oz did jinx the operation, but not fatally. Regarding the state of Iraq today, I would say that, if the Iraqis really wanted to have a civil war, they would have had one before now. What we are seeing today is the dying reverberations of the attack on the Golden Mosque, a desperate attempt by the largely discredited Jihadi wing of the insurgency to disable the political process. As for the reasons for launching the invasion, there is nothing to add to Walter Russell Mead's account in Power, Terror, Peace, and War. Here is the summary from my review:

Mead lists three reasons for the Iraq War. The first was that Iraq was cheating on its commitments not to develop weapons of mass destruction. That was a plausible argument, but it was only tenuously verified, and the Administration paid dearly for making this its chief public argument. The second reason, added by the neoconservatives, was the humanitarian argument that the Baathist regime was itself an ongoing human-rights violation, the removal of which would begin the liberation of the Middle East. Mead finds most persuasive the third reason, which is that the “containment” of Iraq was poisoning the region.

Because Iraq never fully complied with the ceasefire terms of 1991, US troops were trapped in the region. Moreover, they had to be stationed in Saudi Arabia. That outraged religious Muslim opinion. Meanwhile, the US and Britain were fighting a low-level air campaign against suspect Iraqi military installations, while UN sanctions were preventing Iraq from recovering from the war. After September 11, the US could not simply retreat from the area, and it could not continue as it had been. There was no other course than regime change.

In retrospect, it is not the pre-2003 assessments that look prescient, but the pre-1991 ones. The cost for Iraq was always going to be around 3000 American dead, spread out over a period of several years rather than several weeks. We deluded ourselves when we thought that all that would be necessary was another end-of-history campaign in which more soldiers were killed in traffic accidents than in combat.

To that grim note, I would add the following points, some of which I have made before:

What is most different now from 2003 is that the Jihad has clearly moved to Western soil. As the witticism has it, the Arab street did rise after the invasion of Iraq, but it rose in Paris. That is one of the reasons the attempt to use the third anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War to mount large protests has failed.

No outcome of the Iraq War will be characterized in the elite media as a victory. Iraq is not going to become a Jeffersonian democracy, but even if it did, that would be called only a mitigation of a general disaster. Similarly, if there is democratic revolution in Iran, the argument will be made that the invasion of Iraq delayed that transformation.

We should be more impressed by the fact that all the pillars of the international system have been discredited to a greater or lesser degree in recent years. Regular readers will be familiar with my thesis that the United States functions as an international utility in the 21st-century world, but a utility whose management has been widely criticized. Similarly, the United Nations has yet to recover from the oil-for-food scandal in connection with Iraq, but also because of its record in Africa. The rejection of the European Union constitutional treaty seemed to be wholly unconnected to events in the Middle East, until the French riots and the Cartoon Jihad showed how irrelevant that institution was to the existential crisis of the eastern half of Western Civilization.

Regarding the whole War on Terror, we are not even at half-time yet, folks.

* * *

Regarding evolution, readers will recall the remarks that Christoph Cardinal Schönborn made in the New York Times last year, and which he later expanded on in First Things. The gist of his position is that Darwinism is theologically and perhaps scientifically insufficient. The discussion has continued in the Letters section of the latter journal, including the April 2006 issue, now on the news stands.

I mention this, not to get involved in the argument (the point of which, I confess, has surpassed my small understanding) but to note that were is an authority whom everyone seems agreed on. Thus, in one of the Letters to the Editor, the industrious and ingenious Edward T. Oakes, SJ., says:

As for Dawkins, I recommend Simon Conway Morris' book Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge) for a full-scale refutation of Dawkins on solid Darwinian grounds

To that the cardinal counters:

First, I respectfully disagree with [Fr Oakes's] characterization of the work of Simon Conway Morris as a "refutation of Dawkins on solid Darwinian grounds." Morris' work on teleological, lawlike evolution is in fact a powerful challenge to Darwinian orthodoxy, which is based in large part on the absolute contingency of the results of variation and natural selection as they drive the purposeless meanderings of phylogeny across an arbitrarily changing fitness landscape.

Such a question is partly a matter of definition, but I think that Fr. Oakes is closer to the mark in regarding Morris's work as a refinement within Darwinian science. In fact, Morris may be said to offer reasons for the teleology that early Darwinism assumed but then abandoned, in part for political reasons.

In any case, I have a long review of Morris's book here. I marvel, frankly, that only now am I seeing the book widely cited. (It was mentioned last year in First Things by Stephen Barr, too.)

* * *

And now for you lazy people: Readers may have noticed that I recently uploaded an allofictional novella to my website, The Gray Havens. About its literary quality, I can only say that I have more reason to worry than did Yeats. The text is divided among 10 webpages, for ease of reading. You must imagine my shock, indeed my horror, to discover from my Activity Report that a third of the people who read the first section simply skip ahead and read the tenth.

Look, you want to know how it ends? The giant spider eats them all. I hope you are satisfied.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-02-24: Future Teeth; The Golden Mosque; The Two Wicked Cities

Lind in 2016

Lind in 2016

John Reilly mentions William S. Lind in this post, because Lind repeatedly predicted defeat for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. John predicted victory, and some kind of friendly democratic government in both countries. What actually happened is somewhere in-between. Lind's predictions of defeat were too dire, but what we got wasn't exactly victory either.

Future Teeth; The Golden Mosque; The Two Wicked Cities


This science story got a remarkable amount of attention:

By making a few changes to the expression of certain molecules in the pathway, the researchers were able to induce tooth growth in normal developing chickens. These teeth also looked like reptilian teeth and shared many of the same genetic traits, supporting the scientists' hypothesis. None of these chickens were allowed to hatch.

The moral of the story is that the genes to guide the formation of the features of an organism remain in the genome even after the features are no longer expressed in the organism's lineage. Thus, for instance, snakes could be made to sprout legs like those of their ancestors, if we felt sufficiently strongly about it. Ah, but you ask: what about genes for future evolution? Are they there too, waiting to be switched on?

Some readers will no doubt recall the episode from the Outer Limits series of the 1960s, entitled The Sixth Finger. The sixth finger, of course, was what grew from the hand of the experimental subject after he was put in the Infernal Machine that advanced his evolution. His head also became photogenically distended as his brain expanded.

That was a very good episode. Actually, the whole series was so much better than the recent revival that the principle of historical progress is put in doubt, at least with regard to television. Nonetheless, the idea that later-evolving features are implicit in earlier features is one of the tenets of the model of evolution in Simon Conway Morris's Life's Solution.

* * *

Most of Congress and every elected official on the East Coast have denounced the plan by a company owned by the government of Dubai to acquire the British company that, among other things, manages much of the Port of New York. At this writing, the deal looks as if it will be delayed, and then probably scrapped. Still, I noted this item yesterday:

The Bush administration secretly required a company in the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S. investigations before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.

I have no information about this deal. Still, I might note, simply as food for speculation, that the Middle East is where Western governments base activities that they would not dare do at home. A government-owned company would make a better front than a private one, but there is also a long history of using nominally private enterprises for these purposes. Does no one remember Air America?

* * *

Here is a culture clash where the clash is between European church-state relations and those of the United States:

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - A German court on Thursday convicted a businessman of insulting Islam by printing the word "Koran" on toilet paper and offering it to mosques.

The 61-year-old man, identified only as Manfred van H., was given a one-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, and ordered to complete 300 hours of community service, a district court in the western German town of Luedinghausen ruled.

I would prefer to think that the court was just pandering to Muslim sentiment, but I have the disturbing feeling that this is how the legal system always works there. Look, religion is like the American flag: if you can't burn it, it is not worth saluting. Faith, like patriotism, thrives on invective.

* * *

Is the bombing of the Golden Mosque actually good news? That would seem to be the implication of Syed Saleem Shahzad's analysis at Asia Times:

Spring is only a month away, and preparations for Nauroz (the Persian new year) are well under way. In Iran this year, however, Nauroz was due to come with a deadly dimension: the start of a new phase of a broad-based anti-US resistance movement stretching from Afghanistan to Jerusalem.

Wednesday's attack on a revered shrine in Iraq could change all this.

There has been quite a lot of contact between Iran and al-Qaeda in recent years. Indeed, important al-Qaeda organizers are in Iran today:

The aim of these people in Iran is to establish a chain of anti-US resistance groups that will take the offensive before the West makes its expected move against Tehran.

Their mission, however, has now become nearly hopeless:

The anti-US resistance movement had wanted to use Shi'ite Iran as the final base to link the resistance groups of this whole region. If the current volatile situation results in Shi'ites sitting on one side, and Sunnis and al-Qaeda-linked groups on the other, this is unlikely to happen.

Instead, Iraq could become a new battlefield, not only against US-led forces, but between different factions. Iran, meanwhile, would be left to deal with the West on its own...

Some Sunnis are saying that it was the Iranians themselves who blew up the mosque, to unite all Shia factions behind Moqtada al-Sadr, or possibly al-Sadr himself ordered the explosion. Or it might have been the Americans, to put pressure on the Sunnis to reach a deal about forming the new government. Or maybe it was the Israelis in order to...well, just because. The most economical explanation is that al-Qaeda and its affiliates realize that if a workable government forms, they will have essentially lost the war, and not just in Iraq. The mosque was blown up to delay that awful day.

Sometimes I think that these people learned the art of government in New Orleans.

* * *

Defeat is editorial policy for American Conservative. Consider this piece, War of the Worlds, by William S. Lind, who argues that there are two great evils today, the Jihad of Fourth Generation warfare and the Brave New World of the West:

The Fourth Generation of Modern War, warfare since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, is the greatest change in armed conflict since the modern era began. It is marked by the state’s loss of the monopoly on war it established with Westphalia and the rise of non-state elements that can fight states and win...Fourth Generation war is giving rise to new forms of social organization. It should not surprise us that al-Qaeda’s goal is not taking power within states but abolishing the state altogether and replacing it with an ummah...

The march toward Brave New World is led by the United States. The main characteristics of Huxley’s dystopia are all too evident in post-1960s America (and Europe). They include a culture where the summary of the law is “you must be happy,” happiness coming from a combination of materialism, consumerism, electronic entertainment, and sexual pleasure; globalism, the elites’ “one ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them” under de facto if not de jure world government; and endless psychological conditioning, especially through the government schools and the video-screen media. Religion is already relegated to the eccentric margins, at least among the elites, if not yet quite forbidden

Readers may amuse themselves by searching through Lind's writings to see how many times he has predicted, indeed reported, the defeat of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past few years.

When Brave New World’s walls come a tumblin’ down—and they will—men of the West may have their opportunity. Bewildered, shocked, sometimes panicked societies will seek alternatives but not know where to turn.

They will, of course, turn to American Conservative's brand of tradition. It worked for Marshal Petain, didn't it?

There are confusions here. Yes, there is a Brave New World faction in the West, whose chief representatives are, perhaps, the transnationalists of the Davos type. It has little or nothing to do with the neocons. The Brave New Worlders have not prospered in recent years. Part of the story is the foundering of the European Union project; part of it is the defenestration of cultural and media elites in the US. The Brave New World is not fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Brave New World not only could not fight a war; it could not survive in a world where war were possible.

Someone should write an AH story in which the the Draka invade Brave New World. That will teach them.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-11-30: Won Wars; Lost Films & Doctrines

Here is a prediction that did not pan out:

There is also this: Post-911 veterans are not Vietnam veterans. Their numbers are smaller, of course, but they are already an admired and self-confident minority. They will transform the military and, one suspects, domestic politics.

At this point, it seems that veterans of America's imperial wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other shitholes are mostly ignored, both by politicians and the wider public, unless some issue forces them into the public eye. 

Won Wars; Lost Films & Doctrines


It was as if someone threw a switch. Two weeks ago, if you were following the media, it seemed as if the only remaining question about the Iraq War was whether the US had the lift capacity to evacuate the bleeding remnants of its army from Iraq before they were all massacred. Then (I think it was last Friday) I heard Mark Shields on the PBS New Hour remark soberly that of course there are serious people on both sides of the withdrawal question. Today, I see this from Glenn Reynolds:

Funny, but not long after Rep. Murtha's outburst on the war, we're seeing a bipartisan consensus that a cut-and-run approach would be disastrous.

Murtha's six-month withdrawal resolution jumped the shark. If the Democratic leadership used him as a stalking horse on the matter, then they did the old man a grave disservice.

From what I can tell, it really does seem to be the case that opinion on the ground in Iraq has it that the war is going well both militarily and politically. The question has become how the war will be perceived in retrospect. Security Watchtower recently quoted itself from July:

"It will be interesting to analyze the media's reaction to any U.S. troop withdrawals that might occur in Iraq over the next 12 to 18 months. With the Iraqi Constitution being finalized and another election in December, the subject of bringing American soldiers home will remain a prominent topic of conversation for some time. There is a segment of the media that will attempt to portray any troops withdrawals as a desperate, defeated and humbled superpower that blundered through one mistake after another and managed to eject when they realized the effort could not be won. Get use to seeing alot more of this 'history' over the next year or two."

There was quite a lot of this revisionism in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. It became a matter of dogma that the Reagan Administration had either had no effect of the liquidation of the Soviet Block or had actually retarded the process. The arms-control industry continued to insist that Reagan's Star Wars proposal was a blunder, no matter how many former Soviet officials attended post-Cold War conferences in the West and said that of course Star Wars was a major factor in their decision to end the arms race.

Something similar happened after the First Gulf War, largely for the purpose of diminishing the senior George Bush's reelection campaign in 1992. That conflict really was one of the great conventional victories of modern times, but by the beginning of 1992 there was a flood of articles explaining why it wasn't.

After the Vietnam War, there turned out to be little political advantage in denigrating the military. On the other hand, some people tried to argue that the US had really won, but had been stabbed in the back: that did not fly either. After the US largely disengages from Iraq, politicians will find that attempts to disparage the outcome or the rationale for the war will be ill-received. With whatever justice, Iraq is going to get the credit for defeating the Jihad.

There is also this: Post-911 veterans are not Vietnam veterans. Their numbers are smaller, of course, but they are already an admired and self-confident minority. They will transform the military and, one suspects, domestic politics.

* * *

George Bush is not a stupid man, but there is reason to believe he may be ineducable. You would think that the rout of his Social Security proposals would teach him to forget about his libertarian schemes. But no: Look:

President Bush vowed today [Nov. 28] to step up enforcement of U.S. immigration laws on America's borders and inside the country, but he said this could not be done without also creating a new "temporary worker program" that would allow illegal immigrants to live and work in the United States for a defined period.

Sometimes commenting on the Bush Administration is like repeating the Dead Parrot Sketch. The Guest Worker Program is not pining for the fjords. It's dead. Deceased. Statements to the effect that this idea has any chance at all are inoperative.

I object to more than the waste of time. Like the Harriet Myers nomination, this proposal alienates the president's base. He needs the base in order to work with Congress. He needs to work with Congress in order to win the Terror War. That's what he was reelected to do.

* * *

My local video store recently closed, so I dropped by during the going-out-of-business sale to see if there were any DVDs I might want at a low price. And indeed I found one of the most famous obscure movies of all time: Incubus

It's a low-budget horror film, made in 1965. You can find details here, but there are three reasons it attracts attention:

(1) Stars the young William Shatner, as a veteran from an unnamed war who is tempted by diabolical forces.

(2) It is the only major film ever made in Esperanto. (The DVD has French and English subtitles.) Esperanto sounds like Italian. In this film, it sometimes sounds like Italian spoken by American tourists. Not Shatner, though: he clearly worked hard.

(3) There is a Curse of Incubus.

Most horror movies are provided with suitable "curses" by their publicity departments. Incubus's misfortune was genuine, however. All copies of the film and all materials relating to it were lost soon after the film went into release. It was only in the 1990s that a single print was discovered, in France, where a movie house showed it weekly like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The SciFi channel subsidized cleaning up the print and producing the DVD.

By the way: watching the film is like seeing a slightly extended episode of the old Outer Limits series because much the same people (Anthony Taylor, Leslie Stevens, and Conrad Hall) were involved with both the film and the series.

By another way: Esperanto is not an "artificial language." It is a "planned language."

* * *

Speaking of films, it has become headline news that C.S. Lewis did not want his Narnia stories turned into live films:

I am absolutely opposed – adamant isn’t in it! – to a TV version. Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare. At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wld. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wld. be to me blasphemy.

I see the point, but the worry seems to have been misplaced. There is already a good BBC version.

* * *

Limbo also seems about to become inoperative:

THE Catholic Church is preparing to abandon the idea of limbo, the theological belief that children who die before being baptised are suspended in a space between heaven and hell.

The concept, which was devised in the 13th century and was depicted in numerous works of art during the Renaissance, such as Descent into Limbo by the painter Giotto, and in Dante's masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, is of a metaphysical space where infants are blissfully happy but are not actually in the presence of God...[A]n international commission of Catholic theologians, meeting in the Vatican this week, has been pondering the issue and is expected to advise Pope Benedict XVI to announce officially that the theological concept of limbo is incorrect.

The Catholic Church actually has little dogmatic to say about the afterlife. Limbo was the sort of speculation that occurs when people insist on asking questions on subjects about which there is little information.

Here is a point I have never seen addressed: was Limbo related to the notion of the Neutral Angels? We see them in Grail lore from roughly the same period.

Copyright © 2005 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: The West's Last Chance

In the years immediately after 9/11, ideas like the ones advanced by Tony Blankley in the the book under review were widely discussed. However, over time, people gradually lost interest in this kind of thing. 

I find this fascinating. Some of the things Blankley advocated, such as a surveillance state, have come to pass. On the other hand, most Western nations have persisted in maintaining traditions of tolerance and openness, despite more than ten years of bombings, shootings, stabbings, and vehicular mayhem directed against the West and its people by Islamist terrorists.

In a sad way, this has simply become normal. But perhaps that isn't the worst thing that could have happened. Blankley advocated prosecuting the War on Terror with the ruthlessness of the Second World War. As a reminder of what that really looked like, the Allies had a policy of intentionally targeting civilians in both Europe and Japan, and were happy to impose a wide range of restrictions on resident aliens, naturalized citizens, and birthright citizens who shared a common ancestry with our Axis enemies.

The ruins of Dresden  By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-Z0309-310 / G. Beyer / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

The ruins of Dresden

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-Z0309-310 / G. Beyer / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

So far, the West has resisted this. I suspect part of the reason is that once the shock of 9/11 wore off, it became clear that the kind of terrorism we see cannot possibly destroy any Western nation or its way of life. Asymmetric warfare lacks that kind of punch. For that to change, we would need to see at least an order of magnitude more attacks than we see now. From the data I have for the US, about 9 out of 10 terror plots are prevented by the police. It could be much worse.

The West’s Last Chance
Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations? 
By Tony Blankley
Regnery Publishing, 2005
232 Pages, US$27.95
ISBN 0-89526-015-8


This review appeared in the
Spring 2006 issue of
Comparative Civilizations Review


The West is in an existential crisis says Tony Blankley, onetime speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and current editorial page editor for the Washington Times. The crisis is predicated on the loss of morale that began with the First World War, but occasioned by a transnational jihad launched against the West by a coalition of Islamists, the most dangerous of whom are based among the burgeoning Muslim populations in Western lands, particularly in Europe. Blankley is a naturalized American citizen of English origin; he has a lively sense that Churchill’s Britain was more completely mobilized than the Axis powers ever were. He proposes that the only way to defeat the jihad is for Western nations to employ the same ruthlessness and thoroughness that the Allies employed during the last civilizational crisis of the Second World War.

The West’s Last Chance presents a short but plausible brief (Blankley is also a lawyer) that touches dispassionately on all the key points: the nature of Islamist ideology; the demographic weakness of Europe; the relationship of jihad to culture war. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is that, though Blankley is usually accounted a conservative, he is not an American nationalist; neither is he a realist or a neo-isolationist. For that matter, he also is not a neoconservative universalist. The book speaks from a perspective that is still quite rare: the political and cultural unit he seeks to protect is the West, which at the least includes both America and Europe:

“The binding, traditions of language, religion, history, politics, foods, styles of life, and love of individual freedom are sufficient to form a lasting alliance between Americans and Europeans, from Boise to Budapest, from Chicago to Seville. The historic force of the Islamic insurgency, if nothing else, should hammer us back into a common sword that we can call the West.”

Blankley does not purport to be an expert on the Middle East or on Islam, but he has a sophisticated understanding of the Islamist movement. Its most important features are new: 20th century products of an ideological reaction against Western modernity. Before the foundation of Israel and long before the United States became a dominant factor in Middle Eastern politics, this reaction achieved formulation in the writings of Sayyid Qutb as a jeremiad aimed specifically at the United States. Another way that Islamism departs from the traditions of Islamic societies is that jihad, understood in a military sense, has become a personal duty; traditionally, it was a collective enterprise that could be launched only by competent religious authority.

Most important of all, the jihadists have removed the West, and particularly Europe, from the category of Dar al-Suhl, the land of truce, to the category Dar al-Harb, the land of war. The distinction is not theoretical, since there are now large and growing Islamic communities throughout Europe. Partly because of internal resistance, partly because of the ideology of multiculturalism, these communities are not integrating to their host countries. Those countries, one and all, have fertility rates below the replacement level. The term “Eurabia” has been coined to describe the Europe that would exist in the second half of this century if these trends continue: Here is Blankley’s most extreme statement of the danger:

“In an odd way, we are in a situation similar to that which confronted the American Indians when European explorers landed on their shores. From North America to South America, the Indians vastly outnumbered the intruders. But the Europeans were not exactly an army, and warfare did not exactly break out. Instead, both sides seemed almost friendly and cooperative at times. Had the Europeans been seen as a threat, the Indians could have slaughtered them in short order. Even with their guns, there were only a few hundred Europeans, while there were hundreds of thousands of Indians.”

An Islamic Europe, even a Europe merely cowed into diplomatic and cultural submission by large Muslim minorities, would be as intolerable a threat to the United States as a Nazi or a Soviet Europe would have been. However, as Blankley notes, present trends almost never do continue. He fully expects the demographic and cultural trends he describes to reverse.

Blankley does not discuss civilizational dynamics in detail. He does, however, obviously favor some models over others. To begin with, he has little regard for any analysis that likens the current condition of the West to that of the later Roman Empire:

“The history of a nation, people, or a civilization is not linear; nor is it a predictable cycle in the sense that a nation arises, becomes vigorous and develops its classic form, then succumbs to excess, then decadence, and finally death. Such intellectual constructs are too neat. They are often historically contradicted. China has repeatedly emerged from decadence back to youthful vigor, as she is doing currently.”

Without citing him, Blankley embraces Toynbee’s model of broad historical trends that contextualize rather than eliminate free will: “Challenge and response, not continuity, describe the progress of human affairs.” However, the metahistorians whom Blankley most sounds like are Neil Strauss and William Howe, who devised a popular model of American history based on cycles of generations. In this book, the model is applied more broadly:

“The cycle [today] would seem to be completing itself as it so often does in human history. Victory [in 1945], delivered by certain values, yielded prosperity that permitted individualistic caprice, indulgence, overconfidence, excess, and a lack of a joint study permitted danger to arise again and calls for certain values to overcome. As the [baby] boomers were present at the inception of the prosperity and safety cycle, so they will be present at the end of the cycle in the beginning of the danger-driven renewal.”

By the end of the Second World War, Blankley explains, it seemed that the traditional patriotism and cultural pride of Western countries had been discredited. Even to suggest that one’s own society had features that deserved to be preserved was to risk the danger of being branded a chauvinist and a racist, in part for the excellent reason that chauvinists and racists did say things like that. To the extent that people thought about the birthrate at all, it was to devise ways of lowering it.

And so, with great good will, and with considerable success, the leading spirits of Europe set about to create a cosmopolitan society, a continent without borders, in which justice and plenty would be provided by rational, secular administration; and no culture would be preferred to another. All these plans rested on a flawed assumption, however:

“The linchpin of this entire gorgeous edifice -- now already 2/3 constructed -- was an ever-growing, assimilated, law-abiding Muslim European population. Only a steady tide of high-birthrate Muslims could fill the ever-expanding population gap caused by the dearth of indigenous European babies. Only with these young increasingly productive Muslim workers could Europe afford the social welfare system it had given itself. Only with these able and law-abiding workers could Europe economically compete with America and Asia in the 21st century and beyond.”

This is not going to happen. Neither, probably, will Eurabia happen. One of two things will stop it. Western elites might understand the magnitude of their peril and take the sort of steps to meet it that Blankley discusses in the second half of his book. The other possibility is that native European populations will take matters into their own hands, leading to an age of ethnic cleansing and civil war.

According to Blankley, 2004 was the decisive year. The slaughter of the school children in Beslan; the train-bombings in Madrid; and most of all, the gruesome murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh: these events demonstrated to high and low alike that universalist Europe had failed. Blankley gives hopeful coverage to evidence that elite opinion, and even fashionable opinion, is turning against the ideology of multiculturalism. Members of the Green parties, for instance, have taken to demonstrating against the traditional celebration of the feast of Eid al-Adha, because it involves the slaughter of lambs and goats. Even the French establishment, so quick to cater to supposed Muslim sentiment in diplomatic matters, now seems determined to hold fast against the intrusion of Islam into the public square, lest the French tradition of laicism be undermined.

This brings us to the question of religion in the West, and what role it might play in defeating the Islamist threat. At one point, Blankley states, “The West needs to recover its fighting faith.” That is plausible, but Blankley’s treatment of the matter recalls the apocryphal saying of Dwight Eisenhower that American society rested on a strong religious faith and he did not give a damn which one it was.

Blankley notes the statistical correlation between high levels of religious practice and those cultural traits that he believes the West needs to survive, such as fertility rates above the replacement level, patriotism, and a capacity for moral outrage. He also observes that the widely noted difference between America and Europe in the level of religious belief is probably not as great as is generally thought. The real difference is that public agnosticism is expected among elites in much of Europe (one thinks of Prime Minister Blair skulking off to Catholic Mass when no one is looking), whereas a show of piety is good form most of the United States. He points out that some of the strongest opposition to Islamicism now comes from secularists. On the other hand, he also points out that secularism is a historical anomaly, and may not be sustainable in any case.

There are grounds for expecting a religious revival, he says. If, as seems likely, the immediate future resembles the troubled years between 1914 and 1945, then the sheer growth in hardship could drive people to spiritual comfort. He also cites, without evaluation, some speculation by neurologists that religion may be hardwired into the brain, and so will always reassert itself. Frankly, if this the kind of consideration comes to underlie the Western assessment of the value of religion, then it seems to me that the chance for a general revival is nil. Faith defines need. A faith that is invoked to serve a need is really just a Sorelian myth.

Whatever the spiritual state of the West, hardships there will certainly be, many of them necessarily self-imposed. We are entering an era, he suggests, in which economic efficiency will not be the governing criterion in international relations:

“Eventually it will dawn on Western leaders and public opinion that it would be safer to keep some distance between the West and Islam. Everything from Internet connections to immigration, to tourism, to business, to trade will be more carefully controlled if not partially disconnected. Each restraint on the free flow of people, material, and words will act to marginally damage our economies.”

Even more important, the liberal West must recognize that, in Oliver Wendell Holmes’s words, “The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact,” and that survival is the first right:

“It is increasingly likely that such a threat cannot be defeated while the West continues to adhere to its deeply held values -- as it currently understands them -- of tolerance, the right to privacy, the right even to advocate sedition, and the right to equal protection under the law. The day is upon us when the West will have to decide which it values more: granting these rights and tolerance to those who wish to destroy us, or the survival of Western civilization. And this is another reason the West has been slow to react -- because reacting violates its own values.”

Blankley recalls at length just how willing the Allied governments during World War II were willing to subject classes of people to special security measures. The internment of American citizens of Japanese origin is the best-known example, but even larger numbers of other ethnic groups were affected. Many were forced to move or sell their property. Aliens from enemy countries were often deported; naturalized citizens sometimes lost their citizenship. Blankley recites this history without deploring it. The beginning of wisdom, he suggests, is precisely to embrace the practice of ethnic profiling.

Neither can the governments of the West, and particularly the government of the United States, afford any longer to be equally tolerant of all religions. He recalls a Supreme Court decision from 1940 that approved the expulsion of the children of religious sectarians from school because the children refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (Note that this was before the Pledge contained the words “under God,” the occasion of current legal attacks on the Pledge.) The Court was not impressed by the fact that the families of the children belonged to a denomination that refused to swear allegiance to any secular government. For the Court, the government was well within its rights in insisting that schools instill loyalty and a sense of national unity among school children. If Blankley has his way, government will soon again insist on no less.

The book makes other proposals, among the least extreme of which is that serious security measures cannot be implemented without the creation of a national identity card. That would be part of a larger process of internal surveillance that would include taking effective control of the borders. Presumably, the need to track aliens in the country would also rule out a guest-worker program of any great size. The most conceptually interesting proposal, however, is for a declaration of war.

Blankley does not often criticize the Bush Administration in detail, but he deplores its failure to articulate what the war is about. It’s not a war on terror. It’s not a war on Islam. It’s a war on Islamists who seek to subvert the governments of the West and coerce their policies through terror. A declaration of war would clarify the matter. It would also allow the sort of emergency regime that obtained during the 20th century world wars to take effect. Blankley is aware that liberty would not prosper if the measures he is proposing became normal. That is why he suggests that the declaration of war contain a sunset provision. Congress might consider every two years, for instance, whether to renew the declaration. That would be oversight enough.

As we saw at the beginning of this review, the project that Blankley proposes is by no means a conservative enterprise. In effect, he is laying the foundation for a new patriotism, to the nation of the West, on whose survival all the historical patriotisms of France and Holland and Germany and America depend. This is a real conceptual problem with the book: if a revival of patriotism is one of the things that are necessary to fight off the Islamist challenge, then how can one characterize the campaign in terms of the defense of the West as a whole? Nonetheless, we see here an outline of a formidable engine, one that could, conceivably, fulfill the function for which it was designed. The one great deficiency is that the engine still lacks the fuel of fear that is necessary to make it go. Blankley is aware of that, but does not doubt that events will supply it. After all, last year the murder of a single Dutch filmmaker (and a rather disreputable one at that) wonderfully concentrated the mind of all Europe. What might a serious string of suicide bombings do, much less a manmade plague, or a nuke?

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The Long View 2005-10-04: Marvin the Paranoid Android

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In a major break from John, I really liked the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and hated the book. My wife suggested the problem was that I tried to read it as an adult, and since the book is literally sophomoric, you really need to first approach it as a teenager or college student. If only I had known!

Marvin the Paranoid Android


I knew it was going to be bad, but I did not think it was going to be this bad. Well, maybe I did. I got around last weekend to seeing the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I stutter in my eagerness to spew invective.

Appalling. Dreadful. Any idiot could make Marvin into a metallic Care Bear, as the makers of this film did, but it took a special attention to detail to botch the orchestration of Journey of the Sorcerer. The signature misstep in this maladaptation is the large prominence given the Vogons. Vogons are not interesting. Two Vogons are less interesting than one Vogon. This film spent a large slice of a generous special-effects budget to realize armies of them.

What is the moral here? When the BBC did their pitch-perfect version of this story many years ago, their single largest budget item seems to have been the cost of Arthur Dent's towel. Nothing ruins the cinematization of fantasy more than the financing of the producer and director beyond their intelligence.

* * *

And that goes double for the nomination of Harriet Miers to the United States Supreme Court.

Shall we be clear on a few issues? Roe v. Wade is a done deal. I don't think that any informed person doubts that it will be overturned. The political class is just positioning itself to accommodate the change. The smarter Democrats know that the prospects for their party will increase markedly when this incubus is taken off them; the Republicans know that a large fraction of their profession-class women voters are libertarians in this matter and so are going to need placating, which will take the form of acquiescence in a liberal abortion regime created by legislation. Both parties, for now, have to continue to embrace the opposite of these realities, but in a few years we will forget which party was on which side.

The cause for outrage here is that the president appointed his personal attorney to the Supreme Court. It is not important that she has never been a judge. What is important is that she's a political hack of no academic distinction and with a narrow range of professional experience. Her chief qualification is dog-loyalty to the person of George Bush.

Frankly, I have been surprised by the caution of the Democrats in reacting to this nomination. The opposition of the Republican base is surprising, too, but chiefly for its cluelessness. Of course this sockpuppet will vote for Movement Conservative issues. The problem is that, when the constitutional changes come, they will come from a court without dignity or credibility, like the Florida Supreme Court in the election of 2000.

* * *

Do you call that an empire? So asks Spengler at Asia Times in his review of Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts : The American Military on the Ground. We read:

Robert Kaplan of the Atlantic Monthly longs to be the American Rudyard Kipling, the chronicler of the intrepid subalterns and leathery sergeants who save the empire through pluck and grit.

Alas for Mr. Kaplan, the US military really shows no sign of turning into an imperial military, if by that you mean the militaries of the 19th-century colonial powers. And why is this?

To begin with, the 10,000 or so Special Forces in the US Army are the wrong sort of people: tattooed, tobacco-chewing, iron-pumping Southerners, clever at improvised repairs or minor surgery in the field, and deadly in firefights (although Kaplan never sees one), but without the cultural skills essential to their mission.

He has a point. The American military simply cannot get its act together in the matter of learning foreign languages, for instance. It can build public infrastructure but has little interest in governance. Actually, the officer corps is remarkably intelligent, even well-read, but it works well only with local people who have the same technocratic mindset.

For anyone interested in developing the contrast between the militaries of the 19th and 21st centuries, you might take a look at this piece in Prospect (brought to my attention by Danny Yee), which deplores the passing of the sort of liberal-arts mandarin who used to manage the British empire: From the American founders, Macaulay, Acton, and Mill to de Tocqueville, Guizot, Weber and Ortega y Gasset, the conservative liberals of western Europe and North America feared that universal suffrage would produce "mobocracy." But the nightmare of mass democracy never fully materialised, in large part because of the political and cultural role of the mandarinate, the "new class" of Marxist and neoconservative social theory, the Bildungsbürgertum (cultured middle class) as opposed to the Besitzbürgertum (propertied middle class)....All of this now lies in ruins. Four sources of authority are invoked to fill the vacuum left by the decline of the modern humanism that legitimated the mandarinate: professionalism, positivism, populism and religion.

As for lamentations that America is failing to play the Great Game, I can only repeat that these criticisms are misplaced. The United States is not trying to run a 19th-century empire. It is trying to function as a utility in an incipient Universal State. And look at the flack we get.

* * *

On the topic of Universal States, these remarks by Mark Steyn on the deep reasons for the latest Bali bombings state an important misconception:

Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Gottingen University in Germany, said in an interesting speech a few months after September 11, "Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms, these mean different things to each of them. The word peace, for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam -- or House of Islam -- to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought. Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or House of Peace."

That's why they blew up Bali in 2002, and last weekend, and why they'll keep blowing it up. It's not about Bush or Blair or Iraq or Palestine. It's about a world where everything other than Islamism lies in ruins.

In reality, Kant's Perpetual Peace and the peace of a universal caliphate Islam are both expressions of the archetype of the Necessary Empire.

* * *

On the matter of misconceptions about evolution, see the essay Stephen M. Barr in the October issue of First Things, "The design of evolution," which answers with some recent attempts to cloud the perfectly satisfactory Catholic position on the matter:

So why did Christoph Schönborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, lash out this summer at neo-Darwinism? In an opinion piece for the New York Times on July 7, he reacted indignantly to the suggestion that “the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of” evolution “as used by mainstream biologists – that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism. Brushing off the 1996 statement of John Paul II as “vague and unimportant,” he cited other evidence (including statements by the late pope, sentences from Communion and Stewardship and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and a line from the Pope Benedict XVI's installation homily) to make the case that neo-Darwinism is in fact incompatible with catholic teaching...Elsewhere in his article, however, the cardinal is another definition: “evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense [is] an unguided, unplanned process of random variation in natural selection.”...[In reality, the] word “random” as used in science does not mean unplanned, or inexplicable; it means uncorrelated.

Elsewhere in this piece, Barr mentions Simon Conway Morris's argument in Life's Solution as a model in which randomness is compatible with meaning.

* * *

And speaking of First Things, the website now has a blog-like entity on the top page. It is not supposed to be a proper blog, I gather. It may be intended to serve as a place to which the journal's fanatical readers can refer if something really bad happens in the world and they cannot wait until the next issue of the print journal to get the party line.

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The Long View 2005-08-05: Generations & Revivals

Social survey data continues to show the trends John noted twelve years ago: young Americans are more prudish and conformist and statist than the Baby Boom generation.

Generations & Revivals:


Here is a bit of Marine Corps propaganda from a Captain B. Quinn about the Americans who are actually fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, A generation transformed. It appeared in the International Herald Tribune:

For all the mistakes in planning that have been made in this war, and all the acts of heroism that have (or more often have not) been reported, this war is transforming young Americans. We are forming a new "greatest generation" that will counteract the obsession with one's self that has characterized the last few decades...If the policy makers and politicians choose the right path, if they spend our lives wisely, this global war on terror will be a Normandy, and not a Vietnam. Through the actions of our service members and the sacrifices of our Maloneys, we are transforming Iraq. As we return home, we are also transforming the face of America.

Just because something is propaganda does not mean it isn't true. One notes that, even now, young Iraq vets are starting to get the same kind of deference that World War II veterans got in the aftermath of the war: my own city councilman is of their number. The number of new veterans is relatively small, of course, but the kind of change in the social weather that Captain Quinn is talking about does seem to be a real phenomenon, as David Brooks observed on the New York Times yesterday:

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of family violence in this country has dropped by more than half since 1993....Violent crime over all is down by 55 percent since 1993 and violence by teenagers has dropped an astonishing 71 percent, according to the Department of Justice.

The number of drunken driving fatalities has declined by 38 percent since 1982, according to the Department of Transportation, even though the number of vehicle miles traveled is up 81 percent. The total consumption of hard liquor by Americans over that time has declined by over 30 percent.

Teenage pregnancy has declined by 28 percent since its peak in 1990. Teenage births are down significantly and, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions performed in the country has also been declining since the early 1990's.

Fewer children are living in poverty, even allowing for an uptick during the last recession. There's even evidence that divorce rates are declining, albeit at a much more gradual pace. People with college degrees are seeing a sharp decline in divorce, especially if they were born after 1955.

...I always thought it would be dramatic to live through a moral revival. Great leaders would emerge. There would be important books, speeches, marches and crusades. We're in the middle of a moral revival now, and there has been very little of that.

I cannot help but observe that these developments are eerily consistent with the scenario in Strauss & Howe's Fourth Turning, except for the vexed question of whether the Crisis Era they predicted began with 911. Actually, the fit is so eerily consistent for both the articles I quote that one must ask whether the authors were influenced by S&H's books. Be that as it may, though, we should recognize that all this youthful rectitude does not bode at all well for Movement Conservatism in the United States, if by that you mean the conservatism of low taxes and private initiative. The military virtues are not libertarian virtues; a generation that rode to power on the back of a great national effort is not going to think of government as something that needs to be kept off their back.

There is a great future for the cause of moral orthodoxy that the Republican Party has monopolized. However, the monopoly was granted by the Democrats, who continue to shoot themselves in the foot on this class of issue. This situation is not going to continue.

* * *

The connection between war and the character of a generation is hardly new. Consider, for instance, this passage from John Fitzgerald Kennedy's Inaugural Address, delivered on January 20, 1961:

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

These words were spoken long after the great crisis of Kennedy's generation had been successfully resolved, and of course some years before Kennedy's coevals came close to driving the country over a cliff. Kennedy was elected "to get the country moving again," but this address suggests that his instincts were profoundly conservative. We might contrast this generational self-consciousness with that of Ernst Jünger, the German Hemingway, who was one of a number of veterans of World War I who believed that their experiences had made them a people apart. John King says this in his doctoral dissertation on Jünger, Writing and Rewriting the First World War: Ernst Jünger and the Crisis of the conservative Imagination, 1914-1925, particularly in connection with In Stahlgewittern [Storm of Steel]:

By eliminating the old humanist distinction between Man and machine, Jünger was able to imagine that modern warfare did not involve the decentring of the individual by technology, but rather that technology itself was a constituent part of a new quasi-cyborg subject. Thus, he writes that the new race of warriors belong to ["a generation with an iron nervous system": 'ein Geschlecht mit eisernem Nervensystem'] (pp. 6-7), an aeroplane is referred to as ["this valuable unity of machine and man": 'diese kostbare Einheit aus Maschine und Mensch' (p. 8)], and the Stoßtrupps are characterised by ["a quasi-mechanical cooperation of weapon and man": 'ein maschinenhaftes Zusammenarbeiten von Waffe und Mensch'](p. 242). [The English is mine: JJR]

In their combination of commitment to their cause and technical expertise, this new race is said to blend instrumental rationality and passion...They thus represent a synthesis which would appear to represent an imaginary instance in which the two opposing aspects of his interpretation of the War could be sublated and the subject re-centred. His final step with this 'new race' is to make it into the new subject of history, casting it as the collective subject of that future action upon which Jünger pinned his hopes for a redemption of the War.

Jünger lived an amazingly long time (to 104!), during which his ideas underwent many modifications and improvements; he can be defended, and even admired. However, one cannot avoid the impression that something was not hitting on all eight cylinders in the heart of the early postwar Jünger, and the same seems to have been true of his whole generation. One of the great questions of Alternative History is whether this mutation occurred because World War I had gone badly for Germany, or whether there was some misfire in Germany culture that would have manifested itself even if Germany had won.

What is at stake for the United States in the War on Terror, and perhaps in a war with China a few years later?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-07-27: Incredulity: Justified & Otherwise

I also find that my suspension of disbelief is jarred by things that should be otherwise orthogonal to the story, such as John Constantine's smoking habit. Something like that almost ruined the Name of the Wind for me.

Incredulity: Justified & Otherwise


I am at a loss to understand this story, from today's New York TimesPolice Debate if London Plotters Were Suicide Bombers, or Dupes:

Investigators raising doubts about the suicide assumption have cited evidence to support this theory. Each of the four men who died in the July 7 attacks purchased round-trip railway tickets from Luton to London. Germaine Lindsay's rented car left in Luton had a seven-day parking sticker on the dashboard.

A large quantity of explosives were stored in the trunk of that car, perhaps for another attack. Another bomber had just spent a large sum to repair his car. The men carried driver's licenses and other ID cards with them to their deaths, unusual for suicide bombers.

In addition, none left behind a note, videotape or Internet trail as suicide bombers have done in the past. And the bombers' families were baffled by what seemed to be their decisions to kill themselves.

One might contrast the behavior of the bombers with that of the Heaven's Gate suicide cult, who took great care to settle their affairs down to the last library fine and who left elaborate video exhortations; or for that matter, with Palestinian suicide bombers, who also leave farewell messages. On the other hand, the 911 hijackers saw no need to issue a manifesto, and the almost daily suicide attacks in Iraq are made by men who are content to die anonymously.

And what about the second batch of bombers? We will know soon, perhaps.

* * *

Last week, Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado floated the notion of nuking Mecca:

Does that mean the United States should be re-targeting its entire missile arsenal on Mecca today? Does it mean we ought to be sending Stealth bombers on runs over Medina? Clearly not.

But should we take any option or target off the table, regardless of the circumstances? Absolutely not, particularly if the mere discussion of an option or target may dissuade a fundamentalist Muslim extremist from strapping on a bomb-filled backpack, or if it might encourage "moderate" Muslims to do a better job cracking down on extremism in their ranks.

We mark a declension in public life even by needing to reject such an idea, but Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis does as good a job as one could ask for:

First of all, Mecca and Medina are sacred because of history and above all the Qu'ran and it is the book that makes the ritual center sacred, not the other way around. To use an example, destroying the Temple in Jerusalem didn't put an end to Judaism, nor did it put an end to Jewish separatism, as the Bar Kokba Rebellion demonstrates. A US attack on Mecca and Medina would therefore accomplish nothing if the goal of such a strike is to bring an end to Islam.

Secondly, one of the things that all the folks who assure us that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim keep forgetting is that the Iraqi and Afghan armies that are now fighting and dying alongside US troops against Zarqawi and the Taliban. In the event that we destroy their holy sites, it seems pretty clear to me that these folks would rise up against the US. Maybe some people like the nuts over at Hindutva see that as a preferable outcome (along with the depopulation of half the planet) in order to satisfy their bloodlust, but I myself prefer not to endanger our troops if at all possible. The entire US project for the Middle East, which I wholeheartedly support, involves the democratization of [the] region. Somebody explain to me how exactly any kind of attack on Mecca would further those objectives.

Actually, the United States is probably the last power that would retaliate for a terrorist nuclear attack in this fashion. It is extremist Muslims, notably Iranians, who say that Israel would be destroyed in a nuclear exchange with a Muslim nuclear power, whereas the Islamic world would suffer only limited damage. France would have to think about it seriously, if something bad happened to Paris, for lack of a conventional retaliation option. India could not do it yet, but such a capability would change the terms of their standoff with Pakistan.

So, in a way, Congressman Tancredo has raised an important point: have the Islamofascists considered whether Islam can really make do with just four pillars? Their nihilism, in the long run, puts the site of the Hajj at risk.

* * *

If you want to see how scary discussions like this appear to the rest of the world, you could do worse than to browse It's one of those obvious ideas you wish you had first: a page of links to machine translations of news and opinion articles from around the world that relate to the United States.

Of course, while it is good for Americans to read the foreign press, one wonders whether it so good to read it (a) in translation and (b) about themselves. I am reminded of the old joke: "But enough about me; what do you think about my hat?"

* * *

Sonic Decavitation Fusion is looking promising again, according to this story from Purdue:

The Purdue team began its work independently two years ago. "Sonofusion is thermonuclear fusion and is scalable," said Yiban Xu, who performed the experiment with fellow researcher Adam Butt. "However, much research and development needs to be done before reaching so-called energy break-even."

You can't tell much from a press account like this, but I gather that this kind of cold fusion is starting to look less like a power source than like a way to fabricate materials.

* * *

What does it signify, except for the onset of the summer news-doldrums, when a change of official metaphors becomes a major story? As the New York Times put it, New Name for 'War on Terror' Reflects Wider U.S. Campaign:

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice.

As a slogan, "Global struggle against violent extremism" is right up there with "let the debate begin." Besides, "extremism" is a bad thing to be against: you are going to need to be extreme yourself now and again, if you want to accomplish anything. If we must have a catchphrase, how about the "Defense of Civilization"? Civilization, singular.

* * *

I have an Irish predilection to always give the cops a generous benefit of the doubt. However, this remark by Mark Steyn about last week's shooting of an unarmed man in the London subways gave me pause:

I happened to be passing through London on Friday [the day Jean Charles de Menezes was shot]. It didn't feel terribly warm, but I spend half a year up to my neck in snow so when it climbs to a balmy 48 I start wearing T-shirts. But I can understand why a Brazilian might find 61 and overcast no reason to eschew a heavy jacket. So a man in a suspiciously warm coat refuses to stop for the police. Well, they were a plain-clothes unit - ie, a gang - and confronted by unidentified men brandishing weapons in south London I'd scram, too.

Talk about your fashion police.

* * *

Tim Worstall vents his spleen in the memorably titled column, Harry Potter and the Half-Wit Prigs, at "our old friends, Greenpeace International, who have decided that US readers should boycott the local edition of the latest Harry Potter and buy the Canadian one instead. The reason is, you see, that the US version is not printed on recycled paper":

....We already have a simple and convenient system for measuring whether one process or another uses more or less resources. It's called the price. This is exactly what markets do, they aggregate all the costs of production into one single set of digits. A lower number means less resources used, a higher one more.

I am waiting for someone to blow the whistle on the whole recycling racket.

* * *

My suspension of disbelief snapped when I viewed the DVD of Constantine, starring Keanu Reeves, a film about an exorcist who prevents the incarnation of the devil's son.

Hell has never been done better than in this film, perhaps, and I am willing to grant that the Father of Lies might well wear a white leisure suit. But does anyone really think that, these days, a man could walk unmolested through hospitals and other public places while smoking cigarettes?!?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-06-21: Goodness & Victory

Maybe John lived in the alternative history of S. M. Stirling's Conquistador, where the US fought in the MIddle East and won a durable victory.

Goodness & Victory


Even the Spengler at Asia Times reads opinion polls and forms the opinions they are designed to create, or so we must surmise from his latest column, Why is good dumb?:

No Western leader has tried harder to be good, but looked dumber, than America's...President George W Bush, over whom evil is about to triumph. ...[George Bush personally is not stupid, since] every insider account of the Bush White House portrays the president as a crafty operator, very much in control. Besides, now we know that the president earned better grades at Yale than his Democrat challenger, John Kerry...[However, the president has declined to do the smart thing.] A simple punitive expedition against Saddam Hussein, followed by side-deals with the Kurds and Shi'ites to secure oil supplies, would have served Washington's "imperial" requirements, had that been the objective. Bush actually believes he is building democracy in the Muslim world.

...What makes the US uniquely good is that it is uniquely Christian. I do not mean that Christianity is a unique fount of goodness - far from it - but rather that Christianity proposes a universalized form of good. ...As the only nation with no ethnicity, America is the most Christian, and indeed the last Christian nation in the industrial world as a practical matter...Good people cannot as a rule understand wicked people. They do not wish to be wicked, and cannot understand why anyone else would wish to do so....To embrace death is the extreme of evil [which is the essence of Islamism].

But Scripture tells us otherwise:

John 1:5 And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not.

And if you don't like the Bible straight, The Lord of the Rings repeatedly makes much the same point: e.g. The Fellowship, Book II, Chapter 6, page 366:

In this high place you may see the two powers that are opposed one to another; and ever they strive in thought, but whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered. Not yet.

To put the matter less metaphysically: even before 911, there were scholars and public officials in the West who were trying to understand Islamofascism, though they often poorly informed about what actual Islamofascist groups were doing. The Islamofascists themselves, however, even when they had studied in the West, rarely had a clue about the motives and capacities of liberal societies. The ideologies they embraced made the West, the real West, invisible and incomprehensible.

This is an important moment in the course of the war, partly because of what is happening on the ground, but also because of the "lose the war now" campaign among the Bush Administration's political opponents. In the past few weeks we have seen two fraudulent media campaigns, coordinated with increasingly irresponsible statements by members of Congress.

One campaign, involving the so-called "Downing Street Memos," argues that the Bush Administration in early 2002 had made the political decision to go to war and was falsifying intelligence to that end. It makes this argument against the text of the memos. The other campaign, made up out of whole cloth, branded the Administration with "Koran abuse." That hoax re-injected into political discourse the concept of sacrilege, a development which we may be sure will torment the hoax's perpetrators in years to come. There is, of course, public weariness with American and Iraqi casualties, a subjective sentiment that is easily transformed by the magic of modern polling into the statement that the public objectively believes the war to be unjustified.

We might compare the current situation to April of last year, when the Coalition lost control of Falluja and Kufa simultaneously, and there was speculation about planning for a "fighting withdrawal." At the time, I wrote:

George Bush and his Administration have their faults, but lack of resolve is not among them. They have a virtue: they won't try to compromise with people who can't be trusted to keep an agreement. Those are the essentials.

The ability to see who cannot be negotiated with is in fact one of the marks of goodness; the corrupt always believe that those with whom they deal are as malleable as themselves.

Something else that I also wrote at that time does need further comment now:

It will be seen, presently, that the opponents of the Coalition and of the nascent Iraqi government have done their worst, and their worst is no great shakes.

Actually, the worst the enemy can do is pretty bad, though not in the way we might have feared. There is an insurgency in Iraq, but the daily carnage we read of is only peripherally related to it. The Islamofascists aren't really running an insurgency: they are running a campaign to sicken the Iraqis into political catatonia.

We were wrong to dismiss the term, "the War on Terrorism," as a piece of rhetoric that needed to be rephrased in a more sophisticated manner. We are in fact fighting against a tactic. If the Suicide Jihad fails in Iraq, it will fail everywhere. If it succeeds in Iraq, then it will be tried everywhere, and often succeed. It would certainly be used by confident Islamists, now with secure bases in countries the US would be too demoralized to invade, in spectacular 911-style attacks in the West.

Does this mean that, for the indefinite future, there will be reports every morning that another restaurant has been bombed, or another queue of pensioners has been murdered? No: and neither is the new conventional wisdom true that the Coalition is going to have to keep about the same level of troops in Iraq for years to come. When peace comes, it will come suddenly. Consider this story: Marines See Signs Iraq Rebels Are Battling Foreign Fighters

"There is a rift," said [a UN official], who requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks he had held. "I'm certain that the nationalist Iraqi part of the insurgency is very much fed up with the Jihadists grabbing the headlines and carrying out the sort of violence that they don't want against innocent civilians."

The nationalist insurgent groups, "are giving a lot of signals implying that there should be a settlement with the Americans," while the Jihadists have a purely ideological agenda, he added.

Possibly the only thing that could lose the war at this point would be a date certain for a withdrawal.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-09-21: You Can't Make This Stuff Up

I was never able to take Pat Buchanan's critique of the Iraq War seriously because of statements like the one quoted in John's post here. While Buchanan was pretty right about the war overall, I still think the reason Iraq is unstable is that it is full of people who hate each other, for tribal, ethnic, and religious reasons.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up


Viewers of the CBS cartoon show, The Evening News with Dan Rather, are aware that the title character is based on the anchorman, Kent Brockman, in the Fox reality show, The Simpsons. Last night's Evening News segment about the National Guard memos was apparently a take-off on an incident in the Deep Space Homer documentary on Fox. An accident with an ant farm on the Space Shuttle caused the misapprehension at Mission Control that the shuttle had been commandeered by giant alien insects. Mr. Brockman promptly surrendered to the insects, and offered his services for the pacification of Earth. When it became apparent that the insects had merely been walking across the lens of the shuttle's cabin camera, the anchorman offered this measured retraction: 

Well, this reporter was... possibly a little hasty earlier and would like to reaffirm his allegiance to this country and its human president. It may not be perfect, but it's the best government we have. For now.

What more could a reasonable man ask for?

* * *

Meanwhile, here in the Third Dimension, or at any rate at New York University, Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, tried to put some distance between his position on Iraq and that of President Bush:

Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious?" Bush's presidential rival said at New York University..."Is he really saying to Americans that if we had known there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaida, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is resoundingly no because a commander in chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe."

It is perhaps unfair to take Senator Kerry literally on this, since we now know the intent of the Baathist regime before the invasion, something that one government scarcely ever knows certainly about another. Still, one must remark that we know that Iraq did not have stocks of WMDs (I still think some arsenals will come to light, but let that pass), and that the regime intended to resume its WMD programs as soon as the sanctions were lifted. So, we must imagine a situation in which we knew that Iraq was in substantial compliance with the disarmament directive, so that the sanctions would have to be lifted. We must also suppose that we knew that Iraq would then go into WMD production again. Post-911, would that not be sufficient cause for war?

* * *

Has the political system taken on the prospect that the Terror War could last a generation? One suspects the public understands the matter better by this point:

With fighting in Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Iraq (news - web sites) far from over, a Pew Research Center Poll found that 51 percent of voters surveyed said they do worry that Bush, if re-elected, would lead the country into another war..."The Bush administration is on a crusade to make the world safe for democracy and part of that ... is eliminating countries of anti-Western aggression," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank in Washington.

Do they "worry that Bush, if re-elected, would lead the country into another war," or have they grasped that we are involved in a war on many fronts, and are prepared to vote for Bush in the belief that he will wage it more effectively?

Then there is this further signal from Planet Think Tank:

"It's this process of bluster and threat and escalation that could lead to war," said Michael O'Hanlon of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institute. "I don't want to say that the chance of war is particularly high, but I think it would be higher under Bush than under Kerry."

Actually, a little bluster seemed to work very well with the Libyans, and even the Iranians, until the latter realized that the Europeans would be taking the diplomatic lead on nuclear non-proliferation issues.

* * *

Robert Novak had this impish piece in yesterday's Sun-TimesQuick exit from Iraq is likely:

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go...In the Aug. 29 New York Times Magazine, columnist David Brooks wrote an article (''How to Reinvent the GOP'') that is regarded as a neo-con manifesto and not popular with other conservatives...''We need to strengthen nation states,'' Brooks wrote, calling for ''a multilateral nation-building apparatus.'' To chastened Bush officials, that sounds like an invitation to repeat Iraq instead of making sure it never happens again.

Troop levels may well decline next year, but I doubt that this column evinces much insight into the state of debate in the Bush Administration. What we have here is a restatement of the Buchananite view that the nature of foreign regimes, or chaos in foreign countries, cannot be a security question for the United States, so any attempts at regime change or nation-building are mere Wilsonian mettlesomeness.

The reality is much more serious. Regime change now, in Iraq and elsewhere, is the alternative to precautionary nuclear strikes in the future, when we are not sure where a WMD attack in the West came from.

Speaking of Buchananism, I watched The McLaughlin Group last Sunday, for the first time in a long while. I came across it by accident; it was news to me it was still being broadcast. Anyway, there was Pat Buchanan himself, repeating his new slogan, "The cause of instability in Iraq is the presence of American troops."

I suppose you could say that about any war when you are on enemy territory: just withdraw and the fighting will stop. In this case, of course, it is the insurgency that is keeping US forces in Iraqi soil, as the insurgents know very well. The only question that interests them is who will be running the country when the US leaves.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-09-08: Death Cult

Here, on the grounds of millenarian movements and apocalyptic expectations, I think John was at his best when describing what Islamic terrorism is. There is a link to esoteric fascism too, the ideology of Tradition. Pray that men such as these don't have their day in the sun.

Death Cult


Peter Preston wrote a piece for The Guardian that appeared on September 6, entitled Writing the script for terror. He is incredulous of the idea that the Beslan Massacre was the work of international terrorism. He is also patronizing toward Tom Clancy, which is easy to do, but ill-informed: Clancy's novel, Rainbow Six, described a school hostage taking and the sort of force needed to deal with it, a point worthy of attention. Chiefly, though, he implies that the best way to deal with incidents like Beslan is not to report them, or at least not to report them so prominently:

For the difficult, inescapable thing, watching those pictures, is an eery feeling of manipulation. Somebody planned this and reckoned the cameras would be there....Two bleak things follow. One is that - whether or not it exists on any organised level - we shall gradually come to identify a force called international terrorism, a force defined not by the coordination of its strikes or creeds but by the orchestration of its inhuman propaganda. I manipulate, therefore I exist...The other thing is self-knowledge for media-makers and media-watchers.

Certainly the Islamofascist strategy is based on creating spectacles. However, I don't think that "we shall gradually come to identify a force" behind this propaganda. I think the force has done a pretty good job of identifying itself.

* * *

The strangely ubiquitous David Brooks writes in The New York Times (September 7) about this force:

We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare, "You love life, but we love death." This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit mass murder.

This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine; they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but blood.

This new phenomenon is just as nightmarish as Brooks suggests. However, if it's a cult, it's a cult without an essential theology. The massacres are apocalyptic, both in the popular sense of indiscriminately destructive, and in the scholarly sense of revealing the insubstantiality of the ordinary world. However, the death cult seems to be only incidentally related to eschatological belief systems. It's a mime, a ritual.

Nonetheless, I think I have some notion of what's going on here. In an e-book, I suggested that the final phase in the life of a great culture is a tendency toward pure destructiveness. I called that "The Terminal Apocalypse," to distinguish it from earlier versions of millenarianism, which are revolutionary and often creative. Of course, this tells us nothing about the subjective state of the people who experience this terminal mood. Brooks suggests this:

It's about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It's about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism - freedom even from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It's about the joy of sadism and suicide.

Maybe, but I would remind readers that people do the worst things for what they imagine to be the best reasons. The terminal apocalypse seems to have something to do with the spiritual autonomy sought by esoteric fascists: neither life nor death, nor the failure of all one's historical hopes, can deflect the adept from his course. He can be killed, but not defeated.

This brings us to the question of how to manage these people. Brooks says:

This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what makes it so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a sort of mental diversion. They don't want to confront this horror. So they rush off in search of more comprehensible things to hate.

It is not true that the followers of the death cult make no demands and cannot be negotiated with. As Anonymous tells us, al-Qaeda fundamentally wants the United States out of the Arabian Peninsula. That could be negotiated. The people who did Beslan want the Russians out of Chechnya. That could be negotiated, too. The problem is that the death cult is what its followers do, not what they want or believe.

Surrender doesn't help. The Russians actually tried that, after Yeltsin's first attempt to subdue Chechnya by force failed. They withdrew, in the expectation that a provisional government would form with which they could do business. What actually happened was that the state in Chechnya disappeared, and the chaos began to spill over into the neighboring areas of the Russian Federation. The state similarly disintegrated in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Somalia. The same would be true in Palestine, were it not for subventions from Europe.

The rubble produced by the death cult is contagious. Perhaps it, too, cannot be defeated, but only killed.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-09-01: The Real War, Billy Jack, Cold Fusion

I'm surprised no one has yet resurrected Billy Jack to punch Nazis

I'm surprised no one has yet resurrected Billy Jack to punch Nazis

John prediction record on this post is almost zero. The only thing in here I can find that didn't get disproved by subsequent events is the statement that the Islamic terror attacks on the US and European nations was another theatre of an Arabian civil war. 

The Real War, Billy Jack, Cold Fusion


If you are running for president, and the only real reason to vote for you is your promise to successfully prosecute a war in progress, you don't want to see headlines like this one in The New York Times today:

In Retreat, Bush Says U.S. Will Win War on Terrorism

It is not hard to see what President Bush meant last Monday when he said that the United States would never defeat "terrorism": terror is a tactic, not an enemy, but we might hope to defeat the current crop of enemies who favor it. The president's spin doctors have been occupied in explaining some version of this distinction since the president failed to make it, and in fact, the statement probably did negligible harm. However, this will not be the last time we go through a drill like this, and the reason is not George Bush's relaxed attitude toward semantics.

One can only repeat that "The War on Terror" is not just a misnomer; it's an evasion. The real war is an Islamist offensive launched against the West, with the collapse of the morale of the United States as its main strategic objective. Anonymous calls this war a Jihad, which is what its current principal proponents call it, but in many ways it is also an Arabian civil war being fought in part on Western territory. "Jihad" will do. "Islamist Offensive" will do. What will not do is "War on Terror," which turns the conflict into a long, twilight struggle, in which victory is not just impossible, but unimaginable.

* * *

Reports about the WMD question in Iraq continue to appear. Consider this one from The Washington Times of August 16:

Saddam Hussein periodically removed guards on the Syrian border and replaced them with his own intelligence agents who supervised the movement of banned materials between the two countries, U.S. investigators have discovered.

The recent discovery by the Bush administration's Iraq Survey Group (ISG) is fueling speculation, but is not proof, that the Iraqi dictator moved prohibited weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into Syria before the March 2003 invasion by a U.S.-led coalition.

Sooner or later, it will no doubt be proven that the Baathist government exported substantial weapons stocks, and the industrial plant to produce them, as soon as it was certain that the invasion would occur. That, however, will only begin the debate we would have begun to have in the summer of 2003, if the stocks had been left in place: was the United States really threatened by some tons of obsolete chemical and biological munitions, much less by a mothballed nuclear program?

Answering that question would require quite as much subtlety as the Bush Administration has had to deploy in the current situation, in which only traces of the WMD programs have been found. The fact is that those stocks, whether in Syria or Iraq, were never more than a token of the Baathist government's refusal to forgo weapons of that class, even after half-a-generation of UN sanctions. That persistence showed that the regime itself was the problem, not the regime's policies.

We have by no means heard the last of this argument.

* * *

Speaking of things we have not heard the last of, I had an epiphany after reading this recent critique of John Kerry's Neo-Vietnam Strategy (forgive the lack of a link):

"Kerry may be judged naive to have thought that Vietnam would be a golden credential . . . and not an inevitable source of controversy," [David] Broder [of the Washington Post] writes. "In a 2002 conversation, Kerry told me he thought it would be doubly advantageous that 'I fought in Vietnam and I also fought against the Vietnam War,' apparently not recognizing that some would see far too much political calculation in such a bifurcated record."

Whether or not the strategy was naive, I could not shake the feeling that it was familiar. Finally I remembered: this was the premise of Billy Jack (1971). That was, of course, just about the time that John Kerry was beginning to craft his political personna. The synopsis for the film goes like this:

Plot Outline: Ex-Green Beret karate expert saves wild horses from being slaughtered for dog food and helps protect a desert "freedom school" for runaways.

The theme song for the film was actually a successful single, with lyrics whose aggressive moral smugness characterized the era:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven;
You'll be justified in the end.

Billy Jack and its sequels occasioned a memorable parody by Saturday Night Live, in which Billy Jack, played by the singer Paul Simon, beats up everyone in an ice-cream parlor who insults his runaway students. Then one of the students makes an ice-cream cone with scoops of vanilla, chocolate, and cherry. Glaring into the camera, she says: "See: white, black, and red. If the whole world could be like this ice-cream cone, Billy Jack would not have to kill so many people!"

But I reminisce.

* * *

On a happier note, it's not impossible that we could soon be pleasantly surprised on the energy front:

Later this month, the U.S. Department of Energy will receive a report from a panel of experts on the prospects for cold fusion--the supposed generation of thermonuclear energy using tabletop apparatus. It's an extraordinary reversal of fortune: more than a few heads turned earlier this year when James Decker, the deputy director of the DOE's Office of Science, announced that he was initiating the review of cold fusion science. Back in November 1989, it had been the department's own investigation that determined the evidence behind cold fusion was unconvincing. Clearly, something important has changed to grab the department's attention now.

An interesting point is that, like the Internet, Cold Fusion seems to have been one of those low-priority government projects that have created so much of the modern world:

THE FIRST HINT that the tide may be changing came in February 2002, when the U.S. Navy revealed that its researchers had been studying cold fusion on the quiet more or less continuously since the debacle began. Much of this work was carried out at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, where the idea of generating energy from sea water -- a good source of heavy water -- may have seemed more captivating than at other laboratories.

One lives in hope.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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Right-wing terrorism in America

I saw this graph, and others much like it, frequently on social media. I think is is a good idea to look into things that seem contrary to your impressions, and this one seemed to challenge mine.

As a engineer, I also always like to look at the source data, so I sought out the article from the New America Foundation, Terrorism in America, that was cited. The graph below appears in the article, and sure enough, it looks like the one above, with a big spike for Jihadist victims in 2016, since the dataset has been updated since the previous chart was generated. You can download a set of .csv files from the New America Foundation that contains all of the data they have collected. I appreciate the effort that went into compiling this, and I also appreciate the New America foundation and the authors choosing to share their data freely.

Looking at that data set [downloaded 2016-12-19], I was a little surprised at what I found. Looking at American domestic attacks only [Mumbai is a big spike in 2008], out of 210 plots, 190 had been categorized as Jihadist, as compared to 19 Right Wing and 1 Left Wing.[and one with no data, the 2010 King Salmon plot] That is an order of magnitude of difference between all three categories!

I decided to plot the data in a number of different ways, which is often a good way of looking at trends in a dataset. I excluded anything outside of the US [foreign_attack=TRUE in the dataset]. I also just summed victims by year, rather than using a cumulative sum like the New America Foundation chart. Here are my charts:

One of the biggest differences is how often a given plot is prevented. Jihadist plots are prevented much more frequently than right wing plots. In the chart of prevented/not prevented, deadly attacks are not included. You can see that in the next chart down, which compares plots per year to the number of people injured or killed. I've said before that we are lucky that our enemies are so incompetent. Here is proof it is true.

The big differences are in rate of occurrence, and in rate of prevention. I don't know enough to really understand why the FBI and other American police forces and security agencies are so much better at preventing Jihadist plots than right-wing ones, but I think that given the 10x difference in rate of plots, they are doing the right thing.

By the way, I think my initial impressions ended up justified by the data.

The Long View 2004-05-28: Credible Force

The first paragraph of this post wasn't really intended to be predictive of anything, but I will riff on it anyway. In 2004, Bush and Kerry were really proposing much the same solutions in foreign relations. Bush was in charge when the Iraq War went down, so he gets the blame in retrospect. This is as it should be. If you are in charge, everything is your fault.

However, I don't know that President John Kerry really would have acquitted himself better, given the way the foreign policy of President Obama turned out. Everyone who is anyone is committed to the Invade the World/Invite the World plan, all that changes is the details.

Is is interesting that the unilateral/multilateral debate about the proper response to 9/11 has completely evaporated. At the time, this was an all-consuming political question for partisans. Now, I doubt anyone thinks about it much. Events have moved far past this paper. The US and Russia joust over Syria. The UN set up Ghaddafi for his downfall, but the actual work was done by the US and France. Each state adopts a unilateral or multilateral stance as it sees fit.

Credible Force

The great irony in the presidential election of 2004 is that George Bush's and John Kerry's foreign policies are substantially identical; the question is whether you think people like Donald Rumsfeld are best suited to carry out the policy, or people like Madelaine Albright are. So, I have just two comments about the foreign-policy statement that Kerry made yesterday in Seattle.

The first is an editorial nit I must pick with this statement:

More than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt defined American leadership in foreign policy. He said America should walk softly and carry a big stick.

Theodore Roosevelt, of course, actually said "speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far." (He said it was a West African proverb.) Kerry seems oddly prone to small slips like this. Readers will recall his allusion to the role of Pope Pius XXIII in the Second Vatican Council. None of these slips is as much fun as the more ingenious Bushisms, like "misunderestimate," but they do suggest a problem with semantics rather than mere rhetoric.

More seriously, we have this critique of the Bush Administration's alleged aversion to multilateralism:

America must always be the world’s paramount military power. But we can magnify our power through alliances. We simply can’t go it alone – or rely on a coalition of the few. The threat of terrorism demands alliances on a global scale -- to find the extremist groups, to guard ports and stadiums, to share intelligence, and to get the terrorists before they get us. In short, we need a coalition of the able -- and in truth, no force on earth is more able than the United States and its allies.

Actually, that is just what the Bush Administration did. When they pulled the levers on the old alliance system, they found that many of them were no longer hooked up to anything. So, they had to do an unsightly job of ripping out the interface panels and rewiring by hand whatever they could. Even countries that opposed the Iraq War have been eager to cooperate in the sort of police measures Kerry mentioned. The exceptions are countries that already do business with the terror networks. In Iraq itself, just about all the "able" are already there.

* * *

Among the commentators trying to re-argue the rationales for the war, there is former Marine Corps general Anthony Zinni, who once was commander of the CENTCOM region, which includes Iraq. The odd thing is that he still insists the region was acceptably "stable" before the war, despite what has since come to light about the Libyan and Iranian WMD programs, and the nuclear wholesale market that operated out of Pakistan.

He also repeats General Shinseki's estimate that Iraq should have been invaded with no fewer that 300k to 500k troops. That sort of commitment would have stripped the US military of just about its whole deployable force; he made the assessment to stop the war. That's why Zinni raised the point again. The problem, of course, is that this philosophy makes almost any war impossible. Zinni is trying to reassert the post-Vietnam consensus that the US military will not fight in any context that does not come up to its exacting specifications. If the national interest requires action in some situation that does not meet those criteria, then addressing that problem is none of the military's affair. In other words, the enemies of the United States can delete the conventional American military from its calculations, except for the sort of cruise missile campaigns that Zinni used to oversee in Iraq.

Zinni is quite right that the US lacked military police, translators, border guards, and civil-administration units for the reconstruction of Iraq. It lacked those things because the Pentagon had never asked to develop those capabilities, and it had not asked for them because it did not want to be asked to do nation-building. Well, now we know better.

* * *

A far more serious assessment of the war comes from Fouad Ajami, in a New York Times Op Ed entitled Iraq May Survive, but the Dream Is Dead:

Back in the time of our triumph -- that of swift movement and of pulling down the dictator's statues -- we had let the victory speak for itself. There was no need to even threaten the Syrians, the Iranians and the Libyans with a fate similar to the one that befell the Iraqi despotism. Some of that deterrent power no doubt still holds. But our enemies have taken our measure; they have taken stock of our national discord over the war. We shall not chase the Syrian dictator to a spider hole, nor will we sack the Iranian theocracy.

That's perfectly true. Still, though Ajami is always worth listening to, I think he is being unduly pessimistic. The Iraq War has changed the sense of the possible in the region, even if it has not left the rulers of Syria and Iran considering their places of exile. We will see this more clearly after the US presidential election.

* * *

I am always happy to see that aspirin has been shown to cure or prevent some dread disease. This time it's breast cancer. What is aspirin believed to help with now? Strokes, heart attacks, several kinds of cancer?

There is an old saying that you don't need good epidemiological studies to spot a miracle drug. That's why they stop double-blind tests of drugs if it seems that all the subjects who are receiving the drug are getting better. I want to know why, if aspirin is such a panacea, we are not living in world like Death Takes a Holiday?

* * *

Of course, they also stop drug tests if all the patients taking the drug seem to be dying, which brings us to the decision earlier this week from a panel of the Ninth Circuit, sustaining Oregon's assisted-suicide law. The case was not about whether anyone has a right to kill himself; it was about whether the US Attorney General could forbid doctors in the state from prescribing drugs for patients to kill themselves with. The New York Times tells us:

Mr. Ashcroft relied on the Controlled Substances Act, which allows the federal government to sanction doctors if they prescribe drugs for anything but legitimate medical purposes.

But the majority ruled that the text, purpose and history of that law did not authorize the Justice Department to use it to override the Oregon law. Congress meant to fight drug abuse, the majority said, not to regulate what is and is not medicine.

Assisted suicide is a bad idea, and the Oregon law in particular shows signs of becoming a way to get rid of the depressed and senile. Still, in this case the Ninth Circuit was correct. In fact, the Attorney General's argument was so obviously going to fail that it undermined whatever claims he may make in the future to be acting on legal principle. The chief argument against Roe v. Wade is that it was decided without regard to principle, but simply with an eye to the result. I have every confidence that Roe will be nullified someday, but its spirit has already permanently infected even its opponents.

* * *

If you need a short explanation for why constitutional jurisprudence has collapsed, read the article that Steven D. Smith of the University of San Diego has in the June/July issue of First Things. It's entitled "Conciliating Hatred."

Smith points out what everyone knows: what the Supreme Court does in its church-and-state cases, and personal autonomy cases, is not legal reasoning in any serious sense. Rather, what the Court imagines it is doing is conciliating the parties, which in these cases represent cultural and religious factions of the American people. This is the sort of thing that trial judges do routinely; that's why most civil cases are settled. It's also not unknown for appellate courts to shape legal principles so as to give least offense to all concerned. The problem is that so many of the issues that the Court decides involve moral principles about which there is no consensus, or at least not among the sort of people who read Supreme Court decisions. So, the Court has fallen into the habit, never articulated as a principle, of striking down laws on the basis of "bad motive."

This leads to odd results. The Court has allowed quite extensive subsidies for charitable religious institutions, which obviously redound to the public credit of the institutions involved, but it strikes down even the most minor law that seems intended to give public endorsement of a theological proposition. There are in fact plausible moral and medical reasons for government disfavor of homosexual activity, but the Court's retreat from principle allows it to see nothing in such disfavor but "hatred" of a minority.

The real irony is that this method actually precludes real reconciliation. The Court's decisions tend to blacken the motives of the losing parties; their actual arguments are increasingly not even considered. The Court is becoming like a shout-show on cable news, where the host hurls character assassination at the guests. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-05-04: Crimes & Mistakes

Institutional stupidity

Institutional stupidity

While John was a booster of the Iraq War and George W. Bush, he didn't waste any words condemning Abu Ghraib in 2004.

Crimes & Mistakes

Here is what Victor Davis Hanson had to say yesterday about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Graib Prison:

The guards' alleged crimes are not only repugnant but stupid as well. At a time when it is critical to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, a few renegade corrections officers have endangered the lives of thousands of their fellow soldiers in the field...Yet without minimizing the seriousness of these apparent transgressions, we need to take a breath, get a grip, and put the sordid incident in some perspective beyond its initial 24-hour news cycle.

No, let us not put it in perspective. This incident shows that, down in the sightless ooze where military police couple with military intelligence, it is taken for granted that the best way to prepare detainees for questioning is to put them through the hazing rituals of some nightmare fraternity. Maybe that is the best way, but I doubt it. More likely, what we have here is a manifestation of a deeply stupid institutional culture. Is it any wonder that US military intelligence fails and fails and fails?

* * *

Speaking of stupidity, note today's feature article in Opinion Journal condemning Senator John Kerry's anti-war activism. Entitled "Unfit for Office," by another Vietnam veteran, one John O'Neill, who identifies himself thus:

Like John Kerry, I served in Vietnam as a Swift Boat commander. Ironically, John Kerry and I served much of our time, a full 12 months in my case and a controversial four months in his, commanding the exact same six-man boat, PCF-94, which I took over after he requested early departure.

The piece criticizes Kerry's record as an anti-war activist; O'Neill also criticized Kerry 30 years ago, when Kerry was the chief national spokesman for anti-war vets. Whatever merit O'Neill's accusations may have are immediately undermined by the subtitle for the article:

I was on Mr. Kerry's boat in Vietnam. He doesn't deserve to be commander in chief.

That sounds as if O'Neill had served with Kerry, but readers need only glance down to the body of the text to see that is not true. The Opinion Journal editors may be responsible for that. Editors can be even stupider than intelligence officers.

* * *

Here's a tip for real estate speculators who want to get in on the ground floor of an overlooked market:

Antarctica is likely to be the world's only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked, the Government's chief scientist, Professor Sir David King, said last week...Sir David said that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the main "green- house gas" causing climate change - were already 50 per cent higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years. The last time they were at this level - 379 parts per million - was 60 million years ago during a rapid period of global warming, he said. Levels soared to 1,000 parts per million, causing a massive reduction of life..."No ice was left on Earth. Antarctica was the best place for mammals to live, and the rest of the world would not sustain human life," he said...Sir David warned that if the world did not curb its burning of fossil fuels "we will reach that level by 2100."

Again, I'm as fascinated by climate change as the next guy: global warming is popular, in the sense that people find it intuitively plausible. Still, projections like this tend to discredit the whole subject.

* * *

As for discrediting things, a correspondent sends this link to a long essay by Lyle Burkhead, entitled squelch:

Mariane Pearl was widowed after terrorists likely linked to Al Qaeda murdered her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl, in February 2002...But unlike the thousands of family members of victims in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Pearl is ineligible for the funds set aside in the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund...Now she is taking her case to Capitol Hill, arguing that a new law should be passed so that she and her son Adam, 2, can receive compensation. Pearl is not alone as some families of victims of other terror attacks also make the case that the fund should be broader...Applications to the fund from families of non-Sept. 11 terrorism victims, including Pearl's, have been rejected. Families of victims in the USS Cole, Khobar Towers and Oklahoma City bombings have all asked about their eligibility.

The Victim Compensation Fund was created to preserve (1) the entire airline industry; (2) everyone who ever had anything to do with building or operating the World Trade Center; [3] the world's re-insurance market; and (4) the high-rise construction industry, which would have closed down if tall buildings could no longer be insured.

Yes, it was about money. The tort system had to be closed down, because the disaster was too big. The question of responsibility for the disaster is irrelevant. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2004-03-18: Terror-War Spin; Good Faith & Credit

In retrospect, al-Qaeda's [only] accomplishment was convincing us they mattered.

Terror-War Spin; Good Faith & Credit

Since we are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, many attempts are being made to convince the public that the war has been lost or won, that it has achieved essential objectives or that it was a doomed enterprise from the first. The worst of these efforts are coming from Al Qaeda: Islamofascists like anniversaries almost as much as National Public Radio does, but commemorate them with carnage rather than retrospectives.

Scary enough in its own way was an Op Ed by Ian Buruma that appeared in the New York Times on March 17, entitled: Killing Iraq With Kindness. It is evidence, if any more were needed, of the foreign policy establishment's refusal to understand what the war is about:

One year later, most of the stated reasons for invading Iraq have been discredited. But advocates of the war still have one compelling argument: our troops are not there to impose American values or even Western values, but "universal" ones. The underlying assumption is that the United States itself represents these universal values, and that freedom to pursue happiness, to elect our own leaders and to trade in open markets, should be shared by all, regardless of creed, history, race or culture.

Some might question whether America is as shining an example of these good things as is often claimed. Nonetheless, spreading them around is certainly a more appealing policy than propping up "our" dictators in the name of realpolitik. Still, history shows that the forceful imposition of even decent ideas in the claim of universalism tends to backfire: creating not converts but enemies who will do anything to defend their blood and soil.

The reason for the Terror War is that there a is network of Islamist terrorist organizations and sovereign hosts that plans to stage mass-effect attacks against civilian populations in the West. The Iraq campaign in the Terror War was launched because Iraq, the only part of the network that international institutions had tried to contain, was still not in compliance with the disarmament regime, even after ten years. The mere fact that Iraq might have WMDs would not have justified an invasion. The irresponsible nature of the regime, and its hostility to the US and its allies, made even the possibility that Iraq had such weapons intolerable. This possibility had always been intolerable; after 911, it was obviously so.

The chief discovery of the war was not that the Iraqi regime had apparently mothballed its WMD programs: the fact that regime had decided to wait until sanctions were lifted did not make the war less necessary. The big surprise was the rottenness of the international security system. Important persons associated with the French and Russian presidents were on the take from Iraqi oil contracts; the same seems to be true of the family of the Secretary General of the UN, the organization that was administering the contracts. France and Germany are still reluctant to remonstrate with Iran, much less sanction it, despite the fact it has clearly flouted the non-proliferation system.

No doubt it is true that the invasion of Iraq was a blow to Iraqi national pride. However, the armed opposition to the occupation comes from a minority of the Sunni minority, which is irate at losing its privileged status with the downfall of the regime. The actual attacks seem to be coordinated with Al Qaeda foreigners. To describe this campaign as a national liberation movement is a wilful misreading of the situation.

The transformation of sovereign hosts of terrorism is not a question of indolent goodwill: "certainly a more appealing policy than propping up 'our' dictators." People like Ian Buruma have to take on board the fact that very ruthless people are trying to kill them. If the transformation of places like Iraq fails, for whatever reason, then those ruthless people are quite likely to succeed.

* * *

The situation in the Terror War is by no means desperate. However, you might be forgiven for thinking so. This editorial from the March 15 issue of The Weekly Standard suggests why:

A senior White House official spoke privately the other day about dramatic progress in the Middle East. Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds have broken an impasse and are on the verge of a historic compromise on a new Iraqi constitution. It mandates a pluralistic, democratic Iraq when the United States hands over sovereignty on June 30. Meanwhile, as a consequence of American intervention in Iraq, reformers have been strengthened in other countries throughout the region. In Pakistan and elsewhere, official support for Islamic radicalism - and official tolerance for terrorism - are on the wane. Israel is going to withdraw from settlements for the first time in a generation - and the threat of terror there, too, seems much reduced. There are even signs that the Europeans may actually help in efforts to reform the Middle East.

The White House official also had a lament: How come these breakthroughs have gotten so little serious attention?...The truth is, the White House isn't trying very hard.

The Administration's policy in the Terror War is both coherent and reasonably successful (perhaps because, if you believe The Onion, it has been devised by an evil genius). The problem is that the policy is on a fairly high order of abstraction, but the Bush Dynasty's campaign machine runs on soundbites.

In set speeches, when he is arguing for policy, George Bush has done a good job of connecting the dots in public. Now that the campaign is on, however, the White House is back to his father's "Flag Factory" campaign of 1988. It's as if campaign rhetoric were the only kind of discourse that must not, under any circumstances, contain a thought. It's a shame, really. The dumbing down of politics that the Bushes did so much to promote may make it impossible to defend the current Bush's record.

* * *

Speaking of promoting universal values, The New York Times ran an analysis yesterday of how the Constitution's Good Faith and Credit Clause (that's the one that requires each state to recognize the legal acts of each other state) might work in a situation in which gay marriage's were possible in one state but not in another. The article is, as you might expect, a tendentious argument that a federal Marriage Amendment is unnecessary:

[U]ntil the Supreme Court struck down all laws banning interracial marriage in 1967, the nation lived with a patchwork of laws on the question. Those states that found interracial marriages offensive to their public policies were not required to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere, though sometimes they did, but as a matter of choice rather than constitutional compulsion...

There is no doubt that the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies to marriages; a marriage that is valid in one state is, almost always, valid in another. However, the federal courts carved out an exception for the "fundamental" public policies of the several states in connection with marriage. This was most important, not with regard to interracial marriages, but whether one state would recognize a divorce in another. (Divorces were once very difficult to obtain in most states.) It was easy to tell what public policy was with regard to interracial marriage and quickie divorces; the same is not true of gay marriage:

Opposition to interracial marriage in the last century was in many ways more vehement than opposition to gay marriage today. It was, for instance, a criminal offense in many states. None of the 38 states that expressly forbid gay marriage by statute today go that far.

Considering the current legal climate, it is inconceivable that many courts would find a fundamental public policy against gay marriage if they can avoid it; even a definition of marriage in heterosexual terms might not be enough. Moreover, some people have already argued that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. That's the statute that tries to preserve the exception to the Good Faith and Credit Clause that we have been discussing here. Without that exception, the recognition of gay marriage could unquestionably be coerced.

The key piece of misdirection in the Times article is this whopper:

In 1967, when the United States Supreme Court struck down all bans on interracial marriage, it acted on the most fundamental constitutional grounds, saying that the laws violated both due process and equal protection.

No one believes that the court is likely to say anything like that about gay unions anytime soon.

After last year's Lawrence v. Texas decision, this is exactly what everyone expects, and at no distant date.  

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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