The Long View 2004-01-23: Presidential Hostage-Taking; Sitzkrieg; Catechesis

John Reilly pooh-poohed a news report in 2004 linking Iran to al-Qaeda, but twelve years later, John Schindler, who was in the NSA at the time of 9/11, still wants to dig into the Iranian connection. Make of that what you will.

John also pooh-poohed the ability of Special Forces to fix what is wrong with the Middle East. Here, he is on much firmer ground. There are lots of reasons to doubt the utility of Special Forces as a matter of strategy, but they are pretty popular at present, especially after Seal Team Six finally killed Osama bin Laden.

Finally, we get a hint of the controversy that had yet to fully erupt regarding Gibson's Passion.

Presidential Hostage-Taking; Sitzkrieg; Catechesis

Regarding the foreign policy side of the current presidential contest, all I need do is cite the 5,897th instalment in Thomas Friedman's series, "Winning the War of Ideas," which appeared in yesterday's New York Times:

First, this notion, put forward by Mr. Dean and Al Gore, that the war in Iraq has diverted us from the real war on "terrorists" is just wrong. There is no war on "terrorism" that does not address the misgovernance and pervasive sense of humiliation in the Muslim world. Sure, Al Qaeda and Saddam pose different threats, Mr. [Will] Marshall [President of the Progressive Policy Institute] notes, "but they emerge from the same pathology of widespread repression, economic stagnation and fear of cultural decline." Building a decent Iraq is very much part of the war on terrorism.

Nonetheless, the irrepressible Friedman purports to be comforted by the progress of the Democratic primaries:

[I]t seems to me that Iowa Democrats, in opting for John Kerry and John Edwards over Howard Dean, signaled (among other things) that they want a presidential candidate who is serious about fighting the war against the Islamist totalitarianism threatening open societies.

The Iowa Democrats signaled no such thing; certainly the Jihadis who are scrambling for an opportunity to nuke a couple of American cities would not understand a Democratic victory in November in those terms. They would be right.

That's the terrifying thing about the current presidential race. The Administration's foreign policy is vital. It is also being executed as well as can be expected. However, it is being held hostage to the Administration's fiscal and social-service policies, which are short-sighted and fatuous. The price for the hope of physical security is the prospect that the federal debt may have to be repudiated by inflation toward the second half of this decade, and the certainty that there will be no solution to the health-insurance famine. It is possible that the people will not agree to pay that price.

When the electorate sent Bush Senior back to Kennebunkport in 1992, it did not matter much. Now it does matter. It's a matter of life and death.

* * *

Speaking of hysterical statements, what is one to make of this report from Germany?

A German judge has delayed his verdict in the trial in Hamburg of an accused accomplice of the September 11 hijackers to consider testimony from a new witness: a former Iranian spy who claims to have evidence that links Iran to al-Qaeda...The unidentified witness is described as a former Iranian intelligence agent. Last week he walked into the Berlin offices of the federal investigative police, the BKA, saying he had evidence that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and its Iranian intelligence allies had ties to some September 11 plotters, sources said.

One notes that this is happening at the same time that Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is locked in a struggle with the Guardian Council, which has disqualified many parliamentary candidates who support Khatami, on the ground that the candidates are insufficiently Islamic.

Could the more liberal theocrats be trying to disembarrass themselves of Hezbollah and its works? Could they actually be inviting Special Operations against terrorist facilities in Lebanon and Syria?

* * *

On the subject of the use and abuse of Special Operations units, readers should look at a piece by Richard H. Shultz Jr. that appears in the January 26 issue of Weekly Standard: Showstoppers: Nine Reasons Why We Never Sent Our Special Operations after al Qaeda.

Some of the reasons are new to me, such as the argument that Title 50 of the US Code restricts the authority to conduct covert action solely to the CIA. The short answer is that the Code restricts the president's actions in no such way; he can direct any unit he likes to participate in covert actions. In any case, there is a distinction between "covert" (plausible deniability and all that) and "clandestine" (merely unpublicized). The former is governed by statute; the latter is a tactical question.

I remember editing Title 50, by the way, many years ago when I worked for West Publishing. What I chiefly recall was a lot of special legislation that provided pensions for groups of people who were defined in impenetrably elliptical ways. All of it had to be set out in teeny-tiny print in special footnotes. There can be no secret law, but you can punish nosy people by giving them eyestrain. But I digress.

A less esoteric brake on the use of Special Operation Forces [SOF] was the "Big Footprint" problem. As Shultz tells it:

The original concept for SOF counter-terrorism units was that they would be unconventional, small, flexible, adaptive, and stealthy, suited to discreet and discriminate use...[By the time SOF strikes were proposed in the 1990s against al Qaeda] "the Joint Staff and the chairman would come back and say, 'We highly recommend against doing it. But if ordered to do it, this is how we would do it.' And usually it involved the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The footprint was ridiculous." In each instance the civilian policymakers backed off.

For lightly informed history buffs like myself, this brings to mind the sort of discussions that the French government had during the Rhineland Crisis of 1936. That was when the new Nazi regime, testing French and British resolve, sent a token military force into the Rhineland, which was German territory but supposed to be demilitarized:

The Collapse of the Third Republic
William Shirer

This analogy does not bear up, however. God alone knows what the French General Staff was thinking, but the US brass had ample reason for skepticism. There is a difference between a hostage rescue and a war. Since 911, Special Forces have been used to wonderful effect, but this has been as components of large, conventional invasions. Had it been possible to remove the Baathist regime in Iraq using only special forces, the US would have had very limited say in what replaced it. Even in Afghanistan, a kidnapping of Osama bin Laden and his court would not have ended the willingness of the Taliban regime to host such people. But then, you can't have everything.

* * *

I was recently asked to do a poster for a Latin Mass group that would incorporate the words "It is as it was," which are attributed to John Paul II as an assessment of Mel Gibson's upcoming film, The Passion. Did the pope really say that? I am persuaded that he probably did. After the report was circulated worldwide, the pope's staff, reasonably enough but too late, realized that he should not be doing movie reviews. They are now making a hash of denying the report. Where are the Borgias when you need them?

I raise the matter now to clarify, not for the last time, what looks likely to be the central controversy that the film will generate. Consider this report from today's New York Times:

Certainly the interpretation of that passage as a general indictment of the Jewish people was rejected by the Second Vatican Council. The original meaning of the passage, however, is that the sins of the Jews, like those of everyone else, are at least potentially washed away by the bloody atonement of Calvary, and this is true whether the beneficiaries of the atonement know it or not.

The kind of irony that we see in that passage of Matthew is not unique in the Gospels. Here is another example from John 11:45-53:

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

48 "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all!

50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."

51He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,

52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.

53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

Two points for the theologically informed: First, I recognize that there is a difference between the doctrines of general and limited atonement, but the Matthew passage can be read to the same effect using either theory. Second, general atonement does not require apocatastasis. But don't get me started.

It is not absolutely certain that Matthew 27:25 will even appear in the film. If it does, the interesting question will be how many of today's theologically relaxed clergy will have the ability, or the inclination, to explain the passage correctly to their congregations. Orthodoxy is vital, too.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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