The Long View 2006-09-26: Theocons; 2012; Christians & Muslims; Respectable Eurasianism

George KennanPublic Domain,

George Kennan

Public Domain,

Kinds of minimalist geopolitics have long been advocated in the United States by learned and thoughtful men. George Kennan, in his essay "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", had observed there were “only five centres of industrial and military power in the world which are important to us from the standpoint of national security.” Kennan wanted to focus on protecting the four centers of power that the Soviets did not control, and mind our own business elsewhere.

The Eurasianism John J. Reilly mentions here is a variety of minimalist geopolitics like Kennan's, although it probably does have something of a whiff of despair about it. It is about as likely has Kennan's realism to gain any traction in the United States, because we just don't do careful, measured foreign policy. We make a grand project out of everything.

Theocons; 2012; Christians & Muslims; Respectable Eurasianism

The New York Times has taken notice of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, an expose' by Damon Linker of the malefactions of that notorious journal, First Things. The review is by no less a person than Adrian Woolridge, Washington bureau chief of The Economist and a co-author of The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. He does not seem wholly displeased by the book, but one gathers that the subject matter is new to him. He tells us:

Linker is a disillusioned theocon who cut his journalistic teeth working for Neuhaus’s magazine, First Things. But his tone is admirably restrained, dispassionate and scholarly when it could so easily have been rank and recriminatory, and he uses his insider’s knowledge to build up a detailed account of the movement. The result, for anybody who wants to understand the growing public role of American religion, is a book to reckon with.

On the other hand, perhaps in part because Linker's book does not tell the story that Woolridge has been reporting, he concludes:

In the end, the theocons are just too eccentric to exercise the sort of influence on America that Linker ascribes to them. Again and again — in their deference to papal authority, in their belief that American ideals and institutions derive from Catholic principles, in their willingness to sanction civil disobedience — the theocons come across not as harbingers of a conservative revolution but as a rather eccentric intellectual clique.

Whatever else Fr. Neuhaus was trying to do when he founded First Things, it is unlikely that he was trying to start a movement. It really is just a damn magazine.

* * *

Meanwhile, Mel Gibson's apocalyptic views have grown clearer, as we see from this further report of his remarks after a public showing of a rough-cut of his upcoming film, Apocalypto:

“I just wanna draw the parallels,” Gibson said. “I just looked at it, and thought, we display that stuff here. I don’t wanna be a doomsayer, but the Mayan calendar ends in 2012,” he chuckled. “So have fun!”

No, the Mayan Calendar does not end in 2012. The 13th baktun ends in 2012. Later dates can be found on Mayan stellae. Be that as it may:

“The violence in the film is just downright mean and nasty,” notes a glowing review on CinemaStrikesBack. “This isn’t the kind of violence that makes you pump your fist like in a film like ‘Rocky.’ This is violence that makes you squirm in your seat and worry that it will sear your brain forever.”

As for why there are future dates on Mayan stellae, just never you mind.

* * *

The text of Benedict XVI's address on Monday to a group of Muslim ambassadors can be found here. I noted in particular his quotation of this key passage from the documents of the Second Vatican Council:

The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God" (Declaration Nostra Aetate, 3).

Note that this is not a declaration of respect for Islam, but for the piety of individual Muslims. At the risk of misstating the magisterium, let me suggest that the Catholic position on Islam is that pious Muslims do indeed worship God, despite the erroneous and even misleading view of God afforded by the Koran and Muslim theology.

Does theology make no difference, then? By no means. Muslims try to placate God; Christians try to be like Him, through the imitation of Christ.

* * *

A quite different view appears on the website of The National Interest, in the form of a comment by Paul L. Heck of the Georgetown University Theology Department:

[The Regensburg Address has] been cast as the latest example of a long-standing pattern, stretching back centuries, in which Europeans speak disparagingly of Muhammad with the goal not of provoking Muslims, but of exhorting those in Europe to a more vigorous commitment to their own civilization.

This remark is the third weirdest thing in the Heck's comment. The short answer to it is that Europeans have spoken "disparagingly" of Mohammed over the centuries because Muslim armies, particularly Turkish ones, were overrunning Christian territory and imposing a brutal and stultifying political order of their own. Yes, the mere contemplation of Mohammed and his followers was enough to make Europeans keen to defend Western civilization, and for good reason.

The second weirdest thing is that, throughout the piece, Heck refers to the pope as "Benedictus XVI." Well, this is from Georgetown, after all. Weirdest of all, though, even for a professor of Islamic studies, is this suggestion:

We need a Christian statement, issued by the Vatican, on the prophet Muhammad. This is what is at stake for Muslims, the image of the prophet whom they love so dearly...What is sorely needed is a Vatican statement on the prophet Muhammad that reflects the love that Muslims have for him.

Be careful what you wish for. Joseph Ratzinger is quite capable of ending such an encyclical with a rhetorical address to Mohammed that concludes "...te, et equem in quo equitavis."

* * *

The venue of Heck's remarks is at least as interesting as their content. I have previously noted the turn toward Eurasianism that National Journal began to take last year after the defenestration of John O'Sullivan from the editorship. Judging by the September/October issue, the transformation is now complete. What it has turned into now is a respectable organ to argue the proposition that United States should begin to accommodate itself to a world in which it will take second place to a Eurasian constellation of powers, or at best become a peer in a multipolar world.

The articles in the issue doe not have uniform views, and the magazine is not just a propaganda sheet. (In this it is unlike, say, anything put out by the Cato Institute, which seems to have signed on to the Eurasian agenda and is well-represented the National Interest's pages.) About the contributors, I might note that it is bad look to begin any journal with a piece by Michael Scheuer, who seems to forget nothing and learn nothing. On a more serious level are contributions by Harry Harding and Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy whose name is apt for its product. There is also an article by Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, who recommends the official partition of Iraq. That is a plausible strategy, but the senator's well-wishers might suggest to him that he propose it elsewhere.

What are the elements of practical Eurasianism for the United States?

(2) The folly of the Democratic peace and of nation-building

(3) The inevitability and advantageousness of the dissolution of the Japanese and European alliances

(4) The ontological supremacy of the UN;

(5) The inevitability of American economical decline, certainly in relative terms and perhaps absolutely;

(6) The American military is unsustainably overstretched;

(7) The benign necessity of nuclear proliferation.

Many of these points are simply revivals, without modification, of the "declinist" thesis of the late 1980s. Three points that are almost never mentioned in the Eurasianist literature (at least that I have seen) are:

(2) Strategic missile defense

(3) Eurabia.

Legend has it that, as Secretary of State for presidents Nixon and Ford, Henry Kissinger conceptualized his job as negotiating an acceptable "number 2" position for the United States with the USSR, which he believed was likely to win the Cold War. It is, no doubt, coincidence that Kissinger is the Honorary Chairman of the National Interest Foundation.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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