The Long View 2007-10-15: Kurdistan & Armenia; A Failure of Theory; The Return of the Fantastic

Edward Plunkett, Lord DusanyBy Bain News Service, publisher - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID ggbain.01875.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of th…

Edward Plunkett, Lord Dusany

By Bain News Service, publisher - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID ggbain.01875.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain,

John mentions in passing here something that didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time, but sticks out now:

Literary modernism actually had to exert a great deal effort for several generations to delegitimize the fairy tales and minatory stories that people ordinarily prefer for their leisure time.

I spent decades looking for the kind of fiction I like to read, precisely because of this generational effort to obscure genuinely popular literature.

Kurdistan & Armenia; A Failure of Theory; The Return of the Fantastic

What has Kurdistan to do with Armenia? There is a measure making its way through the US Congress that would characterize as genocide the extinction during the First World War of most of the Armenian population of Ottoman Anatolia. There has been quite a lot of speculation that the measure is an attempt by Democrats in Congress to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; by poisoning US-Turkish relations, in this view, the logistical position of the US in Iraq would become untenable. Well, maybe, but the domestic pressure in the US for the resolution is coming from the opulent and influential Armenian-Americans, who were quite pleased with the overthrow of Saddam and have no reason to sabotage the US presence in Iraq.

A deeper, indeed infernal, connection between the Armenian genocide was unleashed upon the world this morning by that Spengler at Asia Times:

Why the Turks should take out their rancour at the US on the Kurds might seem anomalous until we consider that the issue of Armenian genocide has become a proxy for Turkey’s future disposition towards the Kurds. “We did not exterminate the Armenians,” Ankara says in effect, “and, by the way, we’re going to not exterminate the Kurds, too.”

Turkey’s tragedy is that the 11th [century] Seljuk conquerors of the Anatolian peninsula became masters of a majority Christian population, a cradle of Greek culture for two millennia, in which the oldest and hardiest ethnicity, the Armenians, held fast to the Christian religion ...the Armenian genocide touches upon a profound and well-justified insecurity in the Turkish national character...Turkey’s military leaders enlisted Kurdish tribes to do most of the actual killing in return for Armenian land...The Armenian genocide, in short, gave rise to what today is Turkey’s Kurdish problem....Far more threatening to Turkey than the resolution on Armenian genocide was the 75-23 vote in the US Senate last month in favor of dividing Iraq into Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurdish zones....

The Ottoman Empire never was viable - at its peak half of its population was Christian - and its Anatolian rump, namely modern Turkey, may break up as well. Iran, the mini-empire of the Persians who comprise only half the population, may not hold together, nor may Syria, a witches’ cauldron of ethnicities ruled by the brutal hand of the Alawite minority.

Let me note that the Ottoman Empire lasted the half-millennium or so that is typical of successful universal states; it was about as "viable" as human polities get.

Be that as it may: what is to be done if, as Spengler suggests, stability is not an option?

Washington should forget about Turkish support in Iraq, allow the Mesopotamian entity to disintegrate into its constituent parts, while helping the Kurds maintain autonomy against Iraq...Turkey ultimately may concede territory to an independent Kurdistan, but more than replace it by annexing portions of Western Iran.

Talk about your trouble-makers. The fact a region speaks a Turkic language does not make it "Turkish." But getting back to Spengler's notion of happy anarchy: the fact is that we had pretty much this policy in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, which we sought with some success to keep going. The problem with this policy was that, eventually, one side won. That usually happens, sooner or later.

When Churchill was an obnoxious junior officer, it was, perhaps, possible to manage colonial affairs by supporting perpetual low-level warfare in remote regions. Today, however, there are no remote regions. That is the most important application Deudney's concept of violence interdependence. If a factional feud in Afghanistan can blow up a skyscraper in New York, then the tranquility of Afghanistan must become a matter of keen interest to New Yorkers. The same applies to the Near East.

By the way, this is the book to read about the Armenian Genocide:

Caravans to Oblivion

Unfortunately, it's out of print, and the second-hand prices are ridiculous.

* * *

But how are we to promote tranquility if we don't have a theory about it, that's what Mark Steyn wants to know:

[O]n Feb. 22, 1946, a mere six months after the end of World War II, George Kennan, a U.S. diplomat in Moscow, sent his famous 5,000-word telegram that laid out the stakes of the Cold War and the nature of the enemy, and that that "Long Telegram" in essence shaped the way America thought...Peter Robinson,..Does anyone believe a new 'Long Telegram' has yet been written? And accepted throughout the senior levels of the government?"

Answer: No.

Because, if it had, you'd hear it echoed in public...Why can't we do that today?

Well, one reason is we're not really comfortable with ideology, either ours or anybody else's...Very few members of the transnational jet set want to hear this. They're convinced that economic and technological factors shape the world all but exclusively...the most successful example of globalization is not Starbucks or McDonald's but Wahhabism...Perhaps we need more investment in jobs. Or maybe guns are too easily available in Gaza. Or, if guns aren't, self-detonating school kids certainly are. This is the ultimate asymmetric warfare: we're trying to beat back ideology with complacent Western assumptions. Not a good bet.

Readers may be reminded of the old joke about the CEO who views a presentation by a consultant about the importance of institutional culture. When the presentation is over, the CEO turns to his aide and says, "I want a culture by Monday." Whatever the merits of the Long Telegram, it was not very original. If today we have to concoct an ideology of self-preservation as if it were a new marketing campaign, then we should not expect it to have more resonance or durability than a marketing campaign.

Actually, President Bush tried in his Second Inaugural Address to present a grand theory of global politics. The policy he laid out there was no more sweeping than that of John Kennedy's Inaugural Address; also, whatever the merits of Bush's model, it was the most sophisticated foreign policy statement by a US president since the Truman Administration. Indeed, it was so sophisticated that few commentators understood it. In any case, the matter quickly became moot. The Bush Administration, as is its custom, lost interest in its own statement of policy, and did nothing at all to explain what the president had meant.

This is the first anniversary, more or less, of Steyn's estimable book, America Alone. As I note in that review, he concludes the book with his own attempt at a Long Telegram, in the sense of a set of recommendations about how to tie domestic policy with defeating the Islamist threat. Again, I see no hope in his libertarian prescriptions. He is quite right that there is a dearth of serious strategic political thought these day: both multiculturalism and libertarianism are examples of the lack of seriousness.

* * *

Who says the New York Times is useless? I had been thinking about writing on the genuinely perplexing increase in the number of shows on television these days with supernatural or surreal themes. I had put off doing so, however, because I was overwhelmed by their number (and the fact that fairness might require me to view more of them than I actually have). Happily, Alessandra Stanley of the Times yesterday saved me the trouble of describing the shows (her article is here), if not of explaining them:

THERE must be a rational explanation for all the supernatural phenomena on television. There must.

Because it is weird, and even a little freaky, that so many shows this season prey on the paranormal....

But the paranormal does have a pattern of springing up at times of deep pain or confusion.

After the American Civil War grieving relatives seeking to reconnect with their lost love ones turned to all kinds of unorthodox practices, from soothsayers to Kirlian photography, which claimed to capture the subject’s supernatural aura....

Maybe, but spiritualism is really one of the late developments of the Second Great Awakening, half a generation before the war. Anyway...

People used to believe in magic until science began proving them wrong. For a while crime shows made a religion of forensic science. It’s possible that television took forensics — all those bloodstain spatters, DNA swabs and acoustic reflectometry probes — as far as it could go....

It is not clear that these shows have much to do with actual belief in the supernatural, either among the public or among screenwriters. The best of the shows in question are, perhaps, Heroes on NBC and Supernatural on the CW. Heroes is arguably science fiction (good mutants have been staple of SF since the 1950s). Supernatural, which is Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the National Rifle Association crowd, is actually rare in that it troubles from time to time to tell a good ghost story.

Nobody really knows where network executives come from or where they go after being fired. Perhaps those neatly groomed suits marching in lock step through Burbank are themselves the undead, demons, witches and vampires who suck the blood of Nielsen pollsters, turn viewers into zombies and howl at the Moonves. They are taking over the planet one show at a time.

This is calumny: media executives and writers are not werewolves; pod people, perhaps, but not werewolves.

Surely we are just seeing an after-effect of postmodernism among the screenwriters? Literary modernism actually had to exert a great deal effort for several generations to delegitimize the fairy tales and minatory stories that people ordinarily prefer for their leisure time. Postmodernism itself has pretty much evaporated. By relaxing the grip of modernist realism, however, it has perhaps allowed perennial taste to reassert itself.

It's sort of like what happened to serious music. Serial and minimalist music, which followed the modernist episode in the 20th century, isn't really very good; unlike 12-tone music, however, these styles are not actually malicious.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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