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Archive for March, 2008

In lecture 3 of the Islamist Entanglement, I presented the history of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. I introduced this topic to my students by explaining that Turkey is by far the most westernized of all the Islamic countries in the Middle East. As such, Turkey is a kind of historical prototype–an advanced model whose development can help us predict how other countries in the Middle East might develop. Sadly, in this regard, Turkey’s history demonstrates that there is a frightening limit to how much even the most progressive Muslim countries can be expected to achieve given the interaction between the Middle East and the Western world.

Turkey’s relatively advanced position stems from its history of close cultural contact with Europe.  After failing to take Vienna in 1683, the Ottoman Turks were driven back across Eastern Europe, and in the wake of the “Great Turkish War,” agreed to a peace that involved the first dictated terms ever endured by that medieval superpower.  Over the next century, they continued to lose to the West, most notably in the Russo-Turkish Wars of 1768-74 and 1787-92. Subsequently, their autonomous vassals, the Mameluks of Egypt, were also trounced by Napoleon in 1798.  In light of all these military defeats, the Turks hit upon the need to discover the secret of the West’s superiority and began to study Europe intently.

At first, the desire to learn from Europe was entirely pragmatic.  The Turks were merely looking among their adversaries for the means to destroy them. However, the first ambassadors ever sent to the West by Sultan Selim III in 1793 reported back that European countries had achieved certain political advances, which, when they were copied, began to make Turkey more like the very enemies it hated.

Ostensibly, Europe’s countries had moved beyond feudalism. Their centralized monarchies boasted efficient conduits of information within and between the military and civilian authorities, allowing the monarch’s tentacles of power to extend outward to touch every aspect of the state. Feudalism, an unwieldy system with unreliable arrangements of vassalage, had been replaced with standing armies and a hierarchy of professional civil servants to integrate and support them. This was believed to be the political dimension that underlay European success. Selim and his successor Mahmud II set about mimicking this apparatus, hoping that by duplicating the “technological” side of Western government, they could match its efficiency.

Despite such efforts, European supremacy over the Ottoman world continued unabated.  More radical reforms were needed. As it became evident that military and bureaucratic changes were insufficient, education became an area of special focus. Military cadets were sent to Europe in waves. The first secular educational institutions for military, medical, and scientific training were created.

In a report of the Ottoman “Board of Useful Affairs” concerning this work, it was noted that “Religious knowledge serves salvation in the world to come but science serves the perfection of man in this world.” A more fundamental factor fueling the West’s advance had thus been identified: the emancipation of science and practical life from religion.

This was not something that traditionalist Muslim authorities were willing to accept, however, or to allow to be widely implemented. Thus knowledge of the West’s secular superiority was restricted to the ranks of a small educated elite associated with the Ottoman Sultanate, and a rift between that elite and the bulk of the people developed.

When asked by a scholarly committee about the religious validity of implementing a secular Western legal code for regulating commerce, the Ottoman Grand Vizir replied, “The holy law has nothing to do with such matters!”

“Blasphemy!” responded the committee.

Sadly, this has continued to be the response of the ulema (religious scholars) and the large, religiously submissive element of the Turkish population to this day.

By the time Turkey was formed in 1923, the educated Westernized intelligentsia still constituted less than 10% of its population. Most of the people were still agricultural peasants, and still under the sway of their local imams (“priests”).

Not surprisingly therefore, when Turkey’s great modern leader, Mustafa Kemal, came to power after WWI, he found that it was necessary to “force the people to be free.” He would establish a benevolent, secularist dictatorship, until a more stable foundation could be erected and the people could be entrusted to direct their own progress.

Primary and secondary education were secularized. Women were emancipated, and given access to all levels of education. All symbols of traditional submission, such as long beards and headscarfs, were eliminated within government institutions. Even the alphabet and the calendar were Westernized. Given such measure, within a few generations, perhaps, the people would be ready.

It may seem surprising that Kemal, and his successor Ismet Inonu, who were both oppressive dictators after a fashion, were indeed committed to freedom. They definitely crushed any opposition–often violently. Critics could be exiled, or just as likely hanged in public, while the reform program was imposed upon the people. Still, Turkey’s leaders continually tinkered with democratic forms, trying to expand the peoples’ participation in the government.

Sadly, they found them still incapable of understanding and defending their own freedom. In 1950, hoping that the time had come, Inonu allowed the first free elections to be held, and the incumbent regime was removed. From this point on, Turkey’s history is a dizzying, erratic succession of democratic and military regimes, with coups almost as numerous as elections. The army, the most westernized institution in the country, has repeatedly defied the majority of the population’s wish to re-inject Islam into the government. Most recently, a democratically elected Islamic party was ousted by the military in a 1997 coup, only to be succeeded by a new democratic regime whose leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also intends a shift towards Islamism.

The situation in Turkey is inherently unstable.

Indeed, without a fundamentally positive shift in the culture, Turkey’s Kemalist system is likely to come to an end. However, no such shift seems likely to occur, and the United States deserves a good deal of the blame.

What Turkey has needed since WWII, when it came to America’s attention, is much more than just a nuclear aegis to fend off Communism. It has needed principled guidance by the United States on how to advance the secularist program so that it can truly Westernize once and for all.  Unfortunately, that’s not what it got.

Truman specifically had Turkey in mind when he enunciated his doctrine. If its regime could be propped up, he believed, then the Soviets would be prevented from penetrating to the Mediterranean. Of course, Turkey was but one piece in a much larger containment scheme. If, in order to appease the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis, America needed to withdraw Turkey’s nuclear shield (American Jupiter missiles) then so be it. If in 1964, Turkey planned to intervene in Cyprus, where a civil war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots was brewing, but this was deemed counterproductive by the United States, then Turkey was warned that American support against the Soviet Union was contingent upon following orders to diffuse the conflict. Throughout the past sixty years, though nominally committed to helping Turkey, the United States has done nothing but treat it as a disposable asset.

How then could Turkey be expected to progress? Could it reasonably be expected to model its culture on America’s? The United States certainly hasn’t shown Turkey any special respect for its secular virtues.

On the contrary, it is entirely understandable that Turkey should reject American domination and American values — a trend that began during the Ford administration — while seeking closer ties with both the Soviet Union, and especially Europe.

This will probably be its undoing. The great irony of Turkey’s rapprochement with Europe is that the European Union requires democratic governments in its candidate states. For Turkey to embrace Europe’s democratic ideal, however, is to insure that the Islamist element in Turkey wins a permanent voice in its political system, and possibly even that it becomes the dominant element — as foreshadowed by the Erdoğan premiership.

Turkey thus seems poised to regress rather than progress.

There is no sign that it will find any new guidance from America, or that on its own, it will be able to realize the aim of full cultural secularization. Turkey has been stuck on a plateau ever since the Kemalist secularization program stopped and the country’s progress was undercut by America’s Cold War treatment of it.  Now Islam appears ready to make a political comeback.

What Turkey is thus likely to transmit to the Islamic world in the next generation is not the image of a successful secular Middle Eastern country, but rather the frightening picture of the partial-birth abortion of one.

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The following is both a hilarious parody, and a tragic reflection on the decline of American culture.  American journalist Oliver Jensen is the creator of the second entry, which is based on Eisenhower’s style of delivering press conferences.

The Gettysburg Address, as Lincoln delivered it:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth
on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and
dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing
whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so
dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-
field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave
their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether
fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot
consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men,
living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it
far above our poor power to add or detract. The world
will little note nor long remember what we say here, but
it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the
living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished
work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly
advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the
great task remaining before us…that from these honored
dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain;
that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of
freedom; and that government of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Gettysburg Address, if Eisenhower had given it (written by Oliver Jensen):

I haven’t checked these figures but 87 years ago, I think it was, a number of individuals organized a governmental set-up here in this country, I believe it covered certain Eastern areas, with this idea they were following up based on a sort of national independence arrangement and the program that every individual is just as good as every other individual. Well, now, of course, we are dealing with this big difference of opinion, civil disturbance you might say, although I don’t like to appear to take sides or name any individuals, and the point is naturally to check up, by actual experience in the field, to see whether any governmental set-up with a basis like the one I was mentioning has any validity and find out whether that dedication by those early individuals will pay off in lasting values and things of that kind. . . . But if you look at the over-all picture of this, we can’t pay any tribute – we can’t sanctify this area, you might say – we can’t hallow according to whatever individual creeds or faiths or sort of religious outlooks are involved like I said about this particular area. It was those individuals themselves, including the enlisted men, very brave individuals, who have given the religious character to the area. The way I see it, the rest of the world will not remember any statements issued here but it will never forget how these men put their shoulders to the wheel and carried this idea down the fairway. Now frankly, our job, the living individuals’ job here is to pick up the burden and sink the putt they made these big efforts here for. It is our job to get on with the assignment – and from these deceased fine individuals to take extra inspiration, you could call it, for the same theories about the set-up for which they made such a big contribution. We have to make up our minds right here and now, as I see it, that they didn’t put out all that blood, perspiration and – well – that they didn’t just make a dry run here, and that all of us here, under God, that is, the God of our choice, shall beef up this idea about freedom and liberty and those kind of arrangements, and that government of all individuals, by all individuals and for the individuals, shall not pass out of the world-picture.

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Here’s a link to an interesting animated overview of the history of the Middle East from Ancient Egypt to the present, which takes only 90 seconds to watch.

http://www.mapsofwar.com/images/EMPIRE17.swf

A number of things are missing from this presentation.  

One is evolution of the empires in question after they reach their height, such as the division of the Roman Empire, and the subsequent shrinking of the Byzantine Empire.  The map shows the growth of empires at the expense of previous empires, but that creates an erroneous perspective.  To be truer to the martial nature of the history of the region, it would be better to at least see the territories of the empires fluctuate to symbolize border wars and territorial losses other than those inflicted by the next major power. For instance, in relation to the Roman example, it does not show the major territorial losses incurred during the barbarian migrations in Europe.  One thus gets an exagerrated sense of the power of the Byzantines as the Muslims emerge.  In truth, they had retreated to a smaller Eastern territory.

Another is the coexistence of empires over relatively long stretches of time.  For instance, one does not get the sense from the presentation that the Byzantines withstood the Muslim advance for 800 years, or that the Ottoman Empire was coexistent with a considerable Persian Empire that it could not conquer.  It would be good if the presentation paused at milestones other than the greatest extent of a particular empire, and showed the distribution of power at key times.  This would help capture one of the important factors in the history of the region: the existence of competing powers and cultures over long stretches of time.

Anyways, as far as oversimplifications go, it’s a good one.  You probably can’t do much more in 90 seconds!

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Yahoo News has an interesting article that includes a very hopeful set of predictions on the outcome of the Iraq War, where, according to at least one Middle East expert, “A reasonable outcome would find something like 30,000 to 40,000 troops in Iraq for 25 to 50 years.” 

An good parallel is drawn in the article between the Cold War and the Islamist Entanglement (my term).  “After all, the US has deployed troops in Germany and Japan for 63 years, and Korea for 57. Might Iraq, in the end, require a commensurate commitment?”

It’s a good point, except that if experts think the US is merely going to be in a “cold war” with a nuclear Iran, they are off the mark–unless they are factoring in the idea that the US would be willing to live across an “iron curtain” from an Iran that has already wiped Israel off of the map.

Check out the article here.

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Recently, I gave my second lecture in The Islamist Entanglement series, entitled “America and the Middle East.” In that class, I explained the importance of the Truman Doctrine in relation to America’s involvement in the Middle East, and I was asked by one of the students, “Was the Truman Doctrine rational, given the context (of the Cold War)?”

My answer was “no.”

The Truman Doctrine was a blanket commitment to combat communism, wherever and whenever it might arise. In philosophical terms it was a “moral imperative,” or context-less absolute, not unlike a religious commandment. Acting according to it, in much the same manner as one might try to adhere to a religious code, every subsequent president failed to properly perceive where America’s self-interest really lay and directed the country’s resources in ways that while opposing communism actually harmed America both in the short and long term.

For those who need a refresher, the Truman Doctrine, was a statement of American foreign policy enunciated by President Harry Truman in 1947:

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.”

The immediate context for this declaration was an indication from Great Britain that it was withdrawing from its assumed custodial role in Greece. After WWII, a Communist insurgency threatened the government that the British had helped to install after retaking Greece from the Axis powers, but Britain could no longer do anything about it. It was retreating from its “imperial overreach.” Equally important was the fact that Britain would no longer act to sustain the Turkish government, which was under immediate expansionist pressure from the Soviet Union.

Thus it seemed that the takeover of Eastern Europe by communism might be aggravated by a wave of communist expansion on Europe’s periphery, through which the Balkans would also be absorbed, and further threats to Mediterranean Europe might materialize. All of Europe appeared ready to collapse.

Also significant was that the Soviets had delayed their withdrawal from Iran, which had been occupied by the Allies during the war as a Lend-Lease corridor, and that China was engulfed in a civil war involving a communist threat. The impact of FDR’s decision to support the Soviet Union during the war was now beginning to haunt America. Communism seemed poised for a massive set of gains just as fascism had been overcome.

Truman’s interpretation of these threats was summed up in the following way:

…totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States…”

This was the critical line of Truman’s policy statement. It made the all important connection between the broad abstraction of “international peace” and the obvious need to defend America’s interests. Based upon this reasoning, America took it upon itself to lead the world in a defense against communist expansion. For a period of over 40 years–the Cold War of 1947-1991–it attempted to act upon Truman’s premise that “international peace” and America’s interests were one. The core of his belief, and the essential nature of the policy, however, was the moral duty to support “free peoples.” (Notably, the question of what constitutes “free peoples,” and any allowance for the idea that there could be a legitimate distinction made between “free peoples” quite willing to adopt communism and “free peoples” willing to fight to their last breath for freedom, were never considered.)

Viewed from a 1990s perspective, it seemed as if the Truman Doctrine succeeded. The Berlin wall fell. The Soviet Union ceased to exist. Former Warsaw Pact countries became democracies and began to join NATO.

But one does not judge the character of an era or the validity of its driving philosophy merely based on what immediately follows it. Indeed, it was all too easy in the post Cold War euphoria to allow the main failure of the Cold War–that of the Soviet Union–to conceal a lesser failure–that of the proper defense of America’s interests. From today’s vantage point, it is easier to be objective.

Before addressing the question of the Truman Doctrine itself, let me say that this whole issue might well have never emerged. In my view it would have been entirely proper for the United States to preemptively use nuclear weapons to destroy the Soviet Union anytime after WWII (while we still had overwhelming military superiority)–just as it is entirely proper for Israel to wipe Iran off the map today. In other words, on a fundamental level, I view it as morally justified for a free country to destroy an oppressive regime that threatens it. Of course, had this been done, then the Truman Doctrine would never have arisen. There would have been no communism to contain.

Accepting that nobody at the time, except maybe General MacArthur, would have been willing to “push the button,” let us assume that rather than act preemptively, the United States chose merely to assume a strong defensive posture, the question is did the Truman Doctrine contribute or detract from it, and from the promotion of America’s true interests?

There are two ways of finding a proper answer to this question which must be used in tandem. One is to closely analyze the containment record, and its impact on America during the Cold War. The other is to integrate the Cold War into the context of its historical consequences, which are now apparent.

By examining the Korean War, as a first major proxy war against communism, we observe American casualties totalling 35,000 dead and 100,000 wounded. Observing the longer term effects of the conflict, we see the establishment of an ideological fault line along the 38th parallel, and the continuing existence of a regime that survives through nuclear extortion to this day, and which may yet choose to supply nuclear weapons to terrorists who wish to target the United States.

Was there a positive outcome that justified this loss of American lives in Asia, and mitigates the problem of the remaining threat? Well, there is the emergence of South Korea, a strongly Western country and important trading partner. But it still requires a continual American military commitment for its defense, at significant cost, and with few thanks. Also, no end seems to be in sight in this scenario. At best, the jury is thus still out on this one.

Also inconclusive is the question of Taiwan, which may yet be reabsorbed by China.

By contrast, the jury has most definitely concluded deliberations with regards to Vietnam. Casualties in that war amounted to 60,000 dead and 300,000 wounded Americans. Also, the war caused a tremendous schism in American culture, which hinders its ability to project a common set of values to the world to this day. To make matters worse, as we pan across time, we see the emergence of the Nixon Doctrine, whereby America gave up fighting proxy wars and decided instead to arm countries that might be directly threatened–such as Iran. As a result, if you zoom in close enough you can see that a good number of F-14s and F-15s flying around in the Middle East during the 1970s bear Iranian insignia. And, soon enough, the populace of this “ally” in the containment of Communism would be chanting “Death to America!” in the streets.

What should have been obvious from the start was that Vietnamese communism may have threatened “international peace,” but it never had anything to do with America’s interests. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which emerged from the war, and which aligned with the Soviet Union, was involved in conflicts with Cambodia and China. But its decrepit economy did nothing but put additional strain on the Soviet Union, which funneled financial, military and administrative aid its way in order to continually prop it up. This sapped Russia’s always declining vigor, and contributed further to Communism’s fall.

As for the consequent arming of Iran, although it may seem like a reaction against the Truman Doctrine, it really only altered the means of implementing it. America remained committed to “free peoples” whose connection to our national interests were negligeable, if not entirely imaginary.

Let us look at one more critical episode: America’s handling of the Suez Crisis of 1956. In that year, Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, took over the Suez Canal, thus seizing what was British and French property. When Britain, France, and Israel responded with an invasion of the Sinai and canal zone, President Eisenhower–who had not been consulted, who thus felt personally insulted, and who feared that such a move would damage Arab nations’ perception of the Western world–demanded that they withdraw. Faced with the threat of losing American aid–established via the Truman Doctrine’s Marshall Plan–Britain had no choice. Its allies were similarly compromised, and forced to back down.

The motivation for the president’s action was further elaborated post hoc–in the so-called Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957. In this corollary to the Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower announced that America would help nations in the Middle East resist communist expansion. In the Suez Crisis he had acted with precisely this intent. He humiliated a committed ally (Great Britain) in the name of appeasing a potential ally (Egypt), so that Nasser might choose to align himself with America, and so that the other Arab nations might be drawn to the United States as the more accomodating of the two superpowers.

So what did American accomodation, motivated by Truman/Eisenhower doctrinal thinking, yield for America in the Middle East? The attempt to manipulate its regimes in the name of a broader American goal for some forty years has spawned The Islamist Entanglement–the current debacle with reactionary political Islam. In the words of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the region’s true aim was to align with “neither East nor West.” It was always to assert its own Islamic character, as was done in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

So the Truman Doctrine failed North Korea and Vietnam, with a terrible cost to America. Further, courting the Middle East during the Cold War created the next major threat to America’s interests, just as courting the Soviets in a bid to stop the Nazis had yielded the Cold War itself.

Shall we say that it was all worth it because of Western Europe’s gratitude, and its defiance of communism? I shall continue to address this question in my series on “Europism,” but I don’t think too many Americans are deluded into thinking that Europeans are enamored with America or that Europe’s growing union is dedicated to freedom. Collectivism still dominates European thinking.

True, there is at least America’s close relationship with Britain and its Commonwealth offshoots Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Were the Soviets ever really going to conquer these countries? If communism had even briefly expanded to encompasses continental Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia by means of voluntary adoption and/or Soviet infiltration, it would have burned itself out so fast that the Cold War would have been a Cold Battle! The evil nature of communism would have been revealed all the more incontrovertibly. And these Western countries, which otherwise drifted towards socialism, would have been forced to defend themselves properly and thus abandon the draining accouterments of the welfare state. So I’m afraid I don’t see it in those cases either.

Finally, do I really need to mention Latin America? We let the communists have Cuba, and we sponsored countless “Western” dictators in place of the oppressive regimes the people there would have preferred to impose on themselves.

Now, before closing the case, I want to return to the Middle East, and indulge in a projection of what could and should have happened there had we allowed communism to expand in a manner consonant with our true self-interest. I submit that it is quite possible that Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Afghanistan and Pakistan might have been temporarily become communist countries. I submit, however, that this is beside the point, and might even have been a good thing. Just as quickly, others–most notably Saudi Arabia–would have been forced into our arms, and we could have dictated regime change there with as much ease as we did in Japan after WWII. The result would have been secure access to the world’s largest proven oil reserves, and the accelerated Westernization of a limited part of the Middle East. The resulting leap in wealth there–for everyone, not just the monarchy–would have proved once again the superiority of capitalism over communism and provided a real prototype for the aggressive secularization of Islam.

In the end, therefore, I don’t think that there is any outcome associated with the Truman Doctrine that could not have been improved upon if the idea of “international peace” and “the security of the United States” had been decoupled, and America had pursued only the latter. Even for those countries who would have suffered as a result of communist aggression, the outcome in the end would have been a much more genuine commitment to democratic republicanism. More importantly, however, hundreds of thousands of American lives would have been spared, and the debacle we find ourselves in today would never have arisen.

(For a more complete record of America’s Cold War record in the Islamic world, listen to my lecture “America in the Middle East,” available separately at a reduced introductory rate!)

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OK.  Let’s switch tracks.  Modern politics is so depressing, and I’m sure we all need a metaphysical pick-me-up after thinking about Iran-Israel.

I recently got two great art books for my birthday, and when I tell you that one of them was full of Victorian nudes, but that it’s the other one I’m most excited about, you’ll have some idea of how good it is! ;-)

I’m talking about the best book I’ve ever seen on the art of Sir Edward Everett Millais.  The book is simply entitled “Millais,” by Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith.  (Get it here, at an amazing price, from Amazon.) 

Millais first came to my attention because he created some remarkable works of historical art.  My favorite of these is Huguenot Lovers, which depicts an intimate moment during the St.Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the religious civil wars in France.  The French Protestants, known as “Huguenots,” were to be massacred this day, by order of the royal family.  Catholics were to be safely identified by the white armbands they wore. 

In Millais’s depiction of a great conflict of values related to this episode, a woman attempts to fasten a white band onto the arm of her lover, who, while embracing her, prevents her from doing so. 

In the words of the poet, Richard Lovelace, “I could not love thee, Dear, so much, Loved I not Honour more.

 

Also worth a look: John Everett Milais, Beyond the Pre-Raphaelist Brotherhood.  It’s has a more limited thesis, and does not offer the same comprehensive presentation as the Rosenfeld-Smith book, but it’s still nice.  Also, if you can find it, Sir John Everett Millais by Geoffroy Millais has been a happy component of my collection.  It’s older, so the reproductions are not quite as sharp, however.

 
Two other books, worth a look for insight into the work of Millais

For more information about Millais, you can also take in a post I wrote about another one of his works, The Boyhood of Sir Walter Raleigh over at HistoryAtOurHouse.  

This artist is fighting for a place in my top five favorite painters of all time!  Find out why, by picking up the amazing Rosenfeld-Smith book!

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Perhaps Israel’s action will come before the upcoming election!  Maybe Bush and Cheney will take one huge parting shot in the “war on terror” by using Israel as a proxy–one that doesn’t require “congressional authorization”–to strike at Iran?  That’s what this Washington Post editorial suggests.  It states the following reasons for concern about an upcoming attack:

  1. the recent resignation of William Fallon — a general who is known as a critic of the administration
  2. a trip by Cheney’s trip to the Middle East
  3. a recent airstrike on Syria by Israel, which may signal the intention to clear a strike corridor by assessing Russian-built air defenses
  4. the presence of U.S. warships off Lebanon
  5. Israeli comments
  6. Israel’s war with Hezbollah

Perhaps by “Israeli comments,” one can include the fact that there have apparently been leaks concerning an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran using bunker-buster weapons–which may have been supplied to Israel by the US as recently as 2006 expressly for the purpose of attacking Iran.

If this happens, it’ll simply mean that Israel recognizes the imminence of the Iranian threat and is going to render McCain-Obama even more irrelevant by preempting any self-defeating move either of these leaders might make with regards to Iran.

What worries me, however, is that these attacks will amount to “nuclear pinpricks” and thus do nothing but reinforce Islamic totalitarianism’s hold over Iran and exacerbate the long-run situation in Iraq beyond repair.

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While Americans try to sort out the question of who will be their next president, the real question people should be asking themselves is, “Will Israel have the courage to save itself–and the rest of the world–when it comes time to deal with Iran?”

It really doesn’t matter whether the American electorate takes the unlikely view that it wants a more bellicose geriatric version of George Bush, i.e. John McCain, or the likelier scenario that it wants a vibrant black JFK who promises change, i.e. Barack Obama. Either way, the responsibility for saving the world will fall on Israel’s shoulders.

Pick your leader America.  I’m afraid it won’t matter! 

If McCain becomes president, the United States will obviously stay in Iraq longer than otherwise.  The American government will continue to try to suppress the reactionary tendencies within Iraq’s Islamic culture, only to find that any policy designed to direct Iraq’s development necessarily involves other requirements beyond America’s current political will.  

To try to mitigate Iraq’s external handicaps, McCain proposes to apply “international pressure” on the regimes that seek to undermine Iraq’s Westernization, i.e. Iran and Syria.  This deliberately vague proposal means one of two things:  1) either McCain does not want to confront them directly, and he’s being up front about it, or 2) he wants to, but realizes that it would be political suicide to say so.  Either way, he will never do so with the effectiveness required to dissuade these terrorist regimes and motivate America’s political allies in Iraq.

Only with America’s full support against Iran could Iraq’s secular leaders possibly be motivated to tough out what will certainly be decades of religious strife to come.  It is well known that Iran aids insurgents militarily, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Iran is the central hub of contemporary Islamism and thus it impacts the entire region ideologically. The reactionary theocratic philosophy that fueled its 1979 revolution has been gaining in appeal among Muslims, and Iraq’s leaders need to know that they will always get help resisting this force.

Similarly, Iraq’s nascent democracy needs to know that its ally will not tolerate the undermining presence of oppressive theocracies and terrorist states along its other borders. Consequently, regime change in Saudi Arabia and Syria would also have to figure in any American plans for a stable Iraq.  These things will never happen.  In the Republican mindset, Saudi Arabia is a stable ally, and Syria is just a containable nuisance.

What will happen if America sticks with the Republicans is that McCain will attempt to “stay the course.” He will try to isolate the Iraq situation, and try to evade the fact that it can’t be isolated.  And if Americans aren’t calling for the troops to come home quite loudly enough for McCain to hear it yet, he won’t be able to not hear it as president.

Tragically, the longer American troops stay in Iraq while Iran remains untouched, the stronger the eventual backlash against America’s presence will be. Iraq will most likely disintegrate into civil war. The world will be scrambling to come to grips with Iraqi disintegration, and praying that we aren’t swallowed up by some world-wide conflict.  While everything is busy pointing the finger at America for creating this mess, and falling over each other not to get involved, Iran will capitalize on America’s diplomatic isolation and try to do what every Muslim regime in the Middle East wishes it could do: destroy Israel.

But what if Obama becomes president?  Can we avoid such an outcome? 

With Obama in charge, America will adopt a position of respect for the “self-determination” of the Middle East. Obama will remove America’s troops from Iraq as quickly as possible.

In the hopes of stabilizing the situation in the region, he will then attempt to befriend Ahmedinejad as JFK attempted to befriend Nasser.  Like JFK, however, he will get stung, only it’ll be much worse than Nasser sending troops to revolutionary Yemen.  It’ll be a lot more like Chamberlain getting stung by Hitler.

The historical parallel between modern Iran and pre-WWII Germany has naturally occurred to many. Like Germany in the 1920s, Iran does not accept its subordinacy to powers that have never conquered it. It does not accept that other countries may determine its national fate. Like inter-war Germany, it is surrounded by weaker countries that share an ethnic (in this case religious, not racial) identity with it, and which it hopes to dominate based on an integrating ideology, in this case Pan-Islamism.

Iran’s neighbors only vaguely apprehend its ambitions and have only a loose connection to the power that should be the one to stop Iran, the United States. However, just as in the 1930s, Americans want disengagement, and Obama is ready to deliver. 

What’s worse is that like Chamberlain before WWII, he is willing to exchange hand shakes and promises with someone he believes isn’t really an enemy, just a frustrated patriot.

Thus what McCain would abhor doing, but can’t avoid, Obama will willingly do: empower Iran to strike at Israel.

The situation has deteriorated to the point where we will arrive at this juncture regardless of which of the current candidates leads America into it.

 

With America paralyzed, the way will be cleared for Iran to make its move.

As everyone is well aware,  Ahmedinejad is pushing forward with Iran’s nuclear energy program.  And as everybody knows, this is a natural stepping stone to the creation of nuclear weapons.  The idea that Iran needs nuclear energy to help its own people, when it starves them of oil which it has in abundance, is ludicrous.  For a committed Islamist regime nuclear power can have only have one purpose: nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons can have only one first-strike target: Israel. 

Ahmedinejad’s message is clear, but it’s so frightening no one wants to listen.

So the real question is: what will Israel do when the time comes?

Will Israel strike first? It will take incredible courage. I don’t envy the Israelis to have to be in this position because America has defaulted and will continue to default on its role as world leader. If they choose to destroy Iran by the preemptive use of nuclear weapons, they will have to endure decades of international hatred for refusing to be sacrificed for “peace in our time.”

But this is their only option. No matter how good Mossad’s operations are in Iran, and no matter how good their air force pilots are, limited strikes can hardly guarantee a secure result, and they will only serve to align the world against Israel and embolden Iran to take the final step.

Unlike pre-WWII Czechoslovakia, Israel is powerful enough to stop its aggresive neighbor militarily. Its policy of “nuclear ambiguity” is obviously a cover for its own nuclear program, which has probably been in place since the 1960s. Its leaders certainly understand as well that Israel is too small to trade blows on a nuclear battlefield, and cannot risk being the first to be struck.

This all adds up to one of only two results. Iran gone. Or Israel gone.

The only thing the upcoming election is going to settle is the number and variety of intervening events along this terrifying timeline.

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On the face of it, the development of a European identity seems like a positive thing. Indeed, the establishment of the European Union has resulted in many positive developments for that continent. However, Europeans should not allow themselves to be seduced with a kiss.

In 1951, the European Coal Steel Community (ECSC) was formed, with the expressed intent of preventing industries essentially connected with the production of war materials to be wielded for that purpose. By coordinating production through a supranational “High Authority” the system was to remove trade barriers for these industries and form a common market. In principle this market could also be joined by other nations. Thus it represented in one regard a positive thing: the reduction of trade barriers.

It must be understood, however, that this was not “free trade.” It was supranational socialism. The coal and steel industries were not to be left free to trade across national boundaries, thus dissolving their national associations through mutually respectful and advantageous trading, they were to be directed in their activities by a supranational government agency.

The model of the ECSC was broadened in 1957 to other industries in order “preserve peace and liberty and to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” The means were the same. Now, a broader “customs union” would be formed, which would remove internal trade barriers and establish a common tariff system for external trade. Again the system was open to other European countries. Again, however, it involved supranational socialism, especially in the area of agriculture, where price levels were to be established not by markets, but by government officials. Because the number of industries involved was greatly expanded, some countries were worried about their ability to manipulate industries themselves and the power of the supranational authority was reduced.

The removal of “internal” customs barriers was, of course, a positive development. As was the subsequent Schengen Agreement of 1985, which removed restriction on the freedom of movement of laborers. These both meant a decline in the power of national governments over the individual. They also can said to have fostered a great sense of “community” among peoples, who were now more mobile and interconnected.

In connection to this, I am reminded of a personal experience of mine that always stuck with me. I was riding my mountain bike across Europe with a friend after graduating from college–such a cliché, I know :-) . On this trip, I was impressed by this sense of community among the young people of Europe. I recall in particular sitting before the Trevi Fountain talking to another traveller. He noted, with considerable embarrassment, that he had never visited this famous place before, stating that this was strange given that this was his home. “Oh, are you from Rome?” I asked. “No, I’m from Holland.” I was briefly puzzled, but he clarified. “I mean, Europe is my home.”

As heartwarming as this sentiment seems, and admitting that for many European youths there is a certain benevolent idealism involved in the idea of European Union, when one moves past this youthful perspective and penetrates to the philosophical essence of the European identity, it takes on a different significance. The idea of being “European” is still fundamentally collectivist in nature, and thus necessarily exclusive and antagonistic as well. On an ideological level, Europe is largely being brought together in order to resist or counterbalance a perceived threat — the United States and the ideas of the American Enlightenment.

(Continued in Part 4.)

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In his farewell address, George Washington warned against entangling alliances with the outside world. His words were headed by a century of American presidents.  Today, however, the United States is thoroughly entangled in a web of commitments throughout the world, and especially the Middle East.  Learn how this tragic deviation from a foreign policy of independence to one of internationalism and interventionism occurred by joining me for lecture 2 in The Islamist Entanglement: America and the Middle East.

  
America’s founding presidents pursued a foreign policy of independence.
 

In this lecture, available as an individual purchase, we will summarize the foreign policy of America’s founders, culminating in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.  Then we will see, in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the gradual undercutting and abandonment of this doctrine by presidents seemingly committed to it — from Grover Cleveland to Theodore Roosevelt, and ultimately Woodrow Wilson.

  
Culprits in America’s Decline

The result has been a dismal succession of American sacrifices, from WWI to Vietnam to Iraq, interspersed with brief but futile attempts to define a foreign policy of self-interest in the context of a growing number of international commitments.

Of special interest in this treatment will be America’s conduct towards the Middle East in the context of the Cold War.  From the advent of this period onward, America has attempted to maintain a commitment to freedom in the region, first against Soviet agression and subsequently against radical Islam.  A succession of presidential doctrines has evidenced the desire to integrate this idealistic commitment with America’s (practical) interests, only to find that not only has the region not embraced American aid or American values, but rather violently rejected them.  America now finds itself the primary target of Islamic hatred throughout the globe.

  
How have America’s presidential doctrines affected the Middle East?

For a complete explanation of the Islamic world’s rejection of America, one must first understand the story of Britain in the Middle East (Lecture 1 of The Islamist Entanglement) and trace the cultural reaction of the various Middle Eastern nations to their contacts with the West (Lectures 3-9).  This sets the proper context for a discussion of America’s past, present, and–undoubtedly–future failures, which will be the emphasis in the final lecture, lecture 10, of the series.

To start participating in The Islamist Entanglement find out about how you can purchase individual lectures here.  Act now, and you can participate in the live teleconference lecture this Wednesday evening, 8:30 PM Central.

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