Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

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.

Digg!| Facebook | StumbleUpon

Read Full Post »

One look into those lively eyes should convince you that this is no typical Middle Eastern leader.  This is Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”–father of the Turks, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, whose remarkable legacy, Kemalism, is the only modern secular national ideology holding its own in the Middle East. 

In a heartening display of Turkish secularism that bodes well for the future of that country as many as 100,000 Kemalists rallied today in Ankara .  The rally was held to protest a government decision to lift an Islamic headscarf ban at universities, most of which are public institutions. 

The protest was sparked by a recent government initiative to allow the return of religious garb in the country’s centers of higher learning, a project being pushed by  Turkey’s current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has strong Islamist sympathies.

To date, based on Turkey’s strict policy of separation of church and state (a Kemalist program), Islamic headscarfs, among the most recognizable symbols of religious submission in the world, have been inadmissible in the country’s universities, and with good reason. In a rights-respecting culture, an individual’s choice of head-dress would surely be unrestricted.  The issue would fall under the heading of freedom of religion.  But in a country where some segment of the population has had to fight every day to protect itself from Islamist religious oppression for over 80 years, and where the military unseated the government most recently in the “post-modern coup” of 1997, in order to protect secularism, the ban is justified.  Public universities at the very least must be sanctuaries from Islam, which otherwise permeates the culture, and which–in its traditional or fundamentalist implementation–would definitely violate women’s rights.

At least the countries intellectual leaders, the deans of various universities, voiced unequivocal support for the ban before a parliamentary commission.  “Turkey is secular and will remain secular,” shouted some of them at the end of their meeting, as the International Herald and Tribune reports.  (How many deans of American universities, I wonder, would be so passionately committed to such a thoroughly Western ideal?)

Unfortunately, that the current government, which was democratically elected, has widespread support to pursue this agenda is the worrisome thing.  It means that the contest between Kemalism and Islamism in Turkey is far from over, and that more military coups may be needed to defend secularism.

Read Full Post »

Time has crowned Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year, with Al Gore, J.K. Rowling, Hu Jin Tao of China, and General Petraeus as runners-up.

In making its selection, Time has offered an interesting justification. 

TIME’s Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. [Full text here.]

I agree with this basic selection criteria.  As I often tell my younger history students, “Important is the most important word in history.”  Similarly, as I am wont to explain, when someone is known as “the Great”–as in Peter the Great, or Frederick the Great–it doesn’t necessarily mean “the Good” or “the Bad,” but it definitely means “the Important,” and that means that they deserve our attention.

I do not, however, agree with the choice of Putin as Person of the Year.  I certainly do not think he is good, and I do not think he is great in a historical sense either. 

Time proposes that he has brought “stability” to Russia, and this means that he is thereby shaping the world.  The truth is, however, that Russia remains fundamentally unstable, as is plainly evidenced by the fact that the Putin regime requires constant upkeep by a corrupt and oppressive apparatus.  The press is censored and dissidents are intimidated and jailed.  However inconclusive, the Litvinenko case, is also indicative of the nature of the Putin system of dealing with dissent. As Time’s Richard Stengel admits, it is an “imposed” stability–which means it is no stability at all. 

Russia remains in transition from full Communism to what, unfortunately, it remains uncertain.  Nationalism is now the main driving ideology in the culture.  Putin’s rhetoric is always colored with it.  It is the basic reason for his various international frictions with the United States and concurrently high popularity ratings among Russians.  Most disturbingly, it is the essence of the pro-Putin Nashi youth movement. 

But nationalism–a collectivist ideology which upholds the reality and value of the “nation” above that of its individual citizens–always acts as a host for socialism or fascism, i.e. government control of citizens through the “national” machinery of the state. Consequently, unless there is a significant ideological shift in Russia (and I don’t see how), it will continue to be a fundamentally statist country for the foreseeable future.

I suppose that is a kind of “stability,” if by stability one means constancy. But it’s not impressive by any historical yardstick I can think of.

(continued in Part 2)

Read Full Post »

The declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is an interesting document.  It is put together by the National Intelligence Council, whose basic objectives–as stated in the NIE–include “to broaden and deepen the Intelligence Community’s perspective.”

In this Council’s document on the “intentions” of the leading sponsor of Islamic Terrorism in the world and an avowed enemy of the United States, how often do the words “Islam,” “Muslim,” or “Islamism” appear?

Not once.

Talk about “broad and deep”!

Read Full Post »

The world’s tallest building is under construction…in the Middle East.

After recently watching an interesting documentary about Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates) on 60 minutes, I briefly became fascinated with that city. The documentary called it “the largest construction site on the planet”–already boasting a phenomenal indoor ski slope, and man-made island groupings in the shape of “the World”. (They have no environmental regulations there, so they exploit the earth with stunning results!)

“The World” Real-Estate Development Project in Dubai

And the Burj Dubai is under construction there as well. This amazing tower reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Illinois” tower. (When completed it will be twice as tall as the Empire State Building!!)

Artist Rendering of the “Burj Dubai” and Dubai Skyline

Then I thought of the World Trade Center, and I became somewhat depressed. (I don’t hate the latest design, but by comparison to the Burj Dubai, the “Freedom Tower” is, quite frankly, stubby.)

I think what is so upsetting about the Burj Dubai is that it is so heroic a structure and it’s in the Middle East–where no wealth would exist today without Western aid and technology–and where, despite the transmission of heroic values to that region, the West (and especially the United States) is villified. Meanwhile, America, which fueled the industrial leap that made the wealth of Dubai possible, has largely lost its heroic sense of life, and little of significance seems to be under construction here (with one exception, see below). Viewed in full historical context, Dubai–and the Burj Dubai above all–is a historic-aesthetic monstrosity!

Honestly, there’s a part of me that hopes that, somehow, Providence will intervene, and the combination of oil pumping and Persian Gulf dredging will cause an unanticipated seismic event, bringing the thing down.

Meanwhile, I take some architectural solace in the continued growth of the Chicago skyline. The Trump Chicago (decent, but should be taller), and the Chicago Spire (takes getting used to, but it grows on you!) promise to add some inspiration into our architectural landscape.

The Trump Chicago

The Chicago Spire (Click the link for the video intro to “elevate” your spirits.)

Read Full Post »

Unlike modern historians, I am a huge fan of Christopher Columbus.  I would rank him as one of the ten most important men in history–and for the good!  So Powell History is going to celebrate not just Columbus Day, but as a small measure of justice for a man so wrongly villified in our modern culture, a week of Columbus-related posts highlighting his achievements and his significance in world history.

Columbus Portrait

Christopher Columbus (c.1451-1506)
the most important explorer in world history

Read Full Post »

In my very recent move from OC to Houston, my family “self-moved,” and as we trucked down the I8 and (just past Phoenix) the I10, I was struck by the sad fact that these highways have now basically become a second border with Mexico, and I was driven to reflect on what this means in terms of America’s cultural decline.

During the last school year, as I was getting to the end of European history (which I taught to elementary grade children across the country) I explained some of the important differences between the Western and Eastern Europe during the Cold War.  Among these, I highlighted the fact that within Western European countries, citizens had freedom of movement, whereas in Eastern Europe, not only was there an “iron curtain” keeping you in, but you also had to justify your movement within your own country to the government.

This has started happening in the US as a result of the failure of our culture to answer the rightful demand for immigration. If you want to travel on the interstates near the Mexican border, you must now be prepared to justify yourself to government agents.

At this point, I would rate the border patrol’s presence on these roads as relatively innocuous (kind of like the first income tax), but the fact that they are there at all is the problem.

Apart from the laughable notion that the “fix” for the apparent problem of having a porous border is to create a second far more porous one, what really worries me is that the people of America are allowing the erection of a larger and larger government apparatus (including new state and federal initiatives to crack down on employers) to deal with a perceived threat that is no threat at all.  

Ironically, by denying these rights to others, Americans are allowing their own freedoms to be eroded.

It’s time every American stood up for el sueno Americano.  It is everyone’s right, and it hurts everyone not to recognize it.

Read Full Post »