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Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Women

August 27th, 2008 - 4:18 pm

If there’s going to be a real revolution in the Middle East, I think it will have to be led by the women. A couple of years ago, I organized a symposium on “the women of the middle east,” which had considerable echo. It was not the usual “women and Islam” discussion, important as that is, but included Jews, Copts, and atheists, from several different countries. It featured an Israeli woman who said, rightly I thought, that she felt sorry for her Arab sisters, who were not free to speak their minds or even pursue their lives. Many of the other women thanked her, and said she was entirely right.

I think that the tyrannical rulers of the Middle East actively fear their women, at all levels of their being. They fear anything approaching equal rights for women because they know that women have been singled out for humiliation, degradation, and constant violence, both the official kind (as in the recent Iranian case where two women were beaten up by ‘morals enforcers’ for dressing inappriately) and the ‘normal’ kind, where husbands beat wives, fathers beat daughters, and so forth.

An American Army poet stationed in Iraq, Army Specialist Danielle Wheeler, has said it far better than I can:

Behind the Veil

If you asked who the strongest woman would be, I’d say an Iraqi woman.
They’re the strongest I’ve seen.
Here a woman can get beat up just for not being pretty enough.
I guess it all starts off when they are daughters.
Sold off to be married to other men by their fathers.
That poor woman, married to someone she doesn’t know,
Told she’d have his children and make his home.
If her husband is poor without a camel or a cow,
She’ll be outside in the sun pulling the plow.
When her husband comes home and his dinner is burned,
She’ll get a black eye she believes she earned.
She could try to dodge, get away from the attack.
She knows it’d be worse if she tried to fight back.
You think it doesn’t get worse than this?
All this is done in front of the kids.
When she starts to show her age he can beat her to death,
Find someone younger, prettier and marry again.
No matter what happens, she’s always wrong.
That’s not everything; I could go on and on.
If I were them, I’d wear a veil too.
No better way of hiding a bruise.

h/t to Blackfive, as usual an invaluable source on our heroes in the region.

Iraq is far from the worst place in this regard, but you cannot get to know an Iraqi woman without hearing about the nastiness of their lives, and this includes very important woman, members of Parliament for example, leaders of political parties, even women at the highest levels of ministries. In other places, women can’t ever reach such status. They’re just oppressed.

There is no clearer sign of the fecklessness of the West, above all the Western Left, than the near-total silence about the oppression of women, especially in our enemies’ countries.  The American and European feminists were never about real liberation, anyway;  they just wanted to be treated like men.  They got it, by and large, so that big balloon is now out of air.  There is nothing left for their truly oppressed foreign sisters.

An unknown number of Iranian women are on death row, awaiting their terrible execution by stoning. The Iranian Government has suspended some of these sentences for the moment, but the latest stoning was just last year, a new legal code does not ban stoning, and government ministers continue to defend it.

And I haven’t even mentioned Saudi Arabia, the monster misogynist of the region.

Go to any of the scholarly studies of the failure of the Arab world (and Iran, not an Arab country, can join this crowd) to advance its civil societies, its creative enterprises, its industries, its educational systems, and you’ll find that the exclusion and oppression of women is invariably listed as one of the most important causes.

It’s another one of those cases, about which I am now writing a book, where everyone sees the evil but nobody is willing to do anything about it. One might “understand” the West’s unwillingness to recognize the evil in the Kremlin or the evil in Damascus; doing something effective against such regimes is difficult, risky and costly. But what does it take to denounce the oppression of women? I think the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Iran’s Ms. Ebadi was what we used to call a conscience-balm; a lot of Westerners could tell themselves that “we supported her/them, now let’s move on.”

The women of the Middle East are a revolutionary force, which we are morally, politically and strategically obliged to support. The Bush Administration, which featured a lot of women in high office (from Laura to Condi to Karen to Harriet etc etc), disgracefully failed to rally to the side of oppressed women. Let’s hope the next crowd does better.

Sex and the Single Sharia Girl

August 26th, 2008 - 2:00 pm

There’s a law firm for Muslims in the Netherlands whose director is so observant, he refuses to shake hands with women. That cost him an official position with the Rotterdam city government.

So what else is new? you are asking. Well, what’s new is that two of the ‘secretaries’ at the law firm are well known porn stars. Are we to imagine that they sanctify their sexual liaisons by obtaining temporary marriages from Sharia authorities before going to work?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

And inquiring minds should look more deeply into the important subject of sexuality in radical Islam. I have long thought it important that many of the most radical Muslim males are products of strictly (sexually) segregated madrasas, and are denied female company during their years of peak hormonal activity. I suspect that makes the promise of paradise, with its rich supply of irresistible, insatiable and eternally virginal houris, very inviting. It sure beats sitting cross-legged on the floor with smelly teen aged boys, awaiting a spanking from the dominator/religious guide.

And, in keeping with the well known principle that the followers have to be chaste, while the leaders revel at will, the head of this law firm, Mr. Fazil Ali Enait, employs women who are scorned by the Shari’a law he pretends to practice.

UPDATE:

Seems the head of an Islamic (boarding) school in romantic Buffalo may have arranged one of those temporary marriages with an underage student of his.

Swinging Spain, Groovy Biden

August 24th, 2008 - 1:33 pm

Midnight in Marbella, our dinner at Antonio’s, down in the hyper-chic port area where the King of Saudi Arabia anchors his modest yacht this time of year, ended a bit after midnight.  Great food, plenty expensive (but Barbara and I are guests, so we simply gasp, it is painless), but the dorada with garlic is terrific, the fresh fruit spectacular, and the passing scene is dazzling.  It seems every rich kid within a thousand miles is here, and the quantity of clothing is inversely proportional to the class standing of the kid.  The richer you are, the less you wear.  Great for the morale of aging folks like me.  And after dinner you can shop.  The stores are open until 2 A.M.  So the next time someone tells you Americans are crazy because they work ridiculous hours, tell them about Marbella.

Great flight back on Iberia, which offers free email and text messaging on board.  Soon there will be no hiding from the IT, which I think is bad news.  Good movies, good music, comfortable seats, seemingly brand new planes.  I suppose the food is ok, but it seems to have been chosen to make sure that the Jews and Muslims starve.  Pork in almost everything, soup to salad.  Eurabia has not reached Spanish airline kitchens, apparently.  But there was a good vegetarian plate, and plenty of good bread and cheese, so I got even fatter…sigh.

Got home to the news that it’s groovy Joe Biden for Obama’s veep nominee.  I love that, I think they’re a perfect match.  Two men totally infatuated with their own voices.  I can just hear each of them thinking, “God, I love that voice.  Such a voice.  What a pleasure that it’s MY voice.  And I’m going to make sure everyone listens to it all the time, no matter what it says, the important thing is to keep it flowing, keep it coming, it’s so beautiful, so hypnotic, so…so eloquent, it’s eloquent no matter what the words, it’s just fantastic, and it’s MINE.”

I love this presidential campaign.

It is Getting Darker All the Time

August 20th, 2008 - 2:38 pm

We’re on our way to Spain for a few days, hoping that the spaniards have figured out a way to stop planes from crashing in Madrid and Malaga.  But I didn’t want to leave before muttering a few words about the “new Cold War.”

As so often in these cases, it isn’t new and it isn’t cold.  The new “challenge” comes from a strategic alliance involving Russia, Syria and Iran.  You can fill in all the empty boxes:  from the nuclear program(s) to the desire to be able to strangle the West by getting control over the pipelines, the yearning for the West to kneel before Zod, etc. etc.

If you look at this situation in full context, it’s immediately obvious that it’s very hot, there is a lot of fighting going on (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia) with more in the offing (Lebanon, Israel, and in all likelihood some terrorist attacks against European targets).

This comes as no surprise to readers of this blog, many of whom have seen it coming for a long time.  It is what happens when you ignore Iran for thirty years, and convince yourself that Putin is really a good person.  The basic rule is that if you don’t move forcefully and effectively against the smaller threats, all of a sudden you find yourself in a big mess, which is our current plight.

This is not helped at all by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announcing that we really can’t cope with threats in a “third area,” while it’s actually a single area, and we’ve got plenty of options.  I don’t think Secretary Gates has been nearly as effective as he should be, and our various signals–cutting off or cutting back on shipments to Israel, for example, or failure to openly demand a fast track into NATO for Georgia and Ukraine, or moving against the terrorist training camps in Syria and Iran (the former should have been done twenty five years ago, during the Reagan presidency).  A lot could, and should have been done politically, but the window for those options is closing.  Failure of strategic vision has a very high price, sadly.

So I am unhappy, because the war clouds are right there, shutting down the sunlight that democratic revolution could provide, and I do not see a Western leader who has both the wit to understand it and the will to engage it.

Making Deals with Terrorists

August 18th, 2008 - 3:48 pm

Over the weekend, my old friend Francesco Cossiga–former prime minister, interior minister, and president of Italy–published a bit of autobiography in the country’s leading newspaper, the Corriere della SeraHere’s an English language account of what he wrote.

Cossiga confirms what many people have long known (I wrote about it at the time,when I was Rome correspondent for The New Republic), namely that Italy had made a deal with the Palestinian terrorists:  the terrorists could come and go freely to and from Italy, and could even stage operations from Italy, but in exchange they would not conduct operations on Italian soil.

I have no doubt that other countries have made similar deals, and that they were happy with those deals for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, the governments sympathized with the terrorists’ cause, which was the war against Israel.  And second, it seemed to guarantee a certain degree of security at a time–the seventies–when there was a lot of terrorism in Western Europe.

The trouble was that the terrorists weren’t just Arabs;  there was a broader network, which included Italians.  And those Italians were operating against the very people who had made the deal with the Arabs.

Cossiga speaks with some bitterness about receiving a request from a Palestinian group, asking for the return of a missile that had been captured by Italian authorities from a far-left Italian group.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was working closely with Italian terrorists, which the PFLP confirmed in their request to the Italian Government.

Ironically, the man who probably worked hardest to negotiate the deal–the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro, a close friend of Cossiga’s–eventually fell prey to the Italian Red Brigades terrorists, who kidnapped and then murdered him.   Cossiga was a man of honor, and resigned as interior minister shortly after Moro’s corpse was found in the center of Rome.

It’s a useful reminder about the limits of negotiations, don’t you think?  Even when you get a deal with evil people, bad things are going to happen.

Why?  Remember the old story about the crocodile and the scorpion.  The scorpion begs for a ride across the river, and the croc keeps on saying, ‘no, you’ll sting me.’  The scorpion promises to be good, and the croc finally makes the deal.  As they approach the far shore, the scorpion stings the croc.

“Why?  Why?  You promised,” says the croc.

“Because I am a scorpion.”

War and Democracy

August 14th, 2008 - 1:42 pm

For many centuries, it was taken for granted that no modern country could move from dictatorship to democracy without considerable violence. The first wave of democratic revolution–the last quarter of the eighteenth century–saw every Western country undergo some political spasm aimed against the traditional monarchies. The two biggest events were the American and French Revolutions, both of which were integral parts of global war, and there were echoes in countries as different as Poland and Switzerland.

This was the watershed of the modern world, and the conviction that democracy was always accompanied by violent revolution/civil war/global conflict became part of the conventional wisdom.  In the mid-seventies, for example, as Spain’s Generalissimo Franco lay dying in Madrid, it was next to impossible to find any knowledgeable person who believed that Spain could become a democratic country without a replay of the bloody civil war of the 1930s. Spaniards were thoroughly convinced that they would do just that. “We kill the bulls, after all,” they liked to say; they were a violent people, and the Old Order would not go quietly into the dark night of fallen autocracies.

And yet, Spain accomplished a seemingly miraculous democratic revolution, paradoxically organized and commanded by icons of the Old Order: King Juan Carlos and a now-forgotten Franco loyalist, Adolfo Suarez. Portugal followed suit shortly thereafter, albeit with some dramatic moments and a few street clashes, but the new model–dictatorships could indeed fall, and democracies could be created, peacefully.

Then came the Age of the Second Democratic Revolution, the years of Reagan, Thatcher, John Paul II, Havel, Walesa, Sharansky and Bukovsky, replete with revolutions from Chile to Taiwan, from Romania and the rest of the Soviet Empire to South Africa and Zambia. With the indifference to history so characteristic of our world, we quickly forgot the conventional wisdom and by now we take it for granted that neither war nor violence is required to end tyranny. All we need is patience and the proper invocation of the new rules: free and fair elections, the rule of law, and so forth. History had ended, liberal democracy was triumphant.

The belief in the inevitability of peace and democracy rested on one of the great conceits of the European Enlightenment, namely the belief in the perfectibility of man. In this view, man’s basic goodness (as found in “the state of nature”) had been corrupted by a selfish society (a notion that finds much favor among today’s more extreme Greens), but that once the heavy weight of misguided was lifted, man’s intrinsic goodness would reemerge. In our modern rendition of that Enlightenment folly, an appeal to reason is sufficient to change the world. Back in the Clinton years, it was widely believed that all future conflict would be solely economic; the age of military warfare had passed, henceforth products, markets, and human ingenuity would determine who is rightly top dog and who needs to get with the program.  And so the defense budget was slashed, military men and women were treated with contempt by the president and his wife, and we turned inward.  After all, if historical inevitability ruled, why bother with national security?  Tyranny was considered a passing phenomenon, headed for the ash heap, and certainly no threat to us.

It was all wrong, as are most beliefs in the vast impersonal forces that are held to determine human events.  The great constant in man’s affairs is change, the direction of that change is determined by human actions, and many of the men and women who take those determinant actions are evil.  Machiavelli is not the only sage who recognized it, but he put it nicely:  “Man is more inclined to do evil than to do good.”  Rational statecraft starts right there.

The American Founders knew it: recognizing man’s innate capacity for evil, they designed a system of checks and balances to thwart the accumulation of power by any group, lest the entire enterprise fall into wicked hands.  They knew the battle for liberty would never end, Benjamin Franklin famously warned we would have to fight to keep our republic.

All of this wisdom has been dangerously undermined by the foolish notion that man is basically good, that all men are basically the same,  and that all we need do is to permit history to take its preordained course.  Are these not the tenets of contemporary education?  Are our children not forbidden to criticize “others,” whether of different pigmentation or religion?  Has debate on our university campuses not turned into the moral equivalent of the Inquisition?  And it rests on the sands of a demonstrably false vision of man.  We are not naturally inclined to do good.  Quite the contrary;  left to our own devices we produce genocide in Europe, Asia and Africa.  And the evil spreads, eventually it threatens us, it kills our people here at home and it is straining to kill more of us.  Ask the Georgians.  Ask Middle Eastern Jews and Christians, or the Iranian, Iraqi or Syrian peoples.

The basic debate needs to begin with a recognition that we have bought into a fable.  Without that recognition, we will be incapable of designing the policies we need in order to survive this perilous moment.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t call them terrorists, don’t send our armies against them (although special forces are ok), and don’t even think about declaring “war” against them. That’s the bottom line of a long, shockingly silly paper from the RAND Corporation, an organization that once excelled at thinking original thoughts and proposing innovative approaches to difficult strategic and technological problems. Now it’s part of the Establishment and it tells its paymasters what they want to hear.

To read RAND’s latest deep thoughts (on how terrorist organizations come to grief) is perhaps useful if you’re interested in seeing how those people think. Above all, they are bound and determined to “prove” that using military power against terrorist groups is wrongheaded; it’s better to use police and intelligence. According to the RANDfolk, we’re doing badly against al Qaeda, and such successes as have taken place (as, for example, in Anbar Province) are more the result of local actions by Iraqis (especially police) than by our fighting forces.

In order to make this flimsy case, the RAND report leaves out very important parts of the story. There is no doubt that the Iraqi police were enormously important in Anbar Province and elsewhere in Iraq, but in order for them to do their work they needed the protection provided by the Army and, above all, the Marines. Indeed, after the liberation of Iraq, the police were getting plenty of support in Anbar, and al Qaeda was doing very badly. But then came the big battle of Fallujah, and the Marines in the Euphrates Valley were called into the fight, thereby leaving the key centers of Ramadi, Haditha and others at the mercy of the terrorists, who came in and slaughtered everyone suspected of cooperating with the Americans.

The Marines were well aware of the enormous problem they faced after Fallujah: how could the Iraqis possibly trust us, when we had (in their eyes) abandoned them to their enemies? Lots of those local police, so admired by the RANDfolk, had run away to the north, and they weren’t likely to come back unless they were convinced they could survive it. They had to believe that the Marines were going to win, and were not going to leave.

To that end, Marine commanders dispatched envoys to track down experienced policemen, and bring them back. One Marine lieutenant of my acquaintance spent a couple of weeks with the policemen, and returned to Haditha with nearly two hundred of them. This was not at all, as the RAND monograph has it, a spontaneous decision made by independent Iraqis; it was a working relationship based on guarantees from the Marines that they would fight alongside the Iraqis.

I don’t think it’s remotely plausible to argue, as the RANDfolk do, that the “Awakening” was basically an Iraqi phenomenon with marginal American support. I think it was created when the Iraqis saw that the Marines were winning the war. And while I think the RANDfolk are right when they say that many of the Iraqi tribal leaders redoubled their efforts after the 2004 U.S. elections–fearing that the Democrats would yank the Marines out of Anbar– they did it with the Marines alongside. They thought they would win in alliance with the Marines, and they feared they would lose if the Marines left. Again.

The whole RAND study suffers from constant errors of context. One of their favorite themes is that it’s easier to make peace with terrorists who have “limited objectives,” and they cite the case of the Salvadoran FMLN, a Communist organization armed and trained by the Soviet Empire, via Cuba and Nicaragua. Almost as an afterthought, they note that peace was accomplished after the fall of the Kremlin, and the pauperization of Cuba. They hardly mention the defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua by the American-supported Contras. I think it’s pretty easy to understand why the FMLN came to terms: they lost the war and lost their sponsors. So they laid down their arms and entered elections they knew they would lose. That’s the usual pattern for peace: one side beats the other and imposes terms. Those terms are what “peace” is all about, as you can easily confirm by looking at the famous “peace conferences” in history; it’s all about what the winners permit the losers to keep.

In like manner, we don’t hear anything about state support for al Qaeda or other Middle Eastern terrorist groups; they are always treated as if they are purely local phenomena, and to the extent RAND discusses the international dimensions of al Qaeda, for example, it is only to stress the versatility and skill of the terrorists at decentralizing. That is no doubt why Hizbollah doesn’t attract much attention from them, because Hizbollah is an arm of the Iranian state and operates all over the world. No intrinsic versatility there; the Hizbollahis are just following orders from Tehran. And al Qaeda did the same in Iraq, in close coordination with Hizbollah.

Then we have the linguistic games. RAND doesn’t want us to talk about a “war on terror.” Perhaps they might mention this to the jihadis who declared war on us and then attacked. They complain a couple of times that when we use such bellicose language (and worse yet, send armies against our enemies), it is likely to provoke a hostile “response” from the terrorists, as if we had not been singled out for attack by terrorist organizations from the PLO to Islamic Jihad for decades.

Meanwhile, the terror war against us rages unabated. The Israelis and the Germans have found a Hizbollah cell in Germany that recruited Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or work permits. And the Italians arrested five terrorists in Bologna over the weekend. They had been recruiting jihadis for training in Bosnia (where Iranians have long trained terrorists for use in Europe and the Middle East).

You can call it anything you want if it makes you feel better. But it is what it is. War.

UPDATE:  Here’s a more detailed analysis of the Israeli Arab recruited by Hizbollah in Germany.

Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.

Back From Alaska

August 7th, 2008 - 8:14 pm

Sorry to have been silent for several days, but Barbara and I were on a cruise (courtesy of the wonderful people from Hillsdale College) in Alaska, and internet service was very random.

I always thought it was stupid to go to Alaska in August.  I love August in Washington, I adore hot and humid and so Washington is a dream come true for me.  Plus, no Congress, which means much less traffic, and you can get tables in restaurants.  Plus, I moved my office from AEI after twenty happy years, to Cliff May’s rising Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.  It seems a good fit, it puts me in the same sandbox as Andy McCarthy and other terrific people, and I love the email address:  michael@defenddemocracy.org  I mean, that’s what I’m all about…

So I’ve been packing and unpacking and cleaning out my files, throwing out two decades’ worth of notes, urgent to-dos that ended up at the bottom of a pile, highlighted clips, you know.  And finally it got done.  Just in time to start a new book and sign up for a new parking lot.  I’ll be a better blogger for it.

Alaska, then.  Barbara has wanted to do it for a long time, and she was right, as usual.  It’s glorious, in a cold, almost monochromatic way.  The glaciers are aquamarine, a color you don’t see anywhere except in glaciers, it results from the compression of the ice.  And those glaciers talk, the guide called it “ice crispies,” and they really do snap, crackle and pop, as you sail past them, the water full of gigantic ice cubes.

Barbara went fishing and caught salmon and black bass, which we had shipped back to Chevy Chase and started eating tonight.  It is so much better than the “fresh” salmon in the market, kinda like the difference between pasta in Rome or Naples and pasta in…your home town.  While she fished, I walked around little villages like Sitka, which was full of Russian tourists having a fine time.  I suppose the exchange rate with the ruble is good, and the stores were full of Russian furs.  No Russian beer, however.

The state capital is Juneau, which has the highest concentration of bars I have ever seen.  Juneau is unique among American capitals:  you can’t get there in a car.  You have to fly or sail…or take your dogsled, I suppose, but this was the wrong season for that.  There’s snow on the mountains, but not in the streets.  Yet.

As I walked past all the bars, I thought back to the night I discovered peppermint schnapps in Madison Wisconsin.  I had just moved there from Claremont, California, and I couldn’t believe that life was possible at forty below.  Then one day my philosophy professor, Julius Weinberg, said to me, “you don’t know about peppermint schnapps?  If you drink it regularly, it makes your bloodstream impervious to the cold.”  And it did.  But it also made those eight o’clock classes harder and harder…

One final travel pointer:  the immigration/security lines at Vancouver Airport are the longest I’ve seen anywhere in North America.  Right up there with a bad morning at Heathrow.  It took and hour and twenty minutes standing on line.  Oy.  But it’s a nice airport, plenty of Chinese takeout, so you don’t need peppermint schnapps.