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Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Death of the Left

August 31st, 2012 - 7:53 pm

I have a good friend, an Italian who lives in Milano, who for a while was the head of the youth organization of the Italian Communist Party.  One day he was walking across one of the major Milanese piazzas, and had an epiphany, which he later described very simply.  “I shouted, ‘There is no working class!’”

A bit later he left the Party to become a newspaper and book editor — and an invaluable guide to the workings of European Communism.  But I want to focus on that epiphany, because it’s both rare and important.  It’s rare, since very few true believers have the honesty and courage to blurt out a truth that puts paid to their entire worldview and compels them to abandon a career, which in his case was already very successful and held the promise of even greater things.   And it’s important because it underlines the intimate relationship between our ideas and the real world.

The epiphany was a fine example of one of Hegel’s basic insights, which is that the world is constantly changing, and ideas must accordingly be updated, or become anachronisms.  So it was with “working class,” a concept that accurately described a group in a society at a certain stage of industrial development, as in 18th- and 19th-century England and Europe.  For much of that period, “working class” helped understand what was going on, and it helped policy makers deal with very real problems.  There were working-class parties, scholars who specialized in studying the working class, politicians who made careers by representing working-class districts, and so forth.

But the world changed, and in the modern postindustrial societies, the working class vanished.  There aren’t working-class parties any more, since there aren’t enough voters who think of themselves that way.  And honest politicians like my Italian friend gave it up, updated their thinking, and tried to cope with today’s problems.

In this process, there are plenty of people who can’t update their thinking.  They’re easy to recognize, because they write and talk about a world that no longer exists.  The easiest places to find them in contemporary America are Hollywood, college campuses, and the Obama administration with its attendant satellites, the dead tree media and the Democrat Party.  Their common bond is anger and frustration;  frustration because they can’t understand what’s going on, and anger because their remedies for contemporary problems do not come to grips with the essence of the problems.

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When is the last time any of the four candidates visited Walter Reed Medical Center in suburban Washington?  If they did it in recent months, I haven’t seen any press coverage of it. We go. Barbara is involved in a Marine parents group that brings burritos, sweets, fresh fruit, and drinks on Sundays to the wounded and their families and helps family members cope with the medical bureaucracy and the many opportunities this area offers.  I’m sorry to tell you that the intensive care unit is very active.  There are lots of wounded warriors out there, flown in from Afghanistan, whence we are in full retreat.

Aside from the military, and military families, nobody seems to care.  I quite understand why the Obama people want it to be that way — it’s not helpful to the reelection effort — but it’s not at all pleasant to try to understand why the Republicans and the journalists are complicit in the great silence that envelops the sacrifice of the best Americans of this generation. Yes, there have been stories about American soldiers assassinated by Afghans they were training, and every now and then we hear about the extraordinary level of mayhem in Iraq, but I search in vain for serious, sustained reports on what is going on, and why, and what it means. Andrew Malcolm is one of the very few who hears the silence.

What is going on?

We are in full retreat, and our enemies are blowing up our guys, and our would-be friends and allies. That’s inevitable, because our enemies want to win and our commander-in-chief wants to retreat. You don’t have to be a grand strategist to understand this. Our youngest child is a Marine lieutenant who recently returned, along with 1,500 of his comrades, from a forward operating base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. During his eight-month deployment, there were no casualties. Not one, not even due to an accident.  Much of his time was spent organizing the retreat, and today there are roughly 150 Marines where there used to be 1,500. And there are casualties, because the 150 Marines are under attack. The Taliban, who had learned that it’s not attractive to challenge a significant group of Marines, feel a lot better about attacking a significantly smaller number of them.  And the locals, who had learned that it’s a very good thing to work with the Marine Corps, now see that the Marines are retreating and the Taliban are returning.  The Taliban have a much easier time enlisting the locals’ support.

If you were an Afghan, you’d cooperate with your soon-to-be rulers, too, wouldn’t you?

And so violence mounts, and the ICU at Bethesda Naval fills up.  Iraq provides the template:  we left, the terrorists returned, and the morgues and hospitals fill up. The locals cooperate with the terrorists. The only “good news” is that the Iraqi casualties are Iraqis. There is similar “good news” from Syria:  it’s Syrians that are being slaughtered, not Americans, and there are many, altogether too many, Americans who take comfort from that “good news,” and want to keep it that way. They don’t care very much about Syrians or Iraqis.

But they don’t care very much about Americans either. If they did, they’d be demanding that we take out all the American troops now, rather than diminishing their numbers slowly until the 2014 “final withdrawal” date our leaders have announced.  They’d say what military moms and dads say:  if we’re going to fight, so be it.  But if we’re retreating, then why are you leaving — as at that FOB in Helmand — one-tenth of our guys to endure the inevitable slaughter our enemies are so eager to inflict on us?  And they would point out, as the aforementioned Mr. Malcolm does, that “We’ve had 100,000 troops fighting and dying and bleeding in Afghanistan. About 2,000 Americans have perished there since 9/11….It took 108 months for those U.S. fatalities to reach 1,000. It’s taken only 27 months under Iraq-war opponent Obama to surpass 2,000 deaths.”

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The Israel/Iran War Game

August 13th, 2012 - 7:22 pm

Will they (the Israelis) or won’t they?  And if so, when?  I know the answers, but you’re not going to like them.

The answers are all the same:  we don’t know.  And we’re not going to know.  So when you read, watch, or listen to somebody who tells you he knows, stop reading or turn off the radio, TV, smart phone, iPad, or other device I don’t know about.  ‘Cause they don’t know.  The one exception is if you get a direct line to Bibi’s brain, but that’s unlikely.

Yes, they’re planning it.  They’re running all kinds of drills, some involving the armed forces, some involving the civilian population.  That’s prudent; they need to be prepared in the event they decide to do it.  And maybe they’ve actually decided, in which case the drills are necessary to prepare for possible consequences (which nobody really knows about either).

Whatever the actual state of affairs, they’re not gonna tell us, and it’s quite farfetched to imagine that somebody’s gonna put the whole country at risk by leaking it.  So a really smart pundit would just wait and see, because in order to know that a decision is near, or has actually been taken, he’d have to know what the Israelis think they know about the Iranian nuclear project.

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Thanks to Claire Berlinski, we discover that the Turks are all of a sudden worried that the Arab Spring–so enthusiastically embraced by Ankara–shows signs of transmuting into the Kurdish Spring.  Which is, let us say in our understated way, bothersome to President Erdogan and his ambitious teammates.  So it’s not surprising to see the Turks mobilizing the army along the Syrian (or should we now call it “the Kurdish”?) border.  Nor that the Turks, at least in part to save some dignity in the face of public criticism of their failure to foresee the Kurdish actions, have unleashed their bombers at the usual PKK suspects.  Meanwhile, lost in all the excitement over the battle for Aleppo, the steady flow of defectors from Assad’s ranks and files, and the extraordinary carnage throughout Syria, regular Syrian forces exchanged salvos with the Jordanian Army.

As usual, when the leaders-from-behind warn that there might be regional fallout from the Syrian “civil war,” it’s already well underway.  Lots of people outside the corridors of power see it clearly.  Take Fouad Ajami, for example, in a splendid essay in Tablet, in which he looks at the “proxy war” in Syria (which is to say, a regional war, as I have been arguing for some time), and its unlikely alliance of the Saudi royal family and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.  Or look at Benjamin Weinthal, who worries over at The Corner that Obama is handing an undeserved and certainly unwanted victory in Syria to the Iranians.

As you know, I’m reluctant to call a winner in this thing.  I think I know that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has told his minions in Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards to go all out on behalf of Assad, and there have been some recent reports from the Free Syrian Army (aka The Opposition) of Iranian sharpshooters crossing into Syria.  And today’s reports of Iranian “pilgrims” taken prisoner near Damascus suggests to my nose that these guys are very likely fighters, not the sort planning to pray at a mosque.  I have the same sort of  suspicion about the “trade talks” between Iran and Syria; I think they’re talking about mass murder, not commercial links.  Given the way the spooky world works nowadays, with all electronic communications monitored by their enemies, you can be pretty sure that the really important conversations are face-to-face, not via email or cell phone.

According to my friends, Khamenei has told his killers that they have total license and virtually unlimited budgets to crush the Syrian opposition.  Assad promised the Iranians that he’d have Damascus and Aleppo under control by the end of Ramadan, and then move on to other targets.  The Iranians can’t have much confidence in such guarantees, and want their own guys on the ground.  I rather suspect the Russians are in there as well.  Can they win?  I don’t know.  But I do know that Assad is a Baathist version of the legend of Nero;  he’s prepared to burn the whole country to the ground.  And I also know that our policy of doing the absolute minimum to bring down Assad is a terrible method, both strategically and morally.  It lessens the chances of winning (that is, bringing down Assad, which is the necessary albeit insufficient first move) and guarantees more horror, both for the fighters and the unfortunate civilians who were born in the wrong place.

Meanwhile, the Kurds have taken over a big chunk of Syria, maybe 10-15%, and they haven’t had to fight for it.  The Turks hate it, Assad hates it, Khamenei hates it, and the Iraqi government can’t much like it either, since a moderately secure Syrian Kurdistan is the second building block in a big Kurdistan.  At the moment, Assad isn’t about to go after the Kurds (bigger fish to fry), and the Turks, while they’re bombing the usual suspects along and across the Iraqi frontier, don’t want to rev up a big military operation in which they bash Kurds instead of Assad.  That wouldn’t look good at all.

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