Get PJ Media on your Apple

Spengler

Where are the Jewish Organizations?

July 23rd, 2014 - 5:00 am

Writing on Commentary’s website yesterday, Prof. Eugene Kontorovich denounces the Obama administration’s double standard in cutting off flights to Israel:

Ben Gurion remains an extremely safe airport. The FAA had many various measures short of a flight ban, like warnings, that it could have imposed. The FAA only warns airlines about flying to Afghanistan; it does not ban them. And the FAA move comes the day after a general State Department warning about Israel–though far more people were killed in Chicago on Fourth of July weekend than in the Jewish state since the start of the Gaza campaign.

Whatever the intent, the administration has cornered Israel in a booby-trapped tunnel, with Hamas on one side, and economic perdition on the other.

Israeli authorities denounced the decision as a “prize for Hamas” and completely unjustified.

Most (but not all) Western European carriers followed the FAA’s example — but not the airlines of the former Soviet empire. According to the departures board at Ben Gurion Airport, normal service continues from most of the Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Czech, Georgian, Hungarian and Byelorussian Airlines, as well as Air Vietnam.  Aeroflot and Transaero planes turned back to Moscow after the ban was announced but their flights today remain on the screen. British Airways is still flying to Israel. As Edward Luttwak observed, there are 39 direct flights from Israel to former constituents of the Communist world vs. 5 to the United States.

Since when does Israel get a fairer deal from the former Communist world than from the United States of America? This is the world turned inside-out. Where is the outcry from American Jewish organizations? To his credit, former mayor Michael Bloomberg ridiculed the administration and boarded a flight to Tel Aviv forthwith. But where is the wave of organized protest?

It’s well and good that the U.S. put $700 million into the development of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, as Daniel Gordis noted in a column this week in The Times of Israel. Israelis point out that this is rounding error in the country’s $300 billion national budget. Yesterday’s flight ban, by contrast, was the most destructive action that the US has taken towards Israel since the Truman administration imposed an arms embargo during the War of Independence. It encourages Hamas to keep firing rockets when the Obama administration supposedly is working for a ceasefire.

The silence here is deafening.

Related: “Can Israel Finish the Job Now?”  Michael Walsh responds to David Goldman.

Why Israel Needs to Finish the Job Now

July 21st, 2014 - 11:20 am

There will be endless admonitions to Israel from the Obama administration, the United Nations, and so forth, demanding an early end to the Gaza war now underway. Israel’s security needs dictate the opposite: Hamas’ capacity to make war must be crippled.

Tel Aviv last week remained one of the safest cities in the world despite the incessant rocket bombardment. In the bomb shelters at the David Intercontinental, we joked about the lack of drinks and canapes at the hotel’s hastily improvised guest mixers. The cafe terraces were full every night on Dizengoff Street. But complacency on Israel’s part would be misplaced, perhaps even fatal. For the moment Israeli ingenuity has shifted the advantage in rocketry to the defense. That may not be the case for very long. Iron Dome has been extremely effective in containing the damage from a barrage of about 2,000 unguided rockets launched from Gaza. Most of these explode harmlessly in empty areas; the few that fly towards targets of value have been taken down with a 90% successs rate. But the advantage may shift back to the offense some time in the next few years.

Dr. Uzi Rubin, the architect of Israel’s missile defense, warned last January that Iran and Syria already have GPS-guided ballistic missiles. The Jerusalem Post reported:

“This is a strategic threat. Even worse news is coming; ballistic missiles are becoming smart,” he said. In the next five to 10 years, Israel’s enemies will inevitably arm themselves with GPS-guided ballistic missiles such as Scuds, [Rubin] said.

“Perhaps Syria already has this capability,” Rubin said. “This can significantly disrupt Israel’s air power. Israel will of course recover. We are talking about escalating a war to quicken it, and end it within three days. They are talking about doing the same. This threat can degrade the IDF’s ground capabilities” via accurate missile strikes on army mobilization and staging grounds, Rubin warned. “It can paralyze Israel’s war economy. And of course, it can inflict massive casualties. I’m not talking about Dresden, but Coventry, perhaps,” he said, referring to cities bombed in World War II.

Iron Dome can defend successfully against a handful of rockets fired simultaneously in the general direction of Israeli cities. At some point Israel’s enemies will acquire the capability to fire large salvos of precision-guided weapons at key military or civilian targets and overwhelm the existing defenses. GPS-guided rockets are not that difficult to make. Iron Dome gives Israel a respite, not relief in the long term.

Pages: 1 2 | 104 Comments»

Hamas Is the Norm, Israel Is the Exception

July 15th, 2014 - 4:42 am

It’s like the old joke: Why do Jewish men die before their wives? Because they want to. Civilizations for the most part die because they no longer want to live. That is the nub of my 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam Is Dying, Too). They cease to believe in their own future and distract themselves from the prospect of extinction as best they can. Hellenistic Greece was the first universal demographic disaster; it gave us prototypes of the steam engine and the computer (via Hero of Alexandria) as well as the modern literary forms. But even wealthy men exposed their daughters and the population imploded. When Aristotle taught that men naturally seek the good, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence had already turned against him. Most men seek nothingness. Soon the last surviving remnants of the classical world will disappear. In another generation, more people will speak Hebrew than Greek.

Hamas wants to die, obviously and visibly. That thought horrifies Westerners. As a number of Israeli commentators observe, Hamas doesn’t particularly care about having a Palestinian State. It wants to destroy the Jewish State and is willing to die in the process. It wants to die in such a way that Israel will die, too. There is something utterly surreal to Hamas crowding civilians around military targets, and Israeli pilots declining to attack them. It recalls the joke about the sadist and the masochist. The masochist says, “Beat me!,” and the sadist says, No…suffer.”

Hamas, to be sure, proposes to die in an accelerated time frame and a particularly disgusting fashion, but it should be kept in mind that self-willed extinction is the norm. West of the Indus, Israel is the only survivor among the thousands of little nations that flourished between 10,000 BC and 600 AD. To be sure, there have been plenty of small tribes that wanted to live but were trampled by conquering hordes. The rule, however, is that civilizations die of their own disgust with life. Most of the industrial nations are dying, some very quickly. Most of the Muslim world would rather die than accommodate modernity (although some of it may choose to cease to be Islamic).

I do not mean to sound cruel, but the best thing you can do for victims of a dying culture is: Don’t be one of them. Individuals who want to live have the option of changing cultures. I do not mean that Israel (or anyone else) should go about killing off enemies in order to satisfy their death wish. God forbid: life is still sacred to us even if it is repugnant to them. Neither do we have to commit suicide in order to accommodate our crazy neighbor’s death-wish. We might try to talk him down from the roof, but we are entitled to step aside when he jumps. It is not in our power to persuade suicidal civilizations to carry on living. Ultimately it is our job to contain the damage to ourselves. We cannot help but accept some civilian deaths while engaging an enemy that seeks the maximum number of civilian casualties.

Pages: 1 2 | 85 Comments»

It’s not the settlers but the unsettlers, I argue in this morning’s edition of the Jewish webzine Tablet.

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/177456/settlers-one-state-solution?all=1

An excerpt here:

Between the Settlers and the Unsettlers, the One-State Solution Is on Our Doorstep

Why Israel will soon be the only state able to govern Judea and Samaria, and the only military force capable of securing its borders

A one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is upon us. It won’t arrive by Naftali Bennett’s proposal to annex the West Bank’s Area C, or through the efforts of BDS campaigners and Jewish Voice for Peace to alter the Jewish state. But it will happen, sooner rather than later, as the states on Israel’s borders disintegrate and other regional players annex whatever they can. As that happens, Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria is becoming inevitable.

Last week’s rocket attacks from Gaza failed to inflict many casualties in Israel—but they administered a mortal wound to Palestinian self-governance. Hamas launched its deepest strikes ever into Israel after the IDF cracked down on its West Bank operations following the murder last month of three Israeli boys, arresting nearly 900 members of Hamas and other terrorist groups. Humiliated in the territories, andunable to pay its 44,000 Gaza employees, Hamas acted from weakness, gambling that missile attacks would elicit a new Intifada on the West Bank. Although Fatah militias joined in the rocket attacks from Gaza, for now the Palestinian organizations are in their worst disarray in 20 years.

The settlers of Judea and Samaria have stood in the cross-hairs of Western diplomacy for two decades, during which the word “settler” has become a term of the highest international opprobrium. Yet the past decade of spiraling conflicts in the Middle East have revealed that what is settled in the region is far less significant than what is unsettled. Iran’s intervention into the Syrian civil conflict has drawn the Sunni powers into a war of attrition that already has displaced more than 10 million people, mostly Sunnis, and put many more at risk. The settled, traditional, tribal life of the Levant has been shattered. Never before in the history of the region have so many young men had so little hope, so few communal ties, and so many reasons to take up arms.

As a result, the central premise of Western diplomacy in the region has been pulled inside-out, namely that a resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue was the key to long-term stability in the Middle East. Now the whole of the surrounding region has become one big refugee crisis. Yet the seemingly spontaneous emergence of irregular armies like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now rampaging through northern Mesopotamia should be no surprise. The misnamed Arab Spring of 2011 began with an incipient food crisis in Egypt and a water crisis in Syria. Subsidies from the Gulf States keep Egypt on life support. In Syria and Iraq, though, displaced populations become foraging armies that loot available resources, particularly oil, and divert the proceeds into armaments that allow the irregulars to keep foraging. ISIS is selling $800 million a year of Syrian oil to Turkey, according to one estimate, as well as selling electricity from captured power plants back to the Assad government. On June 11 it seized the Bajii power plant oil refinery in northern Iraq, the country’s largest.

The region has seen nothing like it since the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. Perpetual war has turned into a snowball that accumulates people and resources as it rolls downhill and strips the ground bare of sustenance. Those who are left shiver in tents in refugee camps, and their young men go off to the war. There is nothing new about this way of waging war; it was invented in the West during the Thirty Years War by the imperial general Albrecht von Wallenstein, and it caused the death of nearly half the population of Central Europe between 1618 and 1648.

As a result of this spiraling warfare, four Arab states—Libya, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq—have effectively ceased to exist. Lebanon, once a Christian majority country, became a Shia country during the past two decades under the increased domination of Hezbollah. Nearly 2 million Syrian Sunnis have taken refuge in Lebanon, as Israeli analyst Pinhas Inbariobserves, and comprise almost half of Lebanon’s total population of 4 million, shifting the demographic balance to the Sunnis—while the mass Sunni exodus tilts the balance of power in Syria toward the Alawites and other religious minorities, who are largely allied with Iran. Jordan, meanwhile, has taken in a million Syrian Sunnis, making Palestinians a minority inside Jordan for the first time in a generation. A region that struggled to find sustenance for its people before 2011 has now been flooded with millions of refugees without resources or means of support. They are living for the most part on largesse from the Gulf States, and their young men are prospective cannon fodder.

Sunny with light missile cover in Tel Aviv this morning. I awoke to muffled thuds in the distance, Iron Dome shooting down Syrian-made missiles launched from Gaza, according to news reports. I attended the obligatory morning mixer for hotel guests at the bomb shelter, which fortunately lasted only five minutes before the all-clear sounded. I’ll write something more comprehensive on this soon — Tablet is scheduled to run my essay next Monday — but the thumbnail version is that Hamas is making a demonstration out of weakness. Money is tight, 44,000 Gaza civil servants haven’t been paid for weeks, and the IDF did significant damage to its infrastructure on the West Bank after the kidnapping-murder of the three yeshiva boys. Netanyahu will look indecisive and confused, because he has to deal with an openly hostile U.S. administration on one side and his nationalist camp on the other. Time, though, is on Israel’s side: economically, demographically, strategically. The proportion of Jewish births continues to soar. The fruits of a decade of venture capital investing are ripening into high-valuation companies. And the Arab world is disintegrating all around Israel’s borders.

I have no idea whether the IDF will go into Gaza on the ground, or what they will do if they do so: that’s a tricky cost-benefit calculation, and no-one outside the government has relevant information. But the broader point is that Israel will win a war of attrition. Hamas has shot off hundreds of rockets (including one that landed a few kilometers from me up north in Zichron Yaakov while I had lunch there yesterday) without causing a single injury. Iron Dome has worked brilliantly. Traffic was a bit lighter than normal last night, but there wasn’t a free table at any of the hundred or so cafe terraces on Dizengoff St., Tel Aviv’s main drag.

There will be no Intifada on the West Bank: the Palestinian Arabs are older, more resigned and less inclined to destroy their livelihoods than in 2000. Syria and Iraq continue to disintegrate, Lebanon is inundated with Syrian Sunni refugees (weakening Hezbollah’s relative position), and Jordan is looking to Israel to protect it against ISIS. Egypt is busy trying to survive economically.

Pages: 1 2 | 48 Comments»

[Dr. Anna Geifman teaches history at Bar-Illan University. She moved to Israel in 2007 after a distinguished career at Boston University. In 2010 she published the definitive modern history of Bolshevik terrorism, Death Orders: The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Revolutionary Russia. I reviewed it when it appeared and have had the privilege to consult Dr. Geifman from time to time since then. I'm honored to present her analysis of the murder of the three Israeli boys as a guest post].

In blessed memory of  Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, HY”D

Acts of terror against the young are the unadvertised “latest trend” in global political violence.  For the first time since the Holocaust, slaying children has turned into a modus operandi.  Since 9/11, they are terrorists’ preferred targets.

Terrorists are nihilists par excellence:  they strike at the foundation of the mainstream culture, seeking to wipe out its pivotal symbols and meanings.  In the new millennium, amid a raging sea of conflicting concepts, pluralistic connotations, confusing priorities, habitual skepticism, intellectual and ethical relativism, perhaps our only enduring value is concern for children.  Whatever else we believe, we believe unconditionally in securing the  welfare, health, and security of children. No sane person will claim that while it is not nice to hurt children, there is another side to the argument.  Today, children are the last consecrated absolute.  For its part, militant nihilism strives to ruin first and foremost what their contemporaries hold sacred.

Episodes of child-directed violence occurred as early as May 1970 in Israel, when thirty-four children were killed and wounded in the Avivim school bus massacre.  In May 1974 hostage-takers in Ma’alot detonated hand grenades and sprayed high school students with machine-gun fire.  In April 1980, terrorists took hold of the nursery in kibbutz Misgav Am, killed an infant and injured four children.  In July of that year, in Antwerp, Belgium, a Fatah member cast hand grenades into a group of Jewish schoolchildren at a bus stop.

After the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, casualties among the Israeli young multiplied.  In a single episode in June 2001, twenty-one teenagers lost their lives in the “Delphinarium” discotheque in Tel Aviv. By mid-2002, child-targeting become systematic: a bomb explosion in Jerusalem next to a group of women with baby carriages (March 2); the bombing of a discotheque in Tel Aviv (May 24); children killed in a Petah Tikva ice cream parlor (May 27).

When zoomed-in on selected Israeli localities, the picture becomes grim indeed.  In Itamar, a gunman shot to death two students playing basketball outside the Hitzim school and then killed three more teenagers inside in May 2002. About a month later, two militants broke into the home of the Shabo family, killed the mother and her children, ages fifteen, twelve, and five, and severely wounded a ten- and a thirteen–year olds.  In another month, a terrorist broke into another private home, stabbed the husband and wife and them ran his knife through the empty beds of their eight children, away with grandparents. The March 2011 the Fogel family was slaughtered:  along with their parents, stabbed to death was a boy of eleven, his four-year old brother, and their three-month old sister; at the trial, terrorists regretted not to have noticed two other sleeping children

Itamar is a settlement, where “Jewish fanatics” are said to “provoke victimized Arabs” to kill children in the response to occupation.  But Sderot is not a disputed terroritory.  “A present for the start of the new school year,” the Islamic Jihad website flaunted first of their September 2007 missile strikes, which sent twelve Sderot kindergarteners to the hospital to be treated for shock.[i]  Terrorists send 3,200 Qassam rockets against this Israeli town in 2008.[ii]  Residents reported that the shelling intensified when children were on their way to and from classes.

Attacks on schools and yeshivas in Israel reached their peak with the massacre at Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem in March 2008.  All but one of the children had just gotten off a yellow school bus in Sa’ad on April 7, 2011 when a targeted missile hit, mortally wounding the remaining boy.  On March 19 the following year, a self-styled Al-Qaeda operative opened fire in a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

“If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not. . . . They are enemies not because they occupied Palestine,” some Islamist clerics admit openly and urge:  we will “annihilate them, until not a single Jew remains on the face of the Earth.”[iii]  It is as if the Biblical Amalek has finally broken portentous silence to speak his mind about the annihilation of Israel–his raison d’être.  According to the tradition, Amalek attacks from the rear, slaying the least protected, especially children.  Yet, while Amalek’s hate is for Israel alone, his accomplices today do not spare any children.

Muslim children are among their first victims.  In Iraq they are assaulted in school buildings and on playgrounds—in Baghdad, Ramadi, Tuz Khurmato, and Ba’qubah  (July 13, 2005, December 3, 2006; January 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, January 22, 2008, and December 7, 2009), to list a few cases.  On May 6, 2007 the Islamists bombed a UN-run elementary school in the Gaza refugee camp of Rafah during a sports festival, which the extremists had declared un-Islamic.  A suicide car school bombing on December 28, 2008 in Khost, Afghanistan, was one of 1,153 Taliban acts against young students in two preceding years—via shootings, torture, acid, arson, grenades, mines, and rockets.[iv]  Boko Haram of Nigeria has been targeting schools since 2010.  Thousands of children have been unable to attend classes as a result; hundreds have been killed to confirm the Jihadists’ stand against westernized education.  More than 200 girls kidnapped on the night of 14-15 April, 2014 are still missing:  Boko Haram terrorists oppose female education; in the past, they have used abducted schoolgirls as sex slaves.[v]

When Thailand Muslim militants assailed a school bus in Ratchaburi province in June 2002, no one saw the atrocity as a sign of a new trend.  Yet, in the decade that followed targeting children turned into a tactic that crossed all geographical and ideological lines.  On July 2011 a self-styled “crusader” against European leftists and Muslims killed 69 people in a shooting spree in the Norwegian youth summer camp on Utøya island; 50 victims were 18-years old and younger.

Pages: 1 2 | 69 Comments»

Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali

June 30th, 2014 - 1:36 pm

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed.

Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die;

And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.

So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.

 

Crossposted from Asia Times Online

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-300614.html

Musil and meta-Musil: The inevitable World War I
By Spengler

The West wasn’t pregnant in August 1914, only constipated.

Rather than give birth to the future, it emptied its bowels of rancor. No disaster in world history was more predictable or longer in preparation. Robert Musil’s great novel The Man Without Qualities depicts Vienna’s elite in the months before the war, pursuing petty concerns unaware that their world was about to disappear. It is the great European anti-novel because its self-referential premise – the protagonists do not know what every reader knows – forbids an ending. There are no right choices because nothing can prevent this bubble of a world from popping. After Musil – meta-Musil, so to speak – comes the great evacuation. The novel is considered a masterpiece in the German-speaking world. Few Americans know it, and fewer of these can make sense of it.
As the hundredth anniversary of World War I approaches, we will hear endless variations on a lament for Western Civilization. All of them go more or less as follows: At the height of its prosperity, scientific discovery, and artistic achievement the nations of Europe inexplicably plunged into a mutual slaughter that prepared the ground for the greater slaughter of 1939-1945. That is simply wrong. Europe had done this sort of thing twice before, first in the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648 and again in the Napoleonic Wars of 1797-1814.

French casualties in the Napoleonic Wars were comparable to World War I in proportion to population. France lost between 1.4 and 1.7 million men under Napoleon out of a total population of 29 million. Men aged 17 to 49 typically made up about one-fifth of the 18th century population. The total military manpower pool of Napoleonic France was less than six million men, which means that casualties came to 23% to 28% of total manpower, more than in World War I. Vast numbers died from other nations; of the 500,000 soldiers in the polyglot army that Napoleon marched into Russia in June 1812, only 16,000 returned. The events of 1914-1939, Winston Churchill said aptly, were “a second Thirty Years’ War.” In fact, the first Thirty Years War was in some ways worse. It killed nearly half the people of Central Europe and emptied great swaths of Spain and France.

Beguiled as we are by the Enlightenment’s idea of progress, we play down the precedent for our own problems. In the enlightened reading, the Thirty Years War was a religious conflict, the last blood-orgy of medieval superstition, before the Age of Reason swept away the cobwebs of fanaticism. That is entirely false: after the initial, abortive revolt of the Bohemian Protestants against the Austrian Empire, the Thirty Years’ War became a Franco-Spanish conflict, fought by fanatics on both sides who believed that their nation was chosen by God to be his agent on earth. It was a religious war, to be sure, but a war between two perverse, nationalistic readings of Catholic Christianity. The same ethnocentric megalomania impelled the nations of Europe into 1914.

War could have been avoided, to be sure, and devising scenarios for its avoidance is an historians’ cottage industry. These usually are lightly-concealed policy recommendations for the present. Even I have published a war-avoidance scenario, namely a German preemptive war against France during the First Morocco Crisis of 1906 (See Why war comes when no one wants it, Asia Times Online, May 2, 2006). The objective causes of war all are well known and endlessly analyzed. Germany had the fastest-growing economy and population, and its rivals countered its influence by encircling her.

  • With a stagnant population, France could not hope to win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine it had lost to Germany in 1870 – or to win any future war-unless it fought soon. From parity in the middle of the 19th century, the German population had become half again as large as France’s by 1914.
  • Germany could not concentrate its army on a crushing blow against France if it waited for Russia to build out its internal railway network.
  • Austria could not keep its fractious ethnicities within the empire if it did not castigate Serbia. It could not grant equal rights to Serbs without provoking the Hungarians, who held a privileged position in the empire, so it could only suppress them.
  • Russia could not maintain control over the industrialized western part of its empire – Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Finland – if Austria humiliated its Serbian ally, and Russia depended on these provinces for the bulk of its tax revenues.
  • England could not maintain the balance of power in Europe if Germany crushed France.

None of the powers could go on without facing existential risk: in the case of France, a hopelessly weakened position against Germany; in the case of Germany, an eventual threat from an industrialized Russia; in the case of Austria, breakup of the Empire due to Slavophile agitation; in the case of Russia, loss of its Western provinces to the Teutonic orbit; and in the case of England, irrelevance on the continent and an inevitable challenge to its sea power.

There are a number of excellent accounts of the events leading up to the outbreak of war in August 1914, most recently Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers. Each of the combatants, to be sure, would have been better off declining to fight. But that would have meant forfeiting the claim to national superiority that motivated them. They fought, in other words, not because they had to in the strict sense of the word, but because of the kind of people they were. They were not thinking, as Evans implies. But what were they dreaming?

The Europeans fought the Great War of 1914 to avoid becoming what they are today. But like the man in the Somerset Maugham storywho had an appointment with Death in Samarra, they managed only to postpone it.

It is still a scandal in Germany that its greatest 20th-century novelist, Thomas Mann, greeted the coming of the war with rapture. His “heart was aflame” at the declaration of war, and “triumphed at the collapse of the hated world of peace, stinking of the corruption of bourgeois-mercantile ‘Civilization’ with its enmity to heroism and genius.” Mann lauded Germany’s “indispensable role as missionary,” contrasting German Kultur to the mercenary Zivilisation of the West.

Mann had captured the national mood. Germany fought the First World War under the banner of Kultur. In 1915, 93 of Germany’s leading intellectuals and artists signed a manifesto justifying Germany’s war claims on the grounds of its cultural superiority. That is the nub of Hans Johst’s infamous line in the Nazi propaganda play “Schlageter”, performed on Hitler’s birthday after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933: “When I hear the word ‘culture’ I release the safety catch on my pistol.” This usually is taken to mean that the Nazis were boors, which is not true; Hitler was a painter, if a poor one, and quite the music lover. On the contrary, it expressed rancor at the unspeakable sacrifice that the old regime demanded in the service of its ideals.

Mann enthused about the aesthetics of war: the same qualities and attitudes inform art and war. Unsettling as that sounds, Mann was absolutely correct: art and war demand the same unrestrained existential commitment.

As I argued in a 2010 essay, that helps explain why Israelis so often play classical music better than anyone else. Not only did they inherit many of the best Central European teachers, but as a nation they are risk-friendly rather than risk-averse, and it is a sense of risk that informs great interpretations. “Und setzet ihr nicht das Leben ein/Nie wird euch das Leben gewonnen sein” sang Wallenstein’s cuirassiers in Schiller’s 1799 drama of the Thirty Years War: If you don’t stake your life on it, life never will be won for you. As Germany crumbled in 1945, Mann declared that German culture had come to an end. That is the point of his great postwar novel Doktor Faustus: the protagonist Adrian Leverkuhn, goes mad composing an atonal cantata whose purpose is to “take back” Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – to replace the ordered harmony of the European past with empty randomness.

Asians, who have embraced Western classical music in great numbers, may wonder why this magnificent art is neglected in the lands of its origin. The answer is that we of the West all release the safety-catch of our pistols when we hear the word “culture.” The optimistic, orderly and harmonious culture of pre-1914 Europe is redolent of loyalty to tradition, that is, the attitudes that led us into the trenches. We despise the culture because we abominate authority, tradition and loyalty, that is, virtues that Asians still cultivate. We abhor art that demands of us the recognition of higher authority – of genius subordinated to tradition and precedent – and prefer a levelling popular culture with which we can identify as supposed equals (seeAmerican Idolatry, Asia Times Online, August 29, 2006). But there is a dimension to Western art – its risk-friendliness, as it were – that most Asians will have difficulty understanding.

The distinguished Catholic historian George Weigel notes that in 1914 even the Catholic clergy “drank deeply from the wells of a nationalism that seemed beyond the reach of Christian moral critique. Thus when the College of Cardinals met in September 1914 to elect a successor to Pope Pius … the German Cardinal Felix von Hartmann said to the Belgian Cardinal D?sir? Mercier, “I hope that we shall not speak of war,” to which Mercier shot back, “And I hope that we shall not speak of peace.”

Weigel cites the German chaplain who intoned, “Rage over Germany, you great holy war of freedom,” and the Anglican bishop of London, who urged his congregants to “Kill Germans: kill them, not for the sake of killing, but to save the world; to kill the good as well as the bad.” Weigel thinks this malignant nationalism stemmed from the century preceding World War I. I disagree. The megalomania of national election motivated both the French and Spanish sides of the Thirty Years War. As I wrote in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too):

Not merely the temporal interests of the French state but the impassioned belief in the Election of France motivated Richelieu and Tremblay to prolong the religious wars of the 1620s for thirty years, killing a vast proportion of the population of central Europe… If the Thirty Years War was genuinely a Catholic-against-Protestant religious war, France as the most powerful Catholic country should have supported Catholic Austria. But the French could not abide the claim of the Austrian and Spanish Hapsburg dynasties to the imperial title and the claim to represent Christendom. France set out instead to ruin Austria and Spain and establish the French claim to be God’s proxy on earth.

Like the French… the Spanish court believed that Spain was the nation chosen by God as His proxy on earth. The monk and political theorist Juan de Salazar wrote in his 1619 treatise Pol?tica Espanola that “the Spanish were elected to realize the New Testament just as Israel had been elected to realize the Old Testament. The miracles with which Providence had favored Spanish policy confirmed this analogy of the Spanish people to the Jewish people, so that ‘the similarity of events in all epochs, and the singular fashion in which God has maintained the election and governance of the Spanish people, declare it to be his chosen people by law of grace, just as the other was his elect in the times of Scripture . . . From this it is proper to conclude from actual circumstances as well as sacred Scripture that the Spanish monarchy will endure for many centuries and will be the last monarchy.’” According to Stanley Payne, this reflected “a not uncommon attitude at court and among part of the Castilian elite.

And further: “The unquiet urge of each nation to be chosen in own skin began with the first conversion of Europe’s pagans; it was embedded in European Christendom at its founding. Christian chroniclers cast the newly-baptized European monarchs in the role of biblical kings, and their nations in the role of the biblical Israel. The first claims to national election came at the crest of the early Dark Ages, from the sixth-century chronicler St Gregory of Tours (538-594), and the seventh-century Iberian churchman St Isidore of Seville.”

Saints Isidore of Seville and Gregory of Tours were in a sense the Bialystock and Bloom of the Dark Ages, the Producers of the European founding: they sold each petty monarch 100% of the show. One hardly can fault them. Transmuting the barbarian invaders who infested the ruined empire of the Romans into Christians was perhaps the most remarkable political accomplishment in world history, but it required a bit of flimflam that had ghastly consequences over the long term. The filth of the old European paganism accumulated in the tangled bowels of Europe until the terrible events of 1914-1945 released it.

The authentically Catholic vision of universal empire failed to assert itself over the more tangible claims of blood and soil. The Europeans did not fight the wars of 1618, 1814 or 1914 as Christians, but as crypto-pagans. That has been the contention of Jewish critics, from Heinrich Heine to Franz Rosenzweig and Siegmund Freud . Wrote Freud:

We must not forget that all the peoples who now excel in the practice of antisemitism became Christians only in relatively recent times, sometimes forced to it by bloody compulsion. One might say they are all ‘badly christened;’ under the thin veneer of Christianity they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. They have not yet overcome their grudge against the new religion which was forced on them, and they have projected it on to the source from which Christianity came to them.

Men are immoderate. We are not as different from our fathers as we like to think. The childless, hedonistic Europeans of today are the same people who fought and died in their millions for king and country in 1618 or 1814. Anything worth living for is worth dying for; if we can think of nothing we would die for, it means that we have nothing to live for, either – like today’s Europeans. Europe learned at length that blood and soil, Kultur and Grandeur, were not worth fighting for. But Europe could find nothing to live for after it forswore the national gods of its violent past. It is dying of enervation and ennui, disgusted with its past and unconcerned for its future, unwilling to bring sufficient numbers of children into the world to ensure its survival for another century.

“Much has been saved,” wrote one soldier of the Great War, J R R Tolkien, but “much must now pass away.” Despite Hans Johst, European culture will not pass away: just as stewardship of classical Greek culture passed into the hands of Europeans, European art – at least its music – will pass into the hands of Asians.

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. He is Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. His book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It’s Not the End of the World – It’s Just the End of You, also appeared that fall, from Van Praag Press. 

(Copyright 2014 David P Goldman)

“It neither helps us nor hurts us, but exactly the opposite,” Mexican President Luis Echeverria is supposed to have said (“Ni nos benefica ni nos perjudica, sino todo lo contrario”). In the case of Iraq, as so often, it depends: the winner is the side best able to bear the burden of uncertainty. America should be the winner when our prospective enemies fight each other (as I argued in the February 2012 essay reposted below). In the language of option trading (see here), we should be long volatility, but instead are short volatility. That is because neither the Obama administration nor the Republican mainstream can admit that Iraq and Syria are not to be stabilized, and are stuck with the onus of apparent policy failure.

Iraq’s woes surely are good for the Russians and the Iranians. Russia just delivered five Sukhoi 25′s, their nimbler but less powerful competitor to our Warthog close-air-defense fighter (that’s the one the Pentagon proposes to eliminate), the first installment on a $500 million contract for a dozen of them. Russia also is selling $2 billion of arms, including attack helicopters, to Egypt, and with Saudi funding. The Iranians meanwhile have sent in special forces and armaments.

All of this makes our leadership in both parties look like idiots, and that is bad for America. Even those of us who think that our leadership are idiots cringe when it becomes obvious to the rest of the world. The American public by a margin of 71:22 thinks that the Iraq War wasn’t worth it. They are against any sort of intervention because there is no-one they trust to conduct intervention sensibly.

Putin is not smarter than we are. He is simply unburdened by the illusion that most of the countries in the region should or will succeed, and he is willing to stay one jump ahead of the game, maneuvering for advantage as opportunities emerge. We are fettered by Obama’s affirmative-action approach to the Muslim world as articulated in his July 2009 Cairo address and numerous subsequent statements, and the Republicans’ ideological belief that the mere form of parliamentary democracy fixes all problems.

The intrusion of reality benefits the likes of Putin, because Putin is a realist. It hurts us, because we refuse to accept reality. Our leaders live in ideological bubbles; they are incapable of considering the consequence of their errors, because they believe in their respective causes (the innate goodness of Islam or the innate propensity of people towards democracy) with religious intensity.

The U.S. needs to draw a line around its allies — the Gulf states and the kingdom of Jordan — and ensure that the ISIS problem is contained at their borders. What happens inside Iraq is not our concern, although we might want to quietly tweak this or that aspect of the facts on the ground. But it is pointless for another American to die in that miserable place. The Balkans, said Bismarck, wasn’t worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. All the less so Mesopotamia.

What should we do in Iraq? Be the bad guy in the “Three Musketeers.”

Read my essay on the next page.

Pages: 1 2 | 120 Comments»

America wants the impossible
By Spengler

(Cross-posted from Asia Times Online)

The United States has misunderstood everyone in the world outside its borders and mismanaged everything. It has done so with a bipartisan consensus so broad and deep that it has no opposition except simple-minded isolationism. America gets unwanted results — most recently in Iraq – because it wants the wrong things in the first place. And there seems to be no way to persuade Americans otherwise. The crumbling of the Iraqi state will provide yet another pretext for mutual recriminations among political parties. The trouble is that both parties wanted the wrong thing to begin with.

It is impossible to recruit clever young people out of American universities to the dour, depressing mission of managing the decline of other civilizations. Americans are missionaries, not imperial mandarins. America cannot ignore the Middle East

because it has critical interests in the region, including the free flow of hydrocarbons, but it cannot fix it.

It tried to fix Libya, and traded the nasty regime of Muammar Gaddafi for a Petrie Dish of jihadist militias; it tried to fix Egypt, and traded the miserable regime of Hosni Mubarak for the Muslim Brotherhood, and the inevitable return of military rule in the face of the twin threats of terror and starvation; it did not even try to fix Syria, which has collapsed into sectarian division. It spent US$1 trillion, 5,000 dead, 50,000 wounded, and several million disrupted American lives trying to fix Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the Pillars of Hercules to the Hindu Kush, America confronts a belt of countries unable to feed themselves, let alone to invest their capital in profitable businesses or educate their young people. Without hydrocarbons their economies would resemble the worst of sub-Saharan Africa. The only four that have conquered illiteracy – Iran, Turkey, Tunisia and Algeria – have suffered a sudden collapse in fertility, from pre-modern to post-modern levels, in a single generation.

What should America have done?
i: Invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein was a reasonable alternative after 9/11. I supported the invasion at the time because America needed to make a horrible example out of one hostile Muslim government in order to persuade the others to cooperate in suppressing terrorists. But America should have installed a strongman and left, with the option of returning to install yet another strongman, as Daniel Pipes proposed at the time.
ii) The Sunni-Shi’ite conflict was inevitable, but the US could have reduced it to a low boil by neutralizing Iran – bombing the nuclear weapons facilities, decapitating the Revolutionary Guard, and financing the opposition. That would have cost a few hundred million dollars all in.
iii) With Iran neutralized, the Assad family’s lifeline in Syria would have been severed. As Erik Prince once suggested, Washington could have struck a deal with Moscow on succession: allow Moscow to choose Assad’s successor.
iv) Israel should have been encouraged to reduce Hezbollah in Lebanon with the West’s blessing, rather than handcuffed under the 2006 American plan to end the Israel-Lebanon War. Then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice forced the Israelis to withdraw with the promise that the Iranian-controlled militia would be disarmed. With Iran unable to help, Hezbollah would have been easy to destroy.
v) With Iran out of the picture, America would have been able to demand that the Saudis and Turks stop supporting the sort of militant jihadists who are now rampaging through Syria and Iraq. Absent the Iranian threat, the Saudis would have agreed.
vi) America should have ignored Libya and continued to support a military government in Egypt. The aging Mubarak had to leave, but an orderly transition plan still would have been possible.

The devil is not in the details, however, but in the original design. No-one could have walked into the Oval Office in 2001 and told then president George W Bush that his job was to manage the inevitable decline of Muslim civilization: to humiliate the Iranians, to hobble the contending parties and to leave as much power as possible in the hands of abhorrent military or monarchical governments. No-one could have gone to American universities and recruited the soldiers, spies and diplomats to execute a plan which preferred the slow and inevitable spread of human misery to a cataclysmic alternative.

The British Raj ruled India with just 3,000 regular officers, as Sir John Keegan observed, but these were officers trained in Greek and Latin at British schools and who knew the history of Rome’s decline as well as their American counterparts today know the plot of the Game of Thrones. They learned local languages, wore local dress and commanded local troops. They had no intent of saving India, much less of rebuilding it in Britain’s image, for all the missionary twaddle about the White Man’s Burden. The British were in India to get rich, and their cynicism and self-dealing made them cannily effective. Poor but clever Scots and English lads enlisted in the Colonial Service to seek their fortunes.

Americans never lived off colonies (although the Southern Confederacy intended to, by extending slavery through Latin America). They lacked the imperial motivation to bestir themselves outside their country’s borders. We never nurtured foreign policy elite that views America as radically unique, and other parts of the world as existentially challenged by comparison.

America has neither the students nor the teachers to fix its problems overseas. There are a few sages still left, notably Angelo Codevilla, who holds up the example of John Quincy Adams against the utopian obsessions of the major schools of foreign policy thinking.

On the left, we have the likes of Obama’s so-called national security team, including human-rights dabblers like Samantha Power and Ben Rhodes. On the right we have the neoconservatives, who believe that Being Determines Consciousness (democratic institutions will make people into democrats), and Catholic natural law theory, which boils down to the assertion that unaided human reason will lead everyone to the Western idea of individual liberty and democratic governance.

Americans seem to think that because they had the good grace to stumble into world history a couple of hundred years ago, everyone else should stop what they are doing and emulate them. That point of view is not as ludicrous as it sounds: no nation has ever been more successful than the United States, which has brought more prosperity and security to more people than any other political experiment in human history.

America’s genius lies in assimilating individuals of all ethnicities into a state based on a laws rather than race or language, and Americans assume that because Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians cohabit peacefully within their borders, they should be able to do so everywhere. That ignores the possibility that those individuals who wanted to leave peacefully with people of other ethnicities abandoned their home culture, leaving behind those who did not.

A sense of national exceptionalism may derive from long history; China may think itself external on the strength five millennia of history. America is a new nation and its sense of national exceptionalism derives from hope and expectation. But that is a very specific sort of hope and expectation: it derives from the Calvinist faith of America’s founders, with its tension between Christian universalism and the notion of an Elect.

The radical Protestants who created the American experiment saw their achievement as a universal example but had no expectation that a depraved world would as a general rule choose to emulate it. Most of humanity, they believed, would be damned and forgotten. Today’s mainstream of American Conservatism tends to see America as exceptional only in the sense that it an exceptionally good recipe that every cook ought to be able to master.

It has become nearly impossible in America to ask the question: Which cultures are viable and which are not? Individuals of all cultures are viable Americans, but that is not necessarily true of the culture they left behind. I have argued for the past dozen years in this space and in my book How Civilizations Die (Regnery 2011) that Muslim civilization will not survive: it passes directly from infancy to senescence.

That does not impugn the success of Muslim immigrants to America, nor of the hundreds of head-scarf-clad girls one sees at Ariel University in Samaria, but it does mean that Muslim states will be unstable and crisis prone and that Muslim populations will be discontented and prone to extremism for the duration. It is a fool’s errand to stabilize them; the best one can do is to prevent their problems from spilling over onto us.

European culture may not be viable in the long term, but Germany continues to compensate for its declining workforce by attracting talented immigrants from the European periphery. It has postponed the impact of poor demography by a generation.

Orthodox Christian culture is attempting to revive after the terrible enervation of Communist rule. Few in the West have the remotest idea what this means. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently claimed that Western hostility to Russia stemmed from its return to its Orthodox roots (as noted by Paul Goble of the Jamestown Foundation): “The thesis (said Lavrov) has begun to circulate that the Soviet Union with its Communist doctrine [at least] remained within the framework of the system of ideas developed in the West, while the new Russia is returning to its traditional values, which are rooted in Orthodoxy, and as a result has become less understandable.”

The Russians have difficulty believing that no-one in the West, at least no-one in a position of influence, has the remotest idea of what Russian Orthodoxy might be and what its quarrels with the West might mean, although these are vivid, living issues in the minds of Russians. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a new Hitler; he is what defeated Hitler, as well as Napoleon. It wasn’t congenial to the West in 1812 and it isn’t now, but it can’t be booed away. America shouted at the top of its lungs at Putin after Crimea and waved a toothpick, and the Russian leader cut a deal with Beijing.

The Western consensus – among economists as well as political types – appears to be that China will collapse of its own weight. The Chinese will rise up against the Communist Party and the unfinished revolution of Tiananmen Square will triumph, the pundits claimed on the 25th anniversary of the suppressed student demonstrations. The Chinese have been living with an emperor for the better part of 4,000 years; what makes anyone think they are going to change now? China is doing very well, and American predictions of its implosion are a lot of whistling in the dark.

None of this will change in face of practical consequences, even the direst ones. The Republican foreign policy establishment will blame Obama for the stupidity of leaving Iraq without a modest American military force; there will be no introspection, no reflection of the errors that plagued American intervention from the outset. It isn’t only that too many careers and too much political capital is at stake: Americans simply don’t want to think about the world as it actually is.

By default, that ultimately may the world to other players with a sturdier sense of reality. China never has cared much about the world past its vast borders. But China is not burdened with the social engineering approach to remaking the world of American conservatives, nor the affirmative-action mentality of the Obama administration.

China has seen cultures succeeded and fail hundreds of times through its long history. It has no compunction about harsh measures against restless minorities. News media reported that President Xi Jinping has called for the resettlement of part of western China’s Uyghur minority, a Turkic Muslim people. Uyghurs have perpetrated several terrorist acts recently, and Beijing is losing patience.

Chinese policy towards its fractious Muslim minority is cruel but entirely effective; I have no doubt that it will succeed, despite the hand-wringing of the human rights organizations. American policy has been generous and generally ineffective. Is there anything in between? I do not think we shall ever find out.

On the other hand, China has no interested in reforming any regime or shaping any culture as long as it does not pose a threat to its interests. China is concerned with the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf (it is Saudi Arabia’s largest customer), and the orderly expansion of the “new Silk Road” through Istanbul and into Europe. I am not enthusiastic about a future “Pax Sinica” stretching into Western Asia, but in the absence of American power, someone will fill the vacuum.

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. He is Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. His book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It’s Not the End of the World – It’s Just the End of You, also appeared that fall, from Van Praag Press. 

(Copyright 2014 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)