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Spengler

Dumb, Dumber, Dumberer in Washington

July 26th, 2013 - 5:45 am

Earlier today, Egypt’s military government arrested former prime minister Mohammed Mursi on charges of conspiring with the terrorist organization Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian affiliate. That is as good as it gets in this part of the world. Hamas has murdered 457 Israelis and wounded more than 3,000 since 2000, according to the Israeli government. It is an implacable enemy of the United States as well as the State of Israel. Since taking power, the Egyptian military has shut down illegal tunnel traffic with Gaza, Hamas’ stronghold, and strangled its economy.

Gen. Abdulfatah al-Sisi, the Egyptian military commander, is doing the dirty work of the West. Yet both the Obama administration and the Republican mainstream have denounced the military-led government and demanded the Muslim Brotherhood’s return to power. “Trying to break the neck of the Brotherhood is not going to be good for Egypt or for the region,” a White House official told the New York Times on July 25th, explaining why Obama had canceled the delivery of four F-16s to Egypt. And some prominent neo-conservatives, including Max Boot and Reuel Marc Gerecht, are taking the side of the Brotherhood. It is the world turned upside down, foreign policy as Mel Brooks might have scripted it.

Obama and the Republican mainstream — John McCain and the Weekly Standard — united in their misplaced enthusiasm for the so-called Arab Spring in early 2011, as I reported in a Tablet magazine essay May 20 titled “Dumb and Dumber.” They have learned nothing from the collapse of the so-called “Spring” into civil war in Syria, Islamist terrorism in Tunisia, and state failure in Egypt. Such is the power of ideology. If the most practical man of business is the mental slave of a defunct economist, as Keynes said, the most practical politician may be the mental slave of a defunct political philosopher.

Here is Max Boot at the Commentary blog on July 25th:

Rather than trying to reach accommodation with the Islamists, who for all their faults did win a free election, the army is demonizing them as “traitors” who must be rooted out. Dispensing with the facade of civilian rule, the military commander, Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, is calling for mass protests to give the military a mandate to crack down on “terrorism” and “violence,” which, if delivered, no doubt will be interpreted as a mandate to crack down on all opposition, period.

Egypt is seeing not the rule of law but the rule of the mob and the military. Alas, history teaches that when well-organized movements with mass support are pushed out of the political process, they are likely to resort to violence. See the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, or Egypt’s own bloodletting during that decade during a war against radical jihadists.

And Reuel Marc Gerecht at the Wall Street Journal, the previous day:

Economic revitalization in Egypt won’t happen unless the poor accept the pain that will come with shrinking the country’s unsustainable subsidies and state-owned enterprises. Buying in now, after the coup, will be much more difficult for those who support Islamist causes.

It also isn’t clear that the secular crowd is economically more adept than the Muslim faithful. Socialism has been a hard-to-kick drug for Egypt’s legions of nominally college-educated youth, who came of age expecting government jobs. Capitalism has probably got firmer roots among devout Muslims, where Islamic law teaches a certain respect for private property.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s senior leadership may not recover from the coup…But only the deluded, the naïve and the politically deceitful—Western fans of the coup come in all three categories—can believe that Islamism’s “moment” in Egypt has passed. More likely, it’s just having an interlude.

Gerecht has staked his reputation on what he calls “The Islamist Road to Democracy,” and embraces died-in-the-wool totalitarians as long as they keep up democratic pretenses. Anyone who disagrees with him is “deluded, naive, or politically deceitful.” How about “realistic”? It seems churlish to point this out, but I was right about Egypt from the outset while Gerecht was dead wrong. I predicted a failed state in Egypt on Feb. 2, 2011, observing that then-President Hosni Mubarak’s problems arose from a free fall of the Egyptian economy already in progress. No-one is right all the time, and there is no shame in having been wrong, unless, of course, one insults everyone who might disagree with a view that already has produced a catastrophically wrong forecast.

Gerecht asserts — without a shred of evidence — that Egypt can stabilize its economy by shutting down subsidies. Morsi refused to do so (as the International Monetary Fund demanded) because he did not believe he could do so and survive politically.  It is absurd to suggest that restoring the Brotherhood to power in some way would make possible the austerity measures that the Brotherhood could not push through when it had all the power. Who is deluded here may be adduced from the track record.

Half of Egypt’s people live on $1.65 a day or less and the country imports half its food. Its economy is in ruins and cannot be revived by an IMF austerity package, as Gerecht seems to imply. Morsi fell when he ran out of money. The Saudis and other Gulf states refused to bankroll the Muslim Brotherhood, which is seeking to overthrow the Arab monarchies, but immediately lent $12 billion to Morsi’s successors, averting starvation in Egypt for the next year.

I wrote in the cited May 20 Tablet essay:

It is a widespread misimpression (reinforced by conspiracy theorists seeking the malign influence of the “Israel Lobby”) that the neoconservative movement is in some way a Jewish thing. On the contrary, it is a distinctly American thing. As the born-again Methodist George W. Bush said in 2003, “Peoples of the Middle East share a high civilization, a religion of personal responsibility, and a need for freedom as deep as our own. It is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it.” The Catholic neoconservative and natural-law theorist Michael Novak put it just as passionately in his 2004 book The Universal Hunger for Liberty: “The hunger for liberty has only slowly been felt among Muslims. That hunger is universal, even when it is latent, for the preconditions for it slumber in every human breast.”

One is reminded of the industrialist in the 1930s who refused to book radio ads on Sunday on the grounds that everyone would be out playing polo. It is hard for Americans to understand that everyone is not like us: are we not an amalgam of all the cultures and races of the world? But that is a fallacy of composition: we Americans are brands plucked out of the fire, the few individuals who rejected the tragedies of the cultures of our origin and embraced something radically different.

The “political philosophy” that has guided so many diligent and clever analysts into absurdities does not address the definitive political phenomenon of our time, namely cultural suicide. The materialism of Hobbes et. al. proceeds from the idea of individual self-preservation to a theory of the state; it does not consider that cultures may veer collectively toward self-destruction. At its worst, so-called rationalist political philosophy turns into the old materialist assertion that being determines consciousness: put people into democratic institutions and they will turn into democrats, just as the Communists asserted that collectivizing the means of production would produce a “new man.” Perhaps something good will come out of all of this: Max Boot and Reuel Marc Gerecht are as close as living writers can come to an embodiment of reductio ad absurdum.

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Top Rated Comments   
I had a hard time considering seriously David P. Goldman's theory of civilizational suicide when I first read him, but the mass tragedies under way today in Egypt and Syria give it a good deal of plausibility, certainly more so than any evidence of a spontaneous generation of democracy in the Middle East, in response to a western wish, however sincere.

This opens the question of whether the self-destruction of islamism has long been a latent process, not to materialize until Islam is critically challenged by the West, on the basis of practical outcomes, like employment, public health and even personal freedom, a scary thing, but an aspiration, from some exotic paradigm?

Would the Bible be banned in Saudi Arabia if the Monarchy was not terrified by the prospect of its acceptance? A civilization afraid of a book might well be in serious peril.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hobbes: Do you have the right to be ignorant?
Calvin: I refuse to find out.

That's how.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As long as the Saudis and their Gulf allies have the money, Egypt will be heir client state. Somalia has small interest for the Arab monarchies, but even so they are supporting the suppression of the al Qaeda allied forces in that country.

Both Gerecht and Boot see only the smallish question of "Whither the Muslim Brotherhood?" They don't see the larger picture, as David does, of economic and demographic collapse across all Middle East Muslim countries. This larger picture will govern the fate of the MB, rather than the other way round. The only reason the MB came to power after 70+ years of "hanging around in the alley," was the growing *economic collapse* of the Mubarak government. They couldn't stop it when they were in power, and most likely increased the decline through their disinclination towards tourism. Now General Sisi will be a well-behaved officer for the Saudis and will have the money to keep the country back from the abyss.

A similar agricultural collapse in Syria explains why that country ended-up with a civil war rather than bloody crushing of Sunni dissidents as in the past. David has explored this in previous posts as well.

How any political thinker worth a lick could try to marry Hobbes' theory of the absolute power of the state with the practice of limited democratic government just seems dumb, dumb and dumberier to me as well!
1 year ago
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All Comments   (37)
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I love this article because the author tackles the same point I was making at numerous discussions with both, psychotic left and refractory “right”: American foreign policy in the last 200 years is nothing short of mental disease preventing the patients from understanding that NOT all people are like us. Ostensibly, it should be easy to comprehend by default that the rest of the mankind is rather different: Americans are either descendants of or themselves (as yours truly) the ones who could NOT coexist with their original fellow-countrymen due to insurmountable differences and thus, left their motherlands. Somehow, that obvious thought escapes practically ALL makers of American policies since Monroe Doctrine (1823).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Egypts only hope is a return to colonial rule. Lets only hope that the UK will resume the role of colonial overlord
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
imho the civil war in egypt will go on until the cost of solar power/thorium power electricity and desalination are cheap enough for desert agriculture. http://www.amazon.com/kindle-store/dp/B0089Z7V6Y

Nasser was able to consolidate his power similarly in 1956 with the Aswan dam which was built only 20 years after the Hoover Dam.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Aswan dam which was built only 20 years after the Hoover Dam."
Not really. Hoover Dam was finished in 1936. Below is Aswan Dam per Wiki:
1960: Start of construction on 9 January[11]
1964: First dam construction stage completed, reservoir started filling
1970: The High Dam, as-Sad al-'Aali, completed on 21 July
1976: Reservoir reached capacity
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So the Egyptian civil war will go for another couple decades. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“The Islamist Road to Democracy�? What does Gerecht think that would achieve? Democracy is not the criterion of legitimacy, republicanism is. Republicanism in the American sense means liberty under law. Democracy is only valued to the extent that it protects liberty under law (by preventing tyrannous government from being able to oppress the majority, who can always throw an oppressor out). But a tyrannous majority, which would use democracy to curtail fundamental liberties, is every bit as tyrannical as a despot, and is not made legitimate by being a majority position.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The english people were forged in a very strange cultural process that followed the battle of Hastings. The saxons resisted, successfully, cultural annihilation. There are recognizable remnants of saxon culture that remain to this day. There are recognizable elements of norman culture too, but turning england french never happened.

We are going through a similar process in the world, with the US playing the part of the Normans. There is a very great difference. We don't want to play the part at all. Our battle of Hastings moment was WW II. We've been caught up in riding the tiger of world leadership ever since but the appeal of going home and leaving others to sort out the mess still appeals.

So I have to agree and disagree in part about the idea that other cultures are not like us. For the ancient baseline cultures this is, in fact, true. But intermixed in each of these cultures is a syncretic culture forming and taking significant guidance from us whether we like it or not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Culture is the transmission through the generations of emotional reactions to ideas, symbols, things. It is lived, experienced, assimilated from the environment especially during childhood years.

Culture is/can be changed by; individual revelation which can be just for the individual or if expressed, as art, as an idea, ideal, can cause a change in the larger culture, immersion in different culture, or just contact which results in cultural trade, blending, or forced immersion which should be called brainwashing.

What I am getting at is that a “culture” is a complex set of internalized emotional reactions that a cultural group have in common. At the base there are emotional responses that are genetically “hard wired” in. These form the basis of what we call “human nature”. “Culture” is layered on top. It is “learned” for the most part in childhood and adolescence by living in, experiencing the culture of the adults surrounding one.

Cultural change, because of this, mostly proceeds, at the most, on a generational pace. Successful, funtional cultures build in concert with human nature’s hard wiring. Dysfuntional cultures build in conflict with human nature. The conflicts make for the dysfunction. They inflict costs on the culture that lower it’s utility to most of the humans living under it. Most, but not all, there will always be some that benefit and will try to keep the even the most dysfunctional culture from changing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I WISH OBAMA WERE AS PRO-AMERICA AS PUTIN IS PRO-RUSSIA.
Putin is simple to understand. He's pro-Russia. He does what's good for Russia. He is anti-MB because he knows if they win in Syria or Egypt, the MB will be able to make even more trouble in the Caucasus -- and will be breathing down his neck.
Obama is pro-MB because of some kind of infantile ideology. It's certainly not in the best interest of the United States. Obama's foreign policy is impossible to explain -- because if it were rationally laid out (such as supporting Islamists in Syria and Libya), it's anti-Americanism would be readily apparent.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
BTW: One of the guiding principles of the United States is freedom of religion. By Obama supporting the MB, he put the US on the opposite side of our beliefs. Where was the outcry from him about the treatment/deaths of Coptic Christians in Egypt or the dhimmitude of non-Muslims in Muslim countries? Where was his support for the freedom-loving people of Iran? Where is his moral compass? I can't say. Butt I can guess that it must have something to do with his leading from behind.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr. Goldman, basing his conclusions on the pitiful Egyptian economy, was indeed prescient about the collapse. But neither he nor anyone else seems to be taking into account what exactly was happening just before the generals said enough is enough.

1. There were rumors that Morsi was about to fire el-Sisi. i.e.; the nice $1.2 billion would going into the Islamist pockets rather than those nice secular generlas and their trust funds. And 2. the govt. was making noises about the newest "existential crisis," Ethiopia was going to build a dam on the upper reached of the Nile; i.e., we (Morsi and the boys) need a war. Israel is too powerful. Ethiopia is nice this time of year.

The ones who most emphatically do not want a war are the generals because a war upsets the apple cart of wealth and comfort they enjoy. El-Sisi was not, and is not, about to see the "Mosqeteers" get the loot and throw them to the sidelines...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"1. There were rumors that Morsi was about to fire el-Sisi.


Do you have a link for this? Not that I doubt it, but I had not heard this before.

thanks in advance
1 year ago
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Debka file
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I also read that Morsi was about to fire el Sisi -- probably on Debka.com.
This was supported by reporting that the intelligence service was tapping Morsi's phone -- and Morsi had contacted Tantawi to ask for his help.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree with most of your article, with one exception. You say that Morsi fell because he ran out of money, and I disagree. He fell because he deliberately shot himself in the foot, and caused the country's financial crisis, which in turn led to him running out of money. Let me explain:

Egypt has the same problem many 3rd World countries has: the economy tends to be a very narrow pyramid, with a few wealthy types at the top, and many many poor at the bottom. In the middle, you typically have a large parasitic civil service middle class, not producing much and holding down a bureaucrat's job somewhere in the gov't., collecting bribes from tourists while acting as a customs agent at the border, collecting bribes from businessmen in return for granting them permits to conduct business, etc. The problem is that this sort of government is unsustainable, without something to offset the drag on the economy that this sort of gov't. produces. In much of the middle east the offset is provided by oil, which can be extracted and exported, and which provides a lot of revenue. In Egypt, however, there isn't much oil, certainly not relative to the population. They do have another way to make money, however--tourism. Egypt has beaches and resorts, to which people from other parts of the middle east come on vacation, and they also have the Pyramids and museums devoted to the ancient Egyptians, which draw tourists from all over the world, especially from Europe and North America. Those tourists have lots of money and are willing to spend it when they go on vacation. This is good for Egypt, and if the MB had played their cards right, maybe cleaned up some of the customs agent corruption I mentioned a bit ago, it might have worked to their benefit. Instead, what did the MB do, the minute they got a taste of power? Talked about blowing up the Pyramids, and started a campaign of violence against non-radical Muslims that made the country a much less-attractive tourist destination.

When the tourism dried up, he had no money, and that's why in part he fell. I think it also had something to do with his apparent intention to embody the old joke about the Muslim Brotherhood being democrats, because they believe in one man one vote...one time. It looked like they were going to try and cement their hold on power, and apparently the army is determined that whoever gets power isn't permanently installed at the helm of the government.

Frankly, that seems like a worthy goal, and I've been mystified by the various people who've come out in opposition to it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've only been to Egypt once, in 1985, and never left the airport. I was sitting in the transit area of the Cairo airport at midnight, waiting for my plane out after a difficult and long set of standby flights from Greece, trying to get to Pakistan. Flying on standby and way before cell phones, no one in the world knew where I was. I could disappear and no one would have been the wiser.

An Egyptian came up to me and asked me to follow him out into the night. We were standing on the tarmac at midnight, under a single light. There before me was all my luggage and camera gear. He asked if it was mine. I said it was.

He said, "For $100 I can guarantee your luggage will make it to Islamabad." I knew he had no power to control luggage inside Pakistan from Egypt, but I also knew he could screw with my luggage there in the airport... or knife me on the spot.

I gave him the $100 and got the heck out of that miserable, filthy, failed country, never to go back.

Having been in many of the Muslim nations around the world, I can say without reservation, they are all basket cases in one way or another.

Liberty, prosperity and Islam don't mix.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Reading some of Walid Phares' posts on FB, it seems that the Egyptians are truly trying to rescue themselves from both tyranny and starvation. I think they are showing evidence of yearning for freedom; while the physical survival issues are powerful, they don't explain everything. In the past, the Muslim religious authorities always claimed -at least overtly - to own the spiritual yearnings of the people. In Egypt, this has changed, at least for now.

About who was right, seems early yet to brag on yourself when it comes to that. But there is also a messianic strain in your writings, so..
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
>> it seems that the Egyptians are truly trying to rescue themselves from both tyranny and starvation. I think they are showing evidence of yearning for freedom; while the physical survival issues are powerful, they don't explain everything.

Ah Larry it seems you're under a delusion. You see, Spengler already told us that "It is hard for Americans to understand that everyone is not like us." You're analyzing the situation as if Egyptians are like Westerners.

No seriously, I agree with you. The question for Goldman is, if the Egyptians are not like us, then what are they like? Look, I get that ME cultures are very different. I've been studying honor cultures for awhile now, and we can point out naive understandings about people in that region that many of us have. But Westerners had those ideas at one time too. I have no problem with Goldman pointing out that people may be ignoring the economic angle of what is going on in Egypt, but the real project of Spengler isn't to be right about that, it is to assert the incommensurability of values between decent Egyptians and decent Westerners.

But this thesis is never fleshed out, because he can't. It is a philosophical assumption, and nothing more. No argument can be made for it. But he takes perfectly valid points and uses them in service of this thesis and beats people over the head for thinking that there are universal aspirations, universal values, which is exactly what classical liberals like the Founding Fathers always thought. That's why he's Spengler, because he thinks they were wrong. The 19th century had many good things going for it, and the Victorian age was amazing and there were so many admirable people. But the era also saw the rise of modern ideologies that represented a collapse of confidence in classic understandings of humanity from the Greco-Roman tradition, which were considered universal. So hereditarianism and racial understandings rose to the fore, which was a very new idea not an old one. Or as Tom Wolfe would say, "back to blood". In the collapse of confidence in ideas hereditarianism and biologism is all there is left. Welcome to Spengler's world.

The Greeks and Romans distinguished between the civilized and barbarians, but Spengler trades in insinuations of tired 19th century ideas he won't argue for outright. The Egyptians do live in a backward culture. How backward cultures modernize, and then how do they deal with the problems of modernity are the questions that matter. But guys like Spengler don't have any answers for our own culture in how to deal with modernity, so they have little to say on the latter and go about whacking other people for the foolishness in believing what people always believed. Since he thinks the Wiest will ultimately commit suicide he sees no future in archaic culture emulating us. But we just might pull back from the brink, as we did in times past. The future hasn't yet been written, and as Krauthammer has said, "Decline is a choice". But Goldman's problem with backwards cultures is really his problem with Western culture. Oswald Spengler published "Decline of the West" in 1918. And people have been waiting for him to be right ever since. But the truth is people have been anxiously hoping for America to collapse since its founding, as Lincoln plainly said. Goldman is a smart guy, but he's in thrall to some vicious modern ideologies and blinded by them. If it weren't for his smugness I wouldn't mind so much.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Eqypt is a basket case--the final destination for a Muslim world without oil. Plenty of hatred and blame for others for their predicament. No ideas for how to extricate themselves. Indeed, they are probably too far gone. One thing is clear: we shouldn't be sending them any F-16s or "foreign aid." All that does is perpetuate the problem. Let the Muslim world take care of their own.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
>> The “political philosophy” that has guided so many diligent and clever analysts into absurdities does not address the definitive political phenomenon of our time, namely cultural suicide. The materialism of Hobbes et. al. proceeds from the idea of individual self-preservation to a theory of the state; it does not consider that cultures may veer collectively toward self-destruction.

And that's why he calls himself Spengler. I just don't see a coherent view that Goldman has on this issue other than interpreting whatever happens as what he predicted. As Fouad Ajami has said, "Egypt has been here before". Indeed it has been. Ajami is not surprised at how it has turned out, and yet he still thought the Arab Spring was overall positive even though he was clear eyed on the danger and said the Islamicists might gain the ascendency. But Goldman prefers to paint all those who don't share the view that some values are universal as wild-eyed idealists. They aren't. Many are just convinced that Western supported tyrannies aren't tenable. That's it. And there is no reason to think that they will, however ugly the alternatives are. And Spengler is offering no positive view. I have no problem with saying civil war may be the best option, and it may be, but why do we have to listen to his bleating about being right ... about what exactly? Being right about violence and economic collapse being in their future? He acts as if those who figured that are somehow rare. It's absurd.

Goldman prefers to couch the argument like this: "Hey those guys are wild-eyed optimists, and boy are things bad so weren't they wrong!" He's picked out the most extreme positions to prove his point, which is as the name Spengler shows it a pose and attitude rather than an actual view. You can't argue with a pessimist and a pose, and there are idealists who are misguided. So we'll just have to listen to him spout off much like this until Egypt stabilizes to his (and perhaps anyone's) idea of sufficient, which may not be in our lifetimes. Which for him, is a really good thing because he can keep reminding us he was right for his natural life, which is probably his goal.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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