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Spengler

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.

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[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.

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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.

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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.)

Four years ago I predicted that the result of America’s apparently successful effort to contain violence in Iraq through the so-called “surge” would be a devastating and uncontrollable civil war in Iraq. I titled the essay “Gen. Petraeus’ Thirty Years War,” arguing that

Petraeus created a balance of power between Sunnis and Shi’ites by reconstructing the former’s fighting capacity, while persuading pro-Iranian militants to bide their time. To achieve this balance of power, though, he built up Sunni military power to the point that – for the first time in Iraq’s history – Sunnis and Shi’ites are capable of fighting a full-dress civil war with professional armed forces.

Gen. David Petraeus, then the American commander in Iraq, quieted the Sunni opposition to the American-backed Shi’ite majority government by giving them money and weapons. By doing so the U.S. rebuilt the Sunni military capability that it had ruined in 2003 when it destroyed the government of Saddam Hussein. With the fighting capacity of the Sunni minority now on par with the Shi’ite-majority government army, as we saw in the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

I have nothing to add to what I wrote four years ago about the bungling of the Bush administration as compounded by Obama.  The present disaster in Iraq is not wholly of our making, but American policy was a key enabler. The “surge” made it inevitable. There will be no resolution now without the exhaustion of the contending forces, in a long war of attrition with dreadful consequences for civilians, starting with the 500,000 who fled Mosul this week.

In a broader sense, American bungling set the stage for Syria’s civil war as well. I had the Ghost of Cardinal Richelieu explain why in a 2012 essay:

Richelieu looked at me with what might have been contempt. “It is a simple exercise in logique. You had two Ba’athist states, one in Iraq and one in Syria. Both were ruled by minorities. The Assad family came from the Alawite minority Syria and oppressed the Sunnis, while Saddam Hussein came from the Sunni minority in Iraq and oppressed the Shi’ites.

It is a matter of calculation – what today you would call game theory. If you compose a state from antagonistic elements to begin with, the rulers must come from one of the minorities. All the minorities will then feel safe, and the majority knows that there is a limit to how badly a minority can oppress a majority. That is why the Ba’ath Party regimes in Iraq and Syria – tyrannies founded on the same principle – were mirror images of each other.”

“What happens if the majority rules?,” I asked.

“The moment you introduce majority rule in the tribal world,” the cardinal replied, “you destroy the natural equilibrium of oppression.

“The minorities have no recourse but to fight, perhaps to the death.”

We Republican warhawks wonder why the public abhors us and our own party has rejected us. Our bungling has made a bad situation much, much worse, and the consequences of our ideological rigidity and cultural illiteracy will haunt us for a generation.

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The London Center for Policy Research (www.londoncenter.org) has just released a short book on America’s allies in the Sunni Arab world, titled, The Sunni Vanguard: Can Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia survive the New Middle East? Former Hudson Institute President Herbert London and former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jed Babbin wrote the essays on Turkey and Saudi Arabia, respectively; I contributed a section on Egypt. The introduction to my section is below.

The United States faces a unique challenge in Egypt: state failure in Egypt would unleash problems orders of magnitude greater than the collapse of Libya. Yet avoiding state failure is especially difficult because Egypt’s economy is in utter ruin after sixty years of “Arab socialist” mismanagement. It is a banana republic without the bananas, a mainly rural country that imports half its food, the host to a vast jobless proletariat living off a state bread subsidy.

With the U.S. increasingly withdrawn from Egypt, we have seen three countries involved in Egypt. The first is Saudi Arabia, which is lending the country enough money to keep the bread subsidy intact, and preventing actual starvation. The second is Russia, which has stepped in to sell Egypt arms after the United States foolishly withdrew. The third is China. Chinese companies are constructing a north-south rail line and have undertaken to build a national broadband network.

U.S. policy should seek to minimize Russian influence, which can only grow at America’s expense. We should maintain our strong ties to Egypt’s military, the only source of stability in a situation bordering on state failure. Despite our vigorous (and well-founded) objections to Chinese foreign policy elsewhere, we should cooperate with China in investment in Egypt: here China’s influence is economic rather than strategic, and its investments represent no threat to American interests. We have a uniquely difficult challenge in salvaging Egypt’s economy, and China’s willingness to invest in the country is a net positive.

The first paragraphs of my esssay from the London Center book and its conclusion are on the next page.

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(cross-posted from Asia Times Online)
http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-02-290514.html
By Spengler

There are two kinds of people: those who think that everyone will (or should be) saved, and those who don’t. Among the former are many – communist, socialists, and most present-day liberals – who assert that human agency can right all the world’s wrongs. There also are religious millenarians who believe that God has a plan for universal salvation, but because things do not work out this way, they feel obliged to help God accomplish what he does not seem eager enough to do on his own.

That is a religious outlook rejected by the Catholic Church. [1] After Pope Francis I’s journey to the Holy Land this weekend, though, it is hard to suppress the perception that in his heart he yearns for universal salvation, although his public discourse, to be sure, is consistent with Church doctrine. The Holy Father really seems convinced that he can fix the world, starting with a part of the world that no-one has been able to fix, and in any case does not especially require fixing.

His intervention into Middle Eastern politics, I believe, arises from deep theological convictions that override perceptions of fact and practicality. He appears to believe that a miracle will move the recalcitrant hearts of the contending parties in the Middle East. I believe in miracles, but I don’t think they can be summoned at will.

Why focus on the Israel-Palestine issue to begin with? The Muslim world long since put it on the back burner, as Lee Smithobserved last year. In the pope’s mind, the problems of the Palestinians – benign as they are compared to those of Syrians, Iraqis or even Egyptians – stand as a symbol of the ills of the world that a just God would want to fix. Francis has mistaken windmills for giants.

The pope’s strangest gesture, but perhaps his most characteristic, was to invite Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestine Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican next month to pray for peace. Peres does not pray, as he hasacknowledged in public.

In the unlikely event that he were to pray, he could not do so in the Vatican, for Jews are forbidden to pray in buildings with Christian religious images. In any event he has no mandate to speak on Israel’s behalf, and will resign his largely ceremonial position in July. Outside of the world of miracles the exercise is triply pointless. According to most Islamic authorities, the same stricture applies to Abbas, who is not a religious man, either. A prayer session with Peres and Abbas is the stuff of the real maravilloso.

Everything a pope does should be viewed through the prism of theology. and a purely theological impulse led Pope Francis to wade into the minefields of Middle Eastern politics, as the champion of what he alone among the leaders of the West hails as the “State of Palestine”. For 20 years, the Israelis and the Palestine Authority along with the major powers have debated whether and on what conditions there might be a State of Palestine. Francis seems to believe that it will be so if he declares it to be so.

Kindness radiates from this pope, whose gestures to the Palestinians were balanced by unprecedented gestures to the Israelis – a wreath on the grave of Zionist founding father Theodor Herzl, and a declaration that the Holocaust was a uniquely evil act in world history. There is not a hint of ill will towards the Jews in Bergoglio’s public record. On the contrary, in his November 2013 encyclical he reaffirmed, “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’.” The subject is neither the Jews nor the Arabs, but rather the new pope’s vision for the Catholic Church.

A controversy erupted in the Catholic world after Francis preached “universal redemption”, arguing that all people naturally seek the good because of the good ness of creation. The pope argued that atheists can do good just like Christians, and that “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation … The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.”
But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.
“Yes, he can… The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!”
Father, the atheists?
“Even the atheists. Everyone! We must meet one another doing good.”
But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!
“But do good: we will meet one another there.”

By the pregnant word “there”, Francis did not necessarily mean Heaven. Catholic theologians hastened to point out that “redemption” means the potential for “salvation” after Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, which in Catholic doctrine redeems the whole world. Francis nonetheless blurs the distinction. The (mostly anti-religious) media hailed Pope Francis’ remarks as a declaration that one doesn’t have to adhere to Church doctrine to be saved. Those were not his words, to be sure, but that’s how the music sounded.

As the Church ministers to a shrinking number of individuals, it is tempted instead to try to save everyone. The Church is still growing in the United States mainly due to Hispanic immigration, but it is almost certain to shrink as Latinos leave the faith. In 2010, two-thirds of Americans in the United States of Hispanic origin identified as Catholics; by 2014 the figure had dropped to only 55%. Latin America is still majority Catholic, but not with strong conviction. A gauge of diminished faith is the decline of Latin American fertility from four children per female in 1985 to just two today.

How to respond to shrinking numbers of communicants is the subject of a quiet but impassioned debate. Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, advocated a small church strategy; he wrote in 1996 that the time may have come to “abandon traditionally Catholic culture” and consolidate the Church around “small seemingly insignificant groups” that nonetheless “bring the good into the world”. The alternative view is millenarian and messianic: despite the shrinkage of the Church itself, he believes, the Church in the person of its Supreme Pontiff will intervene in and transform the world.

Pope Francis’ sudden passion for a Palestinian state is not arbitrary. It is yet another expression of his millenarian hopes for the renewal of a Church that saves fewer individuals than ever but hopes instead to save everybody. We observe the same messianic universalism in his New Year’s message denouncing market-based capitalism, and in his willingness to soften doctrinal restrictions in order to broaden the Church’s tent. This troubles conservative Catholics, for example New York Times columnistRoss Douthat, who worries that small exceptions (permitting divorced Catholics to take Communion, for example) will lead to what he calls:

the late-Soviet scenario, in which Catholic doctrine is officially unaltered, but the impression grows that even the pope doesn’t really believe these things, and that when the church’s leaders affirm a controversial position they’re going through the ideological motions – like Brezhnev-era apparatchiks – and not actually trying to teach a living faith.

Francis has said nothing in public at variance with established doctrine, contrary to the impression given by media reports. It is all a matter of words and music. Putting the Church’s earlier emphasis on social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage in the background, Francis famously called the Church “a field hospital after battle”.

Leaving aside the niceties of dogma, that is a view quite different from most of his predecessors. It may portend a revolution in the Church unprecedented in its 2,000-year history. When the Church emerged in Europe in the Dark Ages, it was Europe: it assembled Europe out of the migrating riffraff of pagan tribes. European mainstream culture was Catholic culture, and by construction. The marginalization of the Church is an anomaly so at variance with its origins at character that it has elicited a truly novel response.

Traditionally, the Church taught that salvation comes through acceptance of its Sacraments and the forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ by the proxy of a duly-ordained priest (although exception is made for righteous non-Catholics who have not explicitly repudiated Catholic doctrine). As the Church’s influence shrank in the aftermath of the two world wars, though, an alternative theology of universal salvation poked its head up through the rubble.

What Catholics believe, of course, is their affair; I am not a Catholic, and I do not share the Church’s views of sin, salvation and damnation. Nonetheless, the Church is the core institution of Western civilization and what it does affects the rest of us. Without presuming to instruct Catholics about their religion, I wish to call attention to some of these implications.

The great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar proposed to hope that hell itself was empty (in two books published in 1986 and 1987, translated by Ignatius Press under the English titleDare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?). He wrote: “I would like to request that one be permitted to hope that God’s redemptive work for his creation might succeed. Certainty cannot be attained, but hope can be justified.”

That, to be sure, was a speculation carefully advanced at the end of a long and distinguished career, but it elicited cries of heresy. Urs von Balthasar insisted that the Church must “contrast Christian universality of redemption to Jewish salvation-particularism”. For most of its long history, the Church taught that it was Israel and that Gentiles were saved by adoption into Israel; not until the 1980s did John Paul II declare that the living, breathing descendants of Abraham still were “Israel” in a theological sense. John Paul II’s declaration (restated by his successor, Benedict XVI, as well as Francis I) that the Old Covenant never was revoked was a revolution in the Church’s relationship with the Jews. Nonetheless, the new universalism

also raises the prospect a new form of anti-Judaism. It abhors the notion that God has a particular love for any section of mankind.

Pope Francis’ impatience with Jewish particularism roils below an amicable surface. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu mentioned during his public meeting with Francis that Jesus spoke Hebrew, the pope corrected, “Aramaic!” Netanyahu patiently observed that Jesus spoke both languages. Israelis, for example the distinguished Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, read this (I believe correctly) as an effort to attenuate Jesus’ Jewish identity, that is, his association with the particularity of Israel. It is not that Francis does not want to love the Jews: he wants to love everyone in exactly the same way.

Not long ago, Catholic practice was nearly universal in the Catholic countries and admitted heretics were few; today, Catholic practice involves a small minority and the mainstream culture repudiates religion altogether and Catholicism in particular. Even most Catholics reject a great deal of Church doctrine, which explains the great popularity of Francis I; they believe the media stories that the new pope doesn’t much care about issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

From the viewpoint of traditional Catholic teaching, the vast majority of humankind, including the vast majority of citizens of once-Catholic countries, will suffer eternal damnation. Urs von Balthasar simply couldn’t stomach the notion: how could God be so cruel as to condemn the preponderance of his creatures? What would that say about the goodness of creation itself? [2] Inspired by his mystic soul-mate, the visionary Adrienne von Speyer, Urs von Balthasar formulated a novel and hugely influential mystical doctrine of universal salvation.

That is one drift inside the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger, sought instead to consolidate the Church around a stronger core of faith. In his 1996 book Salt of the Earthhe put the matter as forcefully as possible:

Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live and intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world – that let God in.

This formulation made headlines when the book’s first, German edition appeared. The largest-circulation news publication in the country, Der Spiegel, featured Ratzinger’s willingness to abandon “traditionally Catholic cultures” (the German read rather die Volkskirche, the popular Church). The distinguished Catholic philosopher Alisdair McIntyre also proposed a small-church strategy. I do not know why Ratzinger resigned his office, but sentiment in the Church clearly has shifted away from this view of the role of the Church.

Among Catholic writers in the English language, Joseph Bottum has addressed the problem most directly. He argued in a 2013 essay that the Church should not make a stand on the issue of gay marriage where it was bound to lose, but rather concentrate on broadening its tent: “We should not accept without a fight an essentially un-Catholic retreat from the public square to a lifeboat theology and the small communities of the saved that Alasdair MacIntyre predicted at the end of After Virtue (1981).”

Conservative Catholics heaped opprobrium on the author without, however, addressing the core issue: how should the Church respond to its marginalization by mainstream culture?

Ratzinger, in my view the last great man of the West, anticipated this problem from the 1950s onward. Not so his peers in the Church. The fall of communism during the papacy of John Paul II persuaded many Catholics that a glorious new era of Church history was at hand, in which Catholic Poland would set the tone for the industrial world (see First Things Last, Asia Times Online, July 22, 2013). On the contrary, Poland, like most of Eastern Europe and a good deal of Western Europe, is on course for a demographic catastrophe later in this century.

Benedict XVI believed in God’s special love for Israel, for the same reason that he believed in the particularity of a Church whose institutional and doctrinal integrity he fought to preserve. When he visited the Holy Land in 2009, Israeli newspaper columnist Aviad Kleinberg noted that Ratzinger

… was the confidant of Pope John Paul II, and his immense theological authority was a critical aspect of the previous pope’s moves … . John Paul and Ratzinger buried once and for all not only the accusation of the Jews’ murdering the messiah, but the entire theological theory that the Christians replaced the Jews and are now the Chosen People and that the New Testament annuls the Old Testament. The Old Testament is still valid, declared the two, and the Jewish people is still God’s chosen and beloved people.

Benedict made no attempt to insert himself into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because he understood his role as spiritual; Francis, by contrast, has declared the plight of the Palestinians “unacceptable” and has inserted himself into a political process. It would be wrong to think of Benedict as “spiritual” and Francis as “political”.

On the contrary, different theologies are at work. The Palestinian problem is “unacceptable to Francis” not because the Palestinians are being butchered, as in Syria, or because they are starving, as in Egypt, or subject to constant terror attacks, as in Iraq. Except for the oil-rich Gulf states, Arabs in Judea and Samaria have the best living standards, health and educational levels in the whole of the Arab world. They suffer inconvenience and occasionally humiliation, but they are not at risk.

Other popes have taken political stands, notably John Paul II’s role in the Cold War. But St. John Paul did so under conditions when humanity was in real danger; Bergoglio staged a political theater when nothing more is stake than his own salvific ambitions. Benedict XVI offered a public critique of Islam’s propensity for unreason and violence; Francis offered a public embrace of his “dear brother” Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who has earned international condemnation for advocating the extermination of the Jews.

For Pope Francis, the Palestinian problem is “unacceptable” because it represents the failure of the world to elevate a people perceived to be downtrodden and oppressed: it is important for its symbolic value rather than its factual content. Never mind that the Palestinians have painted themselves into their own (rather comfortable) corner; their perceived plight is an offense to Pope Francis’ millenarian vision of universal salvation. Francis evidently feels he must intervene to right a perceived wrong, like an ecclesiastical Amadis de Gaula, because it is there.

I fear that the Church, the founding institution of the West, its pillar and mainstay, has lost its moorings. The State of Israel will do quite well without it; it was founded in 1947 against the opposition of the Church then immeasurably more influential, and does not require the blessing of the Church to flourish today. But Bergoglio’s behavior in the Holy Land bespeaks a dilution of the Church’s self-understanding and a deviation from its mission. In 2005 I wrote, “Something is stirring in the ashes of the West, and Benedict XVI yet might bring forth a flame.” I am less sanguine today.

Notes
1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 676, states: “The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the ‘intrinsically perverse’ political form of a secular messianism.
2. How, indeed, can a good Creation produce an overwhelming preponderance of damned souls? That paradox lies at the heart of the particularist-universalist divide. Judaism is not a salvific religion in the Christian sense: the World to Come figures only hazily in Jewish thinking, and the rabbis taught that righteous Gentiles have as much share in the World to Come as pious Jews. But rabbinic Judaism has quite a different view of the goodness of Creation: God left Creation in an unfinished, imperfect state, so that humanity would have the task of perfecting it. SeeWhy Intelligent Design subverts faith, Asia Times Online, October 23, 2012.