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Monthly Archives: November 2006

Wars, then and now…

November 26th, 2006 - 10:01 am

Selective Morality

When George Bush Sr. addressed an audience in Abu Dhabi, he was jeered and blamed for globalization—this from a country that can only exist with foreign expertise in a globalized world that finds, extracts, and sells its accidental petroleum fortune. What exactly have the subjects of the Gulf monarchies achieved without foreign expertise—or the armed forces of the United States that alone guarantee free and safe world commerce in and out of the Persian Gulf?

Last time a (French) journalist timidly asked Vladimir Putin about the carnage in Grozny, he was in turn invited to undergo a radical form of Russian castration, “I suggest that you have an operation so radical that nothing grows out of you again.”

So don’t expect the world’s liberal conscious to weigh in much on the latest poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko—done to a UK subject in London and in such a manner to top off the earlier medieval “oranging” of Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko. Russia, after all, not only has and sells nukes, uses energy blackmail against eastern Europe and the millions of the former Soviet Union, but, like the Iranians and the Syrians it arms, has a propensity to murder in grotesque fashion critics of its plutocracy in their own homelands. So it is much easier for a European or Middle East journalist to concentrate on the purported misdemeanors of a Donald Rumsfeld than the known felonies of a Vladimir Putin.

Expediency is back

So what passes for international Western morality these days? Not much. Not the reported $30 million paid in blackmail by the Europeans to Iraqi terrorists that went, no doubt, to replenish their IED inventories, dangerously low after so many attacks on Americans. Most pundits and journalists are warning more about Bush hurting Iran than Iran fulfilling its promises to wipe out Israel.

And where has the realist hysteria gone of the last month? We were supposed to talk to Iran, talk to Syria, bring in the allies, bring in the UN, bring in the Big Two—China and Russia—bring in anyone other than George Bush to solve the Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan, Palestinian, and any other crisis?

Crisis—What Crisis?

The problem, of course, was the last word “crisis.” What we announce as “crises,” our newfound “friends” consider “opportunities.” The last thing Syria wants is what we envision—two democratic and peaceful states on either side of Damascus with booming economies and free opinionated peoples. And the last thing a corrupt United Nations wants is the use of its global prestige in service of the liberal Western notion of self-rule and peaceful coexistence—a virus that would quickly doom most of the autocracies that comprise its own membership. The old imperial powers of Russia and China have discovered newfound wealth and influence in the global village’s madcap desire for both oil and “things”, whether knock-off video games or cheap T-shirts. One wants oil—acquired anywhere from genocidal Sudan to the Strangelovian Iran—the other wants its fossilized nuclear and arms industry to flesh out again by resupplying most of the weapons used in the fighting in the Middle East. Both agree that it is both psychologically gratifying and practically liberating to see the hyperpower United States checked and floundering.

Realism Redux

“Realism”, then, means nothing other than trading off our enemies’ interests in one place for our own assumed advantage elsewhere. (e.g., stop the Iranian IED supply in southern Iraq and we will lay off UN sanctions; close the Syrian border with Iraq, and Assad can creep back into Lebanon, etc.). All that is a fair, not an exaggerated, description of realism as we have known it. Syria was once invited into the first Gulf War coalition by our hands-off promises about its role in Lebanon. Kurds and Shiites were once let go in 1991 on promises to the Gulf monarchies to keep the old regional dictatorial order.

All this is hardly new to readers, but what is novel is the sudden liberal embrace of it. Why does the Democratic leadership seem to welcome in the thinking of a James Baker or Brent Scowcroft, especially since it once demonized realism, most notably the circumstances around the first Gulf War or the supposed Bush I failure to stop the genocide in the Balkans? Is it just petty spite at seeing GWB’s own turn on him?

Or is it a deeper malaise that modern liberal internationalism is neither liberal nor international. Lacking any real belief that the United States, now or in its past, has been a continual force for good, the contemporary Left hardly wants the rest of the world to suffer the American malaise of racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental degradation, and consumerism. That self-doubt is buttressed by the idea as well that confrontation is always bad, that evil does not really exist, but is a construct we create for misunderstanding, that the world’s ills are remedied by reason and dialogue.

In essence, the progressive Leftist is often affluent, insulated from the savagery about him by his material largess, and empathizes with those who are antithetical to the very forces that made him free, secure, and prosperous—as a way to assuage the guilt, at very little cost, of his own blessedness.

Darfur Again

We see odd symptoms of this progressive disease in the most surprising ways. Note the current agitating for intervention in Dafur—but without promises to “stay the course” when it gets messy (and it will); note also sermonizing about the killing there without frequently mentioning the culprits: radical and racist Islamists (notice the odd preference for the passive voice that thousands “perish” or “die” rather than Islamic nomadic and Arab nationalists raping, butchering, and machine-gunning them).

It is hard to know whether liberals are more scared of doing nothing while 400,000 “perish” or indirectly aiding George Bush’s trumped war against terror by lending their support to stopping radical Islamic killers, many of whose enablers in the Sudanese government were the very ones who hosted Osama bin Laden.

Our First Postmodern War?

Western exhaustion, guilt, and appeasement are nothing new. Much of the British aristocracy saw not much wrong with Hitler, even after the invasion of Poland. It was Churchill alone who put an end to their peace feelers to fellow travelers in Germany, still creeping out when his new British government chopped them off after the fall of France.

No need to talk about French politics in the 1930s, or the conditions in Austria before the Anschluss. Reread what Joe Kennedy or Charles Lindberg said about appeasement before December 1941, and it gives a frightening glimpse into the mind of a great segment of the population that thought it could ride out the European war, deal with a Hitlerized Europe, and live with Imperial Japan.

All that said, the West is encountering something novel, as it fights its first politically-correct war, in which all the postmodern chickens of the 1980s and 1990s have come home to roost. Thus multiculturalism makes it hard to fight non-Europeans from the former third world, inasmuch as it argued there was not just little distinctively good about the West, but rather the once recognized universal sins of mankind—racism, sexism, class oppression, inequality, patriarchy—were to be seen as exclusively Western.

If you have taught youth for generations that the story of World War II is Hiroshima and the Japanese internment, not Normandy, the Bulge, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, then how can you expect a nation to fight an enemy without making a mistake? And if dropping the bomb on Japan to stop its daily murdering of thousands in its collapsing empire, and to avoid something that would have made the horrific Battle for Berlin look like a cakewalk is equated with the Holocaust, how can the United States marshal the moral authority to press ahead, secure that its killing of jihadists is a different sort from jihadists killing the innocent or each other?

Add into this dangerous modernist soup moral equivalence, or what we know as “conflict resolution theory.” It postulates that any use of force de facto is equivalent to any other. We see those ripples with this Orwellian notion of “proportionality”, that a democratic Israel must calibrate its response to missiles aimed entirely at its civilians by ensuring none of its own aimed at Hezbollah terrorists and their supporters miss.

Then there is moral relativism and utopian pacifism. The latter is the idea that we have finally reached a sort of end of history, where our maturity and education and bounty have changed the rules of the game, relegating war to the Neanderthals. Relativism is even more pernicious because it is anti-empirical and suspends all moral judgment: Islam is just one of many religions given to excess, not at the heart of the vast majority of killing and fighting now going on in the world at this very hour, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Chechnya to Darfur to the West Bank to Lebanon to the Philippines to Indonesia to India and on and on. A Timothy McVeigh is not much different from an Osama bin Laden; forget the former was solitary and exceptional, the latter with millions of sympathizers and emblematic of an entire global movement. Both by their resort to terror were, presto, relatively the same.

So it is going to be hard, but not impossible, to win this war. Why,then, as readers have complained, my dogged optimism?

For two reasons. One, all these nostrums are theoretical, and anti-empirical. Ultimately as lies, they will be disapproved by the evidence before them. A progressive can call the ACLU all day long, but after 9/11 if he stands in line at an airport gate listening to an imam chanting Allah Akbar as he and his friends board, our liberal friend will begin to worry. And second, our enemies have no intention of relenting. They smell blood and want our carcass, so eventually even the progressive mind will give up the pieties of peace and face the inevitable

A Footnote on WWII

At the recent D-Day symposium in New Orleans, on one panel some of us were asked why Hitler did something so stupid like declaring war on the United States? Indeed from hindsight it seems an odd blunder, when there were odds that America might just fight Japan alone after Pearl Harbor. Of course, Hitler was mercurial and without a cabinet to restrain him. But given what was known at the time—and those are the questions and realities that history must deal with—there was a certain brutal logic to his declaration of war.

America was unarmed, without much of an army, and with a history of appeasement that matched that of the European republics. U-boat commanders promised devastating results once they could hit convoys at their origins along the Eastern seaboard.

Germany had no navy. Once it seemed that Japan had polished off America’s, it would have an ally that could check the British navy and draw off its resources from the Atlantic, giving a vital breathing space for Hitler to finish building the Kriegsmarine.

Hitler at that point had only a one-front land war with Russia since the Balkans and North Africa were still irritants only, while the United States and Britain would have three with Japan, Germany and Italy. If Hitler were taking on the three economies of Britain, Russia,and the US, he had at his disposal everything–industry, oil, minerals– from the English Channel to Moscow, the dream of every failed European meglomaniac.

And while stalled outside Moscow on December 8, 1941, the odds still were that the planned spring offensive would see the end of the Soviet Union, especially now that the U-boats had open season on any supplies going to Russia. Britain had been unable to do any substantial damage to Germany through the air, and it was likely that American bombers would have no more luck.

And while Japan had lost nearly 10,000 in a decisive defeat in August 1939 against the Soviet Union at Khalkhin in Mongolia, there was still the possibility that Japanese infantry forces would tie down Soviet divisions in the east. Hitler also believed, and had always planned so, that war with the United States was both inevitable and winnable with advanced technology that would soon give him super battleships, intercontinental missiles, and ocean-crossing four-engine bombers.

Finally, he had a deep loathing for a multi-racial, “mongrel” United States that he considered populated by little more than Chicago gangsters and Texan cowboys. Apparently he had no concept of the inner recesses of the minds of a Henry Ford or Henry Kaiser and what they might dream up.

So mad, of course, his declaration of war was, but, given his conventional wisdom of 1939, understandable.

So Close, so Far

November 21st, 2006 - 10:55 pm


No, no, no….

The problems in Iraq, in the radical Middle East at large—with democratization, with nuclearization, with Islamism—are not, repeat not, a lack of dialogue with Syria and Iran.

We know what both rogue states wish and it is our exit from the Middle East and thus a free hand to undermine the newly established democracies of Lebanon and Iraq—in the manner that all autocracies must destroy their antitheses.

They both sponsor and harbor terrorists for a reason—to undermine anything Western: a Western-leaning Lebanese democracy, a Western-style democracy in Iraq, a Westernized Israel, or soldiers of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Syria, as we see once again with the killing of Pierre Gemayel, is practicing serial murdering in Lebanon. I was on the Hugh Hewitt show last night, and he was right to make the point that Syria is like the Nazi regime of the late 1930s that sent its agents into Eastern Europe and Austria to assassinate and undermine republican leaders, to pave the way for the ‘necessary’ and ‘welcome’ entrance of the order-bringing Wehrmacht into a ‘brother’ state.

Iran is a rogue nation that seeks bombs to use them against the region’s only viable democracy in Israel. Neither Damascus nor Teheran can tolerate a democratic Iraq—no more than the Soviet Union would have allowed the Baltic Republics to have pro-Western democracies or Nazi Germany wished to be a partner in peace with republican Czechoslovakia.

Yes, yes, we need perhaps to have a national “dialogue”, but not over talking to Iran and Syria—but instead whether we wish to continue to fight and win this war.

Tell us it ain’t so?

As I understood the President, whether in his ‘Axis of Evil’ speech or his ‘with us or against us’ construct, the United States is no longer seeking Clintonian short-term, stop-gap palliatives of cruise missiles and federal indictments. Instead we are at war with both terrorists in the field, and the regimes that sponsor, pay, and host them. In such an existential struggle, democracy is as destabilizing to them as jihadism is to us, and so we promote it whenever we can as the right and smart thing to do—especially given the hysterical hatred toward it voiced by bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri.

And for all the conundrum, the war against the jihadists is still going well. Iran and Syria are striking out because they feel surrounded—democratic Turkey on one side, Israel on the other, with nearby democracies struggling to become established in Kurdistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is being dismantled, and a Europe galvanizing against Islamic fascism. Even the impotent UN is beginning to stir against Iran and Syria. If we can stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq, we can bring enormous pressure on both these two rogue nations. So why give up now—which is what talking to these amoral governments constitutes, given our previous rhetoric and vow to quit the appeasement?

Cui Bono?

But why would either Damascus or Teheran wish to talk? The answer is plain. The former wants to profess to cool it a bit in destabilizing Iraq in exchange for us turning a blind eye in Lebanon; the latter wants to act like stopping the sending of agents of our destruction into Iraq in exchange for cooling our rhetoric about their bomb. What we would be doing in essence by “dialoguing” is saying to both the democracies in Lebanon and Israel, “Sorry, but we have to find a way out of Iraq, and these fascists will promise to turn away from us if they can turn on you.”

All this is dressed up with realist “maturity” and “concern” but it would be consistent with those who brought us Iran-Contra, aid to both Iran and Iraq in their war, stopping before Baghdad, hugs with the House of Saud that paid money to those who killed Americans, and on and on. If Syria and Iran can be assured of a truce, that we won’t destabilize them at home or stop their adventurism abroad, then they might let us save face in Iraq. That they would ever honor such a deal is absurd, that we would ever believe they would is worse than absurd.

For five long years many of us have praised this administration’s constancy and idealism, in removing the Taliban and Saddam, and then staying on to do the hard, the easily caricatured work of democratization. The liberal hawks have long bailed. The paleos have turned venomous in their criticism. Many of the neo-cons have sought escape by blaming the flawed occupation for ruining their supposedly perfect three-week take-down of Saddam. But there are millions of us still out there who, Jacksonian in spirit, close ranks and will support our troops wherever they are. But we simply cannot ask Americans to die in Anbar province while talking to the Iranians and Syrians who are doing their best through surrogates in killing them.

The Cowardly Way

This Michael Richards mea culpa about his racist outburst against hecklers is pathetic—mentioning Katrina and war as he tossed out banalities about the nation’s “hate” and “rage.” The outburst and the apparent apology are right up there with the Judith Regan creepy confessional about her grotesque O.J. non-book event.

Let me get his Seinfeldian logic: a hip, sort of leftist cynic unloads on some impolite blacks in his audience with language right out of the Ku Klux Klan lexicon, and then tries to weasel out of it by suggesting some rage unleashed by things like the Katrina diaster? Apparently he thinks that hip nihilists like himself can’t be redneck racists. And if they slip up and show that they are, then it’s only because they suffer from a temporary sort of Bush-derangement syndrome brought on by the general “rage” unleashed in the country.

We need a new word in the vocabulary for this increasingly common syndrome where a liberal spouts far right nonsense that no conservative would utter and then blames his outburst apparently on the conservative climate. We all thought that the apology would be the alcohol or abused childhood common refuge, so surely “rage” is something new. Do we all suffer from it, or just Richards that evening?

And what is this new throat-clearing about the “war made me do it” (e.g. Richards’ reference to the “rage” between “this country and another nation”)? Even Mel Gibson sought cover in that idea of global conflict when his anti-Semitic rage boiled over in his cups (“The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”). Apparently he thought the Iraqi and Lebanon fighting was both “the world” and were caused by the “Jews.”

Still waiting…

We are still waiting on the announcement that next year’s funds will be cut off for the Patriot Act and wiretaps. And surely Guantanamo will be defunded, with timetables mandated for troop withdrawal. That would be the natural conclusion from the Democratic rhetoric that equated Bush’s policies and our soldiers carrying them out so often with Nazis and terrorists.

Instead we get a few wild calls for ending the draft or quitting the war, in between the Speaker to be’s efforts to promote a checkered Murtha in the midst of a campaign to stomp out corruption. Of course, the reason for the stasis is that the Democrats deep down sort of believe that we haven’t had another 9/11 just possibly because of these programs and are hesitant to trust their luck in letting terrorists phone with impunity and be worry-free about detention.

Jihadist cowardice

China and Russia both have a history of rough treatment of their own Muslim minorities, the Uighurs and Chechnyans. Indeed, Muslims in western China are not even allowed to use public address systems to amplify their daily prayers. And the Chinese government cuts deals with the most autocratic of Middle Eastern regimes in its eternal quest for oil. No need to mention the Russian stance—Grozny says it all.

Then why has not bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri turned jihadist attention to either country? While neither has troops in the Middle East, each might at least warrant some hateful rhetoric, inasmuch as their policies make the Danish cartoonists or the poor Pope pale in comparison.

The answer is, as we know, that China and Russia are not only strong like the United States, but, unlike America, wildly unpredictable and seemingly a little crazy. No jihadist quite knows what would be the reaction to a campaign of suicide bombing on Moscow or Beijing, and, more importantly, no rogue nation that sponsors Islamic fascists wishes to find out. What Middle Eastern state wishes to discover what being on the receiving end of a Russian nuclear version of the Beslan or Moscow theater “rescues” might look like?

Second, neither Russia nor China excites the appetites of the Islamists. The fundamentalists have a sort of peeping-tom ailment, of wanting to emigrate to Europe, to come to the United States, to buy an I-pod or satellite dish, to experience Western material bounty and personal freedom, and then almost immediately damn us for the desires and passions we apparently so easily excite. In Londistan, the obvious question arises, why in the world do not these Pakistani youth who profess such hatred of Britain simply emigrate back to the outlands of Pakistan where they can enjoy religious purity free from a decadent West?

The answer is not just that life then would not be free and bountiful and subsidized, but also quite lonely, and void of guilt-ridden rich Westerners who can be bribed, humiliated and, above all, forced to give attention to those who have otherwise not warranted it by any traditional method of accomplishment.

Which brings us to the concluding thought.

Most in the West profess, albeit secretly, that these particular, regional and perceived Middle East grievances really are connected. We nod in approval to each pundit and expert as they deceive us by convoluted exegeses—the West Bank is not Lebanon that is not the Taliban that is not Iraq that is not the Iranian bomb-making that is not Wahhabism, that is not…

But inside perhaps we know that they are really akin to the generic hatred that our fathers battled in Nazism, Italian fascism, and Japanese militarism—disjointed, often unconnected ideologies of evil that, nevertheless, found their common purpose—surely enough to go to war together—in hating liberal Western society.

And we all know, for all our self-doubt and self-loathing, that the West really is strong, at least strong enough to smash jihadists and their patrons.

So apparently we are in another Phony War circa October 1939 to May 1940, awaiting the provocation—another 9/11? A nuclear strike on Israel? A full-fledged brazen Syrian invasion of Lebanon? A terrorist killing of the Pope or mass murder in Paris or Berlin?— that sets us off.

And we know that like a Nazi Germany that invaded Russia and declared war on the United States, or a Japan that bombed Pearl Harbor and hoped for our instant surrender, that these jihadists have not a clue about the danger they are courting, apparently thinking that most Americans care only about Mark Foley’s email or Britni Spears’ divorce.

But tragically time will tell for these naïve and self-destructive killers. Their clock is ticking…

Politics and War, Then and Now

November 17th, 2006 - 3:17 pm

Is it a Roar or a Meow?

Governance is not the same as easy criticism. Already the Democrats are learning, as is eternally true of our wonderful political system, that loud opposition is not the same as being responsible for governance.

Suddenly the beloved press is looking again into John Murtha’s questionable ethics—and wondering whether we can really leave Iraq so easily. Nancy Pelosi was unable to see Murtha elected as majority leader, and we wonder about her political skills when it is matter of being a leader rather than a megaphone. And we still await something novel from the Democrats about Iraq commensurate with their vehement criticism. Surely they will soon introduce legislation rescinding Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, and wiretaps, since they convinced us that such measures have done nothing to make us safer and couldn’t conceivably have anything to do with the absence of another 9/11 attack.

Couldn’t We Just Get Along?

I suggest a few new proposals that might benefit the country and enhance Democratic prestige. First, eliminate farm subsidies. Most go to corporate farms while smaller family farmers get nothing. No one can determine why a carrot or peach grower doesn’t qualify, but a cotton grower or dairyman receives government loot. It’s a perfect populist issue for such self-acclaimed reformers.

Strike a deal on energy: allow drilling in Anwar and off the coasts in exchange for tougher mileage standards on trucks and SUVs. Offer tax breaks both for renewable energy development and coal gasification. End tariffs on imported ethanol.

Put aside worry for the moment about guest workers and amnesties and just close the border now—through more fencing, more agents, more employer fines, and offering a verifiable ID system.

Introduce a spending freeze. Since the revenues are soaring, the current deficit is a result of government spending exceeding the rate of inflation.

So it is gut-check time for the Democrats. Either they will seek to appear moderate and institutionalize their newfound majorities, or prove lunatic and beholden to all the old fringe groups that turned voters off. I hope their pros have sent out a memo: don’t be photographed with Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, or any of the Hollywood elite. Muzzle John Kerry. Shut up the Wal-Mart-buying John Edwards on the evils of Wal-Mart. Tell Sens. Durban, Kennedy, et al. not to say a word about our troops. Don’t let Congressman Murtha or Sen. Harry Reid give any lectures on the culture of corruption. Instead they should follow James Webb around or the newly elected Jon Tester of Montana who at least look like old-style Democrats that were not at ease with pompadour hairstyling, windsurfing, and Volvo SUVs.

Israel

We are witnessing strange things about Israel. Columnists this year wrote about it being a “mistake.” And for the first time emboldened Islamic leaders talk seriously not about restoring lost land on the West Bank and the Golan Heights, but of “wiping” it off the map entirely.

The Lebanon war saw not just slanted coverage, but outright falsification and lying from the major Western new servers—many of them served by local stringers who provide on the ground propaganda and faked photos. And now the Holocaust has been reinvented, as the old idea of a safe haven for the survivors of the Third Reich has been transmogrified into “a one bomb state.” Mein Kampf is translated as “Jihadi” on the West Bank and sells briskly. We are seeing a venomous anti-Semitic hatred in the Arab-supported state papers that the world has not witnessed since the 1930s and 1940s.

Back home, the Left/Right split on Israel has also been turned upside down. If you wish to read sick hatred about the Jewish state go to the leftist blogs or the campuses, not the Montana badlands. Somehow the Palestinians have reinvented themselves as liberal victims of Western, white male imperialists. Thus, in the manner of Blacks, Chicanos, Gays, and Women they are deserving of the usually accorded sympathy for their oppressed status—never mind the Islamists’ gender apartheid, religious intolerance, homophobia, and fundamentalism that should be so repugnant to the liberal mind.

Now more than ever Israel is nearly all alone—and so serves as a barometer in the West of true liberal courage of conscious. It has no oil, no international terrorists, no large population, no real material advantages and no threats to be made in the most crass sense.

Instead, it is a humane liberal society, an atoll of reason in a surrounding sea of autocracy. So it is the perfect litmus test for the Westerner: on the one hand is principled support for an embattled democracy; on the other, is easy appeasement that wins applause from millions, eases concerns about oil and terrorism, and offers cheap relief of elite guilt by trashing the very Western culture that rewards us all. Tragically, most leftist elites these days fail the test. Somehow, especially in Britain, they put themselves on the side of illiberal groups like Hamas or the Palestinian Authority whose history is antithetical to very notion of tolerance.

Now we have yet again the ubiquitous Jimmy Carter. Not content with a failed Presidency, he is determined to turn his legacy into even a greater failure, lecturing us in his new book about an apartheid Israel.

Unlike blacks in his own Georgia of the 1950s, Israeli Arabs vote and enjoy civil liberties, perhaps a million of them, with another 100,000 plus as illegal aliens. In fact, they enjoy rights not found in other Arab countries, inasmuch as Jews treat Arabs inside their own country not just better than Arabs treat Jews (they ethnically cleansed 500,000 from the major Arab capitals in the 1960s), but in the sense of civil liberties better than Arabs treat Arabs.

Carterism is a new postmodern pathology in which smug piety, dressed up in evangelical new-age Christianity, pronounces from afar moral censure on the more righteous party—on the theory that acting well but not perfect is worse than acting badly. Carter reminds me of the timid parent who spanks hard the good son for the rare misdemeanor because he takes it with silence while giving a pass to the wayward son for the daily felony because he would throw a public fit if corrected.

Debating

This past eight days I have been at various places from San Diego to off the Mexican Coast to New Orleans discussing, and debating scholars and pundits on issues ranging from illegal immigration (no to open borders), troop levels in Iraq (don’t add and don’t subtract, but change tactics and force the Iraqis to step up), and World War II (the Red Army, for all the savagery and ordeal on the Eastern front, was not mostly responsibility for winning the war, and its soldiers were no more courageous than Americans at Bastogne, Normandy Beach, Iwo Jima, or Okinawa.).

Sir Max Hastings and I this morning gave differing views at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans on the role of the Soviets in World War II in connection with the efficacy of totalitarian armies versus democratic forces. In passing I made the point that much of the Red Army’s zeal came not from the superior motivation (provided by the fear of being shot), but by the fact it was for nearly 4 years fighting on the soil of Mother Russia. And when it was not—Poland 1939, Finland 1939-40, or even Afghanistan in the 1980s—it fought far worse as an expeditionary force than did the Americans in WWI or WWII, whether at Bastogne or Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Yes, it is true that 3 out of 4 Wehrmacht soldiers were killed by the Red Army, but the vast majority of Italian and Japanese soldiers were killed by Anglo-Americans; and strategic bombing, Lend-lease, fighting in three simultaneous theaters on three continents, supplying allies, running a submarine and surface naval campaign across the globe were all beyond the Soviets. In general, I found Hastings astute, deeply learned, and polite, and our differences in emphasis were discussed cordially and in a context of gentility.

World War II Redux

On the topic of WWII: After September 11, suddenly the war was in the news as never before, as it became the reference point, rightly or wrongly, for much of our current struggle with the jihadists. 1930s appeasement was seen again in terms of preemption, whether against Saddam or Iran. With the end of the Cold War, and the nuclear plans of North Korea and Iran, we recalled Hiroshima as never before—especially with the specter that the once bombed Japan might well be forced itself to go nuclear.

How do wars end? We seem now always to seek to explain a reformed Japan and Germany in contrast to the up-in-the-air end of the Korean War or Gulf War I, seeing again the wisdom of our fathers who were intent not to repeat the indecisive armistice of World War I.

Intelligence failures? After the WMD fiasco we can now understand the failures to anticipate Pearl Harbor or know the magnitude of exactly what was going on in the death camps. Poorly armored humvees brought us back to thin skinned Shermans and the disastrous day-light, unescorted B-17 raids of 1942-3.

And the UN—that postwar liberal, Western notion of collective security and governance—seems hopelessly naive, given the illiberal nature of the non-Western states in the General Assembly and Security Council. Then there was the constant looking back to Pearl Harbor after 9/11—and wondering what would it take to truly anger the American people when we lost more on September 11, 2001 than on December 7, 1941, and on the home soil of the continental United States, right in the heart of our two greatest cities.

Finally, we all evoked the generational differences. To me it was summed up when Democrats alleged that “We took our eye off Afghanistan by going into Iraq”. My Lord!—this is a country that fought Italy, Japan, and Germany all at once, and was in an inferno on Okinawa while racing eastward past the Rhine, while bombing Berlin, while slogging up through Italy, while igniting the Japanese mainland. Our ancestors apparently had quite a lot more eyeballs than did their lesser sons and daughters.

They’re Back?

November 13th, 2006 - 8:59 am

All too real

I have been going through the recent report, “Iran: Time for a New Approach” co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski (in charge at National Security during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979) and Robert Gates (involved in Iran-Contra). It makes depressing reading in its call for new talks with the dictators in Iran, since we have done that for 20 years, and should have learned that they lip-synch back only when they feel they have more to gain than lose. Churchill understood that when he put an end to Tory backchannel efforts to talk with ascendant Nazis after the fall of France. And surely we should learn something from the recent Hamas step back and apparent willingness to rethink talking to Israel—given its loss of millions in Western handouts and tough Israel retaliation against Gaza.

Next will come the Baker group report on Iraq—no doubt with more calls to reassure regional dictatorships and to ask them to help “stabilize” Iraq, as if such creepy strongmen would find anything to their advantage in having a successful democracy next door.

And we should remember a few things about the return of “realism” which is really just an academic veneer to the old isolationism. This was a policy that gave us the arming of Osama bin Laden et al. to stop the Soviets in Afghanistan, sort of played Iran off against Iran in their murderous war of the 1980s, abandoned the Kurds, favored the Soviet Gorbachev over the Russian Yeltsin, stopped outside Baghdad and let the Shiites and Kurds be gunned down after urging them to revolt, let Milosevic do his murdering unopposed, and established a revolving door in the Middle East in which former American officials simply went out of office and into great profit by using their past contacts to be rewarded with legal, financial, and arms links to petro-dollar rich dictatorships. Could we not have a simple rule: bar anyone from official duty in American Middle East affairs, Left or Right, who currently or in the past, has had profitable business conducted with the region’s dictatorial governments? De facto, they become suspect when they return in their latest incarnations as senior statesmen. Indeed, it is hard to find very many senior realists who at one time or another have not been consultants, academics, lawyers, salesmen, or investors whose income was not in some way enhanced by Gulf state oil money

As a sidebar: those reformers in the Middle East who used to rail against this realpolitik never said a word in support of recent American efforts to offer a democratic alternative in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to pressure Arab dictatorships to reform. And so when the realist mindset returns, Americans will hardly listen to any of their renewed cries of help, since their train left the station years ago.

Ditto those who now cry for action in Darfur. They were some of the harshest critics of trying to help Iraq, and apparently think we could intervene in the Sudan without the sort of mess that is intrinsic anywhere Westerners must fight jihadists and Islamicists on the ground. Saddam killed just as many innocents as the Muslims did in Darfur, and it would be just as messy in righting that wrong there as it was in Iraq.

Our friends, the Kurds

The Kurds are landlocked, surrounded by Turks and Iranians, often challenged by Iraqi Wahhabists—and booming. With all the talk of Iraq’s “failure” and the need to pull up stakes and call it quits, no one is talking about what happens to Kurdistan, a strong U.S. ally that did everything we have asked of it, and is a model of reform in the Islamic world. Surely, we owe these brave people with a tortured history our continued friendship, and to keep faith to our promises to stabilize Iraq—especially after the debacle of 1991, and of course our earlier realist indifference to their gassing by Saddam. How odd we now contemplate leaving Iraq and the Kurds hanging and getting closer to those of the House of Saud, when the former have offered us only friendship and success at trying to open their economy and establish freedom, and the latter little other than (high-priced oil) and stealthy subsidies for those who have killed us.

Lost in all the campaign rhetoric over the war also is the position of the United States, and its military—if we leave Iraq before it is stabilized. Far from “freeing” up our “overburdened” forces by getting out, we will be instead ensuring that they really will be overworked as crises with Iran and North Korea flare up, and jihadists pour into Afghanistan as Pakistan goes ever more Islamic. In contrast, if the military can defeat the jihadists, train the Iraqis in counter-insurgency, ditto the Kurdish economic model in Iraq and ensure constitutional reform lasts, then opportunistic enemies will hold back. You could have a 5-million-man military after a defeat in Iraq, and it would be kept busy and stretched too thin trying to deal with all the strongmen who thought they smelled weakness and wished to take advantage of American impotence.

Immigration

Language is the keystone to politics. This past week I gave some lectures about illegal immigration. I noticed how the supporters of open borders so often prefer to demonize their opponents as “anti-immigrant”, hoping to reframe the debate into Americans’ supposed animosity against individual arrivals, legal and illegal. And why not when a rational defense of illegal immigration is indefensible? “Undocumented worker” is another favorite. But with 25% of all illegal alien households on entitlements in California, it is hard to think that all aliens are working or simply forgot their documents at the border. “The borders crossed us” is yet another deliberate misnomer, when the vast majority of Mexicans and Mexican-American in the United States cannot trace their family lineage in America past three generations. You get the picture: when an argument is indefensible then language is contorted to do what reason cannot.

Whom do we admire?

How odd that today we admire Ronald Reagan whose coattails never could translate into a House majority, who was nearly destroyed by Iran-Contra, and who left office in uncertainty over whether he had really changed much the Cold War calculus. Harry Truman finished with about a 25% approval rating, winning no credit for the birth of containment. After his crankiness, the Democrats wanted a more “thoughtful” liberal like Adlai Stevenson as their leader. Churchill—demonized after Gallipoli, and ostracized during the 1930s—was then voted out of office in 1945 after saving Britain from its enemies. Lincoln was perhaps the most hated man in the United States by August 1864.

I mention all this because George W. Bush, who won two wars after September 11, and changed the course of U.S. foreign policy to encourage reform abroad, and prevented so far another 9/11 like attack, can obtain a similar respect from history—as long as he realizes two truths: he must persevere, and no more give into realist seducers than did Churchill to those who called for dialoguing with Hitler; and he must accept that he will leave office hated. But if he flip-flops to get his approval ratings back up to 50%, he can be assured that history’s will be no kinder to him than it was to LBJ, Nixon, George Bush Sr., or Bill Clinton.

For all the present gloom, if Bush hangs tough and gets Iraq stabilized, does not appease North Korea and Iran, and sees movement in the Middle East toward more reform, then in 10 years he will be seen as a rarely successful American President.

Vaya Con Dios, Rummy!

Here is the record of Donald Rumsfeld. (1) Tried to take a top-heavy Pentagon and prepare it for the wars of the postmodern world, in which on a minute’s notice thousands of American soldiers, with air and sea support, would have to be sent to some god-awful place to fight some savagery—and then be trashed live on CNN for doing it; (2) less than a month after 9/11 he organized the retaliation against al Qaeda in the heart of primordial Afghanistan that removed the Taliban in 7 weeks, when we were all warned that the U.S., like the British and Russians of old, would fail; (3) oversaw the removal of Saddam in 3 weeks—after the 1991 Gulf War and the 12-years of 350,000 sorties in the no-fly-zones, and various bombing strikes, had failed. (4) Ah, you say, then there is the disastrous 3-year insurgency—too few troops, Iraqi army let go, underestimated “dead-enders” etc.?

But Rumsfeld knew that in a counterinsurgency (cf. Vietnam 1965-71) massive deployments only ensure complacency, breed dependency, and create resentment, and that, in contrast, training indigenous forces, ensuring political autonomy, and providing air and commando support (e.g., Vietnam circa 1972-4) is the only answer—although that is a long process that can work only if political support at home allows the military to finish the job (cf. the turn-of-the-century Philippines, and the British in Malaysia). He was a good man, and we were lucky to have him in our hour of need.

James Webb

I received a lot of angry private email objecting to a pre-election syndicated column I wrote for Tribune Media Services, in which I criticized the Allen campaign’s attack on Webb’s shocking passages in some of his novels, along with the lamentable trend to confuse fiction with reality (http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson110606.html.) I thought the Allen tact was both silly and wrong to equate a novelist with his literary characters, especially in wartime landscapes where realism is essential to a chronicle of battle and its effects on men.

I also wrote that Webb had led an exemplary life, and it might be a good change to have a novelist as a Senator. I know the campaign was cruel on both sides, but it was both an ethical and practical mistake to go after the veteran Webb on his literary characterizations, especially when his record of public service had long ago proved that he was a principled person. If the Democrats are to recapture any stature as a serious party, it will be because of moderates like Webb, whom I have always respected and admired. So no apologies here.

Be careful of what you wish for

Liberals used to deplore realists—a James Baker (“F*** the Jews” or “Jobs, jobs, jobs”), a Brent Scowcroft (letting the Shiites and Kurds get mowed down by helicopter gunships in late February/early March 1991), or George Bush Senior shaking down the Japanese et al. to pay for the first Gulf War and then leaving Saddam in power to “balance” Iran. But now with Baker and Gates sort of back, and apparent greater reliance on the first Bush’s realism, it will be interesting to see what the Democrats in the House will do—especially if there is a realist-Right and anti-war Left convergence that gives up on Iraq and comes home.

Weird Politics

Since 9/11 I have been fascinated by the Nation/American Conservative affinities—and especially how the “Don’t Support Dictators” abroad protests of the 1960s morphed into a sort of ‘See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya’ about Iraq (cf. Sen. Rockefeller’s statement that the world was better off with Saddam or liberal Dan Rather’s postwar lamentation that it was quieter driving in Baghdad when he used to interview Saddam). Equally interesting is the smash up when multiculturalism (e.g., no culture can be any worse than the West) hits the right-wing, fascistic agenda of Islamic fundamentalism. What an “Other” or “People of Color” Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood are!

I thought something was haywire in the late 1990s when I spoke on California campuses and would see the Hamas booths in the free-speech plazas—right next to the usual 1960s-style teach-ins where Chicanos, blacks, Native Americans, women, etc. handed out pamphlets and megaphoned on American sins. So how did anti-Semitism, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, homophobia, and suppression of free expression synchronize with these groups’ complaints against supposed American fascism?

But it is not just Leftists who are getting what they wished for, but a lot of the neoconservatives as well. It may be that true, as one pundit wrote, that Mark Steyn and myself are about the only two left that both support the war—despite the mistakes—and Rumsfeld in general. But after reading for three years from almost every neoconservative pundit that Rumsfeld should go, they now will get their wish. The only problem is that Gates is more a Baker-realist than a neo-Wilsonian. I suggest they go back and read The Generals’ War or Crusade and review the discussions about not going to Baghdad. That decision, whether right or wrong, was based entirely on realpolitik, not thousands of Iraqis who rose up on our call to overthrow Saddam. Now it might have been defensible not to go to Baghdad in 1991(I would disagree: it was a terrible mistake), but was abjectly amoral to call for insurrection, and then when Kurds and Shiites took us at our word, to have abandoned them.

Oh California, I Barely Knew You!

A frequently asked question: “How can you live in California with the political insanity?” And my usual answer, “I couldn’t live anywhere else.” This last week I stayed in the mountains at Huntington Lake (ca. 7,000 feet). It was bright blue, about 70 degrees, and the lake and forest absolutely deserted. I have traveled in the mountains of Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the highlands of Greece and Turkey, and nothing is more beautiful than the Sierra corridor from Yosemite to Sequoia. It is almost a freak of nature—that in an hour you can drive straight up from the Valley floor and be in another world. Or on a clear day from up at Kaiser Pass see the Coast Range 100 miles away—and be in San Francisco or Santa Cruz after a four-hour drive.

One of the last things my 86-year-old grandfather told me—he lived in this house from 1890-1976 and had inherited it from his grandmother who built it in 1871—was “to thank God every day that we live in such a beautiful place.” He meant the vineyards between Fresno and Visalia, and the Central Coast where he had a tiny cabin at Morro Bay that he co-owned with 10 other farmers (he sold his share in the 1970s for $2,000). At 23 I thought that his adulation for his native state was parochial (In my conceit I was puffed up for having left the farm and lived a year in Greece and seen much of the Mediterranean), and also blinkered, since Rees Davis had only been to New Mexico once. But now I realize, as in most other things, he was right all along: the natural environment of California is an aberration, especially the 100-mile proximity of a long-coastline, Mediterranean hills, enormous interior valley, and high Andes-like mountains. Our state’s tragedy, of course, is that so often we have not lived up to what nature gave us, or at least what generations past bequeathed.

It is dangerous to be a laudator temporis acti I grant, but California between 1955 and 1970 was a magical place, full of can-do idealism about the UC system, and its new campuses at Irvine and Santa Cruz, the freeway systems like the new I-5 north-to-south route, and modern airports at LA and SF, the dams and hydoelectric grid, the part-time state Legislature, and the commitment to the melting pot.These days we can hardly add a third lane to a highway someone else built, and talk about blowing up dams not building them. LAX is a disaster; so is UC Merced. And what we used to invest in infrastructure, we now pay out in entitlements and then borrow for minimum maintenance on what our grandfathers created.

And the most disturbing fact? That such a lapse is no accident, but simply a collective reflection on my own generation. After all, when I compare my parents and grandparents–their hard work, self-sacrifice, courage, suffering, and investment for others-to the record of their own progeny (i.e., my generation of this 6th-generation California family), then sadly it all becomes clear. And I am sure other Californians can do the same: ponder their grandparents’ lives versus their own, and then, presto!, comprehend the fate of their state the last fifty years.

Our New Pentheus

Long before Sigmund Freud wrote about repression and the subconscious, Euripides the fifth-century B.C. Athenian playwright explored the frenzy of the human mind—whether Medea’s homicidal rage, Hippolytus’ smug self-righteousness, or poor Pentheus of his masterpiece Bacchae.

In that latter tragedy, the young king vows to stomp out the new cult of Dionysos, with its celebration of wine and, more darkly to Pentheus, sexual liberation, particularly of women.

But after spending the first half of the play, mustering the forces of decency, in an eerie exchange with the disguised god, Pentheus himself shows a dark curiosity about what he wants to drive out. Soon he is cross-dressing, engaging in voyeurism, and ends up torn apart by the wild Bacchant women, among them his own mother. Euripides reminds us to seek balance in life, and to moderate our passions, especially the zealotry that may masque inner desires for the forbidden. Bacchae is a great play, Euripides’ last, and timeless in its wisdom about human frailty.

And never was there better proof of Euripides’ warning than the sad case of Reverend Ted Haggard. His simultaneous effort to curb homosexual marriage and the so-called gay lifestyle, coupled with serial half- and three-quarter- confessions that the married father of five, and pastor of the tele-evangelical New Life Church, is not merely an adulterer, but perhaps as charged, a frequenter of prostitutes, a user of illegal drugs, and a participant in anonymous gay sex (he apparently used the pseudonym “Art”) . Or as Haggard most recently put it, “There is part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it all my life.” But like Pentheus he found the struggle too much, as the more he protested, the more he was attracted to the darkly prohibited.

A few other thoughts: Is it almost de rigeur that when champions of traditional morality are caught (cf. Congressman Foley or the Jimmy Swaggert chronicles), they either plead substance abuse (Foley’s alcohol or the subtext of meth in Haggard’s case) or the power of Satan to reach even the once pure (so Haggard’s evocation of the imagery of the “dark”, and Swaggert’s elemental battles with Lucifer).

And how do the Democrats’ play the homosexual hypocrisy card in the long run? So some questions: if in this age of exposing all sorts of hypocrisy it is past time to out gay (rather than just gay conservative) lawmakers in the closet, do Democrats really wish to have their own (and there must be some) so exposed, some of whom, after all, might lead lives at odds with their appetites?

And if explicit gay sex talk or visits to prostitutes are to be condemned, to what extent have such increasingly common activities come as a result of greater liberalization in society at large (e.g., suggesting prostitution might be liberalized, law suits against the Boy Scouts or tolerance for fringe groups like the man/boy pederastic groups) that has been urged not to judge alternative lifesytles and reminded that morality is subjective not absolute?


Unmentionable Worries?

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy, there are other disturbing questions not widely raised. The HIV-virus is endemic among promiscuous homosexuals, and contacts with a gay prostitute put his own spouse at risk. Part of the entire futility of the war against drugs is the failure to curb demand. That is, the criminally-inclined or merely poor, grow, traffic, and fabricate drugs because there is preexisting demand for it among wealthier Americans with disposable cash and profit to be made. So the Reverend was not merely indulging in the purported pleasures of drug use, but perpetuating an industry that destroys lives and undermines the law. And the money Haggard had at his disposal to buy drugs and sex came, in part, from donations to his Church, funds that were solicited to fight the very vices that they ended up subsidizing.

All of which raises the eternal Euripidean question: was Reverend Haggard drawn to the frontlines of the evangelical moral crusade in the first place because it was precisely there were to be found his own desires?

Nemesis—Again

The Greeks also warn us about Nemesis, and its multifaceted faces of divine, slow, but ultimately humiliating retribution. Nemesis stung Haggard in the most fitting fashion because he had been so prominent in opposing open expressions of homosexuality, thereby inviting scrutiny of both his own motivations and private behavior.

Similarly John Kerry might have been left alone by veterans, as he was for most of his senate campaigns. But once he strutted out at the 2004 Democratic convention and preened, “Reporting for duty!” then he was open season for veterans, who might have been willing to forgive (but not forget) his earlier slanders, given that Kerry was a pronounced anti-military politician, a class, of course, that must say the sort of things Kerry had. But when he reinvented himself into a proud veteran of a lost war that he had once demonized, in an obvious and crass effort to reestablish his fides to red-state America, then the veteran understandably became re-enraged.

I wrote this about Kerry and Nemesis two-and-a-half years ago on February 20, 2004 (http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson022004.html), and that take on Kerry and Nemesis seems still relevant today in light of his most recent slurs, if not overly magnanimous and too understanding of Kerry’s self-destructive propensities:

Take the recent controversy about President Bush’s military record. Heretofore, Mr. Kerry had wisely decided to let the sleeping dogs of Vietnam lie, perhaps cognizant of how the “bloody shirt” had once tainted and polluted 50 years of late-19th-century American presidential campaigns. Besides, the Republicans had not looked good in questioning the fine character of Max Cleland, whose service to his country deserved better. In the primaries, the genuinely war-heroic Mr. Kerry seemed to realize that it was not wise to question Howard Dean’s skiing in Aspen under the aegis of a medical deferment. After all, most Americans were more interested in talking about winning the present war rather than crying over losing the past one — and Vietnam was a morass that tarred everyone who lumbered in.

In 1992, Mr. Kerry had, quite soberly, called for an end to recriminations about Mr. Clinton’s draft record. And that was wise. From time to time he had gone on record to emphasize how tumultuous the late 1960s and 1970s were — and that what was said and done then was often a result of passion rather than reason. Kerry seemed to remember — and for that reason he was rightly cautious — that many Vietnam veterans against the war at the time had left a paper trail of greater respect for the resisters and draft-evaders who chose not to participate in an “immoral” war than for some of their fellow warriors who went over to serve and “kill.” Indeed, up until about 1980, the popular mythology for millions was that a Vietnam veteran deserved less respect than a draft-resister. Of course, we forget that absurdity now in the days of the bloody shirt, but it was nevertheless true and explains the near inexplicable contortions and subsequent reinventions of that generation that we witness today.

So Mr. Kerry rightly sensed that, while his own combat record was beyond reproach, his subsequent strident antiwar activities surely were not — ranging from confessionals about war crimes to throwing away someone else’s medals before the cameras. And Kerry was even wiser in appreciating that while a sort of mytho-history had emerged, asserting that Vietnam-era protesters once attacked the government only, never the soldiers themselves, most Americans of the era remembered a very different reality: Veterans in fact routinely and unfairly were accused of atrocities, and were slandered. Returning GIs were sometimes divided between those who felt that their service was honorable, and those who sought exculpation or popular acceptance from the protest generation by maligning fellow soldiers as agents of immorality.

Thus it was prudent to let all this alone, and not take the bait of thinking a decorated veteran who opposed the war could score points against a supporter of it who did not serve. But the Democrats were not content.

Instead, they floated old accusations that a twenty-something George Bush, who strapped himself into something as dangerous as an obsolete, fire-belching, and occasionally explosive F-102, was somehow near treasonous. Young Bush may have been impetuous and he apparently missed some roll calls, but anyone who rides the stratosphere a few inches above a jet engine is neither a coward nor a man who shirks either danger or responsibility.

Now the Democrats who thought up this low hit on the president will reap what they have sown — as Kerry’s entire (and ever-expanding) record of ancient slips and slurs will unnecessarily go under full scrutiny, the sometimes shameful words of a rash and mixed-up youth unfairly gaining as much attention as once brave deeds. By August the American people will be sick to death of Kerry’s pandering to veterans — or perhaps as indifferent to his medals as they were to the equally stellar record of sometimes-failed candidates like Bob Dole, Bob Kerry, John McCain, or Gray Davis.