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Works and Days

Paradoxes Galore

December 30th, 2006 - 2:48 pm

Ethiopia

Expect Westerners soon to begin criticizing Ethiopia. After all, it had enough of Somalia’s jihadists’ provocations, invaded, and let all hell break loose on the fundamentalists. Such a “simplistic” or “disproportionate” use of force isn’t supposed to work against radical Islam—and shouldn’t be tried, as we were lectured during first Fallujah and the Israeli efforts in Lebanon. So expect the liberal world to decry excesses on the part of the Ethiopians—all, except the Russians, who did something similar, albeit to a much more brutal degree, in Chechnya.

The Western Veneer

One common complaint against the West is that it is egocentric. In one sense that charge is surely true: we automatically assume that others, who dress like us, or enjoy our technology and entertainment, must naturally admire and wish to be Westerners.

In February 2003 CBS anchorman Dan Rather flew to Baghdad to do a one-hour interview with the mass-murdering Saddam Hussein. By the nature of his obsequious questions, and compliments on Saddam’s then recent 100% margin of election victory, he seemed to think the smiling Saddam was about like an American politician.

Rather apparently did not connect the murderer of thousands of Shiites and Kurds with the smartly dressed “President” hitting his softball questions in royal splendor. And about the same time, Saddam’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, chatted on “Good Morning America.” Again no thought that such an articulate, Westernized “diplomat” in suit and tie could be helpful in overseeing a vast state killing machine.

More recently, Mr. Ahmadinejad, in stylish sport coat, graced Time Magazine. Apparently the intent was to show readers that such an international magazine could bridge the gap of misunderstanding between Iran and America. Why else, would the interviewer Scott Macleod fail to ask why Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe out Israel, whey he believed the Holocaust was fabricated, and why he trained terrorists to kill Americans in Iraq?

But, of course, to press a psychopath, would not only be undiplomatic (and dangerous), but suggest that there is very little that Time or any other Westerners could do to convince Ahmadinejad to temper radical Islamic fascism.

In the era of globalization where instantaneous mass communications can produce the veneer of sameness, there is this danger in thinking fashion, shared appetites of consumer goods, or knowledge of pop culture have made us into a global village. But the truth is that for all their sport coats and media savvy interviews, a Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are (were, in the case of Saddam) monsters from another age, who the more they talked to an obsequious Dan Rather or Scott Macleod, the more contempt they harbored for the notion of Western liberality in general.

In fact, there is a long tradition of foreign authoritarians hating America the more they got to know it. We feel we can seduce almost anyone with our material generosity, our openness, and or notions of radical equality. But for the authoritarian mind, that openness just as often comes across as corruption and decadence.

Carnivores in Suits

Remember that many of the 9/11 terrorist murderers had lived for long periods in the United States—dressing, talking, and entertaining themselves like Americans, as they despised the very culture they apparently enjoyed.

The father of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, developed much of his hatred of Western culture—Jazz, informality between the sexes, casual dress—through his residence in the United States. The Third Reich recruited terrorists to attack Americans from those Germans who grew up in the States.

Those imperial Japanese generals and diplomats who fought the most fiercely against the Untied States— Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, General Kuribayashi of Iwo Jima infamy, and the pro-Nazi Foreign Minister Matsuoka—were precisely those who had lived in the United States and attended its universities.

In this regard, would it not be wise for a variety of reasons, and until this war is over, not to let thousands into the United States from the Middle East? They may well end up hating us more, not less; and they may think there is to be no penalty for the extremism of their governments. I’d like to see fast track admission for allies like the Poles, British, or Danes, and no-track for the Pakistanis, Saudis, Syrians, or Egyptians.

Impressions Are Everything

Not long ago I visited a tank museum—and was dumfounded at seeing up close the German panzers (Pz.Kpfw. I-III) that entered Poland in 1939 and France the following year. At this early juncture in the war, these light-weight, under-armed and poorly protected tanks were no better and often worse than comparable allied designs on display. We seem to have believed the Nazis were an unstoppable juggernaut in the late 1930s. But the German force that invaded France in 1940 was no better equipped and no larger than the combined opposing armies of France, Britain, Holland, and Belgium—even though offensive troops usually require a 3-1 margin for success. In short, neither Nazi numbers nor equipment ensured a German victory; lack of allied will did. A valuable lesson in these times.


Before Bush?

Has George Bush really crossed the line between Church and State? Jimmy Carter ran as an evangelical Christian who liked to be filmed teaching Bible class. Ronald Reagan, it seemed, could not give a speech without evoking God. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was a frequent spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton who often sounded like a gospel speaker when he visited Black churches.

Was the 2006 election a repudiation of Bush? In some sense yes, but that mid-year rebuke too is commonplace. In fact, in 1986 Ronald Reagan lost the Senate. In 1994 Bill Clinton lost control of the House and the Senate

But are things that different abroad? Did George Bush usher in an unprecedented anti-Americanism worldwide?

During the 1973 Yom Kippur war our NATO “allies” denied Americans airspace for resupplying Israel, but let the supposed common Soviet enemy fly over their countries to aid the Arab attackers.

I recall that “Death to America” and “The Great Satan” made their debut during the Iranian hostage crisis when Jimmy Carter was routinely burned in effigy. “Cowboy” and worse slurs started in earnest with Ronald Reagan who scared Europeans silly when he sent Pershing missiles to Europe to counteract Soviet tactical nukes pointed at NATO troops. When visiting Athens after the Kosovo and Bosnia bombings, I remember almost elemental hatred voiced against Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright for bombing a kindred Balkan Orthodox nation.

And did Bush invent “unilateralism” and forgo the old “multilateral” American approach? Ronald Reagan bombed Libya without much consultation. George Bush Sr. took out Manuel Noriega without much worry what Europe or Latin America thought. Bill Clinton skipped both the US Congress and the United Nations to bomb Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

The point of these comparisons is not to defend the administration of George Bush, but to understand why he evokes such inordinate criticism.

Two answers come to mind. First, unlike a Reagan or Clinton, Bush finds public speaking and public give-and-take awkward. Second, of course, is Iraq. Under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton there was a consistency about US military action in the Middle East. It was not predicated necessarily on solving problems or seeking long-term solutions, but involved a sort of containment. Hence we left Lebanon after the 1983 Marine Bombings. We fled Somalia not long after ‘Black-Hawk Down’ fiasco. Few believed that bombing Qaddafi as Reagan did in 1986, or sending missiles into a pharmaceutical factory as did Bill Clinton would change the global dynamic of terrorism.

Instead our directive was not to confront any enemy that might involve real American losses, and treat symptoms, not causes of Middle East terrorism through cruise missiles, GPS bombs, and federal indictments.

Bush changed that after going into Afghanistan and Iraq, spending American blood and treasure to establish democracies that might provide an alternative between Islamic fundamentalism and dictatorship. In other words, a President who lacked the rhetorical flair of either a Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton sought to wage a tough war that demanded constant exegesis and public explanation. Hence we see him more as a hated Truman in 1952 than a beloved FDR in 1945. That being said, by risking so much, Bush can not only lose everything, but win as well—if the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq stabilize and prove hostile to the jihadists.

The Mystery of Modern Greece


I confess I often don’t understand modern Greece, despite having lived there for over two years, and visiting nearly every other summer for the last twenty years. On the one hand, fears of radical Islam are voiced constantly—but only in two contexts: historical grievances against the Muslim Turks for their atrocities, both ancient and inside Greece and Ionia, and more recently in Cyprus; and, second, modern anger that the West bombed an Orthodox Balkan Milosevic to save Muslim Kosovars and Albanians.

On the other hand, that furor at Islam does not translate into support for either Israeli or American efforts to stop jihadism. Greeks deplore both countries and side more often with radical Islamists of the Middle East, either in fear of oil cut-offs, contemporary terrorism, or due simply to the convenience of easy-chair slandering of America and its friends. And worse still, all this slurring is always calibrated at cresting precisely at the point an angry America might pack it up, leaving the Eastern Mediterranean and its base in Chania, and letting the Greeks deal with the Balkans, the Turks, and the nearby jihadists on their own. Mention that and suddenly you are lectured that you are overly sensitive and reductionist.

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