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David P. Goldman

David P. Goldman is the columnist “Spengler” for Asia Times Online; his latest book is How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). He is the Wax Family Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

The Bidding War for Iran

The world now anticipates that the U.S. will reach a strategic agreement with Iran. Russia and China are responding by offering their own deals to Tehran. A possible game-changer is Russia’s offer of the Antey-2500 air defense system to Iran. After canceling the planned delivery of the older, shorter-range S-300 system in 2010, Russia has now escalated drastically by proposing to sell Iran a much more effective system. Western air forces have never engaged the Russian system, so we don’t know how exactly good it is. No-one I know in the military wants to find out; by Western estimates, the Russian systems are extremely good. It is possible that Russia’s unwelcome intervention might make Iran effectively impregnable from attack by Israel. The Antey-2500 can take down missiles as well as airplanes.

In addition, Russia is retaliating against the West’s stance on Ukraine. Russia has made it clear all along that it would respond to Western efforts to remove Crimea from Russia by making trouble in Iran, as Russia’s deputy foreign minister warned last March. Russia, unlike the U.S., views the world as a single chessboard: attack my position here, and I will hurt you somewhere else where you are not prepared. Putin isn’t crazy; he’s a Russian commander in the classic mold, forcing the burden of uncertainty onto his adversary, muddying the waters and leaving his opponent guessing. His countermoves on the global chessboard include a prospective alliance with China as well as mischief in the Persian Gulf. My conservative friends who urge us to “stand up to Putin” should take a cold, dispassionate look at the whole of the chessboard and anticipate moves of this sort; otherwise, the whole thing is a lot of beery blather. As I wrote recently, Israel takes the brunt of American policy blunders. What happens if Putin gives Iran the means to shoot down anything Israel (and a good deal of what the U.S.) might throw at it? No-one in Washington seems to ask such questions. I’ve been warning about such a development for the past five years (see “When the Cat’s Away, the Mice Kill Each Other,” Oct. 20, 2009).

China, which depends on Persian Gulf oil more than any other major economy, is watching these developments with alarm, as a Feb. 22 Xinhua commentary makes clear (hat tip: M.K. Bhadrakumar):

U.S. President Barack Obama, who admitted that Washington “brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine” a year ago, has warned that a collapse in the peace process could push his country into approving deliveries of weapons to the East European country. Such a proposal is not only counterproductive, but also dangerous. Indeed, the Americans might be the only one poised to gain from the Ukraine crisis with both Europe and Russia being weakened, but they should be mindful that one who sees the crisis as a power game would only drag itself into the quagmire. By antagonizing Russia, for instance, Uncle Sam might lose a possible – and powerful – partner in its ongoing anti-terrorism drive in the Middle East.

That hardly needs translation: Beijing is worried about instability in the Persian Gulf, whose oil China needs more than any other major economy, and observes that Russia is in position to stir up instability in retaliation for Western intervention in Ukraine. Russia may be a second-rate power, but it still is a power in the Middle East, as well as the purveyor of game-changing military technologies.

China, meanwhile, is courting Iran. Visiting Tehran Feb. 15, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi “said that increasing relations with Iran is one of his country’s foreign policy priorities….Cooperation between Beijing and Tehran is of strategic importance and beyond bilateral relationship, Wang added. The Chinese foreign minister also said that the nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 group (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) have entered final phases and nothing should be done to prevent the talks to yield a result….Wang also expressed his country’s opposition to Western-led sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.” China operates on the principal that one should keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies closer. It has sold a great deal of weapons to Iran, but sold much better weapons to Saudi Arabia, including top-of-the-line intermediate range missiles that give KSA “a formidable deterrence capability” against Iran, in the words of one Chinese analyst.

Now Beijing faces the prospect that Iran will become the dominant regional player with de facto help from the United States, and is trying to reposition itself as an Iranian ally — while Russia does the same thing. It’s a bidding war for the good graces of the craziest regime on earth.

Posted at 1:00 pm on February 24th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

Jihadi Terror and Muslim Criminality Are the Same Thing

Islamist criminal and terrorist networks overlap for a simple reason: both involve the same sort of individuals doing the same sort of things. European governments know this, because they operate in the common ground between crime and Jihad. Declarations by European officials to the effect that Jihadi terrorists are really violent criminals in search of a pretext are a particularly revolting sort of hypocrisy. Possibly the most disgusting thing I have read in a publication that purports to be mainstream is Andrew Higgins’ Copenhagen dispatch in the New York Times.

[Copenhagen terrorist Omar Abdel Hamid] Hussein’s journey from drug-addled street thug to self-proclaimed jihadist declaring loyalty to theIslamic State has stirred soul-searching in liberal-minded Denmark over whether Islam, in fact, was really a prime motivator for his violence, or merely served as a justifying cover for violent criminality.“This is a very difficult question to answer,” said Manu Sareen, the minister for integration and social affairs, who shortly before the attacks began a program to combat radicalization through outreach to parents, schools and other efforts.….

Often the attackers invoke Islam. But just as often, well before they had found religion, the professed jihadists built up long track records as violent criminals. Though many have become radicalized in prisons, they often seem determined to find an outlet for their violence.

Amedy Coulibaly, one of a trio of gunmen responsible for the killing rampage that terrorized Paris in January, similarly fit the bill, chalking up at least six arrests before his embrace of anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism led him to storm a kosher supermarket and kill four people.

“This is classic trajectory into jihadist terrorism in Europe,” said Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on jihadist movements at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. “There is not a single pathway, but this one is very worrying. They are misfits who find a solution to their problems in radical Islam.”

In embracing violence in the name of Islam, Mr. Hussein, a former member of a Copenhagen criminal gang called the Brothas, “substituted one subculture for another,” Mr. Hegghammer said, adding, “The easier it is for someone to plug into this radical Islamic subculture, the more radicalized misfits you are going to have. At the moment, it is very easy.”

Insulting and absurd as such statements are at face value, they represent a far more insidious form of hypocrisy. As every European government knows, petty criminals become enmeshed in Jihadist networks because they are the eyes and ears of European counter-terror agencies. Turning petty criminals into political informants is the oldest police procedure in the world. Writing in Asia Times Jan. 12, a European security official explained:

The practice of intelligence agencies through most of history has relied on the vulnerability of criminals in order to monitor threats to the state. Intelligence services rely on informants for information. It is more common in the cinema than in real life for security services to sucessfully infiltrate undercover operatives into terrorist organizations.

The security services tolerate a certain level of criminal operations in return for information on graver threats. That is not only the case in state security matters; consider the relationship of the FBI, for example, to the Boston gangster Whitey Bulger over many years.

Without revealing any sensitive information about sources and methods, it is possible to shed light on the events of the past week by reference to the John Le Carre novel A Most Wanted Man, released last year in a cinematic version.

The German counterterrorism authorities use a young Chechnyan refugee whose relationship to terrorism is ambiguous in order to entrap much larger prey. The debate between the Europeans and the CIA (portrayed cartoonishly by the anti-American Mr Le Carre) centers on whether to entrap a prominent Muslim religious figure with relationships to terrorist organizations and turn him to state service, or whether to neutralize him immediately.

A delicate balance between handlers and informants has kept Europe relatively safe for the past decade. The likes of the brothers Kouachi, the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, are typical of this delicate balance. They began as petty criminals and graduated to jihadist training in Yemen, all well known to the French authorities.

I do not know the specifics of the Kouachi case, but it is highly probable that Said and Cherif Kouachi were subject to regular monitoring by informants of the French government. The security services do not have powers of preemptive arrest. Unlike the security services of most Arab countries, they cannot indefinitely detain individuals who constitute a risk of future terrorist activity in advance of such activity.

Under the circumstances, the security services rely on networks of informants drawn in many cases from the criminal milieu. This has enabled French intelligence to preempt a number of terrorist attacks in the past. The disintegration of Syria and parts of Iraq during the past two years has overwhelmed the means by which intelligence services have coped with such threats in the past.

There’s more: Islamist terror and criminal networks overlap, for obvious reasons long known to every police official in Europe.  Human trafficking and smuggling require the same infrastructure and personnel whether the contraband is refugees, prostitutes or terrorists, or drugs or explosives. Proceeds from criminal activity finance terrorism. As I wrote in Asia Times back in 2006 (“Jihadis and Whores”):

 Islamist radicals (like the penny-a-marriage mullahs of Iran) are the world’s most prolific pimps. The same networks that move female flesh across borders also provide illegal passage for jihadis, and the proceeds of human trafficking often support Islamist terrorists. From Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur to Sarajevo to Tirana, the criminals who trade in women overlap with jihadist networks. Prostitutes serve the terror network in a number of capacities, including suicide bombing. The going rate for a Muslim woman who can pass for a European to carry a suicide bomb currently is more than US$100,000. The Persian prostitute is the camp follower of the jihadi, joined to him in a pact of national suicide.

The Europeans know all of this. It’s the stock in trade of their security services. In some cases, European police agencies may have “politicized” petty criminals by injecting them into Jihadist networks as informants. I will leave such matters to the novelists. But it is unlikely that intelligence blowback explains any of the recent terrorist operations, for the simple reason that Muslim criminals typically do not require the ministrations of the police to become politicized. The criminals and the terrorists share the same milieu, the same methods, the same personnel, and usually the same goals.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with blackmailing criminals to act as police informants. It is quicker and more effective than training undercover agents to infiltrate terrorist networks. But the radicalization of the Middle East in the wake of  state failures in a half-dozen countries has overwhelmed European security agencies. Once-cooperative police informants are electing to sacrifice themselves in Jihad. The first response of European governments is to lie, cover up, and deny that they knew anything about such things. If pressed, they will fall back on the secrecy of sources and methods. Investigative journalists: There’s a gold mine here.

Posted at 7:28 am on February 20th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

If Only Germany Had Solved Its Unemployment Problem in 1933, Germans Wouldn’t Have Become Nazis

GermanyunemployE

Er, maybe not.

Posted at 11:18 am on February 19th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

Ukraine Goes Bankrupt, Per Putin’s Game Plan

Ukraine’s 2-year note is trading at 47 cents on the dollar, yielding almost 50 percent, which means the market is forecasting a high probability of national bankruptcy. When the West rejoiced over the prospective acquisition of the former Soviet republic a year ago, I wrote, “Careful what you wish for in Ukraine.”

Putin is now getting exactly what he wanted: an unmanageable, bankrupt money-pit sitting in the sorry lap of the West.

As an I-told-you-so, here’s my Feb. 24, 2014 essay on the subject.

 

SPENGLER
Careful what you wish for in Ukraine
By Spengler

Western governments are jubilant over the fall of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally. They may be underestimating Vladimir Putin: Russia has the option to hasten Ukraine’s slide into chaos and wait until the hapless European Union acquiesces to – if not begs for – Russian intervention.

That leaves the West with a limited number of choices. The first is to do nothing and watch the country spiral into chaos, with Russia as the eventual beneficiary. The second is to dig deep into its pockets and find US$20 billion or more to buy near-term popularity for a pro-Western government – an unlikely outcome. The third, and the most realistic, is to steer Ukraine towards a constitutional referendum including the option of partition.
Judging from Russian press coverage, Moscow already has washed its hands of the feckless Yanukovich. Russia Today whimsically observed on February 22 that Yanukovich lacked thesangfroid of Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia and an ally of the West:

Yanukovich could also have dispersed the protesters and maintained public order in the country, whatever criticism it might have brought. This is how the then Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, acted in 2007. He brutally suppressed a peaceful protest and called an early presidential election, which he won, instead of an early parliamentary election, which the opposition demanded and which his party could well have lost. Unlike the Georgian leader, Yanukovich hesitated even when the Ukrainian protest turned Kiev into a battlefield. [1]

Moscow has no need of allies with weak stomachs. But it will withdraw the offer of $15 billion worth of Ukrainian debt purchases and subsidies for natural gas exports to Ukraine and leave the nearly bankrupt country to the ministrations of the West. Careful what you wish for, Russia is telling the West.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that Ukraine should get money from the International Monetary Fund: “We consider that such a situation would meet the interests of Ukraine, would put the country on the path toward major structural reforms. We wish them success in this undertaking and in the rapid stabilization of the political and social situation.”

Siluanov is being mischievous. Twice in the past six years, the IMF suspended promised loans to Ukraine after the country refused to cut salaries and pensions and raise energy prices. Russia had offered a loan without conditions; any money the West offers will require austerity measures that no Ukrainian government is capable of enforcing.

The fall of Yanukovich is an embarrassment to Russia, and a well-deserved one, but that does not leave Russia entirely without options. Russia most likely will adopt the same stance towards pro-European Union politicians that the Egyptian military and its Saudi backers took toward Egypt’s the Muslim Brotherhood: let the opposition take the blame for economic and social chaos, and then move in when the country is on its knees. The Brotherhood ruled Egypt for a year, and then the food and fuel ran out, 30 million Egyptians, more than half the country’s adult population, demonstrated to oust it. The military obliged in August 2013 and immediately obtained emergency loans from the Saudis.

The IMF meanwhile offered Egypt small amounts of money in return for big cuts in government subsidies and got nowhere. It is possible, to be sure, that the European Union and Washington will cough up $15 billion for Ukraine, but this seems most unlikely given aversion of all their governments to further bailouts. As Walter Russell Mead put it, the West brought a baguette to a knife fight; the problem is that even the baguette comes with IMF conditionality. [2]

[SNIP]
Europeans, moreover, are of two minds about prospective Ukrainian membership in the EU. Some European countries, notably the UK, already are fending off unwanted Eastern European immigrants from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer came under fire in 2005 after critics claimed that his relaxation of visa requirements allowed a million Ukrainians into Germany, including large numbers of prostitutes and criminals. [3] With some justification, the Europeans suspect that the main reason that Ukrainians want EU membership is that they want to leave their country as quickly as possible.

In the industrialized, Russian-speaking eastern half of the country, EU membership is viewed skeptically. In most of Eastern Europe, Soviet-era heavy industry was closed but not replaced, leading to chronic unemployment. Ukraine’s heavy industry may not be the world’s most competitive, but it has steady business in Russia. The Ukraine’s agricultural West never derived much economic benefit from the economic ties to Russia and understandably feels no loyalty to its former imperial occupier.

When the Europeans sup with Ukrainian leaders, they bring a long spoon. There are no knights in shining armor in Ukrainian politics. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, now free after being jailed when she lost by 2010 election to Yanukovych, is a problematic personality, to say the least. During the mid-1990s, in the Wild East free-for-all following the collapse of the Soviet Union, she became one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs.

The country also is a demographic deader. At its present fertility rate (1.3 children per female), its 47 million people will shrink to only 15 million by the end of the century. There are at present 11 million Ukrainian women aged 15 to 49 (although a very large number are working abroad); by the end of the century this will fall to just 2.8 million. There were 52 million Ukrainian citizens when Communism fell in 1989. Its GDP at about $157 billion is a fifth of Turkey’s and half of Switzerland’s.

Ukraine is barely a country, rather an amalgam of provinces left over from failed empires – Russian, Austrian, Lithuanian, Ottoman – cobbled together into a Soviet “republic” and cast adrift after the collapse of Communism. Lviv (Lemberg) was a German-speaking city, part of Austrian Silesia; before World War II a quarter of its people were Jews. Jews were two-fifths of the population of Odessa. A fifth of the population, mainly in the east, are ethnic Russians; a tenth, mainly in the west, are Uniate Catholics, who have a special place in Catholic policy since the papacy of John Paul II.

Ukrainian nationality is as dubious as Byelorussian nationality: neither of them had a dictionary of their language until 1918.

US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, whose “F*** the Europeans” remark on an outed tape recording earned her 15 minutes of fame recently, ought to be fired for being plain dumb. Europe will have to pay a good part of the bill for Ukraine’s problems one way or the other. The United States Congress won’t offer $15 billion to support Ukraine’s foreign debt as Russia did last month.

Russia will not abandon Russian-speakers cut off from the Motherland by the collapse of the Soviet Union. One may assume that when local officials in Eastern Ukraine urge the local population to form militias, they may count on some professional assistance. [4] Time is on the side of whomever has the highest pain tolerance, and that is Russia, not the West.

Notes:
1. Ukraine downfall: Lack of leadership to blame?, Russia Today, February 22, 2014.
2. The Great Ukrainian Knife Fight, December 3, 2013.
3. German visa scandal rattles foreign minister, The Guardian, February 15, 2005.
4. Ukraine’s Southeast seeks to restore constitutional order, thousands gather in Kharkov, Russia Today, February 22, 2014.

(Some parts of this essay were published previously at PJ Media.)

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.)

Posted at 11:31 am on February 18th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

Jihad and Self-Sacrifice in Islam

Comparative religion is not a statistical exercise: it is meaningless to tally up the victims of Crusaders and compare them to the victims of Islam and quibble about which religion is more violent. Religious war of conquest, that is, jihad, has the same role in Islam that the Lord’s Supper has in Christianity. Christianity (and Judaism) have exercised violence in the past but never sacralized violence. That is unique to Islam among the self-styled Mosaic religions.

The great German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig argued that Islam was not a monotheistic religion, but a “parody” of one, a monistic paganism in which the old pagan gods were rolled up into a single deity. I have summarized Rosenzweig’s views in a number of locations, and taken the argument further in two essays published a decade ago (“Jihad, the Lord’s Supper, and Eternal Life” and “The Blood is the Life, Mr. Rumsfeld). Below I offer some extracts from those essays, first published in Asia Times.

It is important to get the theology right — not so much to understand the depredations of radical Islam, which hardly are obscure, but to understand what makes the West different. Violence is incidental to Judaism and Christianity and fundamental to Islam. It does us little good to denounce radical Islam if we forget who we are, and how we came to be here.

All religion is about blood, because all religion is about life. Shi’ite Islam, though, displays an affinity for real blood that disturbs the West. On their holiest day, the Feast of Ashura, Shi’ites cut themselves until they bathe in their own blood. Jafariyanews.com, a Shi’ite information service, reported from the holy city of Karbala in Iraq on February 20:

Thousands of mourners slit open their heads with swords, big knives and razor blades streaming their blood to signify their grief over the martyrdom of [the Prophet Mohammed's grandson] al-Imam al-Hussein [in 680 AD] – the tragedy which caused the sky to rain blood and the earth to bleed. [2]

Spurting blood is the preferred symbol of Iran’s Islamic revolution. Fountains shooting red dye at Tehran’s Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery recalled the blood of the young Iranians interred there, who fell in the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s suicide battalions during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

This turns Western stomachs, despite the universal presence of blood symbols in Western religion, as we observe in the Eucharist as well as the blood sacrifices of the Hebrew Bible. Catholics drink Christ’s blood literally (and Protestants symbolically) to attain eternal life, while lambs’ blood kept the Angel of Death from the doors of the ancient Hebrews on the eve of their exodus.

One dies a vicarious death in order to secure eternal life. Unlike Christians or Jews, whose religions are based on vicarious sacrifice, Islam demands the self-sacrifice of its adherents, in keeping with its essentially militant character. Revealed religion puts blood at a distance; Abraham sacrifices a ram and spares his son Isaac, and God sacrifices his own son in order to spare mankind. That is why blood in Judaism became taboo, to be handled only by the priest or his surrogate, the ritual butcher. Usually a Catholic priest administers the Eucharist. (An acolyte or lay person can give communion when not enough clergy are available, though only a priest or bishop can consecrate the host.) Unlike Christianity or Judaism, Islam has no ritual of sacrifice, nor does it need one, for the sacrifice that Islam demands is that of the Muslim himself.

To understand the promise of Islam, and the aspirations of Shi’ite Islam in particular, we first must understand what religion offers to begin with. All religion is about life, that is, about life eternal. Humankind cannot bear mortality without the hope of immortality, and for this men will sacrifice their physical existence without hesitation. That is true of paganism as much as it is true of revealed religion. The young men of the tribe march to war to protect the existence of the tribe, confident that the perpetuation of their blood and their memory will compensate them for their death in battle. But the expansion of the great empires of Macedonia and Rome made the tribes themselves sentient of their mortality; that is the dawn of history, namely of the knowledge that every nation has a history, and that this history must have an end. As Franz Rosenzweig (who lived from 1886 to 1929 and is one of the most influential modern Jewish religious thinkers) wrote:

Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Love is only surpassing sweet when it is directed towards a mortal object, and the secret of this ultimate sweetness only is defined by the bitterness of death. Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customs have lost their living power.

The pagans of the prehistoric world found immortality in the gods and totems of their tribe; when history intruded upon their lives on horseback, the power of the old gods vanished like smoke, and the immortality of the individual faded before the prospect of a great extinction of peoples. Among all the tribes of the world from the Indus to the Pillars of Hercules, only one claimed the eternity of its bloodline under a covenant with a universal God, namely the Jews.

The blood of the pagan was his life; to achieve a life outside of the blood of his tribe, the pagan had to acquire a new blood. It is meaningless to promise men life in the Kingdom of Heaven without a corresponding life in this world; Christianity represents a new people of God, with an existence in this life. That is why Christianity requires that the individual undergo a new birth. To become a Christian, every child who comes into the world must undergo a second birth, to become by blood a new member of the Tribe of Abraham. Protestants who practice baptism through total immersion in water simply reproduce the ancient Jewish ritual of conversion, which requires that the convert pass through water, just as he did in leaving his mother’s womb, to undergo a new birth that makes him a physical descendant of Abraham. Through baptism, Christians believe that they become Abraham’s progeny.

Before the Bible was written, the Babylonian hero Gilgamesh learned that his quest for immortality was futile. The demigods of Greece, mortals favored by Olympians, suffered a tedious sort of immortal life as stars, trees or rivers. The gods of the heathens are not in any case eternal, only immortal. They were born and they will die, like the Norse gods at the Ragnarok, and their vulnerability projects the people’s presentiment of its own death. To whom, precisely, have the gods offered eternal life prior to the appearance of revealed religion? Eternal life and a deathless mortality are quite different things.

But what is it that God demands of us in response to our demand for eternal life? We know the answer ourselves. To partake of life in another world we first must detach ourselves from this world in order to desire the next. In plain language, we must sacrifice ourselves. There is no concept of immortality without some concept of sacrifice, not in any culture or in any religion. That is a demand shared by the Catholic bishops and the Kalahari Bushmen.

God’s covenant with Abraham is unique and singular in world history. A single universal and eternal god makes an eternal pact with a mortal that can be fulfilled only if Abraham’s tribe becomes an eternal people. But the price of this pact is self-sacrifice. That is an existential mortal act beyond all ethics, as Soren Kierkegaard tells us in Fear and Trembling. The sacraments of revealed religion are sublimated human sacrifice, for the revealed god in his love for humankind spares the victim, just as God provided a ram in place of the bound Isaac on Mount Moriah. Among Jews the covenant must be renewed in each male child through a substitute form of human sacrifice, namely circumcision. Christians believe that a single human sacrifice spared the rest of mankind.

Jihad also is a form of human sacrifice. He who serves Allah so faithfully as to die in the violent propagation of Islam goes straight to paradise, there to enjoy virgins or raisins, depending on the translation. But Allah is not the revealed god of loving kindness, or agape, but — pace Benedict XVI — a god of reason, that is, of cold calculation. Islam admits no expiatory sacrifice. Everyone must carry his own spear.

We are too comfortable, too clean, too squeamish, too modern to descend into the terrible space where birth, death and immortality are decided. We forget that we cannot have eternal life unless we are ready to give up this one — and this the Muslim knows only through what we should call the sacrament of jihad. Through jihad, the Muslim does almost precisely what the Christian does at the Lord’s Supper. It is the sacrifice of Jesus that grants immortal life to all Christians, that is, those who become one with Jesus by eating his flesh and drinking his blood so that the sacrifice also is theirs, at least in Catholic terms. Protestants substitute empathy identification with the crucified Christ for the trans-substantiated blood and flesh of Jesus.

Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to give all men eternal life, on condition that they take part in his sacrifice, either through the physical communion of the Catholic Church or the empathetic Communion of Protestantism. From a Muslim vantage point, the extreme of divine humility embodied in Jesus’ sacrifice is beyond reason. Allah, by contrast, deals with those who submit to him after the calculation of an earthly despot. He demands that all Muslims sacrifice themselves by becoming warriors and, if necessary, laying their lives down in the perpetual war against the enemies of Islam.

These are parallel acts, in which different peoples do different things, in the service of different deities, but for the same reason: for eternal life.

Why is self-sacrifice always and everywhere the cost of eternal life? It is not because a vengeful and sanguineous God demands his due before issuing us a visa to heaven. Quite the contrary: we must sacrifice our earthly self, our attachment to the pleasures and petty victories of our short mortal life if we really are to gain the eternal life that we desire. The animal led to the altar, indeed Jesus on the cross, is ourselves: we die along with the sacrifice and yet live, by the grace of God. YHWH did not want Isaac to die, but without taking Abraham to Mount Moriah, Abraham himself could not have been transformed into the man desirous and deserving of immortal life. Jesus died and took upon him the sins of the world, in Christian terms, precisely so that a vicarious sacrifice would redeem those who come to him.

What distinguishes Allah from YHWH and (in Christian belief) his son Jesus is love. God gives Jews and Christians a path that their foot can tread, one that is not too hard for mortals, to secure the unobtainable, namely immortal life, as if by miracle. Out of love God gives the Torah to the Jews, not because God is a stickler for the execution of 613 commandments, but because it is a path upon which the Jew may sacrifice and yet live, and receive his portion of the World to Come. The most important sacrifice in Judaism is the Sabbath — “our offering of rest,” says the congregation in the Sabbath prayers — a day of inactivity that acknowledges that the Earth is the Lord’s. It is a sacrifice, as it were, of ego. In this framework, incidentally, it is pointless to distinguish Judaism as a “religion of works” as opposed to Christianity as a “religion of faith.”

To Christians, God offers the vicarious participation in his sacrifice of himself through his only son.

That is Christian Grace: a free gift by God to men such that they may obtain eternal life. By a miracle, the human soul responds to the offer of Grace with a leap, a leap away from the attachments that hold us to this world, and a foretaste of the World to Come.

There is no Grace in Islam, no miracle, no expiatory sacrifice, no expression of love for mankind such that each Muslim need not be a sacrifice. On the contrary, the concept of jihad, in which the congregation of Islam is also the army, states that every single Muslim must sacrifice himself personally. Jihad is the precise equivalent of the Lord’s Supper in Christianity and the Jewish Sabbath, the defining expression of sacrifice that opens the prospect of eternity to the mortal believer. To ask Islam to become moderate, to reform, to become a peaceful religion of personal conscience is the precise equivalent of asking Catholics to abolish Mass.

Unlike the tribes who encountered Christianity in the fullness of its power, in 4th-century Rome or 9th-century Europe, the Arab tribes of the 7th century occupied the borders of a Roman Empire, then in a demographic death-spiral. The New Israel of the Christians was at its historic nadir. First the Alexandrine Empire and then the Romans crushed the traditional life of the nations, imposing their own gods and customs; faced with overwhelming force, the traditional society of the prehistoric world lost confidence in its own hearth-gods and submitted to baptism. Not so the Arabs. Whether the Arab tribesmen conquered Byzantine armies, or merely took over borderlands that the Byzantines abandoned, as a minority of scholars believe, the great movement of Arab tribes against the old empires found no solace in the floundering “New Israel.” In the fullness of their new self-confidence, the Arabs declared themselves to be the true descendants of Abraham, risen up against the falsifiers and usurpers. Islam gave traditional society the weapons to beat back the threat of extinction.

Muslims require no ritual of rebirth, for in their doctrine they already are the descendants of Abraham, through the supposed true line of Ishmael, the favored son of the patriarch whose heritage was usurped by the crafty descendants of Isaac — the Jews and their emulators the Christians. Allah sent prophets to all the nations of the world, but the Jews falsified the message of the prophets to favor their ancestors at the expense of the true successor of Abraham. In the revolt against the usurpers, all the tribes of the world enjoy the equality of the horde.

Revolt against usurpation, the revenge of the pure life of traditional society against the corrupt mores of the metropole, is the heart of Islam. The Muslim rejects the supposed chosen people of God as usurpers, and defends traditional society against the crucible of peoples that is the Christians’ New Israel. But Islam also forms a new people, the Umma, the collective of Muslims to which the individual must submit. In the pagan world the young men of each tribe march out to fight their enemies, and delay the inevitable moment when their tribe will be overwhelmed and its memory extinguished from the earth. Islam summons the tribes to unite against the oppressive empires to its West, to march out together and fight until their enemies, the Dar-al-Harb, exist no more.

Islam has no ethnicity; it is not an Arab movement; it is a new people, but a people defined first of all by militancy. The individual Muslim does not submit to traditional society as such, no matter how many elements of traditional society might be incorporated into Muslim doctrine; he submits to the movement of the tribes. That is why jihad is the most authentic form of Muslim religious activity, and why the blood rituals of Ashura the most authentic form of Muslim worship.

As I observed in an essay titled “Does Islam have a prayer? (May 18, 2004):

If the individual Muslim does not submit to traditional society as it surrounds him in its present circumstances, he submits to the expansionist movement. In that sense the standard communal prayer of Islam may be considered an expression of jihad. Again Rosenzweig: “Walking in the way of Allah means, in the strictest sense, the spread of Islam by means of the holy war. The piety of the Muslim finds its way into the world by obediently walking this way, by assuming its inherent dangers, by adhering to the laws prescribed for it.”

But the rising of the tribes against the usurpers must give rise to a new form of usurpation. Victors in war do not wish to campaign forever; at an opportune moment they will become the new tyrants of the territories they conquer. In the Shi’ite version (as Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis writes):

…the reigning caliphs appeared more and more as tyrants and usurpers, while for many, the claims of the kin of the Prophet, embodied first in Ali and then in his descendants, came to express their hopes and aspirations for the overthrow of the corrupt existing order and a return to pure, authentic, and original Islam.

The “Twelvers,” the Shi’ite mainstream, expect the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the 12th of the Imams (the canonical descendants of Ali) at the end of time. Facile identification of this doctrine with the Christian belief in the return of Christ or the Jesus expectation of a Messiah leads some in the West to think of Shi’ism as closer in spirit to Western religion. But the hope for the Mahdi expresses not a quasi-Christian sort of quietism, but rather an encysted revolutionary impulse, and that is what we observe in the Shi’ite fascination for blood.

The blood is the life, and men pass to eternal life only through blood — but whose blood? Self-sacrifice in war is the fundamental religious act of paganism, for it is only by the sacrifice of the young men of the tribe that the tribe has surety of survival among a forest of enemies. Human sacrifice, especially among warrior-cults, is a common religious expression among pagans. But with the notion of a universal God comes also the prospect of universal peace: if all men one day might worship one God by the same name, then the perpetual warring among tribes fighting for survival also might cease.

In proud defiance of revealed religion, the destroyer of the tribes, Islam holds to the primal demand of self-sacrifice. The jihadi’s self-immolation in war, symbolized by the drawing of blood and the bleeding of nature itself, is the fundamental act of worship. The immortality of the individual, put at risk by the encroachment of the metropole upon the life of the tribe, is regained through the revolt of the endangered tribes against the usurpation of the empire that forms its motivation. Shi’ism therefore represents the original impulse of Islam in its purest form, and the shedding one’s own blood an authentic response. The victors of the revolt against the usurpers become usurpers in turn, and so on in never-ending cycle. Again, Lewis:

Most Sunni jurists, even while recognizing the evils of the existing order, continued to preach conformism and submission, generally quoting yet another principle, that “tyranny is better than anarchy.” The Shi’ites, on the other hand, even while submitting, maintained their principled rejection of the Sunni order, and from time to time, more frequently in the early centuries than in the later, rose in revolt in an attempt to overthrow the existing order.

More than in the 7th century, indeed more than at any time in recorded history, the encroaching metropole jeopardizes the life of the tribes. More than ever, the Shi’ites will bathe in their own blood rather than submit to it.

Posted at 4:30 am on February 16th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

Too many ‘most wanted men’

Danish authorities claim that they have killed the Copenhagen synagogue shooter; his name has not been released, but he was a person “known to the security services,” Der Spiegel reports this morning. The Danes declined to release more information. We may have a repeat of the Paris pattern: terrorists whom the security services monitored and perhaps used as informants suddenly turned active and perpetrated atrocities.

It appears that the methods employed by European security agencies to control jihadists have broken down. Some 9,000 French citizens are fighting for ISIS or other jihadist organizations, according to a French government estimate. After several hundred thousand deaths in Syria and Iraq and the disintegration of Libya and Yemen, a very large number of young Muslims are prepared to sacrifice their lives.

Security services control prospective terrorists by blackmailing petty criminals at the fringe of jihadist organizations and turning them into informants. Because the Muslim criminal milieu overlaps extensively with the terrorist organizations, this has been an effective strategy for the past decade and a half. The John le Carre novel and Philip Seymour Hoffman film “A Most Wanted Man” portrays this approach reasonably well.

Few young European Muslims jump directly into violence: they join gangs, they attend radical mosques, they frequent jihadist chat rooms, and they otherwise flag their presence to the authorities. Security services use the threat of jail, deportation of family members, and so forth to compel their cooperation. This approach works until it doesn’t, that is, until the subjects of scrutiny cease to care about the consequences. As John Schindler observed at the XX Committee blog, there was no “intelligence failure” in Paris: the problem is that the security services are overwhelmed. A pseudonymous European security official made the same point recently at Asia Times Online.

The lesson of Copenhagan is the same as the lesson of Paris: the fragile social peace that European governments have maintained with their Muslim immigrant communities requires a fundamental revision. In the past, European security services let jihadists blow of steam while quietly culling potential killers. That has failed. The alternative is to tighten the screws on Muslim communities. I argued last month in Asia Times:

The means by which France, or any other nation, could defeat the terrorists are obvious: to compel the majority of French Muslims to turn against the terrorists, the French authorities would have to make them fear the French state more than they fear the terrorists.

That is a nasty business involving large numbers of deportations, revocation of French citizenship, and other threats that inevitably would affect many individuals with no direct connection to terrorism. In the short term it would lead to more radicalization. The whole project of integration as an antidote to radicalism would go down the drain. The effort would be costly, but ultimately it would succeed: most French Muslims simply want to stay in France and earn a living.

It’s no longer enough to patrol the edge of the swamp and kill mosquitos with fly-swatters. There’s no alternative to draining the swamp.

Posted at 5:55 am on February 15th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

Michael Pillsbury and Fu-Manchu (Cross-Posted from Asia Times Online)

Michael Pillsbury and Fu-Manchu
By Spengler

I haven’t ordered Michael Pillsbury’s new book about China’s plot to take over the world (The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower. Instead, I obtained Sax Rohmer’s 1913 novel on the same subject, which can be had gratis from Amazon in a Kindle edition. “The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu” portrays a Chinese genius who plans a rising of the East to overwhelm the West. It has the double advantage of being more entertaining and free.

Michael Pillsbury, a former defense and intelligence official now at the Hudson Institute, claims that China has planned a “hundred-year marathon” since the days of Mao Zedong culminating in world domination. The difference between Rohmer’s fantasy and Pillsbury’s scholarship is that Pillsbury may turn out to be right after the fact. China may dominate the world, and future historians well may reconstruct China’s intent to dominate the world from the same sort of documents that Pillsbury cites.
But China is not planning to take over the world. It doesn’t want the world. It doesn’t like the world – that is, the world outside of China. Unlike Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and European imperialists, it does not want to plant its flag outside its borders, send its young men to conquer and defend new territories, or subject other peoples to colonial rule. Nonetheless, it may inherit the world, reluctantly and by default.

If China does emerge as a world power, it will not be the first time that an empire had greatness thrust upon it. Many of the great world conquests of the past were not conquests at all, but migrations into ruined and depopulated territory. Rome conquered a Greece whose population had imploded between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C.E., as I reported in my 2011 book How Civilizations Die.

Most of the great battles fought in the so-called Muslim conquest never happened, Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren argue convincingly in the 2003 book Crossroads to Islam. Arab auxiliaries of the Byzantine army, rather, moved into territory abandoned by the Eastern half of the Roman Empire during the great depopulation of the 7th and 8th centuries.

If China becomes the dominant world power, it will happen because the United States abandoned the role.

After its blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has lost the will to assert power in the world’s trouble zones. And after the collapse of the tech bubble in 2000 and the mortgage bubble in 2008, it has lost interest in innovation except in the sterile fields of design (Apple) and social media (Facebook).

I wrote in 2013, “We [the United States] are a disruptive, bottom-up economy driven by entrepreneurship, and we look with contempt at China’s clumsy, top-down model. The trouble is that we haven’t done much innovation since the 1980s. A new generation of well-educated and eager Chinese may assimilate our past innovations and pass us by.” And last September, I warned in the British monthly Standpoint that China may outstrip the West at innovation.

America, to be sure, still possesses far more intellectual firepower than China, but the gap is closing. China now mints twice as many science and engineering doctorates as the United States. China’s high school math curriculum makes the proposed Core Competence program look pathetic. Most importantly, China’s capital markets are far more likely to bet on young entrepreneurs with a new technology than American capital markets. Young Chinese innovators have a better chance of getting rich in China than in the US.

American policy towards China, Michael Pillsbury avers, was based on a set of false assumptions. Here he is right on the money. Among these assumptions were the belief that China is on the road to democracy; that China”wants to be – and is – just like us”; and that “engagement brings complete cooperation”. China has had an emperor for 3,000 years, and the present dynasty (the Communist Party) has increased household income 16-fold since 1987. As the distinguished China watcher Francesco Sisci argues, the present dynasty represents a “golden age” by Chinese criteria.

China is investing massively in high-tech military capacity: satellite-killing missiles, high-velocity cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, and so forth, as Pillsbury observes. In fact, China’s efforts to move up the value-added chain in manufacturing involve dual-use technologies, that is, military R&D with civilian implications. That is well documented, for example, by Dr Michael Raska at Singapore’s Rajaratnam Institute of Strategic Studies. China wants to be impregnable within its borders and a few hundred miles from its coastline.

What China is not doing, though, is just as informative. The People’s Liberation Army owns not a single ground-support aircraft like America’s A-10 Warthog or Russia’s SU-25. It neither buys them nor builds them. It is not building a land army for regional conquest; it is investing in high-tech capacity with many defense as well as civilian applications to challenge America’s edge in military technology.

This should be something of a Sputnik movement for the United States, a wake-up call like Russia’s 1957 launch of the first satellite into space. Pillsbury is right to call attention to China’s rise, but wrong to attribute Fu-Manchu-like motives to China’s leaders.

On the contrary: China leaders are bemused by America’s sudden and unexpected withdrawal from strategic responsibility, for example, in the Persian Gulf, and struggling to devise a response that would ensure the security of oil supplies without entangling alliances and risky military commitments. It is a comedy of errors rather than a conspiracy, as I wrote in this space last November 10.

America should be concerned, and should respond. But the appropriate response is to restore funding to the gutted military R&D budget, and reform the tax and regulatory environment to encourage investors to risk money on the commercialization of new technologies. China will wake up and take notice if the United States pulls ahead of it in the technology race. If the US fails to do so, anything else it chooses to do will be futile.

Posted at 5:21 am on February 13th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

Why Jews are Good at Money (Crossposted from Asia Times)

Why Jews are good at money
By Spengler

Anti-Semites claim that Jews are habitually greedy, or even that they stand at the center of a global conspiracy – a caricature later applied to Chinese in the person of Sax Rohmer’s fictional Fu Manchu. But the fact is that Jews historically have been good at money. The Chinese make a great deal of this ability. The English journalist Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore noted this interest inThe New York Times:

“Most Chinese will think Jews are smart, clever or good at making money, and that they have achieved a great deal,” Professor Xu Xin, director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University (one of over half a dozen centers in
China dedicated to studying Judaism) told me …

“Revelations of Jewish People’s Wisdom,” an account on China’s largest microblog site, Sina Weibo, has nearly one-and-a-half-million fans. Its revelations include: “Make a fortune under adverse circumstances.” This logic – that the Jews are admired for their success despite their small numbers and historical oppression – has also led to a burgeoning industry of self-help books that use Jewish culture and the Talmud to preach business tips.

This sort of praise makes Jews uncomfortable, given the ugly history of European Jew-hatred. It shouldn’t. Chinese admiration of Jewish business skills carries no stigma. On the contrary: it begs an explanation.

Jews have a talent for finance, and several reasons are cited for it. During the Middle Ages Jews lent money when the Church forbade usury. Jews were outsiders, often forbidden to own land, who had to develop other means of making a living. In his 2010 book Capitalism and the Jews, Jerry Z. Muller observes that Jews had a towering advantage in international trade during the Middle Ages because they had international law: a judgment issued by a rabbinical court in Yemen would be valid for Jewish merchants on the Rhine.

Something more fundamental,though, explains Jewish success in finance. Like overseas Chinese in Asia or Greeks and Armenians in the old Levant, Jewish immigrants developed trading skills that became embedded in their culture and countless jokes (ask a Jewish first-grader to add two and two, and he’ll reply, “Is that buying or selling?”). But there is nothing uniquely Jewish about this. The same jokes are told about Greeks and Armenians.

Jews distinguished themselves in finance in an entirely different way during the Industrial Revolution. They played a central role in the new government debt markets that followed on the Napoleonic Wars and made a modern economy possible. Bankers like the Rothschild, Mendelssohn, Bleichroeder, Warburg and Seligman families pioneered the new capital markets. Bonds issued by European governments provided a secure long-term store of value, and set a precedent for financing the great projects of the era: railways, canals, and other infrastructure basic to modern industrial society. This was not the mercantile economy of the preceding two centuries, where the basic unit of capital was the bill of exchange in trade, but an industrial economy that required long-term investment to achieve lasting gains in productivity.

Something other than mere trading skills was required for an investment-driven economy, and that was long-term credit, a concept that derives from the Latin credere, “to believe”. It is not an exchange of one peasant’s eggs for another peasant’s barley, or Mexican silver for Chinese silk, but rather a commitment of the savings of whole populations to grand ventures that would pay interest because they drove growth.

Capital markets, moreover, create a kind of democracy. If the whole of society relies on the public debt as a store of value, the value all the savings of society is gauged directly or indirectly against the benchmark of public debt. But that also puts power in the hands of the market: the market has the power to tell the government whether it is doing well or badly, by selling or buying the public debt. It is not simply that the government creates a market that provides convenience and advantages to the people: it becomes dependent on the people’s faith in its policies. When that faith is shaken, as in southern Europe two years ago, and confidence flees the government debt market, the result can be catastrophic. Free capital markets require governments to win the faith of the people.

Capital markets require belief in the viability of investments, trust among counterparties, and faith in the future. It is fitting that Jews created capital markets, because the Jews invented faith. The secret of Jewish success in public finance is to be found in the Jewish encounter with the divine. The gods of the pagan world did not require faith. The gods simply were there, as much as the natural world which they personified. The “god-infested world” (Gilson) of the pagans was simply the natural world as it presented itself to man, with all its arbitrariness and cruelty. To the extent that gods demanded loyalty, it was in their capacity as the patrons of a particular policy protected by that god, for example, Athena in the case of Athens.

Nowhere in the pagan world, though, do we encounter a God who could instruct Abraham to leave his homeland and his father’s house, and betake himself to a place which God would later show him. Never do we meet a God who offers his laws (the Torah) to a people, as YHWH did at Mount Sinai, and ask that people’s free assent to accept these laws. In no other instance do we hear of a single, universal creator God who enters into a covenant of mutual obligations with humans. That is the origin of faith,emunah in Hebrew, meaning loyalty as well as belief. The Jewish concept of emunah implies not only that we conceive something to be true, but that we also must be steadfast in acting according to that truth.

That is the Jewish genius: to be able to inspire faith (or what is usually called “confidence” in markets) to make possible long-term investments in capital markets involving millions of participants. The investors in a bond or stock issue are not linked by ties of family or personal loyalty, but rather by contract, law and custom. Their obligations extend beyond the ancient loyalties of family and clan. That may seem obvious on first reflection. But most countries in the world lack functioning capital markets, because faith is absent. The public does not trust the government to enforce contracts, or the management of a company not to steal money. That is emphatically true in China, which is struggling to create modern capital markets rather than depend on state banks and shadow financing. In backward countries, trust is inconceivable outside the narrow circle of blood relations. Firms remain small because trust is restricted to family members.

That is what Chinese can learn from Jews about business. The Jews have no special aptitude for trading. But we have a special gift for promoting the rule of law and public and private institutions which promote credit, that is, faith in future outcomes and the fair treatment of market participants. In the absence of faith, there never will be enough lawyers to enforce contracts, or policemen to arrest embezzlers, or watchdogs to extirpate government corruption. Something more fundamental is required: a sense that the law is sacred, and if any of us breaks the public trust, all of us are damaged. Our rabbis of antiquity said, “All of Israel stands surety for each other.”

Adam Smith’s invisible hand isn’t enough. Capital markets require more than the interaction of self-interested individuals: they require a common sense of the sanctity of covenant, of mutual obligations between government and people, and between one individual and the next. That is why the United States of America is the most successful nation in economic history. It was founded by devout Christians who hoped to construct a new nation in emulation of ancient Israel.

Jews are no longer particularly prominent in banking, to be sure. Israelis are more interested in the frontiers of technology than in financial markets. The paranoid perception of a Jewish banking conspiracy has faded because so few of the old Jewish banking houses are still in business. The ones that remain, like Rothschild, have little influence. But the Jewish idea that contributed to modern banking remains as powerful as it was in the past. That should be of special interest to the Chinese.

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 ForumHis 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 2015 Asia Times Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Posted at 5:13 am on February 12th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

From Spengler’s vault: “Why is Good Dumb?”

Why is good dumb?
By Spengler

Originally posted June 21, 2005

“Lonestar, now you see that evil shall always triumph, because good is dumb,” said Lord Dark Helmet in the 1987 lampoon Spaceballs. No Western leader has tried harder to be good, but looked dumber, than America’s Lonestar, President George W Bush, over whom evil is about to triumph. His vision is crumbling of a democratic Middle East, with suburban housing tracts and shopping malls spreading across the desert, and mosques that preach something like Methodism. “Many will be the night during his second term that Bush will wish he were still in Texas, and still drunk,” I predicted before his re-election, and reiterate the prediction now.

Is Bush personally dumb, or is there something inherently dumb about the good? Exclude the former: every insider account of the Bush White House portrays the president as a crafty operator, very much in control. Besides, now we know that the president earned better grades at Yale than his Democrat challenger, John Kerry. Even if he were dull, clever advisers surround him. No one claims that Vice President Dick Cheney is stupid. Why, then, does Bush seem dumb? Dark Helmet was right. The United States of America is uniquely good, and thus uniquely dumb. Before addressing that issue, let us define “good” and “dumb” in the context of world affairs.

The American president is a good man, in that he wants the whole world to have the same good things Americans have. “Religious conversion is the defining experience of his life, and it is in his nature to convert others. Because he is a 21st-century American and not a 12th-century Crusader, he preaches the ballot box rather than the cross,” I wrote under the title George W Bush, tragic character (November 25, 2003). A simple punitive expedition against Saddam Hussein, followed by side-deals with the Kurds and Shi’ites to secure oil supplies, would have served Washington’s “imperial” requirements, had that been the objective. Bush actually believes he is building democracy in the Muslim world.

By “dumb” I mean that Bush could not have done more to prepare the grounds for Islamist victory had he set out to do so with malice of forethought. Less than a year ago, overwhelming support for the Iraq war forced the Democratic Party to peddle Kerry as a war hero, while gagging its anti-war faction. Only 37% of Americans now approve of the president’s handling of the Iraq war, according to last week’s CBS-NY Times poll. Among the Sunnis of Iraq, a sufficient number of young men will commit suicide to add two or three a day to the American casualty list until America’s loses its will to fight (Why Sunnis blow themselves up, June 14).

Radical Islam, I have maintained since September 11, 2001, may triumph yet, if only for a while, for its fighting advantage is the desperation of a doomed culture. Washington has made concession after humiliating concession to groups it deemed terrorist, such as Hezbollah, the victor in the south of the country in the ongoing Lebanese elections, and the Palestinian Hamas, before whose electoral strength the Palestinian Authority dare not hold a national vote. The world interprets Bush’s recognition of Hezbollah and Hamas to mean that if a nation backs leaders who employ terrorism, their sovereign will legitimizes the use of terror. If suicide bombers drive American troops from Iraq, Bush’s “war on terror” will meet an ignominious end. It will, of course, resume before long, but it will be someone else’s war.

What makes the US uniquely good is that it is uniquely Christian. I do not mean that Christianity is a unique fount of goodness – far from it – but rather that Christianity proposes a universalized form of good. The Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians who chose to emigrate to America left the blood and soil of their origins behind them, unlike the barbarian invaders who populated modern Europe. Christians worship a God outside of nature who loves all of humankind; by contrast, pagans worship themselves. Self-worship can take the form of adoration of a man-made idol, or the adoration of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus for the Germans or an Indian Virgin for the Mexicans. Spiritual narcissism is the curse of the gentiles, who feel justified in exterminating their neighbors out of a perverse adoration for their own ethnicity. As the only nation with no ethnicity, America is the most Christian, and indeed the last Christian nation in the industrial world as a practical matter.

The Christianity that Bush professes is an American original, a true rebirth without a backward glance. The born-again American Christian expects every individual on earth to respond to divine grace in similar fashion. The kind of evangelical Christians one finds in Midland, Texas, evince a spirit of charity found among no other people in the world, sending money and missionaries to assist the most impoverished people of Africa and Latin America.

Good people cannot as a rule understand wicked people. They do not wish to be wicked, and cannot understand why anyone else would wish to do so. American Christians cannot fathom the kind of wickedness that accounts for the bulk of the butchery in world history, born of the pessimism of dying races who will kill without compunction to delay the hour of their demise.

But hasn’t Christianity slaughtered without pity in the name of the faith? Cardinal Richelieu’s France offers the worst example, prolonging the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants until nearly half the people of central Europe had died by violence, disease or starvation. This exceptional case of Christian brutality proves the rule. Seventeenth-century France under Cardinal Richelieu first devised the ghastly idea that God had chosen one particular nation as the bearer of Christianity, justifying the most hideous means to achieve its ends. Narcissism at the level of the individual as well as the nation is the French disease, which the rest of Europe caught.

Only one major war in modern history rightly might be called a Christian holy war, namely America’s Civil War, which took the lives of two out of five Southern men of military age. Young men from the North marched to their death singing that as Christ “had died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”. The slave-holding states constituted an evil entity, somewhat like the great Roman estates, and Southern youth died for an evil cause, namely the right to be rich and idle. Had the North not fought the war, the South would have sought to expand into a Latin American slave empire.

Yet American tourists wander the battlefields of the Civil War, blinking dumbly at the scenes of mass slaughter, mourning Confederate and Unionist alike. Thousands of Americans dress in Civil War-era uniforms and act out the awful battles of the 1860s like a mute chorus in a tragedy written in an antique language none of them can understand. Americans cannot absorb the horror that an evil society grew in their midst, that could be suppressed only by the extermination of its manhood. As a nation of immigrants from failed societies, Americans have lost their memory of what it means when a society fails. In fact, such failure is the typical case, just as extinction is the typical fate of animal species. About 2,000 of the 6,700 languages now spoken on the planet will disappear during the next decade, while French, German and Italian will be in danger within the next two centuries.

To embrace death is the extreme of evil. Iraq’s Sunnis, as I wrote last week, have even less hope without control of the country’s oil than had the young men of the American South without control of slaves. They are the denizens of a failed culture, and therefore hold their lives cheap enough to trade for a bombing in a restaurant or a bank, let alone the death of an American soldier. Against such radical evil, the good has no natural defenses.

Can we cite no example of a good man who also was clever, for example, Sir Winston Churchill? Churchill surely was clever, but he was not all that good. That is, he was a man of the old British Empire, expert at keeping tribal wars at a low boil in order to maintain British control with sparse resources. That is the sort of thing America might have done in Iraq, but which Bush by his nature never will do.

For all of Churchill’s acumen, he did not win World War II as much as Adolf Hitler lost it. Failing to destroy the British expeditionary force at Dunkirk is an obvious case, but decisive German error was accepting war with the US. Suppose that after Pearl Harbor Hitler did not declare war on the US along with Japan, but instead offered himself as a mediator between the two, deploring the Japanese attack but urging American restraint. Would Congress have declared war on Germany as well as Japan? Not likely. Hitler’s overconfidence then stood at its zenith, following the easy defeat of France and the spectacular success of Operation Barbarossa, and megalomania got the better of him. That is a comforting thought. Perhaps the Islamists will lose the war. I hope that turns out to be the case, considering that Bush is not going to win it.

Posted at 7:52 am on February 9th, 2015 by David P. Goldman

Obama’s ‘Secret Iran Strategy’ Began in 2006 with Robert Gates

Over at Mosaic Magazine, former Bush aide Michael Doran claims that the Obama administration has had a secret strategy to engage Iran from the time it took office. He’s right, but he neglected to mention that George W. Bush and his national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, adopted the same strategy from the same source in November 2006, after the Republicans got crushed in the 2006 congressional elections. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got a pink slip, Vice President Dick Cheney got benched, and “realist” Robert Gates–the co-chairman of the 2004 Council on Foreign Relations task force that advocated a deal with Iran–took over at Defense. Michael Doran reports all of this, all, that is, except Gates’ central role in the plan. That would place a good deal of the blame at Bush’s doorstep.

Writes Doran:

When he arrived in Washington in 2006, [Obama] absorbed a set of ideas that had incubated on Capitol Hill during the previous three years—ideas that had received widespread attention thanks to the final report of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan congressional commission whose co-chairs, former secretary of state James Baker and former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, interpreted their mission broadly, offering advice on all key aspects of Middle East policy.

The report, published in December 2006, urged then-President Bush to take four major steps: withdraw American troops from Iraq; surge American troops in Afghanistan; reinvigorate the Arab-Israeli “peace process”; and, last but far from least, launch a diplomatic engagement of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its junior partner, the Assad regime in Syria.

All correct, except that the 2006 congressional report was a carbon copy of the Council on Foreign Relations report of 2004, written under the supervision of Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. When Gates replaced Rumsfeld in 2006, I lamented:

Like King Saul conjuring the spirit of the prophet Samuel, President George W Bush has conjured the undead of his father’s administration, namely the Baker-Hamilton “Iraq Study Group”. Samuel’s ghost told Saul in effect (I Samuel 28), “You’re toast,” and the unfortunate president will hear the same message from his new defense secretary, Robert M Gates, and the rest of his fellow spooks.

Doran admonishes Obama for believing that the United States, not Iran, is responsible for emnity between the two countries. That was the central thesis of the 2004 Gates-Brzezinski document, which I quote:

The elimination of Saddam Hussein’s regime has unequivocally mitigated one of Iran’s most serious security concerns. Yet regime change in Iraq has left Tehran with potential chaos along its vulnerable western borders, as well as with an ever more proximate US capability for projecting power in the region. By contributing to heightened tensions between the Bush administration and Iran, the elimination of Saddam’s rule has not yet generated substantial strategic dividends for Tehran. In fact, together with US statements on regime change, rogue states, and preemptive action, recent changes in the regional balance of power have only enhanced the potential deterrent value of a “strategic weapon”.

The 2006 Iraqi elections had put the Shi’ite majority in power, and Iran loomed in the background as an ally and sponsor of the Baghdad regime. To take on Iran (as Vice President Cheney advocated) would have endangered American occupation troops in Iraq, as Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Michael Mullen told interviewer Charlie Rose on March 16, 2009: “What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran is, in addition to the immediate effect, the effect of the attack, it’s the unintended consequences. It’s the further destabilization in the region. It’s how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now [because of the] capability that Iran has across the Gulf. So, I worry about their responses and I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn’t predict.”

After the 2006 congressional elections, the main concern of the White House was to make Iraq look like a success. That meant placating Iran on one hand, and putting the rancorous Sunnis on the American payroll on the other. The Petraeus surge created the Sunni insurgency in its present form. In 2010 I warned of “Gen. Petraeus’ Thirty Years War“;” now ISIS is commanded by Sunni leaders that Petraeus trained through the Sons of Iraq movement. It was America’s misguided effort to force majority rule upon Iraq that left the region in a perpetual state of instability. That is the thesis of Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger (ret.) in his compelling book Why We Lost, which I reviewed here.

The best one can say about the Bush administration is that it never would have conceded so much to Iran, despite its 2006 embrace of the Gates strategy. At some point, no doubt, the Republicans would have given the mullahs an ultimatum, while Obama (as Doran documents) conceded everything at every step of the way. Obama justifies his policy towards Iran on the basis of the same “realist” approach that Robert Gates brought to the last two years of the Bush administration, but there is a difference. McBama and the Weird Sisters–Iran-born Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power–harbor a deep emotional antipathy to the United States, and a deep sympathy for anti-imperialist movements. They believe that the United States is a main instigator of the world’s evil.

The trouble is that American policy in the Persian Gulf was FUBAR before Obama arrived–indeed, that is a large part of the reason that Obama arrived in the first place. Perhaps we Republicans can do without an honest accounting of our own blunders, but this would reduce the likelihood of blunders in the future.

Posted at 10:49 am on February 8th, 2015 by David P. Goldman