May 26, 2004

Hanging with Capt. Abby

Iím happy to report the troll fumugation program is going well. The comments are not only a lot more civil, but more engaging. Iím learning from my own commentariat again.

Yesterday a certain person said we war hawks really need to learn more about Arabs. Iíve been reading piles of books about the Middle East for years now, Iím currently trying to learn the Arabic language (boy, is it hard), and Iím going to that part of the world myself in couple of weeks. Perhaps I can be excused for thinking such a charge is arrogant nonsense.

Anyway, one commenter who goes by TmjUtah posted a terrific response thatís also a great story. The reason I took action to save the comments is because I love reading great posts like this one that get published, almost by magic, while I am sleeping.

I spent two weeks in Jordan, back in the eighties.
Since their artillery practice happens from hardpads with known locations and aiming posts set in concrete, surveyors didn't have much to do. I ended up being the liasion NCO for our Host Officer. Nice guy, told us to call him Capt. Abby. He and his sergeant/bodyguard hosted us at the Amman/Baghdad truck terminal souk one evening. It was an excellent experience, and renewed my parents' lessons for me while growing up: you cannot hate people in groups.

See, after burying my best friend after Beirut, my intended goal for any liberty time in Jordan was to catch an Arab or two in any convenient alley and gut them like fish. I had a lot of hate back then, and Capt. Abby caught the vibe. Of course I was properly respectful for our guest (superior rank, royalty, host, and all that) but there's a difference between formal and agreeable.

Anyway, after listening to the truck driver's and sheepherder's songs and poems about life, dreams, family, and tribe over coffee (sloppy full cups) and the strongest tobacco I've ever smoked, I got the strangest feeling these boys could fit in at the Penwell Truck Terminal at the end of a long day...just they wouldn't be drinking any Coors.

I believe that people are just people. Each man makes calls and every man is responsible for choosing his path. Without my experience driving that Jordanian around I would have been one of those people wanting to see the mideast east of Israel turned to glass.

I also believe that the conflict before us is one that is unavoidable; we are not consciously committed to ending Islam but our very existence ensures the death of the religion because societies that embrace it cannot compete with western, capitalist societies. They are the ones who adopted jihad.

Anyway, that was many years ago. I have read the Koran three or four times by now...read commentaries, learned the timeline of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the yeast tray explosion of that creed through the Arab mideast. We have a muslim center up in Salt Lake; I've spoken with imams there more than once since 9/11.

CAIR is the Sein Feinn of al Qaeda. No more, no less.

These days I'm just trying to keep up with the world and decide what to do with myself since I don't survey any more. Capt. Abby got promoted out of zone, and now runs Jordan as King Abdullah.

Don't tell me I need to know more about Arabs. Thanks.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 26, 2004 07:21 PM
Comments

Hmmm . . . I saw Michael Turner's comment, and thought that it only told half the story. It's not just that hawks need to know more about Arabs if they want to achieve their goals, it's that they need to know more about Americans if they want to avoid making tragic mistakes.

One of the things they might learns is that American foreign policy practitioners have a long, consistent history of thinking that they have a higher level of understanding of foreign cultures than they actually do, and grossly overestimating their ability to influence them.

It's a sobering thought for any self-proclaimed expert on middle eastern affairs - history suggests that, no matter how honest and diligent your approach, and no matter the degree of certainty you feel about your conclusions, there's a strong probability that you're wrong about a whole lot of things.

Every "liberal hawk" should read "The Quiet American".

Posted by: Mork at May 26, 2004 09:16 PM

Everybody's wrong about lots of things, Mork. It has nothing to do with whether you're a hawk or not.

I'm sure I'm wrong about a lot of things Arabic and that I'm going to come back from Libya with a very different conception of that part of the world. That's one of the reasons I want to go. I feel like I owe it to the Arabs to do this.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 26, 2004 09:54 PM

Mork, you have failed to fully apply your own thesis: Arabs need to take the time to understand Americans. If they did, then they would understand how we can be the best of friends, and the worst of enemies. Look how we deal with the Japanese now. That is how relations could be. I suspect it will either be that or the polar opposite, a situation where were have a "Star Trek" future. I don't want to see that. I admit that I have not done my best to try and learn about Arab and Muslim culture. But I am trying, and have at least that much to say for myself.

Posted by: FH at May 26, 2004 10:01 PM

"The Quiet American" by Graham Greene is an enjoyable-enough novel to read, but before one takes it seriously one might want to take into account the fact that Greene was notoriously anti-American, so much so that he avoided contact with Americans in Saigon in the late 1950s and hung out with the French. It is impossible to conceive of Greene portraying an American character as anything other than a jejeune boob.

Posted by: miklos rosza at May 26, 2004 10:51 PM

Everybody's wrong about lots of things, Mork. It has nothing to do with whether you're a hawk or not.

True enough, Michael, but people who have similar mindsets, and find themselves in similar situations, tend to make similar mistakes ... unless they are self-aware enough recognize and counter their own instincts, biases and inadequacies.

You owe it to yourself (and, to the extent that you influence people, to the rest of us) to at least ask yourself: what are the mistakes that people with my mindset, facing these issues, make most often?

Have you seen The Fog of War yet?

Miklos - yes, Graham Greene did not think much of Americans as a whole. But isn't it ironic that you advance that fact to disqualify his observations while in in the middle of a conversation in which a bunch of people who feel a lot more negatively about Arabs than Greene did about Americans compete to show off how well they understand Arabs.

In other words, you can think poorly of someone, and still describe them accurately.

Posted by: Mork at May 26, 2004 11:08 PM

Mork: Have you seen The Fog of War yet?

No, but I intend to. My friend Sean LaFreniere (see link on my blogroll) who is also a hawk saw it and said it is great.

in the middle of a conversation in which a bunch of people who feel a lot more negatively about Arabs than Greene did about Americans

I don't think that's really true. Who's on this thread? Not very many people so far. I haven't seen any anti-Arab opinion in here.

I don't really know, but I'd bet my opinion of Arabs is higher than Graham Greene's opinion of Americans.

I absolutely detest fundamentalist Islam, but don't think for a minute I assume all or even most Arabs subscribe to that ideology. In Libya and Tunisia, where I'll be going, I know already that the majority of the people have nothing to do with it. A large percentage of Arabs aren't even religious at all, let alone fanatically so. No one has to tell me that. I know several Muslims in Portland and they are all completely normal people. I don't think any more or less of them than I think of anyone else. They're just people, Mork. As TmjUtah said, it's hard to hate people in groups.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 26, 2004 11:22 PM

I don't think that's really true. Who's on this thread? Not very many people so far. I haven't seen any anti-Arab opinion in here.

Oh, come on Michael! You, and a lot of other people here think that there are a lot of things seriously wrong with Arab cultures and societies. You write about it all the time. No-one was accusing you of racism, but that's not really the rub against Greene either ... there were just a lot of things he didn't like about America and American culture.

As for your own attitude - as I've said before, the thing that I've never seen from you for anyone but Americans is empathy. You don't demonstrate any capacity to see the world from anyone else's viewpoint, or understand why different values seem normal to some people. It doesn't make you a bad person, or a racist, but it does make you limited.

And do see The Fog of War. You might work out why I said that you had the mindset of a young Robert MacNamara ... at least according to him.

Posted by: Mork at May 26, 2004 11:38 PM

"I believe that people are just people. Each man makes calls and every man is responsible for choosing his path.

"Don't tell me I need to know more about Arabs. Thanks."

I don't get it. It sounds like this guy is boasting of his extensive knowledge of "Arabs" while at the same time saying they aren't really any different from us. This kind of stereotyping keeps a lot of Americans thinking that "Arabs" are a different species and need to be herded into the American Dream.

Furthermore, his implicit criticism of Islam as a religion is telling. Religion has always been wielded like a whip by those who seek to dominate and control. Religion has also been used to create compassion and hope where it is sorely lacking. To assume that one of the world's major religions is a problem in and of itself shows great ignorance. Understanding is not achieved by simply travelling as the writer has done. He might have some interesting stories but it hasn't made him sound any more enlightened.

Posted by: Marc at May 26, 2004 11:45 PM

Mork--

The essential difference between Americans and Middle-Easterners is that we have both the desire and the resources to learn more about their cultures. Witness the enormous interest in Islam and Arabic since Sept. 11. In America, the number one nonfiction bestseller for 2002 was Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong? And what were the Palestinians reading in 2002? Mein Kampf.

No matter how many mistakes we make, I am confident we will always know more about them than they know about us. It is the difference between turning toward the light and turning away from it.

Posted by: Fresh Air at May 26, 2004 11:45 PM

Mork: the thing that I've never seen from you for anyone but Americans is empathy

I wrote this two days ago: "I want to talk to people (in Iraq) and ask how they're doing. I want to breathe the free air of Baghdad. I want to see a ruined country reborn."

Don't you think empathy might have something to do with why I want to do those things? I don't know, Mork, maybe it just isn't coming across. But I can absolutely assure you that no one who knows me personally thinks I have a lack of empathy problem. I have many faults, but that is not one of them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 26, 2004 11:48 PM

Fresh Air: that's nice. But in the present context, so what?

Posted by: Mork at May 26, 2004 11:50 PM

Marc--

Islam is a problem. Read What Went Wrong (see my previous post). It's not the religion per se, but how it has been perverted and Wahhabized to deflect internal criticisms away from dictatorial or monarchical regimes.

P.S. TMJ Utah is a brilliant poster. I have been reading his stuff on multiple blogs for months now and he always has something valuable to say. You, on the other hand, I have only now read for the first time and you already sound like a tiresome jackass.

Posted by: Fresh Air at May 26, 2004 11:52 PM

Michael - There is a difference between curiosity and empathy. It is one thing to gather information that you process according to your own understanding of the world.

It is another to suspend your understanding of the world and try on someone else's in order to see how it feels.

I hope your travels enable you to do the latter, and, regardless, I admire you for trying.

Posted by: Mork at May 26, 2004 11:57 PM

Marc: while at the same time saying they aren't really any different from us. This kind of stereotyping...

He went to Jordan wanting to gut Arabs like fish. He came out a different and better man.

Finding human commonality across a hated cultural divide isn't stereotyping, it's quite the opposite.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 26, 2004 11:58 PM

Fresh Air: So I can't post what I see are obvious inconsistencies in this guy's writing? Rather than prove me wrong you choose to insult me.

"You, on the other hand, I have only now read for the first time and you already sound like a tiresome jackass."

Michael: I thought you were getting rid of the trolls? This kind of stuff doesn't encourage debate. Eventually you'll end up with only like minded posters...boring.

Posted by: Marc at May 26, 2004 11:59 PM

Paul Bowles liked Arabs, particularly Moroccans, a great deal, yet if one reads his entire oeuvre one may come to suspect that he held out no great hope for Arabs and Westerners to understand each other except in the most superficial, utilitarian ways.

Perhaps his most interesting novel on this precise theme is "The Spider's House." It's been a bit underrated but deals specifically with how a young Muslim completely and utterly misunderstands a U.S. expatriate (and vice-versa, to the point where almost all of the reader's sympathy is likely to be with the character we have, on the surface, nothing in common with at all.)

But I remember when Edward Said complained that Arabs seldom get to speak for themselves -- and so one should by all means seek out novels by Arabic authors such as Abdelrahman Munif, whose "Cities of Salt" (banned in Saudi Arabia) vividly portrays the corruption and cultural trauma in the rise of the oil industry. Sounds boring but it's not. Political but non-didactic, gripping in fact. It really shouldn't be missed.

Naguib Mahfouz (an Egyptian) was awarded the Nobel Prize, but his novels are a little slow... something that can never be said of the Pakistani-noir "Moth Smoke" by Mohsin Hamid. The hero in this novel follows a downward spiral like someone in James M. Cain. He pays off the religious police when his car is stopped at a midnight roadblock and they smell alcohol on his breath; he's fired from his job at a bank for missing too much work from smoking too much hashish. He runs out of money and lusts after his best friend's wife. The moth is drawn to the flame, until...

Anyway, there are lots of other names if one is interested.

Posted by: miklos rosza at May 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Miklos,

You just sold a copy of "Cities of Salt."

Yes, more names and titles please, if you've read them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 12:09 AM

Marc--

Sorry for the insult. You implied that TMJ was some kind of naif, bragging about his knowledge of Arabs. In fact, if you had read the whole thread from which this excerpt was lifted you would know this wasn't the case. Furthermore, it's quite evident he has done a lot of reading and thinking in addition to travelling.

So my advice to you (which I will also take myself) is lay off the ad hominem attacks, particularly when you don't know the commenter.

Posted by: Fresh Air at May 27, 2004 12:13 AM

Marc,
Let’s try an experiment:
I don't understand kkk and white power people. When I see interviews of them they seem like they are from another planet from me. So I am going use empathy and see the world through their eyes:
Average kkk member: I got fired from my job today. I can’t blame myself; it must have been the Jews who got me fired. It’s not like I fucked up and lost my job, it must be there fault! They have been destroying my traditional culture for a long time now. My preacher is telling me how the blacks are nothing but lazy degenerate bums and how the Jews and the blacks are stealing our jobs with affirmative action. This country was founded for whites but now they won’t let us even separate from em! We are the master race! It’s so obvious! Hitler had the right idea! A black man can now marry a white girl and I can’t do a damn thing about it! The Jews control the world and they cause all my problems. We need to strike back! Burn them crosses! Death to the Jews and blacks!

So what was the benefit of that? Why would we benefit from imaging being a Saudi?
Arab societies and cultures are sick. I am not saying that there are not many good things about them, but there many very serious problems. These problems need to be brought out and addressed. Otherwise they will never improve themselves and become something better. Racism in particular seems to be a very big problem in their culture and nobody seems interested in addressing it.


You don't demonstrate any capacity to see the world from anyone else's viewpoint, or understand why different values seem normal to some people. It doesn't make you a bad person, or a racist, but it does make you limited.

If a cultural value says its ok to kill your daughter because she had sex, why does it matter why they hold that value? Its wrong. If we can make value judgments about KKK people, why not Arab people?

Another example is this: With in Japan there is a group of around 250,000 Koreans who have been living in Japan for around 300 years. They have and will not be given Japanese citizenship and they are the lowest of the low in Japan. The reason they are like this? Japanese feel they are a superior race that is far beyond these Korean dogs. Why give them citizenship to the inferior? That’s the Japanese view. Why should that matter to us? It is “SIMPLLY WRONG” that they are treated in this manner.
The world is not a value neutral place.

John

Posted by: John at May 27, 2004 01:07 AM

Michael, I once did a big "survey" review of Arabic fiction for LA Weekly (which then got syndicated and reprinted all over the place). I was just being multicultural and then Saddam went into Kuwait, so the piece suddenly became "topical."

Fadia Faqir is a Palestinian woman who was educated in London, her novel "Nisanit" is slightly more promise than promise fulfilled, nonetheless psychologically sophisticated and powerful. It takes place in Nablus, during the first intifada, and features a would-be martyr who goes insane under torture, his migraine-afflicted Israeli interrogator, and the young terrorist's girlfriend, who suffers vicious sexual harassment from her uncle. Heated material, hasn't dated in the least. I know that Faqir has written other novels since.

The stories of Mohammed Mrabet, translated from the Maghrebi by Paul Bowles, give a real flavor of the cruel oral folk tale -- the kind of black humor enjoyed by Arabic males. I met Mrabet in Bowles' apartment and he was a piece of work. He was illiterate and had something like 20 children by several different wives. He was a baker and made wonderful pastries and cardamom cookies -- and yet when he smiled at me with friendliness I felt he would just as soon see me stabbed late at night in an alley by some 12 year old kid. For kicks.

That was okay, though. I liked him, even. Unsentimentally, you might say.

Other names and titles would be of books I don't remember being entirely crazy about -- though Tariq ben Jelloun's "Corruption" is like a cross between Camus and a good crime novel. Set in Casablanca, it's the story of someone who finally accepts a bribe... and where his life goes from there. For his more lyrical, almost surreal "The Sacred Night" ben Jelloun rerceived the Prix de Goncourt.

Some of my knowledge is a little dated, so there are undoubtedly some recent sensations I have entirely missed.

Posted by: miklos rosza at May 27, 2004 01:14 AM

I know a young man in the Marine Corps who studied Arabic during his active duty service a few years ago. He said the classes were full, and this was pre 9/11.

My son took some classes in Arab history and culture at UCSD and says he'll be learning Arabic. He's now in Marine Corps boot camp and hopes to be deployed to Iraq.

Funny how the young men and women who are actually putting their lives on the line so that the rest of us can navel gaze on the Internet, are actually taking some steps to understand Arab culture.

Posted by: Van Gale at May 27, 2004 01:21 AM

John: have you not confused empathy with sympathy?

What's the value in being able to empathize with your enemies?

It's obvious. If you understand how they think, you have a much better chance of predicting what they'll do next, and a much greater ability to change their minds.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 01:57 AM

An interesting thread, rife with implications for human existence, human tragedy.

In London, shortly after 9/11 and unable to get back to the USA because of the restrictions on flights into/out of the USA, I was watching a TV set on the wall at an all night grocers. Tears flowed freely from my eyes and I was rivited to the images of people leaping to their deaths and the Towers coming down on the TV. An elderly Muslim man was apparantly watching me and walked up, placing his hand on my shoulder and said "Allah will bring you peace my son." (I'm not sure of the exact wording, but that's close enough.)

Contrast that with the ululations of the "street" Arabs in Palestine, Baghdad, Qom, Cairo and other places.

Is Islam a dangerous religion? No, but the perversions of it practised by the Wahabbi sect can be. Are Southern Baptists dangerous? Again, no, but many of the members of the KKK were (are?) Southern Baptists. Bye the by, you can add any denomination in that last sentence.)

There are limits to empathy as was previously noted by John above. One of the most glaring limits is that most people mistakenly use the word to mean "I understand." The definition of empathy (one of many) is: Ability to imagine oneself in another's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions.

The key action word here is "imagine." In a very real sense, this is a chimera for it is virtually impossible to put yourself in another's shoes as Mork would have us do. Each of us comes with a history. Our learning starts in the womb and is colored by our experiences with each persons experiences absolutely and totally unique. No two people ever, ever see the same thing in the same way; if for no other reason than that they can not occupy the same time/space. Even if they could, see something exactly as another sees/experiences it, their background will color their experience of the situation.

Having said that, we can, using empathy, attempt to understand the motivations and emotions of others and thus their actions (emotions lead to thoughts, thoughts lead to actions ~ change the emotion and the ultimate action changes). Our collective (western orientation, largely Judeo-Christian training) world is now threatened by a brand of Islam that I and others have called "Islamo-fascist." I do not have to empathize with these folk to understand that they want to kill me, mine and everything I hold dear. That is simply their focus, their ultimate goal and their dream. To think otherwise is folly of the highest order.

Following 9/11 the pacifistic/left leaning question was "Why do they hate us?" The answer is that it really doesn't matter. Their (the Islamo-fascists) hate is real and they intend to do something about it. We can either acquiesce or resist our destruction. I choose the latter.

After the threat is stopped, then we can take a look at the "root causes" but to do so now, while we have a knife at our collective throats, is foolish and childish and rooted in a Weltanschauung (world view) with roses, fairies, rainbows and, unfortunately, a very real lack of common sense.

Just some thoughts.

Posted by: GMRoper at May 27, 2004 01:59 AM

Mork:

"people who have similar mindsets, and find themselves in similar situations, tend to make similar mistakes ... unless they are self-aware enough recognize and counter their own instincts, biases and inadequacies.

You owe it to yourself (and, to the extent that you influence people, to the rest of us) to at least ask yourself: what are the mistakes that people with my mindset, facing these issues, make most often?"

Yes, Michael, what are the mistakes that people with your mindset, facing these issues, make most often?? Hmmm?? In fact, why don't you just turn your blog over to Mork, who is so self-aware and so much more worthy of influencing people than yourself?

- Gary Rosen

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 27, 2004 02:02 AM

I disagree with Mork regarding conservatives' tendency to ignore the world around them or be less empathetic to foreign cultures. Of course, there is no shortage of knuckleheaded xenophobes on the right of the "nuke-em-all" variety. Still, as is evident by reading blogs, those with deep knowledge of the history of foreign places and detailed knowledge of foreign events frequently have a military background--unlike most lay people, military education consistently stresses historical study. Oxblog, Belmont Club, Europundits--there are numerous thoughtful and knowledgable commentators who know a great deal about "foreign" cultures. Indeed, the U.S. has the most diverse population on earth, and there are always Americans, hyphenated or not, who have very particular knowledge of other cultures.

One thing that NJT has commented on in the past, and incisively, is some liberals' real lack of any profound interest in foreign cultures--frequently, foreign policy issues are simply a foil to argue about domestic politics. This is very evident on many mainstream liberal blogs like Kevin Drum's. The maddening obsession with George Bush, and how Iraq affects domestic political events, is evidence of this tendency to profess great interest in current events but to see things from a fundamentally limited and Americo-centric(?) viewpoint. Thus everything revolves around Bush, as if the liberation of 25 million Iraqis were a less critical event in geopolitical terms than whether Richard Clarke did damage to Condi or not, how Woodward's latest book is playing, or whether the neo-cons are in or out, up or down. This stuff may be fun inside baseball for political junkies, but in the scheme of things it's pretty trivial stuff--certainly for IRaqis themselves.

I love to read the Iraqi blogs because they demonstrate the wide variety of opinion, and frequent good sense, of a number of people in Iraq. Well-written, incisive, funny, ironic, and with a keen sense of history and proportion--maybe American media could learn something from perusing these guys more often. There are smart people with something to say around the globe. Instead of honing our ideological axes and spending a lot of energy figuring out how to chop the other guy into little bits, we ought to try and spend more time listening--which sounds as if Michael is planning to do as he travels. Even imperfect knowledge is better than none, even ambiguous and partial understadning is better than ignorant certitude about what's best for the Iraqis or the American electroate or anyone else.

Posted by: Daniel Calto at May 27, 2004 06:15 AM

Holy Moley.

I was NOT in Beirut in '83 - but a very good friend was. I want to be clear on that. A couple of other guys from my boot series (four training platoons to a series = a company) were. Such a small world...

The point I was trying to make about Arabs is that being Arab doesn't rate any blanket consequence for the actions of barbarians who happen to be Arab...does that make sense? That's what "people are people" means. Think of people, not groups.

The enemy is IslamOFASCISTS...because when you go to fight you better define your targets, or the range just gets larger and larger. There are cults, sects, congregations, cabals, covens, and just plain clubs of individuals all over the place that promote and practice creeds that range from objectionable to offensive to whacked. Hooray for them. We are charged to defend ourselves from the actions of others; defend our persons and our property from physical attack. The arena of ideas exists to winnow out what works and what doesn't as far as philosophy goes...and Islamoterror is the equivalent of someone running out of arguments and picking up a brick

If the actions of terrorists were designed to bring about a conflict between the religion of Islam and the infidel, then they have thus far failed. To me, at least. By all indications they failed to goad the unnuanced cowboy and his cabal of neocon marionettes, too.

I admire a lot about Arab history on the personal scale...especially the Saudis. You want to talk about 'what does not kill us makes us stronger'...what has happened to their culture with the influx of petrodollars is a weird parallel to what too much money with too little effort can do to anyone. The effect is magnified when power is concentrated and unaccountable, of course.

I was raised to mind my own business and respect the rights of other folks to mind theirs. The rise of the terrorists as a transnational threat, in the current environment of WMD and global travel, demands they be confronted and defeated. As long as we have the luxury of keeping the target list defined as people who ACT against us we may possibly keep ahead of the panic curve that could conceivably generate just the war of annihalation the enemy seems to want.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 06:44 AM

Daniel - I wasn't trying to link my observation with any particular side of politics ... in fact, it's a far more dangerous tendency in that branch of "missionary" liberalism that thinks that it can apply its transforming zeal to foreign cultures.

The classical conservative view, on the other hand, is to be more skeptical about the ability of anyone to effect radical change anywhere without screwing it up or creating unintended consequences.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 06:52 AM

My problem with Tmjutah is his comment: "we are not consciously committed to ending Islam but our very existence ensures the death of the religion because societies that embrace it cannot compete with western, capitalist societies."

First, "ending Islam" is an obnoxious, as well as unrealistic, notion. Why not "ending Islamic fundamentalism" or "ending Wahabbism" or "reforming Islam"? Second, why does every society have to compete with western, capitalist societies? By definition, any competition leaves some societies "unable to compete" (that is, for there to be winners in the competition, some societies have to be losers).

The major problem that Islam faces -- its difficulty in separating the religious sphere of life from the political and legal sphere -- is the same problem that Christianity had until the Reformation. (Some Christians still have this problem.) So there hopefully will be an Islamic reformation of some sort.

When and if that happens, Islam in some ways ought to be more compatible with the findings of science, global cultural and economic interaction and the rest of the real world that we live in than other religions. If Christianity, with its fairy tales about walking on water and resurrections, or Judaism, its noxious chosen people ideology, can adapt and thrive in the modern world, why can't Islam?

Posted by: markus rose at May 27, 2004 07:13 AM

Michael --
You might want to check out Tunisia while you are in that neck of the woods. I understand it is one of the more modern and less dysfunctional countries in the Arab world. According the CIA factbook, its first President, Habib Bourguiba, "dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation."

Posted by: Markus Rose at May 27, 2004 07:22 AM

TmjUtah,

"As long as we have the luxury of keeping the target list defined as people who ACT against us we may possibly keep ahead of the panic curve that could conceivably generate just the war of annihalation the enemy seems to want"

I guess you really don't understand how many of us, who argue against positions that you have often expressed, could well have written this paragraph. In support of an argument that the Bush administration has clearly expanded the target list to include Iraq, a nation that was not part of the terroist cabal that was acting against us, and that they thereby distracted us from a focus on the true enemies. And that it has been people like you who have greatly contriubted to pushing the panic curve, by constantly defining upward the nature of the threat.

I am glad to see your emphasis, now, on opposing the impulse to broaden the definition of the enemy. But there is more work to be done. What exactly does "islamofascist" mean? "Fascist" is, lets face it, a term that means little more than an insult, in common parlance. How many people understand just exactly what fascism entails? How it was different in its Spanish and its Italian manifestations? How it is similar and how it is different from Nazism? And what exactly are the similarities of those european movements to islamic religous fundamentalism in its different manifestations? And, most importantly, do you really think that any of these complex notions will be understood by the public at large? For in the end, you are advancing this term as a rallying cry to mobilize a population. And I would contend that it is such a profoundly vague and misunderstood term, that it becomes open to just about any interpretation that one might want to attach to it.

Does the term apply to Saddam, Arafat, and Osama all at once? Are there meaningful differences between the agendas of these three? Do the Palestinians have a legitimate cause despite the tactics of many of their leaders, or are they to be crushed like al-Q? In what way exactly is the war against Saddam the same war as the war against Osama?

I would join you in the attempt to focus our conception of who the enemy is. But the term "islamofascist" and the conception of a war on "terrorism" seems to me to take us away from such a goal. As the actions of this administration make clear.

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 07:33 AM

Tano -

If their stated intent is to kill us then we do not profit by waiting around for it to happen.

Iraq. They were in violation of the armistice that ended the first war. Our twelve year babysitting adventure accomplished nothing but preventing the efficient slaughter of the Kurds and Southern Shia....I guess it allowed us to keep our Air Force and Navy/Marine pilots trained up. I look at Iraq as a 1990's reprise of the 1930's gymnastics with Hitler's Germany...a failure of the international community to enforce its own resolutions.

I strongly disagree with your conclusion that "Islamofascist" is a mere insult. There are lots of flavors of despotic regimes scattered across that region, but the number one threat overlaying it all is the movement committed to establishing a theocratic political regime.

"And, most importantly, do you really think that any of these complex notions will be understood by the public at large?"

The American electorate weighs in on issues ranging from tax policy to health care to environmental policy on a regular basis, via the election cycle. How many Americans question their right to participate in the process based on their scholastic or practical knowledge of those subjects? What we do know about Islamofascist terror is that they want to see us dead. It would be nice for every single citizen to have a college-level education on the history of the mideast, possibly with some sort of internship program that would allow millions of us to travel to the region and see first hand the critical differences that exist between our cultures....

...but that doesn't remove the impact of what we do know, nor does the lack of such an in-depth understanding of the issue preclude us from taking some sort of action to deal with it.

One analogy I have used to describe the true antiwar decision process (not the flavor permeating the senior political opportunists, but those determined to oppose conflict based on an honest personal objection to any conflict) is that of a group of lawyers sitting in a burning Ford Pinto. They have just been rear ended by a ten speed bicycle and the flames are raging into the passenger compartment...but the lawyers are embroiled in an argument over what they knew about Pintos before they were hit and cannot bring themselves to abandon their seats before they work out who is at fault for their predicament...Ford, for building a bad car? The government, for letting it remain on the road for so long? The bicyclist, for clearly being in the wrong for following so close?

And the flames get hotter and hotter.

Woulda coulda shoulda in regards to the threat was attempted to be resovled during the post 9/11 debate and votes within government...but the imperative for our minority party to regain political power has sabotaged our efforts almost from the outset. The more time goes by, the less I am inclined to qualify that last sentence as opinion...especially in light of the most recent speeches and statements by such individuals as Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and others.

I appreciate your tact in disagreement, and recognise your opinions are informed and the result of a lot of thought and study.

The actions of this nation will be ultimately decided by the votes of people who may well be less informed than the both of us...my earnest wish is that we act effectively and exhibit judicious restraint and focus in the employment of the power at our command. We are using a sword and dirk right now, but another mass casualty attack here, with or without WMD, will cause our electorate to rethink our response.

A pleasure to disagree.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 08:08 AM

TmjUtah, thanks for the original comment quoted by Michael, and thanks for this:

If the actions of terrorists were designed to bring about a conflict between the religion of Islam and the infidel, then they have thus far failed. To me, at least. By all indications they failed to goad the unnuanced cowboy and his cabal of neocon marionettes, too.

Once in a while it's good to take stock and look for the positives.

Michael, a writer I ran across the other day:

Asra Q. Nomani

What I read was an op/ed in the NY Times describing the takeover of the mosque she attends by Wahhabi-funded radicals. The piece is now in the Times archive, so I can't link to it.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 27, 2004 08:09 AM

Thanks for featuring this comment by TmjUtah. It was way too good to languish in the comments section.

It’s true, you can’t hate people in groups. It works the other way too. Whenever I’ve traveled by myself, or with just one other person, the reaction is nicer than when I travel with a large group of people.

Just from conversations I’ve had on the net, I can tell that there is a huge difference between the average Muslim and the extremists. It is like the difference between the average Baptist and the KKK.

On the other hand, I’m not sure what Mork meant by this comment:

What's the value in being able to empathize with your enemies?

It's obvious. If you understand how they think, you have a much better chance of predicting what they'll do next, and a much greater ability to change their minds.

If you did your best to empathize with the average KKK member, how, exactly, could you change their minds? I mean, we’ve all interacted with extremists at one point or another, and personally, I can’t begin to imagine how I could convince them to come with me to embrace diversity, see the Chappelle Show or to donate funds to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It just can’t be done on a personal, one to one basis. If you understand them you would - understand that.

The best way to change the mind of extremists is to apply laws and government force. I assume that the same tactic would work best for the extremists in the Muslim world too.

Posted by: mary at May 27, 2004 08:16 AM

"When and if that happens, Islam in some ways ought to be more compatible with the findings of science, global cultural and economic interaction and the rest of the real world that we live in than other religions. If Christianity, with its fairy tales about walking on water and resurrections, or Judaism, its noxious chosen people ideology, can adapt and thrive in the modern world, why can't Islam?"

Markus - for all I know, adherents of Islam (or most variants of Islam) are as capable as anyone of adapting to and competing in the modern world. But I've rarely found the common "well, all they need is a Reformation" line allied with specific supporting knowledge about either the history of Christian Europe or the structure and history of Islam.

Not saying you're necessarily guilty of this; jus' sayin' that the Reformation argument as I've encountered it is often facile and fuzzy. What I do think is that modern free societies depend on the development of certain types of institutions and specific ideas about the role of the state in the lives of individuals, rather than the existence of individuals who don't believe "fairy tales". It's quite possible to be a firm defender of the First Amendment while holding fast to one's identity as a member of the "chosen people", or sincerely believing that some guy rose from the dead. In fact, millions of people in this country fit that description. It's how they view the proper relation of these beliefs to the larger society that matters.

I'm intrigued by your comment re "Islam in some ways [being] more compatible with the findings of science, global cultural and economic interaction and the rest of the real world that we live in than other religions." Do you have time to expand on this?

Posted by: Moira Breen at May 27, 2004 08:23 AM

Someone mentioned The Fog of War, which is interesting, because like most movies, it means what you want it to mean. I don't think it's anti-war at all. McNamara was a young inexperienced Secretary who got in over his head. How does that compare to Michael Totten?

McNamara also stressed that human nature will never change, making wars inevitable. His famous statement that societies need to think more about war because war is killing I took as an admonition to plan better, think better, fight an enemy rather than acreage. I'm sure many disagree, but that's precisely what we've done in the ME since 9/11.

As to Saddam and terrorism, read any history of the ME post-Balfour and you will see that Saddam used Abu Nidal, for instance, for 30 years to destabilize Lebanon and to kill people all over the world.

And what was that airplane doing parked at Salam Pak? It was a terrorist training camp. He supported the violence of the PLO, not the diplomatic efforts of the West to settle the issue. Zarqwari was in Baghdad for a long time.

No, Saddam did not pose for pictures with Osama, but to claim he had no connection with terrorism is an absurd conclusion to reach in today's world where everyone knows that nations have secrets.

Posted by: PJ at May 27, 2004 08:28 AM

Markus --

At the risk of putting words in TmjUtah's mouth, perhaps his reference to ending Islam would have been better phrased as "ending Islam as it currently exists." With that caveat, I largely agree with him. That said, I don't disagree with your sentiment. The problem is that the Islamofascists do. They see the world as TmjUtah describes it. They have believed for many years that we were making war on them and trying to destroy them (via McDonalds, Madonna, Baywatch, Brittney Spears, etc.). That's why 9/11 happened. That's why this war comes down to destruction either of us or of them. This issue cannot be finessed away. The Islamofascists are not going to go away voluntarily: either they or we have to change our minds or be killed.

Posted by: Ben at May 27, 2004 08:29 AM

PJ - perhaps if I reproduce for you McNamara's "11 Lessons of the Vietnam War" you might understand where I see some similarities:

1. We misjudged then -- and we have since -- the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries . . . and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.

2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience. . . . We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.

3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.

4. Our judgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.

5. We failed then -- and have since -- to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces and doctrine. . . . We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.

6. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement . . . before we initiated the action.

7. After the action got under way and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course . . . we did not fully explain what was happening and why we were doing what we did.

8. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.

9. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action . . . should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.

10. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions. . . . At times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.

11. Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues.

And don't forget, when he speaks of mistakes, he is speaking of mistakes that he understands better than any other person, because they are his own.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 08:39 AM

And I agree with all of them, sound lessons all.

Posted by: PJ at May 27, 2004 08:52 AM

It would be nice if (1) were true today WRT the Islamofascists, but sadly it is precisely wrong, much as many appear to believe it.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at May 27, 2004 09:08 AM

While we're on the subject of understanding the enemy, Amazon.com has one of Sayyid Qutb's books in print.

Qutb was hanged by Nasser in Egypt. He is the most influential Islamofascist thinker in the Middle East.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 09:08 AM

Ben -

I see the Islamofascists as a bunch of buggywhip makers engaged in a campaign to blow up Ford, Chevy, and Dodge so that their profession can continue.

The angst and anger behind their efforts is so alien to the western mind...especially the U.S. mind, because our entire brief history has been change and the evolution of culture to keep up with it. We tend to do what works, because what works best for individuals coalesces into better conditions for everyone. Yes, there are abuses, yes there are extremes, but I still believe that the reason we've got frozen immigrants falling out of jet wheelwells is that they believe the potential for success here is worth risking their lives to get here. That constant pressure of individual pursuit of goals beneath a widely accepted umbrella of rights and laws is just alien to cultures that seek rigid orthodoxy in all human behaviour. One of my favorite reads of the last year was "What's So Great About America", by D'nesh D'Souza. Yes, he's an unabashed conservative, yes, he was a Reagan administration staffer, but he is also a fine American citizen who came here from India and made good. The concluding chapter of the book makes a strong, personal case for the opportunities we so take for granted here that don't exist in other nations.

If "It is written..." by the hand of man, there's going to come a situation where "it" won't work for somebody.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 09:10 AM

It would be nice if (1) were true today WRT the Islamofascists, but sadly it is precisely wrong, much as many appear to believe it.

Well, it's certainly true of Iraq, as are 2, 3, 4,5,6,7,8,9,10, and probably 11, but I'm not really qualified to judge.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 09:11 AM

Markus Rose,

Yes, I'll be spending a week in Tunisia as well. It is a relatively liberal and modern place and should provide a nice foil for Libya.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 09:17 AM

TmjUtah,

I do not understand your Ford Pinto analogy. You characterize "anti war" people without making clear whether you mean "anti-war against al-Q" (almost nobody) or anti Iraq war. And you classify anti war people as either opportunists, or essentially pacifists. I dont know what you hope to accomplish by this. Why not deal with the serious opponents of this war? Otherwise you are just insulting people or battling strawmen.

And your opinion about the motives of the minority party are similarly useless. The will to power exists to some extent in every one who seeks power, and it is balanced to one extent or another, based on the indivual character of the person, by other motivations. It is hardly credible to look at the modern republican party and to claim that they have, on average, any lesser "will to power". All you are doing is issuing blanket ad hominems as an attempt, once again, to avoid taking on the serious critiques.

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 09:19 AM

Tano: How many people understand just exactly what fascism entails? How it was different in its Spanish and its Italian manifestations? How it is similar and how it is different from Nazism?

I'll let Paul Berman answer that in a slightly different way than you phrased your question. What various forms of right-wing totalitarianism (and that's how I define "fascism") have in common is, I think, more important than where they differ. They also happen to share the exact same salient characteristics with left-wing totalitarianism.

The shared ideas were these: There exists a people of good who in a just world ought to enjoy a sound and healthy society. But society's health has been undermined by a hideous infestation from within, something diabolical, which is aided by external agents from elsewhere in the world. The diabolical infestation must be rooted out. Rooting it out will require bloody internal struggles, capped by gigantic massacres. It will require an all-out war against the foreign allies of the inner infestation--an apocalyptic war, perhaps even Apocalyptic with a capital A. (The Book of the Apocalypse, as André Glucksmann has pointed out, does seem to have played a remote inspirational role in generating these twentieth-century doctrines.) But when the inner infestation has at last been rooted out and the external foe has been defeated, the people of good shall enjoy a new society purged of alien elements--a healthy society no longer subject to the vibrations of change and evolution, a society with a single, blocklike structure, solid and eternal. Each of the twentieth-century antiliberal movements expressed this idea in its own idiosyncratic way. The people of good were described as the Aryans, the proletarians, or the people of Christ. The diabolical infestation was described as the Jews, the bourgeoisie, the kulaks, or the Masons. The bloody internal battle to root out the infestation was described as the "final solution," the "final struggle," or the "Crusade." The impending new society was sometimes pictured as a return to the ancient past and sometimes as a leap into the sci-fi future. It was the Third Reich, the New Rome, communism, the Reign of Christ the King. But the blocklike characteristics of that new society were always the same. And with those ideas firmly in place, each of the antiliberal movements marched into battle.

The Italian, Spanish, and German varieties have the same characteristics in common with Islamism and Baathism. Berman continues.

The present conflict seems to me to be following the twentieth-century pattern exactly, with one variation: the antiliberal side right now, instead of Communist, Nazi, Catholic, or Fascist, happens to be radical Arab nationalist and Islamic fundamentalist. Over the last several decades, a variety of movements have arisen in the Arab and Islamic countries--a radical nationalism (Baath socialist, Marxist, pan-Arab, and so forth) and a series of Islamist movements (meaning Islamic fundamentalism in a political version). The movements have varied hugely and have even gone to war with one another--Iran's Shiite Islamists versus Iraq's Baath socialists, like Hitler and Stalin slugging it out. The Islamists give the impression of having wandered into modern life from the 13th century, and the Baathist and Marxist nationalisms have tried to seem modern and even futuristic. But all of those movements have followed, each in its fashion, the twentieth-century pattern. They are antiliberal insurgencies. They have identified a people of the good, who are the Arabs or Muslims. They believe that their own societies have been infested with a hideous inner corruption, which must be rooted out. They observe that the inner infestation is supported by powerful external forces. And they gird their swords.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 09:25 AM

Mork,

"Eleven lessons" is too many to refute one by one. So I guess you win, if in a sort of crooked, jailhouse-lawyering way. But I don't see an extended discussion of Vietnam as having anything to do with our current situation, other than that it has become a mythology.

McNamara was a failure. The ridiculous practice of "body counts" was his idea, arrived at through some transposition of quantification from his days at General Motors.

A more interesting voice is Bui Diem, a Vietnamese who chronicled events through several changes of government, beginning in the Dai Viet -- nationalists who opposed the returning French after WWII but were systematically assassinated by Giap and the Stalinist Viet Minh. Meanwhile the personality cult was built up of "Uncle" Ho Chi Minh... just as there were personality cults for Mao and Fidel and Joseph Stalin.

Bui Diem is a good source, as is Stuart Herrington, who stayed through "Vietnamization," which was largely successful until Congress cut off all funds.

And there were no demonstrations for the Vietnamese people in 1975. Henry Kissinger had been correct when he predicted these would end when there was no more draft.

900,000 Vietnamese had fled south during the 1950s to escape the gentle Ho. Did anyone think they would go unpunished?

I see no relation between the mind of Michael J. Totten and that of the technocrat McNamara, who was a bad idea of JFK. Nor is there any relation between the idea of "Vietnam" and the audacious experiment that is Iraq.

Posted by: miklos rosza at May 27, 2004 09:30 AM

Mork, I take it you see strong congruence between McNamara's eleven conclusions and the situation in Iraq?

On selling the war domestically, I see the similarities; the administration hasn't done a good job articulating what our goals are. Otherwise, most of those points have dubious relevance, and a few are downright laughable.

The laughable points all revolve around the "internationalism" lessons. Internationalism as a guiding philosophy only makes sense if the vast majority of players act in good faith. I respectfully submit that hasn't been the case in the last few years, and most probably forever. And probably wasn't the case in Vietnam. (Remember, when we left, the war was over with a peace treaty and everything. Who violated that treaty, I wonder?)

We will take lessons from Iraq, but I guess those lessons will be quite different from Vietnam. And before we set those lessons in stone, let's wait until the dust settles a bit, shall we?

On the other hand, for a substantial number of people the perceived congruence between McNamara's points and Iraq have been self-evident since before the invasion occurred. Using those points as proven shows that you're not arguing from evidence, but from faith.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 27, 2004 09:35 AM

Mark Poling's use of the word "faith" seems to me entirely apt.

Posted by: miklos rosza at May 27, 2004 09:41 AM

Mork and others who need help to empathize with A-Q,

Bali bombing prosecutor shot dead

Posted by: marek at May 27, 2004 09:45 AM

Mork: "The classical conservative view, on the other hand, is to be more skeptical about the ability of anyone to effect radical change anywhere without screwing it up or creating unintended consequences."

Nope, that's the Neoconservative view.

Markus Rose: "Second, why does every society have to compete with western, capitalist societies? By definition, any competition leaves some societies "unable to compete" (that is, for there to be winners in the competition, some societies have to be losers)."

South Korea chose to compete against us. Which society has been the loser in that competition? Answer: Neither. North Korea chose not to compete, and their people are eating grass.

Posted by: Brainster at May 27, 2004 09:56 AM

Re. Bali prosecutor

Found via
The Command Post

Posted by: marek at May 27, 2004 09:59 AM

The definition of fascism by Berman referenced by MJT is a good one; so is the one by British historian Eric Hobsbawm in his "The Age of Extremes." The idea of a return to a pre-decadent past -- but it is a past that never existed. The Taliban, for instance, defaced the huge Buddhas because they didn't want to admit that there has ever been any time when people were not Islamic, even if Mohammed was only born in 600 AD.

It becomes difficult to separate what is poisonous in modern-day Islam from what could be benign, because the fundamentalists hide within the larger body and often can only be distinguished when they act.

Mussolini, the inventor of fascism per se, found that young men were attracted to his movement precisely because it promised violence. The ideology was much less important than the opportunity to take part in violent acts.

Certainly Hitler realized this too.

Posted by: miklos rosza at May 27, 2004 09:59 AM

The eminent psychologist, Eric Fromm, wrote a book shortly after the end of WWII that explained the psychology of the Nazi and fascist mind.

These people are in a category that Fromm called the Authoritarian Mindset. That is, they are idealists. Their ideal is will, strength, power, purity. They hate weakness in themselves, and in others. When confronted by weakness, lack of will and strength, they are compelled to attack and destroy it. Thus, when Europe tried to appease Hitler, Hitler was enraged to attack and destroy what he perceived to be the weak, corrupt European countries.

The Authoritarian Mindset has manifested and dominated both the left and the right: from the Fascists on the right to the Nazis and Soviets on the left. Now, this fascist mind is coming from neither right nor left, but from the bowels of an otherwise legitimate religion – the Islamofascists.

The main thing to know about the Authoritarian Mind, the fascist mind, is that appeasement creates attack without mercy, whereas acting with strength and power stops them.

The fascist element of Islam is creating this war against the West. Our only viable response is war. Not because we don’t understand them, but because we do.

Posted by: thedragonflies at May 27, 2004 10:02 AM

"And you classify anti war people as either opportunists, or essentially pacifists."

I'd have to agree with that. I have to date seen no convincing argument against the war that could fall outside of those two motivations.

The opportunists are betting their political futures on the failure of the administration to accomplish an ambitious, hellishly diffucult, and dangerous undertaking. Showing up for antiwar marches carrying Bush = Hitler, Pro-Abortion, anti-Globalization/Free Trade, and Communist party signs does not make a strong case that the driving concern is not alternatives to the war but rather spirited intent to advance political agendas. That the major players organizing the most public antiwar efforts are MoveOn.org and International ANSWER, both purely partisan political entities, is just icing on the cake.

When a serious alternative is presented to the present strategy - an alternative that acknowledges the primary objective of the strategy is to locate, kill, or capture active terrorists whenever and whereever we can, I'll support it. The call to internationalize the effort has thus far been just that - and I don't see what benefit the mere involvement of the U.N. or france or Germany brings to fulfilling the primary objective I described above. The current calls for internationalization appear to me to be a quest to dilute the responsibility of our government to act in our interests. I will not support that.

The pinto analogy applies to the true pacifists - those people so anchored to their personal worldview that they reject out of hand the objective conditions around them. I stand on that, too.

The essential necessity to effectively counter Islamofascist terror on point, coupled with long-term efforts to remove the social/cultural environment that breeds the threat should transcend partisan politics. Should. This is, after all, a situation measured in lives, not merely wasted money. In a perfect world, the issue would have been debated, policy enacted, and the government would have presented a unified front dedicated to fulfilling the objectives of the policy. I do NOT believe that the Bush Doctrine is defacto perfect because it originated from conservative executive offices. I believe it is the policy that best addresses the threat and presents a workable long-term strategy beyond the immediate crisis. Enough legislators from both sides of the aisle thought so, too, to see the domestic security and foreign actions voted into law, or approved via resolution. Something went terribly wrong afterward. What has since transpired in the halls of government and media makes Lincoln's diffucult relations with his minority party pale in comparison.

I think we are going to continue to disagree. What a country, eh?

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 10:09 AM

Tano:

"Fascist" as a meaningless insult is generally used primarily by mindless liberals and leftists
"i.e. "Stop this Fascist Bush/Cheney/Sharon Oil War!" The Baath Party, in contrast, could certinly be truly defined as a Fascist party, and its genesis came out of the roots of the European Fascist movements in Germany, Italy, and Spain circa WWII.

Posted by: Daniel Calto at May 27, 2004 10:28 AM

"And you classify anti war people as either opportunists, or essentially pacifists."

tmj: yup

Well, there are those who opposed the IRAQ war either on the grounds that it was very unlikely to succeed as a democratization effort, or on the grounds that SH was much more feeble than he was being painted. Or both. Many of these anti-war people decided to support the Iraq war as crucial once it was decided that it should be undertaken. I'd classify these people as neither opportunists nor pacificists, but as realists. What do you think TMJ, of those who recognize that containment/management is, while not a solution in and of itself, sometimes the wisest interim course?

Isn't it possible that among the Jacksonians, some are more prone to the warpath than others?

Posted by: bk at May 27, 2004 10:33 AM

As Robert Spencer has repeated written about (as has James Lileks, who is not an Islamic scholar), the problem with Islam is that there is much textural support for the likes of OBL and others of his ilk. There are many rabidly anti-Jewish and anti-Christian statesments in the Koran (and other teachings); many exhortations to kill infidels; many statements implying that there is a hierarchy of worth in the world (free Moslem males at the top; infidels at the bottom); exhortations to world domination and so forth. It is the moderate Moslem who ignores these, along the lines that moderate Jews and Christians selectively ignore some of the more difficult parts of the Old and New Testaments. For Jews and Christians, the problem is often much easier; the time period is further in the past; the context is gone; a lot of it is descriptive not prescriptive. For your moderate Moslem, it is not easy to explain away why they should not be friends with non-Moslems, or why Jews and Christians, descended from apes and pigs, are still decent people; or why Moslems should not be working to establish a world-state; or why Moslems should live in peace with their neighbors. Or why Moslems who convert to Judaism or Christianity should not be killed?

Having spent several decades studying a very foreign (white Americans). China, working as an interpreter and also studying for a Ph.D. in Chinese history, I know how truly difficult it is to get inside another culture, especially one with an entirely alien tradition. It's very noble of Michael to study Arabic and read up on Moslem culture and perhaps even travel to Arabic countries, but if he thinks a few weeks or even a few years there will make him any more of an expert than he is now, he is sorely mistaken. A friend of mine who lived in Japan for several decades and taught English there told me that when she was there, it was not untypical for Americans who moved there (a smallish town outside of Tokyo) to teach. Within a short period of time (the Americans spoke Japanese), to believe they had penetrated the impenetrable Japanese culture. Japanese people at the school would often take them into their confidence, confiding intimate personal matters to them and this led them to believe they were accepted, despite the reputation of Japan as being a closed society. She told me that contrary to what they thought, it was precisely because they were permanent outsiders that the Japanese felt comfortable telling them persona matters, much like one would talk about personal matters on an airplane to the passenger next to you, someone you will never know better than that.

The point of all is is that foreign cultures are often--usually--much more impenetrable than they seem. After all, they drink coffee, laugh, tell jokes, have sex lives; all looks and is very similar and can feel very familiar. Visiting there, learning the language is nice, but true understanding often takes decades of dedication, not a course in Arabic in 21 Days and a quick trip to Baghdad.

Posted by: Seymour Paine at May 27, 2004 10:39 AM

Michael,
I find Berman's definition of fascism to be insightful, but also potentially overdrawn. But to run with it for a moment, I think it instructive to look at two sides of how this definition is, and is not applied.

We are being asked, by folks like TmjUtah, to consider the "war on terrorism" to be a war on fascism. Bush has implemented this expansive war against the Taliban (no problem there) and Saddam. Does Saddam meet the definition of fascism? Let me be clear here, one can be as morally repugnant as the fascists without necessarily being a fascist. But was his agenda the agenda described in that definition? I dont think so. He was power hungry, he wanted to be the ruler of all the Arabs, but he was not harkening back to some golden age. He was intent on eliminating all rivals to his power, but he wasnt purging his country of "cancerous foreign influences". Rather the contrary - in his own way he did bring some aspects of modernity to his society. I see him as a ruthless opportunistic dictator, but not someone wedded to an ideology as described in that definition. I realize that Berman lumps the Baathists in with the fascists, and I know that there are ideological roots that they share in common. But if you look at Saddams behavior, I do not see a disciplined ideological movement, but rather an opportunistic dictator whose goal was merely his own power - not different in kind from thousands of petty dictators who have risen and fallen in every corner of the world. He even became "isalmic" for a while when he felt it was in his interest.

Although Bush hasnt gone quite so far with the Palestinians, he seems to extend the notion of the war on terrorism to mean that we are unalterably opposed to the Arafat clique. That may well be legitimate, but is it because Arafat is a fascist? Once again, I dont think the fascist label applies. Terrorist yes. But he is a ruthlessly violent advocate for the Palestinian claims to their historic lands - that does not equate to fascism.

So the point is simply this. If you equate "islamofascist" with al-Q and associated groups and sponsors, thats OK with me. Very few if any on the political landscape have any problem with going to war with those people.

But the issues over which almost all of the debates are being raged are the issues of the war in Iraq, and, to a lesser extent, the nature of Bush's policies toward the Palestinian problem. And these, it seems to me, have nothing whatsoever to do with fascism. And yet the term is used, and I can only imagine that it is primarily for propagandistic reasons.

That is the fundamental problem I am raising today. The use of the word linked with the "war on terror" meme, which is then used to justify things like the Iraq war, or the blind following of Sharon's lead w/re. the palestinians. And who knows what future conflict that might be in some way rhetorically tied to the vision of incipient fascism.

Sorry to go on so long, but one more point. I couldnt help noticing that the rhetoric of "removing the cancerous influences", primarly "liberalism", that prevent us from having a "clean" society, one that doesnt evolve, and that can reconnect to our golden past seems eerily reminiscent, although on a different scale so far, of much of the modern right-wing rhetoric here in America. Suddenly I find myself less inclined to criticize those who run around calling the Limbaughs and Coulters of this world "fascists".

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 10:54 AM

Tano, you just managed to write that you believe Saddam shouldn't be called a fascist, but maybe people who listen to Limgaugh could.

Wow.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 27, 2004 11:07 AM

Sorry for the bad grammar there. Currently apoplectic.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 27, 2004 11:11 AM

Per Tano's thesis, more facism please.

Posted by: mnm at May 27, 2004 11:27 AM

Oh c'mon Mark,
You are trolling for outrage. As I said, Saddam is equally morally repugnant as any fascist. But I dont think his actions accord with the defintion.
And I noted, with due mention of the difference in scale (ie. it is all rhetoric, not violent action), that the extremist right-wing in this country has defined liberalism as a cancerous infective agent in our society, of which we should be purified.

So sorry, but yes, their rhetoric takes some steps down that path. But I did not claim that they did anything about it beside talk. Saddam didnt strike me as one who cared which ideological path he went down, or how many people, or who he killed, so long as he was in power.

Damn, I am so f*kin sick of people trying to shut down discussion by trolling through a sincere attmpt to put forth some ideas, to find some construction that could be considered "outrageous" . Why not give it a break, eh?

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 11:33 AM

I think I'm with tano this time, insofar as I took his main points to be this(and ignoring his perhaps ill-chosen juxtaposing):

1, SH seems more like a garden variety opportunistic tinhorn than an ideologue marketing false nostalgia for a mythical former pure state. He might have occasionally co-opted this latter story, but only as an opportunist. He's evil either way, tho.

2, Elements of the far right are prone to suggesting an edenlike restoration if we can excise the liberals.

On that last point, to be fair to both sides, I gotta say that some liberals seem prone to suggesting a FUTURE eden is possible by ousting conservative hegemony.

Neither strrikes me as likely.

Posted by: bk at May 27, 2004 11:49 AM

And furthermore
This little exchange with Mark only serves to underline my point. The charge of "fascism" is such a loaded word, that immediatly upon hearing it the adrenaline level goes up. Either to defend, in high outrage, anyone who is seen as being unfairly accused, or to go off and destroy any outsider to whom the label is applied.

I have no problem with the historians of political philosphy from trying to piece together strains of ideological evolution. But when the term is used in common parlance, its primary use is rhetorical and inflammatory. And in the hands of skilled rhetoriticians it can easily lead a group, or a nation to march off to war without thinking the issue through to the extent that it should be.

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 11:51 AM

Hi Tano,

In an earlier post there was lot's of debate about political matrices trying to abstract the spectrum of idealogies. This is an inexact science, and needless to say people will adopt an existing term to approximate something that maybe altogether new.

Revisiting Google's definition engine, they come up with this for fascism:

"An extreme form of nationalism that played on fears of communism and rejected individual freedom, liberal individualism, democracy, and limitations on the state."

If you buy into the above definition, Saddam wasn't a classic fascist in the sense that he studied Stalin and didn't try to formulate an ideology. Saddam was probably too stupid. Plus it's tough to refine and sell a political cause when you are creeping around in your own country, sleeping in spider holes.

If you come up with a term that encapslates the concept of a bunch of murderous, genocidal, son-of-a-bitches who have delusions of territorial conquest, hate Jews and infidels, and in a New York minute would use a WMD, I'm sure we could all get beyond the terminology section, and move on to the main body of this thesis:

Specifically how to exterminate these bastards.

Posted by: bob at May 27, 2004 12:06 PM

TmjUtah: I got the strangest feeling these boys could fit in at the Penwell Truck Terminal at the end of a long day...

I know exactly that feeling, having had it many times. And it seems that my brain likes to cognize it in a funny way. Naturally, I live in a comforable American groove, and I'm bound to think of people in other cultures as alien in a strong sense of the word. But often when I get out of my American groove and go abroad or meet with foreigners, I get the strange feeling, but cognized in this way: Hey! They are American, too! You catch my drift. Much of what I'd been basquing in comfortably as "American" was universally human all along. I see in foreigners what is akin to Woody Allen movies, and football, and my aunt Selma, etc. Then I return to the groove, and repeat the cycle, over and over again. The strange feeling is always delightful in its illogic and truth.

Posted by: Jim at May 27, 2004 12:14 PM

Tano, fascism is a loaded word. Michael has gone to some length to show that using it to describe the Baathists along with the various flavors of jihadists is appropriate.

And in the hands of skilled rhetoriticians it can easily lead a group, or a nation to march off to war without thinking the issue through to the extent that it should be.

That's of course your point. Idenitifying fascists by name might incite to action those who find fascism vile.

By coyly calling certain conservatives fascist, the action you wish to incite is in the direction of your own political preferences. I have no beef with that. It's a free country, and you're at least making the argument from what is obviously a well-considered opinion.

But you want to supress (certain) actions against regimes that sacrifice mentally handicapped kids to the greater good, practice genocide within their own borders, export terror abroad, et cetera. So you say we need to be more nuanced when tossing the word fascist in those directions.

I'm calling you on a double standard here.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 27, 2004 12:29 PM

bk -

Once again, when somebody can propose a viable alternative response and not just a blank condemnation, I'll look at it.

The actions we have undertaken are the result of investigation, debate, and ultimately votes and affirmative resolutions of our government. Speech is free, of course, but the conduct on the part of some sitting elected officials is no less than knee-jerk rejection of laws that passed over their opposition. Does any real-world organization demand monolithic support before adopting a policy or plan? Does any real-world coprorate body tolerate sitting board members who immediately act to sabotage agendas that were generated by the majority of the board?

There is a subscription-only article in today's online WSJ about the progress of translating the millions of SH's files that I really want to read. The radio network news here has mentioned it in passing and there is a comment thread up on Lucianne's discussing the possible terror links uncovered between SH's Fedeyeen and al Qaeda.

Those persons who would be seen as reasonable in their opposition to the war seem to propose that any lack of unambigous success of the policy on any point...at any moment they choose to define...be accepted as evidence of defacto failure of the policy en toto. That's just senseless on its face to me. I can't take them seriously because I have watched the contortions and maneuvering of the parties involved for literally years.

There is a huge amount of political capital at stake here. I propose that one stack of chips is on the table because it was unavoidable risk - an act of duty. The other stack is out there in the hope that the cards go their way - or that they can bluff well enough to win this one hand.

They aren't thinking much beyond this hand, and that's a subject for a whole other discussion.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 12:35 PM

Jim -

It's not so much that they are "American". It's that they are people, and live with the same burdens, responsibilities, hopes, and dreams that I do.

I've got to get out of here and get things done.

MJT -

I'm honored you chose one of my comments for a thread topic. It's been a pleasure to discuss the issue in such a civil manner.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 12:43 PM

Fine Mark,
I will admit that my mention of that served no purpose (especially with you) other than to inflame.

There was a different motivation though. I promised in the beginning of that post to explain why I objected to the term in two senses - how it is applied, or not applied.
Throughout the discussion, I have tried to argue for a focussed precise use of the term, or none at all - given its inflammatory nature.

And so I argued that linking it with a vaguely defined war on terror, and applying it to any islamic movement that uses terror, or that is evil in some other way, is imprecise and propagandistic.

And I also meant to say, addressing the other side, that as a precise term in political philosophy, it COULD be used to describe certain ideological tendencies that conform, at least in part, to the definition.

But you are right, even in precise usage, it is still inflammatory.

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 12:44 PM

The meaning of "fascism" is an ongoing process. English is a living language, and the meanings of words tend to change with time and experience.

Anyone living under the Taliban might, watching the genocidal massacre of entire villages, might be forgiven for using the term fascism to describe the hellish fundamentalism of ben Laden and the Taliban.

Posted by: Blythe at May 27, 2004 12:54 PM

Tano, sorry I turned on the flamethrower. As I said, you've obviously thought this out and I appreciate your posts. I don't agree with a lot you say, but that's what keeps this from being an echo chamber.

I guess my biggest objection to your objection is that, metaphorically speaking, we're a couple of guys arguing whether that thing pointed at us is a rifle or a shotgun. At a certain point, precision of description is less important than dealing with the facts on the ground.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 27, 2004 12:55 PM

"At a certain point, precision of description is less important than dealing with the facts on the ground. "

Not for those who are so afraid of the face of terrorism that they slip into denial. A lot of my friends on the left are much brighter and educated than me and let themselves slide into a "Euro" type discourse about what is going on in the world. The ability to relegate a crisis to an academic discussion, rather than dealing with the grim reality that everything they love and cherish is at risk, is very seductive.

Posted by: bob at May 27, 2004 01:11 PM

Mark and Blythe,
Suddenly I feel the need to emphasize something.

I have NO objection to using the term "fascist" against al-Q or the Taliban. I have not been trying to argue against that. Maybe if I were in full academic mode I might want to argue precision there as well, but that was not my intent here. I am fully in support of the war against those who attacked us, and I dont care if we call them fascists or not. I dont need the label to motivate me, 9/11 serves quite well for that.

My objection was to the broader use, that leads us into other wars. So I dont think it is a question of defining the thing pointing at us as a shotgun or a rifle. My point is that al-Q and associates are pointing at us. Saddam was a whole 'nother issue.

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 01:27 PM

Arabic is extremely difficult, Michael. What teaching tools are you using?
I've tried a few. Each one seems to have different drawbacks.
Rosetta Stone software: uses pictures (good), shows writing with sound (very good), but the same damn pictures keep coming up for different sentences!! Argh! And there's no English at all to explain more abstract things!
Teach Yourself Arabic: not bad, but not enough of the material is on the tape, and there's very little explanation on the tape--you have to have the book with you at the same time, and it gets hard going back and forth.
Instant Immersion Arabic (CDs): too early to tell. It feels like the density of information is a little too high, and the speaker is a little too hard to understand sometimes.
I do like the EuroTalk software (yes, for Arabic) with the games. The vocabulary is limited but for me the format is very good.
Are there classes in the Portland area? Do you have some kind of tutor?
I've found it very difficult and discouraging for self-teaching, even though I'm used to hard languages. Maybe an intensive class later.

Posted by: John Tillinghast at May 27, 2004 01:28 PM

"My point is that al-Q and associates are pointing at us. Saddam was a whole 'nother issue"

Thats bullshit.
Your point is as always, that going to Iraq was wrong and that the public was duped because Saddam was no threat.

Tano you are the big daddy of Trolls, youre just a long winded bullshit troll.

Yawn...

Posted by: mnm at May 27, 2004 01:54 PM

John Tillinghast,

I'm teaching myself Arabic with a Berlitz book that came with a CD. Also, my Syrian friend Said, who is a language genius (he became fluent in English in only ten months) is helping me out.

A class would be nice, though. I want someone to go over Square One with me again and again until I fully understand it before moving on to Square Two. The problem I'm having with the book and CD is that it rushes right into things much faster than I can absorb it. I'm playing the CD again and again while remodeling my home office, but the stuff I remember is very scattered and I keep mixing it up in my head with Spanish.

I'm surprised how little trouble I'm having with the script, though. I can't exactly read it yet, but I grasped it conceptually in only a few minutes. It looks at first glace as hard as Chinese, but it isn't nearly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 02:20 PM

Mnm,

Tano is not a troll.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 02:21 PM

Far too often, "cultural relativists" use the "who are you to judge other cultures" to argue against people who want to argue that Wonder is better than naan or Hollywood movies are better than Bollywood movies or what have you. Unfortunately, it becomes a convenient argument against people arguing against atrocities in other cultures.

"Look at how women are treated in Wahabbist Islam!"
"Oh, like you don't know that domestic abuse isn't a problem in the US amongst conservative 'Christians'."

The focus of the argument changes from "you shouldn't judge matters of taste" (which pretty much everybody agrees upon) to "you can't judge other people as being bad until you're perfect" Someone points out how homosexuals are treated in Islam (something like http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=395 ) and the response is "oh yeah like Matthew Shepard wasn't murdered and anyway it's not like the US is particularly enlighted because homosexuals can't even get married except in Massachusetts and what about that godhatesfags.com guy, huh?" Unfortunately, this comes off as the Matthew Shepard thing being worth criticizing, the gay marriage issue in the US as being worth criticizing, Fred Phelps is worth criticizing... but how homosexuals are treated in Turkey is not.

It's like the point of the counter-argument is to take the person making the argument down a peg ("like your culture is any better").

Posted by: Jaybird at May 27, 2004 02:28 PM

Tano may not be a troll in your eye's Michael, however, for a great many of us, he is certainly a yawn.

Posted by: NoOne at May 27, 2004 02:56 PM

Tano, TMJUtah, others of similar thinking: Could we agree that Saddam Hussien was an opportunist who utilized fascist techniques and a fascist ideology to promulgate his holding on to power?

Just a thought

Posted by: GMRoper at May 27, 2004 02:58 PM

Tano, that's where we differ, of course. You see a short list of discrete targets as being the threat, and I see militant pan-islamiscism as the the threat. Call the different strains whatever you like, the perpetrators who profit from the environemnt of hate in the middle east have to be brought down. Iraq was the best place to start. Anyone who thinks this is less than a generational problem is kidding themselves.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 27, 2004 03:22 PM

Mark is exactly right. We mostly all thought the backwards, warped, and twisted governments and cultures of the middle east were not a major threat to us and our way of life. 9/11 proved us wrong. The clear and present danger is the insane rage of the M.E. in combination with WMD, or even strategic attacks on our infrastructure such as tank farms, fertilizer barges, etc.

We will not be safe until the children of the middle east stop playing with suicide bomber costumes and candy is not thrown out when our skyscrapers explode.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at May 27, 2004 03:34 PM

MJT, I'm a big language buff, and the trick I've discovered over the years is casettes and a smooth rewind button on a Walkman. Play the sentence, push stop, speak it like you're imitating the voice on the tape, rewind, repeat. Try to imitate the voice like you're learning a song or doing a witty impression of the speaker. Can't rewind so easily with a CD. Even a class is of less value than the casettes used in this way, I've found.

Also, if you're having more difficulty with new languages than you did when you were 20, so did I. Chinese was a long hard grind in my late 20's. We got old.

Oh, and if you catch a glimpse of Qaddafi, tell us who he's wearing these days when you get back.

Posted by: Jim at May 27, 2004 03:54 PM

Congratulations on getting the hang of the script! I found it extremely confusing because of all the dotted variants.
I mostly agree with what Jim said, but I find CDs easier to rewind.
I'm guessing Said's 10 months were in an English-speaking country, right?

Posted by: John T at May 27, 2004 04:04 PM

Yes Mark,
We do get down to the core issue, which is how one defines the war.
But I dont disagree that we are in a generational struggle.

This to me is the real difference. We may agree that there is a struggle that is larger than al-Q. But does that me we should define a WAR against more than al-Q?
The way I see it, we have a rich palette of options for pursing and defending our intersts. The military option is only one, and should only be used when appropriate. It is completely appropriate against al-Q et.al. It is not necessarily appropriate, or productive, against other aspects of the struggle.
That is why I oppose the language, and the impulse to define the WAR on such deep levels. The war should be waged against those who use violence against us. The rest should be dealt with in other ways.
That is why I want precise definitions. War bandwagons can easily lead to hasty and faulty judgements. Especially when your war machine is so powerful, so seductivly giving the promise of decisive results.

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 04:36 PM

mean we
not
me we

Posted by: Tano at May 27, 2004 04:37 PM

John: I'm guessing Said's 10 months were in an English-speaking country, right?

Yes, here in Portland. He learned Greek first, which probably made it easier to learn English. He lived in Greece for ten years. He walked out of Syria when he was 14 years old (and was deported back seven times) to get away from you-know-who. He's legal here, though, and owns his own restaurant. He's quite a guy.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 04:37 PM

Mark Poling wrote, with regard to McNamara's 11 mistakes:

The laughable points all revolve around the "internationalism" lessons. Internationalism as a guiding philosophy only makes sense if the vast majority of players act in good faith.

They are only laughable because you misunderstand his meaning. In the film, he explains that a large part of the value of internationalism is as a reality check on our own views: if people who share our values (but are not part of our political debate) think that what we are doing is wrong, it's strong evidence that we are mistaken.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 05:06 PM

thedragonflies nails it.

No endless semantical drivel attempting to define terms that will always have slightly different meanings for different people.
He identifies the problem and articulates the solution, no equivication, refreshing indeed.

Posted by: Lurker at May 27, 2004 05:29 PM

Mork writes: "...if people who share our values (but are not part of our political debate) think that what we are doing is wrong, it's strong evidence that we are mistaken."

Mork, I think you are mistaken and if that is indeed what McNamarra is saying, he is mistaken. People all over the world share our values...free trade, free and open elections, freedom to worship as we please etc. However, and this is a biggie, they do not necessarily share our political viewpoint and their viewpoint is colored by their experiences and their national political goals.

To my way of thinking, your sentence should read "...if people who share our values (but are not part of our political debate) think that what we are doing is wrong, it's strong evidence that their viewpoint is different than ours; and that only."

Posted by: GMRoper at May 27, 2004 05:42 PM

Mork,

What makes you think politicians taking bribes from Saddam share our values? What makes you think Europe in general shares our values? They don't value free enterprise, they don't value their culture enough to breed, and when a terrorists blows up enough of them they vote in the terrorist's choice of candidate.

I think you have to look at what the US is as a country. Most of the testosterone and independent thought and idealism left Europe and came over here, along with a heck of a lot from much of the rest of the world. Brain Drain is one way of putting it. Why would you assume that the people who left Europe for opportunity are the same as the people who stayed behind.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at May 27, 2004 05:54 PM

He's legal here, though, and owns his own restaurant. He's quite a guy.

Awesome. If I'm ever in Portland I'd like to buy you lunch there.

Posted by: John T at May 27, 2004 06:02 PM

That's kind of funny: GMRoper and Matthew Cromer make consecutive posts containing sweeping generalizations that say exactly the opposite thing. But they both agree I'm wrong!

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 06:18 PM

Mork,

I noticed that too. :)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 06:35 PM

Mork,

Of course they are sweeping generalizations. As they must be when talking about "shared values", when individuals in the societies take all sorts of views. After all, Michael Moore cheers on the Fedayeen and Baathists in Iraq, and he is an American.

If you disagree with any of my points as generalities, I'd be happy to discuss them.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at May 27, 2004 06:35 PM

Mork,

I find it puzzling that you take MJT to task over an inability to empathize with cultures outside of America as he is about to board a plane more or less specifically to engage with cultures outside of America! Just puzzled, that's all.

I have enjoyed MJT's tussling with shifting positions throughout the past 2 years, he's done it with a great deal of grace, and I'm very excited to see what he discovers.

What people talk about here with regard to writers, I have been attempting with cinema in the past few years. The very best example, more relevant in post-invasion Iraq is the Pontecorvo film, "Battle For Algiers". I'm sure others here can describe its value better than I, but I recall it as a case study of contemporary urban guerilla warfare, and occupation by military powers in alien cultures.

And for empathy with the daily load of life, the entire catalogue of Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami is worth viewing. "The Wind Will Carry Us" is my favourite, but he rarely misses.

Anyway, that's my 0.02 worth. Congrats on a very, very fine thread MJT.

Posted by: chico o'farrill at May 27, 2004 07:07 PM

Mork,
I don't know what you're arguing about except process. Yes, the war is not perfect. As to internationalism, as Rumsfeld or someone said, don't tell the countries who are in the coalition that they don't count.

Both sides, war and anti-war, claim high values. You say our process is bad, therefore the war is bad. I say the principle is more important: our safety will be enhanced by consensual government in the ME.

As to the anti-war movement (meaning the people all over the world who poured into the streets crying Bush=Hitler), what was the principle behind that process? Certainly not caring about the Iraqis. In addition to people like me, even Tariq Aziz declared to the world the movement was helping to keep them in power.

If the movement had carried signs instead that Saddam=Hitler, Freedom and Human Rights for Iraqis, the war quite possibly might never have happened and Iraq would be free. It would have been a victory for the ages for the anti-war movement.

So of course people like me or TmUtah deduce that it wasn't about Iraq at all; it was about anti-Americanism.

Posted by: PJ at May 27, 2004 07:37 PM

Michael,

TmjUtah's story was very compelling, so much so that I linked to it from my own blog, along with my thoughts about change and ferment in the Arab World (with which I have zero experience). This is a pivotal period in history, in which we may well witness the Islamic equivalent to the Reformation. I believe it may be the most important story of the century, and it's maddening that people want to straitjacket it in narrow terms of our own politics.

I admire you greatly for going over to see for yourself what is going on in the Arab World. Though I agree with Seymour Paine that learning another culture thoroughly is nearly impossible for an outsider, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't move a few short steps towards that goal. I have been trying to at least make sense of Arabic script, and found a book called "Teach Yourself Beginner's Arabic Script" by John Mace. It does a terrific job of walking the reader through the letters and their variants. I can now pick out names and words when they appear in photos and signs, or when they flash on my TV screen. I think that's valuable to begin to see that script as not just exotic or graceful, but as meaningful.

It's hard to maintain optimism in the face of so many depressing headlines, but I confess I have high hopes for reform in the Arab World. Developing a clear-eyed understanding of the people of that world, and encouraging them to understand us in return will move us forward further than harboring cherished illusions about it. Encouraging reformers to build societies that are free from tyranny, which reward creative expression and hard work, and which love life rather than worship death and revenge, is a worthwhile goal and should be supported by everyone, especially people who call themselves "liberals".

I am looking forward to reading your account. Bon voyage and safe travels.

Posted by: PurpleStater at May 27, 2004 07:37 PM

PJ - what I think I'm arguing about first and foremost is outcomes: I simply believe that the Iraq adventure has come at a cost that massively outweighs the benefits (at this stage, I'm hard pressed to see any benefits for the United States ... though clearly many Iraqi people have gained).

The process is significant because it led to outcomes that a better process would have predicted and avoided.

Chico - I also respect Michael's acquisition of knowledge and sincere efforts to acquire more. But empathy is not just</i. information (though it sure as hell helps).

To use Vietnam again, there were plenty of Americans who knew every detail of Vietnamese history, culture and language, but could still not make the mental leap to understanding why so many of them were prepared to risk their lives to rid themselves of the American presence. That lack of empathy resulted in a fatal misconception of the nature of the enemy.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 07:50 PM

Whoops - that got all screwed up.

After "just" was meant to be the words "information (although it sure as hell helps)."

And the last para was not meant to be italian.

Sorry!

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 07:51 PM

Mork,

It's very clear and obvious what the cost of our previous policy was -- 3,000+ dead in a few minutes, trillions evaporated from the economy, and almost certainly worse to come in the years after.

If the democratization project in the M.E. means we don't get the "worse to come", it will be amazingly cost-effective.

P.S. I'm very curious to see what your response is to the latest revelations of cooperation between Saddam and Al Qaida. If he worked directly with Al Qaida, doesn't that mean he had to go, just for deterrence sake?

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at May 27, 2004 07:58 PM

Mork,

"The process is significant because it led to outcomes that a better process would have predicted and avoided".

If you going to be an anti-war monday morning quarterback, why dont you at least call a play.

How do you know there was or is a better process?

I also believe the doubters are putting some sort of ridiculous time frame on this war.

Mork, what is a reasonable time to secure Iraq, turn it over totally to Iraqi's and get out and why?

Posted by: mnm at May 27, 2004 08:03 PM

If he worked directly with Al Qaida, doesn't that mean he had to go, just for deterrence sake?

That statement virtually refutes itself. I'll just add three words: Saudi, Arabia and Pakistan.

What are the "new revelations" of co-operation. I haven't seen any.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 08:04 PM

mnm - it's easy to see that there was a better process available, because the mistakes were so obvious. What's not obvious is what that process would have suggested in terms of actions.

As for what to do next: I'm not sure. Clearly, we have to stay for the time being. Ultimately, the key question is "what is the best we can achieve there"? The more I learn, the more I end up thinking that enabling some indigenous leader and letting him impose stability is probably the best we can do.

If we conclude that we can't even achieve that, then there's no point us being there, and we should get out immediately.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 08:09 PM

"If we conclude that we can't even achieve that, then there's no point us being there, and we should get out immediately."

I agree with that, but so far I am no where near that conclusion. Also I accept and I think rational people should expect failures, setbacks and some defeats during a war.
I am all for criticism of war policy and tactics, but when the tone goes from criticism of tactics to unhelpful ranting, who benefits? Especially when the ranting comes from elected officials who rant but give no alternative solutions.

Posted by: mnm at May 27, 2004 08:23 PM

mnm: I suspect that some of what you see as ranting, I see as an appropriate insistence on accountability.

No doubt that reflects a difference in our perceptions of the nature of the mitakes that have been made.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 08:35 PM

Mork, do you have any comment on my question about principles and process of the anti-war movement?

Posted by: PJ at May 27, 2004 09:06 PM

PJ - I don't understand the question. Are you trying to suggest that because there were craven, irresponsible people among those who opposed the war, it's some how OK that the government that ordered the war was mistaken?

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 09:29 PM

I'm really quite amazed that this thread can go on so long about fascism without even touching on the hard evidence of Arab links to the grand-daddy of all indisputibly fascist regimes. To wit, Yassar Arafat's mentorship under Haj Mohammad Amin al-Hussein -- the one-time Grand Mufti of Jerusalem -- who spent time in WWII in Germany as Hitler's genocidal radio voice to the Arab world. That much is indisputible fact.

What's less certain is that Amin al-Hussein was one of the key advisors telling Hitler to gas the Jews rather than just deport them back to the ME. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to consider this a real possibility given the hundreds of thousands of Jews and Christians Amin was associated with killing in the previous few decades in the ME and not wanting to make his job even harder when he returned there. (Not that Hitler wasn't evil enough to decide on the "final solution" without any additional urging.)

Oh, and Yassar is reputed in moments of weakness to claim that he's Amin's nephew. Whether he is or not it's rather hard to refute evidence of "genocidal soul brotherhood". As much of a problem as I have with Clinton, even I don't dispute that if "slick Willy" can't get the better of someone in a negotiation, it just ain't gonna happen. Ergo, solid evidence of a truly rotten heart ticking inside old Yassar.

Remember that the graffiti in Europe before and during WWII read "Jews out of Europe". Of course, as evidence that the Euros are so intellectually and morally superior to US troglodytes, the graffiti in Europe now reads "Jews out of Palestine". There's some real perspective on the history of fascism for you -- though they're not apparently even self-aware enough to realize it.

Yet somehow all we seem to hear about is "that evil Nazi" Ariel Sharon? LOL

So if Mork and Tano really are sincere about going after provable links to fascism then the reclamation of Judea and Samaria -- what Yassar calls the Palestinian territories -- would be first on their list. (What's that? You didn't think the Jews should be a little emotional about a place called Judea?)

Of course, this is likely to be the first they've heard of any of this. And since trying to wrap their minds around it would cause them to be instantly excommunicated from their echo chamber circle of friends, watch for them to shout me down.

And don't worry, the fact that this hasn't been the opening para for every story about Israel's ongoing holocaust at the hands of the Pali's for the last sixty years is "no evidence" of bias or ignorance on the part of our saintly press...

TFA

Posted by: TFA at May 27, 2004 09:48 PM

Purple Stater -

As far as high hopes go, a virutally unfollowed story is the evolution of the emirates like Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar. They are pursuing meaningful reforms and making them work.

The endemic unemployment and the concommitant welfare statism mindset of Saudi is the number two obstacle to reform there after Wahabbism. Tribalism and poverty in Pakistan. Moonbat mullahocracy in Iran. In the smaller countries they have less of a burden to bear when faced with changing the inertia of their economies. Of course, it never hurts when you can use wheelbarrows of cash for lubricant, either.

GM Roper -

I guess I could. I never intended to start a polisci debate over the semantic value of the word 'fascist'...Saddam's power was based on the unquestioned certainty that he would act instantly to quash dissent, and he recruited his inner circle of political support by empowering them to act as they saw fit as long as their loyalty and obedience were unquestioned. Cult of evil dictatorship, propagated through acts of savagery without let or hindrance on the part of subordinates? Sounds like fascism to me.

The American electorate (yes, I LOATHE the term 'voice of the people'; it's used entirely too often by politicians, media, and pundits who know they have no clue what 'the people' want from moment to moment) is going to ask much simpler questions when they weigh in on who will lead this fight.

Mork -

"What I think I'm arguing about first and foremost is outcomes:..."

To that I say great ambitions take time to realize.

See my earlier post about the strategy of declaring failure as the absence of victory. As far as costs are concerned, I agree with Matthew Cromer's reply. Perspective is important. Less than a thousand dead in battle over three years, and our objectives unchanged, our resolve unwavering where it counts - the leadership that authored the policy and is responsible for making it work and the troops on the ground doing the heavy lifting. We've paid less for our accomplishments to date in this war than we did for a couple of hundred acres of beach in Normandy over a twenty four hour period. I don't recall the Republican caucus declaring defeat on June 7th, 1944...which is exactly what the current minority has been doing for the last two years.

I'm not nearly as concerned with treasure as I am with blood. Honestly, what is money to the federal government? To the citizenry? 87 billion, with a "B", sure sounds like a lot of money until you look at how much fraud, waste, and abuse is endemic and accepted from year to year with little more notice than stock-piece filler columns around budget time. If we can afford to study the sex lives of Koalas or subsidize PR campaigns for various connected industries or interests with tax money, we may as well shell out a few bucks to kill the people that are intent on killing us.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 10:37 PM

TmjUtah - when you add up the costs, you're ignoring the opportunity costs. To say that the war hasn't cost us much is to say that we could have achieved nothing with the treasure, blood, military capability, prestige and time that we have squandered in Iraq.

As for the "grand experiment", for all intents and purposes, it is already over. If you can't see that Iraq is the end of the line for the Bush doctrine, you're deluding yourself.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 10:48 PM

See you in November, Mork.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 27, 2004 11:22 PM

See you in November, Mork.

That's not what I meant. Even if Bush wins, the dream of replacing mid-east governments one at a time is now dead.

America is not militarily capable, nor will the American people permit, further wars of choice in the middle east.

Nor will they trust Bush's assessment of risk, until they see the threat with their own eyes.

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 11:26 PM

Mork: America is not militarily capable, nor will the American people permit, further wars of choice in the middle east.

This is probably true right now. It was probably true the day the first shot was fired over Baghdad.

I hate to say it, but...wait. This thing is nowhere near over.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. The next battle (I say battle because this is one long war) may not be elective.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 27, 2004 11:37 PM

Right, if we are attacked by a state, we will attack right back.

But that's not really likely to happen. Deterrence works, even with a psychopath like Saddam, and states are sitting ducks.

But even if a dirty bomb explodes in an American city, what are we going to do? Who are we going to invade?

Posted by: Mork at May 27, 2004 11:52 PM

Mork: But even if a dirty bomb explodes in an American city, what are we going to do? Who are we going to invade?

It depends, obviously. Perhaps no one. Perhaps a state that armed and trained the perps.

What if Iran sends death squads into Iraq to assasinate the new government ministers? Or buys a nuke from Pakistan and points it at Tel Aviv? What if the Saudis destabilize and Wahhabize Jordan, Morroco, or Tunisia? That's the sort of trouble I expect from Middle Eastern states in the near future.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 28, 2004 12:06 AM

The Arab states are formally on record to support democracy. I don't believe we'll really see much progress until after Iraq gets sovereignty, Bush gets reelected, and Iraq has a genuine democratically elected gov't (Jan 05?).

The dream of transformation of the ME in 1-2 years was ambitious; too ambitious for the West (needing the US to defeat/ liberate/ occupy first Iraq, then Iran, then Syria/Saudi Arabia -- not in the cards, though militarily possible). Iraq as a model democracy is still possible. And will always be possible, until it descends into civil war and the 3 state division -- and then democratic Kurdistan (Nth Iraq) will be a model for the Arabs.

Islamofascism has been growing, like a sturdy oak tree, since the mullah takeover in Iran in 79. Democracy's acorn was planted last year, in June the first slender twig will open its first leaves. Just because it won't give much shade this year, nor even next, doesn't mean it won't someday be a mighty oak.

No amount of passionate blogging, analysis, bombing, fighting, reform -- will change the need for time. Though good fertilizer and watering is better than constant urination; too salty.

http://www.umaamerica.org/ The Universal Muslim Association of America is having a convention (via Glenn)

Posted by: Tom Grey at May 28, 2004 02:19 AM

Last week, the BBC had a short selection on Capt. "Abby", how he enjoyed piloting a helicopter, and actually being a real military officer.

I hope he can become a benign dictator.

Posted by: Tom Grey at May 28, 2004 02:23 AM

Mork, tmjUtah, MJT and Friends,

Upthread, a previously carefully hidden agenda was tipped when the poster argued about 'better' uses for time, resources and efforts 'squandered' in Iraq...

Bill Whittle and Steven den Beste have made excellent strides in articulating the relationships of the many tree-like facts in this forest of conflicting facts, factoids, propaganda, opinion and observations. Please avail yourselves of them, then come back and post what you've learned.

What's the best we can hope for in Iraq? Something only now, this post, being introduced into ANY of the posted arguments: We might hope that our people there, our boots on the ground and civilian workers, stimulate interest in the Holy One Who, from 1853 to 1863, was banished from Persia and forced to remain in Baghdad under house-arrest before being further banished to Adrianople and Constantinople and finally to the prison-city of Akka, near Haifa.

THAT examination, by Iraqis OF Iraqi history, will lead to a wider dialogue involving Christian leadership (at the very least, its ignoring of IIPeter2:1 and its continued 'damnable heresy' of 'scoffing and denial' 'our Lord Who redeems us' has returned) and the impact of that scoffing and denial on America's institutions and outward expressions of said institutions in the last 160 years.

The Iraq/Iran centrality to so MANY issues of world import is, again, studiable in each tree-like aspect, but best understood in the systemic-forest holism it calls to, as 'the Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.'

Google 'May 23, 1844'. Get up to speed on some of these other factors influencing IslamoFASCISM and its presenting dynamics today.

Posted by: Sharps Shooter at May 28, 2004 02:43 AM

Tom Grey writes: "Democracy's acorn was planted last year, in June the first slender twig will open its first leaves. Just because it won't give much shade this year, nor even next, doesn't mean it won't someday be a mighty oak."

Beautiful!

Posted by: GMRoper at May 28, 2004 04:35 AM

Sharps,

Feel free to explain why you think Baha'u'llah has something to do with this thread.

Mork, we've already conducted a "regime change" operation in Pakistan with Mr. Musharraf's change in heart about the Taliban, etc. and one hand of ours in on the softies.

Saudi Arabia is on the list -- but prudence requires softer targets first.

The Bush Doctrine is not dead although it may sleep until the next big terror attack here, which is certainly coming. . .

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at May 28, 2004 05:17 AM

Moira -- when I said that Islam in some ways ought to be more compatible with the findings of [modern] science and the economic and cultural globalization process that is going on, I was referring to its conception of God as an non-anthropomorphic being, its apparent willingness to embrace of the exercise of reason, logic and observation (as evidenced by the interest that Islamic scholars showed in western philosophy and science in the early years of Islam, back when the christian world was still in the dark ages), and its general notions of universal brotherhood and equality of all people regardless of race, language or culture...

TFA -- Care to provide supporting evidence for your suggestion that it was the Grand Mufti who told Hitler to gas the Jews, or that he killed "hundreds of thousands of Jews and Christians" in preceding decades in the Middle East?

Since the permanent "reclamation" of Judea, which you appear to support, necessitates the deprotation of its non-Jewish inhabitants, care to explain how you would deal with those who refuse to leave their homes?

Posted by: Markus Rose at May 28, 2004 08:05 AM

Mork,

I'm on my way outa town today but here is my last comment.

I asked you about the movement precisely because it is not a few goofy individuals but millions of people whose actions gave support to real enemies like Saddam and faithless friends like France, Germany and Russia. All the passionate commitment to the grand march of history came to nothing. For all the high moral tone, it was a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.

You think Bush is morally bankrupt; the movement proved itself morally bankrupt. The verdict is not yet in on Bush's experiment, but it certainly is on the movement's.

Posted by: PJ at May 28, 2004 08:44 AM

A few comments, if I may:

In my experience, around 3% of any group causes the trouble and violence they suffer. This applies to police forces as well as civilian groups, to men as well as women (though the nature of the offense differs), to rich and poor, all through every demographic studied.

Most people simply want to be left alone, an obvious but often forgotten point.

And, last time I checked, there were roughly 1.6 Billion professed Muslims in the world. If 3% cause the trouble, that's 48,000,000 Muslims out to wreak havoc, but against many more who want no part of their hatred.

What's more, Islam is a "progressive" religion; that is, it often springs up in nations which are also pursuing social and civil change. We have already seen what can happen when this goes awry, be it Saddam's dictatorship in Iraq, or the militant Theocracy in Iran. But that doesn't differ all that much from Britain under Cromwell, or France when Robespierre terrorized the country. It takes an answer, one from people willing to pay the price, to end the tyranny.

That's where Bush and Iraq come in. Terrorism, as a method of warfare, has been tolerated far too long, and accomplished no good at all. Saddam was a known supporter of a number of terrorist leaders and groups, so the starting agenda was obvious and direct:

1. Remove the Taliban from Afghanistan

2. End Saddam and the Baath Party in Iraq.

We have accomplished both goals, no matter what else happens.

(continued)

Posted by: DJDrummond at May 28, 2004 09:04 AM

Mork, you know I don't agree with you about the opportunity costs of Iraq, but since the seem so central to your analysis, it would be nice if you could post a summary someplace and link to it when appropriate. That might be a useful service to new readers and for those who just skim.

I'd be happy to give you space on my site if you want.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 28, 2004 09:11 AM

"As for the "grand experiment", for all intents and purposes, it is already over. If you can't see that Iraq is the end of the line for the Bush doctrine, you're deluding yourself".

I don't believe the "Grand experiment" necessarily involves invading other countries. If thats what your talking about when you say the Bush doctrine ends in Iraq.

In fact, I don't remember anyone in the administration talking about invading any other countries in the middle east.

The way I see it, all the "bad actors" will be flanked big time if the U.S. succeeds in Iraq. Not only flanked militarily, but flanked by a free society. If the mission succeeds in Iraq, its dominoes for their neighbors, largely by virtue of intenal pressures and human desire for freedom. The ability of goverments to be repressive with a thirving free society next door is going to become very difficult and ultimately impossible.

Posted by: mnm at May 28, 2004 09:12 AM

(continued)

Note that in neither case was it our goal to removed, suppress, or attack Islam. In fact, the people of Iraq have come to understand that they have two alternatives:

  • Support anti-American extremists, who will be destroyed no matter what else we do; or
  • Support US efforts to rebuild Iraq, and realize that we will leave, and when we do, Iraq will be their country to live in as they see fit.

al Sadr and al Zarqawi have nothing to match that second option; they cannot win, when people realize that their children's future is at stake.

This war is difficult because we are bound by our own ethos, but we are winning. Not only in Iraq, where we will turn over the government and eventually bring our troops home no matter who is in charge, but in the region, which is once again seeing that the US keeps its word, and is at least as much a friend to Islam as Syria or Egypt is. in many ways more so.

No matter what we do, the Middle East is changing. A new generation means new perspectives, new opportunities, and yes, renewed hatreds by some. But what is happening here sets the stage for the next four decades; a US which stands for a truly free Arab world, and which may remind many Imams why Muhammed said Muslims must respect Jews and Christians, as fellow "people of the Book".

When Arabs can see that Iraq is being prepared for its people, not as a US possession, some will resent it, as they do all US allies, but most will see the hand and will of Allah, who determines all fates and purposes.

Posted by: DJDrummond at May 28, 2004 09:13 AM

"That statement virtually refutes itself. I'll just add three words: Saudi, Arabia and Pakistan."

IMHO, there were many motivations for the war in Iraq. Only one got formalized in the U.N. (i.e. WMDs). As Thomas Friedman has said, we went in and took out Saddam because we could. I agree with that. It was an attempt to send a clear message. What did this accomplish?

1.) It proved that we would act unilaterally to protect our country and not allow ourselves to be restricted by an organization that had Syria as a member of it's security council.

2.) It proved we were willing to take on the biggest bully in the Middle East even if he had WMDs. (Those masks on GIs were not for show, even Jacque Chirac thought Saddam had and would use chemicals or bio-warfare.)

3.) We took out the country in a matter of weeks.

4.) We grabbed Saddam out of a spider hole and he will eventually be executed by his own people.

All this based on the mere perception that Saddam might be dabbling in WMDs and might be associating himself with terrorists.

Pop quiz: If I am a dictator in the Middle East and I have a choice of getting into bed with terrorists and arming myself with WMDs, do I do it? What do I have to gain?

The strategy is not comprehesive. Iran is clearly on the fence here and could continue with their arms build up. Pakistan will not disarm because of India, but the leadership has definitely distanced itself from terrorists. Mussaraf saw the writing on the wall even before the U.S. took on Saddam. But lot's of other countries will get the message. Hanging out with terrorists is bad for your health. Even if you have no intention of associating with terrorists, a WMD program could create that misperception based on bad U.S. intelligence. "Who knows what those crazy neocon's in Washington will do?"

"Well, do you feel lucky, punk?" - George Bush

What can't be proven is what each decision maker in every country decides not to do. But from a simple case of self preservation, I find it hard to believe that our actions will at least mimimize the relationship between nation states and terrorists, and nation states are the source of WMDs that may land in our cities.

That was the unstated reason the Bush administration went to war.

Posted by: bob at May 28, 2004 09:42 AM

I fail to see any 'grand experiment' underway (outside of our good 'ol US of A experiment) in the mideast.

I see a resolve to confront an implacable but hard to locate enemy, coupled with a conscious understanding that merely killing the current crop will be wasted effort if we don't change the political landscape of the region that breeds them.

I don't understand the reference to 'militarily capable' on the part of Mork or MJT, either. Is it possible you equate politically possible with the physical capability of our military resources? Offhand, I can't think of any regime on the planet that could stand against us on a conventional battlefield - not if the order was given to bring them down. This habit we have developed of putting bandaids on our enemie's wounds and rebuilding their convenience stores before the smoke of battle has disapated is a relatively new thing. The job of the military is to break things and kill people. When they are employed in that role, with our current standard of capability, then they are unstoppable.

Do not judge the capabilities of our military by press accounts of the day-by-day street fighting of the last few months. To be fair, we've handily won that fight too, but the ROE accentuating the desire to limit damage almost exclusively to the persons of the insurgents has given some commentators a chance to dishonestly mischaracterize the fight as something with the final decision in doubt. The crucial strength - the one component that is vital to the doctrine - is that we must remove any consideration from the mind of the enemy that once engaged we will withdraw before we achieve our aims. That requires political...and moral...discipline that seems to be in short supply in some offices.

The lesson the Bush Doctrine is attempting to teach is that an armed attack on U.S. interests will cost more than the enemy can pay. Snipe at us from a mosque? Instead of flattening the block the mosque is on, we'll put a twenty year old corporal with a scoped rifle in a building five hundred yards away and wait for you to peek
out for another shot. Assemble a squad to ambush a convoy, and we'll cordon the area and go house to house until we find every last one. If you are a country supporting terror and we catch an email or a cell phone communication proving it, your time in office will be ended.

If it were just about breaking things, we'd already be done. The hard work is breaking the cycle of despotism, tribalism, corruption, and hopelessness. Success on that field depends on honest commitment to overcome obstacles over time...which is where our government has failed to perform. Hard to win a football game when the JV squad is willing to send our plays over to the other bench and all that. And that's exactly where we are at the moment.

For what it's worth the transfer of sovereignty is still on track for the end of June. There remains five months for the effects of what has worked to be felt throughout Iraq, five months that our media has to balance the cost of propagandizing for their agenda vs. the growing distrust of their market for what they publish.

Accountability has been mentioned a couple of times previously in this thread. I propose that the administration is content to be accountable to the voters in November rather than try to get approval from the media on a daily basis.

On the road....

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 28, 2004 09:53 AM

I find it hard to believe that our actions will at least mimimize the relationship between nation states and terrorists, and nation states are the source of WMDs that may land in our cities.

Bob, you meant "WON'T at least minimize," right?

I wonder about this myself, but my conclusions are a little bit different. If the basic hypothesis is that our recent policies are making it less likely that terrorists and hostile nations will pursue WMDs, than my assessment is no better than a hearty "hmmm, maybe." And i wonder whether minimization is especially useful given the destructive power of a nuke.

Were I a terrorist or hostile nation, my judgement on the matter of pursuing nukes would rely on a bunch of things, lncluding how much of an ideologue I was. But most importantly it would rest very much on my judgement of how likely I thought it was that I'd get caught, that I'd fail.

Someone further up talked about how we took on the biggest bully, the likeliest target, in Iraq. But surely that's debatable in an ME with both SA and NK, to name a few. So if I'm a hostile, I might look at NK and say, hmm, get nukes, get respect. Disarm unsatisfactorily, get invaded. The paths of cozying up to the US and of attaining nukes both seem to work out sometimes.

In hindsight, we probably should have paid a lot more attention to the post-cold war dispersal of nukes, nuke tech, and nuke knowledge. Maybe our current policies are capable of putting the cat back in the bag. But given the improving state of communications technology and the likelihood of the existence of more than a few patiently hateful and highly moitivated psychotic islamofascists, I have my doubts.

Posted by: bk at May 28, 2004 10:18 AM

#"I find it hard to believe that our actions will at least mimimize #the relationship between nation states and terrorists, and nation #states are the source of WMDs that may land in our cities."

#Bob, you meant "WON'T at least minimize," right?

Yes. If this was a basketball contest, I swear if I had a breakaway for a layup, I'd trip over my own sneaker laces.

With less than half the world yet to be any form of democracy I'm not sure that any policy of containment in the past would have made a big difference. Remember NK was supposedly being contained by agreements made by Jimmy Carter and Hans Blix.

I agree with the counterpoint that nukes raise the barrier for U.S. intervention. However if one slips into Chicago, we are not going to do sophisticated triage and case studies before we respond. As MJT has written about, we are time constrained. On the day we lose one of our cities we will respond by nuking various capitals.

The thing about WMDs, is they are not a deterrent from invasion unless you go public with the the fact that you have them, and once you advertise you become a potential member of the U.S. hit list, inadvertantly or otherwise. The simpler solution is to convince the U.S. that you have and want nothing to do with these things. If you do this, you have greatly reduced the possibility of a U.S. intervention. That sounds less risky and more rational then ramping up a plutonium factory.

Of course rationality doesn't always rule (i.e. Kim Jong). There are always exceptions to the rule.

Posted by: bob at May 28, 2004 11:06 AM

Markus Rose --

Let me understand the shifting goalposts plan before I respond: So you're not challenging that Amin was Hitler's radio voice to the ME urging the extermination of the Jews -- you're saying that my argument is worthless (the part I explicitly said was "less certain") if I can't prove that Amin ABSOLUTELY advised Hitler to exterminate the Jews instead of following the advice of Euro graffiti and deporting them?

This is just silly.

And the point of ridiculing my argument that you should be urging the reclamation of Judea and Samaria is? If Yassar is Hitler's prodigy once removed then how could anyone possibly argue against it? And Yassar is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinians right? So he truly expresses their will? Unless they weren't really in opposition to Hitler's ideology after all... ???

TFA

P.S. I don't actually recommend evicting the Palis from their homes -- unless they don't respect the wall and keep lobbing missiles ... which somehow I suspect good old Yassar will urge them to do...

Posted by: TFA at May 28, 2004 06:47 PM

I don't know if you're still looking for a literature recommendation, or even if this will be read, but I enjoyed Naguib Mahfouz's "Children of Gebelaawi" when I read it about 8 years ago. 5 generations of a Cairo family, starting off heavily allegorical with clear references, then trending more opaque. Plausible deniability is /not/ a new concept, but it didn't save him from a couple decades in exile.

Posted by: Tom at May 28, 2004 10:41 PM

Michael: I enjoyed your entry a lot. :) Arabic is hard, I'm learning also. I am pretty uninterested in Qur'anic translations, because Islam is an aural tradition. The two things that have helped me the most are qur'anic recitation in arabic, and pre-Islamic poetry from the Jahilyyah. The thing I see, that no one says, is that the Qur'an is beautiful-- it has to be, otherwise it would not be successful.

Posted by: twisterella at May 29, 2004 02:06 AM

Michael: I enjoyed your entry a lot. :) Arabic is hard, I'm learning also. I am pretty uninterested in Qur'anic translations, because Islam is an aural tradition. The two things that have helped me the most are qur'anic recitation in arabic, and pre-Islamic poetry from the Jahilyyah. The thing I see, that no one says, is that the Qur'an is beautiful-- it has to be, otherwise it would not be successful.

Posted by: twisterella at May 29, 2004 02:08 AM
"I wonder about this myself, but my conclusions are a little bit different. If the basic hypothesis is that our recent policies are making it less likely that terrorists and hostile nations will pursue WMDs, than my assessment is no better than a hearty "hmmm, maybe." And i wonder whether minimization is especially useful given the destructive power of a nuke. Were I a terrorist or hostile nation, my judgement on the matter of pursuing nukes would rely on a bunch of things, lncluding how much of an ideologue I was. But most importantly it would rest very much on my judgement of how likely I thought it was that I'd get caught, that I'd fail."

In the post-cold war world deterrence will impact the aquisition of WMD, rather than their use. That's because the order of priority is reversed due to terrorism. We don't doubt that terrorists would use WMD against us, if they had them and could deliver the blow (with their unique version of a "smart weapons delivery system").

Given this fact, and the game-theoretical conclusions expressed in Wretchard's Three Conjectures (or some modified version, thereof), then in the aftermath of a WMD strike against the US any nation having WMD must be viewed as a potential donor to the terrorist "cause" and will therefore be the target of a massive thermonuclear response. Which is probably one of the main reason Qadaffi decided to get rid of his. He's smarter than he looks.

Posted by: Scott at May 29, 2004 08:48 AM
in the aftermath of a WMD strike against the US any nation having WMD must be viewed as a potential donor

I mean, of course, any nation with a large population in war-like opposition to the US. And that might well include nations like Pakistan. But I imagine that the initial response would be limited to "likely" donors, to give the opportunity to some other nations with WMD arsenals to disarm completely. The fact that this policy is not widely known or believed actually makes things more dangerous.

Posted by: Scott at May 29, 2004 08:57 AM

Twisterella -

Slight disagreement with you. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...and the Koran, as an instrument of political power, is a lot more useful than it is beautiful.

The creed is submission. The enforcement of virtue is one of the few earthly pursuits encouraged in the Koran...leaving the role of defender/expander of the faith as just about the highest slot available on the earthly plain.

Some servants ARE more equal than the others, of course.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 29, 2004 10:37 AM

BTW: Here's just one link on Husseini and the final solution taken from the Nuremberg trials and introduced at Eichmann's trial:

http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/e/eichmann-adolf/transcripts/Sessions/Session-050-07.html

Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it...

TFA

Posted by: TFA at May 30, 2004 01:26 PM

With your permission, then: The Glory of God is pertinent to THIS thread precisely because He brought creative answers for humankind: not just for Christians seeking the righteousness of Christ, but for Muslims seeking the Promised One of 1260 (1844 CE)...

By their choice of accepting as authoritative the opinions and assertions of their respective clergy, humankind today is suffering seriously and at our own hand! Islamofascism is one symptom, others are off-thread, but visible and real.

Instead of turning toward the One promised by Jesus, promised by Muhammad, promised by ALL the previous Holy Messengers, the great majority of humankind has chosen the damnable heresy of 'scoff and deny' our Lord Who redeems us has returned. Deny He knew His words would lead us to 1844. Deny He knew the meaning of His own words. Deny He wants us to turn toward the One Who came 1844 (1260 AH); deny He knew the meaning of 'in this day' and 'in that day'...

THEN our clergy want us to listen to them, as they advocate all manner of deviant behaviour, homosexuality, license, lust, racism, bigotry, bias and materialism. In Jesus' name... In God's name...

But not in the name of The Glory of God. HIS teachings provide a means of collective decision-making which has worked, in every nation, since at least 1963; provide a means of collective national security; provide a means of conflict resolution NOT based on might-makes-right...

ALL these are applicable to the Middle East/Iraq thread here under consideration. Thank you for permission to relate them herein.

Posted by: Sharps Shooter at May 31, 2004 01:27 AM
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Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

"Terrific"
Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

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James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

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James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


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Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn