Quotations From Robert Hughes, George Santayana & A Few Foreign Policy Links

Robert Hughes makes the case for older forms of visual expression at min 45:08:

‘Painting is, you might say, exactly what mass media are not, a way of specific engagement, not of general seduction.  That is its continuing relevance to us:  Everywhere and at all times, there is a world to be reformed by the darting subtlety and persistent slowness of the painter’s eye.’

The idea that a painter, through long experience and expert practice, can give you an experience you might not have otherwise had; returning some basic part of yourself to you, or reorienting you to experience the world anew, is an interesting one.

As to what I think the humanities can do when less frequently co-opted by the causes and movements of the moment.

Quotations which have stuck with me:

“Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality.”

George Santayana

‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’

George Santayana

Meanwhile, politics and geo-politics go on, and if you think you might know which direction (H)istory is moving, you might want to think again.

And again.

This way, at least, we all might learn more along the way.

Some links:

 

Intelligent Design Creationism And A Few Iran Links

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Gelernter’s Strong Arguments Against Intelligent Design Creationism

Interesting read:

‘Gelernter sees that this is purely negative reasoning, because the proponents of intelligent design are offering no positive explanation of their own as to exactly when, where, and how the intelligent designer caused these forms of life.’

Relevant key-word search on this site ‘Gelernter:’ From Ed Driscoll: ‘Interview: David Gelernter on America-Lite’…More Americans In Universities-To What End? A Few Links

Both from The Federalist:

President Trump Can Still Avert A Catastrophe With Iran, And He Should

Panic Over War With Iran Is An Info Operation To Preserve The Iran Deal

My thoughts as a semi-informed citizen: I remember thinking that the Iranian regime (proxies, guns, terrorism) was the kind of regime with whom we couldn’t really do business (anti-American from the get-go), and that the deeper, populist ambitions of many Persians might support some kind of Iranian level-up to nuclear legitimacy, further destabilizing the region after a longer American strategic retreat.

Many signs pointed towards a conflict.

At the time, I didn’t much like the McCain campaign’s noises on Iran, potentially leading to a stand-off or even a much more difficult war than the Iraq campaign, without many of the Iraq war’s architects and supporting base having to examine their underlying assumptions.  This, given the many failure of America’s political and intellectual classes to properly consider what I see as many current American internal social, political and cultural divisions.

This process of decay and/or re-formation of our political and intellectual elite still seems to be ongoing. All in all, I remain highly skeptical.

Add to this the ‘our-deal-or-war’ peace rhetoric of the Obama administration and what seemed the amateurish quality of their foreign policy goals?

Here we are, I suppose.

Relevant key-word search on this site ‘Iran’: How’s That Iran Deal Going, Exactly?…

Repost-Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

Adam Garfinkle has a thoughtful piece on American political discourse and the Iran deal.

 

A Few Syria Links-Walking The Current American Libertarian-Conservative Line

Michael Totten on the Syria attacks: ‘The Case For Bombing Assad:’

‘The Assad regime won’t disappear or suddenly turn into a model of good government by a couple of punishing strikes, nor will the number of Syrian dead in the future be reduced even by one. Those are not the objectives. The objective is (or at least should be) making the use of a weapon of mass destruction more costly than not using it, to demonstrate not just to Assad but also to every other would-be war criminal that the norm established in 1993 on behalf of every human being will not go down without a fight.’

Richard Epstein: ‘Trump’s Forceful Syrian Gambit’

‘There should be no doubt, however, that taking a strong stand against a determined enemy will always raise the stakes of foreign policy—such as when John F. Kennedy faced down the Russians in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which was precipitated, in large part, by the weakness America displayed at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. A systematically passive military strategy points in only one direction: down. Today, the policy is shifting in a more favorable manner. Obama summarily fired General Mattis as head of Central Command in January 2013. He is now Trump’s Secretary of Defense—I count that as progress.’

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Trump’s Realist Syria Strategy’ (behind a WSJ paywall):

‘The tangled politics of last week’s missile strikes illustrate the contradictions in Mr. Trump’s approach. The president is a realist who believes that international relations are both highly competitive and zero-sum. If Iran and Russia threaten the balance of power in the Middle East, it is necessary to work with any country in the region that will counter them, irrespective of its human-rights record. The question is not whether there are political prisoners in Egypt; the question is whether Egypt shares U.S. interests when it comes to opposing Iran.’

As previously posted:

Many years ago, now, Charles Hill to some extent, and Fouad Ajami more so, argued for some action in Syria, as part of a larger strategic vision, a bolder, Trumanesque step that would define a new age of American influence (addition: or at least maintain our influence. We are signaling to the world that we are no longer leading and pursuing our interests, supporting freedom as we understand and want to see it, and we probably won’t like the world we’ll see). Agree or disagree, they’ve got some things right:

————————-

A quote from Hill’s forward to Ajami’s new book on Syria as discussed in the video:

“[The] greatest strategic challenge of the twenty-first century is involves “reversing Islamic radicalism”‘

What is our mission here? What is the larger strategy?

Related On This Site: …From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest:

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient: “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”. It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’

Part Of The Design? A Few More Thoughts On Events In Iran

What if the Obama administration aimed to take away the leverage propping-up the Revolutionary Guard and the mullahs; clearing the slate of past American financial obligations, thus holding Iran’s leaders much more accountable to their people?

This assumes quite a bit of competence and intent that may not have been present, but if it is a consequence (however intended/unintended), I’d likely support it.

I have been pretty much against the Iran deal, because I’ve been thinking the costs outweigh the benefits:  It yields much American/Western leverage against a rotten regime, it puts what I think is a kind of idealistically misplaced faith in ‘international institutions’ (bankrolled by the U.S. taxpayer), and it may keep those controlling Iran (come what may) on the glide-path towards deliverable nukes.

The following responses to the below tweet might give some demographic insight into who protested in 2009, and who might be doing doing so now in Iran:

Some factions have gone all in for Civil Rights solidarity because it likely throws them a line in from the West (often wealthier, educated people in the suburbs around Tehran).  There are a lot of poorer Iranians with few job prospects, however, who may be fed up with the same old revolutionary rhetoric.

Protests Within Iran, Donald Trump, And Visions Of Political Order-A Few Links And Thoughts

Why I didn’t support the Iran deal (see here)

Protests Within Iran, Donald Trump, And Visions Of Political Order-A Few Links And Thoughts

A view from inside the country:

and a view from the Ayatollah:

So good of the man to give his take on the relative influence of our nations.

My two cents:

  1. The regime in Iran is not merely Islamic and thus counter, and resistant, to much in Western society for its own reasons (pre and post-Enlightenment), it is ideological and revolutionary. The regime’s got America and ideas of America stuck in its craw; already having elements of Western influence contained within the revolution.  The current regime’s expansionism, violence and repression is baked in the cake, to some extent, and helps explain why it aligns with Moscow, Damascus, and even Havana.  This makes it really hard to do business with them at all.
  2. This regime is quite authoritarian, repressing other factions within Iranian civilization who disagree, despite the country’s representative mechanisms and procedures.  I think former President Ahmadinejad’s Member’s Only jacket could tell us something about his populist appeal to Iranians who mobilize into the Basij (part of the Revolutionary Guard of which Ahmadinejad was a part, and which does a lot of dirty work).
  3. As a Shi’a, more geographically/ethnically homogeneous nation, Iran is involved in a bitter, intra-Islamic war for supremacy within the Muslim world, funding guns, terrorism, drugs and proxies around the region and more broadly whenever it can (Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Argentina, even to Britain and into the heart of free-speech debates within the West with the crass political maneuvering of the Salman Rushdie affair).
  4. The Iranian regime is involved in a lot of black-market activity in order to achieve deliverable nuclear weapons.  This could easily start an arms race with the Saudis, Sunni factions and other very unstable regimes and States within the Muslim world.  American influence has been greatly diminished, especially in the last decade.

I’ve been asked why I didn’t support the Iran deal (see here), and it’s mostly because I think many factions in the West, including those in power during the Obama administration, didn’t have a good enough moral/political map to understand the risks and the rewards in doing American business with Iran.  The logic of ‘this deal or war’ was always flawed.  The sanctions that were lifted were, in fact, doing a lot of work.  Dealing with deeply anti-American thugs is still dealing with deeply anti-American thugs, and it damned well better be worth the costs.

On that note, allow me to explain a deeper disagreement with the ‘inside every Iranian is an activist waiting to get out‘ approach, and why I am more sympathetic to our current approach under Donald Trump.

To say nothing of the totalitarian impulses and consequences of actual Communist revolution often tolerated beneath liberal sentiment (see many universities), nor the radical and rule-of-law-undermining authoritarian populism of many Western activists (gelling upwards into impossible politically idealistic demands upon our institutions, erosion of the rule of law, and resulting in ideological actors personalizing bureaucracy), this reminds me of a quote from Kelley Ross on the problems even deeper liberal political thinkers have had in providing sufficient moral foundations for liberal political order.

Here he is on Isaiah Berlin’s ‘value-pluralism’ while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question.’

The above could help explain why the previous administration put a lot of effort in reaching out to our historical enemies (Cuba, Iran) and left many alliances to wither (Israel, arguably Britain).  The West must be hard, or softly, remade from the inside-out.  The real problem is within the West, after all, and American military, economic and political resources should, at best, be morally justified in including enemies into a ‘community of nations.’

***In all humility, however, there is a seduction of the more personal kind, and a lot of pride, truth, and principle in wanting to see one’s own map of the world extended as far as it will go.  I expect a lot of liberal American publications (hip-deep into activist ideology these days) will still invest in the Obama plan or back away from human-rights and push for caution regarding events in Iran, while many on the American right (Constitutional Republicans, neo-conservatives, and the Religious right) will probably more openly support regime change in Iran.

It’s important to remember:  The map ain’t always the terrain.

Honestly, I can’t say I disagree too much at the moment with the following:

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

 

Alberto Nisman, The ‘Global Community’ & Anti-Semitism in Europe-Some Links & Thoughts

A terrorist blows up a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires (85 dead) in 1994–>Prosecutor Alberto Nisman starts relentlessly investigating years later and eventually confirms evidence of an Iranian state-sponsored Hezbollah agent behind the attack–>Nisman also discovers that the President of Argentina (wonderfully corrupt) is involved in the cover-up of this fact for politics/money/trade/ideological reasons–>Alberto Nisman is murdered in 2015.

A little more on the murder here.

Dexter Filkins took a look at the death of Nisman:

Now it’s back in the news again:

From The NY Times:

‘On July 18, 1994, Ibrahim Hussein Berro, an operative of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, drove a van filled with 606 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil into the Buenos Aires Jewish community center, known as AMIA. More than 300 Argentines were wounded; 85 were murdered. It remains the bloodiest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history.

From 2004 until 2015, our friend, the prosecutor Alberto Nisman, tirelessly pursued the truth behind this crime. He knew from his investigation that the attack was an Iranian-planned operation. And he determined that Ms. Kirchner was behind a cover-up designed to whitewash Iran’s role.

What drove Ms. Kirchner? Argentina faced deep economic problems at the time, and the financial benefits of closer relations with Iran might have tempted her. Her government also had populist ties to Iran and the Bolivarian bloc of nations led by Venezuela. Whatever the reason, never has Ms. Kirchner been formally charged in the crime. Until now.’

This event demonstrates not only how criminally corrupt the Argentine government is (Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), but also the kinds of people, incentives and dangers out there in the world.

The thuggish regime in Iran really is seeking to expand its scope globally (murdering Jews on foreign soil).  It really is seeking deliverable nukes while dipping into black-market activity, funding terrorism in a bid to the Mediterranean.  It really is seeking supremacy over a quickly forming Saudi-Israeli alliance (Al Quds in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, current ‘allies’ in Yemen).

It will do these kinds of ‘legitimate’ deals where it can too.

During the past administration, a decision was made in Washington to frame American relations with the Iranian regime as either war or a deal to include them in the ‘community of nations’ (perhaps what you might expect from a ‘peace’ activist).

It’s not clear these are the kinds of people with whom we can, nor should, be doing business (though I’m sympathetic to countering Saudi-funded Wahhabism).

Yeah it’s Vice (way radical and edgy), but at least they’re on-scene:

Addition:  Argentinian politics are deeply charged, personal, corrupt and messy.

—-

Anti-Semitism runs deep, and there are plenty of people to reinforce their own standing/lack of standing by scapegoating Jewish folk.  A lot of the time such differences can be explained simply by what happens in the schoolyard (he/she is different, isn’t like me, looks funny etc.) but dear Lord, can such sentiment be theorized into racial and genetic pseudo-science, justified by religious conviction, and mobilized into political violence.

More care is required than to leave freedoms in the hands of identitarians.

Jamie Kirchik’s ‘Last Night In Sweden‘:

‘The danger of governments and the press continuing to deny the reality of violent anti-semitism, and of the real dangers posed by large numbers of migrants from Muslim-majority countries without any real effort or ability to acculturate them to Western social and political norms, while blaming “the far right” and “neo-Nazis” alone for anti-semitism and attacks on Muslims, should be plain to any thinking person.’

Via Mick Hartley via Forward:  ‘Take It From A British Jew: Anti-Zionism Leads To Anti-Semitism.

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-Semitism…

From Guernica: Bernard Henri Levy Interview On Anti-Semitism And Fascism

Repost-Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

 

The Categorical Imperative And Some Links On Saudi Arabia and Iran

Via Edward Feser via BBC Radio 4–Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason…

Kantian metaphysics can lead to problems in the public square, or at least something of an aesthetic retreat, by individuals, from the public square.  Part of the Anglo-talent for governance has roots in the Humean empiricism Kant was to synthesize within his own platform, and I’d argue this empiricism is culturally much deeper within the Anglo-sphere.  There is often more deference to the uniqueness of each of our experiences and the uniqueness each that case can bring within common-law jurisprudence.

Repost-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Inside every Iranian is a Western peace activist waiting to get out…Via Mick Hartley via The National-Iran’s long-cherished Tehran to Beirut land-bridge moves closer to reality.

From Intelligence Squared: Two people on either side debating whether ‘Obama’s Foreign Policy Is A Failure‘ (some rather unsurprising anti-Trump sentiment is expressed by the panelists at the outset, to some applause by the audience in NYC).

What just happened in Saudi Arabia?  Adam Garfinkle: ‘The 1002nd Arabian Night?

‘Contrary to what the vast majority of Americans seem to think, Saudi Arabia is not a traditional Muslim country. Saudi Arabia is an attenuated neo-fundamentalist country from having been taken over, by force of arms in the early 20th century, by a “revitalization movement”—to use Anthony F.C. Wallace’s classic 1956 description of the type. The Wahhabi movement’

and:

The Trump Administration, just possibly, had one sensible idea in foreign policy: stop playing footsie with the Iranians and organize the Sunnis to confront the real threat—creeping Iranian imperial recidivism—and to whack ISIS at the same time. But having a decent idea and knowing how to make it happen are two different things. The Saudis did not whack ISIS; if any locals did, it was the Kurds, and look where their efforts have got them.

And more broadly: It’s quite possible to bring the problems of other parts of the world into your own neighborhood along with the people you are bringing in.  This can, and and unfortunately, sometimes does, include the worst elements.

Right now, service members and special forces are acting in your name as a U.S. citizen abroad, and local and federal law enforcement officials here at home, and there are many good reasons why.

When we focus on these harsh truths and bear some of the burden they carry, the conversations about freedom and responsibility tend to go better.

Wahhabism in the Balkans?:

With whom can we do business against these worst elements?

and

Previously on this site: Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

How’s That Iran Deal Going, Exactly?

Perhaps the Valerie Jarrett connection, and the idea that inside every Persian is an activist yearning to bend with the arc of history towards peace, are both at work.

Perhaps too the idea that ‘colonial’ oppression has generally been a force for ill: American military strength is only really morally justified by bending it towards international institutions and ideals of peace activism.

But, what do I really know?

From afar, I recall thinking our foreign policy was being driven by a rather naive grab-bag of Western secular humanism, activism and Model UN-type inexperience during the Obama years.

The logic led to empowering many who displayed adherence and allegiance to the ideas and the policy vision. Or maybe just more than usual.

We could well end-up having removed much ‘will’ of the international community by removing the economic sanctions in place against Iran; emboldening a deeply corrupt, dishonest regime seeking deliverable nukes, running guns, money and terrorism around the region.

We could make the likelihood of an arms race (in an unstable place where we really don’t want a nuclear arms race) as likely, potentially kicking the inevitable conflicts over deeper issues down the road.

What have we as American citizens gained in terms of security, economic interests and influence?

What have we lost?

Repost-Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

Some Links On The Move Towards Kurdish Independence

Via Mick Hartley via the NY Times: ‘Israel Endorsed Kurdish Independence. Saladin Would Be Proud

‘Ties between the two have only grown warmer and more vital since the 1960s, as Israel and the Kurds — both minorities in an inhospitable region and ever in need of international allies — have repeatedly come to each other’s aid. The Kurds have long patterned their lobbying efforts in Washington on those of Israel’s supporters.’

On the realist vision, there are no true friends, rather alliances, common interests and threats; vectors of forces.  There’s situational logic, and there are very real abstractions which matter (the character of a people, the ideas and core principles which guide them, the leaders that rise to power which can’t be too far in front of the coalitions which got them there…should they be elected).

There are also shared experiences, suffering, sentiment and sacrifices.

Relationships matter.

When the cold winds blow, however, you just may find yourself standing alone.

When survival is at stake, and war a necessity, urgency and expediency come to the fore, as does courage in battle, and cool under fire.

Not only does the Cold War and the backdrop of Russian/American power games still influence this region heavily, but the very split deep within the West itself does as well:  There are Communist Kurdish militias, and there are Kurdish nationalist militias appealing to American patriotism, Constitutional Republicanism, and the liberation of peoples oppressed under unwanted authority.

As posted:

Ofra Bengio At The American Interest: The Kurds’ Proxy Trap

Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

In his book Where The West Ends, Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

A Wednesday Link On Afghanistan

Via Mick Hartley-Terry Glavin at The Ottawa Citizen: ‘Admit it. We’ve Lost Afghanistan:’

I can’t say I really agree, but am open to argument  (I don’t believe U.S. soldiers have died in vain, either). The logic keeping coalition forces in Afpak is pretty simple:

Because it’s so unstable, Afghanistan is a haven for all networks of ruthless, unscrupulous Islamist and terrorist organizations aiming to target citizens in Western countries, and Western leaders can’t risk that happening:

Of course, it’s a mess, and it appears a worsening mess:

‘Like every Afghan leader over the past two centuries, Ghani is a Pashtun – the ethnic bloc that has produced everything from enlightened monarchs and quick-witted statesmen to the murderous pro-Soviet thug regime of the late 1970s to the leadership of the Taliban and its allied Haqqani network in Pakistan’

Many parts of the world are truly lawless, but increasingly connected: It’s important to remember there’s a world black market full of shady, unscrupulous people, sometimes in control of States, that peddle nuclear technology and Afghanistan often serves as the market bazaar:

‘In recent weeks, Taliban commanders have confirmed that Tehran is boosting its supply of funding and weaponry to the Taliban leadership, and that some of those arms shipments originate in Russia.’

Ah, that delightful post-1979 crowd in Iran may simply have been emboldened to keep oppressing many of its people and to keep advancing its aims with questionable and limited gains for the West (the community of nations may have in fact, less leverage than the coalition in Afghanistan).

Here’s a documentary on the Green Berets passed along by a reader, which has good footage of what American special forces are being asked to do in Afghanistan: The fierce fighting. The tribal, poor and divided loyalties of what come to be Afghan forces. The thuggish tactics of the Taliban:

============

Related On This Site: From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanStephen Biddle At Foreign Affairs: ‘Running Out Of Time For Afghan Governance Reform’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Monday Quotations-Henry KissingerTom Ricks Via Foreign Policy: ‘American General Dies In Afghanistan; An American Lt. Col. Goes Off The Reservation