‘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.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, we now have much establishment conventional wisdom simply unable to report frequency, facts, perpetrators and the connection between Islam and terrorism as openly as plainly as possible, respecting the citizens they serve enough to make up their own minds (including Muslims).
This tends to push the problem underground, where effects are often confused with causes, and deeper tensions emerge, and perhaps in more volatile fashion.
Respect for legitimate authority is undermined, as less legitimate authority consolidates itself and keeps passing the buck. Language loses its precision.
‘In voting to authorize force against Syria, Congress will be hoping for a short and inconsequential war; Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, however, will all get to vote on what kind of war we actually have.’
Worth a read.
There is a very strong current of isolationism and war-weariness in American life right now. Public opinion is really not in favor of a war. Combine this with a deep and general mistrust of our elected officials as well, and Obama’s managed to split the difference and unite many anti-war progressive democrats and usually more pro-war Republicans stronger on national defense against involvement in Syria.
That’s quite a feat.
His domestic base must feel he’s turned on them, because after all, the civil rights crowd, the 60’s idealists, the progressives, the anti-war movement and the peaceniks, the human rights crowd etc. are not overtly interested in a war (where are the protests?). There is, however, a group of liberal internationalist realpolitikers, liberal hawks, realists and a more general group of established policymakers who realize how serious the stakes are, especially with the use of chemical weapons on the line.
Those on the right that I’ve spoken with pretty much don’t trust the President at all. After all, they’re pretty much bitter clingers to him, assaulted daily as he’s politicking against them, sometimes in bad faith. As with the liberal interventionists though, there are establishment Republicans, realists, and others who may not like having the military be guided by Obama nor his ideals, but also realize how much is at stake, and see the end game with Iran very much in play.
A pretty damned good overview of Syria for the non-initiated, including what’s been going on since 2011 and the backstory at the thehowardbealeshow. Recommended. Really.
‘This column favors military action against Syria if it is backed by a strategic purpose and resolute leadership. But Obama, Kerry and McCain all come across as desperate men who feel they have something to prove. That emotional state is a further reason to be cautious about entrusting them with lethal weapons.’
Bonus: We’ve always had to take sides, especially during the Cold War:
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
‘The Middle East desperately needs economic development, better education, the rule of law and gender equality, as Mr. Romney says. And Mr. Obama was right to take the side of citizens against dictators—especially in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi ran one of the most thoroughly repressive police states in the world, and in Syria, where Bashar Assad has turned the country he inherited into a prison spattered with blood. But both presidential candidates are kidding themselves if they think anti-Americanism and the appeal of radical Islam will vanish any time soon.’
We now have kind of a client state in Libya, but at what cost, and how are we handling the rise of Islamism?
‘When he was elected president in 2008, Mr. Obama thought he could improve America’s relations with the Arab world by not being George W. Bush, by creating some distance between himself and Israel, and by delivering a friendly speech in Cairo. He was naïve. He should know better by now, especially after the unpleasantness last month in the countries where he thinks we’re popular.’
“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems. A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution. If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation. Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”
“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at. Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”
Food for thought.
Addition: Via Fox News: Tyrone Woods, among others was told to stand down, but ignored the order once it was given for the second time. No reinforcements were called in.
VDH was a supporter of the Iraq war as part of a larger war against “Islamic fascism.” He is registered Democrat but generally conservative (neoconservative?), and I suspect virtue, duty, and honor are central to a lot of his thinking as he is a military historian who’s written extensively about the Peloponessian wars.
As he points out, we are in an asymmetrical war against Islamic terrorists and also in potential conflict with the nations which actively support, harbor, or simply cannot control those terrorists within their borders. He discusses some of the forces inside Muslim countries which help to produce these terrorists as he sees them: anti-modernism, anti-Westernism, an Islamic resurgence whose sharp edge is going to drive the infidel and his Western influences from the Arabian peninsula and restore purist Islam.
In a democracy like ours (he no doubt sees parallels to ancient Athens) we generally don’t provide a lot of public support to a war unless we are in real danger as we were on 9/11. This kind of ongoing conflict (USS Cole, embassy bombings, Ft. Hood, Times Square bomber) is a tough sell to Americans and VDH is generally suspect of our will to see the struggle through as for him it is a conflict to be won, military campaigns and all.
I’d add that as we speak, Obama’s liberal internationalist policy platform is pursuing a goal which I would support if I had more confidence it would reap reward without too much sacrifice and change to our own freedoms, traditions and institutions (and not lead us into the European multicultural solution which is in part relying on our military strength).
This goal is getting a plurality if not a majority of Muslims to stand up and say to those terrorists, Al-Qaida members, inflammatory Imams and radicals amongst them: Stop it. Your way is not our way.
On this view, to achieve this goal, you meet with these Muslims and their organizations where they are, and you try and punish/reward their political leaders who cannot be too far in front of their people. You still try and install more Western democratic institutions and include the people under a set of ideals which you presume to be universal, but with as little military involvement as possible. Now you have the “right ideas.”
According to liberal internationalism, curbing American force, withdrawing our military from Afghanistan and Iraq (but involving it in unforeseen ways in Libya, and leaving it out of Syria?) is the best way forward. With carrots and sticks this will somehow, in the long run, lead toward peace by including and representing all parties without exposing them to the sharp edge of Western society. The preferred ideals of women’s freedoms, human rights, and tolerance are often pursued most prominently.
As VDH points out, our enemies (Al Qaida, terrorists in general, Ahmadinejad, Hizbollah) see this approach as a sign of weakness, and will take any advantage they can which poses other risks to our security. Our old enemies like Russia and unknowns like China will do much the same, and international institutions may not be the best way to handle any common interests. The kinds of institutions which this worldview produces are like the relatively ineffective ones it has already already produced: the U.N., the failures of the Eurozone and its top down class of bureaucrats, and the excesses of more indebted and unsustainable Western States whose people are being out-produced and out-reproduced.
There is a serious design flaw to such an approach, aside from the Rousseuian tendencies and the idealism inherent within it.
I’m not sure I’m totally on board with another military campaign in the Middle-East and I know many fellow Americans are not as well, so I’ll leave with this quotation by Samuel Huntington which I keep putting up:
“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Please feel free to highlight my ignorance.
Well, times are changing as Zakaria points out (and I’d offer that Americans are seeing the change through the lens of their ideals and current politics…the Left seeking its abstract ideals of democracy, equality and justice through protest never to be reached but certainly to be pursued…parts of the Right seeing only dangerous, violent unrest that is potentially a security threat):
‘…but there are two fundamental reasons the tensions that have been let loose in the Middle East over the past few weeks are unlikely to disappear, and they encompass two of the most powerful forces changing the world today: youth and technology.’
In Bahrain, one family has had nearly complete control for generations, in Egypt, Mubarak was in power for over 30 years…and how to stay in power?:
‘Those payments are a reminder that in the Middle East, there are two modes of control: mass repression and mass bribery.
A reasonable question to ask is have the conditions that created the autocratic and monarchic rulers within the people themselves been overcome? Also: is there a broader raft of what we would regard as individual freedoms in the Muslim world? Are there sources for such freedoms that stem from Islam? in law? from the West? in pockets of an educated elite…and cultural exchanges? from somewhere else?
Many in the West are rightly worried that the movement in the Middle-East to recapture a glorious Islam and past seizes power in some locations (we are currently engaging the most extreme examples with our military, which is probably not the best long-term solution). This vision radicalizes many poor, uneducated youth with little hope of a future into a pan Arab identity of righteous vengeance, guerilla-style fighting and impossible purity. More moderately, such movements can address the injustice of many Palestinians, say, in the charter of Hamas by refusing the right of Israel to exist (a recipe for potential disaster if they follow such logic to conclusions). In times of war and suffering, and in sudden change, people will yearn especially for social stability, cultural identity and purpose and….often Islam is the glue. This raises reasonable skepticism.
Addition: As a reader points out, quite well-educated folks like Mohammed Atta and the underwear bomber radicalized as well, but I suspect their primary grievance is with their own rulers and their own conditions (the common enemy of American interest, or drive the infidel from the Arabian peninsula, is secondary, however consequential). For many Afghans, it’s just more war, and as has been reasonably pointed out here, many Afghans are illiterate, very poor, living in tribal bands in often geographically isolated areas.
Just a few thoughts, feel free to highlight my ignorance. Zakaria finishes with:
‘Warren Buffett once said that when anyone tells him, “This time it’s different,” he reaches for his wallet because he fears he’s going to be swindled. Well, I have a feeling that this time in the Middle East, it’s different. But I have my hand on my wallet anyway.’
“I would argue that the lesson of Obama’s tenure to date is not so much, “The policy isn’t working” as, “It’s even harder than you thought.”
“If the Middle East is a physics problem, Obama fully recognized the inertia of the object, but exaggerated the force his lever could produce. Like Bush, Obama believed that there was something in himself — a very different something, to be sure — that would break the stalemates of years past,…”