20 December 2008

The mad and the lost

Running across this article by Mark Helprin at the WSJ on how we have been made vulnerable due to the war in Iraq, I run across a very strange passage which, to me at least, is more than just passing strange:

The pity is that the war could have been successful and this equilibrium sustained had we struck immediately, preserving the link with September 11th; had we disciplined our objective to forcing upon regimes that nurture terrorism the choice of routing it out with their ruthless secret services or suffering the destruction of the means to power for which they live; had we husbanded our forces in the highly developed military areas of northern Saudi Arabia after deposing Saddam Hussein, where as a fleet in being they would suffer no casualties and remain at the ready to reach Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh in three days; and had we taken strong and effective measures for our domestic protection while striving to stay within constitutional limits and eloquently explaining the necessity -- as has always been the case in war -- for sometimes exceeding them. Today's progressives apologize to the world for America's treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed). Franklin Roosevelt, when faced with German saboteurs (who had caused not a single casualty), had them electrocuted and buried in numbered graves next to a sewage plant.

Now isn't that stirring stuff?

Lovely to see how Mr. Helprin has learned nothing of Counter-Insurgency since late 2003, and that it can only be done successfully in contact with the local populace and not from 'ships at sea' or from 'over the horizon'.  This was known, actually, before the war, but it takes many guises and must adapt to local conditions and culture, so as to ensure that an insurgency does not drag on for decades, spilling more and more blood by not being confronted at all levels.  By not being on the ground and in the community, you strengthen an insurgency and weaken your geopolitical hand as you are seen as unable to cope with minor problems and can only do anything about them when they grow into large ones... and as heartless at the loss of blood and the dehumanization of those being attacked by the insurgency, which is the culture of a Nation, itself.

Apparently by rolling into Baghdad and then rolling right back out again, we would show ourselves to be 'strong' while we let those we defeated decay into strife and misery.  Even worse is the romance for dictatorships and despots that Mr. Helprin evinces not only in the consequences necessary to do this roll-in, roll-out deal, which would be putting another dictator in Baghdad, but that those dictatorships in the Middle East would even be cowed by this into helping!  What this makes the case for is not 'helping' but in getting one faction to invite the US to depose an existing government so that a new faction can take over.  That would have been what we did in Baghdad via this prescription, no?

I remember how the Left squealed in the '70s that the US was just deposing one dictator for another via the CIA and other means and that we really, truly, ought to stop doing that.  Little did we know that would be something that would be prescribed as a 'beneficial' thing in 2008!  But then Mr. Helprin takes a very dim view of Arab culture as he showed in this 17 SEP 2003 piece at The Claremont Institute:

How might it be accomplished? as much as those who make war against the West find advantage in Arab history and Islamic tradition, they are burdened by its disadvantages. Living in a world of intense subjectivity where argument is perpetually overruled by impulse, they suffer divisions within divisions and schisms within schisms. Though all-consuming fervor may be appropriate to certain aspects of revealed religion, it makes for absolutist politics and governance. A despotic political culture in turn decreases the possibilities of strong alliances and is (often literally) murderous to initiative, whether technical, military, or otherwise. And it is of no little import that the Middle East has developed so as to be unreceptive to technology.

The natural environment of Arabia is so extreme that the idea of mastering it was out of the question, submission and adaptation being the only options, and the Middle East had neither the kind of surplus agriculture that permitted Europe to industrialize, nor the metals and wood upon which the machine culture was built. Technology was viewed not as a system of interdependent principles, but rather as finite at all stages, not an art to be practiced but a product to be bought. Magical machines arrived whole, without a hint of the network of factories, workshops, mines, and schools, and the centuries of struggle and genius it took to build them. Islam provides a successful spiritual equilibrium that the whole of Islamic society strives to protect. The West, by its very nature, stirs and changes everything in "creative destruction." Wanting no part in this, the Middle East, to quote the economic historian Charles Issawi, "believed that the genius of Islam would permit a controlled modernization; from Europe one could borrow things without needing to borrow ideas," which is why, perhaps, in 19th-century Egypt, students were sometimes taught a European language to master a craft, and then told to "forget" the language.

Even more potentially fatal to the Arabs than the fact that they cannot ever win a technological duel with the West is their Manichean tendency to perceive in wholly black or wholly white. In the Middle East the middle ground is hardly ever occupied, and entire populations hold volatile and extremist views. This is traceable perhaps to the austerities of the desert and nomadic life, and is one of the great and magnetic attractions of Islam—severity, certainty, and either decisive action or righteous and contented abstention. In Arab-Islamic culture, things go very strongly one way or they go very strongly the other, and, always, a compassionate haven exists for the defeated, for martyrs, as long as they have not strayed from the code of honor. In the West, success is everything, but in the Arab Middle East honor is everything, and can coexist perfectly well with failure. The Arabs have a noble history of defeat, and are acclimatized to it. Their cultural and religious structures, far less worldly than ours, readily accommodate it. Though wanting victory, they are equally magnetized by defeat, for they understand, as we used to in the West, that the defeated are the closest to God.

The West seems not to know, George W. Bush seems not to know, and Donald Rumsfeld seems not to know, that there can be but one effective strategy in the war against terrorism, and that is to shift Arab-Islamic society into the other of its two states—out of nascent 'asabiya and into comfortable fatalism and resignation. The British have done this repeatedly, and the United States almost did it during the Gulf War. That the object of such an exercise is not to defeat the Arabs but to dissuade them from making war upon us means it is more likely to succeed now than when it was joined to religious war in the Crusades or to the imperial expansion of Europe. Now we want only to trade with the oil states even at scandalous expense, and not (assuming that "nation-building" is properly allowed to atrophy) to convert, control, or colonize. How, exactly, does one shift Arab-Islamic society into the other of its two states?

Notice that, to Mr. Helprin, the concept of human liberty, freedom and the ability to have individuals make good decisions for themselves and society is never mentioned?  Society is not static, no matter what its basis.  Prussia was one of the most hide-bound cultures coming into the 20th century, and yet a mere two world wars later, they entire German culture shows almost nothing of Prussian heritage.  A mere 225 years after throwing off the shackles of burdensome government that dictates our lives to us, taxes us and tells us to pay more and then telling citizens to 'stuff it' with their complaints, we now have exactly that as our Ruling Elite in the US today, that see paying taxes as 'patriotic' and not an intrusion or burden upon the common man.  That transformation started in the early part of the 20th century, and a few generations later the previous culture is now barely recognizable, outside of a few circles here and there. 

Arab culture, itself, has shifted into and out of more than just expansion and decay, but has spread literature and culture over many lands that lacked them previously.  Indeed, Baghdad, itself, used to be the cross-roads of the civilized world, between Europe and China and partook of both and spread the benefits of the myriad cultures throughout those realms under its dominion.  It is very true that many of the ruling class in places like Saudi Arabia are just tribal leaders elevated into the position of State leadership, but that was true of Western culture not so long ago, and in parts of the Balkans you can still trace those lineages and still see the modern fights they cause.

Islam does have a culture attached to it from the Middle East, but lost most of that going into Indonesia and some other far flung parts of the world.  It is only with modern travel and communications that the overly rich can support the most destructive faction of the tens of factions in Islam and seek dominion via that faction, often killing their way to dominance.  Yet we still idolize Robert the Bruce, Braveheart and King Arthur who were, all, in similar positions from tribal and ethnic entities.  We also remember that many of our modern sects of Christianity came from factions within the body of larger believers that started out under the Roman Catholic Church, yet with the coming of Martin Luther the world would witness some of the bloodiest wars fought for the 'Prince of Peace' and the establishment of the beginnings of religious tolerance at the Peace of Westphalia.  That tolerance, itself, would take generations to grow, yet from 1648 to 1776, a mere 128 years, the Westphalian concept of religious tolerance would be enshrined in a New Land open to all faiths and belief systems.  Just a bit over three generations by Biblical standards.

Any attempt to peg the Arab culture as 'just' limited to this or that idea or concept is foreordained to failure as the underlying and self-evident truth is that all men are created equal.  Their cultures may be unequal, but changing those cultures can be done when the benefits are shown.  Even more chilling is that those cultures can be changed to the worse, to move from liberty and freedom and to despotism and repression.  All change is not created equal, it appears.

This is true in the case of Mr. Helprin who has, apparently, forgotten some of his own works, like this passage from The Claremont Institute in a piece written 30 NOV 1999:

Generation after generation, given the right circumstances, tries to square its circle, imagining itself close to the answers of the eternal questions that it cannot come even close to answering. An independent offshoot of this is the scientific arrogance that, feeding off man's natural deference to the most powerful tool he has yet devised, imagines a world run according to scientific principles, a supposedly benevolent dictatorship of the boffins. But though nature is identifiable by the simplicity and elegance of its laws, to which all natural phenomena readily conform, humanity is different. It is a hive of countless and surprising variables, and it cannot be understood, much less managed, according to scientific principles. When such principles are applied to it, the product is misery and death. As the history of half the world in this century shows, even when so discreet and systemic a thing as an economy is directed according to "scientific principle" (which is only that thing that some fallible someone says it is), it ends in dismal failure. Humanity requires for its understanding and governance not science but art, and when this is forgotten, as in the case of Samuel Johnson's natural philosopher who, having electrified a bottle, thinks that the problems of peace and war are inconsequential, the result is coercion. The result is irrational mankind forced by frustrated and indignant masters to do what they expect of it, and if you doubt this, turn to history.

Humanity does, indeed, have countless and surprising variables.

Arab culture included as it is made up of humans who are created equal.

When Mr. Helplrin applies his version of scientific principles to his analysis of that culture he does, indeed, see a product of misery and death as the only way forward.  That is what happens when you limit yourself to only a few variables and principles:  you miss the wider panoply of all the things that make up what it is to be human.

And while the distances from the desert in Saudia Arabia may be the same to those lovely places, the Centroid of the Middle East, culturally, is not Mecca, though many bow to it, nor Alexandria, with its lost splendor, nor is it in Damascus where, seemingly, all troubles can be solved by going there.  No there is one ancient place of learning in the Middle East, the vital cross-roads that sway entire cultures and peoples.  All those cultures, from Indonesia to Morocco, from Chechnya to Kenya, all come through one seat and place that can and has swayed entire cultures.

That place is Baghdad.

Now a Capital of a land where people are exercising freedom to express their views, defend their culture and Nation and give each man and woman their say in how they are governed.

Twenty nine million people trying on freedom and liberty for the first time in centuries... millenia...

Sure as hell beats dictators, and that is the truth.

Because dictators are so simple.

And produce such misery and death.

Strange that the man who recognized that cannot see when he, too, has wandered in to the land of simplicity... and misery... and death.

I support liberty, freedom and the rights of man as an individual.

Mark Helprin?

Not so much these days.


Jewish Odysseus said...

Wonderful piece, AJ!!

Mr Helprin has written a lot of insightful pieces over the years, but a lot of embarassingly wrong things, too. I had planned to take up this piece by him to refute its many problems...but after reading your meticulous fiskitization, what is there left to say?

I recall Helprin PREDICTED a military disaster in Iraq in 2002-3, and the historically devastating victory clearly embarassed him. He's been itching to retroactively prove himself right ever since.

Helprin also appears to have fall victim to what I shall dub IGES (Internet Gross Exaggeration Syndrome). From one single Helprin paragraph:

catastrophically throwing the country off balance

breaking [our] nation's sword

the stunningly incompetent prosecution of the war

Geez, you'd think our forces had gotten bogged down in the river valleys and been cut to pieces by the Republican Guard, rather than wiping it out, protecting a non-totalitarian Iraqi leadershipqaeda cd throw at us...The same alQaeda that declared the land of Two Rivers to be "the central front" in its war against the West.

What happens when an army decisively LOSES ITS CENTRAL FRONT? Does it really amount to a "catastrophe" for the winner?

Mr Helprin is a smart man and a good writer, but he is sometimes too clever by a half. And he is waaaayyyyy too in love with himself.

Jewish Odysseus said...

OOOps, sorry for a typo--the real paragraph:

Geez, you'd think our forces had gotten bogged down in the river valleys and been cut to pieces by the Republican Guard, rather than wiping it out, protecting a non-totalitarian Iraqi leadership. and shaking off the worst hits alQaeda cd throw at us...The same alQaeda that declared the land of Two Rivers to be "the central front" in its war against the West.

A Jacksonian said...

J. Oddyseus - And that is a wonderful moniker! Uniting two ancient cultures, that of the semites and achaean greeks is one that follows the turmoils of both from the beginning of recorded western history from the shores of the Aegean to those mountains east of Babylon... one lost in the desert of Sinai, the other lost upon the Seas and both seeking future destiny that still cross in that land both tried to settle in their day.

Mr. Helprin can, indeed, be insightful, but it is often the insight of the novelist who, coming across a nugget of information, thinks it is the pure and potent descriptor for all of mankind and an answer to everything. Yet he does not bring up the history of warfare that would see sudden turns of fate and see events run away from leaders, thinkers and then require the bards to explain. The US venture in Iraq was one of strategic confrontation starting in 1991 and not finished until late 2007. It could have been done faster, cheaper, simpler and with less bloodshed in 1992, but America stepped from her duty to keep a tyrant to his word and we have now paid that price in blood. I recognize that military campaigns can not only succeed, but succeed in ways that could never, ever be foreseen, and it takes an agile leadership to change all plans and cement sudden victory. If we are to blame Bush(43) then are we to blame Justinian for not cementing the gains of Belisarius? Both of these heads of state were relatively able (as these things go) and both flawed men, and they were handed the unexpected... and if Bush(43) lacks then so did Justinian who got unexpected victory so often it became commonplace, and yet he did nothing to recement the Empire. We need not go back to late Roman times, as France did not expect the Blitzkrieg to succeed and there is some evidence due to supply lines that neither did the German High Command. Saddam Hussein had made a strategic blunder in believing that the US 4ID needing to re-stage gave him breathing room, and Gen. Casey, by striking when Hussein had shifted to a COIN stance, took Iraq by main force and deployed a wonder-weapon that destroyed the Iraqi RG counter-thrust... there one moment, gone the next in the heat of precisely aimed copper turned to plasma.

By preparing for a longer conflict, we were unprepared for the short, sharp and ultimately victorious one that happened. And the 4ID struggled to get into place and the first hand-over to replacements went very roughly because these men were trained to *fight* not to hold a Nation in place in a post-war situation. The logistics and mentality being what they were, the US executed a holding-pattern to just keep the lid on things. Strange to say, but I do disagree that in the instance of Iraq a larger force would have 'helped' in any way, shape or form. The destructive mentality in Iraq pre-dated Saddam by some generations, going back into the 14th century at least, to the point where those problems needed to finally be expressed. They were, in blood, and those left now sorrow in that payment. That is not a 'good thing' but the course of events, and if anyone could have figured out how to strip US forces completely from Europe, take half the reserve capability from PACOM and generally scrounge up everyone you could send for a year... then what would happen after that heavy footprint left a year later? Nor was putting in a dictator any answer as that had been the *problem* going in. Really, if you don't want to recreate the problem, that requires a different course that you can sustain, build on and hope to find some better new path to walk on. Is it an assured path? No. But it is a damned sight better than the alternatives...

The critics that cannot answer logistics, cannot answer sustainment and cannot answer for how to deal productively with the unexpected must ask themselves exactly what real factors they are basing their analysis on? Culture is an expression of humans in groups and is amenable to change at the person-to-person social level, not the State-to-State level, first. The US, by having soldiers finally go out into communities, interact with the local populations, understand them, exchange gifts and meals with them and just sit down and talk with them changed from 'occuppiers' to 'heavily armed tourists who fight back and help'. The effects at the lowest levels when that was done was astonishing, seeing one of the most lawless cities in Iraq (Fallujah) actually turning such a sharp turn that it would help to serve as a model of 'how to do it'... that culture had changed, and although it still retains much of its old ways, it has also come to respect and understand what this new chance for the people there means, on the ground. We don't know what that city will look like a century hence, but it will retain the social marks of 2003-07 for at least that long if it still exists then. That is no small feat for the ME. Saddam couldn't do it... and no dictator *would* do it.

As for al Qaeda, my writing on Private War and Piracy has brought them into perspective, for me, from what my cultural history and experiences are. They have reverted to that state of reclaiming all their negative liberties and setting themselves against civilization. They are humans without civilization to sustain them... that is savagery and man as animal living by Natural Law, red in tooth and claw. They can declare anything to be a 'central front' and it has just the same meaning as a pack of wild dogs declaring a farm to be a 'central front' to them: they hunger and seek to inflict death as they will and will only be held accountable to force. I do wish that the US had done its duties to demonstrate this against 'terrorists' for decades, now... but that indolence goes back to Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan... each could have done what was necessary to say that we will hunt down those that take up war against us on a personal basis. They didn't and we still don't say that... thus we are now too civilized to survive, and are decadent, which is a high state of decay. Civilizations can recover from decadence, but it is a harder road than becoming civilized in the first place as you have reminders that you did, indeed, piss it all away.

Jewish Odysseus said...

AJ, I'd venture a guess that you may be the only person besides me to have read Gen Tommy Franks' book on the war...Shdn't his presentation of THE FACTS (esp re order of battle) have some credibility? And yet I hear time and again that "the surge" put the most troops ever into Iraq...Sure...if 165,000 is greater than 295,000.

Piracy...Very good points, and I must commend the works of Prof. Rene Louis Beres on the legal status of non-state actors (terrorists or pirates) as combatants. Suffice it to say they have by traditional international law all the rights of your basic rat in your basic barn. Which is to say, the right to be eliminated by any method the farmer sees fit.

A Jacksonian said...

J. Odyseus - Even though I was in DoD at the time of the invasion on the civil side, I didn't need an exact counting to know the order of magnitude of what had been pulled into the theater of operations. The logistics support part was massive, and most overlooked that, and yet those forces couldn't be there without those support organizations. Literally there was no way to get a 'heavy footprint' based on the size of US forces and the theaters that needed to be covered. Once personnel were cycling back on the civil side, the actual scope of the operation was truly stunning and overlooked by the MSM and most historians: logistics is the heart of operations and yet no one looks at it.

I approach Piracy from the other end of the spectrum, from the Law of Nations side, looking at the writings of Grotius and de Vattel, in particular, but also the rules of the US Army that Lincoln signed off on. That was a long route, and about ten articles (more or less), with the basic point in my wider view article. I agree that those practicing Private War, or as we try to dance it as Non-State Actor based warfare but it is the same concept, the framework for that is the one that can, should and must be deployed as Private War is a threat to all Nation States. Strange to think that people want to invent some twisted version of 'international law' when the pre-requisites and actual responsibilities are already covered by having Nation States. We just don't want to act like Nation States matter and, soon, we will not have them nor their protection. History makes that point vividly clear many times and in many ways, with Rome only being the most noteworthy of many examples stretching from China to Meso-America going west...

I hate having to recite the basis for which the US was founded, that being the works read by Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton,et. al., and known at least up to the end of the 19th century... to 'conservatives' who don't know a damned thing about them. Jackson damned well knew what to do when Pirates threatened US ships in Malaysia and our first ship to circumnavigate the globe was a *war ship* doing just that. I like his views on what to do with such things as failed government institutions, too... and yet try to get conservatives to even look at that? 'Privatization' was not an invention of Ronald Reagan... and I can trace it back to that self-same President who made the responsibility of government clear.

But then actually reading these things, understanding them and seeing why they are important for the human condition is something that no one, Left or Right, bothers to do. Unexpressed the views are forgotten and we return to worse ways of behaving. We once knew better. But no longer.

Jewish Odysseus said...

It is an honor to correspond with such a well-read person as yourself, AJ! I am ashamed to admit that I must include myself amongst those who are deficient in the "assumed readings" of our founding fathers, but I am still eager to learn, tho not so young any more...But it's never too late to learn.

Your points about the obligations of Nation-States vis-a-vis pirates/terrorists already being clearly defined (and ignored) really reminded me of some of the writings of Prof Beres, of which I present a good example:


"Terrorist crimes, as part of a broader category called CRIMEN CONTRA OMNES (crimes against all), mandate universal cooperation in apprehension and punishment.

In this connection, as punishers of "grave breaches" under international law, all states are expected to search out and prosecute, or extradite, individual terrorist perpetrators.

In no circumstances are any states permitted to characterize terrorists as "freedom fighters."

This is especially the case for the United States, which incorporates all international law as the "supreme law of the land" at Article 6 of the Constitution, and which was formed by the Founding Fathers according to the timeless principles of Natural Law.

Palestinian terrorists are not "freedom fighters."

They are "Common Enemies of Mankind" who exceed all moral and legal authority in their persistently barbarous attacks upon Israeli citizens.

They should always be called by their correct name."

A Jacksonian said...

J. Odyseus - That is one of the wonderful things about the modern era: you can often find old texts online for free. Sadly Project Gutenberg does not have them, but there are good sites that do have them. I collected many in a recent post, but the short list is not that hard to get:

Project Avalon, amongst many excellent and wonderful older texts, has the actual General Order 100 given to the US Army under Lincoln and Article 82 is the one necessary for seeing how Lincoln treated those we call, today, 'terrorists'.

Also at Avalon is Blackstone's Commentaries on the English Common Law, which is essential to understand how the Common Law was seen just before the Revolution (an easiert to read version here). In particular is Book 4, Chapter 5 and the lovely citation of Sir Edward Coke and then just what those who practice piracy are - 'LASTLY, the crime of piracy, or robbery and depredation upon the high seas, is an offense against the universal law of society; a pirate being, according to Sir Edward Coke,10 hostis humani generis [enemy to mankind]. As therefore he has renounced all the benefits of society and government, and has reduced himself afresh to the savage state of nature, by declaring war against all mankind, all mankind must declare war against him: so that every community has a right, by the rule of self-defense, to inflict that punishment upon him, which every individual would in a state of nature have been otherwise entitled to do, any invasion of his person or personal property.'

Constitution.org has many of the works of Grotius, including The Law of War and Peace

Also at the Constitution site is de Vattel's Law of Nations which examines just how and why Nations work the way they do, what their internal and external structures are and how they interact and what their Sovereign Powers are. An excellent examination of Public and Private war is gone over as part of the larger discussion of warfare, peace time, and treaties. de Vattel was often cited during the Federalist/Anti-Federalist years as his work was a touchstone for what Nations are (plus Blackstone had worked with him).

This French site used to have The Black Book of the Admiralty available, and that is something I have not been able to find in reprint or even most used book shops without a steep price attached to it. There is a good article, elsewhere, on Admiralty Law in Colonial America to help understand the basis of that.

On my sidebar I have a link to the Teaching American History site, and their posting of the Federalist, Anti-Federalist and ancillary documents for the Constitutional discussion years is of great value as the Anti-Federalists are rarely read or discussed today, and yet their pointed views on the nature of man and the problems with democracy rings true many a time to this day.

Needless to say I've had to look around a bit to find these things... because they aren't taught or printed regularly. We seem to have become so advanced that we no longer learn about how and why things work the way they do.

I, too, was ignorant of them. Luckily that can be remedied and I did so. Not to do so is a disease which many have, much to our misfortune.

NEO, SOC said...

Merry Christmas!

K T Cat said...

Great post (as usual)!

Off topic: Merry Christmas!

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

First up to bid: Merrrrrrrry Christmas, Sir AJ!

Second: isn't it odd that the ol' WSJ dude can, now in retrospect, say we should have gone Whole Hog on the matter when, back then, NO ONE was saying that! Historical Alzheimers, eh wot?


A Jacksonian said...

My thanks to all, and Merry Christmas!

I've been putting some time in writing fiction... so at least I can get a universe I can understand here and there...

Mr. Z - It was one of those strange deals reading the past works and then comparing those stated ideas with the ones held and finding such a hard turnabout. I would have thought that the idea of how simple and horrific dictatorships are would not have been lost on the man. Yet it went from decrying to supporting in a few short years... amazing.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Fiction, eh? What genre, if I may be so bold as to ask, sir?


A Jacksonian said...

Mr. Z - Various... alternativefiction is where I put it up, longer works at the bottom. Most of the upper material is just collecting my scattered fictional material here.

The longer works are an ST novel and a Terminator/Batman story... far too talky and explanatory to bother marketing, but fun to write. Basically I need something enjoyable to write for awhile.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

One thing: why is it that I can't open up your comment box completely? Some kind of setting on MY end? The Blogger comment box refuses to expand.


A Jacksonian said...

Mr. Z - No idea... it does work for me...

May need to shut down the browser and clear its cache, some stuff does tend to get stuck there if you've been to a few websites. Seen that with MSIE and FFX. Not with Opera, though.