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.
Not so much these days.