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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

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Michael Turner

"Building national security institutions – an effective army and police—is not a simple question of military consolidation and technical expertise. It is, rather, a primarily political matter. Can you build a unified, strong national state for which everyday soldiers are willing to die?"

Ah, war as the extension of politics. Didn't Clausewitz say something about that?

I think Machiavelli had a few words to say about it. More than a few. Read his dialogues in The Art of War, and much of The Prince (but with The Discourses for real context.)

Omer Mahdi's Haditha is Machiavelli-compliant, straight up. Machiavelli said that a city accustomed to domination can easily fall under domination again, whereas a city accustomed to freedom will fight to get it back, even for generations. Iraq is essentially an urban country, and it will be won or lost city by city.

We find videos of beheadings inconceivably brutal, but from Omer Mahdi's report, parents in this city see it as no big deal that their kids want to watch execution snuff-films like those, distributed by the local militia. What's most important to people in Haditha is the "freedom" to pop one into the DVD player at any time of day. The local militias make sure that the American-repaired electrical power supply runs 24x7. Oppression? They lived with it for generations. But they aren't used to living without electricity.

Look, people, culture is culture. Japan is superficially a very modern nation, but one of the more wrenching realizations I had to go through about it, during my (perpetually incomplete) cultural adjustment, is something I express as "The Good Samaritan never made it over here." I'd periodically read news reports about some Japanese falling on the railroad tracks from a crowded station platform, with a train arriving momentarily, and only foreigners (extended to include ethnic Koreans, who aren't fully accepted here) coming to the rescue. It threw me for a loop. What kind of people were the Japanese, anyway? It took me a while to figure out that this Good Samaritan response comes from an acquired attitude, it's not innate; helping strangers in perilous circumstances is a *learned* norm, not human nature.

Culture doesn't change overnight. What we call liberal democracy, with constitutional protections for minorities, is very much supported by habits of thought. It's not a mere static codification; lawbooks and written constitutions are mainly aids to memory. Rather, it's a continously running, living, social feedback loop in which, the more we get from a liberal democratic government, the more those habits of thought (and that government) are legitimized. It takes a good long while to get to the point where it becomes something citizens would risk their lives to preserve. At that point, those citizens might be excused for not understanding that if you try to bring it to another country at gunpoint, the intended recipients might focus on the gun (guns being something they know very well) but sniff only very suspiciously around the gift -- a gift which some of them might comprehend in the abstract, but about which they have no felt certainties.

When I hear American soldiers talk about the importance of bringing freedom to Iraq, my heart aches. There is something so beautifully Christian about this desire, Christian in the best sense of the word. I want it to be true, and achievable. At the same time, however, I live in nation and culture with a very strong residue of Tokugawa, a polity informed in part by a concerted and systematic rejection of Christianity as a source of legitimate norms. I have to concede that it works, at least. You can build a civilization this way, one in which most people, most of the time, stick narrowly to the confines of what we think of as natural human decency, just as a matter of making civilized life practical. But the longer I'm here, the more I see past the similarities on the surface. The Japanese have a token force in Iraq, but you'll seldom hear it convincingly rationalized in humanitarian terms. No, it's really about maintaining membership in the US-Japan alliance, and softening up the Japanese public for a return to having an overt military stance. That JDF force is not about some good cause. It's really just about Japan.

Culture matters. Politics is cultural. War is politics by violent means. Guerrilla warfare and terrorism are war by asymmetric means. And real freedom grows out of habits of thought, and out of cultural change, not out of the barrel of a gun. Some things are as true as they were in Clausevitz's time, in Machiavelli's time, in Livy's time, and ever since we've been organized enough as a species to have cities at all. Haditha is just the latest object lesson: DVD players, 24x7 electricity, kids can watch people's heads getting sawed off at any hour of the day, on DVDs their parents bought at a local store. Yes, you CAN make sense of this. And you should. It's not much more fun than a root canal, I'll grant you. Do it anyway.

Jay Byrd

I think the American impulse toward universal freedom has its roots in the Enlightenment -- the time of our founding fathers, many of whom were deists -- not in Christianity, which has historically been rather hostile to the concept. And the culture war that the American fundamentalist right is waging, from the Patriot Act to Intelligent Design, is largely a war against the Enlightenment, and they have this in common with their Islamic fundamentalist counterparts.

As for DVD's, we've got our own kids playing Mortal Kombat and then going to Iraq and having to ask what the name of the place is that they're talking about slaughtering. Most of the talk from this segment about bringing freedom to Iraq strikes me as being much like baptizing heathen babies before killing them, sending their innocent little souls to heaven. When one looks closely, altruism is not the motivating factor.

NeoDude

What a great post, Turner!

Nietzsche would agree with you, as well as many Christian Existentialist.

Thanks .

Kit Stolz

Machiavelli also told the prince that he should not invade and occupy a foreign province or nation unless he was willing to go live there himself. Today our leaders can barely even set foot in Iraq without risking their lives and their bodyguards' lives.

Tells the story, doesn't it?

"Occupations always fail"--Tim Robbins, in "War of the Worlds"

reg

By now it should be clear that President Bush's words on the subject of Iraq have ceased connecting with the American public. His speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars is the latest - and one of the most serious to date - manifestations of the problem. The polls tell us that the American public is losing heart. A substantial majority (56%) now say that the war is going either "very badly" or "moderately badly." More than 50% now regard the war as a mistake. One-third want an immediate and total withdrawal. Maybe most fatefully: a plurality now say that they believe that the president deliberately misled the country into war...

Again and again during the Bush presidency - and yesterday most recently - the president will agree to give what is advertised in advance as a major speech. An important venue will be chosen. A crowd of thousands will be gathered. The networks will all be invited. And after these elaborate preparations, the president says ... nothing that he has not said a hundred times before.

If a president continues to do that, he is himself teaching the public and the media to ignore him - especially when the words seem (as his speech yesterday to the VFW seemed) utterly to ignore the past three months of real-world events....

...he says nothing, and is perceived to say nothing, and soon nobody will be listening at all, if anybody still is.


David Frum reporting from the Slough of Despond. Oh, sorry...that's NRO.

VietPundit

"Building national security institutions – an effective army and police—is not a simple question of military consolidation and technical expertise. It is, rather, a primarily political matter. Can you build a unified, strong national state for which everyday soldiers are willing to die?"

Of all the arguments against the Iraq War, which I support, that is the strongest. Even though it will be a long hard road, I think, and I hope, that the Iraqis will answer Yes to that question.

Michael J. Totten

Marc,

Are you receiving my emails? If you sent a response, I didn't get it. Feel free to use my comments section if we're having technical difficulties. (It happened once before, if you recall.) Thanks.

Robert Fiore

On top of everything else, the Iraq war has sent the world a clear message: The only guarantee of your national sovereignty is possession of nuclear weapons.

NeoDude

Kind of Off Topic...but...anybody read Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby...who does this sound like?

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made" (188).

richard lo cicero

Finally, a major Democratic figure and former Presidential hopeful has come out strongly denouncing the President's war! Of course he is Gary Hart who has now joined Al Gore (who started opposing the war in Sept, 2002) in raising his voice. But unless they run for President again I wonder if anyone will notice.

It is really amazing that I haven't heard of any Democrar Women officeholders not raising their voices on this issue. I know most are on vacation but last I heard there were media outlets everywhere. Maybe some have but it hasn't made national news. No, can't believe that. You think Hil wouldn't get attention? Or Nancy Pelosi?

The Bush Administration is already getting ready to sell this as a great leap forward. The Constitution, such as it is, will go onto ratification on time. If any three provinces in a single Ethnic area reject it then its back to the drawing board with a new elected group of delegates. The Sunnis are the best bet to reject it and the whole ball of wax may come down to two provinces. Provinces that Al Franken has labeled "Florida" and "Ohio"; with
similiar results, I think.

And so another chapter in the continuing saga of premises for the war going bye-bye. This is the Church Lady administration - "Nevermind"!

The Bush Crime Family may not want to admit what any person with a room temperature IQ understands but this is it! And I think the political types in the White House understand. They will cheer the new Government and declare victory and then get out. In time for the 2006 elections, leaving the Dems flumoxed again. And they will turn to the "Crisis" on the Southern Border - The Mexicans are coming!

And unless the dems start yelling it may work. After all, how many news stories will then come out of Iraq? It is, after all, a far away country of which we know little.

Michael Turner

"I think the American impulse toward universal freedom has its roots in the Enlightenment -- the time of our founding fathers, many of whom were deists -- not in Christianity, which has historically been rather hostile to the concept."

I agree that the impulse toward freedom in one's own society has (some) Enlightenment roots. That doesn't explain why Americans mist up when they think about creating freedom in Iraq. The Japanese reacted to American demands to station troops in Iraq by wondering about the long-term implications for their oil supplies, for relations with other East Asian countries hostile toward any Japanese rearmamament and military engagement in the world, for their possible elevation as a terror target. For many Americans, Iraqi freedom feels like a moral imperative. The Japanese, when faced with the task of helping strangers, tend more toward cost/benefit calculations. The Good Samaritan never made it over here.

The Japanese experience offers cautionary tales for us today. Japan successfully put itself on a track toward becoming a first-rank industrial liberal democracy, albeit as a line of defense againt Western domination, and began practicing colonialism, as Europe had done for centuries. Many Japanese in China in the earlier years were, in fact, motivated by a desire to prove that Asia could advance on its own, independent of the West. The movement approached evangelical intensity for a time. Indeed, even today, the Japanese are neatly divided between those who hold that Japanese colonialism was better than any Western colonialism could have been, and those who maintain that it was no better in the end. The fact remains, however, that the Japanese ended up fighting Asian nationalism. And there's another remaining fact: Japan was then, as now, increasingly dependent on natural resources beyond its borders. It wasn't exactly selfless evangelizing, for many. Does this remind of you anything going on today?

To the other point: Christianity is not inherently hostile to freedom. Established Christian churches have been. I don't find anything terribly Christian about how the Spanish kicked the Caliphate out of Andalusia, then tortured its hitherto-unmolested jews to try to convert them to Christianity. Any more than I find Pat Robertson terribly Christian when he calls for the assassination of Chavez. Quite the contrary. Or maybe I do find it terribly Christian -- emphasis on "terribly."

Where Christianity has gone wrong is where some muslims have gone wrong. Murder is a sin in both religions, "Thou shalt not kill" says that we should regard human life as infinitely valuable. But then there's that afterlife, an eternity, a belief in an infinity of time for human life, in both religions. When you try to do arithmetic using infinities, you get madness. That doesn't stop the calculators, though. If someone's going to burn in hell forever anyway, dispatching them to hell infinitesimally sooner hardly seems wrong. Even American Christians in our own time have fallen prey to this insane calculus. In the 1980s, missionaries in an Oregon-based Christian cult, the Church of the Word, decided to get out ahead of the advance of Guatemalan troops into rebel zones, offering a last chance at salvation, warning of tragedy if the villagers didn't take it. Tragedy happened -- the gutters ran with blood, babies were speared on bayonets. Well, they had their chance at salvation, didn't they? And if some few of the victims were blameless individuals after all, they were in heaven, right? So it's all good.

Michael Turner

One purely political reason why the anti-war Dems aren't out in front in opposing the war: they don't want to be tarred forever with "losing Iraq" if they instigate an early pull-out. If the GOP loses Iraq, destroys the village in trying to save it, that's OK. It sticks to them, not to the Dems. Even if the next president is a Democrat, and American troops are still in there, the Democrats can say it's Bush's mess they are trying to clean up, just as the GOP could call Vietnam LBJ's war, and could call Korea Truman's war.

Hm, Gary Hart, eh? His sexual antics now look pretty tame next to Clinton's, and Americans cut Clinton a lot of slack for his. And how about his early warning signal on terror threats? That's worth at least an "I told you so" on the stump. Maybe his time has come. He'd make an interesting counterpoint to Hillary, if nothing else.

richard lo cicero

Some Dem has got to say it. I'm for Gen. Clark since his military credentials and anti-Iraq stand plus his recent call for someone, like us, to do something about Darfur, make him a good candidate. But Gary Hart would be fine! Just please, Please, someone get up and start saying it beside Sen. Feingold and Sen. Boxer!

Michael Turner

"Nietzsche would agree with you, as well as many Christian Existentialist."

Well, Nietsche did say there was a genealogy of morals. Wrote a whole book about it, in fact. But I read it a long time ago, and I was mostly stoned at the time.

And I would say "Christian Existential *Humanist*", since "Christian Existentialist" has become so meaningless as to even apply to Pat Robertson, somehow.

Wanna be a CEH yrself? Well, the theological main course is pretty crunchy. I would start with the appetizer plate:

http://www.undefined.net/1/0/

If only some crazed British muslim cleric would issue a fatwah against this comic genius. He'd be hitting the big time, nationwide newspaper syndication, maybe his own cable TV show. I bet if you paid Ali G. enough, he'd be willing to pose as that cleric.

jim hitchcock

" I bet if you paid Ali G. enough, he'd be willing to pose as that cleric."

LOL, MT. A brilliant post leading off today, and now that. I'm really kind of glad that Totten keeps giving you the boot.

Jim Rockford

Marc -- I agree that the ultimate solution is a political matter. But with all due respect I believe you do not understand the military situation on the ground in Iraq and take the various media reports as an accurate picture. This is like taking in a matinee of Miss Saigon on Broadway and thinking that you now understand the Vietnam War.

Militarily, we are steadily defeating the insurgency, and steadily denying the areas in which the enemy can operate. If the enemy used to have Fallujah, and is now reduced to Haditha, that is a huge defeat in territory and ability of the enemy to impose his will. See Bill Roggio for details:

http://billroggio.com/archives/2005/08/the_islamic_rep.php

The Press does not present an accurate picture of the events in Iraq (I would agree that it is a violent and dangerous place) because they stay in their hotels and never leave the Green Zone. Never go out on patrol with Marines or Army units in places like Upper Euphrates for Operation Quick Strike. That's like trying to report on Hollywood from New York. Iraq is not a disaster, but certainly needs improvement in US tactics and force levels, which we are slowly addressing. The US military is very good and despite the Press wanting to paint them as losing they are (slowly) winning.

What drives the actual most deadly tactics in the Iraq Occupation is the IED, the process of which is described both here:

http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2005/08/the_ied_marketp.html

and here:

http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/200581804059.asp

The US is not helpless against this; note that IEDs are mostly remotely detonated, in a technology race the US always wins. Note too that the emplacers are the critical element, increasingly they are being turned in or killed by fed up SUNNIS who (and here again I believe you are correct) have decided to join the political process and get a seat at the table.

This seems a positive dynamic (and basically contradicts your point about no one believes in or will fight for Iraq):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/13/AR2005081301209.html

(Sunnis fighting Al Qaeda to defend Shiites in Baghdad). Gee Marc sounds like some folks do believe in an Iraqi future without constant sectarian fighting. Believe so much they put their lives on the line to make it happen.

As more and more Iraqi Battalions stand up to Levels 1 and 2, US forces will be able to simply assist Iraqi forces taking places like Haditha. This process is difficult because Arab culture and Armies are structured to prevent coups, not defeat the enemy (which explains Israel's success in war). A sergeant in the Marine Corps has the authority of a Colonel in Saddam's or King Abdullah's Army. It is however happening.

Guerilla warfare is not some magic sword guaranteeing victory like the Media thinks. Most were defeated (Sandinista Govt defeated the Contras, Malaysian and Indonesian Communists, OAS, ETA, IRA, Quebec Separatists, Monteneros, Tibet, Chiapas rebels/Zapatistas, Shining Path, etc). Through a combination of military force and politics (as you rightly point out). Most competently organized occupations SUCCEED. The Reconquista, Cortez (see any Aztecs, recently?), Japan, Germany, South Korea come to mind.

I think you are unfair to the British Colonialists. They merely inherited the mess from the Ottomans. Not everything is the West's fault. In fact most things just aren't.

Galbraith is just wrong in making too many conclusions. Sistani is the natural (and therefore hated) rival of the folks in Qom because he is an ARAB Shia and the custodian of the holy places (such as the site of Hussein's actual martyrdom). The Iranians are far too Persian for the likings of Arab Shia (though Galbraith IS right about Sadr being Qom's puppet). Ironically the Iranians are sowing horrors by aiding the Sunni jihadis, sure to come and bite them in the butt later on. CNN reports today some fighting between Sistani's and Sadr's forces so the Shia are hardly monolithic (I agree though that Sistani is no prize but then Saddam killed most of the good people in 1991 while we followed the Powell Doctrine to the letter).

I would settle for the Balkans now. The US will be there for generations, but at least the killing has mostly stopped in Bosnia and there is some semblance of normal life. Some monsters are being brought to justice and Serbs are confronting their willing assent to Milosevic's and Ratko Miladec's insane policy of mass murder.

Iraq was a mess, it has been so since Hulagu Khan killed most of it's inhabitants in 1258. It won't be a strong Federal State but a weak federal one. That's OK. At least there is a chance for things to be better, than under Saddam, his sons, and what went before (Generals and Kings and Sultans).

Michael Turner: Islam holds that killing the Infidel (that means you and me) is not a sin at all. Neither is looting his property or taking him as a slave or his widows/daughters as sex slaves. Mohammed did all of that, and is for Muslims beyond any reproach or criticism as the "Perfect Man." You are applying Christian concepts to a non-Christian (and explicit replacement for Christianity) religion. Beheading people or any other violent murder is perfectly acceptable as long as the victim is a kaffir. Zarqawi holds that Shias qualify on that score as well as Americans.

As for the Reconquista in Spain, Sicily, Southern France, and Southern Italy? Sucks to be a Muslim Invader in Europe. Don't believe the fairy tales. Al-Andalus was a nasty place with lots of massacres of Christians and Jews as contemporary Christian and Jewish and Muslim writers attest. No surprise that the Spanish simply gave the Moors and Moriscos (particularly after their revolt) the Inquisition or that it broadened to pursue everyone's target the Jews.

Jim Rockford

Michael Turner -- Omer Mahdi is not Machiavelli. He is a suicidal idiot. Nicolo would counsel him to find a place far away for exile because he has no way to counter combined US and Iraqi military forces which are getting stronger every day while he gets weaker. There will be a settling of accounts and he's merely made more enemies without killing them.

Kit -- quoting Tim Robbins on anything besides acting is like quoting Yogi Berra on anything besides baseball. It's colorful but useless.

Reg -- yes not only Frum but Redstate and a lot of Republicans. Bush has simply stopped making even an effort to Communicate and hasn't brought back Karen Hughes which you'd expect. No one can figure out WHY he doesn't even TRY to say something different. YMMV but I suspect some secret intelligence shared with some senior pro-War Democrats that colors his views of the War and other issues.

Robert Fiore -- I think you are jumping to conclusions. It was fears, and let me remind you fears shared by Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the nineties, that in a post 9/11 World Saddam HAD various WMDs including the intent and ability to get Nuclear Weapons that led to the War and Saddam being pulled from his spider hole. I'd say the possession of nuclear weapons plus the perceived willingness to hand them off to terrorists or use them against the US pretty much guarantees a first strike by the US. After 9/11 we can't take that risk. No one in the US would shed a tear if Bush had a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Regardless of civilian casualties. Better than losing LA, SF, San Diego.

Gary Hart? Yeah that's a man strong on Defense issues. Part of the problem for Dems is that we are fighting, straight up, Al Qaeda in Iraq. Running away from bin Laden and turning over a substantial part of Iraq to him is not going to win the support of the American People. NO ONE in the Democratic Party has bothered to become a Defense Expert. The American People simply don't trust them.

Part of the problem is that we are conditioned to have unrealistic expectations about military force and casualties. We lost over 50,000 dead in the fighting in Normandy, in the hedgerows, and about the same in the Bulge. Okinawa cost over 22,000 dead. We lost over 12,000 men and 2,000 aircraft leading up to D-Day. On D-Day itself we lost 10,000 men and over 2,500 dead. Chosin Reservoir cost over 15,000 men their lives. We are nowhere near that (thank God) but in War, sadly our soldiers die. During 1983-1996, over 18,000 US Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen died during training accidents. Being a soldier is a dangerous business.

One thing stands out. We have (so far and thankfully) lost NO ONE to the jihadis as prisoners.

rosedog

Hey, Mr. Turner....You're avoiding a translation project, right?? Only serious work avoidance could possibly produce such a wealth of wonderfully intelligent, articulate and insightful posts in a mere 48 hour period.

(We know these things. The Machiavellian comparisons interwoven with Culture Is Destiny, plus the calculus of fundamentalist Crusades…..Well, it’s a dead giveway.) ;-)

Michael Turner

Rockford: "Islam holds that killing the Infidel (that means you and me) is not a sin at all."

Rockford is attributing to all muslims what only a very tiny (and clearly wacked-out) minority of them believe.

From http://www.muslim.org/islam/jihad.htm:
-----
The fifth verse of chapter 9 of the Quran is mistakenly called by some people "the verse of the sword", as if it inculcated the indiscriminate massacre of all idolators or unbelievers. The misconception is due to the fact that the words are taken out of their context and a significance is forced on them which the context cannot bear. The words of the fifth verse are:

"So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolators wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful".

It is asserted that this verse offers to the disbelievers the alternative of the sword or the Quran. Nothing is farther from the truth. As the title of this chapter and the opening verses show, the Muslims are granted 'Immunity' from their obligations with such of the idolatrous tribes as had repeatedly broken their engagements with the Muslims and repeatedly dealt telling blows to the Muslims whenever they had an opportunity of doing so. The injunction in the fifth verse to wage war is clearly against these idolators who repeatedly violated their agreements with the Muslims, while clear exceptions are made with regard to those idolatrous tribes who adhered to their treaties and those who sought the protection of the Muslims. The latter were to be conveyed the message of Islam but in case they did not accept it, they were to be safely conveyed to their homes. This clearly shows that the reason why the Muslims were fight against the idolators, as mentioned in v. 5, was not because they were idolators but because they repeatedly violated the trust of the Muslims and invited them to war.
----

Or to put it another way, that verse reads as follows: "In general, Thou Shalt Not Kill, like the book says, but if a buncha people declare war on us, and keep making and then breaking peace treaties, kill 'em. Unless they relent. And pay their fair share of welfare taxes. And pray to their God to save their miserable asses. In that case: don't kill 'em."

And the historical context of that passage was apparently just such a situation. Gosh, what an alien, benighted way of thinking those early muslims had. Frankly, it defies rational comprehension, don't you think?

Rockford: "Zarqawi holds that Shias qualify on that score as well as Americans."

If so, what better proof that saying "muslims believe X, Y and Z" is going to be a source of disagreement among muslims themselves. If you want to make sweeping generalizations, AT LEAST try to take into account *majority* muslim opinion, not wingnut muslim opinion.

On to the *total* non sequiturs.

Rockford: "Omer Mahdi is not Machiavelli."

Didn't say he was. Said "Omer Mahdi's Haditha is Machiavelli-compliant, straight up." You haven't said why it isn't.

Rockford: "He is a suicidal idiot."

I guess one man's suicidal idiot is another's brave journalist. By recategorizing him as a suicidal idiot rather than as a journalist, you do little more than avoid contradicting yourself when you wrote this: "The Press does not present an accurate picture of the events in Iraq ... because they stay in their hotels and never leave the Green Zone." (Or is Haditha some Official U.S. Government Islamist Social Laboratory Environment inside the Green Zone, some bizarre and cruel experiment they haven't been telling us about? My Iraq geography is weak.)

Rockford: "There will be a settling of accounts and he's merely made more enemies without killing them."

By going into Haditha, coming out, and writing it up as he saw it? You'll have to explain that one to me some time. I'm sure the U.S. military's reaction to this report will be "yeah, Haditha, run by bad-asses, not much we can do at this force level, we've got our hands full elsewhere." And the fine folk who run Haditha probably know this as well as the U.S. military. Pointing out to the general public what's equally obvious to those two sides somehow creates more enemies? I'm an idiot, Rockford. Explain it to me.

I can't resist a parting shot to Rockford's "quoting Tim Robbins on anything besides acting is like quoting Yogi Berra on anything besides baseball. It's colorful but useless."

Now wait a minute. Yogi Berra is among the many credited with saying "things should be made as simple as possible -- but not simpler." He's also credited with "it ain't over until it's over." I happen to believe these are words to live by. In fact, I've been known to fall upon randomly-encountered disbelievers in this timeless wisdom, slash their infidel throats, mince them with my scimitar, and feed their own offal to their own dogs. That's just the kind of Yogiberradan Jihadi I am.

Yes, rosedog, you are quite right. I am procrastinating on a translation project, and I have been quite repetitive with certain themes, to the point where I'm almost always just posting the latest rewrite of one signature thesis or another, with a dash of current events. Sometimes I think I should periodically choose a personal belief at random and start assuming the opposite, just so I won't get stale. But right now ... I better get back to work. Thanks for the reminder. ;-)

Michael Turner

Oh, but I can't resist one more comeback to Rockford.

In an essay about how the "interfaith utopia" of Andalusia has always been a myth, under the heading "Very few acts of Muslim violence against Jews", one Prof. Cohen writes this:

"Only one episode comes in for substantial memorialization. That is the massacres and forced conversions in North Africa and Spain in the twelfth century perpetrated against Jews, Christians and even nonconforming Muslims by the fanatic sect of the Almohads."

http://www.qantara.de/webcom/show_article.php/_c-478/_nr-77/i.html

Which is to say that when wingnut muslims run rampant, they massacre any nonbelievers who won't at least go through the motions of converting. Very sad, but for "muslims" substitute any wingnut mass-movement zealots you can name, throughout history. It's not surprising that the "interfaith utopia" myth captured the imagination of some. It had, as Prof. Cohen points out, its grain of truth.

Michael Turner

In the above, where I put "muslims" in quotes, it would be clearer (if you're coming upon this comment without context) to read it as "wingnut muslims" (as opposed to the mainstream at any given time in history.)

The Almohads were a fanatic Shi'ite offshoot declaring their own Caliphate, whose leader had anointed himself three kinds of Messiah. How did Cordova get saddled with these idiots?Al-Andalus made the mistake of trying to import ferocious Berber fighters to shore up the borders with the Castilians. (Somewhere I can see the ghost of Machiavelli wagging his finger, as he so often inveighed against the practice of using mercenaries -- a proper healthy republic should have no shortage of citizens willing to die for it.)

The immediately preceding fanatical-fighter Berber imports, the Almoravids, took over in a virtual putsch, but ran so much against the grain of Andalusian society that when they resorted to book burnings to try to stamp out moderate Islamic teachings they didn't like, riots broke out in Cordova. You'd have thought Al-Andalus would have learned their lesson with the Almoravids, but I guess they were desperate.

It's a mistake to try to pin all muslim-perpetrated atrocities on some central Caliphate as a legitimizing source of all crimes committed in the name of Islam, everywhere. Just as it's a mistake to tar all Christians with the history of the pathetic, murderous Crusades. After all, some of the first massacres done under the banner of the Crusades were ignorantly perpetrated against *other* Christians, just because they *looked* like the Infidel, talked like the Infidel, lived in the Infidel's land (or somewhere near it, anyway, where's that map again Friar James ... oops, we're a couple leagues short of the border. So what's the name of this city again? Uh oh.)

NeoDude

I was thinking, more alonf the lines of Karl Jaspers, Paul Tillich & Gabriel Marcel.

reg

"Oh, but I can't resist one more comeback to Rockford."

I don't have your stamina, but in scrolling through the Rockford files I couldn't help but catch his response to David Frum's observation that nobody much believes a word Bush says anymore and that his tired redundancies are increasingly disconnected from reality.

In JR's HO it's because Bush has "secret intelligence". Was that a pun ? In any case, it was funny. I'm also disappointed that Rockford hasn't treated us to at least a couple of paragraphs defending Pat Robertson's plan to secure Venezuelan oil supplies from the Communist/al Qaeda alliance under Chavez' sponsorship.

Sardonicus

Machiavelli has been mentioned a couple of times in the comments. I seem to remember that one of Machiavelli's recipes for successfully governing a conquered state was to divide the population into three parts, take all the money (and power) away from the richest third, and give it to the rest. The objective was to reduce the ability of the nobles to make war on you by impoverishing them, while turning the rest into clients who will be more inclined to be loyal to you, because you've enriched them.

I don't know if it's accident or design, but that sounds quite similar to what's happened in Iraq.

Michael "NTFFFF" Moore

Marc -

I also read and was discouraged by Galbraith's piece in the NYRB a month ago.

So it's interesting to see him quoted in David Brooks' column in today's NYT. He's sounding a little more optimistic.

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