Monday, August 06, 2007

Enlightened Warriors

Edward Rothstein offers yet another fascinating essay in today's New York Times (I'm sorry if I seem rather late to his fan club, but his writings are among my newest faves). In response to Lee Harris's book The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West (Basic Books), Rothstein suggests that the so-called enlightened West underestimates the strength/importance of the ruthless, uncontrollable warrior:

...Genghis Khan, a conqueror of many peoples who was both barbarically ruthless and soulfully sentimental, reveling in revenge by tearing out an enemy’s heart and liver with his bare hands while also forgiving, again and again, the bloody treachery of an envious childhood friend. He was at all times a warrior whose goal was conquest and whose demands could not be assuaged, except by victory.

Almost every culture has such figures in their past, men like Odysseus, King David, Muhammad and Aeneas, whose triumphs were often attained through extreme, horrific battle. Such founding figures often also display powerful streaks of sensitivity and elevated vision along with prophetic abilities; on their broad chests and battle-readiness rest the later triumphs of their civilizations. But warriors don’t have to display such qualifying attributes; throughout history they are revered.

Except for now, it seems, and particularly in the West. Today we are so wary of the warrior that we would find it unthinkable to celebrate him with elaborate descriptions of the beheading or disemboweling of his enemies. Instead we think of the warrior as a fanatic, an extremist with a streak of the berserk.

Except for now, it seems, and particularly in the West. Today we are so wary of the warrior that we would find it unthinkable to celebrate him with elaborate descriptions of the beheading or disemboweling of his enemies. Instead we think of the warrior as a fanatic, an extremist with a streak of the berserk.

In “The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West” (Basic Books), a new book in which the idea of the fanatic warrior plays a central role, Lee Harris points out that the word berserk comes from Icelandic accounts of Norse warriors of the 12th century who were so fierce in battle they fought without armor and raged like wolves. They were called “berserksgangr.” These days we tend to think of all warriors as berserk.

It isn’t that we don’t recognize, at some level, a need for warriors. At least in our cinematic fantasies warrior heroes abound. But they are kept on a short leash; they need a license to kill. Though they keep testing constraints on acceptable behavior, when they violate them, people around them tend, as the films put it, to “die hard”; freelance warriors like those played by Bruce Willis pay a steep personal price.
Mr. Harris (and Mr. Rothstein seems to agree in part) moves forward from this assertion to argue that the West is ill-served to not recognize that enlightenment is no match for berserk warriorism, especially now:

By taking a long view of history Mr. Harris argues that the modern view of how to vanquish enemies is based on false ideas: first, that history progresses; second, that it progresses toward greater influence of reason; and finally, that reason, through its powers, can overcome all opposition. Our smug disdain for the warrior, he suggests, is based on a mistaken view of the powers of modernity and the Enlightenment.

In Mr. Harris’s view these errors are affecting the crucial confrontations now taking place between jihadists and Western liberal culture. We keep straining, he says, to see terrorists as if they were just slightly more extreme versions of ourselves, reflecting our own convictions, as if the jihadist were advocating destruction in the name of a version of liberalism.

A Palestinian blows himself up in a pizza parlor, a Shiite drives a car bomb into a crowded plaza of Sunnis (or vice versa), videotapes display beheadings and Internet sites herald massacres. Such horrific deeds are taken almost as proof of suffering, poverty, frustration. The surest cure for terrorism, the argument goes, would be to ameliorate injustice; in the meantime violence can be curbed with well-considered policing.

But Mr. Harris suggests that the jihadist is more accurately thought of as a fanatic, a warrior of the old school, whose technique has been remarkably successful over the centuries. Such warfare accepts no rules other than fealty to the tribe and accepts no compromise other than victory. Islam, he points out, has made “permanent conquests in every part of the world into which it has expanded with only three exceptions: Spain, Sicily, and certain parts of the Balkans”: three areas where Islamic fanaticism was confronted with opposing fanaticism.

Mr. Harris argues that by failing to characterize Islamist warfare accurately, the West deludes itself, even employing another Enlightenment idea — tolerance — to grant harbor to those who seek to destroy it. And the West implicitly affirms that, in the end, reason will triumph.
Sidebar re: "Islam, he points out, has made 'permanent conquests in every part of the world into which it has expanded with only three exceptions: Spain, Sicily, and certain parts of the Balkans': three areas where Islamic fanaticism was confronted with opposing fanaticism." This careless conflation of the long-lasting appeal of Islam for some with the violence of invasions is a bit of sloppy reasoning on Mr. Harris's part. One need look no further than how many permanent conquests Christianity has made in every part of the world its advocates have ruthlessly invaded to understand why this can be dismissed as [perhaps subconscious, but no-less odious] fear-mongering.

But the rest of Mr. Harris's argument bears some additional examination, IMO. In a nutshell, I think Mr. Harris gets it half right. I believe the warrior mindset is genetically set in humans, and no degree of Enlightenment will suppress it entirely. Like lions or apes or wolves other social/pack animals, I believe humans (at least the males [not sure about the females, but I suspect they are too]) are genetically programmed to attempt, at least, to dominate the others in their realm. Given that someone is always currently the "king," so to speak, when to make such an attempt to dominate depends on a range of conditions (personal physical strength, the strength of the one to be disposed, the resources available to enable the coup, etc.). If the coup is successful too easily, the urge may not dissipate. It may linger and lead the new king to attempt to further expand his empire, with the resulting bloodshed. And so it goes. Eventually, though, personal strength, resources, drive, etc. will be exhausted, and the king will settle into a less war-ish mindset, turning instead to more philosophical/art/spiritual pursuits (that's if some up-and-coming new king-in-the-making doesn't kill him first).

Enlightenment's central mistake, IMO, is the assumption that humans can skip right to that last stage. I don't think they can. I think every new king will need to channel that impulse to dominate through some means, and many of them will choose war or other imperial desires. However (and here's what I think is lacking in Harris's argument [at least from what I can tell from Rothstein's essay]), I believe that humans who are raised in a liberal democracy will in the end curb those impulses better overall (i.e., eventually handle them better because of education and standing examples) than those raised in the sort of blood-thirsty culture represented by Genghis Khan, et al. (in which there is no systemic counter-balancing ideology). Therefore the continued support of Englightenment overall is warranted.

Also, even though it may be an oversimplification to assume someone who would blow themselves up to harm the "enemy" would think otherwise if only they had a decent job, it's also a mistake on Harris' part, IMO, to draw too close a parallel between the leaders/soldiers of the current Jihadist movement and the great warriors/armies of history, like Khan, Odysseus, King David, Muhammad, Alexander (have to throw my personal favorite warrior in there), and Aeneas and their soldiers. First and foremost, those armies were lead by Warriors who fought at the front of their battles, not ones who hid in caves or scurried from hide-out to hide-out disguised in burkas. The Al Qaeda leadership may have the ruthlessness part down, but they're pathetic cowards compared to those earlier warriors, willing to risk next to nothing themselves in comparison. Which isn't to suggest Western leaders who only dress like warriors for photo-ops are any better, mind you.

But those debatable assertions aside, Mr. Harris's central question is indeed worth considering:

So Mr. Harris mounts a challenge, and even if we harbor less apocalyptic visions, that challenge is considerable. If we believe, as Mr. Harris affirms, that the societies that have arisen out of Enlightenment ideas, whatever their flaws, really are morally superior to others, if we are convinced that the values of the West are rare and crucial and fragile, then to what extent are we willing to make a stand on their behalf?

In the most extreme case, how does a liberal society embrace the practices of the warrior, which are inimical to its most fervent beliefs? Wouldn’t this destroy precisely what’s being defended? Mr. Harris can’t fully imagine the ways in which liberal society will evolve under such circumstances, but he believes we will soon need to find out. And one way or another somebody like Genghis Khan will be involved.
I fully disagree with that last assertion. Genghis Khan was, first and foremost, an imperialist. We don't need to go on the offensive to maintain a strong defense. With how small technology has made the world today, that is merely an excuse for a land grab. And I'm not so sure the conditions exist for a Genghis Khan to arise in any other part of the world. Nations with nuclear weapons would stop such a campaign were one to be launched today.

To address the question, though, how a liberal society embraces the practices of the warrior without destroying what it is defending is by 1) recognizing that the warrior tendency is innate (i.e., by not ignoring it or pretending "enlightened" pursuits will supplant it entirely) and being prepared to respond to it when it does (by providing sports or other outlets for the bulk of society, and by keeping strong checks and balances in place for those whose "game" is foreign affairs, 2) by instilling the very highest standards of honor and respect for life in its military institutions (thereby channeling that innate tendency carefully and being fully aware that we may need some legal curbing measures from time to time), and 3) focusing on real threats more honestly and directly (i.e., as opposed to letting the understandable fear raised by an attack be used as cover by unscrupulous politicians to launch some unrelated attack to achieve some pre-standing and highly questionable objectives) to avoid letting the natural warrior tendency overpower a nation's better self in such times. Had Bush truly focused on Afghanistan (pouring even a fraction of the manpower and money in there that we've squandered in Iraq), it might today provide the shining example of thriving Democracy in that region that he claims he wants in Iraq (I'm not convinced he ever really cared about that, but that's another thread).

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24 Comments:

Blogger Rich said...

A recent issue of Psychology Today had a somewhat different take on the Jihadistas:

4 Most suicide bombers are Muslim
Suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, but according to Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, when religion is involved, the attackers are always Muslim. Why? The surprising answer is that Muslim suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran (except for two lines). It has a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of
sex.
What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don't get any wives at all.
So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. By doing so, they have little to lose and much to gain
compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygyny makes men violent, increasing crimes such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors as economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy, and political factors in the region.
However, polygyny itself is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombing. Societies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are much more polygynous than the Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. And they do have very high levels of violence. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a long history of continuous civil wars— but not suicide bombings.
The other key ingredient is the promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. The prospect of exclusive access to virgins may not be so appealing to anyone who has even one mate on earth, which strict monogamy virtually
guarantees. However, the prospect is quite appealing to anyone who faces the bleak reality on earth of being a complete reproductive loser.
It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings.
Consistent with this explanation, all studies of suicide bombers indicate that they are significantly younger than not only the Muslim population in general but other (nonsuicidal) members of their own extreme political organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And nearly all suicide bombers are single.

8/06/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

very interesting article, Rich. Thanks for sharing.

I wonder how that notion deals with the rise in the number of female suicide bombers, though.

8/06/2007 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Oh, I should also note that I believe the driving force behind the desire to dominate is sexual, so that Psychology Today report goes hand-in-glove with my hypothesis, I believe.

8/06/2007 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

I agree with you. I wonder if the rise of female suicide bombers is related to the effects of polygyny in that the competition among women to attract a high-status can lead to some females perceiving their situation as hopeless? Or perhaps the act of martydom is becoming institutionalized sufficiently to spread across gender lines?

8/06/2007 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

At the risk of upsetting Edward and his desire for social harmony in his comments section, I have to say this: Psychology Today is a rag.

Most suicide bombers are not Muslim. Formulate the statement correctly: Most suicide bombers who are successful in completing their missions which we hear about in the news today are Muslim. Very different formulation.

Also, trying to use one narrow social aspect -- such as polygyny -- to explain anything is patently absurd. Humans are just more complex than that.

But moving on to your actual post, Ed: I think you've got the right idea, discussing how a liberal society can embrace the warrior without destroying what it's defending. Camille Paglia has pointed out that our culture lacks proper outlets for young male energy -- instead we have our young males locked up in classrooms in high school and college for eight years. Young men, she says, need to work with their hands, need to build and destroy and expend their energy, and we need to give them channels to do that.

That's short term. Shortish term. In the longer term, I think, we need to become more enlightened. It's not just jobs and technology we need to export, we need to improve ourselves. Bucky Fuller said we have to choose: Utopia or Oblivion. The only way to stop the Wheel of Karma is to stop it within ourselves.

8/06/2007 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

"Most suicide bombers who are successful in completing their missions which we hear about in the news today are Muslim."

Chris, I had no idea Psychology Today was a rag! Thanks for setting me straight on that. As for your reformulation, above, I have some questions that you could perhaps answer. Do you mean that only Muslim suicide bombers are capable of success? Are the media suppressing news of all the Catholic suicide bombers? Surely there can't be that many suicide bombers of other religions?

8/06/2007 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

Well, I see an awful lot of generalizing going on - so let me add to it! I do have to concede with Rywalt on the polygyny angle. As to young men having to build and destroy???
While the warrior thing is an intriguing thought I'm just not convinced that it has anything to do with jihadism as a philosophy. Personally I see terrorism as a shadow of globalization and corporitism. It has much more similarities to traditional mafia than the warrior class. Also you can't escape the fact that many of the principle architects of Islamism were educated in the west - the people that founded and/or inspired the Muslim Brotherhood back in the mid-20th century were exposed to western philosophy. There is a link there. Jihadism is not a vacuum of 12th century fantasy but a rather dark conflation of theology, criminality, and political conquest born out of global capital.
I think a sobering question is whether post-modern societies can deal with armed theological movements?

8/06/2007 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Rich -- Religion may not be the problem as much as ideology in general. Islam is one ideology, Maoism is another. Ideology makes people do all sorts of things for bad reasons. Christianity has brought its ideologies under control, more or less, but Islam may have some work to do.

Edward -- Bin Laden talked about the "strong horse" almost six years ago: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." (Time Magazine, Dec 13, 2001) I read no ambiguity in that sentence when I read it back then, and I was happy to take it at its word.

These all sound like a rehash of the cutting-edge topics of 2002: warrior culture, polygyny, sexual infantilization of males, causes of terrorism (poverty, ideology, psychology), existence of Ghenghis Khans, and the world's obligations to identify Khans and fight them with one voice.

Unfortunately my observations of the last six years -- post 9/11, Palestinian factionism, Arafat, Hussein, Mugabe, Sudan -- are that the world is morally unwilling to identify Ghenghis Khans when they appear, and constitutionally incapable of fighting them (far less using "nuclear weapons" on them) in the first place. On the contrary we're still making hagiographic movies about charismatic racist totalitarian murderers. We can't even identify them in retrospect.

Back to polygyny, I don't know if it's the reason for suicide bombers, or just another side-effect of a culture still at odds with the Enlightenment (which is frankly ideological in its own ways). Life is more valuable to certain people, and ideology is more important to others. When people are taught that women can be raped for not covering themselves, I'd think they would see life differently than people raised among movies like The Accused, where the point of the movie is exactly the opposite.

Bin Laden told us explicitly in 2001 that he had created a warrior culture. (And Bush was mocked at the time for responding in kind by saying "dead or alive".) Saddam Hussein told us in 1991 that he was willing to expand his country by force -- or 1980 if you count the Iran war. Arafat spoke all the time about sending Jews into the sea, and encouraged young boys and girls to be raised into this culture. Mugabe has crushed everyone in his country outside his palace walls. China and Russia are still buying oil from Sudan and blocking any attempt to solve the problem short of "using nuclear weapons" unilaterally. I don't know that any of this is news, but if the left is ready to engage some of these topics head-on, then I'm happy.

8/06/2007 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

highlowandsoon says:
As to young men having to build and destroy???

I got carried away. Paglia didn't say exactly that. I meant to convey that young men have a lot of energy and they need to expend it on projects and activities of some kind. Destruction may be a little too...extreme a word.

Still, I recall -- and I'm just a fat nerd -- being destructive on a small scale. Firecrackers, throwing bottles in the street, burying things, digging them up again. Setting fire to stuff.

Rich sez:
Do you mean that only Muslim suicide bombers are capable of success? Are the media suppressing news of all the Catholic suicide bombers? Surely there can't be that many suicide bombers of other religions?

Right now, today, at this moment, the suicide bombers we hear about seem to be mostly Muslim.

What I'm trying to get at is human beings are very subjective. When I get on a bus, it always seems to me that there are a lot of women on board. Way more than there should be! But when I count the passengers, I find the gender split is almost exactly 50-50. But when I went to college, the ratio was 14 to 1 male to female. So in the real world it always seems to me that there are a lot of women around. But there aren't -- just the usual number.

Likewise, many Americans today seem to think all the crazed religious nuts are Muslims who blow themselves up. The Catholics haven't been blowing anyone up lately, but they were doing pretty well in Ireland not too long ago. Did the IRA have suicide bombers? My shallow research says they didn't, but it can't possibly be just because the Irish were having sex and drinking whiskey.

Christians used to be really big on martyrdom. It's just they lost the appetite for suicide before technology had improved enough.

If polygamy is the reason for suicide bombers, should be expect a wave of terror in Utah?

8/06/2007 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It has much more similarities to traditional mafia than the warrior class.

Yes, I agree with that, despite what Bin Laden claimed about creating a "warrior culture" (IMO he has created, as the New York mafia said of the Soprano family, a "glorified crew." Compared to Sparta or Macedonia or even the USMC, Al Qaeda are mostly rag-tag thugs who get lucky now and then and little more. Determined perhaps, but hardly worthy of the connotations that go along with "warrior" to my mind). I know bin Laden was active in Afghanistan and suffers from health issues now, but his current actions (if indeed he's still alive) are so far from those of any inspiring warrior I can thing of throughout history as to make that claim laughable.

With respect, Henry, your list of contemporary "Khans" is a bit too general to address in anything other than a general way (you're mixing dictators with entire nations with individual state-less terrorists), but the implication that the Left's response to such ambitions has been less effective than the Right's requires some rather imaginative revisionistic history in my opinion. The Left has repeatedly called for focus, whereas the Right has cheered as Bush charged off into Iraq ready to demonstrate there was a new marshall in town (which I'm not convinced was his motivation at all), but he seemingly did so without any clue as to what he'd do next, leaving the world arguably less safe from those ambitions than before 2003.

a culture still at odds with the Enlightenment

That seems to be the concensus (and I agree, with what limited knowledge I have it makes the most sense).

8/06/2007 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

In terms of the mafia parallel, I was thinking more in terms of structure. The mafia creates parallel systems to operate within conventional economic and political structures. They have their goons and strongmen, but they also have their doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians and judges. The infiltration is top to bottom. They succeed by the illusion of violence as much as the actual violence they can exert. The mafia have their hands on everything so that they are protected by the very society that they extort. The jihadist has the same approach in its financial networks and its state/church/charity protectors.
The warrior topic I think sounds like Orientalism to me and that obscures our ability to see the threat clearly. Again, for me, the war on terror is a police thing and should be approached in that manner. The imperial army thing is a fool's errand.
good topic here.

8/06/2007 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

impressively well thought-out parallel, highlowandinbetween...thanks for sharing.


the war on terror is a police thing and should be approached in that manner


I tend to agree. I forget where I read it, but someone once suggested the best way to handle terrorism is to treat them the way the British Navy treated pirates. All romantic notions about Cap'n Jack Sparrow, et al., aside, that makes a good deal of sense to me.

8/06/2007 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Eleanor Antin's "Blood of the Poet," a wooden box in which the names of more than 100 contemporary poets, artists and friends have been carefully filed away on numbered slips of paper.

Just can't get over it. Speaking of mafias and ownership of ideas. The SCUM manifesto and BLACK MASK/UAWMF. Isn't the art world supposed to mirror the real world? Hold up!

Maybe we should saddle all the Jihadists with crushing student debt. That'd show em!

8/06/2007 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Chris, thanks for clarifying that. I, for one, do not think that Islam holds any patent on extremism. I'm old enough to remember the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. There are other examples as well, sad to say.

8/06/2007 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Edward, with sincere respect, I don't think you're saying anything new. I was treading this same ground many years ago. The world needs police. Terrorists are mafiosi. The Muslim world contains certain pockets which are culturally backward and affect us all negatively. Let's all agree on these things. But the same questions remain. What standards should "international police" uphold, and how are those standards enforced?

On September 12, the Left said the US should "ask itself" why it was attacked. I hope that's not the type of focus you think the Left was calling for. Soon thereafter, the Left was obsessed with quagmires and harsh Afghan winters. But today the Left believes we haven't sent enough troops into that wintry Vietnam. So much for focus, or at least for foresight.

You might be entirely correct that the Right is too bloody in its reactions, but I don't know where else to turn when there are living, breathing tyrants in our midst and we're discussing matters calmly over tea. Iraq was never about oil and WMD to me. It was always about how the world should be policed. I don't see any reason to distinguish between Hussein, Mugabe, Arafat or Bin Laden. They all require police action of one form or another, in my opinion.

After Afghanistan we were confronted -- yet again -- by the persistent mosquito of an insolent uber-mafioso who was abusing a country of 25 million, abetted by the very international organization which was supposed to be holding him accountable. My faith in "international police" was shattered to the core after 17 broken resolutions went without response, and an oil-for-food program turned out to be benefitting to the tune of billions the man it was supposed to punish. The inability of the world to identify and banish a living tyrant -- indeed, a Ghenghis Khan -- in our very midst made me very pessimistic about the idea of police in reality.

Since we're unable to relive the past, we're now faced with situations in Zimbabwe, Sudan and North Korea which I believe require "policing." Who calls 911? Who answers? Who writes the warrant, and how should the "police" respond? These are the same questions I was asking in 2001. The Right gave its answer while the Left searched for focus. If the Left has a better answer now, I hope it can be articulated soon.

8/06/2007 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I like how everybody tries to be so smart on this blog. Its endearing.

As a warrior first class I know when to hold em, when to fold em, when to walk away and when to kill everyone with my colt 45. Works every time!

In asymetrical warfare (where economic and ideological differences are "negotiated" by ANY MEANS NECESSARY) its kind of cool to deal with liberals who react in a wounded manner when you tell them you hate their friggin guts (not a sound tactical maneuver but sometimes its about the shock and awe).

As anti-intellectual as extremists SOUND, in a way its totally rational (beyond the belief in gods word). If I die in an explosion, I'll blame myself as much as anyone - after all, i did plant the dragons teeth of liberal angst in shop class when I should have been learning to machine lathe a gun barrel. Man I am so busted. God will forgive me though, so that's cool.

8/06/2007 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Heh. Thanks for the dose of perspective, Z. I needed that. :-)

8/06/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Seems like Mr. Harris has an agenda, one based on a view of history and an assumption of principles I feel are false. It is easy to call up ruthless warriors like Genghis Khan (might have as said Hitler as well) as examples to validate his points. The problem is that these cases are extreme and as a result highly visible examples which showcase his position. Successful strategies which are less ruthless will be inherently less visible within the fabric of history, it does not mean that they do not occur.

Second, I disagree with his notion that history does not progress, and progress toward greater influence of reason. If one looks at the history of warfare, the War in Iraq is trivial. This is not to say that the participants are not ruthless or brutal, but overall the casualty rate is declining relative to world population.

Third, the reason there is support for a revolutionary or terrorist militant response is economic. Families and individuals without hope for the future have nothing to lose by taking up arms against the existing government. Families with food, shelter and jobs, have a lot to lose and less incentive to participate for purely political reasons.

Ruthless suppression cannot solve the problem of maintaining social order, at best it drives the revolt underground to fester and just delays its emergence

The natural attractor of social order is the utopian state. We are entering the utopian millennium but it’s a long road.

8/06/2007 08:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't think you're saying anything new. I was treading this same ground many years ago.

Yes, it is rather nostalgic, isn't it?

But the same questions remain. What standards should "international police" uphold, and how are those standards enforced?

There are international conventions in place that serve nicely when adhered to. Dragging the sorry asses of those who break those conventions into The Hague is my preferred method of enforcing those standards. Give it time...we may see Rummy et al. get their day there yet.

On September 12, the Left said the US should "ask itself" why it was attacked. I hope that's not the type of focus you think the Left was calling for.

I'll ignore that in the interest of hoping we can elevate the dialog further on here.

Soon thereafter, the Left was obsessed with quagmires and harsh Afghan winters.

Selective quoting won't get you around the facts, Henry. The vote in the Senate and House on September 15 makes crystal clear that both Left and Right were equally interested in getting bin Laden (unless you're differentiating the "Left" from all but one of the Democrats in Congress):

On September 15, the US Congress approved a resolution authorizing President Bush to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against anyone associated with the terrorist attacks of September 11. The measure passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House.

But today the Left believes we haven't sent enough troops into that wintry Vietnam. So much for focus, or at least for foresight.

This is the crux of the matter. I'll stop speaking for the "Left" and speak for myself here. In my opinion it was a mistake, when Afghanistan needed our full military and diplomatic efforts, to invade Iraq. Given the most pressing rationale for that invasion (WMD) turned out to be overstated, Bush's haste seem both tragic and irresponsible to me.

Iraq was never about oil and WMD to me. It was always about how the world should be policed. I don't see any reason to distinguish between Hussein, Mugabe, Arafat or Bin Laden. They all require police action of one form or another, in my opinion.

And yet the only we invaded and continue to occupy was the one sitting on 112 billion barrels of oil and 110 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Curious, no?

After Afghanistan we were confronted -- yet again -- by the persistent mosquito of an insolent uber-mafioso who was abusing a country of 25 million, abetted by the very international organization which was supposed to be holding him accountable.

That's so beyond selective, I don't know where to begin. We could split hairs on this ad nauseum, such as noting that:

U.N. reports submitted to the Security Council before the war by Hans Blix, former chief U.N. arms inspector, and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, have been largely validated by U.S. weapons teams. The common findings:

Iraq's nuclear weapons program was dormant.

No evidence was found to suggest Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons. U.N. officials believe the weapons were destroyed by U.N. inspectors or Iraqi officials in the years after the 1991 Gulf War.


But the fact remains that even if one were to accept your premise that Hussein's attitude and past warranted invading Iraq (rather than some other threatening nation), any war of choice DEMANDS the most careful of planning, not only for winning the war, but winning the peace, AND exiting the war in a timely (i.e., sooner than the terrorists can set up operations to paint targets on our soldiers' backs) fashion that doesn't stretch our military to its limits. In other words, even if you are right that invading was the right thing to do, it was criminally irresponsible to do so with the pathetic excuse for planning that Bush & Co did so.

The inability of the world to identify and banish a living tyrant -- indeed, a Ghenghis Khan -- in our very midst made me very pessimistic about the idea of police in reality.

Well, does the bigger mess the invasion has resulted in give you any more faith in it? We're very arguably less safe because of this gung-ho "policing."

Since we're unable to relive the past, we're now faced with situations in Zimbabwe, Sudan and North Korea which I believe require "policing." Who calls 911? Who answers? Who writes the warrant, and how should the "police" respond? These are the same questions I was asking in 2001. The Right gave its answer while the Left searched for focus. If the Left has a better answer now, I hope it can be articulated soon.

The Right broke so many of the The Powell Doctrine tenets with the Iraq invasion, it clearly can't be trusted under the leadership of the likes of Cheney and Bush to live up to its own standards. The idea that we, the American people, should let the likes of Bush and Cheney respond to any of these other problem areas is the worst kind of negligence IMO.

As for how the Left (or better yet, a unified nation) should address them, I'm willing to follow Powell's suggestions in determining when we respond with force:

* Is a vital national security interest threatened?
* Do we have a clear attainable objective?
* Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
* Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
* Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
* Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
* Is the action supported by the American people?
* Do we have genuine broad international support?

If you answer no to any of those (and you consider them honestly), you keep working through diplomatic channels. Otherwise you waste money and lives you have no right to waste.

8/06/2007 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

speaking of war heroes - n+1 literary magazine and the new yorker both have articles on torture by the US. One of my fave quotes (n+1 i think) was about how one of the torturers was a nice guy and that torturing people gave him nightmares.

I'd do torture as an art piece - maybe document it on graph paper in writing - that way it would be collectible too.

here
Torture and the Known Unknowns
---
Keith Gessen

KSM was interrogated by the CIA for three long years. Very few people knew where, exactly. It was speculated that KSM was in one of the secret CIA prisons in Jordan, or Romania, or Thailand. Others said he was on an American warship, far out at sea, a ship so secure that any vessel that got within five miles of it would be obliterated, no questions asked. Still others said he was simply in a holding cell on one of the enormous military bases our military constructs in sympathetic countries like Germany, Japan, and Afghanistan.

8/07/2007 12:11:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Re the whole psych today article - the subtext here is that everyone agrees this is just a more sophisticated yellow journalism (am I right?)

I to believe in the Enlightenment project, and so does Psychology Today.

Rationalism costs money, and if the Muslim extremists don't want to pay for it, at least we can sell them guns.

Colbert says those who dont learn about history will be doomed to learn about it later, for free.

8/07/2007 01:14:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

Edward,

I don't know about selective quotation, but maybe your memory of those debates is better than mine. I remember having to attempt to convince a lot of people that it was right to hit Afghanistan. I also remember the UN being played for fools by Hussein in those days, but maybe that's not important.

Dragging the sorry asses of those who break those conventions into The Hague is my preferred method of enforcing those standards.

That's a fine sentiment, but how do we get them there? You're just kicking the ball down the hill.

even if you are right that invading was the right thing to do, it was criminally irresponsible to do so with the pathetic excuse for planning that Bush & Co did so.

Thank you for saying it might possibly have been right to rid Iraq and the world of Hussein, even if only in theory. Maybe you would be surprised to hear that I agree with your broader point.

Well, does the bigger mess the invasion has resulted in give you any more faith in it? We're very arguably less safe because of this gung-ho "policing."

We're arguably less safe and we're arguably more safe, so I'll ignore that part of your question. The answer is no, I do not think the war went well. If we're going to use the word "arguably" in a sentence, then the current surge is "arguably" fixing the problems of the past three or four years, for what it's worth. Whether that excuses the initial attempt or not is another argument.

But I still believe policing can work if done right, and more importantly, I believe we need to try. I'm bound by a moral view which compels me to fight political and economic suppression among the world's people. I need to find a way to do that. I'm sorry but that's an unshakeable standard to me. Talk of exit strategies and clear national interests are beside the point when there is a clear violation of international order. Isn't this a justifiable and morally sound position?

I'm willing to follow Powell's suggestions in determining when we respond with force

I have my doubts that these questions can ever be answered Yes in their entirety under any conditions, for reasons I'll state in a moment. Whatever Hussein was doing, whoever he was, whatever definitions you want to put around him -- and again, I would put Arafat, Mugabe and the architects of the Sudan tragedies in the same bucket -- then those are still in my opinion the right cases to act.

I'm not comfortable living in a world that can't justify ridding itself in a firm, fast and decisive manner of such people. Any questions you want to pose or criteria you want to posit are fine with me, as long as those cases I've mentioned above are on the "police" side. I can't see myself calling the archbishop of Bulawayo to tell him he didn't file his paperwork correctly.

What breaks my heart is that the Left has always been for human rights, but can't do the one thing I think is most critical for guaranteeing them. Sally Struthers cried for the African children, begging us all for "just pennies a day", but now we know full well that the "pennies" were going straight to the warlords and dictators. The way to feed children is not to play rock music, or to send another delegation of impotent inspectors, but to get rid of their corrupt leaders. The keys to success are political and economic freedom. After that, everything falls into place.

As to the Powell Doctrine, I would insist on clear international guidelines which define economic and political freedom, even if only in a minimum way, and -- here's the kicker -- I would require all countries who enjoy the fruits of international membership to abide by the call of that requirement when the time comes. The two questions which disturb me most greatly are these:

* Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?

This is a permanent out-clause. One can always answer No. You're reducing what I feel is a matter of standards, to a matter of the personal interests of the world's leaders.

* Do we have genuine broad international support?

If China and Russia are delaying action in Sudan because of oil interests, when can the rest of the world say enough? Should the rest of the world not say the Sudan meets our definitions of abuse, and like it or not, we need to do something?

The "exit strategy" question bothers me a little bit too, since the only "exit strategy" we should allow for is victory, and the solution to the lack of an exit strategy is not to withhold an attack, but to make sure another country comes aboard to aid the operation. If it's 199 countries against 1, I think the "exit strategy" problem clarifies itself rather quickly.

The "international community" should be created in such a way that joining it compels the member to uphold these basic rights with force when the time comes. I want to build these guarantees into the bedrock.

NATO is defined such that an attack on one is an attack on all. I want the same type of mechanism for tyranny. I want tyranny to be treated like a tsunami. There should not be any question of acting. The only question should be, who sends what?

8/07/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Henry,

You seem to be more of an idealist (that's a good thing, in my book) than I originally credited you as being.

I'm sure your vision includes reality checks with regards to timing and priorities, so I see no need to dwell on the fact that the world has more "tyrants" (and that's a very debatable label [Hussein was our ally at one point]) than the global community can afford to depose at any given time. OK, so I won't dwell on it toooo much, but...

But I will point out that the main problem I have with your vision is that it ignores that invasions to depose tyrants result in innocent civilians being "shock and awed" to smithereens by us, and for me those individuals' lives are not interchangable with the ones said tyrant might have taken left to his/her own devices. Resulting insurgencies do the same.

You're also ignoring the biggest flaw in this plan, in my opinion, which is the assumption that there is, waiting in the wings, a leader strong enough to replace said tyrant and not just become a tyrant him/herself:

The way to feed children is not to play rock music, or to send another delegation of impotent inspectors, but to get rid of their corrupt leaders. The keys to success are political and economic freedom. After that, everything falls into place.

But sometimes it takes decades for political and economic freedom to progress to where "everything falls into place." (Calling Francis Fukuyama, will you back me up here?) As we're seeing in Bush's calls for patience in the so-called GWOT, that can lead to a more-or-less permanent state of war.

That, in a nutshell, is why I oppose policing via war. If military-esque policing is needed in as many places as you suggest it is, you're introducing war to nearly every corner of the planet. Meanwhile, new tyrants are emerging where old democracies have failed (e.g., see Venezuela, etc.), suggesting this war policing will never, ever end.

I know there are those who feel if the standard was to invade and depose any "tyrant" who emerged, we'd see fewer emerge, but I thinks that's mostly wishful thinking. Besides, again, one person's tyrant is another person's hero (see, again, Venezuela).

8/07/2007 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

Edward,

Thanks. I think my views are actually quite prevalent among so-called "pro-war" people, but I can't be sure. I'm just trying to marry the Left's call for human rights and international standards with the Right's call for economic freedom and peace through enforcement. Unfortunately this has given me adversaries on both sides.

I only suggested four "places" for "military-esque policing", purposely avoiding Venezuela, Cuba, Myanmar, etc, and I think I only suggested a pretty low standard. I also don't find the tyrant/hero notion very useful. Either the tyrant/hero protects peoples' freedoms, or not. If you believe in the Hague and the IAEA, then you should believe in their ability to write warrants. All I'm doing is extending that notion to enforcement. Frankly I thought I was giving both sides something to cheer, but I end up fighting from both ends. :-)

Anyway, thanks again for helping me beat this poor dead horse. :-)

8/07/2007 11:35:00 AM  

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