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Monday, February 27, 2006


the end of iraq

the audible moment of the final implosion of imperial fantasies in iraq fell upon disquieted american ears this week when the shi'ite golden mosque of samarra was destroyed last week by sunni insurgents.

in iraq, the question is settled -- the end of a unified iraq is now. the american-propped shi'ite government openly talks of tanks in the streets even as the american army questions its capacity to operate even to that limited extent. quasi-governmental shi'ite terror squads answering to an old american nemesis, moktada al-sadr, and ever-bolder sunni insurgents trade bombs for bombs, killings for killings with seeming impunity -- continuing on despite unenforcable decrees of curfew from offices in baghdad whose powerlessness is more and more obvious every day -- in a spiral of violence that is undeniably now the onset of the civil war so long predicted by so many critics -- from brent scowcroft to john murtha -- of a bush administration in the thrall of a revived imperial jacobinism.

one of the better hopeful analyses this page has read was this from the los angeles times, which analogizes the best-case iraq with the lebanon that emerged from civil war in the early 1990s -- a picture similar to that more familiar to westerners in northern ireland or the balkans -- fractured, militant, on edge and chronically violent. this is the best we can hope for, it seems, of a project that was once broadcast by republican ideologues as a new dawn in the mideast, the creation of a shining beacon of good government.

closer to home, raimondo surveys the carnage on the american fascist right. the bush administration, backed into a corner by all its prior lies, is still pathetically claiming that al-qaeda is somehow at fault. various neoconservatives express emotions ranging from regret to -- incredibly -- a sense of betrayal. but raimondo singles out conservative icon william buckley's resignation for examination -- and rightly, for it seems the truth has not yet fully come home to the conservative idealists he represents.

the administration has, now, to cope with failure. It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and antidemocratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail — in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take? It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.
the ideological hubris of the naive american assumption of the universal appeal of our holy way of life shines through the clouds of real and material failure and death like a toxic sun undimmed. it is beyond buckley, as it is beyond most who have succumbed to the jingoism of american exceptionalism, to consider that the american way of life is particular to the american situation -- a product of our social condition and history, neither ideal nor permanent nor replicable by man, merely the consequence of our fortunate path. rather than admit evidence of the fraudulence of such a dearly-held "postulate" in light of evidence, buckley -- like any good idealist -- dismisses the evidence.

one is left to wonder how many failures and of what catastrophic scale will have to befall this nation before buckley and his ilk realize the fallacy of the central postulates of their supremely arrogant and self-referential worldview.

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I'm sure you didn't mean to, but when you refer to the American way of life as "merely the consequence of our fortunate path," you sound awfully deterministic, as though the men who founded this country were fated to do so, rather than free to choose. America, and by relation, Europe, is different than the middle east due to deep religious divides that, contrary to the ecumenical spirit of the age, belie great gulfs that are not usually bridged with any success. The reigning Neocons share more in common with lefty secularists than is commonly assumed because they have not admitted that one of the fundamental flaws in their mideast policy is the discounting of religion as idea, with consequences, and not just the accumulation of rites and strictures and holy shrines. Democracy is the logical outcome of Western Civilization, based as it is in Judaeo-Christian philosophy regarding the individual.

I am extremely pessimistic regarding the current state of the mideast, with Syria, Iran, and Palestine all but ready to begin jihad against Israel, which would be a stiff test of Western fortitude. Europe, if the recent cartoon scandal is any indication, is not to be counted upon. The neocons, with their Hegelian absurdities, are reaching apogee; but who will fill the gap? The millions of Christians who helped re-elect Bush are no doubt unaware of the profoundly un-Christian assumptions behind much of the Neocon philosophy, but what alternative is there? Jingoism trumps intellect in demotic politics, and in the meantime America forfeits anything that once made her great, the legacy of a dying, if not dead, civilization. It is truly the end of an age. I fear we are not adequately prepared for what is to come.

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i might have better said, "... our fortunate path through the valley of the shadow of death", in order to give the full implication. as you know for yourself, dr johnson, the path isn't predetermined or knowable -- it is constantly creating itself before us from the gulf of darkness into which we make our next footfall.

but, looking back, a fortunate path it is that we have traced out and now abandoned.

i fear for any positive remediation of the political vacuum you've described -- the hubris of america isn't limited to the neoconservatives, even if they are its worst infected. most democrats too are, as you know, basically neoconservative (that is, jacobin) in orientation if more passive in temper (for now). driven to barbarism by a pragmatic structure withing a cultural construct equally driven by conflict, a political solution escapes me.

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I'd like to hear both you guys weigh in on Fukuyama's latest article for Slate:

I recently listened to a Great Courses lecture on the run-up to the Revolutionary War wherein the lecturer described the founding fathers as the most philosophical and historically aware set of political figures the nation has ever seen (paraphrase). I certainly had no problem with that assertion. Would you agree? I do think that their Lockeian notion of "The Social Contract" and what constitutes slavery shines a light on the differences of thinking between the east and west even today.

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Quoting Fukuyama:

"The problem that most Europeans face today is that they don't have a vision of the kinds of positive cultural values their societies stand for and should promote, other than endless tolerance and moral relativism."

This is only news to the kind of secular religion that believes listening to Sting sing with Cheb Mami, or eating tabouleh, is akin to understanding the Middle East. Pat Robertson may be a blowhard, but he's not wrong to couch his criticisms in religious terms, and it is foolhardy to dismiss Europe's declining demographic trends. The only European nation with a positive birthrate is Catholic Poland...coincidence? I think not. Fukuyama is right about Europe lacking a vision of which values to promote because they have lost the ability to discern between two rival ideas; this is the logical outcome of multicultural twaddle. That they once did, is something Fukuyama obliquely references, but quicly discards as impossible: namely, a return to Christian values. I am constantly arguing with friends who disregard the West's Christian heritage as it relates to human rights and the individual; one can look at that heritage as an evolutionary adaptation that must now be outgrown, but you are then left with a groundless ethic, the will to power only, something Nietzsche knew in the last century and our enlightened moderns have yet to discover. The Neocons know a bit of Nietzsche, in that they trust in power above all, and the American and European left only know he hated Christianity and Women. Neither side gets it and we will all be paying for their ignorant arrogance.

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i think fukuyama is right to say "radical islamism" is a basically western problem of individualism, as defined by roy and kepel, a reaction against exclusionary state-managed notions of cultural value. the basic problem of the west is that it has ceased to convert and compel conversion by the radiation of attractive ideas -- now it merely manages (and thereby alienates) a desired hierarchy out of an ever-more unstable diversity of ensconced competing interests, most of whom have come to believe out of desperation in the political efficacy of violence.

fukuyama is dead wrong, however, to think this a purely european problem -- or that he has a solution any more than buchanan does.

The problem that most Europeans face today is that they don't have a vision of the kinds of positive cultural values their societies stand for and should promote, other than endless tolerance and moral relativism. What each European society needs is to invent an open form of national identity similar to the American creed, an identity that is accessible to newcomers regardless of ethnicity or religion.

european muslims are in a social role analogous to african-americans -- overmanaged, underprivileged and alienated from true access to self-determination. indeed, american muslims increasingly find themselves in this niche and it would be much more apparent if their numbers were larger. (the day is not far off when the first wholly american islamists are recognized.) this is why american historians sniffing about european exclusionism vs american inclusiveness is so hypocritical -- we are all westerners, and we're all suffering different manifestations of the same civilizational problems. here, our common problems are with disaffected proletariats -- internal and external -- that have no interest in assimilating, in fact openly despise (and rightfully) large tracts of the increasingly debased and amoral postmodern western culture.

fukuyama's prescription -- to invent a eurocreed (ostensibly identical to his undefined american creed) of radiant appeal -- is a typically managerial response to a cultural problem that will defy any such mortal attempt. it is born of a economic mindset in which all the variables are assumed to be at our disposal, and within it is a basic contempt for the managed, who are assumed to be waiting to fall in line behind whatever spurious invention the leadership comes up with. i think that a wildly hubristic notion -- that a few can beneficially or even predictably revolutionize the many of our society into a conformist panacea -- and such notions are often the death-rattle of a delusionally desperate management class.

fukuyama talks about the "solution" as though it's something that could be imposed -- but it can't. it has to be compelling to us all, so as to attract our voluntary loyalty, instead of being a compulsory service to some bankrupt state at the implied point of a gun.

in the end, i have to agree with dr johnson -- that means a return of leadership and led alike to a compelling god of love and compassion, instead of our idols of wealth or power or irresponsibility.

as an addendum, i would note that, being a european problem far more than an arab or an islamic problem, the field of action for a solution to the problem is not in iraq or iran or afghanistan but in the west -- in europe and the 20th c western incursion of israel. even if the problems are not solved introspectively and are instead aggravated by yet more managed violence, that violence will ultimately find itself afield in europe -- quite possibly in the form of american armies this century finally taking overt hold of what has been its proxy empire for decades.

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I think Israel will be the first target of this rising tide of Islamo-fascism. If America first engages this violence on European soil (see: Lepanto) it will mean that Israel has already been consumed.

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i might note too a pair of historical examples of the most likely path of action in rome and babylon.

rome confronted very similar social issues in its consolidation of the hellenic world -- it was faced with the sudden (in historical terms) creation of a political entity that consisted of a diaspora of social entities which stubbornly defined themselves by their traditional differences rather than their possible "roman" commonalities. rome, like athens before it, succumbing to decadence, abandoned everything in the better classical tradition for a managed undistictiveness -- in which all religions, all creeds, all races were tolerated equally. this did not quell unrest; indeed, it afforded these stubborn competing proletariats the political and economic weaponry with which to tear roman society end from end and render an distressed roman management powerless in the face of advanced chaos.

an echo of that can be seen in the political liberation of the civil rights movement in the 20th c -- and how remarkably little it has done to create a sense of harmony in the west.

long before rome, babylon at the time of the exodus was a similar civilization which tried to assimilate the inherited conquests of the assyrians as well as those of its imperial king nebuchadnezzar (which included the destruction of jerusalem and the enslavement of the israelites of the book of jeremiah). one of the familiar attempts at a managed peace was the collecting of all the local idol-gods in babylon, effectively attempting to secularize the babylonian empire. the resulting divisions and strife ended when cyrus of persia took the paralyzed and apathetic capital city of babylon without resistance (an echo of alaric's march on rome in 410, where he recorded his surprise at seeing no resistance even in italy -- finding even supportive proletarian throngs.)

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lol -- sorry, not exodus but exile.

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I never made the connection between late Rome and today's multi-culti milieu...let alone that of Babylon. It is interesting that Christians were persecuted in the Empire for being "atheists," that is, not believing in the multiplicity of gods collected by Rome during conquest. This gives a better perspective on the altar to "the unknown god" maligned by St. Paul; the unknown god is any god but God, a space left for anything, which is precisely what is worshipped today in the name of freedom. The desire not to offend anything but one's own belief system is the poison in the well.

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I don't how often you cruise by Reason anymore (I can imagine you must be frustrated with the typical Hit & Run crowd) but apparently you've made enough of an impression that Tim Cavanaugh mentioned you name:

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If you haven't already, check out Hitch's response to Fukuyama and his defense of his "temporary neocon allies".
I went to Hitch's "support Free Speech In Denmark" rally last Friday. I was surprised to see Kristol and that (expletive) Tony Blankely there. Perhaps I shouldn't have been. Do you think their feelings are hurt when Hitch talks like that?

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I admire the historical perspective you and your readers bring to events like this, but I believe there's a simpler way to understand the administration's refusal to alter the line that it is ultimately succeeding in Iraq. Bush & Co. have no choice. The motivation is purely pragmatic. If they are forced to accept defeat in Iraq, they must accept the complete failure of the entire Bush project. There is literally nothing on the other side of that admission, but the abyss. No legacy, no crusade for Democracy, no way forward.

And no meaningful alternative. With the opposition emasculated and leaderless over the last five years, there is no obvious heir or successor to the neocon vision. US policy is literally dead in the water.

Bush could accept this fate and quietly play out the string until 2008, but what is his incentive to do so?

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Monday, February 13, 2006


the legitimate hamas

this tumultuous month in the middle east has passed so blindingly as to all but overwhelm this observer, but the consequences of the changes it has wrought will echo through the next years loudly.

to begin, peace in the region was dealt a tragic blow with the incapacitation of ariel sharon, whose genuine move to a middle ground of reconciliation with a palestinian state represented the most promising light of peace since the end of oslo. i cannot help but think that a brilliant opportunity has been snuffed at a time when it is desperately needed.

one wonders how sharon would have reacted to the victory of hamas in recent palestinian elections. perhaps it was a belated recognition of islamism's rise in palestine after decades of occupation, impoverishment and antagonism that motivated his recent change of heart -- for there is no denying that peace will be still harder to attain for an israel that could not come to terms with a secular arab nationalist palestine under arafat whose ends were arguably much closer to israel's than may be those of hamas.

while the likud-led political right in israel has predictably preached non-engagement on the grounds that doing so would legitimize a terrorist organization -- even calling the representatives of the palestinian people a "cancer", ostensibly to be operated upon by the israeli military in another step toward perpetual war -- one might point out to them that they are no longer (if they ever were) the arbiters of hamas' legitimacy. the palestinian people are, through free elections, if any of sharansky's panacea and the Global Democratic Revolution are to be accepted as anything but a farce of political convenience meant to cover a program of ruthlessly machiavellian imperial policing of interests.

as the united states attempts to marshall the powers of the global suzerain to isolate hamas by further impoverishing palestine in what seems open defiance of its own recently-held high democratic principles -- incisively articulating the hypocrisy of its leading idealists when confronted with the reality of their ideas in practice -- russia and france act as the united states was supposed to, in no small way undermining the credibility of america's entire professed motivation in its global actions over the last five years as so much democratist prattle. it remains to be seen if england will continue to take such a pragmatic view of hamas as it has under what will surely be crushing american pressure to toe an american-israeli right-wing line of isolation, but already russia's move has paid dividends to both putin and hamas. this offer of armistice will, of course, be as totally disbelieved as has been osama bin laden's -- for the true believers in the neoconservative vision, it is impossible that the enemy might be reasonable, and so any reasonable or conciliatory statements are ignored.

but at some point, these parties in deep ideological delusion and denial will have to (as others perhaps already are) come to grips with the reality of an elected hamas in palestine -- and with their unintentional role in assuring its place there by their own belligerence and indifference. issuing self-righteous proclamations about moral clarity regarding terrorism is decidedly unconvincing coming from states whose utter amorality is both obvious and widely known. beyond the plain fact that hamas is more than a terrorist organization -- for it also feeds the hungry and provides succor in a chaotic occupied land, more than either the israeli or american governments ever tried to do -- there is the fact that terrorism is and will continue to be as effective a path to political power as any, all being equally debased in their avarice of temporal power. what the united states hopes to achieve by dropping laser-guided bombs into city blocks or israel hopes to achieve by firing helicopter missiles into west bank towns, hamas hopes to achieve by suicide bombers. one can certainly understand the logic of not wishing to legitimize violence by rewarding it -- in either direction -- but the more complex counterpoint to that ideological simplification of the actual world must be also to understand when it has been legitimized despite whatever one thought to be best and the time has come to get on with the aftermath, regardless of how your ideology might comport with the empirical truth of events.

one wonders which side of this conflict lives further from that reality.

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I'm interested in seeing how Hamas handles the kind of infrastructure needs that occur on a day-to-day basis. This election may end up emasculating them as a violent ideological organization.
Being a fringe group can be fun with all it's rhetoric and gun-toting. Providing basic services to a population is a crashing bore. That and they will almost certainly fail to impress their own people with their administrative abilities.

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fwiw, hamas (unlike some other maniacal outliers) already has extensive experience in organized relief in the territories, so it might be less of an adjustment for them than some others. and their reputation for cleanliness has survived that. but i do agree that, often times, the best thing that can happen to a revolutionary group is to be put into power -- it's often a tremendous moderating force.

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Friday, February 03, 2006


a society of insult

reason captures the quintessential western response to the hemispherical furor that has arisen regarding the depiction of the prophet in the danish (and, subsequently, european) press.

If every time the West does anything it creates 100 new suicide bombers, it's only fair that every time the Islamists try and suppress blasphemy they should create 100 new blasphemers.

In the interest of balance, here's an objection from

Jee thanx again it shows pure ignorance on ur behalf. What if a muslim draws the picture of denmarki president sucking other men's bottom n showing his wife helping him by doing so?? Will that be 'freedom of speech' the so called democracy??? interesting how the west can force its view points on others in the name of democracy act soo low an arrogant n yet r given the excuse of being so called "democratic". shame on u for accepting such low acts n insulting other peoples religion n inflicting pain upon billions of muslims in the world n yet calling it democracy. I wish a muslim publication in denmark print some filthy cartoons of denmarki president n his wife n will see if the democratic president will see that as a 'freedom of speech'.
For the record, if you have pictures of the president of Denmark sucking other men's bottoms, we'll be happy to publish those too. Sexually explicit pictures of Denmark's Crown Princess Mary are even more welcome. In fact, even if you've got pics of Princess Elisabeth sucking a man's bottom, we'll run those just for shock effect. Now dig the cartoons while I kick back with a Tuborg Gold, the golden beer of Danish kings...
further down in the comments came this recommendation.

I read somewhere that what we need is a movie that does for the war on radical Islam what Dr. Strangelove did for the cold war. You can't play these clowns straight. It needs to be a comedy.
this observer disagrees. "dr. strangelove" is a great western film because it precisely captures our widespread cynicism and disillusionment and focused it on the cold war at a time when that was hard to do.

drenchingly ironic is not where islamic civilization is metaphysically -- this is not a civilization disenchanted with virtually every element of its own past, present and future, as the west now is, waiting calmly for its dissolution while lazily smoking a cigarette at a cafe table.

most muslims still take the world seriously. say what you like about that -- from the western perspective, it's exceedingly gauche and naive -- but it imparts to islamic culture a vibrance and vitality that went missing in the west a century ago which sees now only the occasional bout of militant revival among half-considered ideologues.

i think very few rational observers -- muslims included -- see the rantings of placard-holding zealots in a mob to be intelligent, regardless of who is holding them, even if they can be sympathetic to the views that spurred such overreaction. nor should one take them for the general sentiment of muslims.

but what remains is that the west's inability to respect anything -- about itself or anyone else -- will be a constant source of irritation and conflict with all the non-western peoples of the earth (which include a large and growing number of disaffected proletarians living within the west) until such time as we collapse unto ourselves in our decadence. the childlike reaction of some western media -- to reprint it all, but writ large -- is, it seems to me, all the greater an indictment of the personal irresponsibility that has become the hallmark of being a westerner.

is the freedom of the european press at all threatened by muslim crowds in streets distant? obviously not -- that isn't why the papers are doing this at all. they are doing it from a deep nietzschean cultural antipathy toward restriction or responsibility of any kind, real or perceived. and the more unrest it provokes, the more irresistably titillating it becomes to provoke further, just to show how unaccountable you are.

that is perhaps a dangerous game, but more importantly a vulgar, savage one. there's a bit of cock-crowing hereabouts regarding how "free" we are to do this -- but the entire sordid affair illustrates in part how our obsession with not liberty but freiheit has gutted us as a civilization and made westernism the enemy of a great many thoughtful, concerned people. we have become a society of unconsidered insult.


I disagree. They want the Danish government to apologize. They call for the heads of all those who criticize the prophet. This isn't the middle ages.

Have you seen the pictures of the signs they're carrying? "Europe, your 9/11 will come". Chanting "Death to the Dutch".

If anything, they have done more harm in their reaction to the cartoon, than any harm initially caused by the cartoon.

One quote was "If they want a religious war, they'll get one"...who said anything about war here? How can they be any more ironic in making the cartoons come true?

What exactly are they complaining about anyway? Muhammed has been 'depicted' for thousands of years, and now we get this reaction? Hell, he was in an episode of South Park for crying out loud. But you didn't hear about that from riots and threats of violence.

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at the heart of my criticism of your response, anon is: who are... "they"?

the "they" carrying the placards are very different from the "they" that watch the news in cairo with the same disgust as you or i regarding the messages on the placards.

do you see a difference between the two?

if you do not, then i would humbly submit that you're more problem than solution. if you do, then understand that the latter is a vast majority over the former.

i see the protests in the streets calling for the murder of all westerners as the equivalent of protests in the united states carrying graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and calling for the deaths of pro-choice doctors -- the rantings of a vocal few.

the discomfort they radically embody, however, is more widespread.

Muhammed has been 'depicted' for thousands of years

actually, this is not true. iconography is forbideen in islam, as it was for periods of christendom's history. virtually all variegations of islam hold reverence to an image to be a sinful form of worship -- idolizing that which is not actually god. this is the point of islamic art -- which, without the reverence for icons so fundamental to catholicism, evolved into a very different form of decorative representation.

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If your post is an assault on the quasi-existential post-modern meaninglessness. And the strange desire by intelligentsia to probe the level of their own absurdity and meaninlessnes, then I salute you.

I have to qualify that by saying that the desire to deconstruct is a pretty seductive drug and often feeds on itself as both participants progressively extrapolate presupposed facts about each other based on subjective observations.

Just as our society adhere's to Neitzche, or Heidgegger, or camus, or Sartre or (fill in pompous reference here) etc... And as we, as you say: Sit.. "lazily smoking a cigarette at a cafe table" (brilliant euro-visual by the way..). We can also point out that the underclass, or as you say, the proletariat, adhere to Strauss, or (heaven help us) Rand in their almost dangerous loyalty to an idea of universal objectivity.

Your post appears to suggest that the big problem europe believes it is facing is the idea that the governing (nihilist?) elite have to take into account (and monitor) the mass media which can at times provoke violent uprisings and thus must be monitored not for truth (which europe has eschewed for moral relativity), but rather for control. By elite, I mean Arab, Western, Christian, Muslim, etc... All have a rational vested interest in controlling the masses via non-violent and non-economically disruptive means.

In any case, my post is a sad example of an attempt to de-construct the events without once referencing the fact that in response to the posting of very dumb and artistically inept cartoons, large groups of demographically homogenous people have called for violence based on a logic and metaphysics which europe walked away from at the time of the rennaissance. After such refusal to adhere to obejective dogma the growth and progress of their society grew almost exponentially.

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Have you seen the pictures of the signs they're carrying? "Europe, your 9/11 will come". Chanting "Death to the Dutch".

Well the Dutch are going to be pissed about this since there is a difference between the Netherlands and Denmark.

I would suspect that there are probably more pressing concerns in the Muslim Arab communities of the Middle East and Europe than being "insulted" by a cartoon.

I just don't understand the misplaced rage.

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