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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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