Monday, December 28, 2015

"Israel started Hamas"

“Israel started Hamas”
P. Schultz

            Have just finished reading a very interesting book, Devil’s Game, by Robert Dreyfuss, it would seem that the “war on terror” launched by the U.S. at different times over the past few decades is more fiction than fact. That is, while the U.S. has been targeting some “terrorists,” it and its allies have been supporting others. As Dreyfuss writes: “’Israel started Hamas,’ says Charles Freeman, the veteran diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “It was a project of Shit Bet [the Israeli domestic intelligence agency], which had a feeling that they could us it to hem in the PLO.” [p. 191]

            According to Dreyfuss, the U.S. has been pursuing a flawed foreign policy of relying on right wing Islamists since the Eisenhower administration, and doing to because that administration feared that the nationalists who were active in the Middle East were or would fall under the control of communists and the USSR. To wit:

“In the early 1950s, two nationalist leaders emerged in two of the most powerful countries of the Middle East, Egypt and Iran. In Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Free Officers ousted the country’s dissolute king and threatened to spark revolution in Saudi Arabia, the heart of the world’s energy supply. In Iran, a freely elected democrat and socialist-inclined leader named Mohammed Mossadegh successfully challenged the ruling shah of Iran, forced him to flee, and asserted his country’s right to take over the oil industry from Britain’s Anglo-Persian Oil Company.” [p. 94]

            The U.S. successfully overthrew Mossadegh, with Britain’s help, and tried but failed to overthrow Nasser. In the latter case, the U.S. and Britain used the Muslim Brotherhood, while in the former case, they “mobilized a group of ayatollahs that included the ideological grandfather of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.” And there is more insofar as these actions were “compounded by yet another massive error: the U.S. decision to support Saudi Arabia as the counter pole to Arab and Persian nationalism, and to tie itself to a worldwide network of Islamists sponsored by the Saudis. It was a decision whose consequences led, indirectly, to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocracy, the destruction of Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist international.” [pp. 94-95]

            Most interestingly, even Israel played the same kind of game, creating the group that eventually became Hamas – which means “zeal” – in order to try to defeat the PLO. “In the wake of the 1967 war, and Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the Islamists flourished with the support of both Israel and Jordan.” [p. 192] As Dreyfuss puts it, it was thought that Hamas would be “Israel’s trained zeal.” But, apparently, Hamas had and has other ideas.

            It was conservative Israelis, beginning with Menachem Begin’s Herat Party and the Likud bloc that lent formal support to these Islamists. As Dreyfuss says, “It was part of a full-court press against the PLO.” [p. 196] Begin was trying to undermine the PLO, even to the point of giving paramilitary training to members of the “so-called Village Leagues,” which were run by anti-PLO Palestinians. “David Shipler, a former reporter for the New York Times, cites the Israeli governor of Gaza as boasting that Israel expressly financed the Islamist against the PLO.” [p. 196] In this regard, Israel was aligned with Saudi Arabia, which also wanted to undermine the PLO and, hence, helped to finance these Islamist groups in Gaza.

            It is quite true as is said frequently that politics makes for strange bedfellows. But perhaps it is best not play with fire or fanatics. As one expert at the U.S. State Department put it: “I didn’t realize they’d [the Israelis] end up creating a monster. But I don’t think you ought to mess around with potential fanatics.” [p.198] This might be a warning that should be heeded today.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Maintaining the Status Quo: Mainstream Extremism

--> Maintaining the Status Quo: Mainstream Extremism
P. Schultz

Below is an article and my comments on it [posted in red], illustrating how the debate over US foreign policy is contained and limited to questions of marginal importance in order to maintain the status quo and to disguise the extremist character of that policy. A link to the article follows.

Jonathan Bernstein comments on the negative reviews of the Republican candidates’ foreign policy statements at the debate:

They’re not saying the Republican candidates are promoting foolish policies; they’re saying the entire debate, with only a handful of exceptions, was an exercise in fantasy. Fantasy it was, but not for the reasons given here. See my comments below. 

The critics are right about the debate, but it’s not as if this is unusual for a presidential primary debate among mostly hawkish candidates. It certainly isn’t unusual for Republican foreign policy arguments over the last six years. It’s correct to say most of what the candidates said on Tuesday night was divorced from reality, but then most hawkish attacks on the administration’s record have been no different. Ever since it became popular to accuse Obama of going on an “apology tour” or to assert that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism (both of which date to his first year in office), Republican hawks have been railing against a mostly imaginary record. Even when there are genuine policy failures and horrible decisions that could and should be used against the president, hawkish critics have opted for the least credible and most preposterous lines of attack based on the fantasy record they have concocted. That makes them a fairly useless political opposition, and it guarantees that the real failings of our foreign policy don’t receive the scrutiny they should. Well, while “the real failings of our foreign policy don’t receive the scrutiny they should” might be true, it also true and more important that the question of whether our foreign policy is worthy of success never gets raised. And this is so because to raise this question would require that we raise the question of that policy’s worth in terms of its justice, its decency, or its extremism. This is one reason the Republicans rail “against a mostly imaginary record,” a tactic the Democrats don’t mind at all. Such criticisms limit the debate over US foreign policy to whether it’s “working,” or in terms used here, whether it is sufficiently “hawkish.” So from this viewpoint, the Republicans are not “a fairly useless political opposition.” Rather, they are quite useful, viz., in maintaining the status quo and disguising the extremism of US foreign policy. 

We can this most clearly in the complete failure to hold Obama accountable for his illegal war in Libya while being obsessed with the 2012 Benghazi attack that followed from that war. Note should be taken that here, Larison succeeds in doing what the Republicans obsessed with Benghazi are doing: Raising an issue, whether Obama’s war in Libya was “illegal,” that distracts us from the only important issue: Was that war part of a defensible, non-imperialistic foreign policy. Hawkish interventionists couldn’t object to Obama’s decision to start a war (and many Republicans supported that war), [Of course they did because they support the imperialistic policy that war reflects.] but they were desperate to portray him as indifferent to terrorist threats, which is itself an extension of their need to see Obama as “retreating” from the world and blind to the dangers of jihadism. This is just another version of argument that Obama is insufficiently “hawkish,” thereby passing over the issue of the character of the prevailing foreign policy of the US which aims controlling the world, including the Middle East even it means relying on jihadists and other right wing Islamists to do so. 

 Many other examples are available. Almost all Republican presidential candidates fault Obama for withdrawing residual forces from Iraq and blame the growth of ISIS on the withdrawal. They always ignore that there was no way that U.S. forces could have stayed in Iraq without being put under Iraqi jurisdiction, and they definitely ignore that the original status of forces agreement was negotiated by the previous administration. They also ignore that Iraqis opposed a U.S. military presence and a new insurgency would probably have started if the hawks had had their way. This is a nice illustration of how the Republicans help to control the character of the debate over US foreign policy because it is an argument that assumes, without any arguments at all, that the original decision to invade Iraq was correct. “Obama was weak to withdraw from Iraq,” implying without argument that the invasion of Iraq was wise or prudent. If our reality doesn’t validate their “Obama chooses decline” and “weakness is provocative” beliefs, they have to imagine another one that does. Again, to cast the debate in terms of “weakness” or “hawkishness” is to limit that debate to mere details and to avoid the only real issue: Is US foreign policy defensible or is it genuinely imperialistic? 

The reaction to the unobjectionable, modest New START may be the most telling example. Despite broad support for the treaty from the military and arms control experts, there was almost no Republican support for it in the Senate, and the critics used the most nonsensical arguments to justify their opposition. They latched on to a non-binding preamble as proof that the treaty limited missile defenses when the actual treaty contained no provisions related to this, and they complained that a strategic arms reduction treaty didn’t include tactical nuclear weapons. Mitt Romney went out of his way that year to make a fool of himself by repeating a number of ridiculous and discredited arguments against the treaty, which led Fred Kaplan to dub his attack on New START as “shabby, misleading, and thoroughly ignorant.” But this wasn’t just Romney demonstrating how little he knew. Romney was repeating the bogus objections that other hawks in his party were already making against the treaty. Besides, Obama wanted the treaty ratified, so Romney must have thought that he had to denounce it as one of the biggest sell-outs of all time. If that required making up silly reasons to oppose the treaty, so be it. The response to all this from his own party was to applaud, and later after Romney had lost the election the response was to pretend that Romney’s bad foreign policy arguments had been vindicated. A party that encourages the belief that “Romney was right” about anything important on foreign policy is one that has chosen not to take these issues seriously nor to deal with the world as it is.

I could go on for a while, but I’ll offer just one more example. Republican hawks treat is as an absolute certainty that Obama “missed an opportunity” for regime change in Iran during the Green movement protests. They are certain of this despite the fact that the protesters weren’t seeking regime change and couldn’t have achieved it even if they had been. The “opportunity” they claim that Obama missed never existed, but they insist that it was there for the taking all the same so that they can accuse Obama of “allowing” the Iranian regime to remain in power. It is one thing to complain that Obama didn’t respond to the protests as vocally as the hawks would like, but it is something else entirely to pretend that it was within Obama’s power to hasten the toppling of a foreign government by offering rhetorical support to protesters that didn’t want to overthrow their government. That is where the usual opposition carping about supposed presidential foreign policy failure crosses over into the realm of make-believe and absurdity. Unfortunately, that is where most Republican foreign policy arguments end up these days. That problem didn’t just start this cycle, it isn’t limited to the “outsider” and demagogue candidates, and it goes much deeper than most people in or out of the GOP would like to admit. Note well how limited this is, not just by the Republicans but by Larison as well. Larison asserts that the Republicans’ criticism of Obama regarding Iran are “unrealistic” because the protesting Iranians were not interested in and incapable of regime change. So the Republicans assume something unrealistic, viz., that Obama had the “power to hasten the toppling of a foreign government” when he did not. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to ask: Should the US assume it may legitimately choose to topple foreign governments? Is this a power that is defensible, just, legitimate, regardless of whether it can be used successfully or not? Where does this power come from? Is it anything other than US hubris to claim the right to overthrow governments here, there, and everywhere? These are questions that go unasked, with results that can only be labeled suspect.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Benedict Option

The Benedict Option
P. Schultz

An email exchange on “the Benedict Option:”

On Dec 21, 2015, at 5:20 PM, CW wrote:  
I’m sending this piece to people I have had some discussions with over the last few years about the state of the world and also about the Church. I don’t know who this guy is, but he may be the guest speaker at a conservative group’s next meeting that I used to belong to and have some respect for. It also has a certain positive message (despite the overall sad themes of the article) and so it seemed appropriate for the holiday season.

On Dec 22, 2015, at 8:45 AM, Peter wrote
This is very good. Just some comments that occur to me upon first reading. 

"I commend to you again Noah Millman’s piece pointing out that Establishment politicians of the Left and Right are in many ways no better than Trump on the whole “fascist” thing. They just have a different way of talking about the things they do, to keep them respectable in polite society. In the end, I don’t believe that Trump is going to be the GOP nominee, and I believe that the American people will be forced to choose between a Democrat and a Republican who are the problem, not the solution. Don’t get me wrong here: Trump’s not a solution either. What his candidacy reveals, at least to me, is how little authority the US political establishment has.”

This is where I am at. He might have emphasized - more?  at all? - that Trump serves the status quo, as that is his role, by making the “Establishment politicians” seem moderate, when in fact they are what I call “mainstream extremists.” I even heard someone on MSNBC the other day say, seriously, “I never thought I would miss George W. Bush.” Amazingly, that war criminal is now to be longed for, probably along with Cheney. This is quite a magic trick ala’ “the sorcerer” in O’Brien’s book, “In the Lake of the Woods” who could make whole villages and even his wife disappear. Trump, with the media’s complicity, makes our extremists disappear. Poof! And they are gone! 

Recently, I have been asking myself - because there are so few I feel safe talking with about politics any longer - When is it necessary to reject, to withdraw from a corrupt regime? To “retire,” as Sheriff Bell did in No Country for Old Men, in order to “save one’s soul?” 

I have also come to respond, if asked, about voting in 2016, that I will not be voting because none of the candidates will do anything to keep us safe or increase our safety and I don’t want the blood they shed to be on my hands. [Perhaps this is what Sheriff Bell had in mind, not wanting the blood to be on his hands.] People seem puzzled by this but no one really seems to notice the accusation my response contains. Of if they do, they don’t get angry as a result. 

Having once been a Catholic, I find Dreher’s “Francis option” unconvincing. As good as he is, he will not successfully reform what is just another corrupt institution. It is great that Francis is pope and what he says and does warms the heart; but in the final analysis the institutional regime will reassert itself in the end. Consult Weber or Machiavelli. I think perhaps Dreher knows this which is why he goes with the “local option.” 

So what is one to do? Perhaps what humans have always done: Choose the private life, indulge as Dreher says, the “imagination,” by recognizing that we humans should be “on a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics [is] simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.” [Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All] 

And we certainly have our share of “stentorian baboons” these days. 

Hi Peter,

I told Linda this morning that I hoped that your response would have a reference to Sheriff Bell in it and , as usual, you don’t disappoint. I agree with everything you say. I would also add another reference that I have always liked- Socrates’ argument (Book 6?) that sometimes it is better just to stand by the wall to stay out of the rain. So we have a Sheriff Bell option and a Socrates option to go with the Benedict option. It’s very amusing to me that the last time I went to one of the meetings of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, I made reference to both Sheriff Bell and Socrates’ quote and got nowhere. I also don’t care much for the Benedict option but if you secularized it a bit, it could be OK. Real liberalism assumes the search for the true, the good and the beautiful is an individual quest that is pursued in a variety of ways, sometimes alone, sometimes in voluntary groups of like-minded people. Why do so many religious people believe that the goal should be for everyone to be forced to behave according to their rules? The only path to truth that begins in freedom is peithos- persuasion. How could it be otherwise if you actually believe in anything like the spirit or the soul?  The turning of the soul is the primary experience of being and it is an individual experience. 

All teachers know (or should know) that the true “seekers” come in every shape and color and are very different from the “true believers.”  

Love the Tom Robbins quote.

Thanks for the kind words about not disappointing. Here is the full Robbins quote. I use to challenge my students with this quote and say, “What would your mindset have to be to just laugh at a Hitler? That is, really laugh at him, treat him and genuinely see him as a joke?” Some of the students would get that it would take “transforming one’s self” and “rearranging one’s perceptions” in ways that were quite difficult but others did not. I use to say to Nick when he was down because students weren’t responding to him: “Nick, if they did that they would have to rearrange their entire minds. And that’s not only a lot of work. It’s also a bit scary.”  

From Skinny Legs and All, by Tom Robbins 
            “She understood suddenly, and for no particular reason of which she was aware, that it was futile to work for political solutions to humanity’s problems because humanity’s problems were not political. Political problems did exist, all right, but they were entirely secondary. The primary problems were philosophical, and until the philosophical problems were solved, the political problems would have to be solved over and over and over again. The phrase ‘vicious circle’ was coined to describe the ephemeral effectiveness of almost any political activity.
            “For the ethical, political activism was seductive because it seemed to offer the possibility that one could improve society, make things better, without going through the personal ordeal of rearranging one’s perceptions and transforming one’s self. For the unconscionable, political reactivism was seductive because it seemed to protect one’s holdings and legitimize one’s greed. But both sides were gazing through a kerchief of illusion.
            “The monkey wrench in the progressive machinery of primate evolution was the propensity of the primate band to take its political leaders – its dominant males – too seriously. Of benefit to the band only when it was actively threatened by predators, the dominant male (or political boss) was almost wholly self-serving and was naturally dedicated not to liberation but to control. Behind his chest-banging and fang display, he was largely a joke and could be kept in his place (his place being that of a necessary evil) by disrespect and laughter. If, for example, when Hitler stood up to rant in the beer halls of Munich, the good drinkers had taken him more lightly, had they, instead of buying his act, snickered and hooted and pelted him with sausage skins, the Holocaust might have been avoided.
            “Of course, as long as there were willing followers, there would be exploitive leaders. And there would be willing followers until humanity reached that philosophical plateau where it recognized that its great mission in life had nothing to do with any struggle between classes, races, nations, or ideologies, but was, rather, a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics was simply a roadblock of stentorian baboons.” (pp.405-406)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some Interesting Facts for These Times

To the Editor:

            Here are some facts that seem to need emphasis in these troubling times. It would be useful, it seems to me, to keep them in mind.

            The death toll of those killed by jihadist terrorists, since Sept. 11, 2001, is about 45 people. The death toll in attacks led by those motivated by white supremacist and other extremist ideologies, is about 48 people. This according to New America, an organization located in Washington, D.C.

            In 1994, an American born Israeli physician, Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 Muslims, including 7 children, while wounding 125 in Hebron. In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, self-proclaimed “100% Christian,” killed 77 Muslim immigrants in Norway, including 55 teenagers.

            On April 19, 1995, Tim McVeigh, a caucasian U.S. citizen and Army veteran, who thought of himself as a Christian revolutionary, bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring over 600, making his attack the deadliest terror attack in the U.S. before 9/11 and making it even now the greatest act of domestic terror ever committed on U.S. soil.

            A recent Gallup Poll found that 58% of Christians, 52% of Jews, and 43% of the non-religious thought it justified “sometimes” to target and kill civilians, while 21% of Muslims also agreed with this.

            These are just some facts. Readers can make of them what they will. But they are facts in any case. 


Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Lesson for Politics from Hawai'i

A Lesson for Politics From Hawai’i
P. Schultz

            In 1883, the plantation owners in Hawai’i introduced the mongoose to their island in order to control the rat population that was wreaking havoc with their sugar cane. As a result, while the rat population was unaffected – rats are nocturnal while mongoose are diurnal – the mongoose population grew exponentially, feeding off the eggs of birds, almost all of whom were ground nesters, until the that population was all but extinct. From the article linked below:

“Like so many invasive species that now run amuck on islands around the world, mongooses were intentionally introduced to Hawaii. Sugar cane farmers took their cue from Jamaican plantation owners who imported mongooses to control rat populations. In 1883 the mongooses were let loose in the fields, an approach that proved to be colossally uninformed. As it turns out, rats are nocturnal and mongooses are diurnal. The exotic predators never came in contact with their rodent prey, and native bird populations began crashing instead.”

What’s the lesson here? Well, if your dealing with rats and you think that an invasion by an alien presence will solve the “problem,” think again. Think this isn’t relevant for politics? Well, then read a book entitled Operation Flytrap, which deals with a successful gang intervention program in Los Angeles. That is, it was successful in the limited sense of moderating gang behavior in the area where it was implemented. But when its results were looked at more closely, this “success” came at a rather high price, i.e., it devastated the families of the gang members arrested and imprisoned, thereby reinforcing the very conditions that led to the creation of the gangs in the first place!

Or, if you wish, just look toward and into the Middle East, and you will see the same phenomenon occurring. It is an interesting situation.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

ISIS: Force of Nature or Just Politics?

ISIS: Force of Nature or Just Politics?
P. Schultz

            People may be forgiven for thinking that those being labeled “ISIS” are a force of nature because that is what the powers that be want us to think. That is, those with the power want us to think that this phenomenon, “ISIS,” has arisen, spontaneously as it were, arising from, say, the Islamic religion and gathering speed and power like a hurricane or a tornado. Hence, this force of nature threatens to sweep us away as if it were a tsunami. And we had better band together to fight ISIS, to resist this allegedly “natural” phenomenon that threatens all of Western civilization, if not civilization simply. Needless to say, we need to fortify those with power to fight off this potentially overwhelming force.

            Now, this scenario obscures and even makes disappear the fact that ISIS is merely the result of politics. That is, there is a political agenda afoot in the Middle East, an agenda embraced by “the West” and its allies, which involves “regime change.” George Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, while disguised as an attempt to find and destroy Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, was part of this agenda, an agenda that has not been repudiated by the Obama administration or, additionally, by anyone with power in D.C. In 2006, the Democrats pretended to repudiate it but once controlling the Congress again, did nothing to effectuate that pretense.

            Part of this agenda was carried out in Libya, where jihadists, supported by the U.S., were used to overthrow and kill Kaddafi, which led eventually to the deaths of some Americans, including the American ambassador. Of course, the powers that be disguised this by making the issue Hillary Clinton’s alleged irresponsibility in this situation. As a result, no one bothered to question the original policy or agenda. Similarly, it is necessary to keep in mind that what is being labeled ISIS today is merely the result of pursuing regime change in Syria, where once again, as in Libya, jihadists are being used to unseat an existing and unfriendly regime.

            Insofar as this is true, ISIS constitutes no more a threat to “the West” than those jihadists in Libya or the Sunnis the U.S. supported during “the surge” in Iraq. Sure, they have, can, and will do some damage but it should be recognized that this too is not unacceptable to those seeking regime change. Some death and destruction, especially involving those places and activities in “the West” such as concerts or sporting events that reflect its alleged superiority to “the Rest,” will only make it appear all the more important to get rid of Assad, thereby getting at Hezbollah and Iran, both of whom support and are supported by the Assad regime. And once that objective is attained, ISIS will fade away or become, for all practicable purposes, insignificant.

            So, yes, ISIS is or reflects “just politics.” And while this is perhaps reassuring, it is also unsettling in revealing the character of our ruling class.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Malcolm X, ISIS, and the Good

Malcolm X, ISIS, and the Good
P. Schultz

            When I use to have students read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I would ask them to distinguish between what led Malcolm, then Malcolm Little, to be a small time criminal and what led some of them, the students, to want to go to law school and become lawyers. Always, the first response was, usually expressed only in looking at me like I was insane, “Are you kidding, Schultz?”

            But, eventually, after some discussion, they came to see that what led Malcolm to be a small time criminal and what led them to desire a law degree and what comes with it were exactly the same things, viz., social status, [some] wealth, and a respectable career. Malcolm Little had acquired all three as the result of being a small time hood, selling some drugs, burgling some homes, and strutting his stuff, with his conked hair and zoot suit. He even had a nickname, “Big Red,” which confirmed that he was a known quantity among his “peers.” He might even have been called the “F. Lee Bailey” of his hood.

            Eventually, of course, Malcolm was arrested, charged, tried, convicted and sent to prison, not just for his crimes but also, he was convinced, because he had crossed the color line by having a white girl friend. Anyway, in prison, Malcolm “got religion,” and became a Black Muslim. As a result of this conversion, Malcolm cleaned up his act, gave up crime, drugs, and alcohol, and became eventually a leading member of the Nation of Islam. He also became what he hadn’t been as a petty crook: A subversive who was viewed as a threat to American society.

            So, what had changed? Why was Malcolm Little no threat to our society, but Malcolm X was? You could say it was his conversion to Islam but you would be wrong, at least for the most part. Malcolm X was concerned with actualizing what I will call here “the Good,” whereas Malcolm Little was only concerned with being “a success.” Yes, X’s concern for “the Good” took the form of one version of the Islamic faith and then another. But that might be called tangential insofar as those who become concerned with and actively strive to actualize “the Good” in society are, almost always, seen as subversives. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.; think of Frederick Douglass; think of the suffragettes; think of the famous socialist, Eugene V. Debs; or think of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You could even think of those rappers who were “Straight Outta Compton,” along with the Beatles, Elvis, or Bruce, or way back when, Beethoven or Mozart [yes, they were viewed as subversives too].

            Those concerned with success present no threat to society, even if they pursue that success by “breaking the law.” It is not the criminal but the outlaw who is a threat to society. What’s this to do with ISIS? Not much but it does have a lot to do with how we think of those who are drawn to ISIS. They are, in their minds, “doing good,” or committing what might be labeled “righteous slaughter.” If we don’t see this, if we continue to think and react to these people as “delusional,” “evil” in some simplistic or Mary Poppins way, “lost sheep,” or “mindless terrorists,” we will not grasp who they are or what they are doing. And without that knowledge, we will spin our wheels as we revolve around in one of those “vicious circles” reserved for those who don’t know what they or their enemies are doing.

The ISIS Playbook: Yes, There Is One

The ISIS Playbook: Yes, There Is One
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article written by one Scott Atran, in which he argues quite persuasively that ISIS is much worse than “mindless terrorists,” that they have what might be called a “playbook,” entitled “Management of Savagery/Chaos.” And of course as Atran argues this is worth studying by “the West” so as to better understand what ISIS is about and what to expect from them.

            As the title suggests, the ISIS strategy is to create chaos in “the West,” among what it calls “the crusaders” and “the Zionists” by attacking them where they are “soft” or vulnerable, such as resorts or soccer stadiums or, as we know now, Paris. They are also focused on recruiting new members, especially from the young, who are “rebellious” and ready for sacrifice. And, conversely, the message “the West” has are mostly “negative” and mass messaging, rather than intimate.

            This is, for me, all quite interesting and even revealing. And surely Atran is correct that “treating Isis as a form of “terrorism” or “violent extremism” masks the menace. Merely dismissing it as “nihilistic” reflects a willful and dangerous avoidance of trying to comprehend, and deal with, its profoundly alluring moral mission to change and save the world.” Certainly, Atran is correct to emphasize the fact that ISIS has a “profoundly alluring moral mission,” one that appeals to the young and the despised. And this, if taken seriously, would help “the West” understand ISIS in a way it does not today, when it seems all too likely to dismiss this phenomenon as a kind of insanity or simple minded “religious extremism.”

            But what Atran’s argument lacks is any consideration of how the strategy of “the West” plays into the hands of ISIS for that strategy seems to be also the management of savagery and chaos. As has been pointed out, here and elsewhere, “the West” seems content with fighting what seem to be losing wars, e.g., in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why is this the case? Perhaps because, from the perspective of those fighting these wars, “losing” is actually “winning” in that chaos in the Middle East is the goal, to say nothing of the fact that losing wars does little or nothing to damage those who wield power, the ruling class. So, those in power achieve both the chaos they seek, a chaos that is being used to advance what are labeled “regime changes” in the Middle East, while fortifying “the West’s” allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel. And at the same time, these power brokers are fortifying their own status and the regime within which they operate, as any attempt at dissent can be portrayed as almost treasonous.

            The point is this: “the West,” like ISIS, is attempting to manage savagery and chaos, as it were. This means that “the West” is not fully committed to warding off ISIS’s attacks, as these attacks create more chaos. Is it a dangerous game “the West” in playing? Of course it is, extremely dangerous. And it is also deadly, especially for the innocent, in “the West” or in the Middle East. But if it shortsighted of “the West” to underrate the allure of ISIS, it is also shortsighted to underrate the extent to which “the West” will go to impose its will on the world. And while it is useful and necessary to study ISIS as Atran does so well, it is also just as useful and necessary to study “the West” and its brand of imperialized politics.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris Is Burning: We Didn't Start the Fire?

Paris is Burning: Now “the West” Started the Fire
P. Schultz

            The latest attack in France, in Paris, has been labeled by the French government “an act of war,” as if this act was initiating a war and not continuing a war already initiated. Moreover, this rhetoric obscures the fact that the already initiated war was initiated in part by the “victimized” France, as well as by the allegedly “victimized” “West.” Hence, the message is: the blame lies with “the Rest,” not with “the West.”

            But this is clearly false. “The West,” as it in called by some, has been engaged in war with “the Rest” for some time now, starting at the very least with Reagan and continued, by choice, by Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama, with the support of other nations of “the West.” Repeatedly, “the West” has chosen and chooses to make war against “the Rest.”

            Starting with Reagan, that is, leaving aside for now the U.S. choice to make war in Korea, in Cuba, and in Vietnam, his administration and the U.S. government generally chose to go into Afghanistan to support the jihadists there against the Soviet Union, chose to station marines in Beirut, chose to invade Granada, chose to make war in Nicaragua, chose to support Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, and chose to make war in Libya. Papa Bush chose to undertake “Desert Storm,” invading Iraq by choice.

            Similarly, Clinton and the government generally chose to keep the war against Iraq going, while engaging in warfare in eastern Europe. Bush II chose to invade Iraq, after invading Afghanistan after 9/11, despite the fact that Iraq had had nothing to do with 9/11 and had been “defanged” since “Desert Storm.” And Obama, and the government generally, have continued Bush II’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while supporting jihadists in Libya and Syria for the sake of “regime change.”

            The point is this: For a long time, the U.S., with the support from other members of “the West,” has chosen to engage in wars, either full blown wars or “low intensity conflicts,” against “the Rest.” And “the West” has done this by choice, and not because it was forced to do so by “the Rest.”

            Some have labeled such war making “yuppie war,” because “the West” sought to conduct these wars – or this war – in a way that did not interfere with its lavish or posh life styles, a choice that advancing technology seemed to make more and more prudent or realistic. But as such, it was and is important that these choices for war making be disguised, and this in at least two ways.

            First, these wars or this war needed to be disguised as defensive or as “accidental” or “unintentional,” as in the famous quagmire called Vietnam. Either ‘the West” was and is merely reacting to “the Rest,” which is necessarily labeled, as needed, an “evil empire,” the “axis of evil,” or bloodthirsty Islamofascists. Or, conversely, “the West” gets sucked into, against its will, another quagmire from which it could not escape, ala’ Vietnam.

            Second, these wars or this war must be disguised as “small” or “clean” wars, fought with “smart” weapons used to make “surgical strikes,” thereby hiding their brutality, their bestiality, and their inhuman character. Otherwise, it would not be possible for the aggressors, “the West,” to react each time they are attacked as if they were being “victimized” by those, “the Rest,” who allegedly “hate us” for our life styles and freedom, and not because we are repeatedly attacking them. One thing I find so interesting is how so many people genuinely seem to believe that “the West” is being victimized. But then you can “fool some of the people all of the time.”

            And these disguises work so well, win so many “hearts and minds,” as it were, that I am tempted to think and say that Machiavelli was correct. That is, what appears to be moral virtue is actually little more than a disguise behind which the brutal, the bestial, and the inhuman hide. But even if I were to succumb to this temptation, I would console myself with the realization that Machiavelli knew what our current day “Machiavellians” don’t know, viz., that the brutal, the bestial, and the inhuman are not deserving of his or our admiration. For Machiavelli, unlike our current “Machiavellians,” was not a relativist and he sought to improve upon or at least control those inhuman beings so often confused with and even praised as real humans. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Victory in Vietnam

Victory in Vietnam
P. Schultz

            The current campaign for the presidency has shown me that the United States’ war in Vietnam, a war for “hearts and minds,” was victorious. To see this, all you need do is to remember that the “hearts and minds” to be won were and are located here in the United States. And as there is no one seeking the presidency from our two major parties that rejects America’s current wars or its past wars, including Vietnam, then the campaign for “hearts and minds” has been successful. All of our wars, past and present, were and are “good wars,” including the Vietnam War.

            What did it take to win the Vietnam War, so understood? Exactly what some of those in power at the time of the war, e.g., McGeorge Bundy, thought and said it would take: Massive bombing of Vietnam, north and south, as well as Laos and Cambodia; killing millions of Vietnamese, north and south; and last but far from least, sacrificing the lives of thousands of American soldiers and the bodies and minds of thousands more, despite or rather because of the fact that the war could not be “won” on the battlefield, as those in power knew and said, at least privately. The men in power, “the establishment,” were right in their strategy for winning the Vietnam War in this fashion and they have prevailed. Even Richard Nixon died a “statesman.”

            It took me awhile to realize our victory in the Vietnam War, because I am a bit slow to comprehend these things. But it is all-too-evident now, in 2015, as attested to by the views of those seeking the presidency, none of which is opposed to our war making, both past and present.

            And make no mistake: In 2016, if you vote for either candidate from the Republican or Democratic parties, you are voting for war. There are no two ways about it. And so when the chickens come to roost, as they always do, no complaining because, among other things, when you wage war on others, you are legitimating them waging war on you; because, as we Americans tend to forget, “making war” is a two way street.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Low-Intensity Conflict: Yuppie Warfare

Low-Intensity Conflict: Yuppie Warfare
P. Schultz

            At times, the most amazing things happen, things that help clarify just what is going on politically. One of those times happened today when, to pass the time, I read an essay entitled, “Low-Intensity Conflict: A Growing Threat to Peace,” written by Michael T. Klare and published in a book entitled, Peace: Meanings, Politics, Strategies.

            To get right to it, Klare argues that what is called “low-intensity conflict” has been US policy for some time before 1989, when this book was published. It consists of four particular types of military action or war making: counterinsurgency, pro-insurgency, peacetime contingency operations, and military show of force. As Klare puts it: “From a low-intensity conflict point of view, the United States is at war, extensively, aggressively, and with every evidence of continuing this activity.” [p.114]

            Of course, “low-intensity” does not mean low levels of violence, bloodshed, or savagery. Low-intensity conflict in Guatemala took over 100,000 lives, and other actions have taken at least that number. Moreover, low-intensity warfare is a post-Vietnam phenomenon because it keeps “U.S. involvement . . . sufficiently indistinct and inexpensive,” both financially and personnel wise, thereby avoiding “the strident demonstrations and antimilitaristic attitudes of the Vietnam era.”

It is, as Klare puts it so nicely, “the ultimate in ‘yuppie’ warfare” as “it allows privileged Americans to go on buying condominiums, wearing chic designer clothes, eating expensive meals at posh restaurants, and generally living in style without risking their own lives, without facing conscription, without paying higher taxes, and, most importantly, without being overly distracted by grisly scenes on television.” [p. 115] As Klare sums it up: “”Hence, by definition, low-intensity conflict is that amount of bloodshed, torture, rape, and savagery that can be sustained overseas without triggering widespread public disapproval at home.” [p. 115] And, of course, as the aftermaths of 9/11 or the Boston marathon bombing illustrated so well, even “grisly scenes on television” need not deter and will even fortify our “yuppie war-making.”

            Quite obviously, such warfare was perfectly adaptable to the alleged “war on terror.” But it would be prudent to keep in mind that its purposes preceded Bush’s and even Reagan’s wars on terror, encompassing “anyone in the Third World who calls for a radical restructuring of the global system.” As General Maxwell Taylor put it: “As the leading affluent ‘have’ power, we may have to fight to protect our national valuables against envious ‘have-nots.’” Or as it was put in a Rand Corporation study of 1977: “There is a non-negligible chance that mankind is entering a period of increased social instability and faces the possibility of a breakdown of global order as a result of a sharpening confrontation between the Third World and the industrial democracies.” [p. 115]

            In 1988, a report of U.S. Commission in Integrated Long-Term Strategy said that focusing on the USSR was tunnel vision and as such would blind us to situations that have “an adverse cumulative effect on U.S. access to critical regions, on American credibility among allies and friends, and on American self-confidence.” So, in order to protect ourselves from “a world of obvious ‘have-nots’,” who are too many to kill off or to keep out with walls, “the cheapest solution is to hire or co-opt armies of thugs and mercenaries [or jihadists], and use them to starve and terrorize populations to the point that they are too dispirited, or too frightened, or too weak to resist.”

And if this seems like an extreme interpretation of U.S. policy, just consider what is now going on in Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East generally, including the creation of thousands upon thousands of refugees who are threatened with homelessness and even death. What better way “to so terrorize the population – by inculcating a constant fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night, followed by blindfolding, torture, mutilation, and death – that it remains silent no matter what hideous crimes against humanity are being committed?” [p. 117] And think how well drones and drone strikes fit into this scenario. Now, populations can be terrorized from thousands of miles away, with the terrorists nowhere to be seen, and with whatever “collateral damage” that occurs serving to advance the cause. Hence, it would seem that accidentally bombing weddings or hospitals serve the cause of low-intensity conflicts.

Klare also points out, because there continue to be those who oppose such conflicts, that low-intensity warfare “is a strategy aimed not only against the envious ‘have-nots’ of the Third World, but also against those Americans who speak out against U.S. intervention in internal Third World conflicts . . . Domestic public opinion is the home front in the global struggle against U.S. ‘enemies,’ and low-intensity conflict strategy is addressed as much to this front as to overseas fronts in Central America, South Africa, and elsewhere.” As one spokesperson for such conflicts put it: “It is vital that the American public and our policymakers be educated as to the realities of contemporary conflict, and the need to fight little wars successfully.” [p. 119]

As with the Vietnam War, the hearts and minds to be “won” were in the United States as well as in Vietnam. And, it would seem, that campaign has been successful, at least in the United States. For now, one must “support the troops” regardless of the war they are involved in. Anything else seems tantamount to treason.  


Machiavelli's Critique of Aristotle

Machiavelli’s Critique of Aristotle
P. Schultz

            In his book, Machiavelli and Empire, Mikael Hornqvist notices the following: “The Prince 16, which on a superficial level seemed to reiterate a conventional theme from the mirror-of-princes genre, has on closer examination proved to contain a direct assault on the very foundation of this traditional moralist genre, the ethical teaching of Aristotle. Through this radical move, Machiavelli opens up a new form of political discourse…..” [p. 179]

            This radical move may be described as follows. Whereas traditionally the mirror-of-princes genre was based on the idea that there were certain virtues that princes – and of course others – should practice because, well, because they were virtues and choice worthy. It followed from this that princes should then embrace a kind of politics that was consistent with or based upon these virtues. Because liberality was a virtue, princes should practice liberal politics. Thus, being liberal points to a certain kind of politics, say, a generous politics.

            Machiavelli turns this reasoning on its head. That is, for Machiavelli, princes - or anyone seeking success for that matter - should adopt the kind of politics that makes liberality possible or safe.  As Machiavelli makes plain, being liberal does not guarantee one’s success and, in fact, can breed failure by creating resentment, say, at being heavily taxed to support liberal or generous policies. Eventually, Machiavelli turns the question, “What virtues should princes practice?” into the question, “What kind of politics need princes practice to ensure that liberality is successful?” And the answer is, it would seem: To be liberal, one must be “acquisitive” or imperialistic, because that allows a prince to be generous without burdening his subjects to pay for his generosity.

            It is important to notice how Machiavelli’s question changes political discourse. Whereas traditionally it was asked, what virtues should a prince practice, it is now asked, how should princes behave to be deemed virtuous? For Machiavelli, seeming replaces being, and seeming virtuous replaces being virtuous.  And, of course, once this kind of thinking is embraced, manipulation, concealment, and deceit – in a word, “appearances” or “credibility” as we would say today – become all-important. A politics of smoke and mirrors is only a very short step away.

            Successful rule replaces virtuous rule as the standard around which political discourse revolves. Success is that which striven for and, when achieved, often confused with virtue. But, in fact, success is virtue’s replacement, a fact that Machiavelli conceals beneath his appeals to restore “ancient virtue.” In fact, “ancient virtue” is so far from being the remedy that it is the problem. And that which rules in the political arena will also rule in the social arena, with “Be Successful” replacing “Be Virtuous” as the polestar for human behavior. And when success becomes confused with virtue, we should not be surprised as that was the goal all along.

            That Machiavelli thought in this way is evident, at least intermittently, throughout his writings. For example, in the Discourses, II, 13, in a chapter entitled “That One Comes from Base to Great Fortune More through Fraud Than through Force,” Machiavelli says upfront: “I esteem it to be a very true thing that it rarely or never happens that men of small fortune come to great ranks without force and without fraud….Nor do I believe that force alone is ever found to be enough, but fraud alone will be found to be quite enough…..”

            Leaving aside the question that Machiavelli obviously wants us to debate, which is more important for success, force or fraud? and notice that he has reduced the possible explanations for success to two, force and/or fraud. He has left out, apparently, two other possibilities, virtue or chance, although he does mention inheritance, which might be a kind of chance. “Great fortune” or success is achieved, when not inherited, by force and/or fraud, leaving virtue out of the equation altogether. And, of course, if one uses force, it would be good to disguise this fact in order to make people think that your success did not have to be seized but was well deserved, was a reward at it were for one’s virtues. So even when force is used to achieve success, fraud is necessary and beneficial.

            But note should be taken as well at how Machiavelli reduces the world, at it were. That is, in Machiavelli’s world, virtue plays a very small role therein. Machiavelli’s world is a world of “movers and shakers,” of human beings “on the make;” it is not a world of imaginers, of poets, of saints, of caregivers, of the inquisitive as opposed to the acquisitive.  One might say that the “inspired,” in Machiavelli’s world, are consigned to the margins of society, even banished as it were from “respectable society” as the poets were banished in Plato’s Republic. Not just imaginary republics but imagination generally will play a very small part in Machiavelli’s world. Modern realism, to be pragmatic, shrinks “real reality” and, therewith perhaps, shrinks humanity itself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Machiavelli's "Humanism"

Machiavelli’s “Humanism”
P. Schultz

            [The following are some reactions to a book entitled, Machiavelli and Empire, by Mikael Hornqvist.]

            Machiavelli was, obviously, “disenchanted” with “traditional political ethics.” But the implications of his disenchantment are quite interesting.

            Machiavelli’s task was to “demystify” “traditional political ethics,” based as they were on ideas such as natural and/or divine justice, ideas that Machiavelli thought concealed a “frightening emptiness” insofar as these ideas were mere chimeras. Hence, Machiavelli rejected not just the prevailing theories of “just wars,” but he rejected “the very idea of the just and divinely sanctioned war itself.” [p. 96]

            Nothing too controversial here. But what is often overlooked is that in Machiavelli’s world, precisely because of its “emptiness,” manipulation, rhetoric, concealment, and deceit acquire a status, a usefulness, that they did not have previously, while war itself is devalued.

First, once the emptiness of “just and divinely sanctioned wars” is embraced, wars can only be useful or prudent; they cannot be justified, either by nature or by God because there is no natural or divine justice available.  If there actually were natural or divine justice, then wars could be justified, even be obligatory, being fought in the name of such justice. Wars could be “holy” or wars could be fought for “universal principles,” whereas for Machiavelli, wars can only actually be useful or prudent. This would seem to mean that the world would become less warlike, which is true for another reason as well.

Given its emptiness, the world, Machiavelli’s world, is more malleable because it is simply matter, devoid of form, and hence can be molded more readilty than if it were form as well as matter. As a result, manipulation, rhetoric, concealment, deceit, even “salesmanship,” become the new virtues replacing the old virtues of, say, spiritedness or piety. The more malleable the world, the safer it is and can be made to be by these means. War can be replaced by these new virtues, which of course Machiavelli can sell as “ancient virtues,” thereby proving his point.

Moreover, Machiavelli, described as the only non anti-Semite of his age, has no grounds for being such because to be an anti-Semite, it is necessary to see the world as “ordered,” with some human beings being superior and others inferior, if not beastly or sub-human. Machiavelli’s “humanism” is, at it were, part and parcel of his “nihilism,” as it were.

So, war is  “tamed” in Machiavelli or domesticated, being reduced to a useful or prudential action, unencumbered by delusions of grandeur. And, similarly, so it what we call “government,” because in a malleable world, purges, genocide, mass murders are un-necessary. And even “inhuman cruelty” of the kind practiced by Hannibal is un-necessary or imprudent. In Machiavelli’s “new modes and orders,” life becomes safer, less warlike, more “civilized” than life in Rome. And it is almost possible to forget that these modes and orders have no transcendent supports. Almost.