Friday, November 27, 2015

Islam: “The Strongest Retrograde Force in the World.” By Roger Kimball.

Islam: “The Strongest Retrograde Force in the World.” By Roger Kimball. PJ Media, November 24, 2015.

Kimball:

Does the Zeitgeist have a mournful sense of irony? Barack Obama could be forgiven for thinking so. In January 2014, he made the now-infamous remark that he regarded ISIS as merely a “jay-vee” threat. The months that followed saw that group slaughter hundreds, maybe thousands, in the most public and grotesque manner. Allied groups in Africa raided schools and villages, shooting, hacking, and raping their way through the populace. On the morning of November 13 (the anniversary, incidentally, of the end of the Ottoman Caliphate), President Obama told George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America that his administration had “contained” ISIS. That very evening, less than a year after the massacre by ISIS affiliates at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a series of carefully coordinated, cold-blooded attacks by ISIS erupted across Paris, leaving some 130 dead and more than 250 wounded. One of the attacks, at the Stade de France, came within yards of Fran├žois Hollande, the French president, who was there for a football match. Some containment.

The world is still reeling from the bloody attacks in Paris. President Hollande has declared a state of emergency, closed the country’s borders, and imposed the first general curfew on Paris since 1944. French jets have undertaken a few bombing missions against the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, actions that critics dismiss as pinpricks. The war against terrorism, Hollande said, will be “pitiless.” Perhaps. We’ll see what sort of campaign the French people will countenance. A widely reproduced picture of the man who had dragged his piano, decorated with a peace symbol, to the Bataclan theater, the primary site of the massacre, and then sang John Lennon’s single most emetic composition, “Imagine,” is not reassuring. As the commentator Mark Steyn acidly put it, “What kind of parochial solipsist would think that an appropriate response a day after mass murder?”

In the course of his remarks deploring the attacks and registering his solidarity with the French, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uttered the phrase “militant Islamic terrorism” at least three times. Barack Obama, in his first remarks about the slaughter, did not mention Islam at all. The attack was, he said, not just an attack on Paris or the people of France but “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

The trouble is, it is patent that the “values” to which Barack Obama gestures are anything but “universal.” On the contrary, they are Western, liberal values that are conspicuously not shared by much of the world. They are most flagrantly not shared by Islamic culture. Religious freedom, including the freedom of apostasy, freedom of speech, equality before the law and between the sexes: these are a few bedrock Western values that are neither preached nor practiced by the dominant currents of Islamic thought.

As Andrew C. McCarthy observed recently in “Islam and Free Speech,” whenever Muslim populations surge in Western countries, “so does support for jihadism and the sharia supremacist ideology that catalyzes it. The reason,” McCarthy continues, “is plain to see, even if Western elites remain willfully blind to it: for a not insignificant percentage of the growing Muslim millions in Europe, infiltration—by both mass immigration and the establishment of swelling Islamic enclaves—is a purposeful strategy of conquest, sometimes referred to as ‘voluntary apartheid.’” This, too, is inextricably at odds with those putatively “universal values” that Barack Obama invoked.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Netanyahu described the attacks as part of “a war to reverse the triumph of the West.” He was right. But this is something that no amount of slaughter seems to bring home to a certain species of blinkered leftist. Around the time that Netanyahu offered his lapidary observation, a prominent Hezbollah leader explained that “we are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.” Subsequent events have demonstrated with unexceptionable clarity what he meant.

The Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali outlined the correct response to the Paris attacks. The West, she wrote, must do “whatever it takes militarily to destroy ISIS and its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Not ‘contain,’ not ‘degrade’—destroy, period.” Hirsi Ali is also right that ISIS is only the tip of the spear. The larger problem is “Islamic extremism,” a phrase that has been excised from the vocabulary of U.S. diplomacy but which names a reality that must be acknowledged if Western values are to prevail.

George Orwell famously observed that an indispensable adjunct to freedom is a willingness to call things by their real names. Islamic extremism is not, as a British home secretary once fatuously declared, “anti-Islamic activity,” nor is the slaughter of a baker’s dozen U.S. soldiers in Texas by a radicalized Muslim officer an instance of “workplace violence.” Euphemism is the enemy of true security.

What is the relation between Islamic extremism and “mainstream” Islamic thought? That is not, I would suggest with sadness, an easy question to answer. Winston Churchill, writing about Islam back in 1899 in The River War, observed that “no stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund”:
Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled—the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
These days, it is worth noting, Islamic entities are scrambling to achieve mastery of “the strong arms of science,” as Iran’s rapidly accelerating nuclear program should remind us. “Death to America!” is a chant one often hears echoing from the mullah-besotted crowds in Iran. Ayaan Hirsi Ali outlined one possible course of action. Barack Obama, who seems to believe that the greatest threat to national security is Republicans, not ISIS, pointed to another when, a couple of days after the massacre in Paris, he noted impatiently that “what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with. . . . I’m too busy for that.” It’s not pretty, but at least we know where we stand.


From Syria to China, U.S. Leaders Don’t Know What America Is For. By Robert W. Merry.

From Syria to China, U.S. Leaders Don’t Know What America Is For. By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, November 26, 2015.

Merry:

Every president’s primary imperative is protecting America and its citizens, not humanity, from outside threats.

The United States suffers from a severe case of strategic confusion, manifest in the country seeing enemies where none exist and showing an inability to concentrate action where they do exist. Given the immensity of American power relative to the rest of the world, this malady has a tendency to wreak havoc and generate tension in areas of American involvement. And the confusion seems so thoroughly embedded in the country’s collective psyche that prospects for any reversal remain dim. That bodes ill for America and for the world.

Consider our actions, and their consequences, of the last fifteen years. Following the seminal events of September 11, 2001, when the country was attacked by that tightly wound Islamist knot of anti-Western fervor known as Al Qaeda, the United States toppled the Afghan regime that had succored Al Qaeda and dislodged the Islamist force from the habitat from which it sought to menace the West. This was necessary and entirely appropriate.

But then we invaded Iraq, ruled by a secular tyrant who had nothing to do with the kind of Islamist radicalism that was the true enemy. This generated multiple consequences of immense difficulty. It unleashed sectarian fears and passions in the country that for years destroyed prospects for stability—and led to the deaths of nearly 4,500 Americans and an estimated 174,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians. It enflamed the region in ways that spawned a new Al Qaeda force in Iraq where previously none had existed, or could exist. It upended a centuries-long balance of power between Sunni-dominated Iraq and Shiite Iran, thus creating new challenges of stability and new difficulties in the U.S.-Iran relationship. Perhaps worst of all, the Iraq invasion and its chaotic aftermath have sapped America’s appetite for confronting the true enemy in the Middle East.

The true enemy is Islamist fundamentalism, just as it was when President George W. Bush took America on the Iraq detour. The Al Qaeda aim then was to draw America into a desert quagmire and diminish its confidence, unity and strength. It couldn’t succeed in doing that without American strategic confusion.

What the U.S. invasion didn’t do was turn Iraq into a Middle Eastern model of democratic practice, as many invasion advocates, in their confusion, had predicted. Some people thought the so-called Arab Spring, a wave of seemingly pro-democracy protests across the Middle East beginning in December 2010, would usher in such a new era. President Obama promptly expressed support for the protesters, including some motivated more by Islamist fundamentalism than by true democratic impulses. He undermined the standing of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, a staunch U.S. ally for decades, and assisted the emergence of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (which ruled the country for a time before the old military oligarchy regained governmental dominance).

This represented strategic confusion of a very high order. It had been Islamist fundamentalism that had attacked America on 9/11, that had attacked Britain and Spain in succeeding months, that had vowed a relentless terrorist campaign against the West. Mubarak was opposed to all that; the Muslim Brotherhood had flirted with that kind of radicalism for decades. Why would an American president undermine a foreign leader who was a steadfast U.S. ally and an opponent of the Islamist fundamentalism that represented one of America’s most menacing enemies? There’s only one answer: strategic confusion.

Then, when Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi found himself beleaguered by internal protests, Obama turned on Qaddafi, who had promised to end anti-Western terrorist activities and abandon efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction. In exchange, he was to be left alone. But Obama reneged, leading a bombing campaign against Qaddafi, who represented no threat to America whatsoever. The president cited “our responsibilities to our fellow human beings” and said that if America had stayed out of the fray it would have been “a betrayal of who we are.”

We know the result: a Libyan civil war producing utter chaos in the country, masses of Qaddafi’s weapons making their way into the hands of the rabidly radical Islamic State, the killing of a U.S. ambassador and other American officials. All in the name of “our responsibility to our fellow human beings.” That phrase in itself represents a highly distilled form of strategic confusion. Where does this responsibility lead us? How many bombing campaigns and wars would have to be waged if the protection and happiness of our fellow human beings, all around the world, were to be our global remit? What does this have to do with every president’s primary imperative of protecting America and its citizens, not humanity, from outside threats?

Then there’s Syria. When its brutal president, Bashar al-Assad, found himself beset by internal dissention, the U.S. government promptly adopted a position that he had to go. Then came the emergence of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), potent enough to capture territory in Iraq and Syria and use that territory as spawning ground for further regional expansion and growing global menace. Its aim was to topple Assad and dominate, in the name of a restored caliphate, the lands that have been Syria since the end of World War I. Our aim was to thwart the further territorial gains of ISIS and destroy its ability to project terrorist activity into the West. Assad’s aim was to defend his country from the growing ISIS threat (along with other forces bent on destroying his regime). Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Kurds of Syria and Iraq all wanted to defeat ISIS.

A sensibility of strategic coherence in Washington would have produced a clear understanding: Since ISIS represents a major threat to regional stability as well as to the security of Western nations, whereas Assad represents no threat at all, the obvious approach would be to align with those forces bent on defeating ISIS and not worrying about the fate of Assad. But such strategic coherence eluded Washington policymakers, who couldn’t abandon their conviction that Assad must go. The result was a kind of policy paralysis, with Russia moving in and capturing the initiative with a much tighter view of the situation.

Arecent AP story suggests that the “tide of global rage” against ISIS after the carnage of its Paris attack produced a sense of “greater urgency to ending the jihadis’ ability to operate at will from a base in war-torn Syria.” The news service said that this emerging attitude “could also force a reevaluation of what to do about… Assad and puts a renewed focus on the position of his key patrons, Russia and Iran.”

But the piece quotes U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as repeating his constant refrain that Assad’s departure “has to be part of a transition if you’re going to end the war”—hence more strategic confusion. A casual review of the relative power on the ground tells us that we can’t defeat ISIS while also waging war with ISIS’s primary opponent in Syria, the Assad regime, particularly as Assad is supported by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Consider the strategic confusion of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, when he wrote in a Washington Post piece that we need to create an anti-ISIS coalition made up of Kurds, Turks, Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians. As conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan pointed out, his coalition (leaving aside the Kurds) includes countries and forces that haven’t demonstrated any serious anti-ISIS commitment, and excludes all the countries and forces that have demonstrated through dangerous action their opposition to ISIS.

This is not serious strategic thinking. It lacks even a rudimentary sense of the realities of the situation and hence lacks a potential for generating a decisive American initiative against ISIS. One big stumbling block for Romney and likeminded people is Russia, the subject of much strategic confusion in America.

Given its resources and position upon the Eurasian landmass, Russia always has and always will represent a potential threat to the West. That needs to be borne in mind in policymaking at all times. But Russia’s geopolitical center, lying unprotected behind vast expanses of steppe grasslands, also renders it highly vulnerable to invasion from the West, whence major incursions have emanated in just about every century of its existence. Given that, Russia inevitably will resist efforts to rip away its traditional areas of influence, including Crimea and Ukraine. It will resist NATO efforts to push up to the Russian border with rockets and troops. It will take umbrage when American NGOs and foreign policy officials whip up dissension in western Ukraine as a way of ripping that territory away from Russian dominance, which Russia has maintained almost uninterrupted for centuries.

Weighted down by strategic confusion, many American politicians and foreign policy officials seem to think that Russia can be kept at bay only by bellicose rhetoric and provocative policies, designed to push into Russia’s traditional spheres of influence and neutralize its influence. This won’t work. It will simply incite, as indeed it has incited, Russia’s natural sense of vulnerability, and stir provocative and bellicose responses.

A more strategically sound approach would be that which Otto von Bismarck adopted after he consolidated the German nation under Prussian auspices in 1871. Knowing this powerful new entity in the center of Europe would generate fears among its neighbors, he studiously refrained from actions that could exacerbate those fears. His aim was to project the image of a restrained and friendly power satisfied with its favorable position upon the continent. After Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck and embarked upon a policy of provocative military expansion, the European equilibrium collapsed, and a course was set toward World War I.

The American approach following its grand Cold War victory has been just the opposite of Bismarck’s measured approach. It declared itself the “indispensable nation.” It promoted its governmental and societal structures as being most appropriate for peoples of all civilizations and cultures. It upended other governments with abandon, contributing to the killing and uprooting of masses of hapless people that followed the chaos that followed American intrusions. In Europe, it fostered an eastward push that could only generate anxiety in Russia and produce an unnecessary belligerence between the Orthodox and Western civilizations.

And it has left America unnecessarily vulnerable in the face of a possible—one could say probable—confrontation with China in coming years. If ISIS represents the most serious immediate threat to America and the West, China represents the most serious prospective threat. That’s because China very naturally wishes to supplant America as Asia’s most powerful nation, dominating sea lanes and forcing lesser nations to bend to its will. America will have to decide how far it is willing to go to accommodate these Chinese regional ambitions. If it decides to remain unyielding, hostilities will be difficult to avoid.

And then the Russian bear, so menacing in the faulty view of so many American politicians and commentators these days, will loom as the single most important ally America could have. But no such alliance will be likely with a Russian leader who is dismissed by prominent U.S. politicians as a “gangster” and “organized crime figure,” as GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio characterized Russian president Vladimir Putin recently.

U.S. leaders with an instinct for strategic coherence would keep their eyes on real threats and real enemies and not manufacture enemies where they don’t exist or don’t need to exist. They wouldn’t insult foreign leaders unnecessarily because they would know such leaders may have to be brought into a desperate coalition in the future, as Franklin Roosevelt parleyed with Joseph Stalin in the 1940s. They would take into account the legitimate regional interests of other nations as part of a broader concept of maintaining influence through cordial relations wherever possible. They would embrace the concept of balance of power over moral preachments. They would maintain a crisp sense of who their immediate enemies are and also who their prospective adversaries might be—and then move decisively to defeat their immediate enemies and outmaneuver their prospective adversaries. They wouldn’t get hung up on gauzy humanitarian notions when such notions might get in the way of protecting U.S. national interests. They would calculate with care the price of military action in terms of blood, treasure and political capital—and also in terms of prospects for stability or chaos in the wake of such action. Their diplomacy would maximize the full force of U.S. power and maneuverability, but never with swagger.

We haven’t seen many such leaders over the past fifteen years. The result has been strategic confusion in America—and a world that seems to be slipping into ever-greater chaos.