Posts Tagged ‘History’

War Movies.

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Veterans Day seems to be a good day to consider war movies. We saw the movie Fury last night and it was technically pretty good. A couple of folks on veteran sites complained about the haircuts but I don’t know if they would have been different in April 1945 in guys who had been fighting all the way from the Normandy beaches. I objected a bit to the tank they used as it looked like the Sherman Firefly that the British used. However, the movie web site says it was an M4 A2E8 which does look like the Firefly.


The combat scenes were intense and looked authentic to me. They even had a Tiger I from a museum in Britain. Most tanks that I see in Movies, including Patton, are not authentic Shermans.

tiger I

The tactics looked pretty good as they showed that Shermans had to get around the Tiger Tank to attack the rear where the armor was thinner. The Russians used the same tactics with their T 34 which was the best tank of the war.


The story was about the same plot as Saving Private Ryan although some of the objectionable lines, like saving Ryan was “the only good thing that will come out of this war,” as if Hitler was not a good reason. The plot device is basically the same with the new guy as an innocent who survives and the experienced guys all get killed.


World War 2.5

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

UPDATE: I don’t seem to be the only one worried about a 1914 situation.

China’s current coercion of Japan over the islands is but a symptom of a larger illness in the international system. China has been leveraging its naval modernization to increase its movements through the seas and choke points surrounding Japan to break out into the Pacific. Last November, for example, flotillas of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy destroyers and submarines backed by air power encircled Japan for the first time, as PLA officers bragged about splitting and demolishing the first island chain. China is changing the regional balance with little resistance from the United States. Counter to Chinese public claims of surprise at a U.S. “overreaction,” recent discussions with Chinese officials over Beijing’s December air defense identification zone announcement suggests that the United States’ response was much weaker than the response the Chinese leadership had expected.

This is worrisome.

Last month I posted an observation that another world war may be coming. I noted that this summer is the 100th anniversary of the First World War and that the present situation is similar to that which preceded the 1914 war. I may not be the only one.

I concluded last month’s post as follows: The “two Ps” are Pakistan and the Palestinians. We live in an incredibly dangerous era and we are seeing an American president who does not understand geopolitics. God help us.

screen shot 2014-01-22 at 9.29.47 am

A recent column provided from someone attending the Davos Economic Forum discusses yet another potential fuse that is sputtering.

During the dinner, the hosts passed a microphone around the table and asked guests to speak briefly about something that they thought would interest the group.

One of the guests, an influential Chinese professional, talked about the simmering conflict between China and Japan over a group of tiny islands in the Pacific.

We live in an era in which the US elites are largely ignorant of history and of other peoples. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt had spent summers bicycling around Europe before he suffered the attack of Polio in 1920. President Eisenhower had, of court, commanded the armies in World War II. He knew intimately most of the people who mattered in the world. We now have a president who does not know how little he knows about the world. He thinks a few years as a child in Indonesia make him a expert in international relations. His inner circle describes him as the smartest man ever to become president.

There is little evidence to support it. Mr. Obama went to Harvard, but so did George W. Bush, who some liberals consider dumber than dirt. The president won’t release his transcripts, so we can’t judge by his grades. Mr. Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review, but when he was selected, popularity mattered more than scholarship.

Mr. Obama joined an undistinguished law firm, where he tried no cases. So no help there.

Many cite the president’s oratorical skills, but he often rambles when he speaks without a teleprompter. That’s because his brain “is moving so fast that the mouth can’t keep up,” wrote Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times.

Most telling is the following exchange:

Barack Obama is the smartest man with the highest IQ ever to be elected to the presidency, historian Michael Beschloss told radio talk show host Don Imus in November of 2008.

“So what is his IQ?” Mr. Imus asked. Mr. Beschloss didn’t know. He was just assuming.

We are all guessing but some of us think we know. Obama thinks we need Arabic translators in Afghanistan.

Obama posited — incorrectly — that Arabic translators deployed in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan — forgetting, momentarily, that Afghans don’t speak Arabic.
“We only have a certain number of them and if they are all in Iraq, then its harder for us to use them in Afghanistan,” Obama said.
The vast majority of military translators in both war zones are drawn from the local population.
Naturally they speak the local language. In Iraq, that’s Arabic or Kurdish. In Afghanistan, it’s any of a half dozen other languages — including Pashtu, Dari, and Farsi.

Oh well. That is over and we have new problems.

He then explained that the general sense in China is that China and Japan have never really settled their World War 2 conflict. Japan and America settled their conflict, he explained, and as a result, the fighting stopped. But China and Japan have never really put the war behind them.

The Chinese professional acknowledged that if China asserted control over the disputed islands by attacking Japan, America would have to stand with Japan. And he acknowledged that China did not want to provoke America.

But then he said that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion.

Remember that Austria planned to punish Serbia for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand who was shot by Serbian conspirators. How did that end ? One of the reasons for the appeasement of the 1930s was to avoid a war by mistake.

“Do you realize that those islands are worthless pieces of rock… and you’re seriously suggesting that they’re worth provoking a global military conflict over?”

The Chinese professional said that, yes, he realized that. But then, with conviction that further startled everyone, he said that the islands’ value was symbolic and that their symbolism was extremely important.

Challenged again, the Chinese professional distanced himself from his earlier remarks, saying that he might be “sensationalizing” the issue and that he, personally, was not in favor of a war with Japan. But he still seemed certain that one was deserved.

I wish we had a competent president instead of a narcissistic fool.

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times tweeted the following about an interview with Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan. In case you’ve forgotten, 1914 is when World War 1 started.

Just interviewed Shinzo Abe @Davos. He said China and Japan now are in a “similar situation” to UK and Germany before 1914.

Margaret Thatcher

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013


It is a bit presumptive for me to mention my opinion of this great lady. I have been to England many times, some of those visits were during her time as Prime Minister, though I never saw her. She was brought into government in the traditional “woman’s post” as Secretary of State for Education by Ted Heath. I have always been a fan of Heath because of his great sailing achievements but he was not a very good Prime Minister.

In 1975, she went to Heath and told him she planned to stand for the leadership post against him. He told her “You’ll lose of course,” but she didn’t. He was hostile to her for the rest of his career in Parliament. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the election over a failed Labour Party which had presided over a decline in Britain unchanged for the better in 25 years. That was “The Winter of Discontent.”

Her early life included living as a child above her father’s grocery store. She attended Oxford on scholarship and graduated in 1947 with second honours in Chemistry. Her senior work was on x-ray crystallography, under the supervision of Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin. She worked as a research chemist and became involved in Conservative politics. At one meeting, she met Denis Thatcher whom she married in 1951. Soon after, she began studies in law and she qualified in 1953, specializing in taxation.

She stood for office twice in 1950 and 51 but was defeated as the seat was a safe Labour seat. However, she attracted a lot of interest because of her sex and her losing margin was smaller than previous candidates.

In 1959, she was elected for Finchley, a safe Conservative seat with many Jewish residents. She became active in pro-Israel organizations although she condemned (as everyone did) the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reaction in 1981. Many of the condemning politicians were secretly pleased at the action.

In 1961, Harold MacMillen’s government moved her to the front bench. She continued to rise in the party even after the loss of the 1964 election. She voted to decriminalize homosexuality and to legalize abortion, both libertarian rather than Conservative positions. In 1967, she visited the US with a delegation of government leaders from the UK and she was later added to the shadow cabinet by Ted Heath when the Conservatives were still in opposition. In 1970, Heath and the Conservatives won the election and she became Secretary of State for Education and Science.

During her first months in office she attracted public attention as a result of the administration’s attempts to cut spending. She gave priority to academic needs in schools[45] and imposed public expenditure cuts on the state education system, resulting in the abolition of free milk for schoolchildren aged seven to eleven.[46] She held that few children would suffer if schools were charged for milk, but she agreed to provide younger children with a third of a pint daily, for nutritional purposes.[46] Her decision provoked a storm of protest from the Labour party and the press,[47] leading to the moniker “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”.[46][48] Cabinet papers of the time reveal that Thatcher actually opposed the policy but was forced into it by the Treasury.[49] Thatcher wrote in her autobiography: “I learned a valuable lesson [from the experience]. I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.”

She would later be forced out as PM in a similar controversy over attempts to change local taxation rules. In 1975, she defeated Heath as party leader after he lost the 1974 general election. After Labour postponed the general election to 1979, the Conservatives won a 44 seat majority in Parliament and Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister in British history.

I remember my first visit to London in 1977 and being vaguely embarrassed by the election of Jimmy Carter. I returned in 1981 and, at the time, the dollar and the pound were almost equal in value. That was the height of the Reagan-Volker squeeze of inflation in the US. Not long after, Thatcher instituted similar policies and I regretted not buying pound futures. The pound rebounded nicely and she cut taxes and began to run surpluses. Over the next few years, she paid down the British national debt until there were fears expressed that the “Gilt” bonds issued by the government might no longer be available for investment. The subsequent Labour governments solved that potential problem with wild spending.

Like Reagan, her initial economic actions led to recession and calls for a “U-turn” in 1980. She gave a memorable speech in which she said, “You turn if you want to; the lady’s not for turning.” Soon after the economy began to recover.

By 1987, unemployment was falling, the economy was stable and strong, and inflation was low. Opinion polls showed a comfortable Conservative lead, and local council election results had also been successful, prompting Thatcher to call a general election for 11 June that year, despite the deadline for an election still being 12 months away. The election saw Thatcher re-elected for a third successive term.

Her accomplishments included the Falklands War in 1982 that did a lot to reverse the British malaise and unhappiness with her reforms. The economy plus the evidence or revived British confidence was enough to determine the result of the 1983 election. Now, she began to accelerate the privatisation of nationlised industries. She sold off British Steel, and British Airways. She did not want to privatise British Rail but that was later done by John Major and was not a success.

Her downfall with Conservatives resulted from an attempt to reform local government.

Thatcher reformed local government taxes by replacing domestic rates—a tax based on the nominal rental value of a home—with the Community Charge (or poll tax) in which the same amount was charged to each adult resident.[97] The new tax was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales the following year,[98] and proved to be among the most unpopular policies of her premiership.[97] Public disquiet culminated in a 70,000 to 200,000-strong [99] demonstration in London on 31 March 1990; the demonstration around Trafalgar Square deteriorated into the Poll Tax Riots, leaving 113 people injured and 340 under arrest.[100] The Community Charge was abolished by her successor, John Major.[100]

This was an attempt to reform the radical left wing governance of London by Mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone, a far left Labour politician. In 2000 he was expelled from the Labour Party. His Greater London Council had been funding far left causes with increased property taxes on houses owned by opponents of his policies. In 1986, she abolished the GLC but Red Ken was subsequently elected Mayor.

After her resignation, she traveled the world until ill health and the death of her husband Denis in 2003 reduced her activities. She was heavily criticized at the time for her opposition to the Euro and European monetary union. Her recommendations were prescient and are now fully confirmed.

What is coming ?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The attacks on American embassies across the middle east, but especially Egypt and Libya, are the harbinger of a new era in that area. With the assistance of the US, including force in Libya, we have brought forces to power that have been disguised by our leftist president and administration as peaceful democrats seeking freedom. They are not. They represent the Muslim Brotherhood and worse. These organizations are radical islamists who seek to return Muslim society to the 7th century of Muhammed in law and policy. There is no precedent in Muslim society for peaceful coexistence with Christian or other religious believers. Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries was spread by conquest. It was stopped France by Charles Martel at Tours in 732, This stopped the northward invasion of Europe from north Africa that surged into Spain and held part of that country for another five hundred years.

The Arabs regrouped and next attacked Byzantium, which fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, This followed a period of turmoil within the world of Islam. The Arabs conquered Palestine but lost it to the Seljuk Turks in 1071. They, in turn, were defeated by the Ottomon turks after being defeated by the Christian crusaders trying to reclaim the Holy Land from the infidel. There was a Mameluke empire for a time composed of Mamelukes, soldier slaves who had been taken from often Christian families of Georgia and other smaller countries to the northwest of the Turks. The entire middle east was involved in chaos for hundreds of years as various factions maneuvered for power.

The Ottomans revived the aggressive instincts of the Muslims and attacked Vienna in 1529, beginning with a siege, the usual tactic against fortified strongholds. They had already conquered most of Hungary and the Danube Valley. They were finally defeated by inadequate logistical support and most of Europe remained Christian.

There is no period in early Islam when advancing the religion by force was not the policy, Peace with Europe after Vienna followed exhaustion of the Muslim armies. They did not stoop fighting but moved on to the Siege of Malta after Vienna. The Knights Hospitalers of Jerusalem had been expelled from the Holy Lands and settled in Rhodes. There, they were expelled by the Siege of Rhodes in 1522 and settled in Malta. Here, they faced another siege by the Turks but prevailed. The Batle of Lepanto, in 1571, ended the Turks invasion of the eastern Mediterranean.

The last attempt at Vienna ended in 1683 and the next encounter between Ottomans and Europeans came with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt.

The present era of conflict between Islam and the west began with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1920s. The appearance of Sayyid Qutb, who spent time teaching school in 1950s America where he acquired a hatred of western values, even those of a quiet midwestern town in Greeley, Colorado. His influence on the Muslim Brotherhood has been baleful.

The present Obama/Clinton policy toward the middle east has been disastrous. Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009 set the tone, as did Clinton’s use of the “reset button” as her approach to Russia. These people are unqualified for their positions in government and the amateurism is leading us into a very dangerous phase of history. Our best course, in my opinion, is to develop out energy sources as quickly as possible to free us from the coming turmoil, phase out aid to Islamist regimes and strengthen Israel for the coming test. We will be fortunate if this decade does not end with another Holocaust. I fear we will not be fortunate.

D Day

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Most of the men who did it are gone now. Only a few are still here to celebrate the life that so many never had. Art Burns is a family member who was in the 101st airborne, I believe. He still lives in Long Beach, Michigan and comes into Chicago every once in a while.

I have previously posted a few photos on our trip to Normandy with the girls.

Here are a few more.

This is Omaha Beach. The cliffs are forbidding. The few breaks in them were blocked with huge concrete roadblocks but the troops got through them.

This is Omaha from above with Cindy in the foreground

This German fort is located at Omaha. Fortunately for the troops, the guns were zeroed at the high tide line and they landed at low tide. The guns could not bear on the landing craft as they came in.

Here are the girls in the American cemetery above Omaha Beach. We spent several hours there and it is very moving. Annie is the farthest from the camera.

Our British allies landed the same day and here is the site where the 6th Airborne division landed the morning of D-Day at the Pegasus Bridge. That is the memorial to Major Howard, the commander of the landing brigade. He was played in the movie, “The Longest Day” by Richard Todd, who was actually in the 6th airborne and landed with them that day although farther inland. The British only had one Airborne division but did not want the Germans to know that, hence the name.

Here is Pegasus Bridge although this bridge is a replica. The original bridge is preserved in a field across the Caen Canal near the museum.

Here is the original bridge set in a field in front of the museum.

On the morning of the landing at the bridge, the owner of the cafe located next to it was awakened by gunfire. He came out and learned of the British landing. He immediately converted his cafe into a first aid station. He even went into his garden, where he had buried a supply of wine, dug it up and served it to wounded British troops as they waited to be evacuated later in the day.

His daughter, a small child, was also awakened and watched all the excitement. She survives, at least until we were there in 2006, and she prepared our lunch. The cafe is filled with British mementoes of the landing.

If anyone remembers the movie, it shows Lord Lovat, who commanded the British commandoes on D-Day, marching them inland from the beach to relieve the airborne troops. As they marched, a bagpipe played.

Here are those bagpipes.

Finally, I took lots of photos of Ponte du Hoc where the US Rangers scaled the cliffs to silence some big guns that enfiladed the beaches on either side. The guns had been moved inland but the mission went on. In 1984, the commander of those Rangers, at the 40th anniversary of the landing, looked at the cliffs and said he could not imagine how they did it.

I can see why.

Happy Fourth of July

Monday, July 4th, 2011

This is Omaha Beach in late June 2007. We were there for two weeks and spent a week in Normandy so the girls could get an opportunity to appreciate what the Fourth of July means. The National Guard Memorial is at the right edge of the photo.

Here is the US Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach. We spent an hour there.

A few days later, Cindy and I had our lunch at this cafe. It is on the south side of Pegasus Bridge and was intimately involved in the landing on June 6, 1944, of the British paratroopers in their gliders. The cafe owner, awakened by gunfire, opened his cafe for use as a first aid station. He had hidden wine in his garden and some of this was served to British wounded while they waited to be evacuated. His small daughter who witnessed the battle, still owns the cafe and made our lunch.

From Wikipedia– Arlette Gondrée, who now runs Café Gondrée, was a small child living in the home when it was liberated.

I hope the kids will remember this as more than a vacation.

Maybe I was hasty about Egypt

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Two weeks ago, I posted a pessimistic piece about Egypt post Mubarak. Now, Austin Bay has posted a pretty optimistic piece that may be better informed than mine. I hope so.

My fear was stated here:

“One of the most publicized figures outside Egypt in this story the last few weeks is a Google executive who is Egyptian.

One of the western media’s favorite Egyptian rebels is Google executive Wael Ghonim. No surprise there: if you had to choose among radical clerics like al-Qaradawi, hooligans like those who assaulted Lara Logan, and a suave, Westernized Google exec, whom would you want to interview? Ghonim was present on Friday and intended to address the crowd, but he was barred from the platform by al-Qaradawi’s security. He left the stage in distress, “his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.” Is Ghonim Egypt’s Kerensky? Well, at least Kerensky got to rule for a while.”

I went on to say:

Ghonim is one more proof, as if we needed any more, that brilliance in another field is no guarantee of common sense in politics, especially revolutionary politics. We are now about to move to the next stage, which in the French Revolution ended with the Terror. In Iran, it still goes on.

Austin Bay has the advantage of two more weeks of observation of the rapidly evolving situation. He quotes Haaretz, a rather left wing Israeli newspaper that is more hopeful. Hope is not a policy but Israelis are far more interested in the situation in Egypt than we are. They have to be as they share a border.

The revolution in Egypt is far from over. The popular uprising may have succeeded in ousting president Hosni Mubarak and most of his top associates, but the young people who led the protests at Tahrir Square are certainly not resting on their laurels.

Tens of thousands returned to the square on Friday, this time demanding to shut down the internal security authority, Amn al-Dawla. By yesterday, dozens of young people had already taken over the headquarters of the organization, notorious for terrorizing Egyptian citizens under Mubarak’s rule. The takeover was prompted by fears that organization officials were destroying evidence of their involvement in torture and other human rights violations.

This may be good news but I keep going back to the French Revolution, which set the standards for all revolutions to come.

Until the election, both Israeli and international observers agree Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, remains the key authority in Cairo. The mission facing Tantawi and his generals is to take Egypt safely through a transition period that will culminate with the establishment of civilian and democratic rule. The army is maneuvering between the establishment it knows well and the street, a new and not yet entirely familiar player.

The Army is the best hope for Egypt, as it has been for Turkey. A key factor in our failure to do better in Afghanistan is the fact that a crude and stupid Congressional reaction to the news that Pakistan had a nuclear bomb was to cut off all contact between Pakistan’s army and ours. That was nearly fatal as there are few ties between Pakistani officers and the US army, which are usually established as junior officers. These contacts were abolished by a Congress that knows little about foreign relations, especially those not published in the New York Times.

If we finally have to leave Afghanistan under unsatisfactory conditions, much of the failure should be attributed to Congress and its crude attempts to manage US policy it knows little about.

The following is good news, if true.

The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, is seen as the opposition body most prepared for a general election, but the chances it will seize power are seen by Egyptians as slim. Most observers believe that the Brotherhood will assume a similar position to the ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel, influencing the government but not leading it.

Just keep remembering that the Kerensky government thought it had the Bolsheviks under control in 1917. Bay is still optimistic for another unusual reason.

The article argues that “the real power belongs to the young people [in Egypt] who managed to change political reality.” Media in Israel are missing “the generational shift taking place in Egypt and perhaps the entire Arab world.”

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll– now that’s a universal language. Al Qaeda doesn’t rock and roll. A burka is not sexy. On the twitter-connected Arab street, these may be Al Qaeda’s fatal social flaws. I don’t know what Al Qaeda’s drug policy is (probably pro-hashish), but I know its alcohol policy. Hence one of the most important socio-cultural quips of the first decade of the 21st century: “Democracy, whiskey, sexy.”

But once again back to Haaretz, this time on the Muslim Brotherhood. Yes, it will be a factor but “the chances it will seize power are seen by Egyptians as slim. Most observers believe that the Brotherhood will assume a similar position to the ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel, influencing the government but not leading it.” Interesting analogy. Remember, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is factionalized — but so are ultra-Orthodox Israeli parties.

We will see. I hope he is right. Unfortunately, Turkey is slipping into Islamist hands as the AKP party continues to arrest army officers on phony charges.

Here are Annie and her mother in an Istanbul restaurant. Everybody spoke English and were more than courteous.

I have tried to explain to my daughter Annie how the friendly Turks, who did so much to make her visit to Istanbul pleasant, want to arrest large numbers of Army officers, like the one who gave her a tour of the Scutari Barracks, a major Army headquarters.

This officer is a major, spoke English perfectly and gave her a tour.

I guess I will have to do a post on the history of Turkey for her. She certainly wouldn’t learn anything about it in college. She was 14 when those photos were taken. I wonder if the Turks would be as friendly now. I suspect they are because we were in Istanbul, the westernized and secular part of Turkey.

I hope Egypt will learn a lesson from Ataturk, who is still revered in Turkey, at least modern Turkey.

What weak foreign policy produces

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

There is an excellent article on the origins of the Egyptian situation in The Weekly Standard this week. The author has also written Strong Horse on Arab culture and the Middle East. His subject is the consequences of Obama’s “reaching out” to enemies and despots.

It was the June 2009 uprising following the Iranian elections that first showed Obama’s mettle. While millions of Iranians took to the streets to demonstrate, the administration dithered for two weeks before taking a stand. That alone showed the sort of weakness and passivity that emboldens bad actors. But the rationale for the White House’s silence only made it worse.

Obama did not want to antagonize the Iranian government because he wanted to engage them over their nuclear program. Every regional ally—from Jerusalem to Riyadh—told him that this was a fool’s errand, but the president was not to be deterred, even as the Iranian rulers thumbed their nose at the American president and told him they did not want to negotiate.

The administration also wanted to engage Iran’s ally, Syria, even as Damascus was supporting foreign fighters making their way into Iraq to kill American troops and our Iraqi allies. Furthermore, the Assad regime continued to back both Hamas and Hezbollah, who had laid siege to American allies in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Israel. Instead of bringing Damascus into the American column, Obama’s outreach pushed an ally, Saudi Arabia, into the Syrians’ arms.

Because the Saudis interpreted U.S. engagement with Syria and Iran as a retreat from Lebanon, they believed it was the better part of valor to court the Syrians, in hopes they might help attenuate Iran’s influence in Lebanon. Moreover, the House of Saud and Syria struck a deal over Iraq, where they would coordinate efforts to weaken, if not topple, an American ally, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. A series of massive car bombings in Baghdad did precisely that, and again the administration did nothing to protect its friends or punish its enemies.

I have previously commented on Obama’s foolish policies. He seems to think that talk will induce enemies to change to friends. His own career does not support this idea as he was first elected to office by disqualifying every opponent. His US Senate campaign succeeded by convincing a judge to unseal divorce records of his opponent. In none of these instances did talk accomplish anything. Thuggery was his method.

We are now in a situation that would not have occurred with another president, say John McCain. How it will end is not a pleasant prospect. The author, Lee Smith, has added some comments at Powerline.

Maybe it’s worth recalling the Peter Rodman essay where he noted that Eisenhower called the 1956 Suez Crisis his greatest foreign policy mistake. After getting our British, French and Israeli allies to stand down and handing Nasser the Egyptian president’s only foreign policy victory in a career marked by disastrous adventurism, Eisenhower couldn’t understand why the Egyptians still hated the US.

So no matter what Obama thinks he can get from Mubarak, the American president is not going to win the affection of the Arab masses. The administration’s concern is appropriate insofar as Americans do not like to see people crushed in their own streets by their rulers, especially when those rulers are US allies and get American aid money.

That said, whatever Obama wanted from Mubarak should have been conducted in private–not just because that is how you treat allies, no matter how mad you are at them, but also because to do otherwise, to make public demands, sets up the likely possibility that you will be rebuffed in public.

Obama tried to take Mubarak out to the woodshed, but the Egyptian knows he doesn’t have to take the US commander-in-chief seriously, because of his actions in the Middle East the last two years. Whether or not you think that Obama is right to deal with a US ally the way he has treated Mubarak, or whether Mubarak should step down immediately, the fact is that Mubarak knows Obama does not need to be taken seriously.

As I say in the piece, the US president did not project power in the region because he failed to observe the cardinal rule of Middle East politics–reward your friends and punish your enemies.

That rule goes back beyond Nicholas Machiavelli. Harry Truman once stated his political philosophy by recounting an aphorism about a Roman Senator. “His downfall began when he took his friends for granted and tried to bribe his enemies.”

Islam and the west

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

UPDATE #3″ The three judge panel that was conducting the trial of Geert Wilders has been dismissed for misbehavior. One of them had discussed the case with another person and they refused the defense’s request to have him testify about that conversation. They refused and were dismissed. The trial is over and will probably not be attempted again.

Geert Wilders has been on trial in the Netherlands for hate speech and the prosecutors have now recommended that he be acquitted. Those unaware of the differences between Anglo-American jurisprudence and the European version, think his trial is essentially over. That is not true. In fact, the prosecutors did not want to charge him in the first place. It was radical judges, overcome with multiculturalism, who insisted on the prosecution and they have yet to rule. His defense begins next week. Acquittal is not assured. What was his offense ?

Wilders compares Islam to Nazism, a provocative stance, to be sure. But how should such provocative criticism be received? With open debate, or with the criminalization of opinion? It is extremely pertinent in the Wilders case to ask whether his trial means that Europe’s commitment to freedom is already dead.

Is a comparison of Islam to Nazism beyond the limits of free speech ? It was the opinion of great philosophers in the 1930s that the two movements had great similarity.

during an interview conducted in the late 1930s (published in 1939), Karl Jung was asked: “ … had [he] any views on what was likely to be the next step in religious development?” Jung replied, in reference to the Nazi fervor that had gripped Germany:

We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. [emphasis added] The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.

Also published in 1939 was Karl Barth’s assessment (from The Church and the Political Problem of Our Day) of the similarity between Fascist totalitarianism and Islam:

Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill — with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet.

I wonder what the Dutch court’s response to those opinions would be? Fortunately, Jung (one of the founders of psychiatry) and Barth are beyond their reach.

Then we have the myth of the moderate Muslim.

Wilders’ assessment not only comports with scholarly observations made (primarily) before the advent of the postmodern Western scourge of cultural relativism, it is supported by contemporary hard polling data from 2006 -2007, and a more recent follow-up (pdf) reported February 25, 2009. At present, overwhelming Muslim majorities — i.e., better than two-thirds (see the weighted average calculated here) of a well-conducted survey of the world’s most significant and populous Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries — want these immoderate outcomes: “strict application” of Shari’a, Islamic law, and a global caliphate.

Specifically, the World Public University of Maryland poll (released February 25, 2009) indicated the following about our putative Muslim ally nations of Egypt and Pakistan: 81% of the Muslims of “moderate” Egypt, the largest Arab Muslim nation, desire a “strict” application of Shari’a, Islamic law; 76% of Pakistan’s Muslims — one of the most important and sizable non-Arab Muslim populations — want this outcome. Furthermore, 70% of Egyptian Muslims and 69% of Pakistani Muslims desire the re-creation of a “single Islamic state or caliphate.”

The description of Egypt as “moderate” is a political convenience since we send them billions of dollars in aid, but it is not true. Michael Totten, a reliable observer, has the following opinion.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

His conclusion ?

Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

Bill O’Reilly may have apologized for blaming all Muslims for 9/11, but he got the basic concept right. I strongly encourage anyone who wants the unvarnished truth to read this piece by an expert on radical Islam.

One point is raised in the comments that is significant.

A muslim reporter asked the Ayatollah Khomani If islam is so superior to th west, why is it the west invented cars, planes computers etc. And islam didn’t? He thought about that for a moment and then told the eagerly awaiting crows, “It’s because they had help from SATAN. It the only explaination.”

I don’t know the provenance of this comment but it parallels my own question. Fascism and its child Nazism, and the related ideology of communism were the scourge of the 20th century. Islam, which has similar features, may well be their equivalent in the 21st.

UPDATE: Here is a discussion of the difference between Sunni Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) regarding logic and why Islam is backward.

UPDATE #2 : Juan Williams is fired by NPR for commenting that Muslims in religious dress make him nervous on airplanes. Here is evidence of a creeping trend toward Eurabia among left wing sources. No tolerance there.

A long and essential discussion of the Middle East.

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

I have long read Michael J Totten and he is, in my opinion, the best person to explain the Middle East to Americans. Today, he has a long column on the Middle East which any thinking person should read to understand where we are right now.

If you read nothing else of this column, please read this. It explains so much. It is an interview of a young Israeli PhD scholar of middle east politics.

Jonathan Spyer: And what they have to face up to now—and you know this very well—is that the three most powerful countries in the Middle East are not Arab.

MJT: Yes.

Jonathan Spyer: Israel, Turkey, and Iran. This is difficult for Arabs to deal with.

MJT: Many have a hard time even admitting it. I pointed this out years ago and got all kinds of grief in my inbox from Arabs who said I had no idea what I was talking about.

Jonathan Spyer: I’m sure.

MJT: They said I’m a stupid American who knows nothing of the Middle East, but they’re in denial. The only Arab country calling shots right now is Syria, and that’s only because Bashar Assad is a sidekick of the Persians.

Jonathan Spyer: A Palestinian friend of mine just the other day was telling me how Turkey and Iran are competing with each other to be the standard bearer of the Palestinian cause. Iran, with its sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah, and Turkey, with its flotillas, are the two countries with all the creative ideas. What do the Arab states have next to that? Nothing. Arabism’s flagship cause is championed by two non-Arab states.

How Syria fits into all this is one of the biggest divides here in Israel. There are those in the defense establishment who believe Assad’s championship of the resistance is entirely cynical and instrumental, and they want to pry him away from Iran.

MJT: His foreign policy is just instrumental and cynical, but I don’t believe for a minute he can be pried away from Iran.

Jonathan Spyer: I don’t either. And I’m glad that the people around the prime minister don’t buy it.

MJT: How do you know they don’t buy it?

Jonathan Spyer: Because I know some of them. The people around Netanyahu don’t believe this is possible.

MJT: I’m glad to hear that, because I’ve met lots of Israelis who do. And I think they’re crazy to think that. A lot of Israelis simply do not understand Syria.

Jonathan Spyer: Absolutely. They aren’t naïve people by any means. On the contrary. But they find it very hard to except the irrational and ideological elements in Middle East politics. They themselves are not irrational or ideological. They’re extremely rational, and they assume everyone else is, as well. And so they make massive errors.

MJT: It’s a common problem all over the world. Lots of people assume everyone else is just like themselves. Americans often assume most people in the Arab world want what we have. I’ve met plenty of Arabs who believe the United States is involved in these dark conspiracies like their own governments are.

Jonathan Spyer: Yes. Arabs often think they’re being mature and sophisticated by talking this way, but in order to have a proper, grown-up, three-dimensional understanding of American foreign policy you need to understand that the idea of America is one of the things that informs American foreign policy. If you don’t understand that, you won’t be able to understand what the U.S. is doing and why.

And some of the planners and thinkers here in Israel still believe that everyone at the end of the day wants the same things they want. That isn’t the case, and you will make grave errors if you assume that it is. I’m not a fan of Netanyahu’s prime ministership down the line, but he does have people around him who understand the role ideas play in this region. It stops us from making the kinds of errors that, for example, Ehud Barak made in 2000.

MJT: I thought Barak’s withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon was the right thing to do, and so was offering Arafat a Palestinian state. I supported both, and I still do even in hindsight, but we have to be honest about the results of those policies. War followed both, and Israelis will have to be extremely careful about withdrawing from the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem.

Jonathan Spyer: Absolutely. Many people still say we all know what the final settlement is going to look like, so we just need to get the two sides together and work it out. To that I say, “No. You don’t know what the final status is going to look like. The final status you have in mind is what you came up with by negotiating with yourself.”

I was an early skeptic of the Oslo peace process.

MJT: Why? I wasn’t, but you were right and I was wrong. What did you see then that I didn’t?

Jonathan Spyer: We all get things wrong in the Middle East, but that time I was right. I’m not saying I was some kind of genius—I was just a kid—but I did manage to call that one for whatever it’s worth.

All you had to do at the time was be interested enough in Arab political culture to listen carefully to what the other side said. That’s all it took. Once you did that, you’d have to be a moron not to see what was coming. Most people weren’t doing that.

Hezbollah erected a billboard on the border facing south into Israel showing a severed head being held by its hair. Text in Hebrew says, Sharon, don’t forget. Your soldiers are still in Lebanon.

MJT: It’s the same in the U.S. today. Too many people don’t want to listen to what’s being said in the Arab world. A lot of it is deeply disturbing. I could be wrong, and I don’t like to psychoanalyze people, but I think that’s the problem. They’re afraid of the implications of all this crazy talk in the Middle East. So they pretend they don’t hear it, they explain it away, or they say it’s not serious.

Jonathan Spyer: I think that’s right.

MJT: I don’t like what I often hear either, and I don’t know what we should do about it, but I’m aware of it, and it’s there whether I like it or not.

Jonathan Spyer: That’s the bottom line. And from there you have to build a rational policy. You may not like it, but what else can you do?

Israelis were exhausted by a half-century of war before the peace process started. Every family in the country was shaped by it. There was an immense longing in the 1990s for peace, normalcy, and the good life. We had an intense will and longing for that. So when the Oslo crowd came to town and said, “You can be born again, you can have peace with the Arabs,” people bought into it.

They were idealists, and they were rationalists. If a note of triumphalism creeps into my voice, it’s only because I remember how arrogant they were during the 1990s when they thought they were right. They were extremely contemptuous toward everyone at the time who was trying to warn them. We were described as anachronisms from a different century.

MJT: That’s what I thought at the time.

Jonathan Spyer: Okay. Fine. It’s okay.

MJT: I was young. I wasn’t writing about the Middle East then.

Jonathan Spyer: Sure. It’s fine. Everyone gets this place wrong.

MJT: No one has ever been right consistently. I don’t think it’s possible.

Jonathan Spyer: It’s not.

MJT: This place is too weird.

Jonathan Spyer: [Laughs.] Yeah. It is.

MJT: It took me years to understand how this place works just on the most basic level because it’s so different from the part of the world I grew up in. I first had to stop assuming Arabs think like Americans. Then I had to learn how they think differently from Americans. I still don’t fully understand them, and I probably never will.

Jonathan Spyer: It’s hard. I used to try to figure it out by extrapolating from the Jewish experience, but it doesn’t work. Their response to events is totally different. It’s useless. You have to throw this sort of thinking into the trash or you can’t understand anything.

MJT: When the U.S. went into Iraq, I thought Iraqis would react the way I would have if I were Iraqi.

Jonathan Spyer: Sure.

MJT: But they didn’t. But I wasn’t only projecting. I knew they weren’t exactly like me. They’re Iraqis. I guess I expected the Arabs of Iraq to react the way the Kurds of Iraq did, and the Kurds reacted the way I would have reacted. But the Arab world isn’t America, and it is not Kurdistan.

MJT: The Arab world has its own political culture, and it’s not like the political culture I know, or even like other Middle Eastern political cultures.

If the Palestinians had a Western political culture, the problem here could be resolved in ten minutes. If you Israelis were dealing with Canadians instead of Palestinians, you would have had peace a long time ago. And if the Palestinians were dealing with Canadians instead of Israelis, there would still be a conflict.

Jonathan Spyer: That’s exactly right. And that’s why it’s so frustrating sometimes when people say, “If only the two sides could sit down and talk.”

This is why the people who worry that the GZM controversy will affect how Muslims think about Americans, are foolish. The GZM controversy is a pimple on the ass of the issues between Islam and the West. The sooner we understand this, the less chance of catastrophic error.