Politics, et Cetera

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

They Said It:

Among the components in the mood of anti-Westernism, and more especially of anti-Americanism, were certain intellectual influences coming from Europe. One of these was from Germany, where a negative view of America formed part of a school of thought by no means limited to the Nazis but including writers as diverse as Rainer Maria Rilke, Ernst Junger, and Martin Heidegger. In this perception, America was the ultimate example of civilization without culture: rich and comfortable, materially advanced but soulless and artificial; assembled or at best constructed, not grown; mechanical, not organic; technologically complex but lacking the spirituality and vitality of the rooted, human, national cultures of the Germans and other “authentic” peoples. German philosophy, and particularly the philosophy of education, enjoyed a considerable vogue among Arab and some other Muslim intellectuals in the thirties and early forties, and this philosophic anti-Americanism was part of the message.

After the collapse of the Third Reich and the temporary ending of German influence, another philosophy, even more anti-American, took its place—the Soviet version of Marxism, with a denunciation of Western capitalism and of America as its most advanced and dangerous embodiment. And when Soviet influence began to fade, there was yet another to take its place, or at least to supplement its working—the new mystique of Third Worldism, emanating from Western Europe, particularly France, and later also from the United States, and drawing at times on both these earlier philosophies. This mystique was helped by the universal human tendency to invent a golden age in the past, and the specifically European propensity to locate it elsewhere. A new variant of the old golden-age myth placed it in the Third World, where the innocence of the non-Western Adam and Eve was ruined by the Western serpent. This view took as axiomatic the goodness and purity of the East and the wickedness of the West, expanding in an exponential curve of evil from Western Europe to the United States. These ideas, too, fell on fertile ground, and won widespread support….

Nazism and communism were the main forces opposed to the West, both as a way of life and as a power in the world, and as such they could count on at least the sympathy if not the support of those who saw in the West their principal enemy.

Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic, September 1, 1990.



Sometimes it’s nigh on impossible to keep up with the Obama administration’s furious pace of ridiculousness.  Last week, for example, our fearless leader and his fearless lackeys held a not-long-awaited and little-anticipated summit on violent extremism, or extremist violence, or violins in extremis . . . or something.  No one showed up.  Or at least no one important showed up.  No heads of state rushed to Washington to hear Barack Obama insist for the fifteen bajillionth time that the Islamic State is not Islamic – or even a state, for that matter.  No important decision makers or foreign secretaries or defense ministers thought it was worth their time to get a plane and listen to Homeland Security Jeh Johnson declare that the real tragedy of the war on terror is “the plight of Muslims living in this country.”  In short, no one with anything better to do – or who could at least pretend to have something better to do – cared to waste an entire week being lectured about his or her prejudices for believing that Islamic terrorism has anything to do with Islam.

Despite this, the most interesting and, we think, most telling bit of hilarity came not from the so-called summit, but from a TV interview conducted by the all-but-forgotten “thrill up my leg” Obama worshiper on the all-but-forgotten cable news network MSNBC.  On his “Hardball” show, Chris Mattews asked Marie Harf, the deputy spokesperson for the Department of State, about the Islamic State, its barbarism, and the source of that barbarism – which is obviously not Islam.  Harf answered: “We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs . . . We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.”

On the one hand, she’s right.  We cannot simply kill our way out of this war.  On the other, much bigger hand, there is something mind-bogglingly unserious about this.  “Jobs for Jihadis” is now part of the administration’s war plan?  Really?  Maybe some midnight basketball too?  Right on cue, the conservative commentariat erupted – mostly in laughter – at Harf’s seemingly absurd suggestion.  The inimitable and suddenly extraordinarily prolific Mark Steyn summed up the shocked and amused reaction rather nicely, writing:

The man who beheaded the Copts in Libya has a North American accent.  The guy who beheaded the Americans in Syria has an estuary English accent.  The bloke who gave a severed head to his seven-year-old kid to wave around on social media has an Aussie accent.

Like thousands of other Islamic State volunteers from the western world, like the Copenhagen killer (a graduate of a fast-track high school) and the Ottawa killer (the son of a super-senior Canadian bureaucrat), these guys had all the “job opportunities” they could dream of in the most advanced economies on earth – and they gave it all up to go head-chopping.  Because they found jihad – whoops, sorry, “religion” – more appealing than being the sort of fey western metrosexual eunuch who hung around Marie Harf in college.

Maybe we could just offer everyone in ISIS interns at the State Department.  For one thing, in Foggy Bottom if you chopped off everyone’s heads, who’d notice?

Now, we like a good laugh at the expensive of Obama and his crowd of dimwitted lickspittles as much as anyone.  And certainly these folks say enough really dumb things to provide a continuing flow of good laughs.  The catch here, though, is that the statement by Ms. Harf wasn’t a gaffe.  She wasn’t speaking off the cuff, tossing out whatever notion popped into her otherwise empty head. She meant what said and she said what she meant.  Indeed, contra Steyn, we think that her plea for jobs for terrorists suggests that the folks at State – and the CIA, and the NSA, and throughout the Obama foreign policy team – have been thinking long and hard about the question of Islamic terrorism and especially the Islamic State.  And this is what they have determined.  And that’s not funny.

As you may have noticed, over the past year or so, with the expansion of the troubles in Ukraine and the Middle East, we’ve taken to quoting from Richard Pipes, the renowned Russian historian and former head of the CIA’s “Team B,” whose work for the Agency during the Cold War was groundbreaking, literally world-changing, and remains relevant today.  In his famous Commentary article on Team B and its work, Pipes described the phenomenon that confounded the foreign policy establishment in the 1970s and determined that their work up to that time was incredibly shallow, incredibly timid, and incredibly wrong.  To wit:

Now he who speculates on the motives of others can proceed in one of two ways.  He can ask himself: (1) given what I know of these people, what can be on their mind?; or (2) if I were in their shoes, why would I do what I observe them doing?  Clearly, the first of these approaches is preferable.  It is also the more difficult because it requires knowledge of alien cultures and psychologies, not to speak of an effort of the imagination.  If we add to this difficulty the fact that the scientists and engineers entrusted with responsibility for preparing these estimates tend to belittle the influence of cultural factors on human behavior, it is hardly surprising that the U.S. intelligence community, in assessing Soviet strategic programs, has relied heavily on the second approach, popularly known as “mirror-imaging.”  This practice attributes to others one’s own motives and intentions on the unspoken assumption that these alone are “normal” or “rational.”  ”Mirror-imaging” is the very antithesis of the scientific method which seeks to eliminate personal and subjective factors from the process of observation and analysis.  Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely how scientists are likely to proceed once they leave the realm of the exact sciences.

A Nation’s intelligence community reflects the habits of thought of its educated elite from whose ranks it is recruited and on whom it depends for intellectual sustenance.  The CIA is no exception.  Its analytic staff, filled with American Ph.D.’s in the natural and social sciences along with engineers, inevitably shares the outlook of U.S. academe, with its penchant for philosophical positivism, cultural agnosticism, and political liberalism.  The special knowledge which it derives from classified sources is mainly technical; the rest of its knowledge, as well as the intellectual equipment which it brings to bear on the evidence, comes from academia.

Here’s the thing:  Ms. Harf is from the “New England-like village” of Granville, Ohio, which has a population of just over 5,500, 91.9% of whom are “white.” She graduated from Granville High in 1999.  She then received his BA from Indiana University and her MA from University of Virginia, after which she went to work for the CIA in McLean, Virginia.  She cares about jobs.  She cares about the economy.  She cares about financial security.  She has her our own problems, to be sure.  But she doesn’t have the same problems that everyone else has.  She lives in a perfectly tame, perfectly safe secular world, where the government can afford to spend its time and money on saving its citizens from such deadly scourges as highbred corn, books printed before 1990, and plastic water bottles made with the wrong kind of plastic.

Ms. Harf thinks that all of this nastiness is all about jobs simply because she doesn’t know anything else. To her – and to the rest of the squishy lefties who dominate the ruling class – it is, always and everywhere, the economy, stupid.   Kevin Williamson, writing for National Review put it as follows:

Americans — including conservatives — are a lot more like Marie Harf than we are like Narendra Modi, the Hindu-nationalist prime minister of India, or Nawaz Sharif, the Muslim League prime minister of Pakistan.  We are certainly more like Marie Harf than we are like the men who leave their homes in Iraq, Russia, Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere to behead and immolate strangers in foreign lands.  When people have been comfortable long enough, they find it impossible to imagine a moral and political universe in which more is at stake than comfort, whether economic or social.

Setting aside such universals as cancer and such acts of God (if that term may be permitted) as being struck by lightning, what is the worst thing that is likely to happen to Marie Harf?  Losing her job.  Why?  Because the most important thing in her life was getting that job.  In a secular life — and the lives of Americans and Europeans are by and large secular, even for the sincerely religious among us — the economic opportunity that Harf proffered as a palliative to what ails the Islamic world is, if not the most important thing in life, then near to it.  Divorce rates in the United States rise by a fifth after a husband loses his job — and American men are more likely to kill themselves during a bout of long-term unemployment than after a divorce, loss of a loved one, or other unhappy incident.

Employment speaks so deeply to the regnant American notion of self that the inability to hold a job is listed as a notable symptom of any number of psychiatric disorders.

Now, there is good news and bad news in all of this.  The good news is, as we noted above, that the intelligence community and the foreign policy arm of the administration are taking this seriously, the President’s lighthearted and contemptuous disposition notwithstanding.  While Obama dedicates all of his effort to convincing everyone everywhere that he alone has the authority to determine what is and what is not true Islam, his intelligence apparatus is working hard to figure out what the “violent extremists” really want and how best to get it to them.

The bad news, of course, is that while they are serious, the allegedly “best and brightest” foreign policy minds in the country are not particularly insightful.  Like the Soviet-era intelligence community who gave us the brilliant strategy of détente and unilateral surrender, the current group sees foreign aid, jobs training, and public works projects as the solution to the problem of radical Islam.  And that, we’re afraid, is beyond depressing.  It’s dangerous.

Last week, Graeme Wood, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, penned a long, thoughtful, and well-researched article about ISIS.  A snippet of that piece appeared in the “They Said It” section of last week’s newsletter.  In brief, Wood suggested that the key to understanding the Islamic State is knowledge of its motivation, which, he noted, is “millenarian.”  In brief, Wood, explains, the Islamic State believes “that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs, and Baghdadi is the eighth; that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest.”

Obviously, if the Obama administration is running around trying to find these Islamists jobs, while they are running around trying to bring about the end of days, there is something of a disconnect between the problem and the solution.  Which is to say that the “solution” might sell in Granville, Ohio, but isn’t going to go over too terribly well in Aleppo.

Sadly, it gets worse.  In his piece, Wood declares that “The Islamic State differs from nearly every other current jihadist movement in believing that it is written into God’s script as a central character.”  We suppose that this is technically true, but it’s also a bit misleading.  There is, as it turns out, another “movement” that sees itself as a central character in God’s script for the apocalypse.  This movement may not appear quite so obvious or quite as relevant at the momemt as the Islamic State does, but it is, nevertheless, equally dangerous, equally apocalyptic, and equally misunderstood by the current administration.  We refer here, of course, to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For a more than a quarter-century, the official state religion in Iran has been Shi’ite Islamism, or specifically “12 Imam Shi’ism.”   It is, almost by definition, millenarian, in that its chief narrative closely imitates the eschatological chronicle adopted by Christian millenarians, who interpreted literally the description in the Book of Revelation of the return of Christ and establishment of a heavenly kingdom on earth.  This branch of Islam posits that the only legitimate religious and political leader (the 12th Imam) disappeared from the earth in the seventh century and will, with the help of God, return at the end of time and usher in an era of peace and justice.

Roughly a decade ago, the former Reagan national security aide Michael Ledeen wrote that, “the Iranian Shiites believe that the imam is hiding at the bottom of a well in Ifahan, known as the Jamkaran well, around which a magnificent mosque has been constructed.” Ledeen argued, in essence, that those who think that Iran is a legitimate democracy are “mirror-imaging,” and should understand that the regime itself believes that “It’s the 12th imam, not the people of Iran, who bestows power.”

Earlier this month, just before the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution (“Revolution Day,” February 11), the Iranian newspaper, The Daily Kayhan, which is considered a mouthpiece for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, warned the country’s political leaders not to get comfortable with the idea of negotiations with the West.  The path of the Revolution is, according to the paper, inevitable and cannot be stopped by mere politicians.  The invaluable MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) provided a translation of the Kayhan’s February 7 editorial, which reads, in part, as follows:

According to the foundations of Islam and the instructions of Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini, as well as the instructions of the [Leader] Imam Khamenei, the Islamic Revolution can in no way be a domestic phenomenon restricted to Iran’s geographic [borders].  Islam and many Koranic verses have defined the mission of man or of Muslim society as crossing borders and even religions – meaning that it concerns [all of] humanity.  In many verses, the Koran strictly orders people and the community of believers to prepare to fight oppression wherever it and aggression exist, and to spare no effort on this front. . . .

The Imam Khamenei’s view is based on that same divine insight.  He believes in continuing on this path that leads the Islamic Revolution towards a happy ending, and paves the way to the emergence of the Mahdi.  As a result, if the Iranian people’s movement continues, and the Iranian nation’s dialogue progresses, the course of history will change and the world will enter a new phase. . . .

What this means, then, is that the Obama administration’s current plan for dealing with the Islamic State is to enlist the help of an Islamist millenarian cult to help defeat a different Islamist millenarian cult by providing the latter with jobs and the former with regional hegemony.  What’s not to love?

Like many conservatives, we’ve spent the entirety of the Obama presidency trying, fruitlessly, to figure the guy out.  Is he completely clueless?  Does he really not understand at all how the real world works?  Or is he doing this intentionally?  Is he really trying to remake the world to fit his anti-Western ideology?

Now – finally – after more than six years, it’s starting to make sense.  Obama isn’t any more clueless than most of the foreign policy establishment.  And he isn’t any more anti-Western than most leftists.  He just happens to think that everyone in the world is like him, which is to say that he’s intellectually lazy and intolerably arrogant.  In this, Obama is much like the rest of the political class – now, last week, last year, forty years ago.

As the war on “violent extremism” plods along, with the violent extremists appearing to do as they please and the world’s lone superpower appearing evermore  helpless, it is worth remembering, we think, that this isn’t our first rodeo, as the saying goes.  Then, as now, the situation seemed hopeless, largely because our ruling class seemed hapless.  Nevertheless, the Cold War was eventually won, and won decisively.

Can that history too repeat itself?

We’d like to think it can, but we’re not especially confident.  There’s no Reagan on the horizon, as we’ve noted before.  Indeed, there doesn’t even appear to a “Team B,” or a Richard Pipes.



In the essay above, we note that the Obama administration is working desperately to strike an agreement with the so-called “Islamic Republic” of Iran.  Indeed, the details of the current prospective offer between Iran and the United States seem, on the surface, to be completely bonkers.  Among other things, Obama will concede nuclear weapons to Iran, albeit after ten years of “good behavior.”  What this means, then, is that Iranian nukes are a foregone conclusion.  If the Mullahs cheat and don’t hold up their end of the deal, they’ll make a bomb.  If they don’t cheat, then they’ll BE ALLOWED to make a bomb – ten years from now, long after Barack Obama has retired to an estate near Waikoloa Village.

As we also noted above, this is sort of a big deal, given that many of Iran’s leaders – including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini – see themselves as the vanguard of the Islamic apocalypse.  The way they see things unfolding is as follows:  Get a bomb.  Blow up Israel.  Reveal the Mahdi.  Live happily ever after.

Needless to say, some people find this potential course of events a little discomfiting, even presuming that the Mahdi and the happily-ever-after bits are pure crackpottery.  It’s the first two steps that matter.  Anything after that is beside the point.

Among those who find the Iranian-Obama course of events troubling is Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who will address Congress in a couple of weeks.  As we’ve said before, to most Americans “Never Again,” is a nice slogan, but to Netanyahu, it’s his job description.  He has to defend his country, not merely because it’s his job as the head of the government, but because he knows full well that failure on his part could well mean the end not just of Israel, but of Judaism itself.  Consider, if you will, the following, written by Joel Kotkin, a demographer, a fellow in urban studies at Chapman University, and of our favorite writers of late:

Recent anti-Semitic events – from France and Belgium to Argentina – are accelerating the relentless shrinking of the Jewish Diaspora.  Once spread virtually throughout the world, the Diaspora – the scattering of Jews after the fall of ancient Israel – is retreating from many of its global redoubts as Jews increasingly cluster in two places: Israel and the United States.

Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Jewish communities throughout Europe are again on the decline.  This time, the pressure mainly comes not from the traditional anti-Semitic Right but from Islamic fundamentalists, which include many European citizens. . . .

[L]arge-scale migration out of Europe is something not seen since the 1950s.  In France, the nation with the largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States, the outflow of Jews doubled in 2014, to 7,000, from the year before.  The Jewish Agency is now drawing up plans to attract 120,000 more to Israel.

Overall, nearly 26,500 Europeans immigrated last year to Israel – a 32 percent increase from 2013. . . . In 1939, most of the world’s 16 million Jews lived in Europe, and, even by 1945, barely one in five Jews resided in Palestine.  Since then, the Diaspora population has dropped from 10 million to 8 million, while Israel now accounts for roughly 40 percent of the world’s Jews, according to the Jewish Agency.  Overall, the United States and Israel account for 81 percent of Jews worldwide, compared with barely a quarter in 1939.

This is a problem for two reasons – other than the obvious problem of anti-Semitism’s resurgence.  The first of these is the fact that the American Jewish community is increasingly less and less Jewish as time goes by, which is to say that it is not likely to remain especially Jewish for a great deal longer.  Just about 18 months ago, Pew Research released a study on the American Jewish population, its religiosity, and its beliefs and behavior with respect to intermarriage.  The New York Times summed up the study thusly:

The first major survey of American Jews in more than 10 years finds a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish — resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox.

The intermarriage rate, a bellwether statistic, has reached a high of 58 percent for all Jews, and 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews — a huge change from before 1970 when only 17 percent of Jews married outside the faith.  Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, one-fourth do not believe in God and one-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year.

“It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” said Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York. . . .

“It’s very stark,” Alan Cooperman, deputy director of the Pew religion project, said in an interview.  “Older Jews are Jews by religion.  Younger Jews are Jews of no religion.”

The trend toward secularism is also happening in the American population in general, with increasing proportions of each generation claiming no religious affiliation.

But Jews without religion tend not to raise their children Jewish, so this secular trend has serious consequences for what Jewish leaders call “Jewish continuity.”  Of the “Jews of no religion” who have children at home, two-thirds are not raising their children Jewish in any way.  This is in contrast to the “Jews with religion,” of whom 93 percent said they are raising their children to have a Jewish identity.

What this means, therefore, is that Israel is, for all intents and purposes, the last redoubt for the world’s Jews.  There are and always will be Jews in America, but within a couple of generations, they will be nearly gone, melted into the melting pot.

And that brings us to the second problem, namely that Israel suddenly becomes a much more significant and much more appealing target to the hateful millenarian crackpots to whom the American president apparently wants to give permission to build a nuclear bomb.

Not quite nine years ago, Charles Krauthammer wrote a disturbingly insightful column about Israel and its future, in which he cited many of the same trends updated above by Joel Kotkin as prelude to his larger more horrifying point, i.e. the fact that the world’s Jews were all, more or less, gathering in one place, where they could more easily be “exterminated.”  He wrote:

For 2,000 years, Jews found protection in dispersion – protection not for individual communities which were routinely persecuted and massacred, but protection for the Jewish people as a whole.  Decimated here, they could survive there.  They could be persecuted in Spain and find refuge in Constantinople.  They could be massacred in the Rhineland during the Crusades or in the Ukraine during the Khmelnytsky Insurrection of 1648-49, and yet survive in the rest of Europe.

Hitler put an end to that illusion.  He demonstrated that modern anti-Semitism married to modern technology – railroads, disciplined bureaucracies, gas chambers that kill with industrial efficiency – could take a scattered people and “concentrate”‘ them for complete annihilation.

The establishment of Israel was a Jewish declaration to a world that had allowed the Holocaust to happen — after Hitler had made his intentions perfectly clear — that the Jews would henceforth resort to self-protection and self-reliance.  And so they have, building a Jewish army, the first in 2,000 years, that prevailed in three great wars of survival (1948-49, 1967 and 1973).

But, in a cruel historical irony, doing so required concentration — putting all the eggs back in one basket, a tiny territory hard by the Mediterranean, eight miles wide at its waist.  A tempting target for those who would finish Hitler’s work.

His successors now reside in Tehran.

Last week, we wrote that we would not be surprised to see Prime Minister Netanyahu use his speech to Congress to explain to Washington the very real and very severe consequences of the last several years of American foreign policy.  Both George Bush and Barack Obama promised to keep the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Neither did so.  Netanyahu and indeed all of Israel now has no choice but to implore the rest of the world to wake up to the reality of a nuclear Iran and to the effect that Iran could, if left unchecked, have on the course of history.

The American political class is, unsurprisingly, generally unaware of and unconcerned with much that doesn’t affect it directly.  This appears to be the case where Israel and global Jewish community are concerned.  Netanyahu will try to change that next month.  All we can say is that if he fails, there will be hell to pay. . . .

After all, in his part of the world, hatred of Jews and mental instability tend to go hand in hand.  Adding nukes to that mix is a clear recipe for disaster.


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