Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
They Said It:
[Roosevelt’s] vision for a postwar world was neo-Wilsonian, totally at odds with reality. He would help create a new international order, presided over in an equal partnership by the two emerging superpowers, the United States and the USSR, and buttressed by the newly created world organization, the United Nations.
FDR’s wartime diplomacy, geared to his vision of the postwar world, was fueled by what could almost be called a desperate desire to fulfill the dream that the Soviets would be America’s postwar partner. This required an amazing ignorance, a willingness to ignore past and present facts, and a complete misunderstanding of the Soviet system and of Stalin. FDR was right that the United States and the Soviet Union would be the postwar superpowers, but he was absolutely and disastrously wrong about the nature of their future relationship. According to George Kennan, “The Russian involvement in this struggle is not the result of any concern for the principles underlying the Allied cause . . .
The world he envisioned and so desperately wanted to create never materialized and, more important, never had a chance of materializing because it rested on a false premise, buttressed by willful ignorance. FDR did not have a glimmer that the pursuit of his vision, and the concessions he made to it, would result, not in a partnership with Stalin and the USSR, but rather in its opposite, in the onset of the Cold War that would last almost half a century. The Yalta Conference, according to Kennan, “was the last of the summit meetings still outwardly dominated, at least on the American side, by the cultivation of this essentially fictitious and misleading scenario.”
Amos Perlmutter, Making the World Safe for Democracy, A Century of Wilsonianism and Its Totalitarian Challengers, 1998.
ISLAMISM AND THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY.
Barack Obama is a big believer in the inevitability of moral progress as evidenced by his fondness for the quote by Martin Luther King Jr. (and borrowed from the 19th century abolitionist Theodore Parker) stating that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In his inaugural address, he warned the world’s tyrants that “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.” Since then, he has placed numerous individuals and groups on this “wrong side,” including, but not limited to: Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage and “universal” health care; Vladimir Putin, who has found no joy pushing Hillary’s “reset” button; and, of course, the barbarians of the Islamic State, who have managed somehow to take over large swaths of two countries, despite Obama’s keen observation, made less than 18 months ago, that they are merely the “junior varsity” squad of Islamic terrorism. Relative to said JV-barbarians, Obama said this last August, just after they beheaded James Foley:
People like this fail ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy, and the world is shaped by people like James Foley and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.
Jonah Goldberg called this notion “feckless” and “vacuous.” Mona Charen called it “fatuous.” And certainly it is all of those things. But, even more importantly, it is just flat wrong. As every schoolboy knows, things do not always work out well in the end. And most especially, they do not do so without a little help from those who fight for the good and the right.
More to the point, Obama’s optimistic view of the future is misleading. Even on the occasions when good does triumph, it doesn’t do so immediately, which is to say that there is a great deal of evil committed and a great deal of suffering endured in the time it takes for the arc of the moral universe to bend. As Goldberg notes, “No one on the Trail of Tears took much comfort in the idea that the white man was on the wrong side of history.” Likewise, the more than 10 million men, women, and children slaughtered in Hitler’s death camps likely found little solace in the notion that the Nazis would inevitably be defeated by the Brits, the Americans, and the moral universe.
Along those same lines, we can’t help but wonder what Obama thinks about the Iraqis suffering under the Islamic State, while he waits patiently for the moral universe to rain down justice on all the bad guys who reside in that same general neighborhood. The following, which was published in last Friday’s Washington Post, is but one of dozens of different and yet horrifying stories that appeared just over the last week in the mainstream press. What consolation, do you suppose, can the women of the Middle East find in Obama’s theory of moral progress as they endure the horrors of post-American Iraq and Syria?
Zainab Bangura, the U.N.’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, recently conducted a tour of refugee camps in the shadow of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, war-ravaged countries where the Islamic State commands swaths of territory. She heard a host of horror stories from victims and their families and recounted them in an interview earlier this week with the Middle East Eye, an independent regional news site.
“They are institutionalizing sexual violence,” Bangura said of the Islamic State.” The brutalization of women and girls is central to their ideology.”
Bangura detailed the processes by which “pretty virgins” captured by the jihadists were bought and sold at auctions. Here’s a chilling excerpt:
After attacking a village, [the Islamic State] splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness. The youngest, and those considered the prettiest virgins fetch higher prices and are sent to Raqqa, the IS stronghold.
There is a hierarchy: sheikhs get first choice, then emirs, then fighters. They often take three or four girls each and keep them for a month or so, until they grow tired of a girl, when she goes back to market. At slave auctions, buyers haggle fiercely, driving down prices by disparaging girls as flat-chested or unattractive.
We heard about one girl who was traded 22 times, and another, who had escaped, told us that the sheikh who had captured her wrote his name on the back of her hand to show that she was his “property.”
The jihadists’ treatment of Yazidi women, in particular, has been marked out by its contempt and savagery.
Here’s Bangura again:
They commit rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and other acts of extreme brutality. We heard one case of a 20-year-old girl who was burned alive because she refused to perform an extreme sex act. We learned of many other sadistic sexual acts. We struggled to understand the mentality of people who commit such crimes.
Like everyone else, we have spent a great deal of time over the last week thinking about the Islamic State and about our political class’s apparent disinterest in defeating it. Our initial concern was spawned by the fall of Ramadi, the largest city in Iraq’s largest province and the so-called “gateway” to Baghdad. Ramadi fell last week to the barbarians, and, in response, the Baghdad Bobs in the Obama administration insisted that this was all a part of the master plan and that the ever-growing new caliphate would be brought to its proverbial knees any moment now. Aaaa . . . aaaaa . . . . aaaaany moment now.
Our concern was heightened, unfortunately, when we read that the Western powers’ plan to retake Ramadi rested on supporting and arming the Iraqi “Shiite militia,” which is to say fighters trained by and loyal to the Mad Mullahs of Iran. Yes, you heard it right. The Shiites are the Western powers’ only hope in stopping ISIS, short of a full-scale Western invasion. After all the years, all the billions of dollars in “training”, and all the heavy arms shipped to Iraq to make this training “viable,” it turns out, that the Iraqi army is still entirely unable and unwilling to do anything other than drop its weapons and run away as fast and as far as its collective legs will carry it.
Now, it’s not that we doubt that the Shiites have the ability to defeat ISIS, particularly in Ramadi. Quite the contrary. We actually think they could do so and could do so quite handily. The problem is that their victory would inevitably lead to more death, destruction, rape, pillaging, and all-around barbarism. Frankly, we think that enlisting the Shiites to fight the Sunnis is a little like enlisting the Soviets to defeat the Nazis. Yes, they got rid of Hitler, but then the poor Eastern Europeans had to deal with Stalin.
And speaking of Stalin and the Soviets, interestingly enough, they provide the third reason that we’ve been thinking a lot about the Islamic State and about Obama’s apparent belief in the ultimate and independent triumph of good over evil. We have long pondered a parallel between Communism and Islamism, generally, and between the Soviet Union and the Islamic State specifically. And as it turns out, we are hardly alone in seeing similarity. Over the weekend, for example, National Review’s Andrew Stuttaford put it this way:
For all the horror of the reports coming out of the “Islamic State,” there seems to have been a fairly widespread assumption that ISIS is, if not beaten, at least contained, and that in due course it will burn out/be burnt out.
Historical parallels are dangerous to draw, and they often lead to some wildly incorrect conclusions, but ISIS’s position in Syria and Iraq reminds me more than a little of the situation in which the nascent Soviet state found itself during the early years of the Russian Civil War. The Bolsheviks were encircled by hostile forces, who, on paper, were far stronger, but lacked the will and the coordination to defeat a Communist enemy that (like ISIS) enjoyed the benefits of a relatively solid core of territory, fanaticism, and a belief that the future was theirs. We all know what followed . . . .
In a March article for Reuters, Jack Goldstone also looked back to the years after the October Revolution. Here’s an extract
Support for Islamic State is growing locally and internationally. Just as the Bolsheviks cited foreign intervention in Russia’s revolution as proof that Western capitalist states were bent on exploiting hapless Russians, so Islamic State points to U.S. bombing strikes and drone attacks to persuade Sunni Muslims in Syria, Iraq and around the globe that Western infidels are seeking to undermine and oppress their religion . . . .
In 1918–1920, the Western allies won many victories against the Bolsheviks, defeating the Red Army in Estonia, Odessa and Siberia. Yet the allied forces were never able to follow up with a successful drive into the heart of Bolshevik power.
The Bolsheviks held onto Moscow and most of European Russia and waited out the Allies’ declining resolve. In the early 1920s, one Western ally after another withdrew its forces from Russia, leaving the Bolsheviks to build their state over the following decades.
Something similar seems the most likely outcome in the Middle East today. The deep divisions among potential allies and the lack of public support for yet another war in the Middle East will likely doom efforts to overcome the more committed, cohesive and determined forces of Islamic State.
The Islamic State, like the Bolshevik regime a century earlier, is a rising revolutionary power. It has gone from being just another terrorist group to master of a region larger than Lebanon or Israel, with a population of more than 2 million, tens of thousands of armed fighters and financial resources in the billions of dollars.
So what is the lesson here? Well, for starters, it is important for all of us – and our political leaders in particular – to remember that evil is real and it is omnipresent. Whether one subscribes to the historical accuracy of the story of the man, the woman, the snake, and the garden, or merely concedes its “poetic truth” – to borrow a phrase from the poet Auden – one cannot deny that evil is an inescapable fact of human existence. It cannot be wished away. It cannot be prayed away. And indeed, it cannot be explained away as a mere misunderstanding between vastly different but nonetheless “equal” cultures. This is a lesson learned and relearned countless times over the span of man’s existence, but perhaps no one ever put it better or more succinctly than T. S. Eliot:
The world turns and the world changes
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.
Now, what Eliot did not say, but what he certainly knew, is that while evil is a constant in the lives of every human, it occasionally consolidates around a person or an idea and gains enough collective strength to actually threaten civilization. This is one of those times. Face it. That is simply a fact. We cannot know the end of this particular evil uprising, but we can say for certain that what used to be called “times of trouble” lie ahead.
Evidence for this can be found in the fact that ISIS and its adherents are not just evil, but preposterously so. They are evil in ways that defy normal human experience. These people traffic in women. They trade them multiple times to the highest bidder and burn them alive if they defy their male masters anything they ask. They severe heads. They kill children. And they relish in it.
Moreover, the beliefs that motivate and inspire these twisted, evil men to commit such heinous acts are equally preposterous. They’re going to take over the world. They’re going to institute a new and “glorious” caliphate. They’re going to do Allah’s will and either convert or kill everyone on the planet. They’re going to fight the war that begets the “End of Days” and reveals Allah and his prophet in all their glory.
It all seems so crazy, fantastical, delusional. Indeed, it marks the Islamic State – and all radical Islamism for that matter, including the governing ideology of Iran – as “millenarian,” which is to say that it is not unusual in history, but is an example of an enduring religious/political phenomenon that has appeared off and on over the centuries, always failing miserably to bring about the End of Days and the utopia that lies beyond them. The Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Anabaptists, the Husites, and all of the great millenarian movements eventually self-destructed, because they can, in the end, do nothing else. The End of Days, the post-Apocalyptic paradise, heaven on earth are myths, and political movements simply cannot turn myths into reality.
The catch, sadly, is that this millenarian craziness and the accompanying inevitability of failure do not preclude the Islamic State from doing serious and lasting harm. The Soviet Union too – indeed, all of Socialism – was a millenarian fantasy. It too was based on crazy, laughable ideas. It too moved its devotees to absurd behavior. It too committed heinous acts that made its rulers, ideology, and prospects seem utterly preposterous.
And yet it survived for more than seven decades, doing far more damage to humanity than one can even begin to fathom. Between them, Lenin and Stalin were responsible for the murder of nearly 50 million people, the great majority of them citizens of the Soviet Union. Read that again, just to make sure you got the full impact of it. 50 million. A five and then six zeroes. 5 times the number that Hitler killed. Lenin was responsible for “only” four million or so of these, most of whom were slaughtered in his attempt to seize and consolidate power during and after the Revolution. He pales in comparison to Stalin. To put this in perspective, realize that Lenin is the fifth most prolific mass murderer in the history of the planet, and Stalin was 10 times his better. In his classic tome Death by Government, R.J. Rummel, a Political Science professor at the University of Hawaii, said this about the Soviet Union’s preposterously large number of victims:
Some were from the wrong class – bourgeoisie, landowners, aristocrats, kulaks. Some were from the wrong nation or race – Ukrainians, Black Sea Greeks, Kalmyks, Volga Germans. Some were from the wrong political faction – Trotskyites, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries. Some were their sons and daughters, wives and husbands, or mothers and fathers . . . Then some were simply in the way of social progress . . . and some were eliminated because of their potential opposition, such as writers, teachers, churchmen; or the military high command . . . In fact, we have witnessed in the Soviet Union a true egalitarian social cleansing and flushing; no group of class escaped. . . .
Radical, millenarian Islam has existed as an unsustainable yet somehow persistent geopolitical threat for more than three decades now, beginning with the Khomeinist revolution in Iran and then spreading to the Sunni/Wahhabi populations in Saudi Arabia, who provided the manpower and the financing, ironically enough, to stymie the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Islamist revolution came to a head, of course, on September 11, 2001, when the ragtag band of former anti-Soviet Arab provocateurs spectacularly and mercilessly unleashed their wrath on “the Great Satan,” overtly and unmistakably declaring war on the West.
In the thirty-six years that the Islamist movement has been a potent and yet ever-tottering geopolitical movement, the West has tried several ways to push it over the proverbial edge, causing its “inevitable” collapse. At first, the Western powers sought to undermine it from within, to subject it to the fury of its co-religionists. When that failed, but produced no further provocation, the West ignored millenarian Islamism, hoping it would simply go away. After 9/11, when it became clear that it would not go away on its own, the West sought to reform it, to tame it, to make it more reasonable, less utopian, less preposterous. And that too failed. In the years since, the West has fallen back on accommodation, hoping – historical precedent notwithstanding – that if we just tell the Islamists how much we like them, how much we respect them and their faith, and, paradoxically, how little we think their religion has to do with their religious struggle, that they will agree to live with us in peace and harmony. And this, in turn, has given the world ISIS, Boko Haram, a resurgent al Qaeda, and countless allied splinter groups throughout Africa, the Middle East, and even South Asia. And the inevitable seems more and more evitable.
Given this, it is worth remembering, we think, that the West also struggled for decades to come to grips and to deal with millenarian Communism. Then, as now, the major sticking point was the attitude/arrogance of the intellectual and political classes and their attendant willingness to allow countless thousands – or millions, in the case of the Soviet Union – to suffer as the West indulged its ideological vanity.
The West knew of the Soviet Union’s mass atrocities almost from the very beginning. The New York Times and its infamous Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty knew enough by the early 1930s to cover up the horrors of Stalin’s reign in the hope of preserving the romantic, idealistic notions of the socialist utopia. Despite this awareness and despite the inarguably heinous, antagonistic, and imperialistic nature of Soviet Communism, the Western ruling class venerated the Communists, aided their efforts – covertly and overtly – and partnered with them in the global socialist expansion for more than half of the Soviet Union’s existence, which is to say for roughly FOUR DECADES.
FDR, among others, admired Stalin and sought desperately to earn his respect and his aid in spreading a global post-war socialist agenda. As he famously (infamously) noted in 1943, Stalin was just a poor, misunderstood teddy bear who wanted nothing more than what the rest of the world wanted, namely peace, security, and democratic wonderfulness. “I have just a hunch,” Roosevelt said to the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, William C. Bullitt, “that Stalin doesn’t want anything but security for his country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work for a world democracy and peace.”
Even as the illusion of a Soviet partnership crumbled and even as the West waged war against expansionist Communism in northern and Southeast Asia, the American ruling class insisted that the Soviet ideology was brilliant, and was just implemented poorly. The ruling class was willing to fight the Communists on the battlefield, but it was unwilling to do what was necessary to defeat the ideology, which is to say that it was unwilling to challenge the ideology specifically, to engage in a public argument about the evil involved not just in the implementation of Communism, but in Communism itself, at a fundamental and unchangeable level. And thus the American/Western ruling class aided and extended Communism’s reign. It helped postpone the inevitable collapse.
Note that the Soviet Union, despite its manifest economic and social deficiencies, was not defeated until the West first defeated its own Communist sympathies. With the election of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the people of the West chose to overrule their intellectual “betters” and to treat the Soviets as evil. And only then, once Communist ideology itself was acknowledged as evil and as dangerous and as hazardous to mankind, was the West able to exploit the inescapable weaknesses of millenarian Communism. It is fashionable these days to presume that the Soviet Union collapsed on its own, under the weight of Communism’s economic inefficiencies. But this is flatly untrue – historical revisionism of the worst sort. Those inefficiencies, you see, existed in theory for more than seven decades. But until the West chose to exploit them, they remained just theories.
The good news in the case of global Islamism is that the Western intelligentsia does not sympathize overtly with its ideology or want to implement anything similar here. That, at least, puts the United States one step ahead of the battle against Soviet Communism. At the same time, however, the West has, in the decades since it battled Communism, lost its civilizational confidence and thus feels inadequate and unable to judge and defeat the Islamist ideology. As we have noted in these pages more times than we can count, the real problem with the “war on terror” – or whatever it’s called these days – is that the West refuses to name the enemy, i.e. political Islam, and refuses even to consider that Western values are superior enough to Islamist values to justify Islamism’s destruction. The post-modern Left’s persistent and invasive cultural equivalence insists that the West is no better than the Islamists, practically or morally, and the West therefore has no right to judge, much less destroy the Islamist ideology.
We first broached the notion of a parallel between the Islamic State and the Soviet Union in February, in a piece entitled “Islamism and the War of Ideas.” We argued that the intellectual fecklessness of the Western ruling class would cost countless lives and wreak untold damage on the so-called global community. Worse still, we feared that there was no hope of overcoming the American ruling class’ intellectual and functional denial of the seriousness of the Islamists reign of terror until November, 2016, when the American people will have the opportunity to free themselves from their stubborn and callous leaders and to free the Middle East from the scourge of the Islamic State and other radical millenarians. Specifically, we put it this way:
The good news, given all of this, is that the so-called war on terror can indeed be won. In order to do so, of course, Western leaders are going to have to win the war of ideas, which will begin with the idea of calling the enemy by its name.
The bad news is that there is no chance whatsoever that the current “leader of the free world,” will ever have the courage or the intellectual honesty to do what is necessary to win this war of ideas, largely because he will never, ever, under any circumstance, name the enemy. Barack Obama can bring himself neither to admit the nature of the enemy nor to acknowledge its goals . . . .
In the near term, the Islamists will continue to do what they want, when they want, and to whom they want. That is to say that Barack Obama will do the absolute least that he can do, the bare minimum given the magnitude of the threat and the public’s reaction to it. If the Islamists turn their attention to the American people’s security, the country’s economy, or its trade relations, then Obama will have to be more assertive than he might otherwise like. An attack on the American homeland would obviously force him to react in a more forceful and aggressive way than would the continued murder of foreign nationals.
But even if the Islamists do something that compels a serious and assertive presidential response, it’s hard to imagine how the current president – not to mention the entire current generation of Western leaders – will have either the desire or the ability to deal with the problem of Islamic radicalization at its core. To do so would be to violate all the tenets of the moral code to which the present generation of leaders subscribes. To “judge” the Islamists for their evil deeds or, worse yet, even to suggest that any culture needs to change its ways, lest it be singled out for retribution, is practically unthinkable in the contemporary political milieu. And while Obama is the current spineless and mindless American leader, please note that we do not think that this limitation applies just to him or to Hillary Clinton or even just to Democrats. It is true of the Republicans as well. No Republican with any realistic chance of being elected can or will do what must be done to win the war of ideas with Islamism. There is, in short, no Reagan on the horizon, no American politician who seems willing to engage the war of ideas, much less to win it . . . .
In the near term, we expect very little in the world to change. The Islamic State will go on killing innocents. The Iranians will continue building their bomb. The Israelis will live their lives as best they can with the threat of a second Holocaust looming over them. European Islamists will murder as many people as they can, when they can. And the West’s leaders will hide from this reality and insist that the biggest problem in the world is the pressing need to raise taxes on the rich.
The events of the past couple of weeks – the fall of Ramadi and especially President Obama’s description of that loss as a mere “tactical setback” – have reinforced our expectations. The simple and largely undeniable fact of the matter is that the West is losing to the Islamic State. And while there should be little question that this new caliphate cannot endure over time – which is to say that it is indeed on “the wrong side of history” – the current state of affairs in the Middle East suggests that it can, nevertheless, persist long enough to destroy countless lives and crush any dreams of global stability. Or as Ross Douthat put it in his New York Times piece on the ISIS-Soviet parallel: ISIS “hasn’t collapsed yet. And the longer it survives, the longer it might.”