Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
They Said It:
The last crusader fort I visited was Kerak Castle in Jordan a few years ago. It was built in the 1140s, and still impresses today. I doubt there will be any remains of our latter-day fortresses a millennium hence. Six weeks after the last NATO soldier leaves Afghanistan, it will be as if we were never there. Before the election in 2010, the New York Post carried a picture of women registering to vote in Herat, all in identical top-to-toe bright blue burkas, just as they would have looked on September 10, 2001. We came, we saw, we left no trace. America’s longest war will leave nothing behind.
Mark Steyn, “Die, Foreigners, Die,” National Review Online, March 3, 2012.
THE DISASTER AND SHAME OF POST-AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY.
We and countless others have said it before, and with just over 15 months left to go in the Obama presidency, we are all but certain to say it again, perhaps multiple times: Barack Obama is not a secret Muslim who is trying furtively to bring “Death to America.” He is not part of some dastardly 5th column seeking to undermine the world’s greatest capitalist democracy from within. He is not a modern-day Manchurian Candidate. That being said, we must admit that we would be hard pressed to explain how his policies – and especially his foreign policy – would be any different if he were. . . . So, as the saying goes, if that ain’t it, what is his problem?
Well, this week we would like to utilize a classic means of ducking the question by asserting that it is largely irrelevant; not because we couldn’t do anything about it even if we did have an answer, but because if he were not giving away the store as president, some other president would be doing it for him. Or to put this another way, he is a symptom of the disease that has been eating away at the heart and soul of America since the 1960s, not the disease itself. Years ago we made the case point about Bill Clinton, arguing that a morally decaying society will eventually choose a morally challenged leader. Evidence of this sickness in American society abounds. In the foreign policy arena, all the evidence one needs is Barack Obama, fiddling aimlessly while America burns.
Not to labor the point, but last week the results of his fecklessness reached a grim crescendo of sorts when the Russians and the Iranians embarrassed the United States in Syria and assured the world that they will continue to do so. In reaction to which, Obama yawned and waxed emotional about protecting human lives by restricting the ownership of guns by Americans.
Russia now has an airbase less than 60 miles from Turkey – a member of NATO – and has begun bombing American allies and other threats to the Assad regime into submission. In so doing, of course, Russia is aiding its own allies – namely the Mad Mullahs of Iran – and, quite literally, preparing the ground for Iranian hegemony in the region.
Shiites now dominate Iran, obviously, much of Iraq and Syria, Lebanon, parts of the Palestinian territories, and, Yemen. Once the Iranians, with Russian aid, have consolidated power in Syria and rescued Bashar Assad from seemingly inevitable defeat, the Mullahs have de facto control of much of the Middle East. More to the point, they will be well positioned to take their millennia-old sectarian fight to the remaining Sunni powers in the region, namely Saudi Arabia, which at present finds itself increasingly isolated and increasingly under verbal attack for its “improper” guardianship of the holy cities of Islam. It is worth remembering in this context, we think, that the erstwhile struggling Iranian economy will soon be flush with some $100 billion dollars courtesy of the Obama administration, which will release the funds as part its nuclear agreement with the Mullahs.
Last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared all agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo Accord, null and void, thereby setting the stage for a third Intifada and the resumption of widespread terrorism against Israeli civilians. Over the past few weeks, both Abbas and Netanyahu had publicly expressed their desire to meet and to revive the so-called “peace process,” but according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Palestinians now insist that “‘a third party who is not Israeli’ had blocked the meeting.” That third party is believed to be Secretary of State John Kerry, although his spokesman disputes the charge. In any case, the Middle East is a mess and is likely to get messier.
Unfortunately, we don’t need to tell you that. The disaster that is Obama’s Middle East policy is no more a secret than is his nonchalant reaction. Indeed, one can hardly open a newspaper, click on a news web site, or watch a news program on TV without some sort of reminder that the Middle East is burning while Obama fiddles, unaware of or unconcerned about the long-term implications of his actions in the region – or lack thereof. From Baghdad to Berlin; from Palmyra to Paris; from Mecca to Malmo, the pathologies that handicap the Middle East have both multiplied and proliferated on Obama’s watch.
But there are other disasters as well, to which far too people are paying close enough attention. And which provide a clearer insight into the sickness of which Obama’s foreign policy is evidence.
The first of these has its immediate origins in the brutal summer and fall of 2008. The economy was tanking, markets were crashing, and everyone everywhere was concerned about liquidity and the pending economic disaster. In April, President Bush had begged his fellow NATO leaders to expand the alliance to include Ukraine and Georgia in response to the unsteady economy and Putin’s veiled threats about NATO expansion a year earlier. The remainder of NATO rejected Bush’s entreaty and, in essence, told Putin they preferred “peace for our time” to jacked-up natural gas prices in the midst of an economic downturn.
Four months later, Putin responded to this capitulation by invading and occupying Georgia’s breakaway “republics” Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Senator John McCain – then the GOP presidential nominee – quickly accused Russia of using contrived pro-Russian sympathy in the two regions to engage in imperialist expansion. His presidential opponent – then-Senator Barack Obama – called for calm but refused to blame Russia or to ask the UN or NATO to pressure Russia to remove its military presence from Georgian soil. Obama and his allies warned against McCain’s needless provocation at a time when most Americans were sick and tired of war.
Obama, of course, won the election and thus won the domestic argument over Georgia.
Just under six years later, in the spring of 2014, Vladimir Putin finished the job and sent Russian and Russian-backed troops into Ukraine, again using “pro-Russian sentiment” among the minority Russian population as his pretext. Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine, constituting the first such annexation of another country’s territory in Europe since World War II. As we noted at the time:
Simply by annexing Crimea, Russia has broken one of the longest-standing and heretofore most revered rules of the post-war global order. It took territory previously belonging to another country and made it her own, which is expressly prohibited by international law and, more to the point, is an act that was and is repudiated by all major states, even the Soviet Union itself. Until now.
The 1975 Helsinki Accords, an international agreement signed by some 35 countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, codified the post-war prohibition against the annexation of territory. Specifically, Article III of the accords states that:
The participating States regard as inviolable all one another’s frontiers as well as the frontiers of all States in Europe and therefore they will refrain now and in the future from assaulting these frontiers.
Accordingly, they will also refrain from any demand for, or act of, seizure and usurpation of part or all of the territory of any participating State….
In short, this is no trifling matter. The eggs have been broken, so to speak. The only question now is the makeup of the resulting omelet. Going forward, it would appear that more and more serious violations of the residual order are likely to occur, given the cost-benefit scheme confirmed by this incident. This time, Russia will get what it wants, and it will cost almost nothing. That’s a pretty good trade. And others – or Putin himself in other contexts – will try to make the same trade, over and over, until the old order is completely destroyed.
In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the concomitant annexation of Ukrainian territory, the world – led by Europe and the United States – did absolutely nothing. They couldn’t afford the time or the energy or the physical expense to make Putin unhappy. And so they let him be. Needless to say, this created the understandable impression among the world’s “bad actors” that the United States will do as little as possible to defend the territorial sovereignty of allies or to deter the geopolitical ambitions of enemies.
Vladimir Putin liked what he saw. And now, beyond Syria; beyond Georgia; beyond Ukraine, he has his sights set on reviving Soviet glory and burying what’s left of the post-war Pax Americana. And as Mathew Continetti noted last week in the Washington Free Beacon, the next step for Putin is control of the Baltics and the ruin of NATO:
Putin is boxing in NATO. His next target is the Baltic States. Last Sunday on 60 Minutes, he explained that the reason he has called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the worst thing to happen in the last century” is that, “in an instant, 25 million people found themselves beyond the borders of the Russian state.” His goal is to reclaim them — to unify Russians living abroad in the Baltics, in Ukraine, and beyond.
Raimonds Vejonis, president of Latvia, tells the Wall Street Journal that Russian sorties over the Baltics nations are on the rise. In his full interview with Charlie Rose, Putin singled out Lithuania: “More than half of the citizens have left the country,” he lied. “Can you imagine a situation where more than half of the Americans left the territory of the United States? It would be a catastrophe!”
Try this scenario: Sometime in the next 16 months, civil unrest breaks out in one or more of the Baltic States. It’s the Russian population, calling for “independence” from the central government and closer ties to Moscow. Fighting erupts as Russian tanks mass along the border and jets fly over Riga or Vilnius or Tallinn. They are all targets. Take Vilnius: While there are few ethnic Russians in Lithuania, it is the land bridge between Mother Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Supplying Kaliningrad would be Putin’s casus belli.
The Baltic authorities call on NATO to respond — invoking Article Four of the charter, which requires consultations, and possibly Article Five, requiring force. But the West is distracted. Europe is overwhelmed by crises in Greece and Ukraine, by the U.K. referendum to leave the E.U., by ongoing Muslim migration to the north. The United States is occupied by its presidential election, by Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, by economic shocks.
The cries for assistance go unheard. The Obama administration has refused even to try to secure permanent forward bases in the Baltics — which would provide a credible deterrent — apparently due to the belief that providing for a real defense is “provocative.” We are too busy, too self-absorbed, too confused to worry about promises made years ago. Obama won’t arm the Ukrainians. What makes us think he’d defend the Lithuanians or Latvians or Estonians?
Before the White House recovers from its “surprise” at events in the Baltics, Putin will have achieved his strategic goals and established reflexive control over the situation. President Obama and Chancellor Merkel and Secretary of State Kerry are sure to proclaim that the arc of history will defeat Russia, even as they accommodate themselves to Putin’s reality. NATO will be exposed as a covenant without the sword. And millions of East Europeans will come under Vladimir Putin’s thumb.
Sadly, we think it’s highly unlikely that Putin will be the only ambitious man to notice the brave new world created by American apathy to international matters and to the plight of those who are less likely to be able to defend themselves against erstwhile or wannabe superpowers.
As we noted last year, “When Barack Obama did nothing to stop Vladimir Putin in Crimea, he told the world that the party was over, that the post-war American guarantee of self-determination, regional integrity, and free trade routes and shipping lanes was over.” The world has noticed. And the while the Chinese and Iranians have sought to take advantage, the Japanese and the Saudis have sought to protect themselves by any means necessary.
In the next 15 months and probably for a long time afterward, the world will be a far more volatile and war-prone place. And a big part of the reason is the American reaction to Russia and its territorial overtures. If the Americans can’t or won’t challenge an economic and military basket-case like Russia, whom will they challenge? Or to put it in more relevant global terms: whom will they protect? For those who have signed mutual protection agreements with the United States – like, say, Estonia, Latvia, or even Taiwan – this is an incredibly vexing and important question.
Now critics could muster both practical and moral arguments against Obama’s part in this tragedy. But therein lies the problem. You see, both he and the disease from which he emanates are immune from such interventions. As the great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre pointed out some years ago, he and the liberals who put this man into office twice are highly comfortable using moral language to support their positions, but have lost all touch with the context from which their significance derived. Or to put this more bluntly, that which they favor is “moral” and that which they oppose is “immoral.” As for the practical argument concerning acquiescence to Putin’s aggression, the threat would have to be imminent to matter, that is, it would have to affect the material pleasure-point almost immediately to have any impact whatsoever.
Now the other story that has received too little attention but signals a spiritual disease within America’s culture that is manifesting itself in its foreign policy is of a very different in nature.
Just over two weeks ago, the New York Times reported the following highly discomfiting situation.
In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.
“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”
Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.
The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban. But soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.
Why, you ask, would the United States of America, the most powerful force for right and good in the history of the world, do such a thing? Why would the most powerful military the world has ever known feel it necessary to tolerate sexual predation of children among its allies? How did we ever get to this point where the war against Islamic terrorism has morphed into a war for pederasty? Sadly, as the Times continues, it also explains:
The American policy of nonintervention is intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also reflects a reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men, for whom being surrounded by young teenagers can be a mark of social status. . . .
There you go: a “reluctance to impose cultural values.” Far be it from the United States to suggest to the backward-ass Pashtun that raping 12 year-old boys is somehow unacceptable. Not only are we, apparently, not qualified to judge, but we are obliged to defend the practice and its practitioners . . . because . . . well . . . cultural imperialism . . . or something.
As we have noted countless times before in these pages, the condition in which we will leave Afghanistan, when we finally leave it, is perhaps the greatest indictment of contemporary American civilization that we can imagine.
American troops have been in Afghanistan for almost fourteen years now. More than 2200 American service men and women have given their lives in pursuit of Afghani “democracy.” And yet we can’t even be bothered to tell the people in charge that it is not okay to rape little boys. Is this really what “victory” looks like?
Let us note that those who insist that this is part of Pashtun/Afghani culture are not mistaken. Indeed, this business of “boy play” has a long and nauseating history. It is the way things are in Afghanistan, as difficult as that might be to wrap your head around. Two-and-a-half years ago, in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul McGeough, the paper’s chief foreign correspondent, recounted some of this “culture,” and it is every bit a bizarre and disturbing as the Times piece cited above. To wit:
As the six-vehicle police convoy climbs a riverbed, threading a rugged mountain pass that is the only route to Char China, our bulletproof Toyota 4WD reverberates with the hypnotic beat of Pashto music.
At the wheel is Mohammad Zia, the right-hand man to Matiullah Khan, the province’s all-powerful police chief. But MK is back in Tarin Kowt, we’re in staggeringly beautiful country and Mohammad smiles, as he indulges his fondness for the fabled Afghan crooner Ahmad Zahir – it’s a lament on the danger that lurks in a woman’s arched eyebrow.
It’s appropriate enough. That evening we will be guests of Haji Qawee, the local police chief at Shahidi Hassas, the district centre of Char China in the far west of Oruzgan. To honour our presence he is throwing a bizarre Afghan version of the policeman’s ball. Everyone is invited.
The only arched eyebrows are those of the dancers – and they’re all male.
About 50 of Qawee’s men squeeze into a small smoke-filled, mud-walled structure, watching wide-eyed as three kohl-eyed young men twirl like windmills in their sequins and robes. Swirling endlessly and effeminately to shrieking music from a band in the corner – a wild-eyed drummer and his mate, singing off-key as he rips at a homemade string instrument.
The dance is highly sexualised. The audience is visibly excited – particularly our host.
As the action starts, one of the dancers drops a long, lingering kiss on the back of the police chief’s wrist and throughout the show the same performer plonks to his haunches with his rear-end just centimetres from the police chief’s smiling face.
The dancing in the police compound is reminiscent of the bacha bazi or “boy-play” culture, in which boys become an owned-object for Afghan militia commanders and other prominent types, who make them dance at all-male parties and often abuse them sexually. They dress them in fine clothes and parade them, and get them to dance competitively to establish who has the “best boy”.
This is important for a couple of reasons. First, this is indicative of the American and Western collapse of confidence and collapse of morals. The Americans had the moral and cultural confidence to know that the Taliban were wrong, that they were wicked and deserving of military conquest, but they lacked the moral and cultural confidence to know what to do next. The West – and America in particular – no longer has a solid foundation upon which to decide between right and wrong and good and evil.
As we noted above, and have noted countless times before, the destruction of the traditional moral code in the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment eras left the Western world in a state of moral disorder. The traditional code was subverted, but nothing replaced it, leaving chaos, confusion, and a moral subjectivism. And this moral subjectivism, in turn, has produced a moral ethos that is devoid of reason and logic and posits, contrary to evidence and common sense, that there is no truth, no reality, no basis for evaluative judgments outside of the power and its application. In this post-religious moral code, non-judgmentalism is the chief virtue. And it appears that this applies even to child rape – as long as the rapists are not white American men.
Second, and perhaps more to the point, the reemergence of this bizarre pederasty culture in the American protectorate of Afghanistan matters because it portends chaos, violence, and even more – this time somewhat understandable – hatred of America. McGeough continues, explaining why:
Interestingly, and in the same way that a policewoman slapping the face of a young Tunisian market vendor was the spark that ignited the Arab Spring, various accounts of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan say that its founder, Mullah Omar, first won public acclaim by intervening in a deadly shooting brawl between two commanders as they quarrelled over who “owned” a particular young bacha boy.
The Taliban made homosexuality an offence punishable by death – the preferred method being for the accused to be crushed under a toppling wall.
We suspect that the story about the now-deceased one-eyed Mullah Omar is apocryphal. At the same time, we have long been aware that many of the people in Afghanistan and especially those in the region around Kandahar credited the Taliban with eliminating the practice of bacha bazi. Indeed the rise of the Taliban and especially its popularity among the less-powerful rural populations is often tied to its reaction against the practice among the powerful men in Pashtun culture. As Chris Mondloch noted in an article for Foreign Policy:
The Taliban had a deep aversion towards bacha bazi, outlawing the practice when they instituted strict nationwide sharia law. According to some accounts, including the hallmark Times of London article “Kandahar Comes out of the Closet” in 2002, one of the original provocations for the Taliban’s rise to power in the early 1990s was their outrage over pedophilia. Once they came to power, bacha bazi became taboo, and the men who still engaged in the practice did so in secret.
When the former mujahideen commanders ascended to power in 2001 after the Taliban’s ouster, they brought with them a rekindled culture of bacha bazi. Today, many of these empowered warlords serve in important positions, as governors, line ministers, police chiefs, and military commanders.
Since its post-2001 revival, bacha bazi has evolved, and its practice varies across Afghanistan. According to military experts I talked to in Afghanistan, the lawlessness that followed the deposing of the Taliban’s in rural Pashtunistan and northern Afghanistan gave rise to violent expressions of pedophilia. Boys were raped, kidnapped, and trafficked as sexual predators regained their positions of regional power. As rule of law mechanisms and general order returned to the Afghan countryside, bacha bazi became a normalized, structured practice in many areas.
Many times in these pages, we have lamented the fact that American troops will leave Afghanistan precisely as they found it: broken, battered, riddled with corruption, and home to a massively appalling culture that treats women as second-class citizens and homosexuals as criminals. Sadly, with the emergence of the story of American-sanctioned criminal pederasty, we have actually grown more pessimistic and depressed. American forces will NOT leave Afghanistan exactly as they found it. They will leave it worse – much worse.
The supreme irony in all of this is that the American failure in Afghanistan – like the American failure in Iraq – will not be the result of the usual complaints of the blame-America-first Left. The failure will not be the result of American arrogance, American imperialism, or American greed. It will not be the result of America’s ungainliness or inelegance. It will not be the result of America’s moral preening and Euro-centric moral colonialism. Indeed, it will be the result of precisely the opposite, the utter and complete LACK of American cultural imperialism, the void created by the crisis of Western confidence and the assault on traditional morality.
Now, our initial instinct was to conclude the preceding paragraph by calling the failure in Afghanistan a “failure of the Left.” But while that might be true in an ideological or cultural sense, it is not true in a political sense. The fact of the matter is that Barack Obama inherited this Afghanistan policy from his predecessor who was, of course, a Republican. Obama likely screwed it up and made things worse, but he was not responsible for the implementation of the culturally neutral, morally blind policy of “non-intervention” in the local culture. This policy started with a Republican. And it was extended by a Democrat, all of which is to say that it is a bipartisan, Washington-consensus policy. It is the policy of the ruling class. And it will remain so for the foreseeable future.
What that means, then, is that there is very little prospect that the forces of good will defeat the forces of evil in the world. The forces of good, you see, refuse to acknowledge either that they are good or that their enemy is evil. As a result, the most powerful nation in the world will, for the time being, be the global guardian of moral and cultural relativism.
Taken in conjunction, the two stories detailed in this article – complete American capitulation to Russia and its territorial demands and the American tolerance and tacit encouragement of Pashtun/Afghani pederasty – suggest a world without leadership and without much hope for stability. The American retreat is far worse than even we had imagined. It is not merely a military retreat. It is a cultural and moral retreat as well. The weak and powerless nations of the world will be left to fend for themselves in the Absence of American presence, but so too will the weak and powerless boys of Afghanistan and the weak and powerless Yazidi girls of Iraq and the weak and powerless Christian minority in Nigeria and the weak and powerless all over the world.
This is the post-American world, we’re afraid. Get used to it. And try your damnedest to figure out how things would be any different if we let our enemies decide our policy – and their fate.