Daniel Larison

Crude American, Patriotic American

It looks like a double standard, and probably it is, but why is it that when I see obese Americans munching on Coke and giant hot dogs and chanting ‘USA, USA’, it sounds like the worst kind of chauvinism as well as unsportsmanlike conduct, and when I hear the Greeks cheering lustily ‘Hellas, Hellas’, it sounds patriotic and sportsmanlike? There is something of the bully in Uncle Sam, and perhaps that is why the greatest cheer of all was given to the worst swimmer of the Games, the young Palestinian who finished last and way off the pace, and timidly came out of the water. There is something very moving about the nobility of failure, and the Palestinian — who trains alone in a 25-metre cold swimming-pool with guns going off all around him — knows all about it. As did we who cheered him to the rafters.~ Taki, The Spectator

Taki’s remark resonated with me as I read it tonight, particularly after the dreary display of the crowd at the Republican National Convention earlier in the evening during Gov. (it feels more than a little silly to put that title in front of his name) Schwarzenegger’s speech. The presumably spontaneous outbursts of the chant “USA, USA!” did seem awful, hollow, crude and somehow contrived, as if loyalty were measured in decibels and national spirit in a sort of barking noise. That chant seems to me to represent the superficial and meaningless chauvinistic bluster of the jingoist, who can only be proud of his nation in the diminution and humiliation of other peoples, as distinct from an honourable and sedate patriotism that boasts, as Chesterton has said so well, not of its country’s greatness, but of its smallness.

The chant at the convention reminded me that I had been cheering for the superior Lithuanian team to win the bronze medal at the Olympics on Saturday, just as I had been secretly wishing for the comeuppance of the overrated and underskilled American team in the qualifying round against the same team, because the Lithuanians were superior in almost all the skills that separate basketball from the thuggery that we can now see regularly in NBA play. Only their tendency to foul too often gave the American team any real advantage in the two games. Even in defeat, the Lithuanians set an Olympic record for the greatest number of three-point shots made–a testament to their shooting ability and the Americans’ pathetic excuse for defense.
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U.S. Must Face Up to Chechen Terrorism

The harmful ambiguity of U.S. policy on Chechnya needs to be ended immediately. It compromizes the “war against terror,” jeopardizes national security, and gains nothing at all—least of all any brownie points for the U.S. in the Muslim world. It is high time for the U.S. government to accept that people like [Chechen president’] Maskhadov, Akhmadov, and their supporters in Russia and abroad are not just “separatists” nor “militants.” They are terrorists, and should be treated accordingly.~ Srdja Trifkovic, ChroniclesMagazine.org

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Of Patriotism, War and Revolution

As war is one of the heaviest of national evils, a calamity in which every species of misery is involved; as it sets the general safety to hazard, suspends commerce, and desolates the country; as it exposes great numbers to hardships, dangers, captivity and death; no man who desires the public prosperity will inflame general resentment by aggravating minute injuries or enforcing disputable rights of little importance.

He that wishes to see his country robbed of its rights cannot be a Patriot.

That man therefore is no Patriot who justifies the ridiculous claims of American usurpation; who endeavours to deprive the nation of its natural and lawful authority over its own colonies: those colonies which were settled under English protection; were constituted by an English charter; and have been defended by English arms.~ Samuel Johnson, The Patriot

These selections address a particular situation in British and American history in 1774, but each of these three statements makes broader claims that touch on our contemporary affairs and American self-understanding. Dr. Johnson was, of course, a dedicated Tory in principle, who, unlike some of his contemporary Whigs, possessed little sympathy for the American rebels or their arguments. Two important themes emerge from these statements (which I have, it should be noted, taken out of their original context for the sake of brevity and clarity): patriots tend to abhor war, and patriots oppose usurpation.
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The Suffering Georgian Land

Further sign of its American allegiances came on Friday, when Georgia announced that 50 of its specialized mountain infantry soldiers will be deployed to Afghanistan, following two weeks of training in Germany.

These developments seem all the more mystifying in that they have been provoked almost entirely by the Georgian side. If Saakashvili intends to realize his national greatness scheme through taking on Russia, things might not turn out as he had planned. It is true that Georgia’s civil wars of the 90’s – which led to the current mess – were a sort of proxy war with Russia. However, they were also complicated by the disunity of various Georgian factions, militia groups which fought one another as well as the separatist Abkhaz or Ossetians. And they did not involve open confrontation with Russian troops, who still retain two military bases on Georgian soil. In an additional threat this weekend, Saakashvili ordered Moscow to leave the bases by spring, “or we will make them leave.”

The war of words continued Friday when the Ossetians claimed Georgia has sent 50 of its Special Forces soldiers into the area, in violation of a pullout agreement reached on 19 August. For its part, Georgia continued to urge Russian maritime captains – whose vessels it warned last month would be sunk – to avoid Abkhazian waters.~ Christopher Deliso, Balkanalysis.com

It is gratifying to see the good folks at Balkanalysis.com are also keeping an eye on this worsening and troubling situation in the Caucasus. As Mr. Deliso explains so well, and as I have been arguing for the past several weeks, Georgian President Saakashvili has been playing a very dangerous game with the future of Georgia. Perhaps he believes that the Russian government will not further enmesh itself in Caucasian conflicts while still plagued by its Chechen problems, which were only worsened with the apparent Chechen terrorist downing of two Russian commercial airliners this past week.

However, as the rest of Mr. Deliso’s article makes clear, relations between the two neighbours are only getting worse. The Bush Administration’s tacit encouragement of Saakashvili’s irresponsible course, aided by pro-Saakashvili coverage in the Western media, will only deepen the troubles of the region. President Putin has the domestic standing, democratic mandate and personal popularity to seek a peaceful solution to these problems, while the incipient dictatorship of Saakashvili seems to require constant fearmongering to retain its old hold on the unfortunate Georgian people. The escalation of conflict in the Caucasus will ultimately be mostly to the detriment of the people of Georgia and Ossetia, though further Caucasian quagmires can only harm Russia’s development as well.

It is in the interest of all responsible and decent people in the region to seek a peaceful end to this conflict. So far, Mr. Saakashvili has given every indication through his aggressive tactics that he does not want to be regarded as such a person. The question Americans should be asking themselves is this: why does our government support such a belligerent and increasingly oppressive ruler in a region that is, in truth, of relatively little strategic value to the United States?

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Some Thoughts on Democracy

Democracy is incapable of provoking a ferocious civil war, but prerevolutionary violence, persistent major disorder, and refusal to enforce the law, if carried far enough, can do so.~ Stanley G. Payne, The Spanish Civil War, The Soviet Union and Communism

As I was finishing Prof. Payne’s excellent new history of the Spanish Civil War (there is a helpful review of this book in the August issue of Chronicles), I came across this conclusion. This conclusion seemed all the more strange later this weekend, after finding an article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy that includes arguments quite to the contrary of Prof. Payne’s statement. Though I would probably rarely agree with Prof. Eric Hobsbawm at any other time, and even though I have certain important reservations about his arguments in this article, he makes this largely incontrovertible observation:

“Spreading democracy” aggravated ethnic conflict and produced the disintegration of states in multinational and multicommunal regions after both 1918 and 1989, a bleak prospect.

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A Hierarchy of Goods

Unlike Augustine, however, Aquinas lived within a recognizably Christian social order and, for that reason, approached the question of citizenship from a different angle. Whereas Augustine spoke of the theological foundations of citizenship, Aquinas, following Aristotle, thought of citizenship as a natural aspect of human life. Aquinas considered politics to be inescapable because, like Aristotle, he believed human beings were by nature social and political animals.

While human beings are the most socially and politically inclined of all animals, they are also the most physically needy, which helps to explain the human propensity to live in society. The household or family is the first natural society to which persons belong. Yet the good of the family is only partial, since its principal aim is to procure the necessary goods for survival. But even the family, which is ruled by economics or the art of household management, is incapable of providing for its every need. Aquinas thought the political community completed the family unit, because as the greater community it incorporates and subsumes all lesser communities to its own end.

Because human beings are rational animals, it is not sufficient merely that they live, but that they live well. Indeed, Aquinas contends that our natural disposition inclines us both “to know the truth and to live in society.” Following Aristotle, Aquinas believed that natural human flourishing could occur only within the political community, “the most perfect of all human societies.” Unlike the household, the political community attains a degree of self-sufficiency. While the end of the family is the promotion of life, the end of the political community is the cultivation of human virtue. This elevated good is “common” to all citizens. Aquinas bases his notion of citizenship on the type of virtue that develops either from “ruling and being ruled in turn.” The good habits instilled in those who live under well-ordered and just laws, which are significant, given Christianity’s transpolitical claim, represent authentic human goods. As a result, Aquinas views the common good as constitutive of the citizen’s “proper” versus private good. To be sure, Aquinas held that the natural perfection of citizenship was inferior to the supernatural perfection of God’s grace. Yet insofar as grace does not destroy but perfects nature, human spiritual perfection does not negate the legitimate, natural perfection of political life. Accordingly, for Aquinas, only the man who is “depraved, a beast as it were … or the man who is better than a man, a god as it were,” is capable of living outside of civil society.~ Marc D. Guerra, review of The American Myth of Religious Freedom

This is a helpful and, I think, fair summary of the Thomist view of politics. The incorporation of lesser, or more local, communities in all their integrity is a vitally important point, and it makes all the difference in distinguishing what I might call a traditionalist conception of the state from its rival, the total state.

This ‘traditionalist’ view emphasises the need for larger political organisms to be developed ‘from the ground up’ and would seem to militate against forms of consolidation and centralism imposing one scheme on a variety of communities. It is the difference between what one might call a conservative “socialism” in corporatism, Distributism or solidarism and the uniforming, levelling and desolating revolutionary socialism, which is to say all the difference in the world.

Perhaps if we think of larger political organisms as ascending steps in a political hierarchy, in which, as in a spiritual hierarchy, lesser orders are raised to perfection (in the sense that lesser orders are able to attain their proper end or completion, telos), the idea of prior obligations to polity and state might seem less onerous. Obviously, the existing state is nothing like this ideal, but perhaps this ideal will make the basic principle of such an obligation easier to accept.


The Suffering Serbian Land

The head of Belgrade’s Kosovo Coordination Centre warned today that Albanian extremists in Kosovo are preparing for a major armed operation.~ B92, Yugoslavia, August 24, 2004

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The Suffering Georgian Land

War with Russia is close and it is necessary to prepare the people of Georgia for such an eventuality, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili warned in a newspaper interview published in France on Tuesday.

“We are very close to a war [with Russia], the population must be prepared,” he told the French-language Liberation daily newspaper.

Denouncing military aid from Russia to rebels in Georgia’s break-away region of South Ossetia, Saakashvili stressed that he had “no intention of provoking it [a war]” and called for an international conference to discuss the status of South Ossetia.

“Russia says it is opposed to this, but I think its position is evolving,” he added.

Georgia pulled troops back from the separatist pro-Moscow region last week after an unprecedented show of force that infuriated Russia and worried Washington.

South Ossetia falls within Georgian borders, but the region is inhabited mainly by ethnic Ossetians.~ Taipei Times, August 25, 2004

Mr. Saakashvili’s bluster might almost be comic (think The Mouse That Roared), were its consequences not so likely to be devastating to his country. Neither country has any real interest in a war, but Georgia has the least incentive of all. Every day, President Saakashvili demonstrates that he is not suited to lead Georgia to a peaceful resolution of its conflicts and not a worthy representative of his nation.

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Is Sadr’s Position Reasonable?

Sadr’s condemnation of the interim Prime Minster Iyad Allawi and his dismissal of the June “handover of power” as a farce is justified. Nor has Allawi’s heavy-handed, compliant rule gone down well with most of the Iraqi population – a recent poll showed his approval rating at just 2 per cent, tied with Saddam Hussein.

Nor can he be accused of being a tool for outside forces. Frequent accusations of ties with the regime in Iran have fallen flat, with both the US administration and the Iraqi interim government admitting there is no evidence of such a link.

But the adjective “radical” still sticks, defying the widespread popularity he has gained nationally and regionally. With the allegiance of the followers of his late father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, he can mobilise the Shia masses. But his armed resistance has drawn support from Sunnis and Shias throughout Iraq and the Middle East. Yet he has still sought diplomacy. He agreed to a truce in June and during the current fighting he has invited mediation from the Vatican. Contrast this with Allawi’s uncompromising stance that there can be “no negotiation” with militias.

Sadr is also prepared to disband his army and form a political party to contest next January’s elections. The fact that some Iraqi leaders are ignoring a decree passed by Allawi’s government and have invited Sadr into the political process reflects the recognition that, like him or not, he is too powerful and popular a figure to marginalise.

Calling Sadr “radical” is not only a misrepresentation of his policies, it is an insult to all those who oppose foreign occupation and domination, religious in-fighting and regional instability. One does not have to be Shia, Iraqi, Arab or “radical” to see that.~ Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi, Chairman of Arab Media Watch in The Independent

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Ten-Year War in Iraq?

US planes pounded Najaf’s cemetery and historic centre near the Imam Ali shrine, dimming hopes of a peaceful end to a near three-week stand-off between US-led Iraqi forces and Shiite militia.

As US military officials said it could take up to 10 years to crush the insurgency, nine people, including a Turk, were killed in a string of deadly roadside attacks, US military and police sources said.~ Yahoo News, August 24, 2004

It is obvious that the American public will never tolerate an ongoing guerrilla war for ten years, no matter how horribly misled they have been in the past. The public may be easy to incite, but it will be very difficult to keep their attention and their anger focused on a country that, as most now know, posed no threat before and poses none now.

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