Daniel Larison

Drive for Autonomy in Southern Iraq

Iraq’s oil-rich southern provinces are considering plans to set up an autonomous region – a move that reflects their growing frustration with the central government in Baghdad.

Members of the municipal council of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, have been holding talks with officials from councils in two neighbouring provinces on establishing a federal region in the south, following the example of the Kurdish north. The three provinces – Basra, Missan and Dhiqar – account for more than 80 per cent of the proved oil reserves of the country’s 18 provinces and provide a large share of the national income.

The talks are a political challenge to the embattled interim Iraqi government which is fighting a fierce insurgency in Sunni Arab areas, continued unrest in an impoverished Shia suburb of Baghdad and militant gangs bent on disrupting the country’s reconstruction.

Diplomats familiar with the talks say the three provinces have felt marginalised in new government institutions, including the consultative assembly, and believe they are not receiving a fair share of economic resources. The cabinet led by Iyad Allawi, the prime minister, includes only one representative from the three provinces.~ The Financial Times, September 29, 2004


The Canadian Philosopher and the “Great Republic”

George Grant was a professor of philosophy (mostly at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario) who had a wide audience through his public lectures and contributions to mass circulation magazines. He disliked the narrow analytic approach of his discipline and ignored fashionable trends in favor of the grand picture. Grant was a Christian, a deep thinker, even something of a mystic, and a commentator with insight into developments not only in Canada but in the entire Western world.

One reason for his lack of recognition in the United States could be his reputation as an anti-American. He was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam war, and he put this in a larger context of a critique of American imperialism. In this respect he provided useful ammunition for Canadian leftists in the 1960s and 1970s.

Grant shared the suspicions that many American conservatives have about the tyranny of big government, but he also extended this suspicion to technology itself (as the French sociologist, and Christian, Jacques Ellul did). And he applied his suspicion of social control by powerful corporate interests, and of the economic mentality in general, to moral problems in a bracing fashion:

If tyranny is to come in North America, it will come cozily and on cat’s feet. It will come with the denial of the rights of the unborn and of the aged, the denial of the rights of the mentally retarded, the insane, and the economically less-privileged. In fact, it will come with the denial of rights to all those who cannot defend themselves. It will come in the name of the cost-benefit analysis of human life.~ Excerpts from Daniel Westberg review of George Grant: A Biography (please excuse the First Things reference)

Having just finished reading both the outstanding Lament for a Nation and English-Speaking Justice, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of George Grant until just a few weeks ago. Now that I have discovered his writings, I am astonished that American conservative writers have not tried to adopt his ideas more readily and more often. It would be a pity if Grant’s critiques of American imperialism (an imperialism that he derided not because it was American so much as because it was modern and universalistic to the detriment of his own country) prevented ‘conservative’ Americans from deeply appreciating and developing his ideas, especially now that more and more ‘conservatives’ (Grant denied that there were any American conservatives of any kind) have begun to appreciate just how corrosive to their own institutions and traditions “the empire” has always been.

Few, if any, modern conservative writers from any country manage to combine serious engagement with modern philosophy, an anti-modern and genuinely conservative impulse and a distrust of all consolidated power both public and private in such an eminently sober and inspiring way. He also has presented us with an unavoidable set of difficult truths: a technological society cannot really be conservative, decentralisation in an age of corporations will only lead to an unaccountable corporate oligarchy, and most people in other countries are not motivated by anti-Americanism but by the reality that they are not, and never can be, Americans (not anti-Americanism, as Grant said of Diefenbaker, but a lack of Americanism).
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So Long For Now

On Monday I will be returning to graduate school, so I will be contributing and replying significantly less often over the next few months. I wanted to thank you all, and especially Jon, for the warm reception you have all given me and for the stimulating discussions we have had over the past several months. On occasion, I may check in or submit a short post, but I expect this coming year will be keeping me very busy. I wish you all the best, and I hope to find the Polemics contributors to be even more active and contentious upon my return. Deo Vindice!



The Perpetual Hypocrites on Terrorism

By the same token, the BBC and other media sources are putting it about that Russian TV played down the Beslan crisis, while only western channels reported live, the implication being that Putin’s Russia remains a highly controlled police state. But this view of the Russian media is precisely the opposite of the impression I gained while watching both CNN and Russian TV over the past week: the Russian channels had far better information and images from Beslan than their western competitors. This harshness towards Putin is perhaps explained by the fact that, in the US, the leading group which pleads the Chechen cause is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC). The list of the self-styled “distinguished Americans” who are its members is a rollcall of the most prominent neoconservatives who so enthusastically support the “war on terror”.

They include Richard Perle, the notorious Pentagon adviser; Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra fame; Kenneth Adelman, the former US ambassador to the UN who egged on the invasion of Iraq by predicting it would be “a cakewalk”; Midge Decter, biographer of Donald Rumsfeld and a director of the rightwing Heritage Foundation; Frank Gaffney of the militarist Centre for Security Policy; Bruce Jackson, former US military intelligence officer and one-time vice-president of Lockheed Martin, now president of the US Committee on Nato; Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former admirer of Italian fascism and now a leading proponent of regime change in Iran; and R James Woolsey, the former CIA director who is one of the leading cheerleaders behind George Bush’s plans to re-model the Muslim world along pro-US lines.

Allegations are even being made in Russia that the west itself is somehow behind the Chechen rebellion, and that the purpose of such support is to weaken Russia, and to drive her out of the Caucasus. The fact that the Chechens are believed to use as a base the Pankisi gorge in neighbouring Georgia – a country which aspires to join Nato, has an extremely pro-American government, and where the US already has a significant military presence – only encourages such speculation. Putin himself even seemed to lend credence to the idea in his interview with foreign journalists on Monday.

Proof of any such western involvement would be difficult to obtain, but is it any wonder Russians are asking themselves such questions when the same people in Washington who demand the deployment of overwhelming military force against the US’s so-called terrorist enemies also insist that Russia capitulate to hers?~ John Laughland, The Guardian

The hatred of Russia, and indeed the apparent hatred of all Western and Christian societies engaged in struggles with Muslim extremists, is one constant factor in neoconservatism. I submit that neoconservatives only desire American hegemony to the extent that they can also effectively purge America of her Christian and European heritage.

Every major foreign policy prescription in Europe or central Asia that neoconservatives have advocated has been aimed in part or in full at encircling, weakening and gradually destroying Russia, at least as a major power. The recent double-standard on Chechen-Islamic terrorism is just the latest in a long line of anti-Russian policies, including the bombing of Yugoslavia, the coddling of Chechen warlords, permanent central Asian military bases, the expansion of NATO and, of course, the unequivocal support for Georgian dictator Saakashvili. This obsession with weakening the Russians also suggests that these people are more mired in the Cold War than anyone, and that they are the most unfit and unqualified to advise our country in a time when entirely different strategies and ideas are required.
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The Disgusting James Taranto

In December 2002, we coined the phrase vicarious terrorism to describe people–in that case it was George McGovern–who ascribe their own political views to al Qaeda and then argue that the Osama bin Laden & Co. would be appeased if only America adopted those views as policy.

It’s worth noting in passing that Buchanan/bin Laden’s first two complaints, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and the sanctions against Iraq, were both obviated by the Iraq war, which Buchanan (and presumably bin Laden) opposed.

But Buchanan’s calumny against Israel–which has a long history, going back at least to the days before the original Gulf War, in 1990–is worth dwelling on. Bin Laden, he claims, opposes “the Likud regime of Ariel Sharon.” Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel in 2001, three years after the fatwa that, according to Buchanan, condemned his “regime.”

True, Likud was in power (under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) in 1998, but Labor’s Ehud Barak won election in 1999, and that didn’t stop al Qaeda from attacking the USS Cole in October 2000, even as President Clinton was struggling to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Al Qaeda’s first attacks on American targets were in Yemen in 1992 and at the World Trade Center in 1993–at a time when Labor’s Yitzchak Rabin was Israel’s prime minister. Rabin later reached an accommodation with Arafat, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Bin Laden does not appear to have been appeased.

Attacks on Ariel Sharon and Likud often mask hostility toward Israel, or toward Jews in general. By falsely attributing his own “anti-Sharon” views to bin Laden, Buchanan seems to be suggesting that the al Qaeda leader is no more anti-Semitic than he himself is. Think about what that implies.~ James Taranto, OpinionJournal.com

James Taranto has long engaged in the filthiest of smears against the character of Mr. Buchanan, so the example cited above is par for the course, but the attribution of “vicarous terrorism” to Mr. Buchanan is as bad any accusation as any this horrible, little man has offered in public. It is, of course, a grievous lie that Messrs. Buchanan or McGovern have ever attributed their own beliefs to bin Laden (as if this would make their beliefs more popular!). It is important that awful, tendentious writers such as Mr. Taranto are repudiated whenever possible, even though such people and their claims are generally beneath contempt.
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The American Interest

But supposing once more that we were able to cut off every regiment that Britain can spare or hire, and to destroy every ship she can send – that we could beat off any other European power that would presume to intrude upon this continent: Yet, a republican form of government would neither suit the genius of the people, nor the extent of America.

In nothing is the wisdom of a legislator more conspicuous than in adapting his government to the genius, manners, disposition and other circumstances of the people with whom he is concerned. If this important point is overlooked, confusion will ensue; his system will sink into neglect and ruin. Whatever check or barriers may be interposed, nature will always surmount them, and finally prevail. It was chiefly by attention to this circumstance, that Lycurgus and Solon were so much celebrated; and that their respective republics rose afterwards to such eminence, and acquired such stability.

The Americans are properly Britons. They have the manners, habits, and ideas of Britons; and have been accustomed to a similar form of government. But Britons never could bear the extremes, either of monarchy or republicanism. Some of their Kings have aimed at despotism; but always failed. Repeated efforts have been made towards democracy, and they equally failed. Once indeed republicanism triumphed over the constitution; the despotism of one person ensued; both were finally expelled. The inhabitants of Great-Britain were quite anxious for the restoration of royalty in 1660, as they were for its expulsion in 1642, and for some succeeding years. If we may judge of future events by past transactions, in similar circumstances, this would most probably be the case if America, were a republican form of government adopted in our present ferment. After much blood was shed, those confusions would terminate in the despotism of some one successful adventurer; and should the Americans be so fortunate as to emancipate themselves from that thraldom, perhaps the whole would end in a limited monarchy, after shedding as much more blood. Limited monarchy is the form of government which is most favourable to liberty – which is best adapted to the genius and temper of Britons; although here and there among us a crack-brained zealot for democracy or absolute monarchy, may be sometimes found.

Besides the unsuitableness of the republican form to the genius of the people, America is too extensive for it. That form may do well enough for a single city, or small territory; but would be utterly improper for such a continent as this. America is too unwieldy for the feeble, dilatory administration of democracy. Rome had the most extensive dominions of any ancient republic. But it should be remembered, that very soon after the spirit of conquest carried the Romans beyond the limits that were proportioned to their constitution, they fell under a despotic yoke. A very few years had elapsed from the time of their conquering Greece and first entering Asia, till the battle of Pharsalia, where Julius Caesar put an end to the liberties of his country.~ Rev. Charles Inglis, The True Interest of America Impartially Stated, c. 1776

Rev. Inglis sounded out many vital themes that inevitably still resonate with those of us who have seen how poorly the republican experiment has turned out. Can large republics survive their own great extent and expansion without sacrificing republican government? The Antifederalists said that they could not, and the Loyalists cited this classical objection to large republics even earlier. The history of American expansion suggests that expansionism, as much as it was an agrarian and Jeffersonian dream to avert consolidation, is the engine of consolidation and the death of the federal and constitutional republic.
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The Suffering Russian People and the Suffering Georgian Land

Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze told reporters on September 6 that the Georgian special services are investigating possible link between the Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia and the terrorist act in Russia’s North Ossetian town of Beslan.~ Civil Georgia

It might be that the terrorist outrages in Beslan this week, where over 300 died and at least some 200 remain unaccounted for, were aided by the relatively lawless situation in the Caucasus and in Georgia specifically. It should be redundant to point out that South Ossetians themselves, however criminal their local power-brokers may be, have no interest in harming people in North Ossetia or anywhere else inside Russia, the political benefactor of Ossetians, and they have definite reasons to try to thwart such actions from taking place.

These dreadful attacks underscore the importance of real Russian security needs in stabilising and controlling its territory in the northern Caucasus, even as they demonstrate the general failure of Russian policy to date. If the lawlessness in South Ossetia did aid these terrorists, then Russia has especially vital security interests in normalising the situation in South Ossetia and throughout the northern Caucasus, for the sake of her own people if not for anyone else’s sake. We may all only hope that, in the midst of these terrible days of mourning throughout Russia, Georgian President Saakashvili does not seek to exploit these terrible atrocities to advance his dubious political cause in South Ossetia.

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The Importance of Canada

Grant’s main arguments deal with the forces manipulating Canada’s destiny both in a North American perspective and in a global perspective. He argues that the nineteenth century ideological conflict between liberalism and conservatism still resonates today in the forces that are shaping Canada’s fortune. Liberalism, the ideology of the free market and American republicanism, is putting pressure on all nations and cultures to unify and homogenize into a global, universal state. Conservatism, on the other hand, is attempting to cling on to traditional values, languages, and cultures through nationalism, tribalism, and restraint. In Grant’s Canada of the 1960’s, those espousing a liberal viewpoint were generally accordant, either consciously or not, with the American continentalist ideology that is inconsistent with the survival of Canada as an independent nation. Those who see themselves as conservative and nationalist generally ally themselves with the customs and ideology of the British conservative tradition espoused by the Fathers of Confederation in an earlier era.~ Excerpt from paper on George Grant’s Lament for a Nation

In the past, I have tended to regard the claims of “Canadian nationalism” to be simply ridiculous, but between my brief study on American Loyalism and my recent acquaintance with the 20th century Canadian political philosopher George Grant I am beginning to see how terribly mistaken this chauvinistic condescension towards Canada really is. If one imagines Canada to be simply the odd, social democratic neighbour to the north, then its continued cultural distinctiveness seems less meaningful, though not unimportant for all that. If, on the other hand, one imagines Canada as the refuge where the last serious American conservatives fled and built their vision of a free and successful society, then this would help account more fully for the distinctive characteristics of Canada and the European style of politics that might otherwise strike Americans as bizarre and frustrating. The important thing to note is that the persistence of Canadian nationalism is not, as the self-hating Canadians among the neocons might argue, a function of anti-Americanism as they mean it, but that its persistence is the natural and normal thing, while the universalist and homogenising tendencies in American history are the pernicious, bizarre and diseased ones.

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One Man’s Liberation Is Another Man’s Crime

Obviously, it is a wicked thing to attempt violently to overthrow a sovereign head of state, even if he is as corrupt, murderous and loathsome a monkey as Obiang. We’re clear where we stand, morally, about regime change, aren’t we? Even when the regime to be changed is unspeakably foul?~ Rod Liddle, The Spectator

The story about this attempted coup had not really held my interest before now, though the implication of Margaret Thatcher’s son was an amusing detail, but Mr. Liddle has taken an interesting view of the subject that commands our attention. The inherent contradiction between the official stance of the U.S. government regarding regime change in Iraq and its reaction to the attempted coup against the government of Equatorial Guinea is striking, though not surprising. No more does the bold notion that war and revolution bring stability to a region circulate in Washington when it comes to this country, at least not when established oil contracts are at stake, and there is certainly no prattle about democracy involved in any deliberations about this small, wretched place in west-central Africa. Government abuses and the looting of the country are quite irrelevant to Washington’s decision. Of course, it is almost redundant to point out the glaring inconsistencies and frauds in current policy, but this is an excellent example.

Perhaps it is because Mr. Thatcher’s mercenary army was so plainly mercenary, while our military in Iraq only hired mercenaries on the side, and because his effort made no pretensions to democratic reform while our government could not stop pretending that the war had something to do with freedom and democratisation, that he had to be bailed out in South Africa rather than feted in Whitehall. Poor Mr. Thatcher. Had he arranged all of this through the proper channels and spiced it up with fake representative government, lobotomised pundits on FoxNews might now be hailing him as a new Churchill.
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Conditioned Conservatives

The rank-and-file conservatives have been trained in much the same way as the Russian psychologist Pavlov trained his dogs — to salivate on cue. The cue this year is Kerry and the specter of a Democratic victory. As long as the strategists for Bush can wiggle that flag in front of conservative noses, they need not worry too much about what will happen on Election Day to the party’s base.

Yet sooner or later it may occur to that base that this is a game the party establishment has been playing for decades and that the longer they play it, the less reason the conservative base has to expect that it will ever get what it wants — not just language in the platform and the rhetoric of occasional presidential oratory, but actual policies and legislation that, with serious presidential and party support, can bring what conservatives believe into reality.

As long as rank and file conservatives are content to allow themselves to be stampeded into the Republican corral by the red flag of a Democratic victory, they can expect the Republicans they elect and re-elect to betray them. If the right wing now finally sees betrayal, as the headline reported, it really has no one to blame but its own willingness to support those who perpetrate betrayal year after year, election after election.~ Samuel Francis

The Republican conditioning of many sincere and quasi-conservatives, as well as many less politically conscious voters, has brought about a remarkable response from the test subjects, er, constituents. Even before an acceptance speech that could not have convinced or inspired anyone not already deeply committed to Mr. Bush, all initial indications showed that Kerry’s advantage, even in states where he led solidly only two weeks ago, such as my own New Mexico, had vanished, and that nationally Mr. Bush was supposed to have held a commanding lead.

It would be hard to explain this change, given Mr. Bush’s atrocious governance, if it were not for the near-hysterical fear of a “liberal” takeover encouraged by last week’s convention and cultivated in the pages of erstwhile conservative publications and on the airwaves of talk radio. Not only have the miniscule policy differences between the parties been exaggerated to mobilise foolish voters, but the election has been cast in near-apocalyptic terms, so that the very fate of the country rests in the hands of this electorate. Thank God that this is nonsense.
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