Daniel Larison

Obama the Warmonger and Pakistan

But the Bush administration may not have to worry about the opposition for round two. After all, the Democrats have long agreed that Iran must be dealt with militarily.

Recently, the Democratic Party’s rising “progressive” star Barack Obama said he would favor “surgical” missile strikes against Iran.

As Obama told the Chicago Tribune on September 26, 2004, “[T]he big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures [to stop its nuclear program], including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point … if any, are we going to take military action?”

He added, “[L]aunching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in” given the ongoing war in Iraq. “On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse.” Obama went on to argue that military strikes on Pakistan should not be ruled out if “violent Islamic extremists” were to “take over.” ~Joshua Frank

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is renowned here in Chicago for his ability to move in all sorts of different crowds, but I suspect his old Hyde Park constituents (almost all of whom, unsurprisingly, are fiercely anti-war) will be more than a little scandalised that he has become the junior senator of military interventionism, second only perhaps to his colleague from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman. Mr. Obama has the great luxury, however, of possessing the most incompetent groups of political opponents in the Illinois Republican Party that any new senator has ever had to face. There is no risk to him that a GOP now so slavishly adherent to interventionism will ever be able to use his newfound, Clintonian love of military strikes against him. His presence among the select few immediately surrounding President Bush on the inaugural platform on Thursday partly reflects the new senator’s ingratiation with the hegemonists in the administration.
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Mr. Bush’s Anarchic Vision

In Dostoevsky’s novel [The Possessed], that fire in the minds of men is not a yearning for liberty, but a nihilistic will to power that can only end in destruction. Put in George W. Bush’s mouth, those words are not a paean to freedom, but a manifesto of pure destructionism. Like Governor Lembke, President Bush has no dearth of hardline advisers who counsel him in ways calculated to provoke a violent reaction: unlike Lembke, however, there is little chance George W. Bush will learn his lesson, even if it comes too late. ~Justin Raimondo

I was very glad to see that Mr. Raimondo knows his Dostoevsky well and recognised the call to universal anarchy that Mr. Bush proposed in his inaugural address. As Mr. Raimondo correctly observed, the ‘liberty’ Mr. Bush referred to is not any liberty that Americans respect, but precisely the maniacal, violent overthrow of whole social and political orders that characterised the French Revolution and so horrified our wiser Founders. As I will be developing soon in one of the forthcoming, occasional themed columns I hope to add to Eunomia, Mr. Bush’s call for spreading fire throughout the world is not the language of a sane or responsible statesmen of one of the major powers of the world, but the cry of havoc from the anarchist who wields the arsonist’s brand and maintains, along with Turgenev’s Bazarov, that what will be built after the destruction, er, liberation is none of his concern. As a nihilist, Bazarov’s purpose is to tear down the existing order–building belongs to someone else. Mr. Bush’s attraction to revolutionary tactics and politics has gone beyond the merely offensive into, as Dostoevsky might well recognise, the realm of the demonic.
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Hope Is Not a Strategy, Unless You’re Bush

For months, the administration has promoted the elections as a major milestone in its efforts to bring democracy to Iraq and then the wider Middle East and Islamic world. But the continuing insurgency and the inability of U.S. forces to stabilize Iraq almost two years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein has forced the administration to redefine the context, goals and role of this first vote.

At this late date, the United States also has no viable options or alternatives other than trying to go forward with the Jan. 30 elections, analysts say.

“I don’t think they’re thinking of a Plan B. What they have is permutations of Plan A: You go for elections, hope for the best and if it doesn’t materialize, you go with whatever emerges — probably a heavily Shiite government,” said Henri J. Barkey, a former State Department Iraq specialist who is now head of Leheigh University’s International Relations Department. “Then you hope that this new government will be smart enough and enlightened enough to make an outreach to the Sunnis.” ~The Washington Post

The Global War on Terrorism will be a long fight. But make no mistake – we are going to fight the terrorists. The question is do we fight them over there — or do we fight them here. I choose to fight them over there.

Some argue that we should treat this war as a law enforcement issue. Some say we should fight a less aggressive war — that we should retreat into a defensive posture and hope that the terrorists don’t attack us again.

Well, my wife Cathy and I are simply not willing to bet our grandchildren’s future on the ‘good will’ of murderers.

I learned long ago that hope is not a strategy. In the years ahead, America will be called upon to demonstrate character, consistency, courage, and leadership. ~Gen. Tommy Franks, Republican National Convention, 9/2/04

For almost three years, those of us opposed to the invasion of Iraq have been browbeaten with such gems as “the costs of inaction may be higher than the costs of action,” variations on the theme of “don’t trust a madman” and, lastly, “hope is not a strategy.” Indeed, the stark alternative in the GOP platform on Iraq was literally, “Trust a madman or defend America.” Leave aside for the moment that Gen. Franks caricatured and distorted the views he was attacking–that is hardly noteworthy at a political convention. What is striking is how often the language of hoping seems to have started cropping up in pro-war discussions of the forthcoming elections and the Iraqi security situation.

The elections themselves will be an ” incredibly hopeful experience,” Mr. Bush tells us. (I should think it will be a terribly nerve-wracking and potentially horrifying experience, given the sheer insecurity of the country.) This comes in response to the serious criticisms from former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft that elections might hasten the onset of civil war. This is classic Bush: vague, uninformed chatter invoking feel-good words such as “freedom,” “hope” and “peace” as an answer to a real problem. There is nothing new in this turn to hope: in spite of Mr. Bush’s incredible capacity for confidence in flawed and demonstrably false propositions, his entire approach to any significant, complex problem is to throw a few tired slogans, a lot of money, and more than a few lives at it and expect it to resolve itself.
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Ukrainian Self-Interest Trumps Hegemony

Washington, DC, Jan. 11 (UPI) — The democratic “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine has just had its first unanticipated blowback for the United States: When outgoing President Leonid Kuchma decided to pull Ukraine’s military contingent out of Iraq, his successor and political enemy, President-elect Viktor Yushchenko supported the move.

And on Tuesday, Ukraine’s Supreme Rada, or Parliament made the decision official. A motion to withdraw the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent from Iraq was approved overwhelmingly by 308 out of 450 deputies.

Yushchenko’s support for the pull out of Ukrainian troops from Iraq should come as no surprise. He had made that position clear during his hard-fought presidential election campaign. Still, it makes a mockery of the neo-conservative and Bush administration fantasy that they could rely on a “new Europe” in the former communist East to replace the caution and skepticism of the “old” Europe in the West of the continent. ~Martin Sieff, UPI

Three things can be learned from the Ukraine’s near-future withdrawal from Iraq: 1) No remotely sane government, no matter its relationship with Washington, wants anything to do with policing Iraq; 2) Lackeys, even those so heartily supported as Yushchenko, will act in their own political interests just as readily as independent-minded foreign governments and will be just as willing to leave the U.S. hegemon in the lurch when things begin to go awry; 3) “New Europe” is, and always has been, a ridiculous fiction invented by people who despised effective central and eastern European representative government during 2002 and 2003 as much as they billed it as the panacea for all Near Eastern problems. Vast majorities of every country in the so-called “new Europe” were profoundly opposed to the war and wanted nothing to do with it, and at present all opposition parties are reaping a political windfall from the folly of those governments that committed soldiers to Iraq.
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American Catholics, Empire and Dominatio

Every Catholic should by rights be an imperialist. As Rev. Robert Hugh Benson once wrote, “There were, after all, only two logical theories of government: the one, that power came from below, the other, that power came from above. The infidel, the Socialist, the materialist, the democrat, these maintained the one; the Catholic, the Monarchist, the Imperialist maintained the other.”

Catholic, monarchist, imperialist: That’s our historic platform, and it’s odd, to say the least, to find it criticized by those who position themselves as predating regular “conservative” Catholics—as being the true, authentic paleoconservative traditionalists (the eminent columnist Patrick J. Buchanan is the most popular and formidable of these). ~H.W. Crocker III, Crisis

As I was researching the writings of Rev. Schall in connection with my last post, I stumbled upon Mr. Crocker and his all together tendentious and unserious attack on Pat Buchanan. The article is a few months old, so it may seem as if I am a bit late in drawing attention to it. One might also say that there is little point in arguing with the people at Crisis, as they are firmly entrenched in unquestioning agreement with the administration and the neoconservatives. But it is important that a few things be set straight, most especially about Mr. Crocker’s sloppy and misinformed use of the term empire in the particular religious and Catholic context that he uses it.

It is particularly offensive to me that in the course of this article he would invoke the name of the late Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, an admirable and thoughtful neo-Thomist Austrian Catholic liberal whose lifelong polemic against democracy and all mass movements has been an inspiration to me. Assuredly, Kuehnelt-Leddihn would not have found the idea of a monarchy ruling over a variety of nations offensive (the Habsburg system was, in large part, his ideal), but he would certainly have found the current incarnation of what we all conventionally call imperialism disgusting not because of its imperial nature but because of the worship of democracy that makes up the content of the ‘imperial’ mission.

The frequent and indiscriminate use of the word empire tends to confuse matters. In modern English usage, empire began simply meaning a power subordinate to no other, and it was first used by Henry VIII to deny the secular superiority of the Papacy. From the Latin imperium, it implies lawful authority, command and sovereignty. The Greek arche implies more generally authority or rule. The Athenians referred to their dominance over the members of the Delian League as arche, though the Byzantines usually referred to their actual Roman empire as a basileia. In any event, empire need not, and almost never did prior to very modern times, imply rule over colonies or possessions away from the central territories of a realm. Whether it did or not, possessing such things need not make the polity an empire in the meaning that the word later possessed.

Down through the ages, the cause of Empire has not sat well with the Papacy, made famous in its conflicts with Byzantium, the Investiture Contest, the ultimately unsuccessful stuggles of Frederick II and the fratricidal wars between the Italian partisans of the Pope, the Guelfi (who took their name from the old anti-Hohenstaufen Saxon rival, the House of Welf), and the Ghibellini, whose name derives from the Swabian castle and residence of the Hohenstaufen, Waiblingen. The conflict between the two was only pragmatically resolved through the basic identification of the cause of Empire with that of the Papacy under the Habsburgs. By contrast, Orthodox Christians have never been nearly so agitated over empire, as almost the entire history of Orthodoxy has been one of coexistence with one or another Orthodox ruler claiming the mantle of Christian Rome.

The term imperialist, as it is used in medieval histories, has a radically different meaning from the one that modern historians would apply to the varous European colonial ventures, and it is by no means certain that any Catholic authority today would endorse the proposition that Catholics are natural imperialists, if one were to use the term in this older way. That is, the Papacy would surely not want Catholics to accept the thoroughgoing imperialist critique of the Roman See, and oddly enough it would be the traditionalist Catholics who would be least interested in agreeing with the circumscribed, highly non-political role the imperialists imagined for the Pope.

This is all a preface to getting at the unserious nature of the rest of the article and the laughable caricature of paleoconservatism that Mr. Crocker affords us. The basic idea seems to be that Mr. Crocker travesties paleoconservative views about Christian civilisation and foreign policy and then manages to defeat, still with some difficulty, the ridiculous straw-men he has set up.
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Rev. Schall, S.J., Just War and Iraq

For people who think a bit like Schall, reflecting on whether any political philosophy is left in the Bush administration, not to mention conservative or neoconservative ideology – he narrows down any categorization of himself to a fondness for St. Thomas Aquinas – there has been an obvious change. In his view, the big problem arose in the administration’s not talking candidly enough about the Big Problem.

Referring to President George W. Bush, he said: “I always thought it was a mistake not say what Iraq really was, that is, a war against an expanding Islam. I can put myself in Bush’s position, of course, and understand it was a prudential act to say it was a war on terrorism.” ~The International Herald-Tribune

“I say here, and I know well what I speak of, there were never any necessary wars but the religious wars. There were never any just wars but the religious wars. There were never any humane wars but the religious wars. For these men were fighting for something that claimed, at least, to be the happiness of man, the virtue of a man.” ~G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Further, I argue that our main problems are not too much force, but too little. A peaceful world is not a world with no ready forces but one with adequate, responsible, and superior force that is used when necessary. The failure to have or use such forces causes terror and war to grow exponentially. Unused force, when needed at a particular time and place, ceases to be force. But force is meaningless if one does not know that he has an enemy or how this enemy works and thinks. That latter is a spiritual and philosophical problem, not a technical one. Many an adequately armed country has been destroyed because it did not recognize its real enemy. Nor is this an argument for force “for force’s sake.” It is an argument for force for justice’s sake. I am not for “eternal peace,” which is a this-worldly myth, but for real peace of actual men in an actual and fallen world. Peace is not a goal, but a consequence of doing what is right and preventing what is wrong and, yes, knowing the difference between the two. ~Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., Policy Review

There is something vaguely unsettling about a Jesuit who reads Profs. Dawson and Lewis approvingly, and professes a fairly standard, old-fashioned view of just war (and one that does not go in for the ludicrous licenses that George Weigel, for example, has taken with Catholic doctrine) who nonetheless supports the invasion of Iraq because of, of all the reasons, the one reason no notable advocate for war ever set forth: a civilisational imperative to resist “expanding Islam”. But perhaps it is not so surprising that a regular columnist for Crisis magazine maintains such a strange position.
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Sudan and Definitions of Genocide

Article two of the Genocide Convention states, “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group as such: (a) Killing members of the group… (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” The actions of the Janjaweed militias, with support from Khartoum, clearly fall within these parameters. However, there has been some legal wrangling over what amounts to “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” an ethnic group. ~Power and Interest News Report, January 10, 2005

At least this discussion of the upheavals in the Sudan does not resort to generalities and actually provides some of the existing, technical definition of genocide as understood by the United Nations. What is less clear is how this convention can possibly mean anything–any war between ethnically distinct states would fall under the rubric of genocide, whether or not there was indeed a malevolent overall design to obliterate another ethnicity. Of course, in the wake of the Yugoslav wars the term has been so emptied of meaning and explicitly used as a political tool for the benefit of Western-backed states that its application to other conflicts can only elicit skepticism and derision.

The more total the war, the greater the general devastation, the more certain the conclusion that the victorious side, or at least the side that has killed more of the opposing side, has apparently committed genocide, if we take this definition seriously. (Let us not think now of what this would have meant for U.S. policy in post-war Germany and the roughly eight million civilians who perished thanks to deliberate policy decisions.) This is to reduce the term to a mere symbol of disapproval and strip of its associations with truly gruesome, en masse killings of the kind that the world has witnessed in Armenia, central Europe, the Ukraine, Cambodia and elsewhere. This is all the more reason why the term should be used only in genuinely extreme cases, if it can still be used seriously at all, and not as a cheap tool to instigate major powers to intervene in internal conflicts of other nations.

The U.S. House has already declared the violence in Sudan to be genocide, born partly out of a newfound interventionist hysteria in the GOP majority, yet under this convention’s definition it is rather inescapable that the United States government has been engaged in a policy of genocide against Iraqis for approximately fourteen years. Certainly in sheer numbers more Iraqis have died as a result of deliberate U.S. policies aimed at worsening living conditions in Iraq and in directly attacking that country, and more as a percentage of the total population have died than is the case in Sudan.
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Do Insurgents “Fear” Democracy?

The insurgents have done their best to stir hatred and foment civil war. They have spread fear with barbaric acts of violence. But they have not succeeded, and should not succeed, in their primary goal: derailing the election and squelching Iraq’s chance at democracy.

Why do the terrorists fear democracy? In a remarkable statement recently, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups dropped all the self-serving double-talk and self-righteous excuses for slaughtering innocents. They spelled out their fear and hatred–and ignorance–of democracy. They made clear that their campaign is not simply to thwart American interests–it is to thwart the Iraqi people.

“Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit,” the statement said. “This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God–Muslims’ doctrine.”

There is no point in arguing theology with fanatics who find in holy books the rationale to kill by the thousands. No amount of reasoning will change their twisted minds, no logic will sway them from their warped beliefs about what they believe their religion demands. Suffice to say that Islam and democracy can flourish, side by side, as neighboring Turkey demonstrates.

At personal risk, millions will likely turn out at the end of January. The world will once again witness the power of democracy, a power that cannot be extinguished by violence. Democracy has taken root in Afghanistan. It’s flowering in Ukraine. And it will soon be embraced by millions of Iraqis. They will defy all-too-vivid death threats to do what they see fit: They will vote. ~The Chicago Tribune, Jan. 5, 2005

No one need sympathise with anything this group, Ansar al-Sunnah, has done to recognise that the Tribune‘s flailing, ideological response was inadequate to analyse the goals of the insurgents and almost completely failed in its express purpose of explaining why “terrorists fear democracy.” Terrorists in general may or may not oppose democracy–some Irish republican terrorists were willing to have their own representative government when independence was offered to them, and Tamil terrorism has ostensibly been waged for Tamil independence from the Sinhalese majority of Sri Lanka. Democracy and political violence are not at all opposed in principle, and often coincide, as the revolutions of the late eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries should have made abundantly clear. Only ideologues of revolution could fail to see the indiscriminate violence of their own making.

Salafist Muslims, on the other hand, do oppose democracy in principle, which is true whether they are using terrorist tactics or not. What is important about the Ansar al-Sunnah statement is not that it is a window onto the mind of the insurgents, however useful that might theoretically be, but that their message is cast in terms that would appeal to Salafist Muslims and those convinced by the arguments of men such as Sayyid Qutb, the prominent Egyptian Islamist of the early and mid-twentieth century. I suspect this encompasses a far broader spectrum of Iraqis and Muslims in general than the numbers of the insurgents alone would indicate.
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Republic and Democracy

In a republican form of government, there is rule of law. All citizens, including government officials, are accountable to the same laws. Government power is limited and decentralized through a system of checks and balances. Government intervenes in civil society to protect its citizens against force and fraud but does not intervene in the cases of peaceable, voluntary exchange.

Contrast the framers’ vision of a republic with that of a democracy. In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. As in a monarchy, the law is whatever the government determines it to be. Laws do not represent reason. They represent power. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government. ~Walter Williams

Dr. Williams’ main arguments are almost entirely in agreement with my own view of the matter concerning the difference between republic and democracy. He is perfectly correct that the Founders loathed and feared democracy, and that the Constitution formally allows for only very little democratic government in the form of a popular federal legislature. This was to be the balance of the three classical, pure forms of regime in a mixed constitution, as translated from classical political theory by Montesqieu: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. He does perhaps assume too readily that republics will respect the limits of natural law, as opposed to a positive law, and I’m sure we disagree about the existence of any “rights” as such, but he is still correct that republics tend to respect prescriptive rights far more certainly than democracies, as these protections are usually part and parcel of what it means to have a republican form of government. Where I believe Dr. Williams misses something is in his conviction that the republican constitution originally embodied in our fundamental law survived in any significant fashion to our own time.

If a rule of law is one of the marks of a republic, and I agree that it is, then we cannot really claim to have been living in a republic since at least 1932. This was the beginning, as Mr. Garrett so ably argued, of the “revolution within the form,” when the constitutional republic (or whatever was left of it) was gutted and filled with something entirely different. This has tended to delude us into believing that we have remained a republic, even as all the restraints and limits on the exercise of power that republican government implies have been snapped and shattered. Now, far from having a rule of law, we do simply have indirect democracy. The only place where an American today could learn about republican restraint is in history books. It has long since departed from our country.
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