Daniel Larison

The Failure of First Things

Until the October 2004 issue [of First Things], the last time [Fr. John] Neuhaus addressed Iraq was August-September 2003. Even after American soldiers had stood by as Baghdad was looted, he wrote:

Leading up to the invasion and even after its rapid military success, critics were predicting a quagmire, a Somalia-like debacle, a rising of the Arab “street” that would be “a storm from hell,” and, of course, another Vietnam. With reference to civilian casualties, some protesters spoke about a “Middle East holocaust.” None of that happened. In view of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed by Saddam’s murderous regime, the war probably saved innumerable lives. So the critics were abysmally wrong on almost every point. That must be clearly established on the public record.

I will point to several such statements by Neuhaus and Weigel. The point is not to play “gotcha.” I remain an admirer of their work. Yet it is precisely as a theologian and a reader-and more broadly as a citizen-that I want answers to questions raised by the arguments Weigel and Neuhaus made in support of the preemptive war in Iraq. Those arguments were made in the public square that First Things, especially in light of last month’s presidential election, has done so much to open up to religious language. What I am most concerned with can be reduced to four points. First, Neuhaus and Weigel, like the administration they support, failed in the summer of 2003 to see that the war was far from over. Second, their faith in the competency of the Bush administration, and their contempt for religious leaders who disagreed with them, can now more easily be recognized for what it was: an attachment to a particular brand of neoconservatism overwhelming their attachment to the just-war tradition. Third, their scant attention to how the war was actually conducted (jus in bello), and their disdain for those who pushed questions about noncombatant deaths and proportionality, suggest the need for a reappraisal of the value they placed on the just causes (ad bellum) of the war. Finally, I would argue that their silence since the fall of Baghdad is more disturbing than their mistakes before and during “major combat operations.” The issue is not only, or not simply, that they were wrong. Perhaps they think they were right. The issue, especially in light of President George W. Bush’s re-election, is their current “moral muteness in a time of war.” ~Peter Dula, Commonweal

I hesitate to add many comments to this, not least because Mr. Dula does such a fine job of exposing the flaws of Neuhaus and Weigel as theologians, particularly regarding their general silence about questions of ius in bello. These flaws emerge because policy advocacy and partisan attachment have come to unbalance the moral equilibrium and conscience of these gentlemen, which is all the more tragic when they seem unwilling to perceive how much the war they endorse feeds off of the culture of death that they otherwise deplore and denounce. The reason I am hesitant to say more is that I had seen the particular remark made by Neuhaus, cited above, when it was first published, and I was already far from “mute.”
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Is Fascism the ‘End’ of Democracy?

Secondly, it is necessary to distinguish between a sudden proliferation of fascist tendencies and an imminent danger. There may be, among some neocons and some more populist right-wingers, unmistakable antidemocratic tendencies. But America hasn’t yet experienced organized street violence against dissenters or a state that is willing—in an unambiguous fashion—to jail its critics. The administration certainly has its far Right ideologues—the Washington Post’s recent profile of Alberto Gonzales, whose memos are literally written for him by Cheney aide David Addington, provides striking evidence. But the Bush administration still seems more embarrassed than proud of its most authoritarian aspects. Gonzales takes some pains to present himself as an opponent of torture; hypocrisy in this realm is perhaps preferable to open contempt for international law and the Bill of Rights.

And yet the very fact that the f-word can be seriously raised in an American context is evidence enough that we have moved into a new period. The invasion of Iraq has put the possibility of the end to American democracy on the table and has empowered groups on the Right that would acquiesce to and in some cases welcome the suppression of core American freedoms. ~Scott McConnell

Mr. McConnell’s article is an interesting synthesis of the developing near-consensus on the antiwar Right that, when it comes to neoconservatism and the modern Republican Party, the dark spectre of militarism and hegemonism is coming to resemble certain elements of European fascism more and more. Where this synthesis goes awry, I believe, is the rather optimistic assumption that democracy and fascism are really opposites in some sense, where the ‘rise’ of fascism means the ‘end’ of democracy. It does mean the end to legality, to real liberty and to humane civilisation (though no less than communism or social democracy did), but it seems to me that all its evils are a product of an age of mass politics in which the banaustic concerns of the mob become the driving issues of politics and the illiterate and vulgar opinions of mediocre men and their uninspired leaders rule. One of the most perceptive observations of a series of profound observations on 20th century politics made by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in his Leftism Revisisted and Liberty or Equality? was that the interwar years saw the triumph of the Common Man in power, and this was not something to be desired from any remotely civilised perspective.

If the discourse and ideas of fascism and other mass political movements are trash, it is because they must be hawked to a mob just as in any elective democracy, and so are of a particularly low and degraded character. The popular character of fascist regimes, which we fail to perceive because we are deluded by the illusion that elective government is necessarily the most democratic or that the mass enthusiasms for a dictatorship are somehow less democratic, shows us the real and terrible results of mobilising masses of people to be ‘involved’. So the development of fascism cannot be seen so much as the ‘suicide’ of democracy as its graduation to a new, uglier level of degeneracy. Obviously, this is not to challenge any of the warnings Mr. McConnell or others have made about these trends, but to highlight that fascists and democrats are not very different and whatever occasions of hostility there have been between them is as much the squabbling between siblings as the rivalry between diametrically opposed foes. This will help to clarify what those of us in the opposition are opposing and what we mean to defend.
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What is Lebanon to America?

As the administration deliberates options, analysts warn of potential dangers in confronting Damascus. “If our objective is to free Lebanon from Syria’s grip, then we have to understand that Syria has a vital interest in Lebanon and will act accordingly,” said Martin Indyk, former State Department and National Security Council staff member now at the Brookings Institution.

“The last time we had a vital interest in Lebanon we sent U.S. Marines — and lost 241 of them,” he said, referring to the 1983 bombing in Beirut. “Are we ready to have people die for the sake of Lebanon’s freedom from Syria?”

The dangers, Indyk said, are partly from Hezbollah, an Islamic party whose militant wing was linked to attacks on U.S. diplomatic and military facilities and American hostage-taking in Lebanon in the 1980s. The United States needs to be “clear-headed about the stakes and the risks,” especially the prospect of turmoil pushing Lebanon into chaos again, he added. ~The Washington Post

As Justin Raimondo explained quite well yesterday, the interest in the Hariri assassination, the Syrian “occupation” of Lebanon and Syria more generally expressed by Washington is purely and simply a function of the administration carrying water for Israel…again. There is nothing remotely of value to the United States in getting the Syrians out of Lebanon, just as there are no American interests at stake in who rules in Damascus. I have not yet reached the point where I believe something to be false simply because the government claims it has proof for that thing, but its claims against Syria, or Iran, are so tired, overdone and, what is more important, irrelevant to American interests that even if there is any truth to any part of them it should not make any difference to the sort of policy we adopt.

Though I doubt it very much, not least because it has become conventional wisdom in government and media circles, Syrian intelligence might have had Hariri assassinated. Washington wasted no time in opportunistically calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Then again, given the outright lies we have encountered in the Western press regarding the alleged “poisoning” of Viktor Yushchenko (supposedly while he sat down to eat with the head of Ukrainian intelligence!), I have no confidence in this prevailing official opinion. Cui bono? Answering that will tell us much more about who was responsible for the Hariri assassination and who desires Lebanon and Syria to be turned into battlefields once again. Let’s remember that the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, whoever was responsible, created the atmosphere that was so brutally exploited by Ariel Sharon and the Falangist militias in the Palestinian refugee massacres of the same year. We can observe already who wants to exploit this situation to perpetuate more violence and cause greater disorder, and they are predictably the same people who have wanted to expand the war into Syria and who pushed to get us into Iraq in the first place.
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In Eternal Memory: Samuel Francis

It is with unspeakable regret that I have to report the death of my friend and colleague Sam Francis. In any age, he would have been a remarkable man for the penetration of his mind, his unflinching pursuit of truth—regardless of current cant or personal consequences—and the gravity of his style. In our age, he is peerless, and his death represents an irreplaceable loss.

Sam and I were friends and allies for over 25 years, and although we had an occasional falling-out—once for many months—I never ceased admiring his work and his character. A gentleman of a school so old we can no longer recognize its existence, Sam never talked of his “feelings” and if one spoke of loyalty or friendship, he was sure to make an ironic quip. Nonetheless, I learned early on that he was loyal to his friends even (especially) when it entailed a threat to his own interest. In so many ways, he was the opposite of most conservatives. He rarely talked a good game, but he always played one.

Sam’s deep sense of loyalty became very apparent during the struggle over M.E. Bradford’s proposed nomination as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This was the first occasion on which the neoconservatives showed their hand, and none of Mel’s friends—least of all Sam—has ever forgotten the dirty part played by Irving Kristol, George Will, and the head of a leading conservative think-tank. As an assistant to Sen. John East, Sam worked tirelessly, both on the Hill and among conservatives, to support his friend’s nomination, but to no avail. Too many true-blue “Reagan” conservatives either did not care or simply looked the other way. This was the first of many defeats in which Sam showed himself an American Cato.

Sam Francis was a skeptic about most things, including religion. Some of his resentment against what he saw as the liberal influence of Christianity had been abating, however, and I have good reason to believe he met his end as a Christian. ~Thomas Fleming

There is not much that I can add to Dr. Fleming’s fine tribute to his late friend that would be fitting or worthy of this very sad occasion. I would like to say that, while I did not personally know Dr. Francis, his writings were among the most lucid and perceptive of contemporary writers. His conviction and integrity, so well-attested by those who knew him, have been an inspiration to me, and I pray that God may make his memory eternal.

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Feder Losing His Neocon Faith?

To put this in perspective, I voted for George W. Bush twice. Given an alternative similar to those presented in 2000 and 2004 I would do so again in a heartbeat. During the past campaign, I wrote many articles supporting the President’s reelection and highlighting the obvious shortcomings of the junior senator from my home state.

I can think of any number of situations where America would be fully justified in the application of force. I also believe we are in the midst of a world war against a foe which is every bit as toxic as fascism or communism.

I remain convinced that the United States was right to go into Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein–whether or not weapons of mass destruction are ever found. (Whether America should still be in Iraq, almost two years and more than 1,400 American lives latter, is another matter.) I believe our intervention in Afghanistan was equally justified.

Is it America’s role in the world to liberate the oppressed? Does tyranny always endanger our security? Does democracy foster peace? Does despotism invariably lead to cross-borders conflict?

The theme of Mr. Bush’s Second Inaugural Address was unexpected. It was assumed the President would take the opportunity to defend his policy in Iraq and in the war on terrorism generally. Instead he offered a vision of breathtaking scope — an American mission for the new century.

In the course of his address, the President said the following:

“We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

Really? In 1787, did our liberty depend on the success of liberty in other lands? But 218 years ago we were alone in raising the standard of popular sovereignty. Still, our republic prospered. American liberty survived World War II. However, a case could be made that by the end of that decade there was less liberty abroad than before (especially with the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe and the triumph of Maoism in China). In and of itself, did this regression make America less secure?

The President also observed: “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity, and matchless value … . Advancing these ideals is the mission [there’s that word again] that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.”

Silly me, I always thought the honorable achievement of the Founders was throwing off the yoke of a capricious monarchy and giving America a constitutional government with civil liberties and limits on state power–not launching America on an international crusade for human dignity and a recognition of the “matchless value” of every individual. ~Don Feder

It has been striking how many people who did not cavil or hesitate to endorse the unprovoked invasion of another country in complete breach of our national traditions now falter in their near-lockstep conformity when it comes to the absurd ideological assumptions that now supposedly inform and motivate administration policy because…they are in complete breach of our national traditions.
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Attack on Iran Coming

The Bush propaganda campaign against Iran is under way. At the moment, it lacks one Iranian leader who we can learn to hate, but you can be assured one will be identified soon. Already we’re being told that Iran is stubbornly pursuing its nuclear energy program, in spite of our wishes to the contrary.

The American press, compliant to the end, will dutifully spread the Bushies’ propaganda. The liberals in the media, fearful of being called unpatriotic, or worse, liberal, will give the Bushies the slant they crave. The conservatives in the media will cheerfully continue on their flag-waving, apple-polishing way. They’ll parade their red, white and blue “patriotism” much like a hooker with a cross around her neck parades her virtue. ~Harley Sorensen

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“Support Our Troops”

There is a negative attitude of the public to demonstrating some real solidarity with the soldiers, in terms of making sacrifices here at home, finds its corollary in the insistent, imperative nature of the superficial solidarity we see displayed all around us: bumper stickers that no longer express support, but demand it. “Support Our Troops,” these stupid, yellow magnets bark at us, with the assumption being that we are not doing so, or not doing so sufficiently. What it betrays, I suspect, is a nagging feeling among the people who put these stupid magnets on their cars that they have done nothing to “support the troops” and that the antiwar people, for instance, whom they despise have actually made more of a commitment, in their way, to the welfare of the soldiers than most of these people have ever done. It is also the only thing they have left to say about a war they started and cannot finish, because there is nothing else they could say that would not cause people to run them off the road. Above all, it is a sign of guilt and the means for the brief atonement of the fast-food mentality, costing them less than a burger and requiring even less deliberation. It announces to the world, “Yes, I have done nothing for the soldiers, even though I was all for the war and will always support it, but look at my nice little ribbon-magnet. That makes everything OK.” ~Daniel Larison

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The Virtue of Sacrifice

Given the start of the Lenten season, it is particularly appropriate to discuess the virtue of sacrifice. And thinking of that virtue, I could not help but to consider the current national situation in its light. It seems to me that one of the the reasons that the masses of people have been so bamboozled into supporting our war effort is precisely because Bush — practically and rhetorically — has never asked the average citizen to sacrifice anything to the cause. It seems to me that sacrifice has been an aspect of every previous war effort we have undertaken, and that sacrifice has helped the average person become involved in the war, to suffer, a little, it’s necessary evil (though never on the level that our soldiers have suffered, to be sure). This time around, with the exception of the soldiers and their families, the average person has not been asked to take any of this burden of war onto their own shoulders. There have been no repercussions for the average citizen. Bush and his administration has taken particular care, it seems, to indulge this –the rhetoric has always remained, since post-9/11, “Go about your business, we’re only at war.” I find this fact odious, as it widens the already yawning gulf between the average citizen and the center of power. It’s the government that wages war with a handful of the nation’s citizens, it’s not really the nation at war. There is no investment by the masses. They even balk when faced with images of the war. Working at the newspaper [The Roanoke Times], I can tell you that the letters to the editor are constantly decrying the publishing of images of the wounded, of destruction, of the dead. “You never show the good parts of the war!” they say. It seems to me that during a war wherein the average person doesn’t have to ration his food or fuel, doesn’t have to pay a higher task bill, isn’t asked to conserve or cut back in any way, the least amount of resonsibility the citizens can take upon themselves is to come face to face with the decisions that they made, or allowed to be made by the representatives they voted for. This unwillingness to be faced with the consequences of their votes, and the administration’s unwillingness to ask any sacrifice of the nation, is troubling. It would seem to indicate a further entrenchment of the power center as being unrelated to and unconcerned for the governed, as well as illustrating the populations complaceny in getting away with it. So long as the masses are not asked to give anything up, they are happy with letting the government do anything it says is right, as long as it uses the right rhetoric.

In summary, I wonder what kind of reception this war for democracy and
freedom would receive if the government could not finance it with
deficit spending? If your average person had to pay for it out of
their weekly paycheck, would they be so concered about freedom in
Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter? ~Jeremy Holmes

This was an impromptu message sent to me by one of my good friends. I found it thoughtful and incisive enough to let it stand largely on its own. I will simply say that I believe he has gone somewhat deeper into the predicament of a war without sacrifice or any meaningful change on the “home front” than the usual critiques of the administration’s failures in this area, redirecting our gaze back to all of us in the public who, whether by our consent as supporters, our indifference or our failures as opponents, are in many ways the real culprits in allowing the moral horror of this war to continue.

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Lament for the (Iraqi) Liberals?

Conversely, the Iraqi secular democrats backed most strongly by the Bush administration lost big. During his State of the Union address last year, Bush invited Adnan Pachachi, a longtime Sunni politician and then-president of the Iraqi Governing Council, to sit with first lady Laura Bush. Pachachi’s party fared so poorly in the election that it won no seats in the national assembly.

And current Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, backed by the CIA during his years in exile and handpicked by U.S. and U.N. officials to lead the interim government, came in third. He addressed a joint session of Congress in September, a rare honor reserved for heads of state of the closest U.S. allies. But now, U.S. hopes that Allawi will tally enough votes to vie as a compromise candidate and continue his leadership are unrealistic, analysts say.

“The big losers in this election are the liberals,” said Stanford University’s Larry Diamond, who was an adviser to the U.S. occupation government. “The fact that three-quarters of the national assembly seats have gone to just two [out of 111] slates is a worrisome trend. Unless the ruling coalition reaches out to broaden itself to include all groups, the insurgency will continue — and may gain ground.” ~The Washington Post

Mr. Diamond’s comment is accurate, as far as it goes, except that the defeat of the “liberals,” whether we mean to define this in the sense of One World globalist, managerial liberals or those who actually desire some form of constitutional, “rational” government, has been a foregone conclusion in any country where mass democracy prevails. It is customary in histories of late nineteenth century Europe to encounter a similar ‘lament’ for the failure of liberalism, except that this usually ignores the fact that liberalism’s claims to greater ‘rationality’ and superior political morality had no meaning for the vast majority of newly enfranchised people (and were often simply tendentious nonsense), for whom liberalism generally meant social and economic distress and the cultural antagonism of a presumptuous, ‘reforming’ elite.

Besides, in Iraq, where have these liberals and secular democrats been for the last decade? They were hiding in Britain or the United States, receiving comfy stipends from their real masters, while the leaders of the victorious Shi’i and Talabani Kurdish slates were there in Iraq, at the very least experiencing some of the same risks, if not as many of the deficiencies, of their followers. Iraqi voters, to the extent that they were even behaving like individual voters and not responding to social imperatives of kinship, sect and faith, have attached themselves to those to whom they have natural affinities, against which the pathetic claim of liberalism of any kind has no power. Liberalism triumphs only where people are uprooted, disconnected from their past and kin and educated in a manner that encouraged self-hatred about one’s own identity, and there are no more fiercely anti-liberal and illiberal people (and I do not mean this as a criticism) than those who have retained those connections and identity.
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The Insubstantial Rice

In an answer to a question from the floor, she told her audience that in 1947 Greece and Turkey had suffered through civil wars. Greece, yes, but Turkey?

“It was a glaring mistake,” said Guillaume Parmentier, director of the French Center on the United States, an independent research organization at the French Institute of International Relations. “She’s smart, yes, but I don’t think she is as knowledgeable as one would expect with a career like hers.”

She shocked at least some of her guests by branding Iran a “totalitarian state,” said four of those who took part. She added that the free world was wrong to accept the Soviet Union on its terms during the cold war and must not make the same mistake now with Iran, they added.

A number of guests challenged her assertion, but Ms. Rice is not the type to back down. She called her characterization of Iran deliberate. A year ago, she said, she would have called Iran’s Islamic Republic authoritarian. But after flawed parliamentary elections last spring that produced a conservative majority, she said, it moved toward totalitarian, a term that historians tend to use restrictively to define violently absolutist regimes that govern through terror.

“I tried to explain that Iran was not like the Soviet Union, that the mullahs were deeply unpopular but unlike their predecessors over the last 150 years they were not in the hands of the British or the Russians or the Americans,” said François Heisbourg, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “She gave no proof that Iran was totalitarian, because she didn’t have any. It was scary. Unless there is some give on the American side we are heading for a real crisis.”

“I told her that it is my sense that public opinion in Europe, and maybe even elected officials, are ready to accept the idea that Iran may have some kind of nuclear weapons capability with some limitations,” said Nicole Bacharan, an expert on the United States at the Institute of Political Studies. “She was startled. She wasn’t quite aware of what she is up against.”

While most of the discussion focused on Iran, Ms. Rice was much more willing to absolve Pakistan’s military-led government of any tyrannical tendencies. When Mr. Parmentier called Pakistan “the most dangerous country there is,” Ms. Rice acknowledged that the country was dangerous but said it was “on the right track” and “improving,” participants said. ~The New York Times

Secretary Rice’s legendary (and it may indeed be nothing more than a legend) intelligence seems to have done her little good on her European visit. She seems to have been coddled, to the extent that she was welcomed at all, because of insubstantial matters of style and personality (and probably not a little because she is a minority woman), and on substance she not only failed to convince but demonstrated more evidence that she is simply unfit, both in her rhetoric and her knowledge, for her post. The liability of having an old Soviet hand at the helm of State is that she seems surprisingly uninformed about the history and politics of any other part of the world. If she was “startled” that Europeans would be willing to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons program, then she needs to read a newspaper or watch some news that is not owned by DowJones or NewsCorp.

I am an amateur at foreign affairs and modern European history, but I knew that Turkey had not had a civil war in the ’40s (or at any other time since the very earliest days of Ataturk, and even then not much of one) and I was certain that Iran was not what any normal person could call “totalitarian.” How does such a clumsy and uninformed person become the Secretary of State of the United States?
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