Daniel Larison

The Lie That Won’t Die: Saddam Hussein’s “Relationship” with al-Qaeda

The folks at The Weekly Standard don’t know when to quit. Not cowed by the established public record that the Iraqi government under Hussein had no substantive relationship with al-Qaeda, and not embarrassed by the manifest falsehood of claims to the contrary, the Standard has rehashed much old news (why, did you know that Hussein encouraged attacks against our facilities during the Gulf War?) with a few tidbits of new information in a story called, “The Mother of All Connections,” referring obviously to the alleged connection between the Iraqi regime and bin Laden. Upon reading this article it one is left wondering why they bothered to write it. Obviously, the neocons at the Standard are desperate to find something to vindicate the rightness of the invasion, but this article simply reeks of desperation. A host of nebulous “contacts” and the occasional meeting between Iraqi agents and al-Qaeda operatives are offered up along with the truly meaningless new information that there is apparently a former Iraqi soldier who subsequently joined up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and apparently plotted (with no success) with an Iraqi intelligence officer to attack targets in Pakistan in 1998. This soldier is now being held at Guantanamo after his arrest in Pakistan. Wow! That proves…nothing about the Iraqi government’s relationship with al-Qaeda in 2002. One must want to believe that there was a substantial, working relationship between the two if one is going to see it in this mess of “evidence.”

Even when accepting all the “proof” offered in the article, 1998 seems to have been the zenith of any practical Iraqi cooperation with al-Qaeda. To the extent that any limited material cooperation can be shown from this tissue of nonsense (supposed acquisition of poisons from Iraqi officials by an operative named al-Libi, who has since recanted his testimony), it clearly predates September 11. Evidently, meetings did take place between Iraqi intelligence and members of al-Qaeda in 1998, and these all came to nothing in terms of actual cooperation. That there may have been, in 1998, an interest in such cooperation is really rather irrelevant to the question of whether we should have invaded Iraq in 2003 when all that Hussein had to show for his interest was failed negotiations.

The Kurdish fictions that Ansar al-Islam was a front for Iraqi intelligence are just the sort of propaganda that the Kurds would use to convince Washington to take renewed interest in their region. The associated assumption that Ansar al-Islam=al-Qaeda is a baseless one. Prior to the invasion and insurgency, Zarqawi and his associates in Ansar al-Islam formed a separate group of Islamists distinct from al-Qaeda, with which they could have had contacts without being directly affiliated or allied. If meetings prove the existence of an alliance, it would be interesting to list all the various radical groups around the world with which the U.S. agents have met in the past and with which, apparently, we must still be allied today.

Senior American officials have met with Chechen terrorist leaders and some prominent Americans with personal and professional connections to the administration have openly sympathised with the Chechen cause–should Russia assume that our government is supporting terrorism and actively colluding in the murder of Russians, or simply that our government is full of pathological Russophobes and fools? It would be premature at best to say that the obvious Russophobia of the Washington elite and meetings with Chechen terrorists proves material assistance to anti-Russian terrorists. Yet we are expected to believe something very similar in the case of Iraq. Who are Messrs. Hayes and Joscelyn kidding?

Thus, many in the intelligence community implausibly assume that Zarqawi could have planned terrorist attacks from neo-Stalinist Baghdad and had one of his operatives travel in and out of Iraqi regime-controlled territory without Saddam’s approval. The next question is obvious: If it is so easy for regime foes to maintain a long-term presence in Baghdad and to transit in and out of Iraq, why was it so difficult for the CIA to operate there? This assumption flies in the face of everything we know about Saddam and his control over Iraq.

As anyone might notice from our own limited successes, Iraq is not an easily or readily controlled country. It has an extensive border, much of it in difficult terrain that is not easily or frequently patrolled. If our forces find it difficult to prevent smuggling and movement in and out of Iraq, as the “bomb Syria” crowd continually tell us they do, why do we believe that Hussein had any better luck in controlling the movements of people in his country? As usual, the Standard confuses despotism with strength (perhaps because they have a sneaky regard for authoritarian leadership?), when despots act despotically precisely because their regime is narrow, weak and ineffective. Full-on totalitarian states with real control over the lives of the entire population are rare and require an administrative and police apparatus far more extensive and sophisticated than Iraq ever possessed. Tin-pot dictators may aspire to be Stalin, but this does not make them as powerful as Stalin, and we should not assume that they control their society very much at all, much less that they control it to the extent that they would like to believe. Perhaps the CIA was unsuccessful in cultivating human intelligence resources in Iraq for the same reason it has difficulty cultivating them anywhere. Perhaps the CIA is not very competent in this area. More likely, Hussein would have been very keen to find American agents inside his country, while he would have less interest and incentive in keeping track of random Islamists who, in turn, had relatively little reason to cause him any trouble at present.

At the time when the claims of a connection were being made in 2002-03, those claims were wrong at best and dishonest at worst. In the same way we might bring together quite a lot more reliable evidence of direct, extensive support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda coming from Pakistan’s ISI agency in the past, as well as perhaps in the present (for that matter, we could show extensive support for the Taliban coming from our government in years past), but that would not necessarily prove that this support had to continue after September 11. That it probably has continued in Pakistan’s case is a prime example of a real threat that has been deliberately and studiously ignored to build up the nonexistent threat of the Iraqi “relationship” with al-Qaeda.

Certainly, by the pathetic standards of evidence being applied in this article, Pakistan has a lot more to answer for than Iraq ever has, and yet we are all apparently quite willing to pretend that Pakistan is a reliable ally. Were we of a mind we might also indict the governments of Sudan and Yemen for playing host to or tolerating al-Qaeda members in their country, except for the all-important fact that these governments changed their tunes after September 11.

We know that in the context of a decade-long confrontation with the United States, Saddam reached out to al Qaeda on numerous occasions. We know that the leadership of al Qaeda reciprocated, requesting assistance in its endeavors. We know that reports of meetings, offers of safe haven, and collaboration persisted.

What we do not know is the full extent of the relationship. But we know enough to know that there was one. And we know enough to know it was a threat.

What we do know is that this relationship was never consummated in any meaningful way. Hussein reached out at times, and bin Laden reached out at times, but it seems to have never produced anything. For all the reports of meetings and collaboration, what was the fruit of this relationship? How can connections this vague and tenuous represent a threat? Who now believes that the Iraqi government after 1991 ever really posed a serious threat to anyone outside Iraq?

The reality is that, contrary to the lies of the administration, Iraq’s government never sponsored anti-American terrorist groups. It did not train them, it did not fund them, and it did not harbour them. If Iraqi intelligence itself conceived of engaging in terrorist attacks against Western interests, that is something clearly separate. If the Hussein regime sponsored any terrorists at all (and here we must rely on the word of very biased Kurdish witnesses), they were also not members of al-Qaeda, nor did Iraq provide al-Qaeda with any facilities in which to train its members. By any reasonable standard of showing material or substantive cooperation between the two, the Standard‘s case fails yet again.

Post a comment

DeLay Indicted for Criminal Conspiracy

Tom DeLay, the Republican majority leader in the US House of Representatives, has been charged with criminal conspiracy by a grand jury in Texas. Mr DeLay has relinquished his post but not his seat in Congress.

The second-ranking, and most assertive Republican leader, was accused of a criminal conspiracy with two associates, John Colyandro, a former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by Mr DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads Mr DeLay’s national political committee. ~Timesonline.co.uk

Post a comment

What is Darfur to Us?

Indeed, the administration’s mixed signals, alternately condemning and lauding the regime, have done little to rein in the Janjaweed marauders who keep the Darfur people from leaving fetid camps to plant crops and rebuild their shattered villages. And one reason the administration has not acted more forcefully is that the potent Christian groups involved in foreign affairs–those who anchored the religious coalition that compelled results in southern Sudan with unity and toughness–have been fragmented in their response to Darfur. This fact tarnishes the achievement in the south, and the stain will fall most heavily on the evangelical world. Born-again Christians in America, it will be said, care more about the deaths of their fellow believers in the south than about the deaths of Muslims in the west.

Given its special access to the White House and its grassroots muscle, the evangelical community remains uniquely situated to mobilize against what President Bush himself has described as “genocide in Darfur.” As one insider explained, “If evangelicals are not prioritizing it, then the administration will not prioritize it.” But the nation’s evangelicals should prioritize it. Even without sending American troops to the region, forceful and moral options remain. The administration can stop sending mixed messages, mount a determined effort to expand and empower African Union forces, add U.S. logistical support, secure more aid, and massively increase diplomatic and economic pressure.

And to make all this happen–to halt the rape and murder of Darfur–the vital element is action from the American religious community. ~Allen D. Hertzke, First Things (courtesy of Orthodoxy Today)

When we consider the Janjaweed militias’ violence and forced relocation of the largely non-Arab population of Darfur, as Christians we must naturally deplore and condemn it as immoral and vicious. Nothing can be said that will justify the wanton killing and brigandage that has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300,000. The violence in Darfur, like the war in the south for the past twenty years, also reflects the brutality and criminality of the Islamist Sudanese regime. In several places in Africa one faultline that triggers much of the violence of that troubled continent is the religious and cultural divide between Muslim and non-Muslim populations–throughout western Africa and in the Sudan the same sort of conflict over the imposition of shari’a recurs. This faultline made the conflict in southern Sudan seem much more clear and made the nature of the response seem much more readily apparent.

However, in Darfur the conflict is between two sets of Muslims, for whose illumination Christians should pray but to whom they owe nothing but the simple charity that Christians should extend to all. Rendering humanitarian assistance and bringing supplies to the dislocated people, now residing in camps in the desert or in neighbouring Chad, are legitimate things that Christians, if they felt so inclined, might reasonably do as an expression of this basic charity. But as a matter of principle, Christians living in the United States have vastly greater obligations to many, many others, all of which takes priority over compassion for Darfurian Muslims. Not to put too fine a point on it, but today we have our own displaced populations from the Gulf Coast who need our support and to whom we, as Christians who have lived in this country all our lives, owe far more. Once we have fulfilled our obligations to our countrymen, to whom we should always have greater loyalty and affinity, we might consider in what ways, if any, we might assist foreigners in need. Scripture teaches us not to turn away the poor, the stranger and the traveler when they come to us, but it does not teach us to neglect our own for the sake of going to another land to tend to the oppressed there.
Read More…

Post a comment

Rummel and the Armenian Genocide

Turkey did murder about 2,000,000 Armenians and 350,000 Greeks, the first such extensive genocide of the last century (the first was the German slaughter of 65,000 Herero in Namibia in 1904). I know, I know, my figure of Armenian’s murdered far surpasses the 1,500,000 most often given by Armenian and genocide scholars, but they are only counting that period during WWI when the Young Turks were in power. I included the post war period when the Nationalist under Atatürk continued the genocide of Armenians and added the Greeks, and so mentioning Atatürk enrages Turk students the most. After all, he is a hero to Turks and the father of modern Turkey. ~R.J. Rummel

If there is one thing that Mr. Rummel can be relied upon to get right, it is the facts concerning “death by government.” His inclusion of the post-WWI slaughter of Armenians is entirely appropriate and much needed in telling the whole story of the genocide of the Armenian people from 1915 to 1923. What makes this post even more interesting is that Mr. Rummel seems to have no awareness that the tragic and horrific events of this period are partly the fruit of democratic ideology, mass politics and the rhetoric of self-determination as these inspired all ethnic groups, including the Turks, in the Ottoman state to think in terms of political self-rule, mass identity and government by consent.

Wilson’s exhortation to self-determination was still a few years away, but the same foolish principles inspired and motivated the “reformers” in the empire. As will often be the case in democratising Islamic states, it is the Christians who will have the most to lose as they lose the relative protection of a monarch or dictator and gain the meaningless protection of what Patrick Henry called “paper chains” of a constitution while they are actually left at the mercy of a Muslim majority.

Indeed, a more or less straight line can be drawn between the ‘progressive’ and ‘democratic’ revolution of 1908 and the horrible violence of the ensuing decades. The war exacerbated trends within the empire that had already begun, but the genocide cannot readily be written off as a by-product of the tensions of war nor can it be put down to the machinations of an elite–the elite was complicit and responsible, but carried out its policy of annihilation through popular enthusiasm directed against the Armenians of what is now northeastern Turkey.

Undoubtedly, the Young Turks scrapped constitutional government and ruled as an oligarchy, and Ataturk’s republicanism was authoritarian, but what is telling is how much worse the attacks on Armenians were beginning in 1915 than they had been in the brutal massacres of 1894-95 following twenty years of political “modernisation” and “democratisation.” In the end, the genocide of the Armenians, beyond being the explosion of ethnic and religious hatred that it was, was a pure expression of the tyranny of the majority and the envy and hatred of the mob for those whom it resented. It is telling that violence on such a scale did not take place under Ottoman absolutism, vicious and tyrannical as it was in many ways, but only following the introduction of democratic, reformist ideas. The Young Turks represented those most, not least, committed to those reformist principles, and they were responsible for one of the worst slaughters of non-combatants in the history of the world. What lessons can we find in that concerning the “democratic peace”?

This evil was therefore partly a consequence of attempting to introduce democratic principles into a society entirely unready for them, demonstrating the explosive and dangerous potential of democratic ideas for transforming unfriendly, but usually peaceful, neighbouring ethnic groups into seemingly perpetual enemies and vicious rivals for power, all the while lending a kind of legitimacy to the domination by the largest group. Democratists will object that democracy without minority protections is not their sort of democracy at all, but the demos itself does not care what sort of democracy such idealists desire. If the mass demos believes it is sovereign, and it serves the interests of the demos to murder a million or two million it is a reality of such rude democracy that the demos will commit those murders.

It is only the prescriptive rights and largely undemocratic hindrances to popular rule that modern democratic states still possess to some degree that prevent Western-style democracies from degenerating into this sort of rude and brutal tyranny. Democracy does not induce restraint or moderation, but unchains all the passions and lets them run wild. If we hope to avoid genocide in the future, an aristocratic, constitutional republic or a monarchy would be a much safer bet than empowering “the people” anywhere.

Post a comment

Democratists and Democratic Wars

As a very brief follow-up to the last post, I wanted to add a separate observation. Mr. Rummel’s simplistic theory of “democratic peace” reveals something about democrats and democratists that is not often commented on. There is in this theory the naive faith that there is a type of regime that guarantees an end to war, which is to seek a mechanistic and institutional cure to something that originates in the sinful will of man, man’s boundless acquisitiveness and the finite resources of the world. It is what Voegelin might have called a gnostic faith.

It is the magical thinking that a change in the organisation of the government, which is nothing other than the concentration of power, will fundamentally alter human behaviour. It is the nonsense that we can remake our nature by rearranging the political furniture or by improving the social or economic ‘environment’ in which we live. It is not only that reorganising government or altering social policy cannot do this, but that no government, no matter how it is constituted, will accept a future in which there is no possibility of using force to change the political landscape both at home and abroad. The incentive of increased power in going to war for those in government is simply too great–the ire of voters after the fact hardly matters and will not dissuade any government from going to war if it deems it useful or simply “doable.”

Indeed, not only has democracy not acted as a brake on starting war in the last several years, but now we have an entire ideology dedicated to the proposition that it is morally imperative to start wars either for the sake of democracy and democratisation or for the protection of “human rights” or both.

Most other democratists, keenly aware that the “democratic peace” idea is either an embarrassment while there is a democratic war of aggression going on or that it is simply false, have taken a very different approach and begun openly defending the morality of aggression for democracy. They are perverse and rather frightening people, but at least they seem to know that they are not going to make war redundant by their efforts. I suspect that if they thought they were supporting a policy that might one day make war impossible they would change sides in the debate immediately, because it is war, and by extension power, that they desire more than anything–the nature of the regime in which they exercise that power is really of no consequence. Eliminating war would be to eliminate new opportunities for gain for these eternal parvenus. Even if democracy could ever somehow remove the need for war (which it can’t), the democratists would do their best to make sure that this never happened.

Post a comment

The Ignorant Freedomist

How do we know this? Because we know empirically from history and verified theory that democracies don’t make war on each other, and therefore we can predict that between any two democracies there will be no future war. However, war can well occur between two if one or both are not democracies. Moreover, the probability of war is far higher if both are nondemocracies.

Is war inevitable? No! We can expand the sphere of democracies to encompass the globe and thereby make war history. There is no reason to suspect that the relationships among democracies will be any different than they are today if all countries are democratic. Democracies will remain intrinsically democracies, and thus the essential nature of democracies –political rights for all citizens, the democratic culture, multiple civic groups, a spontaneous society, and bonds and cross pressure — that ensure peace will remain.~R.J. Rummel

What can one say in the face of such foolishness? I have occasionally encountered Mr. Rummel’s ramblings about “democratic peace” and “freedomism” before, and I have wasted little time on taking them seriously, but the troubling thing is that Mr. Rummel’s bizarre theory readily wins acceptance in conventional thinking. It is my impression that a great many Americans, and Westerners generally, work on the assumption that democracy=peace. Pacifists, of course, take this to the extreme with the assumption that war must therefore be undemocratic, so obvious is the equation between peace and democracy. But even a brief, cursory glance at history would tell us this political theory is simply false and has virtually no supporting evidence. It would be a waste of my time to explain in detail why the wars between democratic states that I have already mentioned in previous posts really are wars between democratic states. Perhaps simply a list of some relevant conflicts would suffice (I do not propose that this list is exhaustive, but simply what comes to mind).

There are the conflicts between what we must, for analytic purposes, consider as democratic states or, at the very least, states with very significant democratic elements: the American War for Independence, the Quasi-War (1798-1800), the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (unless we are going to quibble that Britain was not yet sufficiently ‘democratic’ at this point), the American War of Secession, the Boer War, WWI. Then there are the wars started by democratic states, whether the target of their aggression was a democratic state or not: the Greco-Turkish Wars, the Spanish-American War, the First and Second Balkan Wars, the Greek invasion of Turkey (1919-22) and, of course, Kosovo and Iraq. Japan’s wars of aggression were not conducted by a democratic government, but it was scarcely for lack of parliamentary institutions, constitutional rights and a broad franchise that Japan became expansionist and militaristic–democracy and military expansionism can often go hand in hand, fueled by the insane desire to bring the “gift” of democracy to other victims.

It would only be by narrowly definining democracy in terms of parliamentary and participatory government, which I have been doing here, that we could exclude fascist and communist revolutionary regimes from the label of democratic. Obviously, if we included these as part of democracy’s legacy (which, in the sense of being the legacy of 1789, they are), the indictment would be overwhelming. Also, I have intentionally limited the examples to American and European nations. There could very well be useful examples from other parts of the world in the last century of which I am presently unaware or which I have forgotten. But the list given above should be sufficient to disprove Mr. Rummel’s claim once and for all.

Confronted with this, only an ideologue could maintain that “democracies do not go to war with one another” or that “democracies do not start wars.” Of course they do! Democracies, last I checked, were populated with men, who are every bit as likely to succumb to ambition, greed, bloodlust, libido dominandi, the desire to acquire new territory and resources and ideological fervour as men in any other regime. I would go further and argue that democracies exacerbate all of these vicious tendencies in men and make wars both more likely and more destructive when they occur, but that is an argument for another time.

Besides, wars have causes in conflicts over the control of resources and territory. As long as resources are limited and territoriality is an element in human politics (in other words, until the Kingdom comes), there will be war. If all nations became true functioning democracies tomorrow it would not resolve disputes over territory and resources, nor would it change basic strategic interests, nor would it reduce the willingness of strong powers to go to war to achieve their strategic goals. Wars are caused by extreme conflicts of two interested polities, not by madcap dictators simply deciding that war is entertaining (or whatever it is that “democratic peace” advocates think causes war). Dictators may exploit grievances and whip up the crowd into bellicose frenzy, but the interests and grievances have to exist already for this to work.
Read More…

Post a comment

Cato Institute Purges Pena

According to Justin Raimondo, the Cato Institute has sent its defense policy studies director, Charles V. Pena, packing:

The earlier purge of Ivan Eland, who is now with the Independent Institute – and a regular Antiwar.com columnist – was a portent of things to come, and Pena’s departure is but the latest sign that Cato is going over to the War Party. As one observer put it: “Fortunately, Ted Carpenter and Chris Preble are still there but who knows what their future is. I think the jury is still out, but it’s hard not to read between the lines.”

According to a source at Cato, Pena was told that the institute needed to cut staff to close a 7-figure budget deficit. Yet only one other person (not a policy director and not someone in the defense and foreign policy department) was let go (at the end of August). Curiously enough, the day after he was RIF’ed (yes, that’s the term they used: “reduction in force”) Cato President Ed Crane announced the promotion of no less than 4 people at Cato (with each presumably receiving a raise) and the hiring of a new director of government affairs. Also, there’s been plenty of talk about adding 3 floors to the building — to accommodate a larger staff.

What’s going on at Cato is not a “reduction in force,” but a betrayal of libertarian principle. Pena, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, has been a strong advocate of withdrawing from Iraq – a position that Cato is now dropping. This is typical of the Cato crowd: their opportunism has always been beset by bad timing. At the dawn of the Republican-led anti-government revolution, they were telling the world they were “low tax liberals.” Now that the majority of Americans have turned against this war, the Cato bigwigs are lining up with the neoconservatives who want to “stay the course.”

Mr. Pena’s departure from Cato seems to be confirmed by his disappearance from their list of policy scholars. The folks at Cato seem not to have taken the time to eliminate Mr. Pena from the site entirely, however, as he is still listed on their “Defense and National Security” research area page. The lack of any item announcing or explaining the sudden departure of Mr. Pena suggests that the powers that be at Cato are not enthusiastic about advertising the fact that they have forced out one of their most well-known and respected scholars, presumably for his lack of zeal for persisting in the folly of Iraq.

Mr. Pena was probably the most prominent face of the Institute on television and one of the most widely known members of the Cato Institute in the public policy debate over Iraq. In the domestic and foreign media, if a reporter was looking for a quote to capture the view of the American foreign policy skeptic and noninterventionist he would frequently rely on Charles Pena’s statements and writings. Undoubtedly, Mr. Carpenter is very capable of making the same arguments, but Mr. Pena’s departure shows that Cato is no longer very much interested in advancing those arguments. Besides making themselves more irrelevant by moving away from their earlier positions on Iraq and apparently abandoning the spirit of conviction that distinguished Cato from the other fellow-travellers in the Beltway in recent years, the Cato Institute has evidently thrown away one of its best spokesman and reduced the visibility of their organisation. Libertarians can see this not only as a betrayal, but also as an unusually stupid and short-sighted one. Traditional conservatives should lament that the one last institutional bastion friendly to noninterventionism and limited government has now begun to succumb to the hegemonist disease infesting essentially all other think tanks on the Right.

2 comments

On the Meltdown in Basra

This would be admirable if it were true. But we are not providing security in southern Iraq. The rescue mission to free two undercover soldiers from the clutches of local gunmen was a measure of how anarchic Basra has become. The police ignored both the Army and their own national government when requested to hand the men over, preferring to pass them on to one of the Shia militias which effectively control the place.

The population is at the mercy of the men from the Badr Brigades, military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Mahdi Army, who follow the radical religious leader Moqtada al Sadr.

Civil society has failed to put down any roots in the 30 months since the invasion. Local institutions are hollow. The chief of police admitted recently that he can trust only half his men. No wonder the duo apparently shot first and asked questions later when they ran into a checkpoint. ~Patrick Bishop, The Daily Telegraph

Recent events in Basra should make it plain to the British people that their soldiers will not be able to play at peacekeepers in southern Iraq any longer, and that their soldiers are seen as an occupying army and, what it worse, as a weak occupying army that has long since abdicated its role of providing order, making the soldiers a target of both the militias and the ordinary inhabitants. If the ‘coalition’ (that is, America and Britain) were to make a go of the “nation-building” and the even more implausible “democracy-building” (the two are not the same thing, and much of the so-called thinking on the subject has muddled the two with painful regularity), it could not pretend that the Badr brigades or Mahdi Army were tolerable substitutes for maintaining proper order.

But the ‘coalition’ it has had to live with this fiction to avoid seeming too neo-colonialist and to avoid, in the case of the Badr brigades, the hostility of their political wing, SCIRI, and their masters in Tehran. Confrontation with these groups has little public backing at home, as the absurdity of killing still more Iraqis for their own good will embarrass most of the last holdouts of the War Party, and accommodation with them combined with continued occupation has become impractical and dangerous.

Mr. Bishop’s proposal for announcing an exit strategy and then proceeding to undertake two years of “reforming” the security forces, to somehow divorce them from the militias after they have had two years to become solidly enmeshed together, is folly. Westerners frequently talk of depriving or lending Iraqis insurgents and militiamen legitimacy by some policy decision that the government might make (I confess to having advanced this same oversimplified argument on more than a few occasions), but the real dilemma is that the insurgents and militiamen have no need of the political legitimacy our continued presence probably does lend them. They will not becomes less of a real-world political force, based on armed force, because their initial reason for being has disappeared, and to this extent any antiwar arguments that have claimed this have also been engaged in a certain wishful thinking. Neither, however, can their real-world political power be stripped from them by anything so empty and vague as “reforming” the security services. Neither can they be dislodged from their positions of power without significant casualties and a widening and escalation of the insurgency with potentially explosive international implications. Realists acknowledge when some problems, lacking practical solutions, are no longer really problems–the militias, by turns criminal and fanatical, control southern Iraq because they were the organisations that were always going to dominate southern Iraq in the event of Hussein’s overthrow.

“Civil society” has not put down roots because, as educated and cultured as some Iraqis might be, civil society requires authority that can constrain violent action and make something approaching public discourse possible. But all of these terms are simply absurd in the context modern Iraq–there is no public, nor is there any public space, because these very concepts or their equivalents mean nothing in southern Iraq today, and there can really be no civil society where these things are lacking. For the foreseeable future the only likely authorities to rule in southern Iraq are Islamic clerics and their associated militias, and that is something that will not be fixed, as neither the American nor British public wants to support the sort of effort necessary to “fix” it.

Post a comment

Sobran on Oakeshott

[Michael] Oakeshott didn’t have a political program and never trusted those who did. His bête noire was what he called “rationalism in politics” (the phrase became the title of a book of his elegant essays) — the desire to use government for ends it could never achieve, at least not without sacrificing the good it might achieve. He described this as “making politics as the crow flies.”

Government, for Oakeshott, should be an umpire, not a player. If the umpire makes rulings that will ensure the outcome he thinks preferable — the victory of the poorer team, say — then he won’t rule impartially, and the game itself will be corrupted. “The conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny,” he summed up the problem in a fine epigram. Dreams had no place in politics. ~Joseph Sobran

Mr. Sobran offers a very thoughtful corrective to the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the federal government’s “failure” in New Orleans by posing the simple question whether government should even be taking part in most of the things in which it is involved. Recalling the insights of Michael Oakeshott, Mr. Sobran’s article reminds me of another of Oakeshott’s distinctions between nomocracy and teleocracy (these are implied in Mr. Sobran’s own descriptions) that Mr. Sobran himself first brought to my attention.

Nomocracy, the rule by law, was the desirable and limited sort of government that establishes rules, whereas teleocracy, rule according to a goal or purpose, was bound to lead to a government that commanded and became tyrannical. When Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things, lectures us about what America is “for,” that is its reason for being, he is demonstrating the attitude of a teleocrat. Everything in creation has a purpose, but each created thing is also an end and good in itself. If created things exist “for” anything, we exist “for” God, our beginning and end, and not to accomplish some goal here below.

The wailers over federal “failure” in New Orleans and the idealists who wish to democratise the world have made abstract goals of absolute security and absolute, global freedom goals to which all sane and limited, and therefore realisable, priorities must be subordinated. Idealists’ goals, like any dream or fantasy, are intangible and unobtainable, but in the process of pursuing them the requirements made by the state upon the people will be as unlimited as the goal is out of reach. Dreamers in possession of political power are always the creators of nightmarish realities.

Post a comment

Dougherty Reviews Weekly Standard Reader

Most perverse among the war essays (and it was a strong field) is David Gelertner’s “The Holocaust Shrug.” The catalogue of Saddam’s crimes and the fact that we could stop him from committing them is argument enough for intervention. To not exult in our victory is morally equivalent to shrugging at the Holocaust. What is one to say about Gelertner, who talks about the morality of the war in Iraq ignoring entirely the predicted chaos that followed? But Gelertner presses on into theology. The Holocaust has put man “under a cloud of sin and shame” and America’s war in Iraq may be “the largest step” ever taken toward the “act of selfless national goodness that might fix the broken moral balance of the cosmos.” I would love Gelertner to explain this blasphemous formulation to an American soldier. Not for your nation’s defense do you fight and die in the sun-scorched desert, but rather to redeem history from Hitler. Thanks. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty, AFF’s Brainwash

Michael Dougherty has written a thoughtful and fair review of The Weekly Standard Reader that manages to give the writers at the Standard their due as writers when they deserve it without ignoring the moral blindness and confusion that overwhelms so much of neoconservative thinking, especially about foreign policy. Michael’s take on Gelertner’s ugly little article is brief and to the point in dismissing the insane claim that would seem, to a Christian reader, to invest the Holocaust with the same significance as the Fall and invading Iraq with the same cosmic significance as the Incarnation of God. In his comments here, Michael is, if anything, almost too polite, but that must be a virtue in an age where crude shouting matches so readily take the place of sober discourse and inquiry. I recommend the review, and for a wider variety of Michael’s writing I refer you to his fine blog, Surfeited with Dainties.

Post a comment
← Older posts